The color of power.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

What a horrendous week for New Yorkers. Condolences to those affected by this ghastly Halloween attack. Don’t wait for words of encouragement and sympathy from the big cheese – he’s too busy attacking your senator on Twitter. Literally insult upon injury, but not surprising. It’s also been a pretty rough week in Puerto Rico, still reeling from Hurricane Maria, and of course in Somalia, in the aftermath of that horrific bombing. I could go on, but what’s the point – you know it. Sad thing is, none of these people will get any reasonable amount of moral or material support from the current administration. The reason couldn’t be clearer: too many dark people, and no potential Trump voters.

How low can he go?Not that Somalia has been treated like anything other than a doormat in previous administrations. Trump, though, has singled out Somali refugees in America for criticism, sowing hatred and distrust among his legions. The refugees are black, like the family of La David Johnson, and like the Congresswoman that is a family friend of theirs, and like the football players taking a knee, and … need I go on? Puerto Rico, well … that place is full of dark people too, and so they’re not going to get the kind of help that goes to Florida and east Texas. It just seems like whatever belligerent stand Trump takes, there are dark-skinned people on the other side of it.

I suppose I should consider it fortunate that crypto-racists have a tendency to reveal themselves gradually, however unintentional that process might be. Case in point is Trump’s Chief of Staff, General Kelly, who launched into a gratuitous character assassination attempt on Florida Congresswoman Wilson (hint: she’s African American) using a story that was easily dis-proven, as the event he was describing was captured on video. In remarks to the New York Times, Kelly praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee and opined that the Civil War was the result of a “lack of ability to compromise”. I think Lawrence O”Donnell had it right when he suggested that Kelly – who grew up in the same area of Boston as O’Donnell did – is channeling a racist upbringing in what was a caldron of prejudice against black people, brown people, anyone other than the Scotty B’s of the world.

Let us face it. In this culture, white, heterosexual people are normative; that is the default position. Anyone else needs qualification and justification. So when a crazy cracker shoots up 500 people in Las Vegas, we won’t ask ourselves what the problem is with these rich, white Christians. But when a crazy ass Uzbek mows down a bunch of innocent people for no reason, all Muslims are expected to apologize. That’s a power relationship at work.

luv u,

jp

A little late.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Well, we’ve heard from Arizona’s senators. Sort of. Does this amount to anything? If so, I don’t know what, but judging by the coverage afforded by the mainstream media, I must be missing something. I’ve heard Jeff Flake compared to every great orator this side of Cicero over the past few days, but honestly – what did he say? What is the substantive issue here? It sounds to me like tone, “integrity”,  adherence to accepted norms of behavior, and mental/emotional stability. Important, yes, when you’re talking about the President of the United States – a man who can, on a whim, destroy the entire planet. It may be dawning on some of these GOP senators – at least the ones no longer eyeing re-election – that having a crackpot in that most powerful chair on Earth may not be such a good idea.

Where were you last year?Thing is, where the hell were they last year when they could have done something about it? I think you know the answer to that. Trump is not an anomaly – he is the product of 30 years of mounting extremism in the Republican Party. They may have tut-tutted him once or twice during the campaign, but it never rose to the level of obstruction. No, they were more than happy to elect a sociopath idiot narcissist to the imperial presidency, so long is it meant they would get their way on legislation, appointments, and executive policy. That’s all they fucking care about, people. Their congressional leadership says so every day. So even if a handful of retiring senators complains that Trump’s ill-treatment of Gold Star families is disgraceful, the party will still stand in full support of that signing hand. This isn’t an ideological battle, because they – Trump and his party – all agree on 90% of their program. To the extent that people like Jeff Flake disagree with the president on policy, it’s largely on the basis of his hostility towards so-called “free trade” agreements.

Take their tax policy (please). The GOP is framing this as another visit by Pappy Tax Cut. The fact is, they will likely raise taxes on working people and the poor, just as they often do. They did so during the Obama years at least twice – once when they refused to renew the “Making Work Pay” tax credit, and again when they scuttled the withholding tax reduction. Now they’re talking about reducing tax exemptions on contributions to 401k plans. Set aside the fact that these retirement instruments are woefully underfunded in the first place and represent a free-market retreat from the notion of a liveable retirement plan, this is just a backdoor attempt at funding the massive cuts they’re promising to their rich donors. Regardless of what Trump claims, he will sign it, then call it something it’s not. That’s what he always does.

If the good of the nation matters now, it certainly mattered last year when the GOP could have stopped Trump cold. They didn’t, and so plainly, it doesn’t.

luv u,

jp

The fallen.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Four special forces soldiers were killed in the African nation of Niger earlier this month, and the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it. There’s been no discussion of what our policy is in Niger or more broadly in that region of Africa, no information on the circumstances of the men’s deaths, no nothing. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Yemen raid that went bad just a couple of weeks into Trump’s tenure, except that they HAD a story for that one and it turned out to be as bogus as a Linkletter million dollar bill.

Another thing the Niger incident echoes somewhat more dimly is the Benghazi attack back in 2012. You know, four dead Americans, questions about how much support they received from Washington, and so on. So I imagine Trey Gowdy will start holding hearings on this quite soon, right? (Trey? Are you out there, Trey?)

What they DON'T want to talk about.Okay, so, the thing MSNBC has latched onto is Trump’s call to one of the relatives of the lost soldiers in Niger and his comments surrounding presidential condolence calls in general. This seems like a red herring. The fact is, Trump radiates a sense of not caring about anything that happens to military people. This just points to what I’ve contended for some time now; that Trump is all of our worst tendencies balled up into a big, fat, greasy wad of nothing. He doesn’t care about lost soldiers in much the same way that most Americans don’t care – at least, not enough to step away from their televisions or to put their forks down. Sad, as Trump would tweet, but true.

Do Americans wonder why our military is operating in places like Niger, Chad, etc.? My guess is that they don’t, since both the government and the media are not taking a close look. One freelance journalist working in that region, Amanda Sperber, commented on Democracy Now! that she found it surprising that Americans weren’t aware of our presence in Niger; that we have, among other things, a drone base in that country. Why? Because we the people don’t make it our business to question these deployments. We don’t have to pay (at least, for the time being) and we don’t have to fight, so we essentially don’t give a fuck.

We will become a civilized people the moment we start treating our service personnel as if they were members of our immediate family. When we get to that point, maybe Trump will adjust his behavior … or, even better, be sent home.

luv u,

jp

Wanting more.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

It’s hard to overstate how disturbing the news has become over the last couple of weeks. Gradually some elements of the Republican political establishment are beginning to acknowledge the obvious fact that Donald Trump is fundamentally unfit for the office of the Presidency. Astonishing. Why someone like Senator Corker wouldn’t have realized this more than a year ago, when he had the opportunity to help prevent this disaster, defies belief. Like his colleagues, it obviously wasn’t as important to him as having a Republican president – any Republican president – who would sign legislation and implement the extreme right policies his party has long advocated. They did everything in their power to put an unstable man in the most powerful office on earth and place the nation in jeopardy just to gain marginal political advantage.

Maybe THEY buy it.Now Corker and his colleagues can feign surprise when the bonobo they elected throws feces at them from his perch in the White House. And because the Tennessee Senator has announced his retirement, he can channel his colleagues’ unease when Trump (a) demonstrates he knows nothing about America’s nuclear strategy or the history of that strategy, (b) breezily demands we return to an arsenal of 32,000 warheads, and (c) makes a habit of cryptically threatening to start World War III on the Korean peninsula. The man is a terrorist, plain and simple – hinting that there’s some kind of “storm” coming, teasing some violent response or initiative, then dropping a smirking “you’ll see,” like a petulant four-year-old. Fit for the presidency? The man isn’t even qualified to be dog catcher.

I wish this were the kind of joke that so many people think it is (including many of Trump’s core supporters, who revel in the discomfort of liberals and the like), but it’s not. Trump is alluding to some kind of military action in the near future, probably regarding North Korea. Any action commenced by the United States stands the very real risk of provoking a counterattack on Seoul, South Korea – a city of 20 million people and no small number of Americans – plus the involvement of China and perhaps Russia (China’s leaders have said that they would respond to an unprovoked attack on North Korea by the U.S.) That is the World War III scenario that Corker is alluding to. Even short of that, we could be looking at loss of life in the hundreds of thousands within a very short period of time – far beyond anything we’ve seen in decades. (Congo may be an exception, though that conflict took place over many years and in some respects is still ongoing.)

In my humble opinion, it’s 25th Amendment time. Will anyone in the senior leadership of this administration put the country before his or her career? Remains to be seen.

luv u,

jp

Arms control.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Let’s have some fun with semantics, shall we? Start with the word “gun”. What is a gun and when does it stop being a gun and become, say, a bazooka or a howitzer? Though I suppose you can say that a howitzer is a kind of gun – big guns, as in “Bring out the big guns!” How about a staple gun or a glue gun? So a “gun” just a device for expelling something, right? That’s why it also serves as one of umpteen English euphemisms for penis, among other applications.

Well, fortunately for you 2nd Amendment purists out there, this very confusing word “gun” does not appear anywhere in the text of your favorite founding document of the Republic. The Constitutional scholars over at the local NRA gathering simply assume the word “arms”, which is used in the amendment, means every manner of gun from the .38 special to the Kalashnikov. Why they stop there I have no idea. Given the vague wording of the 2nd Amendment, our founders seem to leave the door open to an inalienable right to brandish a bazooka, or a howitzer, or a tactical nuclear missile for that matter. “Arms” is a far more general term than “gun”, so obviously we draw the line somewhere.

Constitutional right to ALL of them?Based on the evident facts of the massacre in Las Vegas, it’s way past time to move that line a bit south from where it’s been over the past couple of decades. I know my gun enthusiast friends bristle at the thought of restricting “assault rifles”, largely on the basis of the fact that the term is not sufficiently defined and, like all terms, highly subject to interpretation. Fair enough. But it seems to me we are in need of restrictions on the actual firepower represented by these weapons (particularly when modified, as the Las Vegas shooter’s rifles were, to operate as automatic weapons) rather than the specific design. Nine rounds a second seems kind of excessive, for instance. Is there any earthly reason why someone using a gun for self-defense, hunting, or other varieties of personal amusement would need to shoot more than a round or two per second?

I know, I know … I’m trying to spoil people’s fun. There are something like 200,00 legally registered automatic weapons out there, millions more semi-automatics, and people just love, love, love to shoot them at target ranges, etc. Great. But weight your right to do something fun against the right of others to be protected against the massive trauma and death caused by such weapons on a regular basis. If you can have your normal old .30-30 hunting rifle, your handgun, your shotgun, and your Bowie knife, but NOT the modified assault rifle, has your right to keep and bear arms been violated? You still have guns, right? Just not every kind of gun you want to have.

I guess our little semantics game should end on “rights.” Are “rights” about what we should be able to do or are they about being able to do every little thing our heart desires … like owning that modified AR-15?  I guess it’s up to us to answer that question.

luv u,

jp

War and remembrance.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

I mentioned last week that I have some problems with the Ken Burns series on the Vietnam War. That was on the basis of just the first episode, so to be fair, my comments were a bit preliminary. I have not seen much of it since – just the odd half-hour here and there. (Frankly, it’s hard for me to come up with 18 hours of viewing time over the course of a week or two.) That said, the episodes I’ve seen since the first installment have done nothing to change my estimation of the overall project. It’s important to get many and varied perspectives from American veterans; I’m all for that. But the Vietnamese perspective that I’ve seen thus far has been very limited and two-dimensional. Further, the narrative seldom departs from the neo-imperial framing that has always defined mainstream retrospectives on this brutal war.

Vietnam war seriesWe’re told, for instance, that in 1969 Hanoi would not consider an agreement that would leave the Saigon government in place. Actually, it wasn’t just Hanoi; it was a large percentage of the people under the dictatorial governance of South Vietnam – at least those who had not already been brutalized, burned to a cinder or chopped to pieces by that late date. One important point that’s getting lost in this series is the fact that the vast majority of ordinance dropped by the U.S. in Vietnam was dropped on South Vietnam, not North Vietnam. This is reflective of that imperial framing – South Vietnam was “ours” to rampage over, so look elsewhere. Also, perhaps I’m missing too much, but virtually all of the atrocities I’ve heard described in this series have been on the anti-Saigon side. (I hope this is just a reporting error on my part.) And the picture they paint of Le Duan is practically that of a ruthless super villain, “Dr. No” figure.

No such depictions on the American side – just a lot of well-meaning actors gone awry. And seemingly very little reliance on official documentation from the period. I’m hearing a lot of recorded phone calls and office conversations, but not even contemporaneously available material like excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, let alone subsequent declassified documentation. The authors seem unaware of or uninterested in American planners’ thinking on why the war was being fought in the first place; the danger of a good example of independent development, outside of the U.S.-run system; the desire to provide a recovering Japan with markets, raw materials, and labor and (post-1949) to prevent them from accommodating to communist-led China.

I will watch more, of course, but I am not sanguine about this effort. We are currently in the midst of a 16-year conflict in Afghanistan. It would help to understand the last pointless, seemingly endless conflict a lot more clearly than this series allows.

luv u,

jp

Week that was (again).

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Man, this week has been a clusterfuck. Not sure exactly where to begin, but I guess the best option is just to dive right in.

The Zombie Rises. Repeal and replace is back again this week, this time advanced by GOP senators Graham and Cassidy, and it’s the predictable formula. They basically want to block grant the program, including the Medicaid portion of it, which is the Republican’s favorite target just lately. According to a study cited by the Washington Post, 34 states would lose funding, and the states with Medicaid expansion and relatively generous benefits would be the biggest losers. It will also throw millions off of their coverage – no surprise there. The only thing that can stop this now is, well … us. Call, march, occupy, whatever you can manage. Delay this vote until after 9/30 and it will be dead for a while longer, at least, and that’s the best we can manage under the circumstances (i.e. good enough).

Active crime sceneHurricane Maria. What a horrible storm, and the fact that it took such a cruel path through an already distressed group of islands is heartbreaking. Puerto Rico, already flattened by international finance, has lost power entirely, perhaps for weeks or even months. Their grid is 44 years old, due to such a constricted colonial financial situation. Where is the outrage for the ill-treatment of these working Americans, Trump supporters? Crickets.

Mexico Quake. There’s a sickening regularity to this recent crop of disasters; a hurricane coinciding with an earthquake in Mexico. Again, suffering piled on top of suffering among a populace singled out by our president as the source of all of our woes. And as is so often the case, the lack of public investment in communities makes the disaster more serious than it needs to be. Such an outrage.

Hello, World! Speaking of the source of all of our woes, Donald Trump made his “debut” at the United Nations General Assembly, and duly threatened North Korea with total destruction. Withered talking heads like Joe Scarborough and David Ignatius found some encouraging themes in this poorly-wrought mad man’s tirade, but that’s just residual affection for the American empire. Trump waved the bloody shirt and threatened the world from that podium, and the threat was lost on no one. No doubt about it: Cheney’s back in charge.

Vietnam Revisited. I could write a whole column about Ken Burn’s latest effort to retell history, but suffice it to say that he appears not to have strayed much from the mainstream “bungling efforts to do good” narrative. Another lost opportunity to clarify this loathsome episode.

luv u,

jp

After the flood.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

With an environmental disaster underway in Houston and massive destruction in the Florida Keys, the Virgin Islands, and elsewhere around the Caribbean, it’s fair to say that the 2017 hurricane season is off to an inauspicious start. We are completely unprepared for these climate change-fueled super storms, largely because we find ourselves unable to grapple with the fact that global warming is actually happening. Yes, I know – no storm can be directly attributed to climate change, but it does enhance the strength and volatility of the storms to a significant degree, and the effects are very much as predicted by climate scientists.

It's getting worse, folks.There are people in this country – coastal urban mayors and the like – who have to face facts on this issue, but pretty much everyone else is free to ignore the obvious: that we are now living in a far more dangerous and unstable environment, and it’s only going to get worse. The longer we play this denial game and pretend it doesn’t exist, the more profound the long term costs will be. Unfortunately, this is a difficult issue to get traction on in a country like the United States. You find yourself arguing for a major change in people’s day-to-day lives, tremendous investments, and more, for positive effects that likely won’t become evident for another generation or more. It’s a crisis that breeds fatalism, and that plays right into the hands of the petrochemical-driven profit machine that’s been stoking climate change for decades.

I think the only way we can succeed in convincing enough of our fellow Americans that radical change is needed is by decoupling the notion of a sustainable society from economic austerity. We have demonstrated this as a society – recall the period just prior to the financial crisis of 2008 (well, before the election of 2008, too). There was what seemed like a broad and growing consensus that we needed to do something about energy use, investing in renewables, greater efficiency, etc. The crash just washed that all away in a chorus of “drill, baby, drill!” When you have 750,000 people a month being tossed out of work, people will grasp at anything, and Obama did little to articulate a coherent vision of a more sustainable economy.

So here we are, being battered by ever larger and more menacing storms, and yet building more pipelines as far as the eye can see. We need to move the conversation back to where it was ten years ago (and further, really). That’s the straw.

luv u,

jp

Brinksmanship redux.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

It’s a little hard to sort out what to write about this week. The catastrophic hurricane that hit Texas or the one that’s bearing down on Florida? North Korea? DACA? What the hell … welcome to the Trump era, when everybody drinks from a firehose. What a non-stop freaking joy this administration is. I will leave to more able correspondents (like David Sirota) the telling of how Trump and the congressional Republicans have worked overtime over the last few months to make east Texas more vulnerable to this kind of disaster. As unprecedentedly powerful storms line up to cause havoc around the Caribbean and up the coast, no doubt the climate change deniers will continue to strip away what little protection people have from flooding, the release of pollutants, and bankruptcy (particularly in a place like Puerto Rico).

Highly predictable.Then there’s North Korea. Perhaps the most remarkable piece of this crisis is the total lack of voices in favor of doing the right thing. From the various talking heads (mostly foreign policy establishment people, retired generals, current generals, and conservative think tankers), I keep hearing that there are military options, however limited, and that it’s either strike or learn to live with a nuclear-capable North Korea. Of course, we have had that for a while. We have lived with a nuclear-capable Russia and China for a long time. I also hasten to add that the world has lived with a nuclear-capable United States for even longer. My feeling is simply that if they can live with us, we can live with them … just as we have for about a decade.

Here are a few things  that you won’t hear on the talk shows: 1) This is not the cold war. It is not an ideological battle, for chrissake. No one is interested in emulating North Korea, and they aren’t trying to export their model of governance to anyone else.  2) We don’t have to demonstrate that we are stronger than them. They know this in their bones since we destroyed their society in the 1950s. Our strength is the central reason why they’re doing this. 3) This situation is not China’s fault, nor is it their responsibility. North Korea’s dispute is with us, not China … or even South Korea. They and the Russians have encouraged us to take reasonable steps to disarm this time bomb: hold off on military exercises, build confidence, etc.

An NPR correspondent this week asked if diplomatic approaches would make us look “weak”. This is the mentality that leads to war. North Korea is not Germany in the 1940s. Appeasement doesn’t apply here. That only works when you’re weak and they’re strong.

luv u,

jp

Sanctuary found.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Just heard that Texas’s asinine SB4 anti immigrant bill has been blocked by a federal judge a day before implementation. Now perhaps more undocumented people in Houston will make their way to safety in the midst of this catastrophic storm. It’s conceivable that more than a few people’s lives will have been saved by this decision, though it remains to be seen what will happen on appeal. Texas’s useless governor is determined to push this point with the full support of the Trump Justice Department, furiously waving the bloody shirt of immigrant crime, murder, rape, etc., to make their bigoted followers happy.

Why trust is important.Of course, as police chiefs all over Texas and, really, across the nation know, the effect of this broad policy will be the precise opposite of what Trump, Sessions, and Abbott claim. It doesn’t take a criminologist to understand how this works. The police don’t have omniscience; they rely on people who see something to say something, as the slogan goes. Without the cooperation of people in the community, they can’t effectively do their jobs. Undocumented aliens are not going to step forward if they believe that police will detain them because of their immigration status. The Texas Governor can assure them all he wants that if they haven’t committed a crime they have nothing to fear – that obviously counts for nothing. The police would be severely constrained by this law. If they don’t report undocumented individuals to ICE, they can be fined and even prosecuted. So what the hell is Abbott talking about?

The broader policy is the core problem here. We have a president and an attorney general dead set on targeting undocumented aliens. They have lit a fire under ICE, turning them into Trump’s promised deportation force, which he mentioned during the campaign. What that has meant thus far – and what immigration attorneys are saying – is that in order to get their numbers up, ICE agents are grabbing the easiest people to get. It’s not MS13 that has to worry; it’s the young people they prey on, because they are the low-hanging fruit. This is particularly the case if (and I mean when) Trump cancels DACA. And again, if young, school-age people and their parents are afraid to talk to the police, how are the police going to protect them from gang members? Not going to happen.

So the result of this sickening policy will be Trump’s vision: a higher percentage of the remaining undocumented will be lawbreakers. A self fulfilling prophecy.

luv u,

j