Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Save Your Eight Stuff

It's No Year's Leave
Back in July I warned that if Obama and the Dems came to power, the righties would erase 2008 from our memory banks just as surely as Judge Crater evanesced into that summer’s eve in long ago Gotham. I’m repeating my alert. You have until Inauguration Day to muster any memorabilia attesting to the existence of the 365 days between 2007 and 2009. Limbaugh and Hannity have already pinned the recession on Obama, while the ever clueless Bush has blamed his old man for the mess. In coming days, they’ll be faulting the Dems for the Gaza ghastlies and the Afghan agonies. It won’t be long before the mainstream media follow suit. By Memorial Day at the latest all the world’s woes will be laid at the bent knees of the Dems and anyone who recalls 2008 will end up behind the eight ball.
So, as I advised last summer, make a 2008 scrapbook to thrill and delight the grandkids and to prove to the doubtful that it was a year that was. --But Happy New Year!

Things That You're Liable to Read in the Bible

Gaza and Genesis
We Americans decided by ourselves that we were the world’s leader and that the other 96 percent of humanity had better obey if they didn’t want visits from the CIA or the 82nd Airborne. Over the last two centuries we used force on hundreds of occasions in every part of the world to get our way. One can only imagine how many more wars we would have fought if we actually had a contract from God, inscribed in the Bible, that sanctified our conquests.
One quite aggressive country does. If you want to know what Israel is all about open your good book to Genesis 15:18 and you'll find a reason for a lot of the bloodshed in the Middle East. If you don’t have one handy, it says that “the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” It means that all or parts of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq belong to the Jews, according to the ultimate authority.
If you’ve been to their country, you’ll know that the Israelis are a tough bunch and not so much frightened by pinprick rocket attacks from Gaza as ticked at the countries that God meant them to rule. Their mien can be likened to that of a landlord anxious to drive out his tenants so that he can move in his relatives.
In furtherance of its grace from Genesis, Israel has taken land from all four of its neighbors and has organized its military to dominate the region well beyond its biblical bequest. Every few years, the Israelis kill great numbers of nearby residents and blow up their civil infrastructure to encourage their docility or departure. That's what happened in the summer of 2006 in Lebanon and today in Gaza. But like a cat with eyes bigger than its belly, Israel has been obliged at times to spit up some of its conquests either because of persistent resistance or because too few colonists could be found to inhabit the lands taken.
But no matter how violent the Israelis get, the neighbors don’t go away. They bury their dead, remain refractory, and make babies at double the rate of the Israelis. The Arabs believe that down the road, incha’allah, their numbers and their presence will prevail and that Israel will go the way of its erstwhile model, the late, unlamented Union of South Africa. In other words, Israel will become a multinational state rather than an apartheid one.
That will make some Jews miserable, particularly the observant kind who take the real estate deed in the Bible seriously. But it might intrigue secular Jews willing to chance living in a land in which they are only influential but not dominant. I say might because nothing is sure in that part of the world, whether it’s gospel or not.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Enemies Erstwhile and Otherwise

Threats Getting Threadbare

With a new administration as enthusiastic for change as it is respectful of business as usual, it looks like a good time to review the threat board. We Americans love God but can’t live without the devil. Satanic threats, virtually all of which we create for ourselves, justify our empire, prop up our economy by way of “defense” spending, and scare us into sticking with the status quo.
For decades we had the “evil empire” embodied by the quondam commies. Then there was the “axis of evil” among atheist Koreans, Shiite Persians and Sunni Mesopotamians (imagine what they jabbered about at their secret cabals?). Nowadays, we have only the rubric “terrorism” to flog the foreigners we deem disobedient. Though it’s not particularly accurate or enlightening, it is a scary word signifying that we must let our government run roughshod lest those satans slay us in our sleep. And, of course, it’s a single word. If you pejoratize our enemies with more than one word you tax the public’s attention span.
Which raises the problem that our most familiar threats are suffering senility and don’t drum up the dread they used to. The Cuban Revolution is going on 50, with a frail but still feisty Fidel about to gall his 11th American president. Washington still dubs his regime a threat to the western hemisphere, while the western hemisphere, with the isolated exception of the U.S., enjoys increasingly cordial relations with the tropic isle we used to call the “pearl of the Antilles.” Obama apparently accepts that Cuba should remain a threat but says he favors some minor amelioration. We’ll still try to starve Cubans to death, but will allow exiles here to send table scraps to their relatives. And we’ll close Guantanamo so it will no longer be a sobriquet for torture, but revert to being a nasty example of imperial armed robbery.
Across the Caribbean, Venezuela, a country that never fought a war beyond its borders, is sharing the calumny we dump on Cuba. While we tar him as an autocratic ogre, President Chavez is working hard to unify Latin America on the European model, making our old backyard into their brand new mall. On his side is the utter disgust most Latins have for the so-called Washington consensus economics that kept them so poor for so long. Venezuela’s been on the threat board for a decade now. It ain’t going nowhere.
An old standby is Kim Il Jung, North Korea’s erstwhile boy dictator, now nearing 68 and reportedly suffering from stroke and such. North Korea sits on a peninsula surrounded by three far more powerful countries it would not dare attack. It was virtually wiped out when it tried to reunite with South Korea by force in 1950 and has since had so little to do with the rest of the world that it’s known as a “hermit kingdom.” Nevertheless, Washington continues to label it a danger to all Asia and beyond. Ashton Carter, a high diplomat in the Clinton administration, gave up the game when he revealed the real reason we oppose nukes in the North. When other countries have nukes, we lose our “leverage” over them, he said.
Also going gray is our Persian paranoia. It’s been 30 years since Washington began scaring us with the ever imminent and inevasible threat from Iran and its never quite perfected nukes. Our leaders lately tell us that Iran now plans to target everything from Israel to Iceland once it perfects the missiles to carry its still developing nukes. As my father used to say, if we had ham we could have ham and eggs if we had eggs. Of course, no one asks and no one explains why Iran, a country that hasn’t attacked anyone for 270 years, wants to commit suicide by rocketing its oil customers in Europe. Here, Obama figures to follow exactly the same policy as Bush, with a few diplomatic niceties added for window dressing. Our aim in Iran is exactly the same as it was back in 1953 when we overthrew its democratic government and imposed a bloody dictator. As Kissinger has said, we regard Iran’s oil as our own and mean to get it back.
Afghanistan, which joined the threat board seven years ago with 9/11, has been at more or less continuous war since the early 70s--that would be the 670s. Other countries love to invade it and the Afghans enjoy fighting them off. I don’t know why, since there’s little there to fight over. All I remember from my trip back in ‘73 was the dirt cheap hash, delicious melons and handsome rugs. Obama says he will change Bush’s policy by making the war there bigger and bloodier.
Syria’s been on the threat board for 60 years. Since it’s not strong enough to fight off its neighbors, let alone attack them, it has lost land on the Golan to Israel and its position in Lebanon to the U.S. Since they don’t have much oil, the Syrians don’t make the top of our shit list. We always seem to threaten them as an afterthought.
As as wrote back in the summer (Iraq Going, Going, Gone, July 22), the Iraqis have no reason to accept subordination to our empire and we have no way to force them, having shot our bolt militarily. After 40 years, the far more capable Israelis have yet to pacify four million starveling Palestinian imprisoned on a few patches of land. Any hope of the U.S. doing better in Iraq was always a pipe dream. The recently agreed withdrawal agreement codifies a more or less total American defeat. Not that the war was a total loss. We’ve got $50 billion of Iraqi oil receipts in our banks. You can be sure the big boys will find a way to hang on to that stash. Meanwhile, we move our shock and awe show to Afghanistan as control of the Middle East and its energy drifts back to the people who live there.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Election Business

Plus Ca Change...
Not since Seinfeld has so much money been made about nothing much. This year our uniquely American election industry topped $5 billion in revenues by serving up smears, inanities, thin hopes and cheap thrills. Despite the depression, posh resorts should be chock-a-block with flush campaign operatives this holiday season.
Apart from the couple of hundred thousand spent on Sarah Palin’s duds and do-jobs, the bulk of those spondulicks ended up in the accounts receivable of media companies and, in particular, television stations.
Just as Americans accept financial companies managing their treasury and doling out their health care, they likewise go along with media companies directing their democracy. This makes us different than other first world countries, where doctors manage health care and elections remain a political process, not a business.
Topping the trove of trivialities that marked the campaign was the stunning and serious fact that Americans, who have held on to their racism with a mite more nostalgia than other first world tribes, elected a not entirely white man as their leader. This gave half the country the warm fuzzy wuzzies and the rest a scary case of fear and loathing.
Apart from that notable fact whose repercussions we’ll see as time goes on, the election would have been a soporific were it not for Sarah. McCain could hardly stay awake. And it was noted that had Obama not been part African, he would have been long ago dismissed as a bright but utterly conventional business as usual pol.
There was some embarrassing pretense that Obama and McCain differed on major issues of which they dared not speak much. This game was given up no sooner than the results were announced. McCain bowed gracefully to Obama while Obama made it know that his notion of change stopped pretty much with his presence in the White House instead of George Bush’s.
In an indication of things to come, Obama named as his transition foreign policy honcho the cadaverous Warren Christopher, ill-famed for surrendering Florida to Bush back in 2000, and then picked John Brennan, an architect of the CIA’s torture regime, as his national security transitioner. Obama announced no hard feelings towards Joe Lieberman and indicated that he would treat the crimes of the Bush years with leniency rather than justice.
By such quick and clear moves, Obama was implicitly admitting that his change theme was strictly a campaign ditty. He underlined that by staffing his administration with yet more usual suspects from the Clinton and Bush gangs. A terrific story by the excellent Jeremy Scahill on Alternet tells the sad tale.
Obama may be business as usual, but his problem is that the business has gone bust. The American model of cut-throat capitalism is kaput, victim of its own hubris and greed. For all the neocon fantasies of global domination and Wall Street’s dreams of inflating new bubbles, the fact is that the self-proclaimed world’s greatest country has turned itself into the world’s greatest deadbeat. We have become indigent imperialists, our threats as empty as our wallets.
There are ways out of this mess. Unfortunately for us, none of them involve business as usual, the pretense of change, finding the bottom of the Dow, expecting foreigners to remain obedient, or Americans to stay docile.
The yahoos are already attacking Obama as the father of all evils, including the economic disaster, even before he takes office. The few progressives among us are already losing heart, dismayed by the realization that Barack will bring us just the same old same old. Little likely will change except to get worse for the next four years. Having never had the right and losing the left, Obama will be abandoned by those millions in the middle he leaves in the lurch. He's a one term wonder--unless the Reps come up with a super loser a la Sarah. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m staying short the market and not buying any Barack bonds.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Briefs

Go With The Late Gipper
Those of us who grew up in the cold war have been memory laned into insensibility by the revival of the epithets communist and socialist by the yahoo minions of McCain and Palin. I heard enough of it regurgitated locally that I know it made its intended impact on the declining numbers for whom those words still carry pejorative punch. Indeed, an unhappy lady in the Limon market told me just this morning that she’s terrified at the prospect of living under communism with Obama as our new commissar in chief.
I have a solution for such folks. It’s found in the words of the late Ronald Reagan, the exemplary conservative of his time and the leading inspiration for the current run of reactionaries. Back in his famous “Evil Empire”speech in 1983 Reagan offered the following:
A number of years ago, I heard a young father, a very prominent young man in the entertainment world, addressing a tremendous gathering in California. It was during the time of the cold war, and communism and our own way of life were very much on people’s minds. And he was speaking to that subject. And suddenly, though, I heard him saying, “I love my little girls more than anything.” And I said to myself, “Oh, no, don’t. You can’t — don’t say that.” But I had underestimated him. He went on: “I would rather see my little girls die now; still believing in God, than have them grow up under communism and one day die no longer believing in God.”
So you conservatives don’t have to live under Obama's communism. Ronnie and that young father suggest it’s better if you choose not to live at all. Think about it, yahoos.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fright Whigs

Demon Destinations
I shared a flight back from San Francisco on Sunday with a cheery cohort of continentals heading home to Europe after their bargain vacations in the States.
That seemingly innocuous statement of fact contain the names of two places that conservatives fear and loathe as dreadful and dangerous. They are Europe and San Francisco. The yahoos have internally demonized the old world--particularly the French part of it--as a socialist Sodom that forces people to use the wages they don’t have to spend on health care and college tuition to take month-long paid vacations in such subversive venues as our pinko Gommorah on the bay.
Somewhere high over America I read in the SF Chronicle that McCain had attacked Obama as a “European.” Earlier in the campaign, ado had been done because Obama uttered his comment about ordinary Americans being “bitter” while fundraising in San Francisco. And, of course, Bill O’Reilly, the St. Paul of the yahoos, has urged America to shun France and invited al Qaeda to nuke San Fran.
The core commandment of conservatism is clear enough. It holds that business and the rich should be free to do as they want and everyone else should as they’re told. That’s been right wing dogma since the first master and the first slave. But beyond that there are lots of things I will never understand about the peculiar run of reactionaries we spawn on this side of the Atlantic.
In particular, what have they got against Europe and San Francisco? I can understand their abhorence of the whilom Soviet empire. It was grim, gray and gritty, characteristics perfectly tolerable to right wingers were they not accompanied by disdain for private investment.
Bible thumping yahoos get up tight about irreverent San Franciscans having so much fun, such as the hunky Jesus contests sponsored by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. But the cons enjoy their jollies as well--with the added fillip of hypocrisy.
Don’t the righties know that their beloved capitalism was invented in Europe and that entrepreneurialism got its biggest boost in the Bay Area? Are they aware that the Scots gave us Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the Italians banking and double entry bookkeeping, and the French the reactionary rambunction of the Pujadiste petit commercants that we see reflected in every Palin rally? Do they think that the world’s wealthy flock to France and Frisco for fun and finance because those places are socialist hell holes?
And finally how wacky is conservatism for scaring itself half to death with the spectre of two of the globe’s most popular and inviting tourist destinations?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wake Me on November 4

The Dull Debate

“And for the most part I agree with Senator McCain on many of the steps that have to be taken.” --Barack Obama, debating, October 7, 2008

A year ago in a letter to the NY Times Sunday Magazine, I wrote that: “ our political system voters get to choose between two corporatized parties, financed by the same moneyed interests, that agree on major issues, while elections focus on lesser issues, personalities and smears.” The proof of that observation has been confirmed, certified, bold-faced and underlined by this year’s dismal McCain-Obama duel and in particular last Tuesday’s deadly dull “debate.”
The economy is eroding and the empire is evaporating. McCain and the Reps have shifted the blame for the former from the rampant chicanery on Wall Street down to the shiftless poor who cleverly conned Fanny Mae, Freddy Mac and the Dems into letting them buy homes they couldn’t afford. This is in line with America’s great tradition of “kick down and suck up” by which we fault the poor and powerless for any problems caused by the ever praiseworthy rich and powerful.
As for the ruffles in the empire, all we need do is to vainglory our “victory” in Iraq, move the troops to Afghanistan and have them stand guard on both sides of the frontiers of Pakistan. The stupidity of increasing combat operations on the border of China, a country that can pull the plug on what’s left of our economy with a few mouse strokes, was not considered.
The rest of the talk about those ever disobedient foreigners consisted of some tepid bear-baiting of the resurgent Russkies, and a promise by Obama to divert some of the money we borrow from Russia and other countries that actually produce things like oil “to provide [the former Soviet satellites] with financial and concrete assistance to help rebuild their economies.”
On the home front, Obama agreed that health care was a right, but wouldn’t deny it was also a commodity in our particular social order. In first world countries, sick people go to doctors and hospitals. Here, of course, they have to obtain permission from financial companies who determine whether it’s profitable to allow the ill to be treated. Those other systems produce healthy people at a reasonable cost to society; ours produces billions in premiums which are then invested in toxic derivatives and such. The health schemes offered by McCain and Obama differ only in the ways in which they channel the big bucks from premium payers to the big boys on Wall Street. If you want a real health care plan, you’ll have to move to the first world.
All in all, the campaign and the “debates,” drivel duels were it not for the putrid pageantry of Palin, have comforted us amid the historical turmoil now tearing up the old order. Their message is that a young and dynamic candidate can be just as wedded to business as usual as an old and doddering one. And if our America is not business as usual even in hard times, what is it?
(To my reader: I'm heading out west for a week and a couple of days. Will be back at the blog soon thereafter)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Conditional Chatter

Remember Regime Change?
With an electorate largely residing in the blissful valley between ignorance and indifference, it’s easy for our politicians to distract us with what the Italians call fantapolitica. The idea is to sequester the serious and liberate the ludicrous. Any triviality that can displace important issues will do. Always popular are the forms of fornication practiced by our pols when they’re not busy screwing the country. Flag burning also gets the peasants passionate about something that hardly happens and doesn’t matter.
Large among the invented inanities this year is the debate over whether we should talk to those we call our enemies without first bombing the crap out of them to set the proper tone for conversation. McCain says he won’t even meet with Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain because he suspects that NATO ally of being in lingual cahoots with Latin America. He charges Obama with near treason for considering unconditional yatter with the likes of Castro, Chavez and the dread Ahmnedinejhad.
Well, where in hell did this idiot issue come from? Everybody everywhere else talks to friends and foes as a matter of course. It’s been going on for thousands of years and it’s called diplomacy. We used to practice it as well.
But then came Regime Change. Remember it? It wasn’t so long ago. When the neocons took over our foreign policy with the selection of George W back in 2001, they began work on the ambitious goal of removing 20 or so governments around the globe that they believed to be in Washington and Wall Street’s way. There were the usual suspects like Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Iran and Iraq, and new ones like Venezuela, Ukraine, Georgia and even, for a brief, heady time, Saudi Arabia.
The neocons made the practical point that there was no reason to talk to the leaders of these lands because they soon would be dead or in exile. Since George didn’t like palavering with disobedients, let alone foreign ones, that was just fine with him. Thus commenced an era when, if George W cut you dead, it was with a sniper rifle rather than a social snub.
The Bushies were somewhat successful, notably in Ukraine and the Caucasus where they managed to install client states now making trouble for us. But they missed their major targets. Iraq is no closer to being added to our insolvent empire than it was under Saddam Hussein. Iran and Venezuela are stronger and more influential than ever in their regions. And Bush wouldn’t let the neocons go near his Saudi satraps. It soon became clear that regime change was a flop and, worse, that no enemy had ever done more lethal damage to the American empire/economy than the Bush bunch.
Like the scum in the tub after a shower, all that remains of regime change is the idiot issue of whether our presidents should precondition their palaver with our adversaries. Given the turn of events in the world, it's more likely that those adversaries will have no more interest in talking to us than we do in chatting with an empty ATM machine.

Beyond the Palin

Talk This Way Last thursday, October 2, 2008, will Wiki down in history as the day that American political discourse, with its historical roots in doubletalk, descended to gibberish thanks to the perky inanities of Sarah Palin.
Will gibberish displace doubletalk the next time around, or will it just have been a way stop of the rhetorical road to skimble skamble?
I don’t think so. With Barack Obama our likely next president, I’m betting that political discourse will gravitate from gibberish to jive.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Scenario Three
My Two Scenarios post back on July 19 posited an Obama victory that could go either way. Now it time to add a scenario figuring a McCain victory.
The Reps openly steal the presidential election. The Dems add to their majorities in Congress. But in the name of national unity they accept McCain’s fraudulent victory.
The blatancy of the fraud is designed to produce visceral anger and massive popular protest. The Bush crowd, still in power until Jan 20 2009, unleashes the forces that have been practicing wholesale repression by conducting massive round-ups of illegal immigrants and dope mongers,
They brutally repress the protests, jailing thousands and disappearing likely leaders. The Democratic congress, with a few honorable but isolated exceptions, looks on passively. It becomes apparent that democracy is dead and lawful protest is futile.
A long night of corporate fascism commences. An underground forms. The battle continues.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Peter Camejo,
an old and dear friend of the family who spent his life fighting for greater good over lesser evil politics, died Saturday. As is so often the case, the mainstream media save their truth telling for obits. For some inspiration in this time of illusion, check the following links that give an inkling of Peter’s splendid efforts in making ours a decent country in a better world.

San Francisco Chronicle Obituary

Video of Peter's last speech

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another Manchurian Candidate?

Another Manchurian Candidate?
I don’t know if you notice it too, but the problem with the election so far is that the Reps are moving far, far to the left of the Dems. I sniff a complot.
They’ve already embraced socialism and free sex. Their God only knows what’s next. The Karl Marxization of our economy is proceeding apace with the announcement that Bush administration is effectively nationalizing the home mortgage industry by way of a takeover of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. Uncle Sam will be owning more of our homes than there are people in communist Cuba.
This follows on the Fed’s bailout of investment banks on St. Patricks Day. That had the effect of making our equity and credit markets, the heartbeat institutions of capitalism, more like those in China than anything Donald Trump might recognize.
Put another way, your money in the bank, the house over your head and the direction of our nominally free enterprise economy are now under the control of big government bureaucrats, the same people that generations of conservatives decried as the most incompetent and ill-intentioned in America.
And who put them in charge? Not revolutionary hordes marching on Wall Street with blood in their eyes and pitch forks in their hands. No, it was the conservatives themselves who put us in the thrall of the pointy heads of the all encompassing state.
Socialism it truly is, folks. Thank God it’s only for the wealthy. The guys in charge know you ordinary folks wouldn’t feel right if the government gave you a free pair of glasses or a cane for grandma. That’s not American. The country will continue to operate on the three separate economic systems we all know and love: socialism (now expanded) for the rich, cut-throat capitalism for the middle class, and bottom-of-the-barrel feudalism for the poor.
On an equally important topic, the conservatives have apparently abandoned their insistence on abstinence--at least for Alaskan adolescents. Ghetto brats may still be reviled for the ruination of the nation for knocking up their high school hook-ups, but if you’re a rouge cou like Levi Johnstone, your swordsmanship gets saluted on national tv by John McCain.
To quote the father of the year: “I’m a f**kin’ redneck who likes to snowboard and ride dirt bikes. But I live to play hockey. I like to go camping and hang out with the boys, do some fishing, shoot some sh*t and just f**kin’ chillin’, I guess.”
Johnstone’s emphasis on leisure activities over hard work and entrepreneurial success reeks of European-style social democracy to me. Tote that up with the socialization of housing and finance and I think we may have a new Manchurian candidate in former red brain washee John McCain. If he wins the election, we might just all become Vietcong.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Did the Surge Work?

Did the Surge Work?
Why Barack Obama bothers with the likes of loofa-loving Bill O’Reilly is beyond me. Last night, Obama let the blowhard jam him on the subject of the surge. If you haven’t noticed, the surge is the right’s new holy grail. Not the real war in Iraq, mind you, or its increasingly likely outcome--but just the surge. The McCains and O’Reillys want everyone--particularly war critics--to admit that “the surge worked.”
This sort of fetish is hardly novel. There are militarists among us who claim that the U.S. won the Vietnam War. Never mind that our enemy chased us out, beat our puppet army, took over the country and have been running it for three decades. Forget that. These guys can prove to you that the American military won every battle. And that means we won the war.
In recent weeks, our chosen prime minister of Iraq and the great majority of their parliament has given us notice that they want to see the backs of our soldiery asap. Their demand is backed by innumerable polls in which great majorities of Iraqis say exactly the same thing: Yankees Go Home!
If you look at the politics of the situation, Iraq has every reason to extricate itself from the clutches of the American empire and go about its potentially fabulously lucrative business on its own. Its politicians have been maneuvering to do exactly that while their single-minded U.S. patrons have been concentrating on killing as many Iraqis as they can before they kill each other. (See my July 22 blog, “Iraq Going, Going, Gone”).
But that’s Greek (not to say Arabic) to O’Reilly, McCain and company. They simply want celebration of the surge and acclamation of our forthcoming “victory” in Iraq. What’s actually happening in the country is Halliburton and Chevron’s problem.
There’s a purported John Stuart Mill quote floating around the net to the effect that not all stupidos are conservatives, but that most conservatives are stupidos. The “surge” stricture adds to the evidence.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Putting A Stop to Sin

Putting a Stop to Sin
Sin has been trouble since creation time. Whether original, copycat, mortal or venial, it harms some people and makes others feel funny. In all modesty, I have come up with a way to eliminate sin. It’s simple and surefire but, for the nonce, works only in the United States.
As a sentient citizen, you've surely noticed that among their other duties, conservatives keep the books on sin in our land. They’re the ones who alert us to the wages of wankerism, the slough of sodomy, the anguish of adultery, the sordidness of spouseless sex, the snagged zippers of the tearoom trade.
Without our conservatives and their mind meld with God, few of us would know the difference between a venial peccato and a veal piccata. That’s why they are key to my plan to stop sin.
Let’s start with the case of Bristol Palin, the purportedly pregnant 17-year-old daughter of conservative vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. It has been announced that Bristol committed the common sin of fornication punishable by the standard second death in a lake of fire and brimstone.
You would think this a routine matter for our conservative brethren. But, presumably with word from on high, they are carefully avoiding any mention, let alone any penalty, for Bristol’s bad. Instead, they’re sympathetically characterizing her as an expectant teen cheerfully planning her coming military wedding (crossed shotguns) amid the joy of her loving family.
Indeed, they acclaim the Palins as a model of conservative family values, with dad bringing home the moose bacon and mom never too busy governing Alaska and running for the second highest office in the land to dote on her five children. In other words, there’s not sin but salvation in this supposed scandal.
As I recall, neither was any scarlet stain attached to the widely publicized peccadillos of conservatives Sen. Larry “Wide Stance” Craig, Rev. Ted Haggard, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Congressmen Mark Foley, Vito Fossella and Don Sherwood, among numerous others prominent in the rightwing firmament.
In each case forbearance, forgiveness and forgetfulness were advised in place of His wrath. Thus sin was replaced by indulgence and therefore diminished, so to speak.
So, if we all become conservatives, and influential ones at that, we will be granted automatic excuses for each of our errors. Our country will become indulgence rich and sin poor. Without sin to preach about, churches could concentrate on prayer for profit, building drives, religious rock and bingo. What more could you ask for in a free market economy?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bloomberg and Chavez

Bloomberg and Chavez
New York mayor Mike Bloomberg likes his job so much he wants to keep it. The problem is that the law restricts him to two terms. So to get the law changed he’s meeting with business leaders, including the publishers of the three major newspapers in the city. He’s popular with the big money crowd and they’re likely to help him.
Congress people, local pols and lots of foreign leaders can keep their jobs as long as they get reelected. They say that had he lived FDR would still be president.
A few months back, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez went not to business but to the voters to similarly repeal a two term limit on the presidency. That proposal was part of a package of constitutional changes that the citizens rejected on a close 51-49 percent vote. Chavez gracefully accepted his defeat, allowing that he might revisit those issues in the future.
I follow the media reasonably closely. They have not, as far as I know, branded Bloomberg a dictator scheming to be mayor for life. But that is exactly what they said--and still say--about Chavez.
By any fair standard, Venezuela has become the most democratic nation in the hemisphere. Elections are fair and turnout is massive. The opposition and its media are free to the point of indulgence. They are even allowed to go so far as to call for coups and the killing of government officials. There are no political prisoners. And there are no government death squads butchering the opposition as in Columbia, Washington’s preferred model for Latin democracy.
More importantly, the great majority of citizens have taken control of their society and their own lives by way of a myriad of new and evolving self-help initiatives that extend from the barrios to the nation at large. They finally have their own government using the nation’s great energy wealth to better themselves and move Latin America towards an integrated, prosperous and democratic community akin to the European Union.
I said ‘any fair standard’ above. You will hardly find one across our political and media horizon. It has been decided at our leading levels that the Venezuelan example is a threat to business as usual and cannot be be allowed to thrive or spread. Therefore it must be subverted in private and demonized in public.
So we have Chavez, a democratic leader, constantly portrayed as a dictator. We have a perfectly peaceful county that has never fought a war depicted as a violent threat to its neighbors. And we have a nation with a close and warm relationship with the U.S. labeled anti-American because its people have good reason to be highly critical of the Bush regime and the policies of empire long despised across the continent.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Will Obama Sell Out to the Liberals?

Will Obama Sell Out to the Liberals?

No wonder rightwingers think liberals are immoral and lacking in family values. Millions of liberals are ardently trusting that Obama will cheat on his bed mate and romance them instead.
It’s a fact that Barack’s in the sack with corporate and imperial America. His main pillow partner when it comes to mega bucks and macro priorities is Goldman Sachs, which, if you recall, provides treasury secretaries and grand strategy to both Dem and Rep regimes.
Also occupying Obama’s oligopolic ottoman are JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Union Banque Suisse, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, etc. This is the crowd that switched America from a manufacturing to a finance economy (see Stuff Versus Money below), which collapsed last spring and has since been replaced by socialism for the rich and feudalism for everyone else.
They expect Obama to continue to grant them first dibs on everything. That means an ever increasing concentration of wealth that sinks millions of mere citizens while keeping the yachting set riding high in the water. That’s what Barack's bucks from business are buying. You can be sure they're dead serious about getting their money's worth.
The empire acolytes to whom Obama has promised 90,000 more troops, a bigger violence budget, and busier interventionist policies than Bush are also depending on his good faith. He says Afghanistan must remain the most fought over backwater on earth. He’s hot to trot into Pakistan even against the violent opposition of 170 million Pakis. He's incensed by Iran, a country that hasn't attacked another in 270 years, and adoring of Israel, a country that envisions its borders in line with God's realty offering in Genesis 15:18. He agrees with Bush that the U.S. rather than Russia must be the regional power in the Caucasus. And he’s lined up squarely with the worst reactionaries in Latin America against the broad and deep wave of democratic reform sweeping that continent.
So what are the millions who forked up chump change for Obama paying for? Vague promises, indefinite indications and soothing cliches. That’s what they should expect.
Amazingly, they expect more. They think that on being elected Obama will turn faithless to finance and becoming loving of liberals. They think Obama will reform and revive the nation, inspiring a new era of concern for the many rather than the few, reasonableness in maintaining our global interests, and setting an aura of goodwill that brings us all together in rousing choruses of Cumbaya.
I’m not that cynical. I think Obama’s an honest guy. He’ll stay true to those what brung him.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vital Interests for Idiots

Vital Interests for Idiots
As if Waziristan weren’t worrisome enough, now Ossetia and Abkhazia have been added to the distant and dangerous threats we never heard of. We fret because former defense secretary Cap Weinberger told us that there is no spot on earth so obscure or remote that it doesn’t represent a vital interest of the United States.(1)
If you notice, cities and states don’t have such interests. Minneapolis is not overly concerned with matters in Miami, and Alaska doesn’t anguish over events in Alabama. In the world beyond, few countries besides ours have interests that go much beyond their borders.
If you add up all of our vital interests you get what our government calls its policy of “full spectrum dominance.” That means we’ve not only declared ourselves the world’s CEO but all of its regional branch managers as well.
For instance, as branch manager of the Caucasus and central Asia our interests include putting amenable politicians in office, creating and managing local armies and police forces, supplying them with weapons at nice markups, making sure we take our oil from under their ground, and seeing to it that the locals don’t unduly interfere in their own internal affairs.
Our Caucasian commitments are fairly new. Up until the early 90’s, the region was part of the Soviet Union, a failing empire in which we were very interested in developing interests. When the USSR shattered into 15 separate countries, we moved quickly. In no time at all, we had military bases, not to mention McDonald franchises, in eight of them.
One of our most successful ventures was Georgia, proud homeland of Joe Stalin. We installed a Wall Street lawyer as president, dispatched thousands of U.S. and Israeli military and secret police advisors, and built an oil pipeline that had the advantage of bypassing Russia, the erstwhile boss of the Soviet empire.
Unhappily, there were a couple of big fat worms in our Georgia peach. First, the Caucasus are to ethnic strife what church basements are to bingo.(2.) Second is that it's not in the interest of Russia, the big bear of the Caucasus, to let us turn its former subject states into a ring of hostile bases for American interests.
So when the incomparable incompetents in the Bush mob pitted their Georgia peaches against their giant Russian neighbor, it was hardly surprising that the Georgians proved as inept as their mentors. Their solons screwed up and their soldiers skedaddled. The Russkies squashed them like rotten fruit.
This raises questions: Why, given the endless wars in the Caucasus, are we making a big deal about this one? What was Karl Rove doing in the region last month ? Why did a military equipped by the Pentagon and trained by our Marines and Israel’s elite fold like an empty six-pack? Does this permanently queer our play in the Caucasus and points east? How much of this mess traces back to the McCain campaign? And how do we handle a resurgent Russia flush with oil, big bucks and a rebuilt military led by a tough and smart cookie who's more accustomed to dishing it out than taking it?
I’m no fan of Henry Kissinger. But he often intones a maxim that’s worth observing: Don’t give the other 96 percent of the world reasons for ganging up on the U.S. For the last eight years the Bushies have been handing out those reasons like free rolls of Charmin. They just sent a gold embossed one to Vladimir “Putie Put” Putin, George Bush’s trusted buddy. You know what he's doing with it.

(1) There is no corner of the world so remote, no nation so insignificant that it does not represent a vital interest of the United States--U.S. defense secretary Casper Weinberger. Manchester Guardian Weekly, May 20, 1984
(2) The Caucasus region is subject to various territorial disputes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988-1994), the Ossetian-Ingush conflict (1989-1991), the War in Abkhazia (1992–1993), the First Chechen War, 1994–1996, the Second Chechen War (1999–present), and the 2008 South Ossetia War--Wikipedia

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stuff Versus Money

Stuff Versus Money
People tend to confuse capitalism and consumerism. Capitalism is about money and consumerism is about stuff. In the old days, capitalists made money by making stuff. The trouble was that making stuff cost money--for raw material, labor, machines, and the like. With so many bright MBAs around, it didn’t take long to figure out that you could make even more money by not making stuff.
Among the first to try this was the American Can Company. It had a great recession-proof business, since even the dog food consumed by the poor came in cans. But making cans required tons of metal, big clanky machines and workers to run them. So in the 80’s American Can kicked the cans and went into the money business. It changed its name to Primerica and started peddling insurance, loans, mutual funds and other products that exist only in computer files and on paper printouts.
The monkey see monkey do spirit soon had other companies aping Primerica. Factories faded and financials fulgurated. Manufacturing, which led the nation that led the world, dropped to 11 percent while FIRE (Wall Street talk for finance, insurance and real estate) soared to 30 percent of the economy. Let other countries make stuff, we’ll make money.
The change from palpables to pelf robbed millions of Americans of decently-paid manufacturing jobs. That meant they could no longer afford to buy stuff. Even money capitalism couldn’t exist if people didn’t consume. So the problem was how to get the broke to buy. The answer was credit.
If you’re my age, you’ll remember when it used to be scarce. To qualify for a mortgage or a car note, you had to be a solvent citizen with a rich uncle as co-signer. Then easy credit kicked in and banks started issuing credit cards to house pets and peddling mortgages to picaroons.
Limitless credit was a splendid solution--for a while. Soon, not only consumers but businesses and government were engorged with debt. That debt earned not just interest but fat fees of all kinds. What’s more all those IOUs could be sliced, diced and packaged in countless ways for resale, re-resale, re-re-resale, ad infinitum.
By “countless” I mean that the debt mountain has become so high that there is no way of toting it up and sorting it out. Imagine accidentally adding salt to a sugar bowl and then trying to separate the grains.
But debt is not our main economic problem. In the past, all such awful arrears have been written down and forgotten in one way or another. Borrowers have simply renounced their owings. Governments have inflated themselves out of hock by debasing their currency to where it takes a billion bucks to buy a stick of gum.
The serious issue is that Americans are now both broke and out of credit. And since ours is a consumer society, a dearth of customers means slow death. The reasonable solution is to start making stuff again, thus providing people with wages to buy stuff. A good place to begin would be producing a new energy system and rebuilding our failing infrastructure.
But our capitalists are not likely to make such investments at home as long as they can make more money away. The other 96 percent of the world is now a better bet than the good old U.S.A. We should have stayed with stuff. Too late now. It looks like hard times will be around for awhile.

Friday, July 25, 2008

2008--The Year That Isn’t
Make lots of videos. Date everything. Don’t trash any files. If the Dems win the White House and Congress, this year, 2008, will be erased from public memory. So you’ll want to keep private proof that you lived through it.
Part of the magic of America is that, to quote my buddy Karl, we can make the solid vanish into air. We can take notions people have held for eons and shut them off like a radio, never to be thought about again.
If you recall, that’s what happened on February 22, 1972. That was the day Richard Nixon took chow with Mao in Peking's Forbidden City. Up until that trip, Americans had been told for decades that Chairman Mao was the all-time evil dictator of the most fanatically monstrous regime in history. Then, with the soup, Mao magically became Charlie Chan and China turned from a communist tyranny into a capitalist’s wet dream. Slave labor stopped being a horror and was redefined as a neat cost saver for investors. The conventional wisdom that China needed to conquer the world, and particularly San Francisco, to make room for its multiplying millions disappeared on the east wind.
On December 31, 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved itself, abandoning socialism for the poor but keeping it for the soon to be rich. For the preceding 74 years, America’s rulers and their media never stopped warning that the Kremlin master plan for world conquest listed the U.S. as target number one. Not only that, they were responsible for all the troubles on Earth, according to Ronald Reagan. As in China, Russia kept the same ruling elite when it made its big policy change. Only now they called themselves capitalists instead of commissars. They invited our corporations to partner with theirs. With that, the sadistic Soviets instantly transmogrified into benign Buffets and their dark gulags became bright industrial parks. Their commie conspiracy evanesced like a shooting star somewhere over Siberia, never to be seen again.
Now for 2008. The Republicans paraded a cute little kid this week wearing a teeshirt that read, "The mess in my pants is nothing compared to the mess Democrats will make of this country if they win Nov. 2nd." Mark that as among the first assaults on the annum. They’ll be lots more.
Washington and Wall Street and their media are doing their best to fig leaf our flaccid economy. Have no fear the bottom is near is all we hear. Apart from bailing the bourses and keeping bank runs from turning into marathons, their obvious aim is to hide the blame and elect McCain. But if the old Navy flier gets shot down again, this time by Barack-ack, those bets are off. By that point, the Republicans will be geared up to accuse the Dems for the credit calamity.
They will tell their media that 2008, and particularly the sea change on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, never occurred. That’s when, if you recall, our free market financial system was put on life support by the Fed after having collapsed, a victim of its own venality. Instead, the Republicans will fabulate that the economy went south on Inauguration Day. They will repeat it so often that folks will see their suffering as a Democrat Depression. Call it Obama Blues.
The “free enterprisers” will have no choice but to continue to slop at the public trough since there isn’t that much private money on the planet to save the banks and brokerages. But we will all pretend not to notice and will maintain our core myth that private can do no wrong and public can do no right.
Only troublemakers will dare to mention 2008 and that the socialization of Wall Street has supplanted the commercialization of Washington. We’ll become nostalgic for the prosperous Bush II years and won’t vote for Democrats again for a very long time. On the bright side, those 2008 mementos you manage to save will be worth a pretty penny.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Iraq Going, Going, Gone

Iraq Going, Going, Gone
Things are going great guns in Iraq. The military situation, the economy, the political process are all surging smartly. Not surprisingly, the Iraqis are giving notice that they have no further use for the United States of America.
In fact, they never did. They boast a 5,000 year-old civilization, well-watered land, endless oil and gas, and an educated and enterprising population. In other words, the nation did not require any building, but merely rehab after being wrecked by a grisly tyrant, twenty years of war, and a combo bombing and starvation campaign by the U.S.
If you recall, the original fantasy of the Bushies was to quickly conquer the devastated Iraq, install the oleaginous Chalabi as comprador in sheik, scarf up the oil, and use the place as a base to run the Middle East. The Iraqis would report to Greater Israel, Ltd., the regional branch manager for Empires Are US, Inc., of Washington and Wall Street. It was even anticipated that new subsidiaries would quickly be established in Damascus and Tehran.
But those monkeys did not fly out of anyone’s ass. Since the Crusades, the throngs in that particular corner of creation have upheld the bothersome creed that they should rule themselves rather than submit to infidels. Their modes of resistance tend to be idiocentric, drawn out and crazily complex. For instance, they have no problem with temporarily switching sides in the middle of a war if the inducements are sufficiently tempting. Able to multitask mayhems, they see little reason to suspend internal rivalries to unite against a common enemy. And, most vexing of all, they view defeat as no reason for submission. Something can always be arranged. In other words, once you make trouble for them, you’re in over your head even if you’re Gargantua.
Since the Bushies don’t know anything, they don’t know that. Instead, they’ve been refighting Vietnam while the Iraqis are busily proclaiming their divorce from unwanted wives Petraeus, Bush, Cheney and McCain.
You could see it coming. While the Bushies were advising the Iraqis to fear and loathe the Iranians the two were schmoozing on a red carpet of kissyface comity. Indeed it was revealed that Chalabi, the Pentagon’s substitute for Saddam, was in fact a Persian agent of influence. The Iraqis are also on friendly terms with their other neighbors
Getting Americans to understand politics of this sort is like expecting cats to herd mice. Anyway, our yahoos and militarists are all smiles because the surge is splendiferous, while the Iraqis are pleased because they now feel able to maneuver the Americans out the door.
It’s the perfect time for them to make their move. Bush is a lame duck and Obama is an unfledged hawk who prefers Pakistan for his predations. The empire is insolvent and its military exhausted. Successful surge or slick snow job, Americans have long lost their yen for offing generic ragheads and camel jockeys in payback for 9/11.
Those are not the only reasons why Iraq has its chance to break free of the empire, they’re also grounds to do so. What does this proud nation get out of bowing to America and Israel? Why should even the so-called pro-American elements in the Iraqi ruling class give away their nation’s oil to Exxon, Chevron, et. al., for chump change when they can own the whole thing? Why should they become another GI cat house like Okinawa? What can they get from the U.S. that they can’t get from the Europeans, Iranians, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, etc?
Anyway you look at it, the American empire is a loser. It has less and less to offer its clients. Indeed, instead of bossing them around, it is increasingly being manipulated and bought out by them.
Let the Pentagon play out its surge fantasies by paying the Sunnis millions a month not to attack us. Let McCain and company think they have the bad guys on the run. Sometime soon, the Iraqis will demand that we leave, lock, stock and barrel. Will we take their sovereignty seriously and pack up. This would mark us as losers just as Bush and McCain warn. Or would we stay against their will? That means open war against all of Iraq, not just its bad guys.
Zawahiri, number two to bin Laden, foretold this Hobson's choice back when the Iraq war began. The Americans are caught between two fires, he said. If they leave, they lose everything. If they stay, they bleed to death. With Obama and McCain, America has a choice between losers and bleeders.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two Scenarios
One. Obama wins. The landslide majority that elected him along with a lopsided Democratic congress demand the change he promised. They want immediate action on jobs and the economy. They want the troops out of Iraq and America out of the empire business. Their tackle today list also includes energy, health care, the environment, schools, infrastructure.
Obama and the Dems respond positively. They signal their bona fides by initiating withdrawal, citing mounting Iraqi calls for us to clear out. Obama announces global base closings to save money and show foreigners we have no imperial designs on them. In what is called the Obama Overture, he assures democratic Latin leaders that efforts to overthrow their governments will cease to be replaced by cooperation on ending the poverty that drives millions north.
At home, Obama launches a Real Deal of fresh initiatives on the Four E’s--the economy, the environment, energy and education. He says it's time to catch up with the rest of the first world on health care. Some of his proposals seem more practical than others. But people are inspired and energized by the sense that Washington is finally on their side.
Hard times gradually give way to a more rational and balanced prosperity that emphasizes broad well-being over personal consumption. The world seems a bit safer and Americans more hopeful. Obama and the Dems easily win reelection in 2012. We become Denmark with Rockies.

Two. Obama wins. The people who voted for him demand the change he promised. They expect things to happen, but nothing much does. It becomes more and more apparent that Obama, despite his brains, youth, cool and promise, is just another face for business as usual.
People feel betrayed. The angriest among them take to the streets. Obama quickly unleashes the repressive apparatus built up over the Bush years to punish the troublemakers. Mass roundups, disappearances and fear of torture or worse scare potential protesters into quiescence.
The economy sinks further, imperial wars get nastier, the country grows dismal and surly. And, of course, the rich get richer. Comes the 2012 election and Obama is excoriated for the mess. An extreme right wing Republican (possibly an Alaskan yahoo) promising order and military victory, wallops him in the election. We enter a dark age of fascism.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rock Stars, Sure!
Politicians, Are You Kidding?

I personally find the fan mentality stupid and an indicator of an empty soul. Decades ago, I knew and traveled a bit with Bob Dylan, one of the epic icons of my era. I liked his music but not him. Nothing personal. Actors, artists, politicians and the like are obliged to be egotists by the fact that they are their work, and, too often, little more. So unless you are the kind of person who enjoys people who only enjoy themselves, my advice is to enjoy their efforts and otherwise enjoy other friends.
What can be said in praise of the Dylans, Elvises, Brandos and Hemingways, however, is that they give us words, music, fantasies, characterizations and insights that intrigue, entertain and often enlighten us. The world is better for their efforts. On a lesser level, I can even understand Star Trekkies as harmless manifestations of infantilism.
Politics, the joke goes, is showbiz for ugly people. It also provides work for opportunists not quite clever enough to make it in business. In other words, the jerk who was your class president. At worst, politicians make things worse for us; at best, they better themselves while ignoring us. That being the case, I cannot fathom the fan worship for conventional politicians. The hoop-lah for Hillary and the ardor for Obama look to me like falling in love with Wolf Blitzer’s eyeglasses. It’s pathetic. Tens of thousands have shown up to cheer the banal cliches and empty promises of these wind-up grin, by-the-book, off-the shelf solons.
Yes, I know, one’s a woman and one’s more than white. And that’s a big innovation when it comes to one of the last jobs in the country reserved to male caucasians of the christian persuasion.
But, come on. Obama is no Hugo Chavez and Hillary doesn’t even come close to Segolene Royal, who’s a weak socialist, but a kind of socialist nevertheless. No such animals in this country. Neither Hillary up until now nor Obama from now on will utter a word that might bring even a titter of concern from the richest and most reactionary people in this country. Quite the contrary. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Exxon, Boeing, etc., rest content that their chump change investment in Obama will pay for itself billions of times over. Thus the fact of his color means little more than a flicker of national pride and a Guinness entry.
So what are the masses getting hot pants about? It’s not what Obama’s bringing to the show, but what the audience wants to believe about him. He’s a tall, good-looking, hip young guy. He’s bound to do high, handsome, cool and contemporary stuff in the White House. He might even make the war go away and gas get cheaper.
And the Bushies, those money grubbers and bible huggers, they hate his guts and blanch at his brownness. Pissing them off is almost enough to justify a vote for Obama. Still, folks, he's just a politician. And a business as usual one as usual. Save your adoration for the next American Idol.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

No, Not Here, Too
I was reminded of what Hugo Chavez said when he followed George Bush to the speaker’s rostrum at the UN. “The devil was here yesterday. It still smells from sulphur.”
Ask conservative Republicans to name a lush island with great beaches dominated by the extreme left. Chances are those few who know a bit of geography will come up with one of two answers--Cuba or Martha’s Vineyard.
It’s hard to imagine cold reactionaries warming up to either isle. I just can’t picture, say, the Cheneys cuddling like love birds at a corner table while enjoying perfect Daiquaris at La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana. Nor can I see the likes of chubby little Karl Rove with his beach pail and shovel building sand dungeons in Chilmark. But strange things do happen.
The faint odor of sulphur I whiffed on a recent weekend in my summer town of West Tisbury, smack in the middle of the People’s Republic of Martha’s Vineyard, had me wondering about its provenance. Then a neighbor, who’s in the know when it comes to Vineyardish, told me that indeed Karl Rove was on the island.
On Saturday, Rove helped to sort the mail at Alley’s General Store (apparently feeling no compunction to consult the FISA court). He dropped by the Strawberry Festival at the First Congregational Church. And he stall shopped the collectivist in concept but rapacious in reality Saturday vegetable market across from our house. Reliable sources had it that Rove was the weekend guest of his attorney, Robert Luskin, a nominal Democrat with a list of quirks and clients that put him somewhere on the colorful quotient between James Woods as The Shark and Denny Crane in Boston Legal.
Also on the Island last weekend was William Cohen, former Maine Republican Senator and Defense Secretary in the Clinton administration. He and his wife gave me and mine that big politician smile as we were leaving and they were entering the airport cafe on Sunday morning.
The reality is that Martha’s Vineyard is not really that liberal. In fact, it’s increasingly stuffed with highly juiced zillionaires for whom the difference between rented Republicans and docile Democrats is slighter than that among their chardonnays.
Anyway, the sulphurous fumes had passed by Sunday, blown away by wet gray clouds that kept us from the beach.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Heart of the Matter
’ve had a couple of near Tim Russert moments over the last decade. In fact, I’ve got two stents in the left anterior descending, the vessel that sank him. I like to kid that I keep a locker at Yale New Haven Hospital and have a zipper installed in my femoral artery for quickie catherizations.
All my half dozen or so catherizations were done at Yale--except for one. The exception was performed seven years back at the Hôpital Cochin at the Port Royal in Paris.
The American health care debate tends to be ideological and/or financial. The right wingers demonize any proposal for a public system as socialistic, a death ray pejorative that instantly zaps any scheme for civic improvement in its tracks. Liberals point out that our private system is heading from atrociously expensive to monstrously unaffordable.
I once got involved in the details of those differences. But since enjoying the hospitality of a French hospital, I just tell my story when the subject comes up. For me, that pretty much sums up the issue. Here it is:
Suffering severe chest pain, I was taken by ambulance from my Montparnasse hotel to the nearby hospital. A catherization was immediately performed. It was determined my stents were okay and I had no new blockages. They kept me overnight for observation. I was released in the morning. The doc in charge of my case gave me a DVD of the procedure to bring back to my cardiologist at home.
Meanwhile, my wife was on the phone to the states getting authorization for payment from Yale Health Plan. On the way out the next morning, we stopped at la caisse to pay the bill. The tab was the equivalent of $1,300. The cashier gave me two pieces of paper: my credit card chit and a hospital bill listing just two items: specialité cardiac and 2 forfait journalier (room charge for two days). Had I been a French citizen, I would not have paid a centime. There was no charge for the ambulance, that being a free public service for anyone who happens to need one in France.
Back at home, my health plan was paying somewhere between $16,000 and $25,000 for my catherizations. The bills, of course, looked like the Manhattan phone book. On the few occasions I needed an ambulance, that was an extra grand or so.
At the time I wrote a more detailed op-ed on this incident for the Hartford Courant. It was headlined “Getting Sick in a Healthy Country.” At the end, I advised the Yale Health Plan that they could fly their catherization candidates first class to Paris, put them up at the Ritz, throw in a couple of three-star meals and ooh-lah-lah shows and still save themselves a few bucks on on the deal.
The difference between France’s socialized medicine and our commercialized medicine is obvious. The aim in France and the rest of the first world is to keep their citizens healthy at a reasonable cost to the society. The aim here is to make profits on their sickness. The French live longer and healthier lives than we Americans at far less cost to their nation. We produce billionaire hospital and pharmaceutical executives. Take your pick.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Will Obama Be Our Alarm Clock?
Back in 1968 the world exploded in protest against business as usual. Students and workers across Europe rose up against both capitalist and communist regimes. Latin American dictatorships found themselves challenged by revolutionary guerrilla movements. China had its Great Cultural Revolution. Here in the U.S. young people inspired hope for a brief moment that a new world was aborning. I was there in the thick of things, and of a proper age to both enjoy it and take it seriously.
Its 2008 and the world is restless again. Traffic has come to a halt across Europe with truckers protesting the price of fuel. Fish are not be found in the markets because fishermen are doing the same. Masses of South Koreans have shaken their government with protests against American beef imports and other trade and sovereignty issues. Even Japanese salary men, the gold standard for corporate docility, are fed up with being screwed.
This time, the U.S. is out of the loop. So far, an endless war, sinking economy and skyrocketing fuel and food prices have yet to stir more than minimal protest. You get the feeling that people are clueless and/or hopeless about changing things by way of concerted democratic action.
Many, I surmise, are waiting for Obama to provide a new beginning. They think that because he’s young, smart and cool he’ll “change” stuff. What exactly, no one seems to know or care.
Few seem to notice that beneath that cool is a business as usual politician who has already declared his loyalty to the empire, which even in its death throes remains the most important, expensive, dangerous and self-destructive thing we do as a nation. Indeed, the problem, as usual, is that he will ignore the home front in favor of violent and inevitably self-defeating efforts to revive it.
JFK, Obama’s role model, was big on the empire. He was hot to play Terry and the Pirates with the commies in the back alleys of exotic lands. Still, the brief Kennedy era helped to ease us into the sixties. Having a young and hip president brightened the mood even if his politics amounted to more of the same.
Being an alarm clock for our sleeping spirits may be the best we can hope for Obama.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Peons for President
Smilin’ Jack McCain looked to be deep into downers last night. How the hell does he still manage to peregrinate and prevaricate at the same time? Hillary’s eyes went dead around the time she let her sang-Freud slip about Bobby Kennedy getting shot in June. Obviously, the campaign, already a grueling 16 months of 24/7 weeks with another five to go, has wasted them physically, mentally and emotionally. Obama, being the youngest, remains the hardiest. But he’s got to be tuckered to boot.
What’s frying them is not just the fire in their bellies. Though they are A list politicians giving their all to gain the putatively most powerful job in the universe, they are in actuality the peons of a secondary industry.
In every other nominally democratic country, elections remain a civic rite. Campaigns run for a set period, usually a month or two. Typically, free air time is mandated and equally distributed to candidates. France even prescribes equity in billboard space and placement. In parliamentary regimes, citizens vote for party lists rather than personalities--meaning they have to comprehend issues enough to know what each party is peddling.
There was a time when voting was a civic rite here as well. Rowdy and often rigged, elections nevertheless were about selecting solons for office. Then they succumbed to the stainless steel rule of American-style capitalism: any human activity that can be turned into a business will be turned into a business. It’s original purpose, whether choosing politicians or educating school kids, will become appurtenant to the drive for monetary profit.
Well, how do you commercialize elections? You have only to flick your tv remote to see. You transform them into advertising venues by making 15 and 30 second spots the chief means of contact between candidates and voters. Then you charge the candidates full freight, since occasional ads don’t qualify for the discounts given to regular advertisers. Finally, you make sure that the ads are not in fact occasional by making campaigns last longer and longer and longer.
Over the last couple of decades, what was once a small seasonal business for media companies, equivalent to, say, Halloween, has turned into a megamillions monster. Not only are there the candidate ads, but all the additional bucks raked in by the pundit shows and audiences drawn by the manufactured controversies endlessly churned out by the cable news nets. If you think that Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly are there to trade barbs, think again. CNBC and Fox pay them to treat politics like a car wreck you can’t help gaping at.
If the candidate had the slightest concern for their own health, if the parties cared about their own power, if their fat cat contributors cared about where their millions were going, and if voters were really sick of the infinity of ideological idiocies imposed on them, they would join to put an end to this ridiculous business and go back to picking leaders according to to some rationale method.
But they won’t. The voters hardly care they’re being conned. And the other players would never dare challenge even a secondary corporate sector like media. If they had those kind of guts, we wouldn’t be the only people in the modern world who have to ask financial companies whether it’s profitable for them to let us see the doctor when we’re sick.
The lesson here is that if Clinton, Obama and McCain are literally willing to endure systemic exhaustion at the behest of Fox, NBC, ABC and their corporate parents, imagine the prodigies of prostration they perform for the bigger biggies on Wall Street!
Funny, isn’t it, that those at the very top of the food chain are as enslaved by rampant capitalism as its most miserable victims?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day
By my reckoning America fought three justifiable wars: the Revolution, the Civil War and World War II. All the others, from 1812 through Iraq, were to dilate or defend the empire.
Imperial wars were once unpopular. Lincoln, Emerson and Thoreau opposed the Mexican War by which we grabbed up everything from Texas to California. Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain were luminaries in the broad anti-imperialist movement fired up by the Spanish-American War.
We won those wars. And since there’s no argument with success, anti-imperialism didn’t catch on. Today we have a small generic peace movement but no anti-imperial effort to speak of. Indeed, Americans accept like the weather that millions of their bodies and trillions in their taxes should go to Washington and Wall Street’s quixotic quest for full spectrum domination of the earth below and the heavens above.
Few bother to mull the iron logic that four percent of the world’s people cannot long boss the other 96 percent, not even with an infinite array of monstrous weapons. Even fewer notice that this mission impossible is failing badly. They quickly change channels on those ever fewer occasions when the media notice Iraq and the crumbling U.S. position in the rest of the Middle East.
Latin America, now integrating and breaking free of Washington in the most dynamic political upheaval since the Spanish got booted two centuries ago, is utterly ignored. At best, Americans know that everything now comes from China--so that it’s no longer cool to badmouth communism.
Four presidential candidates had the guts to acknowledge and criticize the empire. For this among other sins of candor, Ron Paul, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader were quickly exiled to Extremia, the Devil’s Island for truthful pols. But ignoring the hippo in the hot tub doesn’t make it slink away.
America’s choice has always been clear: Either abandon the imperial endeavor and learn to live in a world of parity, or suffer Vietnams and Iraqs unto insolvency and ignominy. The first requires a sentient citizenry and a popular movement. Without them, the second will simply continue to happen until our ruins match those of Rome.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Headline of the Day

Yale Bulldog Rolls Over
For Bush's Poodle

Friday, May 23, 2008

Most Powerful Job? Sure
Gibbon observed that one of the marks of a declining empire is when the vassals start exploiting the empire rather than vice versa.
Israel and Cuba are two of the world’s smaller states. Their combined populations wouldn’t add up to a suburb in China. Yet you cannot get elected president of the putatively all-powerful United States of America without ritually kissing the ass of the former and kicking the ass of the latter.
This weird rite has little to do with either Israel or Cuba and almost everything to do with the power of lobbies. The Israel and Cuban lobbies perpetuate and enlarge their clout by constantly intruding themselves between Washington and the two countries. They thrive on conflict, manufactured when not available in reality.
Both represent themselves far better than they do their clients. At best, the Israeli lobby speaks for the most rightwing elements in that country. For its part, the Cuban lobby’s constituency lives in Florida rather than Cuba. If Israel was at peace with its neighbors, the Israeli lobby would have no more influence than the Iceland lobby. If Washington was cool with Havana, the Cuban lobby would have as much juice as the Cyprus lobby.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Way the Media Work 2
Jeffrey Dahmer rules over an anthropaphagusian autocracy with Charlie Manson as his secretary of defense. He accepts Wall Street investments and hosts a U.S. military base. He buys lots of pots and pans and knives from American firms. The media dub him a “moderate” and a “valuable ally” in the war against terror.

Jesus Christ returns, bringing Heaven to a small corner of earth. The Empyrean economy is share and share alike. Jesus declines both U.S. investment and military alliance. The media classify him an “extremist” and a “dangerous enemy” in the war on terror.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Idiocy or Stupidity? You Decide
It was on tv and everything!
1. Last November the U.S. intelligence community released an official finding that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The official position of the International Atomic Energy Agency is that there is no evidence that Iran even had such a program. Iran has repeatedly denied it has, is building, or wants nuclear weapons. What’s more, the Iranians, nee Persians, are pleased to share the easily Wikied info that they have not attacked another nation in several centuries.

Nevertheless, Obama, Clinton, McCain, Democrats, Republicans, the media and, not least of all, the Bush administration keep right on warning us around the clock that the nuclear threat from Iran is growing around the clock. Indeed, Hillary promised to “obliterate” Iran (i.e., erase 70 million human beings and one of humanity's oldest civilizations) should it nuke Israel with weapons no serious observer believes it has.

2. Over the last five years, the hard-line conservative Bush administration has directed the best units of the world’s self-proclaimed most powerful military against an enemy in Iraq that the administration characterizes as a “very small minority of dead-enders and losers.” That elite military is lately obliged to pay tens of millions a month in tribute to those dead-enders so that they won’t attack it. Furthermore, it is unable to defend its own headquarters from daily mortar and rocket attacks. Given the fact that the vaunted Israeli army remains unable after 41 years to pacify three million Palestinian Arabs imprisoned on a couple of postage stamp-sized bits of land, neither John McCain or anyone else has so far explained how a much smaller American force will eventually pacify 27 million Iraqi Arabs spread over a country the size of California.

3. Google up “corruption in Iraq” and you can busy yourself for decades exploring 2.5 million results. The basic story is that countless billions taken from our taxes or, increasingly, the profits of Chinese enterprises, have disappeared. Most, it’s assumed, was filched by contractors. But it should be remembered that Iraqis have no place but home to stash their valuables, and that our heroic war consists mainly of busting into private homes in search of young men and weapons. That Iraqi family jewels should end up in San Diego pawn shops is no big surprise.

This presidential campaign, a billion dollar profit center in its own right, is already 16 months old with seven to go. Among the major issues thus far has been the non-existent threat from Iran. Among the major non issues has been the utter incompetence and cosmic corruption of the Iraq war effort. As of this week and probably for months to come, a key topic will be whether a President Barack Obama will be as “tough” as the failures, fools and fraudsters currently running the show in Washington.

Idiocy or Stupidity? You Decide.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Way the Media Work
Day 1: George Bush says two and two is five.

Day 2: Washington Post reports two and two is four is “a suddenly controversial concept.”

Day 3: Fox News decries Arabic numerals as anti-American.

Day 4: Hillary tells Fox that Brubeck’s Take Five is her favorite tune.

Day 5: ABC investigation implicates Lebanese accountant.

Day 6: Full page ads by mathematicians back two and two is four and defend freedom to add.

Day 7: Gail Collins of NY Times chides “extremists on both sides.”

The Way I Work
Two and two is four everyday--except on vacation when deux et deux font quatre.
War with Iran Cheat Sheet
Knowledgable people are saying Bush will attack Iran as a grand parting shot. The justification and/or provocation will be total bullshit. Nevertheless, the Democrats and the media will buy it. Facts to keep in mind:

* Iran’s faith-based regime, which intones death to America and Israel on a daily basis, has yet to attack another country after 30 years in power.

* In fact, Iran, nee Persia, has not attacked another country in 270 years.

* The U.S. has already attacked Iran twice. In 1953, a CIA coup overthrew the democratically-elected government and installed a brutal dictatorship. American companies, with the Brits as junior partners, took over Iran’s oil. The dictatorship and the oil companies were kicked out by the current regime in 1978. Washington armed and advised its then ally Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iraq, providing components for the chemical weapons that Hussein used against the Iranians and his own people. The U.S. eventually sold weapons to both sides. A million Iranians and Iraqis died in the eight year war.

* The war will be about oil and dominance. The U.S. regards the Persian Gulf as it does the Long Island Sound. In particular, Washington and Wall Street do not accept that the people who live there have a right to their own oil. "Iran has legitimate aspirations that need to be respected," Henry Kissinger recently wrote in the Washington Post, “but those legitimate aspirations do not include control over the oil that the United States and other industrial countries need.”

* Iran is three times bigger than Iraq in area and population. It has a very large army equipped with modern weapons, including thousands of medium and short range missiles. So it can mount at least three times the war we now have in Iraq.

* Then again, the Iranians might respond minimally and allow the ensuing rocketing of oil prices, plunge into global depression, explosion of anger in the Islamic world, upshot in terrorism, and isolation of the U.S. by a disgusted world punish America instead.

* Seventy percent of the people in the region, including most Iranians, are Shiites. Iran supports various Shiite movements, some of them armed, throughout the Middle East. By the same token, Saudi Arabia supports armed Sunni movements, including those making the great majority of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. The U.S. and Israel support Christian, Sunni and Shiite clients in the region, and also bankroll and advise various armed factions inside Iran that carry out terrorist attacks to destabilize the country.

* Iran denies it wants or is building nuclear weapons. An official US intelligence community report as of January 2008 and continuing reports by the UN’s nuclear inspection agency confirm Iraq’s denial.

* Any use of nuclear weapons against Iran or any other Muslim country by either the U.S. or Israel will guarantee that sooner or later a nuclear weapon will be used against Israel.

* The chances of Bush attacking Iran between now and January 20, 2009: seventy percent on the Peter Meter.
The Lie That Won't Die
was zipping up to the supermarket wednesday morn, listening to the irascible Imus mix it up with the lamia Mary Matalin. He was calling her on Bush’s latest whopper that he quit golfing back in 2003 out of respect for the troops he banana balled into the unplayable lie of Iraq. She said her former boss is a perfect truth teller. Imus said Bush bullshitted us into the war with Iraq. She responded that everyone agreed that Saddam had WMD and challenged Imus to name just one world leader or intelligence agency that had said otherwise. Unprepared, he couldn’t.

Yahoos never quit flogging this fabrication. They don’t know or don’t care about the memory drives and video discs crammed with au contraire info. Since it still comes up, and will no doubt be an issue as we warm up for war on Iran, here’s some of what was said about the weapons in Iraq before the war began back in March, 2003:

*Iraq is no threat--Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisior Condoleezza Rice, February/July 2001

* While suspicions remain, no evidence has been given that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction or capabilities in this field. Inspections have just reached their full pace; they are functioning without hindrance; they have already produced results--French/German/Russian Memorandum to UN, 2/24/03

* How much, if any, is left of the Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programs? So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons -- Hans Blix, Chief UN inspector, 2/14/03

* We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear related activities in Iraq. However...a number of issues are still under investigation and we are not yet in a position to reach a conclusion about them--Mohammed ElBaradei, Head of IAEA, 2/14/03

* Are there nuclear arms in Iraq? I don't think so. Are there other weapons of mass destruction? That's probable. We have to find and destroy them. In its current situation, does Iraq—controlled and inspected as it is—pose a clear and present danger to the region? I don't believe so. Given that, I prefer to continue along the path laid out by the Security Council. Then we'll see--French president Jacques Chirac, Time, 2/24/03

* We reiterate our full support for the ongoing work of U.N. inspectors. They must be given the time and resources that the U.N. Security Council believes they need--European Union Declaration, 2/18/03

* UN arms inspectors are privately complaining about the quality of US intelligence and accusing the United States of sending them on wild-goose chases...The inspectors have become so frustrated trying to chase down unspecific or ambiguous US leads that they've begun to express that anger privately in no uncertain terms--CBS News, 2/18/03

* UN sources have told CBS News that American tips have lead to one dead end after another. And whatever intelligence has been provided has turned out to be circumstantial, outdated or just plain wrong--CBS News, 2/20/03

* The intelligence inspectors were receiving from the US was referred to as garbage after garbage after garbage... It took a long time for the US to hand over intelligence in the first place and when they did it has proved to be highly inaccurate... Intelligence is circumstantial, outdated or completely wrong. It's wasting our time and our resources...Frankly, we have better things to do than run around the country chasing bogus so-called evidence--unnamed UN weapons inspector to London Daily Mirror, 2/22/03.

* Joern Siljeholm, UN weapons inspector: We received much incomplete and poor intelligence information from the Americans, and our cooperation developed accordingly. Much of what has been claimed about WMDs has proven to be sheer nonsense. From what I have seen they are going to war on very little--Aftenposten of Norway, 6/10/03

* The intelligence community made all kinds of errors and handled things sloppily. Some of the old-timers in the community are appalled by how bad the analysis was, the official said. If you look at them side by side, CIA versus United Nations, the UN agencies come out ahead across the board. — The New Yorker, 10/20/03