Saturday, December 26, 2015

 Lumpen Trumpism
    At the New Year, the good news about the mood of the polity is that it’s increasingly fed up with business as usual in Washington. The bad news is that a good portion of it is increasingly enamored of business as usual as directed from Trump Tower.
    Polls tell us that every time Donnie Trump (I can’t understand why no one in the media call him Don or Donnie) tells another big fat lie or says something imbecilic and/or loutish, his numbers go up. Who could have imagined that America has so many patrons for the sort of expression usually featured on the walls of toilet stalls?

    Like most Americans, the Trumpen element are not exactly policy wonks. They know little and care less about how our political economy works. They just know they’re getting screwed by it. And, as is unfortunately still acceptable in our society, they blame those poorer and darker than themselves for their woes.
    Being puerile among nations, Americans have yet to outgrow their dupability. They’ve been told for eons that the rich are to be envied and emulated, and that private business does everything better than government.  They note that Trump is a super rich private businessman with a pushy personality so they figure he can not only solve the country’s problems but also amuse their inner louts  by trashing politicians, minorities, Muslims, women, and the handicapped among others. In other words, he validates the good old American propensity to suck up and kick down. And we all know how much more enjoyable that is than observing the by now over done and increasingly ridiculous rules of ‘political correctness.’
    You can try to explain things like Trumpism and tea baggery, but only so far. That’s because they don’t make sense. For instance, these yahoos claim to detest business-as-usual politicians for taking money and being beholding to the same fat cats they otherwise esteem. They damn the media as “liberal” despite the fact it was the robustly corporate and capitalist media that made Trump famous if not notorious.
    They charge the government with being too big, bureaucratic and bossy, but salute the military, the biggest, most bureaucratic and bossiest part of the government.  And no matter how many wars the Pentagon mob has lost and trillions it has seen stolen and/or wasted, they believe that Trump’s real estate and media management skills will soon have Field Marshal Trump, the Clauswitz of the croupier class, leading his dealers in victory parades past Caesar’s Palace.

    Are there sufficient numbers of seething and guileless citizens to put Trump in the White House? I hope not. But rattling around in the back of my brain is a quote attributed to the  curmudgeonly conservative Henry Mencken: “No one ever lost a dime underestimating the intelligence of  the American people.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

What The Pope Knows
    Francis I, the Pope of Rome, is currently spending a couple of days visiting Cuba, a political dictatorship. But it is a milder one than was the Argentine dictatorship under which he lived back in the 70s. Cuba jails dissidents but has yet to resort to the death squad policies characteristic of right wing tyrannies. For instance,the Argentine generals tortured their subversives in the most horrible ways and then, with nightly flights, tossed them, some dead, others still alive, into the Atlantic Ocean. 
    One big difference between the Cuban dictatorship and the one in Argentina is that the latter enjoyed the benediction and practical advice and aid of Washington and, in particular, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
    The 70s marked the high point of American influence in Latin America. A hard working CIA, ONI and their like spawned and succored murderous military regimes across the continent so that the vast majority of Latinos suffered un-elected generals as their leaders. Without the drag of democracy, Washington and Wall Street were able to get whatever they wanted from their local Latin compradors. And that included such spiffy deals for U.S. oil companies as paying pennies a barrel in royalties for Venezuelan oil.
    Blood flowed in torrents. In little Guatemala, a succession of American-advised tin pots slaughtered an estimated 200,000 indigenous people. In Argentina, 22,000 were disappeared and/or killed.
    Thus life under brutal, U.S.-sponsored dictatorships is the common heritage of older Latin Americans, people of the Pope’s generation. Obviously, they are not impressed either by Washington’s claim to be a champion of democracy or its cynical accusations against Cuba.
    Cuba and Fidel Castro, so reviled in the U.S., remain respected if not admired in Latin America. It’s not because Latinos favor socialism or a Cuban-style dictatorship, but because little Cuba has stood up for better than a half century against the colossus of the north that brought so much misery and grief to their nations.
     The Pope, a Latin American, is suffused with this history about which we are willfully ignorant. A diplomat, he’s not likely to remind us of those bad old days on his trip here. Besides, he has other fish to fry. He’s got complaints against capitalism, our holy of holies. He had better be decorous about these as well, lest the CIA take up his case.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Bernie's Tune   
    For decades now, the Democratic Party has been busy moving to the right while fiercely battling any movements to its left. Just to define those words, by right I mean politics aimed at concentrating wealth and power and by left I mean politics aimed at spreading wealth and power more equitably.
    Nevertheless, a lot of people who consider themselves progressive or liberal have stuck with the Dems. They bought into the “lesser evil” ploy that says no matter how bad the Dems get, the Reps are always worse. Therefore, they've given up on progressive politics and decided to follow the Dems ever more to starboard lest the Reps win and, horror of horrors, get to name more troglodytes to the Supreme Court.
    With the country’s concentration of wealth and power growing ever more outrageous, it finally dawned on some progressives that following the Dems into a coronation of the pelf-sodden and imperious Hillary Clinton was a bottom of the barrel proposition. So they revivified progressive politics after all these years by joining the grass roots campaign of Bernie Sanders, an independent running for president as a Dem but who calls himself a “socialist.”
    Bernie’s not afraid to use that scare word because it’s lost much of its pejorative punch in the decades since the Cold War, and thanks to the fruit fly attention span of our pea-brained polity who  think socialism is a variant of sociable.  In any event, Bernie’s mission is to educate not to placate. So he regularly explains that he’s the kind of socialist who govern in Scandinavia and northern Europe, where people enjoy high living standards, lots of civic and social benefits and broad democracy. So what’s wrong with that?
     And Bernie can always point out that this is a vast improvement over the conservatives’ model country of Somalia where government barely exists, religion and family values rule, and everyone has a gun.
    Bernie’s not perfect, of course. He’s good on economic and domestic issues, but plays go along to get along when it comes to the care and feeding of the empire. He regularly votes in favor of further engorging the Pentagon. And like virtually every national politician in the U.S. he accepts the sovereignty of Israel over Washington when it comes to the Middle East.
    Sanders' secret weapon is his use of plain talk, as opposed to the politispeak twaddle of conventional candidates and the crassness of Trump. Bernie tells us that the rich are taking it all for themselves and thereby impoverishing our country. Everyone knows it, but only he has the guts to say it. 
   Americans have been taught to adore the rich, so blaming them for their limitless greed and ruthlessness has never been popular. The sheeple would rather fantasize about being Trumps themselves than reset the country’s prime economic goal from making billionaires into multi-billionaires to ensuring everyone the basics of a decent life the way they do in the first world.
     Or so it has been until now. We seem to be at beginning of another wave of reform, or so I hope. The size of Bernie’s crowds is encouraging. It means that more Americans than we might have thought are willing to go beyond politics as usual.
    In reality, the powers that be will not let the likes of Bernie Sanders win the presidency, let alone change the system if by some miracle he gets elected. But what they they will have trouble throttling is a broad popular movement, should one grow out of not only the Sanders campaign but out of the hopeful political awakening of which Bernie’s effort is a part.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Primer On Persia
   Iran, doing business as Persia for 2,500 years and one of the world’s centers of civilization, is deemed a pariah by our pols and press.
    So what did Iran ever do to the United States?
    In 1979, radical Iranian students occupied the American embassy in Tehran, taking its staff hostage. After 444 days the hostages were released safe and sound. None said they were mistreated. The students also released thousands of embassy documents showing the intimate relationship between the U.S. and Israel and the fallen Iranian dictatorship.
    What did the U.S. ever do to Iran?
     In 1953, the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected Iranian government and restored the former shah, or king, to power. The reason was to grab Iran’s oil. For the next 25 years the shah’s regime, advised and armed by the U.S. and Israel, tortured and slaughtered thousands of its citizens while the foreign oil companies battened.
    In 1980, following the overthrow of the Shah’s dictatorship by a popular revolution, the U.S. advised and armed its then ally Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in a war of aggression against Iran that took a million lives.

   When Iraq failed to defeat Iran, the U.S. began a concerted effort to overthrow the new religious regime in Tehran that continues to this day.  Congress even openly appropriated hundreds of millions of a dollars for this effort.
    In recent years, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran with the proclaimed purpose of “strangling” its economy. In other words, bringing misery and ruin to 80 million people.

    What's the U.S. beef with Iran?
    Washington claims that Iran’s regime practices repression at home and terrorism abroad in order to gain dominance over its part of the world. At the same time, the U.S. maintains warm relations with nations in the region that are far more retrograde and repressive than Iran. As far as terrorism goes, the evidence tells us that by far the chief generator of terrorism, from 9/11 to ISIS, is the Wahabi branch of Sunni Islam centered in feudal Saudi Arabia, which, along with Israel, is America’s best kissy-face ally in the Middle East.
    What about Iran and nukes? 
     There are three possibilities: that Iran already has nuclear weapons and, like Israel, is keeping it a secret ; that, as our intelligence agencies all say, it doesn’t have them, and in fact stopped trying to build them years ago; or, as our pols and pundits endlessly repeat, that Iran has been months away from getting them for the last 36 years.
    The so-called Iran deal agreed to in Vienna would ensure that Iran doesn’t get nukes—which may be a moot point if it already secretly has them. In exchange for Iran forsaking nukes, the U.S. and its partner nations lift their trade sanctions and let Iran get back its own money that has been held by the big financial houses.
    The true reason for the deal is that, finally realizing that the current Iranian regime is not about to go away, the U.S. is now willing, as in Cuba, to recognize its existence and try to dominate it by less than military means. The hope is that Iran’s millions of well-educated young people will be willing to surrender their nation’s independence in exchange for access to consumer goods and the western lifestyle. It might work, but probably not. Iran is too big, too strong and too proud to let itself become another Honduras for apps and tablets.
    One of the greatest and most durable lessons of history is that people everywhere prefer to be ruled by their own kind. We Americans have never acknowledged that truth, preferring to believe that the other 95 percent of humanity craves American “leadership” and must be punished for not accepting it.
    I’m not particularly partial to the Iran deal. If the yahoos in congress kill it, the result will be a body blow to the American empire as countries that have already signed on to the deal like China, Germany, France, Russia and the UK realize that American “leadership” can no longer be depended upon to be wielded by grown-ups rather than by children of the corn. It's a message that the self-proclaimed 'world's greatest country' is no longer run from the White House but from the nut house called Congress. To me, that’s useful info.
    From Latin America to the old Silk Road in central Asia, independent-minded countries are creating economic work-arounds to diminish their dealings with a fading but still avid American empire. A failed Iran deal will only add allies and make them increase their efforts.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Forty Years Ago Today
      April 30, 1975, is a momentous date in world history.  On that day, Vietnam, a small and poor country, won its liberation by finally defeating, in order, France and the U.S., two of the world’s great empires, in a 10,000 day war that killed millions of its people and devastated its country. It marked the end of 400 years of western imperial domination of Asia.
    You won’t see or hear a word of that in Rory Kennedy’s PBS documentary, The Last Days in Vietnam. Apart from some rudimentary references to the red menace, you are not told what the war is about or why the U.S. lost it. You do not hear from those who fought on the winning side or see more than fleeting images of the joyful throngs in the streets as North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon. 
    You are not told that the losing South Vietnamese regime was a brutal military dictatorship invented and propped up by Washington. And there is no mention that the winners won because they had the support of the vast majority of Vietnamese.
   None of that. The Last Days in Vietnam is only about the losers.  Not all of them, but merely about a handful of the Americans still ‘in country’ and the Vietnamese compradors who ran errands for the Americans who ran their country.
    Since they couldn’t imagine losing, especially in such a shameful rout, the Ford administration in Washington and military command in Saigon had no viable plan for defeat with honor.  Chaos, panic and betrayal would rule the day.
    Kennedy’s documentary details the debacle from the pov of the rearguard of the U.S. military and CIA desperately trying to squeeze themselves and their Vietnamese collabos into the overloaded helicopters and boats ferrying people out to the rescue flotilla parked off shore. The documentary aims to turn them into heroes and to allow such as the war criminal Henry Kissinger and a few other hoary hawks to regurgitate the same old self-serving lies about Vietnam that they’ve been peddling for half a century. 

      Rory Kennedy is one of the younger generation of our former first family.  You might expect then that she would have a fresh eye and make an effort to draw lessons about that awful war from some of the historical realities mentioned above. 
     No way. Her political perspective is barely existent.  You might as well be watching the evacuation from a hurricane or an earthquake.  For her, there are no lessons from Vietnam, only bathos. It's easy to imagine her down the line making exactly the same documentary about an American rout from Iraq or Afganistan or Ukraine or wherever else our  relentless and self-destructive imperium takes us.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Her Hillaryness Requests
    With Hillary back in the news on a daily basis until the gods of money either anoint or dismiss her, I thought it was as good a time as any to revive a piece I did last fall for my Dear Ideologist column in the print edition of In These Times, a national news magazine that I’ve been writing mostly satire for since 1977. Here it is:

Dear Ideologist, 

   I enjoyed meeting you at my recent book signing on Martha’s Vineyard. As I indicated at the time, I would be happy to address the Fogey Forum, your senior citizen discussion group. As I mentioned, my minimum speaking fee for non-profit organizations such as yours is $250,000, payable in advance to my numbered account at Banque de Lichtenstein. I will require air transportation to your venue by Gulfstream 450 or larger personal jet and ground travel by Rolls Royce Silver Shadow for myself and Escalade SUVs for my staff. For accommodations, I expect potentate penthouse or presidential suite facilities for myself and deluxe rooms for my personal staff, including make-up, hair, pants suit and flower arrangement personnel. My retainers will present you with a detailed contract listing cuisine, comfort details and ancillary requirements. The moderator of your forum should introduce me in glowing terms, a copy of which will be sent you.  My topic will be the challenge of inequality in America and one woman’s effort to rise above it.--Hillary Clinton, Chappaqua, NY

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Obama All Couped Out  

The United States appear to be destined by Providence to plague [Latin] America with misery in the name of liberty--Simon Bolivar, 1839

     There are lots of things foreigners know that we Americans don’t. For instance, Latin Americans now know that the Obama White House was mounting a military coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela set for February 12 that failed big time with the arrested plotters singing like tweetie birds about their marching orders from Washington.
    The coup was supposed to kick off with an air attack, just like JFK’s invasion of Cuba in 1961. Back then, military air bases were the key targets. This time, Obama was aiming at the Miraflores presidential palace with the aim of killing the lawfully and popularly elected President Maduro. I guess Obama didn’t use drones, his favorite assassination tool, because that was as good as announcing to the world that he was up to his usual tricks.
      In this era of commercialized subversion, private contractors from the U.S., Israel, Colombia, Britain, Germany and Canada were hired for different parts of the operation. Academi, a U.S based company that changed its name from Blackwater after that brand was associated with the massacre of innocent Iraqi civilians, was reputed in overall charge. Managing the coup on the White House end was Ricardo Zuñiga, Obama’s top guy on Latin America at the National Security Council. As noted above, even a few Venezuelans were allowed in on the plot. Some were disaffected air force officers and others the usual scrum of bought-and-paid-for local politicians.
    Americans don’t know about this new aggression because, according to a Google search, no U.S. major news outlet has yet mentioned Operation Jericho, as it was dubbed.  Neither has the media informed the citizenry that each and every one of the 33 countries south of the border has condemned U.S. efforts to destabilize and overthrow the legitimate government in Caracas.
    On April 10, all the presidents in the hemisphere will meet in Panama for a Summit of the Americas. If President Obama shows up as scheduled he’ll be walking into a political buzz saw.  Obama will not have even one ally for cover as President Maduro of Venezuela presents evidence of the thwarted assault on democracy.

    Few Americans will know about that either. At most, they’ll hear about yet another Latin American confab--you know, where Secret Service guys frolic with hookers while Latino politicos slag the U.S. in order to curry favor with their voters back home. Of course, it's never explained why dissing the yanquis wins political points. That would be giving away the game.
  (For good background on the U.S. war on Venezuela, I recommend this link to an important article by the highly distinguished expert on Latin America, James Petras.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Treason" Once Removed         
    Back in simpler times, treason meant betraying one’s own country. Things are much more complicated today when treason can also mean less than total obedience to the leader and lobby of a distant foreign country.
    We Americans have reached that state with the arrival in Washington of Israel’s Prime Minister who has the super chutzpah to make a speech before our  Congress attacking our foreign policy. 
    Supporters of the state of Israel (or “51” as some call it) are warning that they will “punish” members of Congress who don’t show up to applaud Netanyahu. I assume that absentees will need a note from their doctor or another suitable excuse if they don’t want to end up on the Israeli lobby’s hit list of traitors to Israel.    
    “Punishment” here in the States for suspected lèse–majesté against anything Israeli hasn’t yet reached the level of water boarding or droning. Mostly it consists of accusations of “anti-Semitism” and ruination of the reputations and careers of the accused.
    That, along with tons of money from pro-Israel fat cats like Sheldon Adelson, has brought (or is it bought?) Israel to its uniquely powerful status among the satrapies of the American empire.  Only Saudi Arabia, which maintains a discreet alliance with Israel, has as much clout with the American polity.
   The unabashed hypocrisy in the Republicans’ sponsorship of Netanyahu is that while they pretend to super-patriotism and are forever slagging Obama and the Dems for not being tough enough on the other 95 percent of the world, they are tripping over themselves in kow-towing to the leader of a country where distaste for America and Christians is open and commonplace. 

   I get the feeling that Netanyahu and his GOP subjects have gone too far this time.  Even Americans, not the most worldly of imperialists, can eventually figure out that there’s something wrong with taking rather giving orders to one of their vassals.  When they finally do, it will be a blow to their pride.  They may even do something about it, like treating Israel not as a princeling to be indulged but as a nation with a population the size of Tajikistan or Honduras that ought to be treated accordingly.

Friday, January 2, 2015

And Seldom Is Heard
A Discouraging Word        

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but has a remarkable capacity for never even hearing about them--George Orwell

    Whenever Washington and its media stenographers start prating about America’s championing of freedom and democracy, billions of people around the world are faced with a minor vexation. They don’t know whether to chortle or retch.
    I was thus vexed the other morning by an NPR update on our kissy-face buddy Saudi Arabia,  a country named for the family that owns and runs it. (If our concentration of wealth continues apace, we may soon join the Saudis in that distinction.)   The report
said that except for “uncertainty” about their future (a condition that effects us all), the Saudis were feeling mostly hunky dory in their medieval monarchy.
    A couple of days earlier I happened to come upon two lightly covered news items about our intimate ally. The first said that the Saudis boosted their beheading totals for the year. (Someone once told me that in addition to cutting off your hand for thievery, the Saudis will snip your pinkie for overtime parking. I’ve never managed to confirm that.)
    The other story said that two Saudi women were to be tried by an anti-terrorism court not only for daring to drive automobiles
themselves, but for encouraging other women to do so as well.   (Isn't terrorism such a ubiquitous and useful rubric?) 
    Neither NPR anchor Steve Inskeep nor his guest, author Thomas Lippman, mentioned those nor any other such bits of information that might hint that Saudi was a bizarre feudal throwback bested only by North Korea for the title of most repressive state on Earth.
   Speaking of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, its doofus dictator with the ten cent tonsorial, could become as beloved by Washington and the media as is the king of Saudi if he made the effort.  Perhaps he will now that the Sony hack has made him a national brand over here.
    He wouldn’t have to stop starving, torturing and killing his people or running a society in which anything not allowed is forbidden. All he would have to do was to turn his country’s economy over to Wall Street. U.S. multinationals would delight in super profiting from a regime that paid its people less and treated them more horribly than hellholes like Bangladesh.
   Kim would soon find himself a mascot of the NBA, hosting SNL and a regular on Meet The Press. Dick Cheney and Hillary Clinton would befriend him. And, as we do with our other absolutist friends, no one would ever use disconcerting words like freedom and democracy in his presence.  As our endless deference to the antediluvian Saudi princes shows, we Americans are polite that way. When it pays.