Friday, May 18, 2018

Enough Bullets for Everyone

“The victims are themselves the culprits. This is exactly what the Palestinians have had to endure for 70 years.” Robert Fisk

Watching Israel and the United States stand truth on its ear is like riding Space Mountain at Disneyland in pitch blackness for hours on end; climb, descend, twist left, then right. Hearing Donald J. Trump compared to King Cyrus of Persia -- Persia! -- by nutjob pastor Robert Jeffress is nauseating. Too much irony and cognitive dissonance. I’m sure Trump thinks Persia is a theme park or a competing luxury hotel. “Where is this Persia?”

American evangelicals adore Trump, the thrice-married womanizer, pornstar banging, lying adulterer, and unabashed pussy-grabber. So much for Christian principles.

To hear Bibi Netanyahu and Nikki Haley tell it, Israel is simply protecting itself from hordes of Palestinians who have the temerity to approach the border. It’s all Hamas, Hamas, Hamas. Rinse, repeat. The American corporate media dutifully report the bullshit -- if they bother to report at all. Somewhere in America a cat is stuck in a tree, a community has been ravaged by a tornado, or a passenger airplane was forced to make a dramatic emergency landing. These are “breaking news” stories which must be covered in breathless detail.

The plight of Palestinians in Gaza? Not worth thirty seconds. Too complicated for Americans to understand.

Bibi Netanyahu: “We are besieged by the forces of Hamas. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly non-violent protests, the women and children waving flags -- they are killers, every one of them, trained by Hamas, armed by Hamas, controlled by Hamas. Israel faces a grave threat, an existential threat. Our brave soldiers face bloodthirsty Arabs armed with slingshots and Molotov cocktails and wire cutters. These wicked Arabs set tires on fire which threatens the health of our forces. The smoke gets in their eyes and lungs. One of our soldiers suffered a scratch on the arm that almost bled. Israel will not tolerate this. We have a right to protect our border and we have done so with extreme care, only firing on Hamas when under mortal danger from their advanced weapons. The casualties on the other side are caused by Hamas, not Israel. Hamas shoots its own people and then blames Israel. We have incontrovertible proof of this! Don’t fall for propaganda. Listen to me, I am telling you the truth. Israel is righteous and moral. We do not kill innocent people, only Hamas terrorists whose sole aim is to destroy Israel!”

Nikki Haley: “I have a message to convey to the UN Security Council from the President of the United States, the great and wonderful Donald J. Trump, who knows everything about the Middle East because he is the smartest human being to ever walk the earth: Hamas bad, Israel good.”

The gross injustice heaped on Palestinians for decades by Israel and the US has long troubled me, nagged at me, and infuriated me. The longer I live, the more I read, and the more I understand the difference between American rhetoric and American actions, the angrier I become. Israel could never have occupied Palestinian land for as long as it has without the unqualified support of the United States. As author Rashid Khalidi pointed out in his book, Brokers of Deceit, the US has long been an unreliable intermediary between Israel and the Palestinians; how can the US claim to be neutral and objective when it hands Israel billions of dollars in various types of aid every year? US allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt turn their back on the Palestinians.

In the same way that the American government does not represent the views of the majority of the American people (we are not as immoral, corrupt, greedy, and murderous as the political hacks, CEO’s and bankers who rule us), I want to believe that a majority of Israeli citizens realize that the actions of their government toward the Palestinians are unlawful, immoral, and antithetical to a real, lasting peace.

The American media has an infuriating habit of painting the Israel-Palestine conflict as one waged by equals, which is simply ridiculous. For years now, Israel has changed the reality on the land in the West Bank, displacing Palestinians, building settlements, walls, restricted roads, and making it next to impossible for Palestinians to return, ever.

In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Forces have plenty of bullets and no shortage of unarmed human targets.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bibi's Puppet

Actually, the ones who at all costs want to appear strongest are usually the weakest, and at times they look ridiculous or pathetic.” Piero Ferrucci

Against all professional advice and the pleadings of our European allies, the Orange Menace has done it, pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Reneged. Bowed to his pals and our long time “allies”, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the prime minister of Israel, both of whom would love to see the US attack Iran. The neocon wet dream may be within reach, the dream that arouses Pompeo and Bolton in the middle of the night more than kiddie porn arouses a child molester.

What a state of affairs, this slow-motion train wreck that may very well end with the US waging war against yet another Middle Eastern country that hasn’t attacked or directly threatened us. What will the trigger be, some Tonkin Gulf type incident, a provocation by Israel (this began on cue in Syria shortly after Trump made his announcement), or simply the steady drumbeat of hysterical reporting in the New York Times, on CNN and from Netanyahu? Convincing the American public that Iran poses an imminent threat to our sacred way of life and that violence is the only solution is easy, and Congress isn’t likely to put up much resistance. American propaganda can turn any foreign leader into the equivalent of Hitler. One thing is certain: Trump has killed any chance of negotiating with Iran. Sanctions will punish the people of Iran -- not that Trump cares about them -- as well as European nations like Germany that trade with Iran. So dumb, so destructive, so hypocritical.

So Trump.

In the Middle East, a region we have never understood, our wagon is lashed to Saudi Arabia, country of origin for most of the 9/11 hijackers, a barbaric place where the state stages public beheadings, and an avid sponsor of a perverse strain of Islam; and Israel, the world’s great occupier, land thief, and perpetual victim.

On the domestic front, Trump continues to fulminate against the press any time an unfavorable report or story about him emerges. I think the corporate press has been cowardly in reporting about Trump, unwilling to confront his obvious inadequacies and lack of intelligence, but then, the Orange Menace is so outrageous that his every idiotic mutter is covered, drawing coveted eyeballs to screens for advertisers, and ad revenue is far more important than intrepid reporting. Anyway, most members of the credentialed press are parrots. But Trump is so mentally deranged that he deems any negative or unflattering report about him as fake news; the man honestly believes that he is accomplishing deeds greater than any previous president. Trump is impervious to truth, proud of his ignorance, blind to anything outside of himself, and ever desperate for attention and approval.  

The Pelosi-Schumer Democrats appear content to bide their time and hope that Trump either self-destructs or is brought down when Robert Mueller sorts out the money pipeline linking Russian oligarchs and the Trump Organization. The only thing I ever agreed with Steve Bannon about is that the entire Russia-Trump story is about money laundering. Corporate Democrats seem to believe they can sit back, offer nothing in the way of policies, and capitalize on Trump’s unpopularity with much of the electorate. No upsetting Wall Street donors or the military-surveillance complex, no abandonment of the neoliberal fictions of the Clinton/Obama eras. This is a recipe for continued failure. After 18 disastrous months of Trump, Democrats still cannot find their voice. It’s not enough to be against Trump -- a majority of Americans are against Trump. Democrats need to get off their lazy asses and offer the electorate -- not only their corporate donors -- something to be for. This will not happen.

Short Takes:

The Premier League season ends tomorrow. Manchester City are champions, deservedly so, and my Chelsea is most likely to finish fifth and miss out on the Champions League competition next year. Our manager, Antonio Conte, will pack his bags and leave Stamford Bridge, yet another manager who couldn’t get on with the club’s top officials. It has been a frustrating year for Blues fans.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Waiting on the Ghost of Edward R. Murrow

“Capitalism is like poisoned honey. People swarm to it like bees.” Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Hypocrisy is lodged deep in the American character. We proclaimed that all men are created equal, but put millions of African men (and women and children, too) in bondage; we freak out over the possibility that Russia interfered in our election process, as dubious and corrupt as that money-drenched process is, when the US has for decades interfered in the elections of nations around the globe; we spend more money on the military and intelligence services and domestic security than any country on earth, and yet our president loses his shit over the possibility that a few hundred Central American refugees might “overwhelm” our border.

If you get your information about the world from the American corporate media, you might believe that the only major problems we face are high taxes (always too high), threats from Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea, Putin, Robert Mueller, and Stormy Daniels. Poverty, racism, perverse and destructive income inequality, climate change, Fukushima, the murder of unarmed peaceful protesters by the Israeli army, not worth covering. It’s all spin and counterspin, PR flackery, truth-killing, obfuscating statements from nitwits like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and fawning servility from people who call themselves journalists. Superpower? The world’s most wonderful democracy? Land of the free, home of the brave?

The drums of war are beating again. Trump threatens to pull the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, while Bibi Netanyahu, the corrupt and murderous Israeli Prime Minister, makes a hyperbolic presentation suggesting that Iran is poised to seize control over the entire Middle East, and wipe Israel from the map. Never mind that Israel has a nuclear stockpile, plus the unequivocal support of the US military, Iran is the key threat to peace in the region. Forget the fact that the JCPOA appears to be working, and that Iran is said to be complying with its terms, Trump still wants to pull out and make Iran pay a terrible price, whatever that means. Trump obviously hasn’t troubled himself to read the JPCOA or have someone explain its basic terms to him with graphics. I doubt Trump could find Iran on a map.

Short Takes:

Trump is now apparently denying that he had sex with former adult film star “Stormy Daniels,” though the Orange Menace clings to his accusation that Daniels violated a non-disclosure agreement. If Trump and Stormy didn’t do the big nasty, why was an NDA required?

I came across this quote in Ibram X. Kendi’s brilliant history, Stamped from the Beginning: “Faced with an empty national treasury, erratic trade policies, international disrespect, and fears of the union falling apart…” this was America in 1787. Sounds familiar.

What became of all the furor over Trump’s tax returns? Is the IRS “audit” of his returns completed? If not, this must be the longest and most comprehensive audit in the history of the IRS.

Trump seems to have a very difficult time securing competent legal representation. On the other hand, what self-respecting lawyer would want anything to do with a man who lies about everything, all the time, and whose closet is stacked with skeletons?

Congratulations to our friend, Nomi Prins, on the official release of her new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World. Nomi is a wonder.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Killing with Impunity

“Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America.” Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning.

How does an Israeli soldier shoot an unarmed Palestinian, a human being? What does the soldier feel as he or she brings a man or boy into the crosshairs? Is there any remorse after pulling the trigger, any flicker of conscience hours or days later? Dozens of non-violent Palestinian protesters have been killed by the Israeli Defense Forces in the past few weeks, thousands more wounded or injured. The protesters pose no lethal threat to Israel, they are not surging across the border, crossing from their occupied territory into Israel, and yet Israeli soldiers fire live ammunition into crowds. Think of the military officers who issue these shoot-to-kill orders. Why don’t Palestinian deaths matter? Palestinians are protesting the longest military occupation in modern history, an occupation that couldn’t be sustained without unquestioned backing from the United States. Why does my country support this slow, ongoing genocide?

To kill with impunity and without remorse requires indoctrination. You must convince your own people that you are killing inferiors or terrorists. Hitler’s regime indoctrinated many Germans to believe that Jews were the source of Germany’s problems, a blight on the purity of the German nation. Jews were systematically dehumanized, their rights abridged, their property stolen; but even this wasn’t enough, the Jews had to be exterminated, wiped out. Hasn’t Israel been doing the very same thing to Palestinians for more than half a century?

Israel has perfected the tactic of deflecting any and all criticism by shouting, screaming, and fulminating that all its critics are anti-Semitic. Israel has a right to exist as a state. It has a right to security. But it doesn’t have a right to murder unarmed people. It doesn’t have the right to bomb Gaza every few years in what is known in Israeli defense circles as “mowing the lawn.” It doesn’t have the right to control who and what enters or exits Gaza, the right to control Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters. Aside from the United States, no nation in the world gets away with murder like Israel does, year after year, decade after decade.

Short Takes:

The Trump kleptocracy is right on track, normalizing corruption, hastening the fall of the American empire. The oligarchs must know, on some level, that the end is near because they’re making a mad grab for as many spoils as they can haul.

Capitalism is killing us, and the planet. Goes to show that any ideology taken to extremes will produce tyranny.

Fukushima is now the worst nuclear disaster in history. Seven years gone and the media has no interest, as if by ignoring the calamity it will vanish. Kind of the same charade Trump and the Republicans play with anthropogenic climate change.

I was fortunate to meet author and activist Tasoula Hadjitofi when she visited Santa Barbara on April 29. I reviewed her book, The Icon Hunter, for the SB Independent. Hadjitofi is a gracious, intelligent and intrepid woman.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sinking into a Sea of Fire

Another week in TrumpLand. As far as I know, the US hasn’t launched another barrage of cruise missiles at Damascus. How many times have I heard right-wing politicians moaning about “entitlement” programs, but then do a 360 and vote to give the Pentagon and the defense contractors even more money for more bombs? Most of my adult life. War after war after war. The list of supposed enemies of our country is long. We always have money for war, death, destruction, it’s a profitable enterprise, addictive as opium. Meanwhile, there are tent cities in places like Los Angeles, in the shadows of sleek high-rise office buildings; children that go to bed hungry, water that is poisoned. Average people care about these things, but the political class serves other masters and doesn’t care, not even a little. Profit is paramount, making money; money is power, influence, juice, respect, the ultimate in human achievement, the only worthwhile measurement of a human life. Trump wants to up the volume of US arms sales to the world, exceed the heights reached by Barack Obama; Trump must best the black man or the deep inferiority complex he carries everywhere will swallow him.

Keep the peace by making war, by creating a river of refugees, by killing children. Has this country always been depraved, all of my nearly 59 years; did I simply not want to see? Through the Nixon presidency, the first I was really aware of, Ford, Carter, Reagan (who reigned when I was serving in the Air Force overseas and believed that the USA kept the world safe for democracy), both Bushes, Obama, he of the silk tongue and hammer fist, and now this madman, Trump, who launched missiles at Syria for reasons other than those stated to the American public, who he cares not a whit about. No real effect on the Assad regime, of course. Trump thumped his man-boobs and felt virile. Draft dodgers often get orgasmic on war, having never faced the terror and stupidity and absurdity of it, been the target of bullets and bombs, flying metal, glass, plaster, arms, legs, viscera, brain matter.

These days. Heavy. Like being on a ship that is slowly sinking into a sea of fire, but powerless to stop it. The captain is on the bridge, mad as a hatter, a blend of Ahab and Queeg, barking commands as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening, as if the lower decks aren’t taking on water, drowning poor passengers; on the luxury deck, under the crystal chandeliers, booze flows, food is plentiful, music plays, waiters in white coats step lively, beautiful people shimmy on the dance floor, diamonds winking in the light. The rich people on this level can’t hear the screams of the people below, and even if they could, it wouldn’t move them to relinquish an ounce of their privilege, which they believe with all their might is deserved, earned, justified, even if handed to them on a platter, even if ill-gotten, made off the sweat or gullibility of other human beings.

That’s what it feels like. Not drowning yet, but the threat hangs on the horizon, always, a gray smudge that only grows darker.

Short Takes:

Just finished reading and interviewing Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize winning author of All the Light We Cannot See, a wonderful novel that seeped into my skin. Doerr is a friendly, down-to-earth guy, wonderful to converse with, and a fine writer.

I can’t believe the amount of building activity I see around town these days; the new stadium project at Santa Barbara High, the condo complex rising near the Santa Barbara Bowl, more condos down Milpas; backhoes, cement trucks, a huge machine that slices perfect lines in the street, skip-loaders; I think of money flowing into SB from other places, Los Angeles, New York, who knows? Money has no home these days. Money moves through the ether, ducks, dodges, takes refuge, hides, stands out, blends in, invariably finds the pockets of the very few.

My Chelsea boys have won two straight away league games for the first time in 2018, and are trailing Spurs for a Top 4 place by five points. I still believe Chelsea will finish fifth, where we belong, because we have played inconsistent and sometimes maddening football this year. Too many matches lost against sides we should beat, home and away, a dismal, fearful, abject performance at Man City, a loss at Old Trafford, a loss at home to Spurs. Not enough goals scored, too many let in by a defense that has often been shambolic. Antonio Conte has moped on the touch line, his face pinched, all the joy and passion sucked out of him. Game in and game out, he can only depend on N’Golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta to put in a shift.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Coward's Pulpit

The other day I was thinking about Franklin D. Roosevelt and his fireside chats that were broadcast on radio across the country. I’m not old enough to have heard FDR in real time, but I have heard recordings. That patrician voice coming from the box, families gathered around hungry for hope, some certainty in a time of economic hardship at home and growing turmoil in Europe and Asia. Roosevelt said he understood their worries and fears -- and people believed him. Roosevelt used his bully pulpit to lift people’s spirits and assure them that America would come out all right.

Then I thought of Donald J. Trump and how he abuses the most powerful bully pulpit on the planet, creating divisions between people, inciting others to follow their basest instincts, spreading falsehoods, and attacking anyone who challenges, contradicts or criticizes him. Has any American president since the turn of the 20th century used such coarse and imbecilic language as Trump does almost every day via Twitter? Has any American president in that same time threatened to bomb countries with whom the United States isn’t at war so cavalierly, as if the bombs will only harm the “bad guys,” never innocent men, women, and children? Has any American president been so obsessed with appearing strong? How many people has Trump called “weak” or “sad” or “pathetic” since he was inaugurated?

Trump World is a frightening, dystopian place ever on the verge of chaos, the border is porous and dangerous people are always breaching it, hell bent on mayhem, plunder, rape, and murder; other countries take advantage, refuse to play by our rules or show enough deference for our greatness; laws are onerous things for others to abide by; the media is dishonest; judges are biased; minorities are greedy. In Trump World we must fear the Other, the outside world, and each other. Strength must be our highest virtue, all else is subordinate. The weak are unworthy. Women should know their place and stay in it. Dissent of any kind is unpatriotic. Empathy and compassion are for suckers.

Echoes, faint perhaps, of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. If he could, Trump would purge the government of rivals and institute loyalty oaths -- not to the United States or its citizens -- to him.

Short Takes:

I’m delighted that the cruel Ayn Rand disciple, Paul Ryan, has decided to turn in his speaker’s gavel and retire to a lucrative career doing God-knows-what for the Koch Brothers. Good riddance to a true political hack.

Trump’s knee-jerk, shoot-from-the-hip response to a chemical attack in Syria, allegedly perpetrated by the Assad regime, who Trump referred to as an “animal,” is another example of his manifest unfitness for office. Nobody knows with anything approaching certainty who is responsible for the chemical attack. It could be the Assad regime, of course, but it could also be opponents of the government or some splinter group; the situation in Syria is very complicated and Trump’s stupidity is making a bad situation tense and dangerous.

Once again, Israel is getting away with murdering unarmed Palestinians. The Israeli propaganda machine works overtime to paint the protesters as tools of Hamas, an absurd but useful claim. As usual, the US corporate media turns a blind eye and deaf ear. The US must support Israel -- no matter what crimes the latter commits.

How does Sarah Huckabee Sanders sleep at night? All the lies she vomits up on behalf of Trump has to take a toll.

Hats off to football club AS Roma, who knocked FC Barcelona out of the Champions League tournament. Talk about David versus Goliath.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Poem: Black and Unarmed

50 years since Dr. King was gunned
down in Memphis,
a sad milestone.

Rivers of black blood have flowed
since that April day,
coast to coast,
in big cities and small towns.

Dr. King was unarmed in 1968,
so was Oscar Grant in 2009
Trayvon Martin in 2012
and Michael Brown in 2014.

Tamir Rice packed a toy gun in 2014,
Freddie Gray an illegal knife in 2015.

Anton Sterling was unarmed when
he went down in 2016,
like Philando Castile the same year
and Stephon Clark two years later.

Black and unarmed,
empty hands in the air,
but still a threat
to the peace,
or the man behind the badge
always presumed guilty.

There are many more names than these,
a roll call of victims, testament to white America’s
fear and savagery.