Sunday, August 21, 2016

August - Santa Barbara County

North of Santa Barbara a wildfire burns and a plume of smoke is visible from the city. Winds are pushing the fire east, into the dry backcountry. The fire hasn’t discouraged the tourist trade, as evidenced by the crowds sipping wine in the so-called “Funk Zone” and a jam-packed 101 southbound.  

My daughter begins 10th grade tomorrow, and she is apprehensive, not about her classes but about her wardrobe. After two days of shopping with her mother, and the expenditure of a minor fortune, the girl announces that she is ready. Tomorrow morning will be a struggle. After weeks of sleeping past 10:00 a.m., my daughter will be roused from sleep by her iPhone, and trudge droopy-eyed to the kitchen, where, without opening her eyes, she will fill a bowl with rice krispies and milk. I know better than to talk to her in the morning. She tells me that she hates school, a sentiment which cuts me, given that I have spent the last 17 years working for the local school district. My aspirations for her are modest -- that she learn to think critically and challenge what she is told to take for granted, and that she enjoy learning for the rest of her life.

I am an introvert by nature, and prefer small gatherings to large ones; I need to spend a good deal of time alone, and I do, particularly in the early morning, before the sun rises and my family wakes. I read, scribble in my notebook, sip coffee, listen to the birds. As I get older I think about mortality, how life can be so fragile, so easily upended by a single encounter or the caprice of chance. I scan the news, read, with sinking heart, about the flooding in Louisiana or the war in Syria; I imagine brown water rising to the roof line of a house; I imagine a refugee family trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind. Life can change course in the blink of an eye. I can’t protect my children from this harsh fact.

I recognize that I am getting older, crankier, more judgmental, because the young women who live across the driveway from us annoy me no end with their loud voices, vacuous conversations, off-key singing. Their names are Chloe and Tiffany and Kira, but I’m not sure which one is which. One of them drives a black Audi. People come and go over there, a parade of faces, cars, voices.

John Coltrane playing, the miracle of digital music, everything at one’s fingertips, with almost no interval between desire and fulfillment. Amazon delivers happiness, even on Sundays; but no day is sacred in a capitalist society. With the rising sun comes another opportunity to be sold, to buy, to acquire. Technology without limits is a deal with the Devil, all of us down at the crossroads on our knees, our heads bowed, ready to pay a very dear price for ephemeral happiness.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Wrong Way On A One-Way Street

“I think Trump will be a neofascist catastrophe and Clinton will be a neoliberal disaster.” Dr. Cornel West
Fiesta time again on the Platinum Coast. Later tonight, when the festivities officially kick off, the streets will be crowded with tourists; white people who know little about Spanish colonialism will holler Viva la Fiesta! at the top of their lungs. Tourists in search of the Old Mission, the County Courthouse, and De La Guerra plaza will become lost and drive their rental cars the wrong way on one-way streets. Locals will say they have seen it all before.
The Solstice parade, 4th of July fireworks, and Fiesta make up the holy trinity of Santa Barbara’s summer. Many locals are indifferent to these spectacles and hunker down as far away from them as possible, happy to let the city preen, revel in its unique beauty, and emerge only when the last drunk has stumbled home.
For a local boy like me Fiesta is a nuisance but this year it will help distract me from the circus that is our presidential election. Trump or Clinton – the choice that isn’t a choice at all. The political duopoly, Democrats and Republicans, still rule the roost, make the rules, and keep third parties marginalized.
Tweedledee and Tweedledum, same as always. Democracy as farce.
The clips of the Democratic Convention that I saw were depressing, not because Hillary spoke from both sides of her mouth – I expected that – but because Democrats have enthusiastically embraced War and Imperialism and blind Patriotism. Hillary said the US has the most powerful military force in the world, which is true, and we should, given that over half of the federal budget is devoted to our military. No other nation is as devoted to its military as the United States. We fawn over retired generals and pay constant lip service to our brave men and women in uniform. But if we are so powerful why are we still in Afghanistan after 15 years of military operations? Why are we once again bombing Libya? These questions are lost in the chants of USA! USA! USA!
We wage war on a tactic and wonder why we can’t win. Or perhaps the truth is that we know we can’t win, ever, nor can we stand down, so we keep doing the same things and getting the same results. That’s the definition of insanity, right?
So neither party represents the interests of working stiffs, environmentalists, or folks who want the US to stop bombing other countries. Trump and Pence will most likely implode between now and Election Day, leaving us with neoliberal Hillary and her puppet, Tim Kaine. What a pathetic state of affairs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see a woman earn the nomination, it’s high time that barrier be broken, but Clinton is the wrong woman; she’s not nearly as competent as corporate media make her out to be, and I don’t see her doing much beyond maintaining the status quo, which is great for Wall Street banks, defense and intelligence contractors, resource extractors, polluters, and income inequality.
And I’m almost positive that Hillary will get us into an ugly confrontation with Russia.
Hillary’s only appeal, beyond her gender, is that she’s not Donald Trump. Many voters will cast a vote for Clinton for this reason alone, a vote against rather than a vote for.
But hey, America is still the greatest country on earth, isn’t it? Generous, kind, fair, just, trustworthy, resolute, and steadfast. We believe our own BS. When we bomb you it’s because we are righteous.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tone Deaf

“The prevailing quality of life in America -- by any accepted methods of measuring -- was inarguably freer and more politically open under Nixon than it is today…” Hunter S. Thompson, 2002.

Where to begin? Like the scene in Chicago, the area around the site of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is awash in temporary fencing, barricades, and police, all dedicated to keeping thousands of protesters from injecting a dose of reality into this week of political fantasy. How Orwellian when peaceful protesters are penned in blocks away from the convention hall in what are called “ free speech zones.” Free speech that the powerful do not have to hear or see or respond to.

Looks like Bernie Sanders was right all along -- the Democratic National Committee was actively sabotaging his upstart campaign from the get-go, using the sort of tricks that are normally reserved for the opposition party. The revelations (thank you Wikileaks) show a few things. First, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a hack who would do anything for her pal Hillary Clinton. Second, the big-shots in the DNC obviously knew that Hillary would not win a contest played on a level field; cheating and foul play were necessary to push Hillary over the top, because her campaign sure as hell failed to generate much organic enthusiasm.

But even with all the DNC’s shenanigans on Clinton’s behalf, the Sanders campaign made Clinton work. What does this tell us? That there is a reason Donald Trump is today leading in the polls. Now, Clinton will get the usual jump coming out of the Convention, but even so, voters east, west, north and south will still view her unfavorably, as a prevaricator and liar, and one who, like the fictional Mafioso Don Corleone, rewards loyalty. Instead of kicking Wasserman Schultz to the curb, Clinton makes Wasserman Schultz the honorary chair of her campaign.  

Talk about tone deaf and oblivious to voter perceptions. But we knew that when Clinton tapped Tim Kaine to be her sidekick; that was like flipping the bird to Bernie supporters with one of those oversized foam fingers. Clinton chose a nice, safe corporate clone who believes in the fairy tale of “free” trade and “clean” coal. Talk about one step up and two back. Clinton is so insulated in her DC/NYC bubble among the political and financial elites that she really has no clue what her actions look like to those of us out here in the real world.

Clinton’s arrogance is breathtaking, and it’s that total disdain for ordinary citizens that is giving Trump buoyancy. As filmmaker Michael Moore recently wrote, a lot of people in this country are fed up with politicians of both parties, fed up with the influence of bankers and hedge fund managers and resource extractors, fed up with the way the middle class is being ground to dust. Now, rich, white, demagogic Donald Trump is a strange champion for the downtrodden middle class -- but when Trump hammers bankers and free traders and pols, he’s speaking a language struggling people relate to; all the promises of the Bush’s, the Obama’s and the Clinton’s haven’t amounted to shit, so why not take a ride on the Trump express and lob a Molotov cocktail at the elites?

Hillary Clinton is damn lucky the election isn’t tomorrow. You can bet she will not receive the same reception on Thursday night that Bernie got on Monday. When the camera panned to where Bill Clinton was sitting you could see that he understood this, too. Hillary doesn’t engender the love that Bernie does -- she wants it, terribly, but it’s not who she is.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The American Shit Show

I refuse to watch the Republican National Convention. Masochism isn’t my thing. Neither is stupidity on a massive scale. I understand that Trump is the nominee, but personally, I can’t take the Great Buffoon, his wife, his children, and any person who speaks on his behalf seriously. I just can’t. The rise of Trump to the top of the cesspool that is the modern Republican party is more confirmation that America -- though an economic power on paper and a military power that cannot win an undeclared war -- has become a certified banana republic.

A fair number of people outside the US read this humble blog (thank you) and I wonder how we look to you? Does the US appear as stupid and ridiculous and dangerous as I think we do? If America is the last best hope of mankind, well, we are totally fucked, no two ways about it.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: maybe, just maybe, the US deserves a tinhorn dictator like Donald Trump. Absent leaders -- and citizens -- blessed with courage, wisdom, judgment and moderation, why should we expect better? Perhaps a disastrous Trump presidency is the only thing that can slap this nation upside its head and bring it to its senses. Perhaps then, as we are crawling through the ashes left in Trump’s wake, we will understand the error of our ways, the incredible hubris and ignorance that governs our behavior around the world. Perhaps Trump is the bone-rattling wake up call the US desperately needs.

Republicans say a vote for Trump is a vote against Hillary; Democrats say a vote for Hillary is a vote against Trump. This is our choice? How about giving us something to vote FOR rather than AGAINST? Is that too much to ask? I’d rather eat a box of drywall nails than vote for Trump, and don’t even get me started about Hillary Clinton. That woman causes my sphincter to contract and spasm.

Robert Scheer and Thomas Frank, political writers and thinkers I admire, say that vice presidential nominee Mike Pence might ameliorate voter fears about Trump; Pence is bland, relatively unknown outside of Indiana, meets the Christian litmus test, is conservative as hell, pro, pro, pro-life, virulently anti-gay, and could function as Trump’s Dick Cheney, the steady, authoritarian hand on the tiller. Frightening thought. The buffoon and his henchman. The last time the nation tried this we invaded a country on false pretenses and destabilized an entire region. Out of naked fear we traded our civil liberties for a false sense of security.

Almost any Democratic nominee other than Hillary Clinton would wipe the floor with Trump and Pence. Alas, once again corporate Democrats have shot themselves in the foot. Hey fuckers, you got the candidate you gamed the system for, and, instead of cruising to a landslide victory, she may only eek out a win in November.

Hubris and complacency carry a steep price tag.

Welcome to the American Shit Show.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Vote Mickey

“The votes that matter are the votes on the street. Either Trump or Clinton will provoke mass upheaval. The key contribution of the Sanders campaign has been to lay bare for idealistic youth the magnitude of the rot in the system itself…”  Gary Leupp

I wrote on this blog a few months ago that Bernie Sanders would cave and urge his supporters to get behind Hillary Clinton. As predicted, it has happened, and Sanders was as craven as I feared. So much for the “revolution.” I don’t feel terrific about being right: any rookie political handicapper could have predicted that Sanders’ quest to reform the Democratic Party from within was doomed.

As Gary Leupp noted in an article for Counterpunch, Sanders did succeed in one respect: his campaign demonstrated, particularly for younger Americans, how utterly corrupt the American political system has become. No matter how often the mainstream media tells us our voices and votes matter, millions now understand that they matter not at all. The corrupt system has puked up Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, two people despised by wide swaths of potential voters. This is a curse, not a choice.

I will give the Clintons credit for their unparalleled skill at fixing the game, using their government positions to enrich themselves, and the nimble way they skirt the law. Bill and Hillary dance in the gray and never get caught; that they are crooked is not in doubt, but catching them out is another story. How many scandals has this detestable duo dodged over the past three decades? It tells me they know exactly what they are doing, that everything they do is calculated, thought out in advance. The Clintons are masters of corruption.

When I’m not completely pissed off about this dismal state of affairs, or frightened about what it portends, I marvel at how completely the Clintons manage media perceptions. Again and again Hillary is described as capable and experienced and exceptionally qualified to hold the highest office in the land, but peel back the gilded cover and you find a record of mediocrity or outright failure. What did she accomplish as a senator? Squat. What harm did she cause as Secretary of State? Plenty. Honduras and Libya come to mind. Trump scares me because he’s a buffoon; but Clinton scares me many times more because she has the potential to plunge the country into another undeclared war, exacerbate an already staggering level of wealth inequality, and to render our government even more subservient to financial elites.

If partisan politics hampered the Obama government, imagine what the gridlock will be like when Hillary moves into the Oval Office. Even though she’s practically a Republican, the GOP leaders are unlikely to give her much leeway, meaning that the critical problems facing this country will not be addressed.

What did Sanders get for his capitulation? I’ve read in various places that Sanders forced Clinton to move in a more progressive direction, and that the party platform reflects this, but honestly, who cares about the platform? It’s not binding on Clinton, and after the convention will largely be forgotten. And anyway, who’s going to hold Clinton accountable? Remember, she was for the TPP corporate trade giveaway before she was against it, or was she against it before she was for it?

Writing on the Truthout website, William Rivers Pitt summed it up: “Hillary Clinton is a fully owned corporate entity with a faux-populist message drafted on the back of a cocktail napkin at a Goldman Sachs convention. Donald Trump is a punchline who speaks in befuddled half-sentences and who wouldn't know a policy position if it squatted on his face and farted up his nose. These are our alleged options now, a choice between Wall Street and reality TV.”

There is no way I will vote for Hillary Clinton come November. I’ll write in Mickey Mouse before I tick the bubble next to Hillary’s name.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lock & Load

Black lives matter. White lives matter. Brown lives matter. Jewish lives matter. Muslim lives matter. Christian lives matter. Pagan lives matter.

In many places in our world life is cheap and people, once they have been exploited, are expendable.

My country has been at war continuously since 2001, and the list of nations where US military forces are active is too long to mention.

Before Bush and Cheney it was possible to believe -- even if history proved otherwise -- that US military forces were deployed for legitimate humanitarian or security purposes.

For the US, the entire planet is a battlefield.

In most US cities, the police look like soldiers.

If the political and economic elites allowed it, we could provide universal medical care, free college tuition at public universities, decent housing, and liveable wages. No kid would graduate with a BA and a $50 grand debt collar; no family would declare bankruptcy because someone had the misfortune to become sick.

Our real God is the dollar. Repeat that. Our real God is the dollar. Everything must be price tagged, branded, hawked, sold.

“Free market” is an oxymoron. American corporations want monopolies, not competition. Our government gives it to them under the ruse that doing so benefits us, the people. The people know better, but what we know doesn’t matter.

All governments lie. All governments cover-up their misdeeds. All governments suppress dissent.

Capitalism is destroying the planet.

The senior citizen from Vermont has capitulated as we knew he would. His race is run and his usefulness is no more. The neoliberal queen will be crowned. Faux unity prevails.

We are in trouble.

When mass shootings happen, President Obama appears and makes a solemn speech. Mass shootings continue just the same. It’s only a matter of time and place.  

Thursday, July 07, 2016

When the Veil Falls

Hillary Clinton is too important to be treated the same as everyone else under the law.” Glenn Greenwald

Chase Palm Park on Cabrillo Boulevard resembles a refugee camp at midday on the 4th of July. Tents of blue and green, pop up shades of white, and tarps strung between the palms. Shirtless men surround a BBQ grill that sends white smoke skyward; the smell of charred meat is heavy on the breeze. The fireworks show won’t start for another eight hours. A football arcs over the tents and into the arms of a boy with sunburned skin. Mexican music plays from unseen speakers. The sun is high and shimmers on the water.

The Solstice Parade, 4th of July, and Fiesta are the big summertime markers here in Santa Barbara, the American Riviera, jewel of the central coast. For months I’ve read how European countries are broke or on the verge of being broke, trapped by austerity schemes designed to suck every drop of wealth that can be had in order to satisfy bankers and bondholders, hard times in Greece and Portugal, Spain and Ireland, and yet our streets and bars and restaurants are teeming with European tourists; I can’t afford to take my family there, but they seem to have no problem coming here.

On the 4th we talk of independence and freedom against a backdrop of baseball games and hotdog eating contests, patriotic parades complete with fife and drums, impressive flyovers by fighter jets, and, once night falls, fireworks that rise majestically into the sky and fall back to earth in fiery glory. We talk of a monarch on a distant throne who pushed his subjects too far, we talk of Jefferson and Madison, Hamilton and Washington, the rights of men to self-determination and self-government. On this fruited plain we are raised to believe that the inspired, majestic words of the Declaration of Independence are meant to include all men, but, if we are decently educated, eventually we understand that freedom in America was meant for property holders of pale complexion, not the grubby rabble or females or Negroes. Our white founders had a general fear of democracy, the unpredictable passions of the masses, and so democracy was from the beginning limited.

We are taught to believe that all Americans stand equally before the law, but here, again, the truth is that the hand of the law is extended to some as an ally and protector, and to others as a fist. This truth, one of the hardest to swallow, is illustrated by the FBI’s decision not to recommend that Hillary Clinton be indicted for mishandling classified information while she served as Secretary of State. Less politically potent people such as Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and Edward Snowden were ruined for leaking classified information, treated as criminals, hounded by the arm of the law. Powerful folks, like Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, get a pass. Same as it ever was. On several well-documented occasions, Hillary flat out lied about her e-mail machinations.

From a legal perspective, the FBI’s decision makes sense; intent is difficult to prove. Perhaps Hillary Clinton and all her enablers are guilty of nothing more than gross arrogance. What strikes me is how the scent of scandal follows Bill and Hillary Clinton the way the smell of death follows a mortician. Whitewater, TravelGate, Vince Foster, Bill’s women, Monica Lewinsky, and Bill’s pardon, just as he was departing the White House for the final time, of Marc Rich. Roll up all of these and you have the reason Hillary Clinton is mistrusted by millions of voters. Add Hillary’s grotesque sense of entitlement and her naked ambition and you have a political figure people love to hate.

Not that public mistrust or outright hatred of Hillary Clinton will keep her from the White House.