Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Believe It Or Not
     If memory serves, it was about a week or so ago that President Trump announced he was sending 15,000 troops to the Mexican border to repel what he called an invasion by a combined force of Central Americans and Middle Easterners.
    That was around Election Day. Since then there have been no reports of battles, casualties or territory lost or gained. So if the president is to be believed, this is the first stealth attack against the U.S. since there doesn’t seem to be any tangible trace of it. Calls to San Diego or Juarez are getting through with no problem.
      The Pentagon had said that operation will cost about $220 million. Not a problem since most Americans agree that there is such thing as too much military spending.
    You would expect the government and the media to keep the citizenry informed when it comes to an invasion of the nation.   So far all I’ve heard are reports on MSNBC  that some of our forces may be coming home for Christmas.
    The attitude of Americans towards their wars has changed since Vietnam. Losing that conflict was highly controversial.  Since then stalemate and defeat have become acceptable so long as they are profitable. Witness our pointless 16-year-long trudge in Afghanistan which has yet to produce much contention.
    Our current Mexican border war seems equally likely to remain ignored.  Merely announced by the president and unmentioned after that, it’s our first truly stealth war. So you can forget about it. Just pretend it never happened. Maybe it didn't. Maybe the president lied. Nah, that couldn't be.

Monday, November 12, 2018

                      U.S. troops OccupyVladivostok, 1918

Talk About Meddling 
     Exactly one hundred years ago in November 1918, invading U.S.troops were joined in combat against Russian armies—in Russia! They were part of a coalition of western powers whose mission was to meddle in the affairs of that country; more specifically to overthrow the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and reinstall the despotic Romanov dynasty. Or, as Winston Churchill more colorfully put it, “to strangle the infant in its cradle.”
    Thousands of Americans fought and hundreds died. Nearly all were from Michigan-based units. They served at Arkangel in frigid northern Russia and Vladivostok on the Pacific. The force was ill-equipped for the horrendous weather and poorly led. It returned home in 1920, leaving Russia under the domination of Russians.
     Like the U.S. invasions of Canada in 1775 and 1812 or of Cuba in 1961, it was a failure that was swiftly unremembered so we could maintain the the ever useful pretense that we are not meddlesome imperialists but the ever laudable self-styled leader of the whole world.
    Interestingly, it’s a full century later and Washington, apparently with the exception of Donald Trump, is still about the business of trying to overthrow the regime in Moscow. This even though Russia has long since abandoned communism, the evil of evils, and replaced it with a capitalist system such as ours. The problem our leaders have with capitalist Russia is that it has the economic and military wherewithal to maintain its independence in defiance of America’s oft-proclaimed prerogative to “lead” the other 95 percent of humanity. The same holds true for China, and to a lesser extent, Iran.
    A part of our leadership in Washington has been  willing to live with insubordinate nations so long as they don’t threaten our global interests. But a hard-line element, including  National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of States Mike Pompeo,
seem determined to restart the Cold War and, God forbid, get us into  hot one.
      They are making our existence dependent on the intelligence and sang froid of Putin and his regime by provoking Moscow in ways we would never tolerate (see the 1962 Cuban missile crisis).  We have torn up treaties we signed limiting medium range nukes and have placed troops and nukes right on Russia’s borders.  Imagine Russky bases in Mexico and Canada!
    Back in Cold War times, Americans were aware and worried about the nuclear threat. We had a thriving peace movement.  Now, with the danger far greater, you hardly hear peace sentiments in churches let alone on the streets.  America may well disappear by way of insouciance.  Meanwhile, the Russians have not, and will not forget our brutal invasion of their county a century ago.

Monday, August 27, 2018


First on Falsity, Honestly  
   There's been lots of talk, some of it even true, in recent days on the subject of lying.  Everywhere you look and listen there's a farrago of fakery.  Somehow, it all seemed familiar.  Then I recalled that, as with so many other societal subjects, the KarmanTurn, was yet again at the "nucleus of hip in America," having long ago been there and done that on the fad for fibbing.

    See the following from Friday, November 2, 2012
    
Unemployment Solved!
    Finishing up school and need a job? There’s a business growing faster than a pig can fly. And it’s hiring millions of grads right now. These jobs feature ultra-high salaries, full health benefits, reimbursement of tuition debt, free luxury housing in desirable resort areas, and  unlimited no-charge use of new Lexuses, Range Rovers and, in many cases, Corvettes. Act soon and you may even be driving a Ferrari.
    What is this incredible new business?         
    Fact checking!    

    Right now and right here, there have never been so many liars in one place in the whole history of the universe. You would have thought that with the electoral campaigns almost over, there would be a sharp decrease in fakery and fabulation.  Quite the opposite.  People are taking their cues from politicians and have begun to palter to a fare-thee-well.  For instance, dentists are lying about the number of cavities they fill while the cable company is claiming that you did order the Latvian premium channel.
     Each and every day countless canards are created, each of which has to be checked and then indexed and sent to cloud storage. A proposed Constitutional amendment that will entitle Americans to their own facts is expected to raise the boom in fact checking to new heights. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity.

(The above article has been fact-checked by the firm of Bugiardo Mentiroso and Lugner and has been rated  TL--Tissue of Lies)

...ends

Friday, August 24, 2018

Heil and Farewell
                                                         West Tisbury, MA
    There are few things as certain in these uncertain political times as the enduring pusillanimity of the leaders and a good number of the rank and file of the Democratic Party. 
    For example, ever since the ascendancy of The Donald, backed  by GOP majorities in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and company have been ardently advertising their eagerness to “work across the aisle” with these Republicans. Left unmentioned but obvious is that the Republicans they want to work with are, with few exceptions, some of the most reactionary, if not proto-fascist, politicians this country has ever known.
   Don’t be surprised then if the denouement of the Trump trauma is a “compromise” backed by the Dems which lets The Donald resign and accept a pardon as was done in the case of Tricky Dick Nixon. The Donald's demission will be credited to health problems or his desire to get closer to his family—particularly Ivanka.
  After some recoup time, we can expect The  Donald to return to the media spotlight, with his image elevated to a new category of noteriety: a combination Benito Mussolini and Charlie Sheen or, if you will, an eminence orange. The Dems will champion this outcome as “in the best interest of the country” as they try and fail to cuddle up to Mike Pence.

   I will, of course, take back this prediction in the unlikely event that the rising democratic wing the Demoncratic Party takes power and starts challenging reaction rather than groveling before it.
...ends

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

 Syria, In Short 
   Syria has a brutal and dictatorial government—on a par with some of the nasty regimes with which we enjoy kissyface relationships in that part of the world. Nevertheless, the Assad regime in Syria is the legally recognized authority. It’s a member of the UN and other international organizations, and has even signed on to the Paris environmental agreement.  It has an embassy, though currently vacant, here in Washington.
     For decades, Washington and its Israeli
advisors have sought to overthrow the Assad government  and replace it with a tractable one.   They have two reasons for this: to get rid of an 
insubordinate regime, and to deny Russia, which has long had a naval base in Syria, one of its two outlets to warm water (the other being Crimea). The Russians understandably regard the second reason as vital to their national security even at the risk of war.  
    Seven years ago, civil war broke out in Syria, with the Russians and Iranians supporting the recognized government at its request, and the U.S. arming and advising anti-government rebels.  The difference is that the Russians and Iran were acting legally while the U.S. was once again committing aggression, the worst crime under international law.
    When that civil war began, then President Obama assured us that the Assad regime would collapse in a matter of weeks. He was dead wrong. As in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, Washington had again underestimated its enemies, this time in Syria. And so our Middle East wars have dragged on from years into decades.
    The reason why our leaders habitually discount their adversaries is hubris. They believe that America, being the greatest, has nothing to learn from the not-so-great other 95 percent of the world. So far, there is no cure for this condition.
    Thus we are wedded to never-ending war, a horror that benefits only military contractors. As I write this, our president is bragging that his missiles are smarter than Russian ones and that he’s about to prove that in Syria. Since, he always tells the truth and is never wrong I guess we don’t have to worry.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Living With Losing 
    North Korea has three neighbors: China, Russia and South Korea. Despite the north’s  nascent nukes, none of the three regard North Korea as much of a threat. It’s too small and weak to invade Russia or China. That would be like a badger attacking an elephant. As for invading the far bigger and stronger south, the north tried that in 1950 only to have its own territory utterly devastated and 20 percent of its population slaughtered. So it’s not likely to go that route again.
    By contrast, the United States regards North Korea as a major threat to itself. This despite the fact it’s thousands of miles distant from America, not to mention that the U.S. has the means to wipe North Korea off the map in a matter of minutes.
    Ignored whenever Washington bruits the threat from the north is why, in any case, would the Kim Jung-un regime commit national suicide by attacking the U.S.?  By the same token, why would Iran want to attack Israel and/or the U.S.?  Would it presumably be to enjoy a few minutes worth of schadenfreude before  retaliatory nuclear strikes by Israel and the U. S. atomized their 5,000 year old civilization? And if that’s so, why haven’t they done it yet?
    No, Kim and the ayatollahs are meanies but not nut cases.  They have no intention of committing national suicide with the help of our Pentagon.  What they do want is to remain outside the sway of the American empire.  So they have developed sufficient military power to deter the U.S. And that’s what Washington cannot abide.  It demands that North Korea, Iran and any other refractory state disarm, thus making it easier to control them. To put it in the vernacular what our empire wants is to be the only one bringing a gun to a knife fight.
   Given the lessons of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, that’s not likely to happen. Sixteen years later and the Pentagon has yet to defeat the Afghans. This while Syria has proved a far tougher nut to crack than our generals gave it credit it for. A tussle with Iran or North Korea would make Afghanistan or Syria look like a playground fight.

    We live in very strange times. Our military has never been so lavished with our national wealth or so praised to the heavens at virtually every public event. All this for disastrously misjudging their enemies and not winning the wars they inflicted on them.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Rome Redux    
     With America on the brink of world-shattering war with North Korea, Iran and—why not?— China and/or Russia, it’s time once again to roll out one of the most apt descriptions of how we find ourselves in such a scary situation. It comes, as you may recall, from Joseph Schumpeter. He was a brilliant  economist who claimed to have accomplished two of his three greatest goals in life: to be the world’s greatest economist, Austria’s greatest horseman and Vienna’s greatest lover. But he never said which ones.
    Writing a century ago about events of two thousand years ago. he left us a brief summary of the foreign policy of the Roman Empire that reads exactly like the foreign policy of our American empire. So here it is from Schumpeter’s  The Sociology of Imperialism 1918:
    ...A policy which pretends to aspire to peace but unerringly generates war, the policy of continual preparation for war, the policy of meddlesome interventionism. There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not those of Rome, they were those of Rome's allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest--why, then it was the national honor that had been insulted. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors, always fighting for a breathing space. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies and it was manifestly Rome's duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs. They were enemies who only waited to fall on the Roman people …"


   

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why We Still  Love to Hate Her 
    I was shocked and amused this morning to learn that Hillary Clinton was “shocked and appalled” at the revealed lechery of Harvey Weinstein. I assumed irony:  Hill was making a Hollywood joke by paraphrasing that tired old cliché from “Casablanca,” as if saying,”Hey, another casting couch scandal. So what else is new?”
    Not at all. Check her CNN interview and you will see that Hillary seemed as sincere as her value system would allow. Here she was, former first lady, U.S. senator, Secretary of State, A-list celebrity, erstwhile seasonal next door neighbor of Weinstein in the Hamptons and major recipient of his largesse, saying that she, someone with about as much access to the world’s secrets, including gossip, as anyone on earth,  knew nothing of what by all accounts was the biggest open secret in Tinseltown. If she’s “shocked and appalled" by Weinstein, imagine how outraged she’ll be when she learns about the cavortings of Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wealth Care 

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
 
Medical costs are the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness,—Warren Buffet   
 

     Nitroglycerin, used to treat heart problems, isn’t exactly a breakthrough drug. It’s been around for nearly 150 years. I’ve been on and off it for twenty years. Those tiny pills that you stick under your tongue when your angina acts up used to have a tiny price: pennies a piece. Today, they’re going for a buck a piece. Thanks to our faith in the sacred free market there’s nothing  to stop them from soaring to a hundred bucks apiece.  After all, what’s more important, people averting heart attacks or investors getting richer?
     The capitalist world decided decades ago that nitro should keep selling for pennies and that health care should be treated as a public service like police and fire protection. Not quite the whole capitalist world.  Here in the U.S., the decision was that health care should be organized as just another business, like selling used cars or operating a casino.
    It was assumed that doctors, hospitals and drug companies would compete with each other on price, keeping costs low. It was an appropriate assumption in a country dedicated to free markets and the maximization of profit. Only it didn’t work.
    The problem, right from the start, was the free market itself.  On the demand side it meant just about everyone will spend every cent they have and fall hopelessly into debt to keep themselves and their loved ones alive and healthy. On the supply side it meant that those who provide the means for keeping us fit and above ground had no reason to compete on price. The strength of demand demanded instead that they charge whatever the traffic would bear. What’s more, the business law of maximization of profit demanded that they continually raise prices and/or lower costs to make more money in the next quarter than they did in the last one.
    The result has been the ever faster and ever greater growth of the health part of our economy.  Today, it’s running at 17 percent, or up to double that of other capitalist countries. Consider that total manufacturing in the U.S. accounts for just 12 percent. Unfortunately, health grows bigger but but much better.  The rest of the world also leads us in outcomes

     Economists used to classify health care as a maintenance cost of society.  It fell into the same category as getting your car serviced. The less you paid for it the more money you had in your pocket to buy products and services in the broader consumer economy. Now health care has become an industry like any other that expects to constantly grow in size and profitability. That’s great for its investors but terrible for people who get sick.
    As noted above, all of those other capitalist countries have long since bypassed this outcome by providing health care as a public service.  They don’t expect their fire departments to get richer every year, so why should they expect that of their hospitals?
    The sad part here is that we’re already part way to running health care like those other countries do.  It’s called Medicare. If our leaders had any brains or integrity they would solve the health care dilemma by extending Medicare coverage to everyone. But to do that would obviate the need for the most needless part of our health system: private insurance companies. Their administrative costs and profits consume about a third of our spending on health. That’s money that has nothing to do with making people healthier and everything to do with making investors wealthier.
    There has seldom been a better time to move to a Medicare for all system. Obamacare is unsustainable and the Republican solutions are the opposite of health care.  What we need is what the rest of the world already has: Medicare for all, otherwise known as single payer.     



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Down Memory Lane 
      Did I tell you about when I was a dreamer—an American kid born to highly deportable parents?   Both were illicit immigrants. My mother arrived here at age 12 from Trieste with her family nearly a century ago: 1921 to be exact. For reasons still unknown to me, she never obtained what were called ‘first papers’ in those days.  
      My father, born in Dubrovnik, the pearl of the Adriatic, became a merchant seaman. He jumped ship in New York. I don’t know the year or the circumstances.    
      In the thirties, they both became communists—not a smart move for either political or practical reasons. In 1954, at the height of the McCarthy era, they both paid for that decision by being arrested and ordered deported as subversive aliens.  
     Fourteen at the time, I ended up sleeping on my grandmother’s couch and visiting my mother and father at Ellis Island on Saturdays. They were paroled after a few months and, in fact, were never deported.
Old reds. My parents, Nick and Maria Karman, circa 1945
 My father, who had become a waiter, fell dead of a heart attack in the midst of this crisis while serving lunch at the Waldorf Astoria.  My widowed mother managed to remain in America thanks only to the geopolitical rearrangements in Europe following World War I.  She had been born on a gorgeous Dalmatian island with the ugly name of Ugljan.  It was a tiny fleck of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when she came into the world. When the Habsburgs fell, Ugljan became Italian and later Yugoslav. 
      My mother and her kin were listed as Italians on the manifest of the S.S. Belvedere, the Italian liner that carried them in steerage to America.They settled in Hell’s Kitchen, just a couple of blocks from the pier where they had disembarked. 
     Jump ahead to the spring day in 1954 when I got home from high school to learn from an uncle that my parents had been arrested and ordered out of the country.  At 77, that day and the day on which my dad died remain the worst two days of my life.  
    To be sure, Uncle Sam can deport any non-citizen.  The catch is that one country or other has to be willing to take them in. My multinational mother was obliged to apply to Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia. Each passed the buck. They were not interested in adding a poor, middle-aged sewing machine lady to their respective populations. Neither were any of the other countries to which the immigration authorities made her apply. 
    Her case hung fire for years. The government finally dropped the matter in the more liberal sixties. By then my mother had retired. She was free to live out her years in the country in which she had lived since age 12.  Eventually she was even issued a green card. And though the Yugoslavs wouldn’t take her in as an immigrant, they did give her a travel document.  She used it to visit beautiful Ugljan.
She succumbed to Alzheimer’s in 1988.
    The numbing anxiety I was feeling during my teenage years about having my family’s life torn apart is what millions of American kids with paperless parents are feeling now. Today, they call them dreamers. What I recall was a nightmare.