Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stay Tuned
      When your nightly news team signs off at 11:30 pm, they remind you to stay tuned for the morning news starting at 5 am. There you will get a another reminder to watch the noon news, where you’ll be teased (that’s the word they use in the business) to glom onto the evening news beginning at 5 p.m. And so the cycle goes.
    The business of tv is to deliver the most possible eyeballs to advertisers. So the stations want you to sit in front of the vidiot box 24/7. This desire is obviously at odds with the sponsors who want you to get off the couch and go out to buy the stuff they’re peddling.  This contradiction is well on its way to being solved thanks to online shopping that allows you to sit and spend at the same time.
    When the weather turns foul, or there is yet another massacre of innocents, the tv stops telling you to watch the next newscast. Instead, it wants you on round-the-clock tenterhooks anxiously awaiting the upcoming update, alert, flash, extra, late-breaking bulletin, special report and/or exclusive interview. If you actually obeyed the dicta of these giant media corporations, your family and friends would soon become people you never hear from anymore.
    By the same token, if in this Christmas season you attempted to consume everything tv told you to consume, you would become obese, insane, insolvent and doomed to a terrible death. In short, the flat screen flattens you.  The more of it you take in, the sicker and stupider you become. 
    Interestingly, though we almost all watch tv and interconnect with the internet, the polls and surveys tell us that we mistrust the media and abominate the commercialization of everything from holy masses to unholy massacres. It’s all money now say the seniors, sad over the loss of the America they knew before the market and the media disappeared citizens and replaced them with globalized consumers buying the same junk in Hong Kong or Hartford.
   Yes, it is all money now.  But fewer and fewer Americans have enough of it to make a decent life, let alone heed the marketing orders delivered by the boob tube.  Will we ever pull ourselves away from the latest update and begin evening things up? 

Cliff Note
Stop biting your nails. The "fiscal cliff" is a fraud worthy of Bernie Madoff. For a cogent briefing on what it’s all about by a Wall Streeter and a Republican economist (both of them erstwhile), I highly recommend Bill Moyers' show from last Sunday.  Don’t miss it. Here's a link:  Over the Cliff.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Too Big To Jail
 It is cunning to steal a purse, daring to steal a fortune, a mark of greatness to steal a crown. The blame diminishes as the guilt increases---attributed to Schiller  
    Boy, do I have a bank deal for you. Guaranteed, too. You scam some mark out of a hundred grand. In the unlikely event you get caught, you’re allowed to negotiate the fine you’ll pay. It’s more like a tip. Ten large should do it. Jail? Don’t worry, it’ll never happen--even if you keep running the same scam over and over.
    Neither will your reputation suffer. The media have been trained to soft pedal offenses like this not as the crimes they are, but rather as “mistakes,” “lapses,” and “inadvertencies” that can be rectified by tightening book-keeping procedures:  “Oh, did we misplace a billion or so? I’ll check with accounting.”
   In short, instead of suffering punishment and shame, you’re more likely to end up playing golf with President Obama at Mink Meadows on Martha’s Vineyard.
    To be honest, there has to be a lot more zeros behind that hundred thousand to qualify for such de luxe treatment.  So if you’ve cooked the books at Hoopleville Bank & Trust--get lost, this is not in your league! This is available only to masters of the universe from UBS (The president's pet), Barclay’s, HSBC, Citibank, Bank of America and the like.
    This week brought us another example of this scam in action. The Obama administration and HSBC, one of the world’s biggest and baddest banks, reached a deal by which the bank would escape justice for, among other crimes, laundering money for Mexican drug cartels, by paying Uncle Sam a fine equal to a fraction of its yearly profits (By the by, these fines are rarely paid in full, but negotiated even further down after the publicity dies down.
    The stink was so bad that in a lead editorial the NY Times called the deal “a dark day for the rule of law.” “Clearly, added the editorial, 'the government has bought into the notion that too big to fail is too big to jail.”
    This is the latest of the extra-constitutional precedents being set by our president, who was once a professor of constitutional law.  Among other prominent ones was his declaration that he could kill anyone anywhere just on his own say-so--and the hell with the Constitution and even the Magna Carta. Then there was his novel reasoning that war crimes didn’t have to be prosecuted since they happened in the past. (I guess we should only try future crimes or those happening right now. That would certainly relieve jail crowding.) And, of course, his Libya claim that not only could he declare war on his own in direct violation of Section 8 of the Constitution, but that he didn’t even have to inform Congress.
    Welcome to Obamaland, where you can get away with murder and money and still be loved by liberals.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Through The Looking Glass  
      The rabbit ears long ago became refuse. The roof antenna rusted out and ended up in the dump. Ditto for your cordless phone that looked like a WWII walkie-talkie. It’s all cable and wireless now.
      So, all-powerful American consumer, take your pick of plans. Plan A  gives you cable, phone and internet by way of the single company in your town. If you want a certain channel, say the frog racing channel, you also have to buy the Latvian cooking channel, and a lot of other channels you don’t want. That's because they’re bundled for your operator's economic enjoyment. Your phone is only good for the U.S; a call to Toronto will cost a bundle. And finally your internet clip-clops instead of galloping. The freight: $150 a month.
    Plan B is a little different.  You get a choice of dozens of cable operators to sign with. The number of channels they carry is brain-boggling--everything from Mongolian yak husbandry to
Panamanian porn. Your phone works for 70 countries. Internet speed is ten times that offered in Plan A. The charge: $38 a month. And you can change carriers anytime.
    But you don't really have a choice. Plan A is what we get in the free-market United States.  Plan B is for France and the other socialistic countries of Europe. Of course, you might be saying at this point that it looks like the Europeans have the real free market while we have local monopolies.
    But, as the cable industry and their friendly regulators in the government will tell you, it only appears so. Competition doesn’t have to be local or for the same customers.  As long as there are at least two cable companies in the country, it’s assumed that their mere existence means they compete and therefore that the cable market is a free one.  And even if we get down to one cable company for the whole country, charging a thousand bucks a week for b&w reception, a rotary dial phone and a 56K modem, that will still be a triumph of the American free market system since foreign cable companies will be deemed competitors.  As they say in the splendidly lucrative cable business, it’s all in the way you look at things.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Donations for Dummies
    Last Sunday morning, NPR interviewed some poor sap because he donated fifty bucks to help pay off the national debt. His uninformed contribution was part of a puff piece about how the Treasury had received $7.7 million in such gifts so far this year from like-minded lightweights.
    Stories like this keep popping up. I remember an iteration a while back in which the well-meaning widow of a Connecticut university president suggested bake sales to aid in our arrears.
    If we lived in a land with honest media, you would expect them to use such occasions to educate Americans about the debt. The NPR reporter could have begun by explaining that the national debt is not the same as a payday loan. Instead, it's a financial product that’s bought and sold around the clock around the world. Or by noting that some of those who trade the debt ‘own’ their piece of it for the instant it now takes to make or lose money on it.
    Governments have two ways of raising money: by taxes and by borrowing. Taxes are the fairest and most efficient way---if you can get everyone to pay them. Borrowing is basically unfair since it shifts wealth from tax payers to those who lend money to the government.  Those creditors want government to borrow ever more money because that enriches and enlarges the credit markets.  Should the debt be magically paid in full tomorrow morning, those markets would collapse and Wall Street would blow away as if hit by a dozen Hurricane Sandys at once.
    The soaring increase in our national debt parallels the explosion of all sorts of debt. We used to make money by making stuff, now we make it by borrowing,
buying, lending, leasing, selling and swapping a bewildering variety of financial paper, some of which carries the imprint of the U.S. Treasury. This endless production of debt, otherwise known as financial services, has become the biggest of our big businesses.  
    The market in U.S. debt is only one of the countless economic mechanisms designed to make the richest of the rich richer and send the rest of us to gobbing gruel at the poor farm.  This has reached a point where the top one percent have as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Even Warren Buffett thinks that's suicidal for capitalism. As a result we’re heading, and quickly, in the direction of the feudal banana republics where a few families own everything worth owning in the country.
    So a well-meaning economic simpleton making a donation to lower the national debt is in effect handing a penny to Abdullah, king of the Saudis, or, worse, Donald Trump. That NPR takes debt donors seriously only shows how unserious it is.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Less For More
       It  used to be that if you paid less you got junk and if you paid more you got quality. No more. Now the trend is toward astronomically priced dreck. Herewith a couple of examples:
    The word is out that our recent election cost six billion bucks, enough money to fund 20 minutes of war in Waziristan. Much of that moolah was used to inflict a million tv spots on us in the most awful and annoying waste of air time since the devil created public broadcasting fund drives.
    Ever since our betters poured that six bil down the bowl, the talking heads have been belatedly discovering that very few, if any, serious issues were brought up in the platinum-plated campaign. Of course, the same talking heads were chief among those who at the time made the important trivial and the trivial important.
    So the example that the self-proclaimed leader of the free world is setting is that for a ridiculous amount of money you can pit two corporate clones against each other to bloviate about nothing much and call it democracy. I’m sure lots of people in all those un-greatest countries will jump at the chance to model themselves on us.
    On the same note, but with far larger numbers, is our multi-trillion dollar disgrace without honor now being celebrated from Mesopotamia to the Hindu Kush. You would think that with unlimited bucks and gung-ho spirit to spare, the world’s most extravagant military might just justify itself by winning a war now and then--especially since it has seemingly restricted itself to battling medieval tribes people.  But, like elections where you actually tackle public issues, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
    If the above cited horrors are making you sick, you might add to your miseries by considering, yet again, our health care system.  I was reminded of it after getting a statement from Medicare containing a charge of $15,426 for my most recent cardiac catheterization. Of course, I won’t pay anything out of pocket and Medicare will cough up only a fraction of it.  That’s the amount that any of the nearly 50 million Americans without health care would have to pay.
    As I noted in this space on several occasions, the same catheterization in France some years back was billed at $1,300.  If we took our politics seriously and stopped spending like Plutus to make war on Pushtoons, maybe we could have affordable health care for everyone. Nah.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Wasting Votes
    The good folks of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York reelected Barack Obama with 2.6 million more votes than he needed to win. If just 260,000, or ten percent, of them had gone to a progressive third party, such as the Greens, we’d be on the road to making better politics and a more decent country for ourselves.  Instead, progressives can expect little besides business as usual in return for burying Obama in ballots. Talk about waste.

Where Have All The Winners Gone?

    A long time ago, generals who won wars were celebrated and those who lost them were relegated. Not so much anymore.  American-style war has become so commercialized that winning or losing is secondary to operating the military as a corporate profit center. Thus, an officer who maneuvers smartly through the executive suites can now make a mark as a leader without much in the way of martial triumphs.
    That’s the case with Gen. David Petraeus, freshly resigned from  running the CIA over a sexual peccadillo. No general since World War II had a more spectacular career or was more praised by one and all. Even his demit by scandal was used by the media to heap further laurels on him. But unlike Eisenhower of D-Day fame or Montgomery of El Alemein, there’s no great battle associated with Petraeus. At most, he’s noted for the “surge” in Iraq, which in the end amounted to bribing the Sunnis not to attack U.S.forces. Nothing our military has tried in that part of the world has worked out, so Obama tells us we're shifting our sights to targets in Asia.  Meanwhile, in all of the encomiums to Petraeus, one word is missing: victory.
    By the by, the Patraeus imbroglio reminded me of Tim Weiner’s informative, “Enemies: A History of the FBI.”  Weiner, a former national security correspondent for the NY Times, tells us that J. Edgar Hoover vociferously opposed the creation of the CIA because it would cut into the turf of his FBI.  In the decades since, according to Weiner, it’s been all but bloody war between the two agencies. I can’t help wondering whether the downfall of Petraeus by way of an FBI investigation is yet another skirmish in the battle of the bureaucracies? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

So, Now What?
    With elections over, we remain with two conservative parties, one hard and the other mushy, agreed on the course of the economy and the empire. The hard Reps, unable to overcome their debilitating chauvinism in a country becoming ever more diverse, are fading. The mushy Dems, by offering voters an acceptance of that diversity and not much more, are holding their own.
    The campaign of Obama and the Dems proffered only cough drops and band-aids for our awful problems. Even the old Dem rhetoric promising succor to the poor and working classes was abandoned in favor of brainless bathetics like “Forward.” Their message was, “we won’t screw you as badly as the Reps will--unless, of course, our bankster buddies make us do it.”
    Among progressives there are those who believe that Obama will now betray his Wall Street mentors and financiers and start spreading the wealth instead of concentrating it. They also expect him to somehow provide jobs, eschew new wars, get serious about the environment, and generally act more like Franklin Roosevelt than Herbert Hoover. Some even say they’re willing to “pressure” him to do so. That’s not going to happen because they have no pressure to apply.  Why should Obama heed progressives who automatically heel to him and the corrupt, business-as-usual Dems?
    My guess is that Obama will enjoy a pleasant four years of non pareil perks and self regard.  With a GOP Congress staring scimitars at him, he’ll be able to talk about all the great things he'd do if only John (When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking) Boehner would let him. No doubt, he’ll spend many hours considering the splendid offers of corporate directorships and speaking fees he’ll be getting  after 2016 as rewards for his service to his betters. He should soon be as flush as Al Gore and Bill Clinton.
    Unless the country has gone totally brain dead, resistance will grow as the rest of us become immiserated to make the fat cats sleeker. The only hope for the success of such such a movement in bringing a new direction to the country will be if it becomes massive, strong and clever.  The time to start building it is today. Unless you’ve got something better to do.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Unemployment Solved!
    Finishing up school and need a job? There’s a business growing faster than a pig can fly. And it’s hiring millions of grads right now. These jobs feature ultra-high salaries, full health benefits, reimbursement of tuition debt, free luxury housing in desirable resort areas, and  unlimited no-charge use of new Lexuses, Range Rovers and, in many cases, Corvettes. Act soon and you may even be driving a Ferrari.
    What is this incredible new business?           
    Fact checking!     
    Right now and right here, there have never been so many liars in one place in the whole history of the universe. You would have thought that with the electoral campaigns almost over, there would be a sharp decrease in fakery and fabulation.  Quite the opposite.  People are taking their cues from politicians and have begun to palter to a fare-thee-well.  For instance, dentists are lying about the number of cavities they fill while the cable company is claiming that you did order the Latvian premium channel.  
     Each and every day countless canards are created, each of which has to be checked and then indexed and sent to cloud storage. A proposed Constitutional amendment that will entitle Americans to their own facts is expected to raise the boom in fact checking to new heights. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tough Tooties
  Polls tell us that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is by far the most popular pol in the country. People think she’s doing a crackerjack job of running foreign policy. Then again, polls say that Americans don’t give a Chihuahua’s turd about foreign policy.
    Now, just because we’re not interested in the other 95 percent of humanity with their un-American ways and historical sob stories, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get tough with them. Especially at election time. As Willard Romney promises, he'll  “shape” the world to fit our "interests."
    He'll do that with "leadership." Unless you’re a foreign policy maven, you may not know about the Great Global Ballot of 1999 (or was it 1899?) in which 99.7 percent of the people on earth voted the U.S. and whoever happens to be its president as their permanent leader. Anti-American troublemakers say that’s just a fabulated crock. But even if they’re right, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t drone them.
    At the risk of making us instantly cop z's in front of the flat screen, Barry Obama and Willard Romney spent 90 minutes Monday night debating the best ways to get tough with all those foreigners we lead.  That’s about 88 minutes more than most Americans can tolerate on that subject.     

     In case you slumbered through it, my favorite moment was delivered by Romney.  After forcefully dictating to Iran and China, and after strongly criticizing Barry for weak dictation, Willard put the cherry on the lemon and lie pie by emphatically denying that the U.S. dictates to other countries.
    My second favorite was when Barry and Willard kept one-upping about who wants to “strangle” Iran more. Perhaps they had forgotten in the excitement of the campaign that “strangling” countries was an act of war and, indeed, a war crime. 

    Well, no matter. Happily, we won’t have to bother ourselves about foreign policy for another four years. Then, in 2016, some presidential hopeful, maybe even Hillary, can warn that the Iranians are eight years closer to getting a bomb.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Meanwhile, Ponder This

I'm taking a couple of days off.  The blog will be back next week.   Meanwhile here are a couple of questions worth pondering that I sent as a letter to The Nation, which is backing Obama.

Will there ever come a time when the Democrats have moved so far to the right that those who call themselves progressive will no longer vote for them?  Or will it remain the case that progressives will vote Democratic now matter how reactionary they become as long as they perceive that they are less so than the Republicans?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Where Did Our Backyard Go? 

   Venezuelans awoke on the Monday after reelecting their president in a landslide with two big messes to sweep up. One was the debris from the joyous street demonstrations the night before and the other was the now useless pile of lies that had been told about their country and its politics.
    Our media generally ignore Venezuela and the other progressive countries of Latin America, especially if the news is good. Only bad news and fake news get the headlines. In the run-up to the election, the bad news was that President Hugo Chavez had cancer.  The fake news was that the “dictator” was at death’s door, that the country was in a parlous state, that the election was fixed and phony--but nevertheless that a fresh-faced “moderate” opponent stood a good chance of winning by rallying disaffected voters to his pro-business and pro-Washington banner.
    The only reasons anyone would favor Chavez, the media claimed, were greed and fear. They said that Chavez was bribing the poor to vote for him with jobs, education, health care and housing. (You can be sure nothing like that could happen here.) The NY Times agent in Caracas went on to suggest that government threats to take these things away from opposition supporters was another reason people would hold their noses and turn out for Chavez.  No evidence was given.  Nor was there ever much hint in media coverage that Chavez might, in fact, be a legitimately popular leader.
    By global standards, Venezuela is a notably peaceful and friendly country. It has never attacked another nation and keeps excellent relations with its neighbors. It’s a reliable supplier of oil to the U.S and a solid market for American goods. Over the last decade, its government has cut poverty in half, provided universal health care, and launched a vast program to bring the nation up to first world status. At the moment, it’s in the midst of an
extraordinary and innovative effort to remake itself as a socialist democracy somewhat to the left of Sweden. What’s more, it’s a lead nation in the effort to integrate the economies of Latin America and build a prosperous and peaceful future for the continent.
    These initiatives have prompted the managers of the American empire, who regard Latin America as their “backyard” (i.e., something they own), to try to get rid of Hugo Chavez and his reformist government and restore things back to the time when Exxon ruled and the poor knew their place.
    There's nothing new here.  Murderous repression of popular movements and the overthrow of disobedient governments has been Washington policy ever since Simon Bolivar rued two centuries ago that Latin America was destined to be plagued by the U.S. with misery in the name of liberty.
    After initially promising a new and softer approach, Obama has been even more aggressive than Bush in inflicting “death squad” democracy on the region to reduce the local population of leftists, with Hugo Chavez at the top of the list.  Over the last four years, the Dem administration
has sponsored successful coups overthrowing the democratic governments of Honduras and Paraguay. It arranged to bar the most popular political movement in Haiti from taking part in elections, while reconstituting the bloodthirsty Ton Ton Macoutes.  It was not so lucky in Ecuador where the 2010 police-led coup it orchestrated was put down by loyal troops. And, of course, its efforts to topple the Venezuelan government have gone nowhere. Another loser has been Obama’s efforts to persuade regional giant Brazil to go along with his schemes to isolate and weaken Venezuela. Instead, Brazil has proclaimed solidarity with Venezuela.
      No doubt, these nasties will continue. Washington may even manage to pick off another small nation or two. But nothing can hold back the continent's tidal wave of redemption.  The left governments of Latin America have been reducing poverty, increasing democracy, and asserting their independence. That has made them popular and durable. They are not about to give up their determination to live freely in their own lands rather than in the fat gringo's backyard.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Debate This

The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates...because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public--1988 statement by the League of Women Voters

    As Gore Vidal reminded us, the biggest booboo in American politics is to give away the game. By that he meant the revelation, by accident or design, that the private priorities of politicians were at least 47 percent different than their public ones.
    It was the constant fear of such a screw-up, of some excited candidate unintentionally telling a truth, that led the Reps and Dems to team up in 1988 to try to muscle the good ladies of the LWV into making the presidential debates as phony as the rest of the campaign.
    The League got properly ticked.  They bailed, making the above statement. Ever since, the ‘debate’ has been thoroughly corporatized and meticulously managed by both parties working as one. In other words, it’s just another hustle.
    To call this event a 'debate' is equivalent to calling a Pez dispenser a restaurant. We know from documents revealed after past ‘debates’ that prior agreement between the Dems and Reps on what can and cannot be said guarantees that voters will be served watery gruel. In the gab fests after the event, the talking heads will then assure us that it was really pepperoni pizza.
    The huge audience for tonight’s first encounter will sink with the second one. By the third debate, polls will show that viewers preferred watching a stopped clock. Of course, there’s the gaffe caveat.  Willard Romney, might inadvertently say something reminding us for the umpteenth time that he’s an empty bespoke suit. Or, as the Reps pray, Obama might blurt out “Insha'Allah” at some point in the proceedings.

  Meanwhile, Venezuela is having a presidential election Sunday.  Here’s what our former president Jimmy Carter has to say about it: “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world,” Mr. Carter said, noting the Carter Center’s extensive work monitoring elections around the globe.
    On the other hand, said Carter, “We have one of the worst election processes in the world, and it’s almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

 Because I'm Not A Democrat

 If elections could change anything, they’d be against the law--old Wobbly slogan
    With the exception of the truly honorable George McGovern back in 1972, I have never voted for a Dem for president. The logical reason is that I’m not a Dem but a leftist. My gut reason is that, no less than the Reps, the Dems kill leftists every chance they can. A Dem administration is doing a pretty good job of that right now in Honduras, where unionists, teachers, students, journalists, peasant leaders and those who support the legitimately-elected government are being bumped off by the death squads that serve as a farm team for our Pentagon and CIA.  If you recall, the authors of the coup that overthrew that democratic government back in 2009 immediately went to Washington to obtain benediction. They were chaperoned through the halls of power by Clinton family lawyer Lanny Davis and other Hillary hires.
    A strategic reason is that there is no longer a strategic reason for being or voting Dem. I recall endless debates about whether progressives should stand alone or try to infiltrate and influence the Dems. That last choice has long since been tossed in the dumpster.  Making the Dems progressive is as sophistic as making the Mafia honest.
    Leftist is not an acceptable label in American politics, not even by liberals. My Dem and liberal friends don’t relate to it, even after decades of acquaintanceship. They are so steeped in compromise and capitulation they can’t comprehend those who are not, So they keep telling me that I’ll be “wasting” my vote if I don’t vote for politicians murderously opposed to my politics.  They call me a “purist” for the same reason. They point out the “good” things that Dem presidents have done. That always reminds me of the folks who used to mitigate Mussolini by noting that he drained the Pontine swamps and made the trains run on time. Extreme, you say, to compare the Dems to a fascist!  As I blogged back in April,  I did a comparison of the Dems and the neofascist Front National in France (The Democrats: How Right They Are, April 17, 2012).  Surprisingly, the FN was far to the left of the Dems on lots of issues from nationalizing banks to allowing retirement at 60 for mothers of large families and those who perform onerous work  Even their call for nastier police treatment of immigrants seems moderate in comparison to Obama’s declaration that he can just kill people on his word a la Ghengis Khan.
     At this point, it seems likely that Obama will win handily. No doubt, he’s dreaming of a Rep victory in Congress so he can spend the next four years telling us all about the great stuff he would have done if the Dems had taken the House and kept the Senate. And, of course, he has to be avidly anticipating all the corporate wealth that will flow his way after 2016 for being so faithful to the financial sector.     
    Meanwhile, the country will shift ever rightward, no matter whether cruel Reps or craven Dems prevail on the Hill. And no doubt four years from now, should I live so long, I’ll again be told that I’m an unrealistic, extremist purist. No, just a lefty like millions of people in countries where they have a real left instead of just a right and a far right.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Half Great
      Mitt the misfit was caught saying that half of our fellow citizens are losers and layabouts. Does that make America the half greatest country or the greatest half country on earth?
     The first and last thing they teach in politician’s school is to keep repeating that America is the non pareil nation. And despite the fact we revere individualism, this mantra does not apply to individuals. If I, for instance, endlessly bragged that I was the greatest person on earth because I was American, I would be given the bum’s rush. No, the brag is only acceptable if America, and preferably corporate America, is the subject
    To be sure, this self salutation is vacuous, vainglorious and meaningless. That becomes apparent as soon as you ask its deliverers to name the second and third  greatest countries. A few might venture “Hawaii” or “Disneyworld,”some will stroke their chins, and some will turn hostile.
    The pundits are complaining that there’s too much rallying and not enough reality in the campaign.  They want O and R to lay out  specifics about how they propose to keep the greatest the greatest or make it the greatest again.  But, of course, the pols don’t have that info. The plans for the future of America are not being drawn in Washington but in corporate retreats and the lounges of conservative think tanks. The job of the pols is to obediently turn them into laws and policies.  It barely matters whether Dems or Reps handle this chore. 

      Remember, nothing the pols say has to be true or even plausible. They can still call America the greatest even when the 1 percent finally have it all and we in the 99 percent, in the inspiring words of Ayn Rand, take our proper place in the world as "mud to be ground underfoot and fuel to be burned by those who deserve it."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

This Land Is My Land

Then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea.  No one will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.--Peptalk to the Hebrews in the Torah Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), 11:23-25 

      A sure sign of the decline of an empire is when it starts taking rather than giving orders to its clients. That’s long been the case between huge but sputtering America and tiny but avid Israel. Indeed, it’s accepted in the chancelleries of the world that Washington is little more than Israel’s Luca Brazzi when it come to the Middle East.
     After 3,000 years, the Lord has yet to do as he promised in the Bible/Torah citation above. And the Israelis have found it difficult to realize God’s will purely by their own efforts. So Israel has been relying on the muscle and moolah of the U.S. The agreed current target of both countries is populous, powerful and oil-rich Iran. The aim is to topple its refractory regime and replace it with a tractable one. The means are the usual ones: sabotage, assassination and subversion, the latter lately including cyber attacks. Plus there’s resort to the scare story--by now 33 years old--that the Persians are on the cusp of producing a nuke that they will promptly drop on Israel.
    To prevent this, the Israelis say, the U.S. must front, or at least back, war on Iran. We Americans, despite our self-proclaimed greatness, are used to compliantly asking “how high?” whenever the Israelis tell us to jump. But this time, Obama has said, “No!”
    The reasons should be obvious. American muscle failed in Iraq and Afghanistan and brought only chaos to Libya, countries far smaller and weaker than Iran. The Pentagon is not likely to fare much better against the Iranians. Then again, war in the oil-soaked Persian Gulf would, at best, give us $10 gas and a deeper recession, and, at worst, a generalized conflict in the Middle East that might even set off a world war.
    It’s not only Obama who opposes such folly. He apparently has the support of both the U.S. and Israeli national security establishments.
    For their part, the warhawks consist largely of rightwing Israeli pols and their counterpart neocons here in the states. You know, the people who told us that invading Iraq would be a “cakewalk.” That crowd includes Mitt Romney, who’s proclaimed that there’s not “an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel.”
    Being a Dem, Obama cannot be counted upon to stand tall on this or any issue for long. As I’ve noted before, the Rep game is combat and conquest while the Dem game is compromise and capitulation.
    Still, that Obama has already said “No” is all to the good.  Now let’s hope he can gather the gumption to stick to it. Otherwise, we’re in for a world of trouble.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lost and Found
    There’s nothing new under the sun. But, as any magazine subscriber knows, there is renewal. Years ago, I found, and promptly lost, a terrific quote on the foreign policy of the Roman Empire that sounded amazingly like our own. I couldn’t search for it because I wasn’t sure of the words or who wrote them. They were a mere wisp on the wind.
    Heading for Lambert’s Cove beach the other day, I grabbed up what I thought was a Stan Getz cassette to play in our ancient Corolla wagon. I soon discovered that it was in fact a talk I had I recorded way back when by Michael Parenti, the splendid
contemporary radical sociologist.
    A couple of minutes into it, Parenti quoted the brilliant, long gone conservative economist, Joseph Schumpeter.  And there it was--my long lost quote! I experienced a thrill beyond that of discovering a stack of old Playboys in the attic. 
    I’ve been studying up on the American empire for decades. I even visited lands on our long and ever-changing target list. Rarely have I come across such a precise precis of what we’re really up to on the planet as what Schumpeter had to say back in 1918. Here’s a sample:

  1. ...a policy which pretends to aspire to peace but unerringly generates war, the policy of continual preparation for war, the policy of meddlesome interventionism. There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not those of Rome, they were those of Rome's allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest---why, then it was our national honor that had been insulted. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors, always fighting for a breathing space. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies and it was manifestly Rome's duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs. They were enemies who only waited to fall on the Roman people ..."
  Schumpeter went on to ascribe this policy not to foreign but to domestic concerns: “The alternative to war,” he wrote, “was agrarian reform. The landed aristocracy could counter the perpetual threat of revolution only with the glory of victorious leadership...An unstable social structure of this kind merely creates a general disposition to watch for pretexts for war—often held to be adequate with entire good faith—and to turn to questions of foreign policy whenever the discussion of social problems grew too troublesome for comfort. The ruling class was always inclined to declare that the country was in danger, when it really was only class interests that were threatened." --Joseph Schumpeter, The Sociology of Imperialism, 1918.
     Those are the kind of truths that you're not likely to hear from either Obama or Romney.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Dems Down and Dirty

It’s better to vote for something you want and not get it than vote for something you don’t want and get it--Eugene Debs

    What’s new about this particular presidential emulation is that Dems are fighting back, and even dirty, against the Reps.  That’s something they’re usually too timid to try.
    The Dems have little choice. They have no record to run on and no intention of doing anything for ordinary Americans besides making sure that their immiseration continues smoothly and with a minimum of protest. Dumping on Romney/Ryan and the Reps  is their only practical political ploy if they want to get reelected.
    As usual, their angst is all about sounding populist enough to draw voters but not enough to dis their bankster buddies on Wall Street. Obama’s public decision not to prosecute Goldman Sachs was a message to the richies that they should ignore his campaign rhetoric and rest assured that he remained their loyal go-fer.
    If the electorate had brains, there are a couple of recent pieces of information that should be rousing it to real political reform beyond the corrupt two-party system with its pretend differences.
The first is that the middle class is shrinking: down from 61 percent to 51 percent of the population in just the last decade. The trend towards ever more moolah at the top and ever less among the lesser classes keeps advancing no matter whether Reps or Dems are in power. In the print edition of my last In These Times column, I ventured that in time 14 families would own the U.S., of which only the Kardashians would be American.
    The second item--to be inscribed in the annals of intense irony--is that Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama has become the king of what was once called merchants of death. The news below might just just stick in the craw of those Norwegian judges:
     “Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals. The American weapons sales total was an ‘extraordinary increase’ over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010...and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports.”
    Currently carrying on more wars in more places than any other president, Obama’s message to mankind is, don’t worry about having to use those complicated weapons we just sold you, we’ll even fight your battles for you at no extra charge.
    I know that some of you are now saying: Yes, but Romney’s worse. You’re probably right--though not by much.  And that’s why, in the spirit of American civic saint Gene Debs, I will again not be voting for either the greater or the lesser evil, but rather for the good.  I'm a Green and our candidate is the estimable Dr. Jill Stein.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gun Control: Afghan Style

 At the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased.  And the epitaph drear, a fool lies here who tried to hustle the east--Rudyard Kipling

     After a mere eleven years, the empire has so worn out its welcome in Afghanistan that the Pentagon is now warning that our allies there have become as deadly dangerous as our enemies.
    We recruit and train Afghans for the police and army we created for them to better make war on their fellow citizens. Then, instead of thanking us, a rising number of them are turning their weapons on our troops. In a typical incident, an Afghan trainee shot two American soldiers with the assault rifle they had just presented to him for being a good Talib (i.e., student).
    In the Pentagon some say these attacks are the work of Taliban (i.e., students) infiltrators, and some label them as fallout from personal and cultural misunderstandings. The notion that they might be normal expressions of patriotism by a people under a cruel occupation is ignored because we cannot accept that the not-so-great would be anything but delighted at being ruled by the greatest.
   In any event, Pentagon correspondents report that our military leaders have come up with some practical solutions.  One is for our troops to be always armed, locked and loaded in the presence of their Afghan acolytes.  Another is that “guardian angels” be inconspicuously present whenever Americans and Afghans interact. If a raghead makes a funny move, like reaching for his hash pipe, the ‘angels’ could plug him on the spot.
    This, of course, raises the question of whether the learning environment might be compromised with both teachers and students constantly scared of being instantly offed. How can you run a proper class in, say, Torture 101 with everyone watching their back instead of the live demonstration?
    Such are the timeless vexations of imperial warfare. Back in the good old days of the Raj, Indian troops called Sepoys rose in bloody revolt against their British masters. Such outbreaks persisted until the Brits finally gave up their whips and left India to the Indians.
    No doubt, Afghanistan will be left to its inhabitants sooner or or later. And we American will promptly forget that the place exists. Without such an instant memory loss, we might be bothered by the fact that ours, the world’s most powerful, not to say expensive, military was unable in its longest war ever to defeat a ragtag bunch of medieval tribesmen.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hooray For Social Security
    Along with my 73rd birthday, next week I’ll be celebrating a decade of getting rather than giving moolah to Uncle Sam. 

    All my life, conservatives told me this would never happen. Social Security, they assured me, was on the razor’s edge of going bust. I, let alone my kids, would never see a dime of what we were forced to shell out to this evil socialistic scheme hatched in the Kremlin by Joe Stalin and his Hebrew errand boy, Franklin Rosenfelt. (That’s really the way the Romneys and Ryans of the right talked back then.)
    Despite its venerability, Social Society still gets death threats from Wall Street and its trucklers. SS and its haters are like Fidel Castro and the Miami Cubans. Every waking hour for the last half century they have planned, plotted and prayed for his demise. Street fairs are held if Fidel catches cold. But every morning, there he is, still alive despite the world’s longest running and most expensive hit contract. And so it is with Social Security. It survives all and, I trust, will be around long after Castro, and even Paul Ryan’s great grand kids, finally join the great majority.
    The reason for SS's hardiness is that it’s simple, honest and non-profit. You put money in when you’re young and take it out when you’re old. The money is meanwhile invested in treasuries, the safest paper you can hold. Administrative costs are minimal. After 77 years, it has yet to suffer a scandal: it’s simplicity and transparency makes it hard to rip off.
    Rather than socialism, Social Security is the offspring of anti-socialist conservatism. Bismarck, the arch reactionary Chancellor of Germany in the late 19th century, was fearful of a  red revolution by the country’s beaten down workers. He came up with a package of what we would now call welfare programs to mollify them. It included old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance.  Wiki tells us that “his paternalistic programs won the support of German industry because its goals were to win the support of the working classes for the Empire and reduce the outflow of emigrants to America, where wages were higher but welfare did not exist.”
    The rest of Christendom followed Germany’s example, and the modern welfare state that later included universal health care, free education through college, month-long paid vacations, etc., was born.  We Americans got only partly down that road before a rightwing counterattack stopped our progress toward a a first world social system.
    So why do Wall Street and its yahoo trolls hate SS so much?  Because they see a vast amount of money going to ordinary people rather than rich people. That's in direct violation of the first commandment
of capitalism that wealth should only flow upwards and never downwards. And that makes them heartsick. They brood about all the additional bucks they could have had, the fatter yachts, the faster jets, the more monstrous mansions, if only they owned Social Security.
    Of course, the can’t admit to such naked avarice. So they long ago made up this scare story about SS going broke and how we’ll have to privatize it to save it. That movie has been playing ever since SS got its start back in 1935.  We Americans are generally a pretty corporate bunch, preferring to do business with anything with an Inc. behind its name than a U.S. in front of it. Nevertheless, most of us have long since taken SS and Medicare to our hearts.  We find it hard to imagine old age without them. Who besides Rush Limbaugh wants to see grandma begging pennies as she slowly expires in the gutter?
    In fact, SS is robust and its financial problems are minor. When your income hits a hundred grand or so, you stop paying into SS.  By merely eliminating that limit, SS becomes solvent for decades to come.

    Medicare is a different story. It’s money problems will only get worse as the banksters and health profiteers continue to loot it. Such vast and endemic corruption in health care is unknown in Christendom, where single payer, non-profit systems prevail.  Here, where illness and misery are seen as business opportunites rather than social concerns, we can only expect worse to come.
    Anyway, I’ll use part of my next SS payment to buy a bottle with which to toast Social Security and the duffers who are dignified by it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Precedential Prerogatives
    Presidents set precedents. Bush II set one by invoking a proleptic pinchbeck threat to start a great big shooting war. The U.S., he said, could attack anyone anywhere who might one day pose a danger. No proof was required. The president’s assertion was enough. That gave us debacle without honor in Iraq.
    Obama banked that precedent and added new ones. In Libya, where he imposed what is so far chaos as a replacement for dictatorship, the president said that he could attack any country without even consulting Congress, let alone acknowledging its constitutional war-making power.  Today we're trotting hotly through Syria (on the same side as Al Qaeda!) with barely a peep from press or populace. 

     Of lethal concern to our citizenry is Obama’s Yemen doctrine in which he proclaimed the right to kill Americans simply on his own word. For the time being that word is “terrorism” and/or “national security.” With the precedent of extra-judicial homicide now established, who can say that trigger words like “radical,” “extremist” and “dangerous” will not follow?      Imagine a news story a month or a year from now that reads: Members of a secretive federal task force killed four Occupy protestors in a raid on a Brooklyn apartment. A Justice Department spokesperson said the four radicals posed an “imminent threat to national security, the nature of which can not be disclosed.”
    Or: Five members of the executive board of a union on strike against a manufacturing company in this small Ohio town disappeared four days ago. The local authorities referred questions to the FBI, which refused any comment. A reporter investigating the disappearances returned home to find his apartment ransacked, his computer missing, and his dog poisoned.
    Or: A peppery leftist blogger died in a hit-and-run incident this evening as he strolled home from a local park. Police report no witnesses or evidence at the scene. Any further investigation, they said, would be pointless.
    It is genuinely amazing that, 797 years after the Magna Carta was drawn and 225 years since the U.S Constitution was adopted, I hear well-educated liberals accepting the notion that a ruler, in this case Barack Obama, should have the thumbs down power of life and death over the ruled. It is as if those documents did not exist, that the divine right of kings still obtained, and that George Washington and his fellow extremists should not have bothered.
    Since we’re at war, the Attorney General says that means we can forego due process and kill our enemies, including Americans, by drone process. Sounds reasonable, reply the liberal backers of the adminstration. No matter to them that the war is undeclared, nebulous and open-ended. It is enough for them that the leader intone a word or two to obtain license to violate any law of God or man.    
    Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama has now got us fighting in more wars in more places than at any time since World War II. And even back then, the White House still believed in trying Nazis before hanging them. We’re hearing a lot about Romney eating up companies but little about Obama devouring countries.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Romney Was Right 
    Ohmygod! I hope the little kids were already in bed and the bigger ones out hanging out on friday night when the Olympic opening ceremony came on. How could this ever happen? Shockingly, our supposed supplicants in Britain showed what ingrates and subversives they really are by subjecting us to a proletarian pageant celebrating just about everything real Americans fear and loathe, from socialized medicine and militant workers to unabashed homosexuals and multicultural geeks.
    Any producer on this side of the abyss even suggesting such a show, at prime time on NBC no less, would have  been immediately droned out of showbiz.
    I was frankly flabbergasted. Here we believed we had created a seamless system for eliminating from our public discourse any deprecation of the rich or appreciation of the poor. We had reduced free speech to paid commercial announcements. We had all but banned labor history. We had diminished the epic civil rights struggle to a cliche to be replayed on Martin Luther King’s birthday. We had demonized every foreign country that had a worker friendly government and made sure that no one would dream of trying such stuff here.
    And then, we get stabbed in the back by the Brits, of all tribes! Imagine the effrontery of them celebrating what they dare to call their “treasured” National Health Service on our, yes our, commercial television!
    Things got worse, much worse, as the seditious soiree progressed. Not only were un-American ideas set to song and dance, but agents of anti-American regimes were actually allowed to enter the Olympic stadium without first being harshly interrogated by our TSA.  Incomprehensibly, the Brits even allowed them to freely march around, waving their commie-islamic-atheist-terrorist flags and disporting themselves as if they were regular people.  Where were those vaunted British heavy weapons that were supposed to eliminate such threats to the games?
     Willard Romney, a patriotic American, had been castigated by the pinko London media for questioning the British readiness to deal with security.  Now we know how right he was. It looks like it’s time for the Obama administration to start effecting regime change in Perfidious Albion lest they try to sneak more subversion onto our flat screens.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Individually Rapped

What Christianity, competition and democracy share is that the only thing worse than hearing them questioned is having them practiced--provenance unknown              
    We Yanks have been recently ranked the fattest people on earth. Now let’s suppose that our pols and pundits went around praising us for being slim, trim and fit. Imagine they declaimed that, when it came to being svelte, we were a model for the world.
   And so it actually is with rugged individualism (which should be added to the quote above). Rarely has something so fugacious been so flogged. Willard Romney and the yahoos (sounds like a good name for a band), never stop crowing about our unique gift of uniquity. Let those other not-so-great countries wallow in community and cooperation, we Americans stand each of us separate and alone in snickering at their socialistic sensibilities.
    The reality, of course, is that John Wayne and the Marlboro Man caught cancer and dropped dead years ago. Sociologists tell us that, far from being rugged individualists, most of us are closer to being clones than cowboys. In truth, we’re mass produced in consciousness factories where actual individualists get dumped into the misfit bin.    
    We talk a lot about individualism’s supposed spawn of leadership. Are we not the masters of our fate at home and the leader of the free world to boot? Then how come we have a pair of tick and tock parties that limit citizens to an A to B range of politics and policies? How come no real and rugged American leader has come forth to shift the country out of reverse and into high gear?  How come the best we can is do is Willard Romney, who’s about nothing, and Barack Obama, who’s about Romney?
    How come  the collectively organized Chinese are eating our lunch when it comes to ingenuity and avidity?  If bootstrap enterprise is the way out of our economic mess, how come the countries faring best in these hard times are the welfare states of northern Europe and the leftist lands of Latin America?
    Ah, you retort, what about Steve Jobs, everybody’s “I Did It My Way” hero?  Sure, I go along with applauding his creativity and initiative.  But after I finish clapping, what about the tens of thousands of Apple employees and contract drones scraping by on two bites a day. Emulating the Jobs' of the world is not going to create jobs, good ones anyway. Fixing this country will take a collective effort. Everybody together, not everybody alone.

Alexander Cockburn
Editor’s Note:  When I began writing this particular blog, I didn’t know that Alex Cockburn, one of Ireland’s, America’s, journalism’s and the left movement’s true individualists passed away.  Because he made his illness his own business so as preclude its effects on others, I also didn’t know that he had been battling cancer for two years.
     Cockburn was a cantankerous inspiration for all of us who try to abide by the useful bromide that journalism should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

     Counterpunch, one of the best news sites ever, is just part of his legacy of acuity. courage and wit.  It will continue, edited by Cockburn’s associate Jeffrey St. Clair. Anyone interested in the real world ought to read it. On a happier note, everyone ought to rent or rob "Beat The Devil," one of the wittiest movies ever. Directed by John Huston and starring Bogie and a fabulous cast, it was taken from a novel by Claud Cockburn, Alex’s father. Alex used that title for his long running column in The Nation. No one thrashed beezlebub with more panache.

Monday, July 16, 2012

 Excuses, Excuses
    First, an insincere apology for the cheap trick of teasing my reader with the word "sex" in my last blog without actually providing any prurience.  It's an old summer scheme of tabloid editors to keep circulation up over the dog days.

   Second, I’m running a couple of days, maybe even a week, late on the blog.  My excuse is perfectly explained in one of the two photos below I am supplying in lieu of words. Note the  trim young life guard  ready to rescue yours truly, the lord of the beach, from a chilled glass of rosè while he ponders his next rant and checks out the latest in bikini styles. The other is of my vassals at planting time in our extensive domaine. The patty pan squash are not doing so well. Once I clear up that problem, I'll be back at the blog. Stay cool.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sex For Stupidos

Not all conservatives are stupid, but most stupid people are conservative--John Stuart Mill 

   What makes yahoos tick? How can rightwingers keep intoning trumpery like a dog that won't stop barking There are progressives (you’ll find them most readily on AlterNet) who are actually looking into the dark void of the conservative cranium to see how the flapdoodle gets cooked up and served.
   One notion, bruited by George Lakeoff, a word wizard at Berkeley, is that our tories tend to come from patriarchal families where pop bosses the brood and teaches right from far right. The result is said to be an exaggerated obeisance to authority and an absence of critical thought. This was summed up nicely back in Watergate days when a Congressman who retained his faith in Richard Nixon exclaimed, “Don’t confuse me with the facts!”
  Researchers also say that righties are successful at pushing their policies because they deliver them with moral and Manichean rhetoric. Indeed, they claim the diety as a dittohead.
   The problem with these premises is that the righties are very picky about the authority they respect and the morality they proclaim. So much so that I can’t think of a more brazen bunch of hypocrites now doing business in the USA. A perfect example is the right’s obsession with gayness, which the Ten Commandments ignore and the Bible abominates only in passing along with such sins as skipping the Sabbath and seducing your sister-in-law. Meanwhile, the good book is brimful of denunciations of usury. Jesus himself chased the money changers from the temple.
  At three score and twelve, I have yet to find the actual harm homosexuals (married or single) do to the social order. But I do know that high interest rip-offs are ruining countless families, while debt of all kind is wrecking our economy. Poor neighbs and the strip malls that ring military bases are chock-a-block with pay day sharks who lend bucks by the week at 300 percent a year. That reads like usury to me.
   You might think that God-fearing teabaggers would have greater concern about their soldier sons and daughters falling into hopeless hock than about whether Oscar and Henry should be allowed to emulate Ozzie and Harriet. I can’t peruse all the news, but I have yet to hear about an outraged congregation picketing the local shylock.
   To give them the benefit of the doubt, it might be that conservatives fret more about lust than lucre because the former doesn’t involve math. With their adoration of the avid, the only financial sin they ever acknowledge is letting a sucker keep his money.
   PS--There’s an inspiring Occupy-type movement in the UK protesting usury and, indeed, the whole credit swindle that has ripped off our economy. We should be building such a movement here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cafe Socializing: New York City above. Split, Croatia, below.
Note the difference.

Cafes Harbor Socialization Threat
The Congregational church cater-corner from our house in West Tisbury specializes in ice cream and strawberry socials. Surely, those are not the socializations stirring a storm this summer. The coalition of the ignorant and inane appear instead to have their pitchforks out for European socializing. You can’t surf past Fox News or saunter in the environs of a town hall meeting without hearing some yahoo warn that American politicians are secret agents of Euro socializing and that they plan to infect us with it.
What exactly is this menace? I decided to look into it--at some risk, I may add, to my waist line. Early in the summer I surveilled subversive socialization sites along the Adriatic. This is my report:
Euro socializing consists in the main of sitting in cafes and not worrying about doctor bills, college tuition or scuffling for silver in your golden years. Instead, you schmooze with your friends about soccer, sex and the stupidity of Americans. As in: “Juventus looks great this season, Monique has a new boy friend, and I get a kick out of those dumb Americans paying through the nose for health care so that their doctors can sail their gaudy yachts to Frejus and rent villas in Poggibonsi. Tee hee.”
Europeans are able to accomplish all of this socializing because they have vastly more outdoor tables and chairs under awnings and umbrellas than Americans do. In other words, there’s a cafe gap. Unlike the notorious missile gap from the 60’s, when American worried that they didn’t have enough rockets to blow up the world as many times as they wanted to, the cafe gap is real. And it’s not just patio furniture. Europe has an overwhelming lead in high-tech, multi-spigot expresso machines with awesome latte steaming capabilities.
Crewing these marvels are not just all-thumbs nerd grad students, but professional baristas versed in every trick in the book from infusions to spremutas. They’ve got your pastis coolly clouding on a coaster while their American counterparts are still asking, ‘”like what kind of drink is that, dude?”
It gets scarier. While America’s few socializing spots are relegated to malls or old neighbs turned trendy, the Euro ones have Roman ruins, castles, medieval plazas, and perfect seascapes providing the eye candy.
Can America breach the cafe curtain and deal with the terrace threat? It’s going to be hard. Socialization is anathema in many parts of our country. And cafe crawling is regarded by many as a waste of time more properly spent studying bankruptcy law or mortgage refinancing.
There may be hope. I was having a drink the other night with a right wing friend. As usual, he was damning government as the mother of all evil and praising private property as the father of all virtue. I was allowing that across the ocean in Christendom, government was regarded more as a comfortably off uncle who’s around to pick up the bills when mom gets sick or Hans heads off to college. He fumed that the welfare state was abomination. Then he thought a minute, perhaps recalling his last toke in Amsterdam or the taste of tomatoes in Taormina, and a small smile broke over his face as he offered, “Yeah, but I have to admit, those Euros know how to live.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Look Here, Not There
     In dictatorships the government tells the media what and what not to say.  It’s different here where the media repeat what the government says and ignores what the government ignores.  In my three score and twelve years I scarce recall an instance in which our press didn’t dance to the official line with the definitude of Fred and Ginger.
    A current example of this precision duet is the unholy mess in Syria. The brutal Assad regime is battling an assortment of ruthless rebels (including the local branch of Al Qaeda). Though it is by no means the biggest or baddest blood bath on planet Earth, Syria’s been getting big-time daily media coverage here and in Europe.
    There's no pretense at objectivity despite the fact that we really don’t know diddely about what’s happening and who’s doing it.  Washington is openly calling for the removal of the Assad regime and McCain and other Reps are itching to jump into the fight. Anyone who doubts that our special forces, the Israelis, the Saudis and such are not already in the middle of it ought to go back to Sunday school.
    The stakes are big: Syria’s a serious country bordering on Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It’s gotten away with disobeying the empire for decades. Installing a docile regime in Damascus in place of its willful one would be a major gain for Washington and Tel Aviv.
    I'd say fat chance!  Sects and sectarians from Morocco to Pakistan are scrambling for power--but what they all share is mistrust of the U.S. and hatred of Israel. Changes in government are not about to change that. Washington's puppets are simply no longer tractable. U.S. hegemony is fast fading in that part of the world, and as for the Israelis, I would buy their ten year bonds but not their 30 year ones. 
    Meanwhile, there’s a nearer nation in which a quarter million people have been killed and three to four million driven into internal and external exile. They are the victims of a longtime right-left civil war in which Washington arms and trains the rightists. The massacres there makes Syria look like Sweden. But those monstrous facts get minimal media hereabouts. The country where blood flows in torrents is instead portrayed as a democratic ally whose human rights record is steadily “improving.” 
    The culprit of course is Colombia, Washington’s leading satrap in Latin America and our numero uno supplier of cocaine. Columbia is too embarrassing for media to talk about.  Except for occasional chamber of commerce-type plugs for its putative economic advances (fancy malls in the cities distracting from the same old misery in the countryside), our media mostly ignore the place. 
    The reason is obvious: how, for example can they explain why hundreds of thousands of supposedly prospering and democratic-minded Colombians keep fleeing from U.S.-sponsored military death squads to supposedly suppressive Venezuela and Ecuador?  Acknowledgement of such facts would merely confuse Americans. So let's keep sympathizing with the Syrians and pretending that Colombia is no more than a seraglio for our Secret Service.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Gone Wisconsin
     The name of the game here in America is capitalism.  Everyone grab what you can!  Did I say everyone? Not quite. We have unspoken but strict rules about who can access the grab bag.  It’s a class thing, just like in Britain only without the peerage and pomp.
    At the front of the line are big money and old money. Then comes new money and dirty money (but isn’t it all nowadays?). Showbiz and sports money follow along. These comprise the now notorious one percent. We, the 99 percent, scuffle for chump change, some neatly in office casual, others wearing sweat-stained company shirts and weary expressions. Ever more of us are dead broke.
    Our social order discourages questions about the rich. For example, it’s unimaginable to ask whether Warren Buffet, let alone any other zillionaire, has too much money. Nor should we ask why the banksters who peddle synthetic collateralized debt obligations make millions while teachers and nurses make thousands.  That smacks of class warfare, a no-no.  

       On the other hand, it’s perfectly okay, in fact, encouraged, for us in the lower 99 percent to hector each other about our means.  We are stoked to resent any benefits going to the poor, the dark, the infirm and the elderly, who, we are told, are undeserving even if the Bible says otherwise.  When it comes to sheer invidiousness, we vent on those workers who, like business people, have organized to advance their common interests.  Bankers clubs? Sure.  Unions, ugh! Unions for public employees, double ugh!
    There is an ongoing transfer of enormous wealth from the bottom and middle to the top in America. Politicians and pundits tell us to ignore it and fight amongst ourselves for the disappearing crumbs.  Admire those, they advise, who exported your job and looted your pension, for they are rugged individualists and job creators. Resent instead those in your communities who still have jobs with pensions. Blame them for the broke cities and insolvent states.            
    Over in the first world, living standards are livable because of something Americans would find weird.  It’s called solidarity. People (the human not the corporate ones) join together in unions to give themselves--and, by extension-- everyone else a boost up. The idea is that a broadly prosperous and generous society is a decent thing to have. It works very well: the advanced welfare states of Scandinavia and northern Europe are faring best in the current recession.
     But that’s apparently of no matter to the majority of Wisconsin voters. They have chosen indecency instead as their new lodestar. Goodbye to my occasional Leinenkugel.  I know it’s not your fault.  It’s just that Wisconsin now leaves a bitter taste.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Unspoken Message

 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath--Matthew 13:12

  In the 19th century, America was agricultural and most folks knew how to grow vegetables and raise chickens. In the 20th, America was industrial and countless shade tree mechanics tinkered with machines. Today, in the 21st century, America is financial--and people can barely reconcile their checkbooks, let alone wise up to what’s happening on Wall Street.
    Given our dismal knowledge of the dismal science, we are suckers for trash talk about economics. Politicians right and center and pundits corporate and conservative batter us daily with nonsense about the money and how it gets used and abused.               

    Though it all sounds confounding (confusion helps keep us docile), there is a constant but unspoken central message at work: the rich don’t have enough while the rest of us have too much.  This message cannot be openly proclaimed because it doesn’t sound right or proper. Willard Romney or Obama buddy Robert Wolf can’t just announce that they’re depending on the sacrifices of ordinary Americans to make them richer. At least, they can’t say it quite yet.
    Nevertheless, that goal is the main reason why Wall Street and its rented pols in Washington do what they do. Take any of the economic issues in the news: there’s debt (though only government debt is defined as a danger), there are bank bailouts, there’s the ongoing Fed gift of free money to big-time stock and bond players, there’s austerity, there’s ‘entitlement’ reform, there’s rewriting our tax system, and, as ever, there’s beefing up our military.         

    The CEOs, senators, tea baggers and such we hear raising alarms about this stuff like to affect an air of civic responsibility. They’re forever warning us about the awful price our kids and kids’ kids will pay for our profligacy unless we get our finances in order. Carefully unmentioned is that each of the items above is, in fact, designed to make our progeny poorer. For it turns out, on the even slightest examination, that they are nothing more than schemes to transfer wealth from the bottom, middle and top to the top of the top. 
    For instance, our debt will impoverish our kids only if they keep paying it off to wealthy creditors who keep producing ever more of it. For instance, our military burden will keep growing only if we keep playing the imperial game.
    Like our obesity epidemic, our economic situation is not complicated and has a simple solution. For the former, it’s eat less and better food and exercise more.  For the latter, it’s spread the wealth.
    Unfortunately, the simple solutions are often the hardest to do.