Monday, November 21, 2016

You Terrify Me and I Hate You
...Now Help Me

 The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help—Ronald Reagan
 
     The sentiments expressed in the Reagan quote above have been around and ingrained for a long time. God only knows how many millions of Americans believe their government and the pols who run it are at best do-nothings and at worst corrupt and malefic. They stand in contrast to, say, the French, who instead of fearing the government have through their heads-up politics gotten the government to fear the people.
     Many, if not most, of these same millions of Americans voted for Trump because they felt abandoned and abused by the very Washington they abominated. It was like getting angry at your evil witch of a stepmother for leaving you out of her will as she always promised she would.
    The Trumpens were said to be furious at their loss of jobs, the influx of immigrants, and the shattering of their communities. Lots of them felt that being white no longer gave them them a goose up on the national pecking order. They conveniently forgot that for decades they had voted for the pols and policies they were now blaming for their miseries.
    So they cheered at Trump’s promise to build a wall to shut out undocumented immigrants, even though the fact was that the vast majority of them get into the U.S. by overstaying their legal visas.

     They believed that a realtor for the richy rich with a long reputation for ripoffs and his likeness in the dictionary under the definition of megalomaniac could make things like they used to be when the white man’s writ ruled and store signs were still in English.   
    So why were conservatives and their kith expecting help from the government they detested?  Why were they complaining about politicians and plutocrats lining their pockets when that’s exactly what popular modern day conservative-inspired capitalism is all about?
    The answer? It comes from the very conservative Henry Mencken a century ago: no one ever lost a dime by underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

    Imagine an Academy Awards presentation in which none of  the judges had seen any of the movies in contention but had voted merely on what they might or might not have heard about them.   That’s a ringer for our political system.  Millions who know and care little about events apart from those of their daily existence are called upon on election day to pick political leaders whose politics are a mystery to them. So they vote their feelings, their attitudes, their casteism, their hopes—anything that doesn’t require knowing how our system works.  And thus we end up with the likes of Trump. The only slight saving grace here is that half the populace, not knowing and/or not caring, never bother to vote.  Perhaps they have internalized the old Wobbly dictum that if voting could change things it would be against the law. Nah, they never heard of the Wobblies.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

After the Election
    Millions of Republicans are far to the right of their leaders.  Millions of Democrats are far to the left of their leaders. While tons of these Reps have joined the Trumpen element, the disaffected Dems remain a wild card. Will they hold their noses and vote for the Hillary they hate or will they stay home?  We’ll find that out on November 9.
    What we can already see is that our present political arrangement is on the verge of collapse. A  Trump victory will put us on the road to fascism while a Hillary win will tear apart both parties. In any event, big changes are coming.
     A president Hillary will, like Obama before her, quickly abandon her progressive agenda and instead seek to reconstitute the Dems as a center right party by recruiting the anti-Trump “moderates” among the Reps. She’ll be strongly opposed by the Dem base, which wants to move the party leftward.  It’s going to be a helluva donnybrook. Either the lefties will somehow gain control of the party or they will be beaten and leave the Dems to form a new party.    

    A Trump in the White House promises chaos. What Trump’s Breitbart-oriented cabal openly plump for is the destruction of the GOP and its replacement by a white nationalist party.  With whites already a declining plurality of Americans, the only way such a party can gain and hold power is  by violence and repression. In other words, turning the U.S. into what South Africa used to be.
    Along with giving racists a chance to use those assault rifles they’ve been stockpiling, a white nationalist America will mean another Civil War.  And that will mean that for once since the Civil War, Americans, at least those on the left, will be fighting for freedom in their own country rather than someone else’s.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Oceans Apart
                                                         West Tisbury, MA
    I’m sitting on an island in the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of one of the great sea lanes. The coastal waters of New England abound with every sort of craft from mini jet skis to gargantuan tankers and container ships.This being the U.S., most of that maritime traffic flies the American flag.
    Imagine, then, the Russian navy showing up in these waters.  Imagine Russian aircraft testing our defenses by flying straight at our shores. Imagine Russian warships tailing our naval vessels and their jets buzzing our planes. Imagine Russian war games off Cape Cod.
   Now imagine that Moscow declared that the reason for its military activity along the U.S. coast was to ensure freedom of the seas.  Or put another way, to protect American trade with the rest of the world.
    Once we stopped laughing, we’d be in a panic and likely on the verge of war with the Russkies.  Pols and pundits would be demanding the we forcefully counter such an obvious threat.
    At the moment, our navy is carrying out some of the same maneuvers off Russia in the Baltic and Black Seas that we just imagined that Moscow was up to on our coast.
    The Russkies are not panicking about us, though.  They’re used to it. From 1918, Russia, first under communism and for the last 25 years under capitalism, has had to deal with U.S. attempts to weaken and/or overthrow its government. 
    This began with the now unremembered outright U.S.military invasions in 1918-19 in Russia’s far north at Archangel and far east at Vladivostok.  Except for a short period of cooperation during  World War II, U.S. policy towards Russia has been relentlessly hostile. The ostensible reason was that our democratic country was somehow obliged to oppose Russia’s dictatorship.  But that argument didn’t hold water considering that Washington has spawned and succored countless tyrannies around the world.
      A truer explanation is that longtime U.S, policy calls for “full spectrum dominance” of the non-American 95 percent of the globe.  Big, independent-minded countries like Russia, China, Brazil and Iran stand in the way of that policy. Hence Washington treats them as disobedient.
    That means co-opting or overthrowing them politically, punishing them economically and intimidating them militarily. In other words, our navy is not provocatively maneuvering off the Russian, Chinese and Iranian coasts to ensure free and unhindered passage for Russian, Chinese and Iranian vessels or those of any other country. They’re there on an enduring mission: to expand and enforce the American empire, or what’s more politely known as our ‘global leadership.’

Friday, July 22, 2016

And Still We're Scared

This is the last stand on earth. There’s no place to escape to—Gen, Michael Flynn 

The sense of safety that many of us once took for granted has been shattered—Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. 

 Both quotes from speakers at the Trump-GOP Convention where “Making America Safe Again” was an official theme.

                                                     West Tisbury, MA
      We maintain the world’s most powerful and expensive military arrayed in hundreds of bases throughout the world. We are currently using those bases to conduct seven overt and several covert wars from Africa to Asia. Our president has just ordered a trillion (yes, trillion) dollars worth of new model nuclear weapons to more reliably and efficiently destroy human existence should that become advisable.
    Since 9/11, Washington has used our taxes to create a top secret security bureaucracy “so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.” This bureaucracy apparently has the capability to surveill just about every American and God only knows how many of the other 95 percent of the world’s people.
      At home, we have over a million civilian police who are increasingly militarized and equipped with heavy weapons more useful to make war on the citizenry than to ‘serve and protect’ it. For their part, ordinary Americans are armed with over 300 million guns, adding more all the time  Millions of these gun owners  are present and former military with proficiency with weapons. To enhance our security, we imprison 2.2 million people, a total greater by magnitudes than any other country, including China, a dictatorship with five times the U.S. population   
    You would think that all of the above would make Americans feel secure.  No other country in history has been so profusely armed and organized not only for defense  but also to take the offense against those who would  challenge not merely its security but its dominance over others. Yet despite all this power,  Americans live in fear. Fear of Mexican rapists, Muslim terrorists, aggressive Russians, arrogant Chinese, fanatic Iranians, and anti-Americans of countless kinds. And that’s not to mention our fear of our fellow citizens—the ones we protect ourselves against with assault rifles for the gents and dainty pink automatics for the ladies.
    There’s not a moment where we can say we feel safe and secure. And even if we increased our power by ten or twenty or a hundred fold we would still live in fear. Politicians in and out of office would still be warning us that ever greater military spending, ever more foreign wars, and ever more draconian impositions of law and order at home were vitally necessary if we wanted to be safe.  No matter how bloated the budgets of our warfare state,  politicians would still be accusing each other of skimping on it. But those politicians who talk tough are really lying fools or weak-willed pussies.
       In fact, there is one man in America, a real estate promoter and brand name marketer, who can alone quickly vanquish all of these enemies and allay our fears because he’s smarter and tougher than any other candidate. He gets his intelligence from "watching tv shows” and is his own best consultant on complexities domestic or global.
     “America First,” his main political slogan is derived from a pre-World War II movement favorably disposed towards Hitler. “Law and Order,” or “legge ed ordine” in Italian, another of his slogans is, like the realtor’s jutting chin pose, associated with Benito Mussolini.     
    Both Hitler and Mussolini were better read than the realtor, who apparently didn’t even peruse the books about himself that he paid others to write.  In any event, instead of making Germany first and establishing law and order in Italy, they brought death and ruination.  
    It’s likely the same fate will befall us. Not from enemies but from ourselves. We seem to have a penchant for scaring ourselves to death.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Ever Closer to the Big One
    Let’s hope that Donald Trump’s regard  for Vladimir Putin is justified. That’s because Barack Obama has been busy testing Putin's sangfroid by making America's and the world's survival dependent on the good judgment of the Russian leader and the acuity of his radar operators.
    In the stupidest and most self-destructive strategic decision since Bush and Cheney declared endless war on the Middle East, Obama is marshaling missiles and troops on the borders of Russia in a reverse version of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that brought the world as close to nuclear armegeddon as it has ever come.
    Back then, the world was literally saved by a Soviet submarine commander named Vasili Arkhipov. The top three officers on board had agreed to require unanimity when it came to firing their nukes.  Arkhipov voted no and stuck to it. He’s why we’re all here today.
    That was a half century ago. Back then, Washington had a first strike nuclear policy. It still does.  The big difference then was that the speed and distance of our nuclear-tipped missiles gave Moscow 20 minutes to half an hour to decide on their response. Obama has cut that down to a couple of minutes.  He has literally put the fate of the globe in the hands of the Kremlin masters and their warning systems.
    If that’s not scary enough, Obama has ordered up a trillion dollar program to modernize our old nuclear weapons and build new ones along with new delivery means. Featured will be smaller tactical bombs and missiles, meaning there will be a greater likelihood of their being used.  In short, when it comes to blowing up the world, our Nobel Peace Prize winning president--and no doubt his successors--will be bringing us closer to doomsday than at any time since the Cold War.
    And for what?  The same old ludicrous claim that Russia, though now a plain old capitalist rather than a fervent communist country, wants to take over the world starting with, say, its erstwhile Latvian satellite. Or maybe we'll end the world in a beef with China over  some rocks sticking out of the South China Sea.
    What’s really happening is the American empire is up to its usual tricks.  It looks at the disintegrated Soviet empire with the same avid eyes with which it looked upon the collapsing Spanish empire in 1898. Washington sees the Ukraine and Crimea as new Cubas and Puerto Ricos to exploit, only bigger and richer. It's using its nukes to extort Russian and China, not to mention other disobedient nations.
    In the Cold War, there was the illusion that if a nuclear conflict broke out it would pit the forces of freedom against those of tyranny. If it happens now, it will be nothing more than a foreseeable and avoidable world-killing miscalculation in the

age old battle for plunder and power.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

We're Too Rich To Afford Some Things
      Hillary and her horde are charging that Bernie has his numbers all wrong.They claim his promises for universal health care and free college tuition are just pie in the sky.
    Translated into straight English, they’re saying that the U.S., the self proclaimed richest nation on earth, can’t afford the civic and social benefits long common to just about every first world capitalist country. Or as Hillary puts it, "we're not Denmark." I could add that, when you come right down to it, we're not really first world any more either.
    Of course, Hillary's assertion is pure bullshit. Uncle Sam has unlimited trillions to make wars, prop up the stock market and otherwise indulge the already rich. It's only proposals to benefit ordinary Americans that, we're told, we cannot afford. Or so says Hillary, campaigning in New York in her spiffy $600 haircut from Bergdorf Goodman, 
     As the race tightens up, you can expect a lot more such sniping  at Sanders. But don’t expect a head-on attack on Bernie’s key point about the utter corruption of our political economy. For whenever Sanders rails on that subject, reporters in the room grow silent, hang their heads and nervously shift their feet. They know that he’s telling the God’s own truth about the big con game that pays their salaries.  Unable to defend chicanery, the most they can do is accuse Bernie of being a “one note” candidate.  But what a life-or-death note that is!
   By contrast, let one of the proven perpetrators of that corruption show up before the camera, say some Wall Street master of the universe who’s paid billions in fines and millions buying politicians to keep him out of jail, and new pages are written in the annals of lickspittling and brown-nosing by the very same reporters.
    Let’s be honest. Anyone who’s pays attention knows that the good old U.S.A. is not a democracy but a plutocracy fast turning into a kleptocracy. That means the more you steal, the richer, more invulnerable and more respectable you get.  It means that the government will generally ignore your depredations or, at worst, take part of your swag in the form of fines, before giving you a never go to jail card and letting you go to steal more.
    The Clintons then, like Obama now, used to smooth the way for the masters of the universe.  They have since become masters themselves. And if Hillary wins the White House, you can be sure that the Clinton millions will become billions. And what will Barack Obama be doing? He’s already busily working on his billion dollar “legacy”  by which people with the really big bucks will make him one of their own in thanks for all he has given them.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Our Criminal Constituency
   Donald delights in bragging to the Trumpen element who rally to his ripsnorters that he’ll be breaking lots of laws when he moves into the White House.  He’s gonna take Iraq’s oil. He’s gonna grab up the $100 million of Iranian money parked in western banks. He’s gonna extort the Mexicans into paying for a wall. He’s all for torture, the more medieval the merrier.  The other day he was talking about executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. When he got heckled in Burlington, he ordered his security people to seize the coats of the hecklers before throwing them out into the icy street. He brags that he’s so popular he can get away with outright murder.   
    Then there’s Hillary. She doesn’t fantasize felonizing like Trump. Rather, she, Bill and Chelsea, busy as mice, just keep scarfing up every morsel of pelf they can sniff out. The Washington Post told us that their take over four decades of family fund raising amounts to $3 billion (yes, with a b). That’s apart from ‘misplacing' $6 billion of the State Department’s money.
    Hillary’s foreign policy fiascos, like her family’s voracious money grubbing, are there for all the world to see. Just the other day (Feb. 20, 2016)  the NY Times reported that in Libya “efforts to build a unity government have made little progress while “jihadists have prospered.” Libya, of course, was a Hillary project. So was Honduras where she managed the overthrow of the  democratically-elected president and replacing him with a death squad democracy that’s still torturing and/or killing anyone in that benighted land who leans toward Bernie-style politics.
    And there’s more, so much more. No family in American political life has been so candid about their cupidityThey all but walk around with their palms outstretched.
    Unfortunately for the state of the nation, Trump’s promises of larcenies and tortures to come and Hillary’s blithe dismissals when it comes to taking big bucks from big crooks seem to draw more applause than opprobrium from their crowds. Admittedly, those crowds are overwhelmingly made up of partisans prone to applaud for even the burps and coughs of their candidate. But still, to cheer for out and out crime?
    I’ve long believed that this country harbors a sizable criminal constituency that ranges from nickel and dime chiselers to the masters of the universe down on Wall Street. One example is our nonpareil prison population. If only half of our 2.2 million inmates deserve to be behind bars, that still makes us the most criminal society on earth. Another is that we are one of the rare countries that permits a multi-billion dollar racket consisting of nothing more than telephoning people and talking them out of their money.
    So let’s say there are millions of Americans who, to put it gently, are not the most stringent of law abiders. These miscreants are sufficiently sensitive to sniff whether the  zeitgeist favors probity or perfidy and vote accordingly. 
    The result has been the accession of Clintons, Bushes and Obama and the greatest unpunished, but instead rewarded, crime spree in history.  Of course, not all their votes came from the loosely-moraled.  The great majority, no doubt, were cast by those either ignorant of or indifferent to blatant corruption by our rulers.   
    The most humongous of these crimes are the great Wall Street ripoffs that brought about the  financial explosion of 2008, and the plunderfest of our wars in the Middle East. Both are ongoing, incalculable in their pelf, and brazen in their execution. So brazen, in fact, that their documentation is massively detailed in every form of media from thick official reports and journalistic inquiries to television documentaries and breakthrough films like The Big Short.
    The only thing missing from this Everest of evidence is prosecution.  Yes, banks and corporations have been fined, though not enough to reduce the bonuses received by the perpetrators, let alone impinge on their business. But no one in charge has been has been made to stand before a judge.  Instead, the likely defendants play golf with the president who’s supposed to make sure the laws are enforced. Instead, the nation’s thieves are reassured by Washington that certain types of  crime are, in reality, permissable. As Schiller put it: 
It is criminal to steal a purse, daring to steal a fortune, a mark of greatness to steal a crown. Those words can be read both as an indictment of dishonesty or as an inspiration to greatness for our criminal constituency.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Her Hillaryness Requests--Again
    Hillary's ardent denial in recent days that she's part of the Establishment of the super rich who own and run our country prompted this second reprise below of a column on Her Hillaryness that I first did in 2014 for In These Times, a national news magazine that I’ve been writing mostly satire for since 1977. Here it is:

Dear Ideologist, 

   I enjoyed meeting you at my recent book signing on Martha’s Vineyard. As I indicated at the time, I would be happy to address the Fogey Forum, your senior citizen discussion group. As I mentioned, my minimum speaking fee for non-profit organizations such as yours is $200,000, payable in advance to my numbered account at Banque de Lichtenstein. I will require air transportation to your venue by Gulfstream 450 or larger personal jet and ground travel by Rolls Royce Silver Shadow for myself and Escalade SUVs for my staff. For accommodations, I expect potentate penthouse or presidential suite facilities for myself and deluxe rooms for my personal staff, including make-up, hair, pants suit and flower arrangement personnel. My retainers will present you with a detailed contract listing cuisine, comfort details and ancillary requirements. The moderator of your forum should introduce me in glowing terms, a copy of which will be sent you.  My topic will be the challenge of inequality in America and one woman’s effort to rise above it.--Hillary Clinton, Chappaqua, NY

Dear Mrs Clinton,
    I’m sorry to say that we cannot go beyond our customary honorarium of $15.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hillary Will Make You Sick
    Here are two immutable truths.
    * Just about everyone will pay anything to keep themselves and their loved ones alive and healthy.
    * Every private business has the goals of getting ever bigger and making ever more money.
    Combine this lust for life and lucre and you describe our idiosyncratic American health care system in which charging whatever the traffic will bear is the logical free market response to the willingness of the stricken to pay anything to avoid death and disease.
   Every developed capitalist country rejected such a system with barely a second thought as inherently ruinous to both individuals and society. The aim of all these nations was not to enrich health care investors but to keep all their citizens hale and hearty at a reasonable cost to the polity.
    They have been successful at this. These nations spend far less on health and achieve better outcomes than we do. They do this by treating health care as both a universal right and a public service.  To citizens of these countries, managing health care for profit would be as iniquitous as turning the police and fire departments over to private investors.            
    Unlike the U.S, these countries do not charge $7 for a band-aid or give a William McGuire, CEO of United Health Care, which cares for no one but merely sells a financial product called insurance, a $1.6 billion (yes, billion) golden parachute on his retirement.
   There’s nothing new or radical about such single payer health care organizations. They’re been working just fine for decades in countries from Canada to Japan and just about everywhere in between. President Truman first proposed such plan for the U.S. back in 1948. He was outraged that Americans were being gouged $12 a night for hospital rooms. We would have had it ever since except for conservative opposition. 
    Bernie Sanders, a socialist presidential contender is running on Harry Truman’s Democratic platform from way back then.  In other words, he wants America to catch up with the rest of the capitalist world when it comes to health care.
    And why not? Eons of evidence from all these other nations offer proof positive that single payer saves huge amounts of money and provides better care than the extortionate and inane system we have now. 
    Hillary Clinton, who with her husband has collected $3 billion (yes, billion) over their political careers mostly from other rich folks, also wants to be president. She says she’s opposed to a first world model health care system that would be cheaper and work better than the one we now have, which is by far the most expensive on earth and getting costlier every year. Of course, she doesn’t say it like that. Instead, she’s says we should incrementally approve the system we now have because, get this, a cheaper system would be 'too expensive' and therefore politically impossible. 
    One of the reason it would be so hard to do is that, as Donald Trump reminds us, business interests have long since corrupted Washington with fat bribes. Many of these come in the form of honorariums for speaking at closed-door luncheons, dinners and forums. For instance, Hillary Clinton was given the amounts below by private health care businesses with a vested interest in the present system. In other words, Hillary apparently doesn’t just believe it would be difficult to change health care for the better, she’s allied with those who oppose that change. She, of course, denies she’s been bought. Yes, and I am the king of Romania.



               


 
       

  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Stupidos and Smarts
    Super tough conservative Dick Cheney assured us we would win the Iraq war in “weeks, not months.” That was 675 weeks ago. The Iraq war goes on, as does the even longer one in Afghanistan. Our enemies are stronger than ever, and, if you believe the Republican candidates for president, our military is weaker than ever.
   
Cheney and tough guy George Bush II chose to absent themselves from the Vietnam war. So did tough guy realtor Donnie Trump, who lucked out with four Vietnam-era draft deferments. Tough guy conservative action movie stars Ronald Reagan and John Wayne spent World War II poolside in Hollywood while wimpy peacenik George McGovern was flying combat missions.  
    Millions of Americans admire those guys. They believe that having tough leaders, even if they’re only play acting at being tough, is the way to go. What's the alternative?  The most obvious one is having smart leaders.
    But there are problems with smart. You can pretend to be tough, but you can’t pretend to be smart.  Either you are or you aren’t.
    Smart people predicted that the Bush-Cheney wars on Iraq and Afghanistan would not be short and glorious but endless and disastrous for the U.S., the region and the world. Smart people warned that the housing bubble would burst, creating the great recession of 2008.  Smart people said the austerity policies favored by conservatives here and in Europe would produce not prosperity but greater misery.
     Sadly, our political arrangements don’t allow for much in the way of leadership by smart people who make sensible analyses and reasonable decisions. Even when smart people do get into positions of power, they have to play down their brain power. When Secretary of State John Kerry, who’s no genius, was running for president he had to hide his fluency in French. Too hoity toity for the voters.
    The big issue now between the (relatively) smart set and the tough guys revolves around what some call the war on terror and others an ongoing war for control of the Middle East and its vast energy resources. The smart side believes in a war of divide and conquer against ISIS, meaning making alliances with Muslims who also oppose ISIS.  The tough guys, out of a mix of ignorance, arrogance and racism, sound like they want to take on all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.  These same jingos indicate they wouldn't mind  going nuclear toe-to-toe with the Russians and Chinese as well.  Or so their habitual ukases threaten.
     Do they actually want a replay of the century-long Crusades with World War III thrown in to boot? Is that mere campaign season chest thumping, or are they really that stupid and reckless? Probably a bit of both.
    The danger is not just that we have stupidos, chicken hawks and swindlers vying for leadership of the country, but that so much of our polity bray in wrathful eagerness whenever one of these yahoos proposes war, torture and/or plunder.
    Conventional wisdom has it that Americans are fed up with war in the Middle East after only a quarter of a century of it since Desert Storm back in 1991. That may be so. But what also may be so is that ennui could shift to aggression on a dime with even a small but spectacular terrorist incident.