Unopularity Contest

May 23rd, 2016

If we are to believe our embedded mass media (MMM), a sizeable minority of voters is ready to tolerate a presidential election in which both candidates are widely recognized as people of low character. It won’t be the first election in which most votes will have been cast to prevent the opposing candidate from winning, but these two could turn out to be the least popular pair ever nominated. The ammunition available for character assassination is abundant on both sides, and the candidates themselves are both dirty enough to use it all. The advertising is not likely to elicit a loving feeling in the electorate, a big section of which has already announced an intention to vote for neither. 

If the choice is between Trump and Clinton, people of conscience could stay away in record numbers. If that’s how things turn out, the responsibility will fall squarely on the gossip-mongers who claim the mantle of a free press. They inundated the public with images of Trump and Clinton, challenging them rarely, accepting always that a record of lying, cheating and stealing–habitual traits in these two–does not necessarily disqualify a candidate for high office. Depend on MMM to deflect the blame for this travesty onto the American people, who, rendered stuporous and ignorant under the censored stream of misinformation and disinformation supplied by the MMM, will have proved incapable of bringing principle and conviction into the voting booth.

The two multimillionaires that currently lead the major parties have already begun to switch modes, and the game is on to woo the disaffected majority. So far, it’s been a one-note appeal: “Vote for me or (Trump/Clinton) will become president, and you know what that means” (what it means, in either case, is that people like them will get richer, while the rest of us provide the wherewithal). If voters don’t buy this, the candidates might start offering us stuff, with promises they have no intention of keeping. Can either of them overcome the revulsion people naturally feel when they’re exposed to contestants like Clinton and Trump? Nose-holding, which shills for both parties now recommend to dissidents, might not suffice.

The advantage of a Clinton or Trump presidency is that it’s well-deserved. If ever a people proved worthy to be led by scum, we are that people. Our mainstream–the worst generation, as some have dubbed us–has pursued a scorched earth policy on every issue. Today’s high school and college kids have never known a time when the nation was not at war. Before their eyes, the planet they will soon inherit is disintegrating, and the mainstream seems to be OK with that. That the two leading candidates for chief executive are irredemably corrupt seems natural somehow, and fitting.

This Can’t Happen Here

April 19th, 2016

Dear Survivor

On this saddest day ever, all of us might profitably reflect on the events of yesterday. The  destruction of your nation’s capital, with the loss of so  many innocent lives, was undertaken to preserve humanity.  Your leaders, with the approval of your communications  media and a substantial minority of your people, had taken the world to the brink of catastrophe and had to be stopped.

As you know, the attack was initiated by no government, no  nation, no political entity of any kind, but by an  assembly of individuals from every corner of the planet.  We met in secret. We pooled resources. We debated. We  purchased the means of destruction, and we caused them to  be placed strategically where they would do the greatest damage to the seat of your government. Retribution may be possible if the members of our diverse assembly are detected and  apprehended, but there can be no retaliation.

This was not a punishment but a deterrent. The damage caused by your nation’s rampage is incalculable, and all signs pointed to an acceleration in the near future. As you must know, your government is responsible for armed conflicts throughout the world. Your communications media are controlled by commercial interests whose investment in warfare is universal. Your armed forces are deployed to be visible to your carefully selected nuclear-armed adversaries in Asia and Europe.  You claim reverence and piety even as your government vaporizes dark-skinned children in faraway places with missiles launched from unmanned aircraft. Your leaders have repeatedly used and threatened to use armed force to advance your commercial and political ends, and the current assembly of candidates for national office announces a continuation of this policy.  We believe that the destruction of key areas of your capital city and its richest suburbs has the potential to reverse the process of disintegration you seemed to have chosen.

The extent of collateral damage (a term your leaders invented) was great, and it is regrettable that so many innocent lives had to be lost.  It is always the case that justice inflicts pain on the innocent along with the guilty. In the case of your nation’s capital, the culpability was so clear and so widespread that mankind can take satisaction in the toll taken on the guilty and be content with an apology to the innocent.

So sorry.

One Time Only

March 17th, 2016

Of those who have been invited to take advantage of the opportunity offered by Bernard Sanders, a majority have so far declined. It’s unfortunate, because his offer has been to lead a revolution, a task that he and only he is qualified to undertake. With the possible exception of George Washington, no other person has ever risen to power in the USA along the path he’s followed, strictly on strength of character, and we are not likely to see a replacement for the 74-year-old anytime soon. 

He has been selling social justice throughout his adult life, and he has built a political movement around an agenda that, 60 years ago, could have landed him in prison as a Communist. Courage of conviction doesn’t often get a candidate elected, but he’s used it to win elections against Republicans and Democrats combined, the only senator who can claim that distinction. He has stood alone, on principle, time and time again. Struggling against the political tide is widely considered a disqualification for high office, but Sanders has somehow managed to overcome conventional wisdom. Nobody has won tougher elections than Sanders, and, in living memory, none has done it by dedication to social justice.

As he has implied repeatedly, he can’t succeed without the participation of the majority, and  the majority has opted not to take part. Too bad, because the USA is not likely to get an opportunity like this again: a principled social justice advocate who knows how to win elections steps forward to lead. He’s an old man, and nobody else can do what he’s done, but we’re simply not ready to take him up on his offer. We won’t get another chance.

Oh, the Humanity!

August 7th, 2015

You might have heard whining recently over the inhuman character of this or that mass murderer. What you never hear is any suggestion that the murderer’s violence may not be an aberration but an integral part of the human condition.

We like to think we lapse into violence, overcoming innate inhibitions that are as natural to us humans as our opposable thumb. A hundred thousand years of history and prehistory suggest that it’s the other way around: the innate drive in homo sapiens is to violence. It’s hard-wired in us. We wouldn’t be here otherwise.

Note that a hundred thousand years ago, there were at least three varieties of intelligent, tool-making primates wandering around. We think of the others as having disappeared, but, given the bloody, hypercompetitive experience of the last couple of millennia, it seems more likely that they were exterminated by homo sapiens, what we call modern man.

The survivors–you and I–are the race that conquered all. We are the issue of generations of successful killers, the less violent of us operating always at a competitive disadvantage and gradually dying out.  Mass murderers are us. We have discovered ways to keep from killing one another, but they are deliberate adaptations that, like all rules, standards and values, restrain expressions of our nature.

Jesus Christ certainly recognized the difficulty with which humans keep their violent streak at bay. Imagine the act of will it must have taken to turn the other cheek when struck. Too much for most of us, if reports from fact and fiction reflect reality. The innate drive to respond with violence is too strong to be overcome in most of us, Jesus’ instruction notwithstanding.

Violent entertainment may be a staple because it is in our nature to crave it. We don’t have to learn to love violence. Our predilection is the product of generation after generation of conquest by violence, directed at other humans as at other animals. We take this for granted, even pretending to believe that warfare is honorable or that a horse enjoys having a piece of steel between its jaws,  200 pounds on its back, and bootheels jammed in its ribs. On the other hand, if our ancestors hadn’t been able to subdue their neighbors and their animals so brutally, we wouldn’t be here.

On the occasion of the next mass murder or commemoration of such, we might find it profitable to stop pretending that mankind is a peaceable race. Maybe we should count up the toll of institutionalized violence, calculate the cost of warfare and entertainment and social oppression and take a lesson from it. Maybe do that on a regular  basis. Maybe we should ask what it is about us, homo sapiens, that could be disinhibiting them, the inhuman mass killers that walk among us. Maybe if we conceded our predisposition to violence, we could begin to control it.

Aid and Comfort

March 31st, 2015

Unlike my friends, my enemies are selected with great care and the utmost discrimination. There was a time when I credited the orders of my commanders on questions of hostility, but I know better now. Today, even the declarations of a president or secretary of state don’t persuade me, and I have a tendency to oppose people who want to choose my enemies for me.

Take the case of Yemen (conveniently, an anagram of  the word “enemy”). Airplanes from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has a common border with Yemen, are dropping bombs on its capital city as I write.  From what we read, it’s not clear exactly what the Saudi princes are trying to accomplish by killing a lot of Yemenis, but one thing is perfectly clear: Saudi Arabians are friends of the USA, and anybody they drop bombs on is our enemy.  And if I don’t happen to support their bombing and killing, I’m giving aid and comfort to an enemy my government has selected for me.  More and more, it’s becoming a knee-jerk reaction for me to take the side of the assigned enemy.

One big problem is the record of the people who have been trying to persuade me. In my name and with my money over the course of decades, they have shed oceans of innocent blood to punish “enemies” who have been, without exception, illusory. In my lifetime, no foreign country, no competing culture, no religion, no organized group of any kind has posed any threat to the USA. Only a fool would believe it was necessary to kill millions of dark-skinned people thousands of miles away to accomplish this, and most people don’t believe that.  So degraded is our reputation in the world that the sympathies of most people are with our enemies.

Another big problem is logic. Iran has been selected as an enemy, a status it’s held for over 30 years.  It poses no danger whatsoever to the USA. For hundreds of years, its relations with its neighbors have been peaceful. It has a reputation for mutual tolerance among the various religious and ethnic groups that make up its population. Other than political differences–Iranian leaders are notoriously (and justifiably) critical of European and American involvement in North Africa and the MIddle East–there is no logical reason for Iran to be an enemy.

Adding to the confusion is the complicated character of the interactions among opposing forces. Iran’s our enemy, and it’s also an ally of Syria, which has been engaged in a bloody war with a group that we call “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” ISIS, for short, which is itself at war with the US-supported government of Iraq, which has aligned itself with Iran in opposing both ISIS and the Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen, contrary to the pro-war policy of the US government, which is currently negotiating with the government of Iran an agreement that will be fiercely opposed by our close ally Israel, whose intelligence services are known to carry out espionage against the USA as if it were an enemy and not an ally and which, along with Canada, is known to provide material support to ISIS.  You try to isolate the enemy of peace in all this, and what you come up with this: It’s US. We know it. The world knows it.

If the enemy of peace is my government, then I’m obliged, on principle, to oppose that government when it assigns enemies. When my government tells me to revile Palestinians, as it does, I take their side.  When my government tells me Russians are evil, I’ll be rootin’ for Putin. I’m with the Yemenis that are under the bombs of the Saudi jets, and I have nothing but admiration for Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Ho Chi Minh.  I don’t believe my government can ever regain credibility with me, and I decline to accept its enemies as my own.

It’s not likely that my skepticism and insubordination will give much aid or comfort to its enemies.  On the other hand, it’s a certainty that worldwide revulsion and rage at US brutality are of immeasurable value to its adversaries.

Jingo Jingles

November 12th, 2014

I was offended by the Veterans’ Day observance yesterday at my granddaughter’s school.  Veterans like me don’t consider the holiday an occasion for celebration but rather for reflection on the death and destruction of war.  Instead, my neighborhood school treated us to a canned holiday program, complete with recorded accompaniment, celebrating nationalism with bad music.  

Kids used to sing good music in school. The music teacher would accompany us on the piano.  Now that public education has became a lucrative industry, the old public-domain standards have been replaced by computer-generated programs for mixed elementary school chorus, complete with sheet music, CD, and recommended commentary.  Something for every occasion, no doubt.

The Veterans’ Day program our kids performed (remarkably well, considering how unmusical and unoriginal the tunes were) put melodies to selected words of our constitution and thanked veterans in song for protecting our freedom (neglecting to mention the wanton killing that stopped temporarily with the armistice the holiday is supposed to mark).  I wonder how much the Hartford Public Schools paid for this program and whether there is a single music teacher who thinks it’s really music. I didn’t see a sign of musical enjoyment in any child at any time during the performance, and I was in the front row.

The prayer to the flag (a pledge of allegiance equal to any vow taken at a Hitlerjugend assembly) was invoked twice, and the kids sang the national anthem twice, too, which was excessive.  The singers were so good, and so uninspired at the same time.  Eventually, the veterans were asked to stand up and be recognized.  I was ashamed and embarrassed, but I stood up anyway.

Next year, consider a good rendition of “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” and “The Marines’ Hymn” and maybe some comments from an actual veteran on the  history of the  holiday and its significance to people who served in uniform.

Race Unspoken

November 5th, 2014

Has anybody else noticed the absence from political discussion of the role of race hatred in this election? Is it not clear that a huge factor in the nation’s apparent turn to the right was the color of Barack Obama’s skin? Republicans across the country made Obama their main issue. They didn’t have to mention his color. They just showed his face in key media markets, and they won the election. Are we really going to roll out the red carpet for rich people and have a war with Iran because our president isn’t white?

This country contains a core of caucasians–probably less than a majority, but still a lot of people–who really wish non-whites would just disappear. The smear campaign that Republicans employed to win the election (against a leader I revile as much as they do) was an ill-disguised lynch mob meant to attract white supremacist voters. Certainly, the deception couldn’t have fooled the mass media, but they’re not talking about it.

I’ve been half-expecting to hear some pundit say (as you might have said to your wife or husband), “That’s the last time Dems are going elect an African. It’s political suicide. Too many white racists casting ballots.” If there’s been such a discussion, I’ve missed it.

It’s like the other topic that can’t take in any discussion of race: disease in West Africa. Reporters are obliged to forget that a solid minority of white Americans wish an epidemic could just kill all the dark-skinned people. This is a truth that most dark-skinned people suspect and virtually all caucasians recognize from day-to-day interactions. But it can’t be discussed. Such discussions are called “playing the race card,” and they’re disfavored in enlightened company.

A big part of the racial gulf that divides us neighbors is this studied silence . Blacks tend to interpret the silence of whites as cover, while whites tend to interpret the silence of blacks as acquiescence. Either way, this is a morbid condition, and you have to wonder whether the election might have had a different outcome if someone had broken the silence.

Green Blues

September 9th, 2014

Notwithstanding my loss four years ago by 400,000 votes to the incumbent Connecticut attorney general George Jepsen, I’m on the ballot again this year as the Green Party candidate. I’d promised my Green friends that I’d run if a younger, better nominee couldn’t be recruited. There wasn’t anybody else.

I start by conceding that Jepsen is a good attorney general. He’s kept a lower profile than his precedessors, and if he’s running for higher office, it’s not evident. Plus, he’s popular with his subordinates, and, on the routine matters that occupy the attorney general most of the time, he’s worthy of my party’s endorsement. Even so, I’ll probably vote for myself, mostly out of loyalty to my party.

In the highly unlikely event that I get elected, as top priority, I’ll target corrupt authority, especially as it infects Washington, DC. I believe this distinguishes me from the major-party candidates. On the downside, citizens would have to do some work to get me elected. I tend to say what I think, and this is not a way to ingratiate yourself with voters. “Don’t be an idiot!” has serious flaws as a campaign slogan.

And I’m not accepting any money. I’m spurning the elections industry, where all that advertising comes from. I don’t much want the votes of people who respond to glossy cards that come in the mail and slow-motion images of venal politicians on TV, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get many of those votes in any case.

Of course, a candidate doesn’t receive much attention from media or political organizations when he refuses to raise money and advertise, but I have a web page anybody can examine. People who want to make an informed choice when they vote can find out all about me and get an idea of what I would do as attorney general. All they have to do is the basic work of citizenship.

The main reason you don’t hear much from or about minor-party candidates is that it’s generally acknowledged that they can’t win. The whole point of an election, most people think, is to populate elective offices. Candidates who can’t get elected don’t count, and, sometimes, neither do their votes.

Minor-party voters think an election should do more than just declare a winner. They see it as a contest of ideas as much as a contest of personalities, and they measure the popularity of their ideas by the number of votes their candidates get. If reporters of events shared these voters’ view of democratic government, minor-party candidates might get more attention in the newspapers and on TV. And we might all have a stronger republic.

If I get one percent of the votes cast, my party will retain its ballot line, making way for a third choice four years from now in the event that the major-party candidates are both crooks and the Greens find somebody really good. If I get fifty percent, I’ll become attorney general. Don’t hold your breath.

World War Three

September 4th, 2014

The alliance formerly known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is disturbingly reminiscent of the men who brought on world war in Europe 100 years ago. Each of the national leaders of that time and place enhanced his image in the nation he led with a flag in one hand and a sword in the other. Each marched his soldiers off behind beautifully mounted generals in plumed helmets, to martial music and the applause of adoring crowds. Today, modern equivalents of those venal men have the world at war once again, and, like 100 years ago, it’s impossible to reckon what it’s all about.

Looking back, it’s hard to tell which were the good guys and which the bad–several of the antagonists were part of the same imperial family–and so we conveniently conceded goodness to the winners and disparaged the losers. Also conceded to the winners were vast stretches of land in every corner of the world, causing generations of grief and bloodshed to the various unfortunate peoples who lived there.

The first world war was a unmitigated failure of civilization, without purpose and permanently disabling. Like its predecessor, the third world war, for no good reason, has inflicted death and injury on millions, and its consequences will haunt humanity for generations to come. As for the people who conceived and executed the present atrocities, they are dining royally in Cardiff, Wales, plotting further military adventures in Russia, Syria and Iran.

We don’t refer to the current alliance by the acronym “NATO” these days, but with a conventional proper noun–”Nato”–that rhymes with potato. That may be because the alliance’s involvements with events in the North Atlantic are few and far between. Lately, they’ve meddled in Afghanistan and Ukraine, but in states located on the Atlantic Ocean, not so much. I watched a procession of flag-bearers from various nations at the organization’s convention in Cardiff and it reminded me of the colorful processions of Hussars and Cossacks and Legionnaires, bound for the mud, blood, and slime of the trenches. Fools led by fools.

How, a century later, in the wake of one unsuccessful military adventure after another, seemingly rational people could continue to maintain a military alliance is a mystery our grandchildren, if they survive, will have to unravel. Armed force is an anachronism. If Nato, with its bunker-busting bombs and supersonic jets, couldn’t beat Afghanistan in a war, is a military engagement with Russia a realistic prospect? And if it isn’t, should threats of armed force by this useless, reckless cabal be tolerated?

In this country, the threats come, without exception, from Democrats and Republicans, at a time when elections are just around the corner. Voters who are unwilling to tolerate Nato’s sabre-rattling should make it clear to candidates and office-holders alike that they won’t cast a vote for anybody who supports Nato’s dangerous tactic. If this means spoiling things for Democrats, so much the better. Retribution is due.

Hands Down

August 20th, 2014

Many people are saying that Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager shot six times by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, was killed because of the color of his skin. That may be, but I suspect it was a perception of fearlessness that ultimately provoked his killer to lethal violence. We are meant to be afraid, and most of us are, but every so often we need a reminder, and that was Michael Brown’s function. He may have failed to show the proper level of respect, and we should all be aware that you can be killed for that. The police let his body lie in the street for hours to make sure that the community–including you and me–got the message.

There’s plenty to be afraid of: muggers, burglars, extreme weather, divine wrath, outbreaks of illness, Russia, odor-causing bacteria, China, Iran, immigrants, terrorists. Black people should be afraid of white people, and white people should be afraid of black people. And we must all tremble before the law. That’s the whole point of the military weaponry and camouflage fatigues.

Authorities of all kinds–religious, political, commercial–know that influencing others is most readily accomplished through fear. You are more likely to buy a gun and bullets if you’re afraid of street crime. You’ll support a permanent state of war if you’re afraid of powerful enemies in foreign lands. You will put more money in the collection plate and come more often to worship if you fear the consequences of irreverence. You will certainly demand less for your labor if you fear for your job.

Makes no difference whether the danger is real or imagined. As the street crime rate declined with the aging of our population, the frequency of TV and movie violence was pushed up accordingly, and our leaders responded to the rash of fictional violence with a panicked rush to longer prison sentences, warrantless searches, new legal prohibitions, and a huge private corrections industry to deal with our unprecedented prison population. After the big scare of 9/11/2001, we all became potential enemies; in the post-9/11 USA, you can’t ride an airplane without exposing your naked body to inspection for fingernail clippers and other dangerous objects that you might use to highjack the flight. So pressing is the fear today that people feel safer for the intrusions.

You may have noticed how easily we switch to a new enemy when an old one is eliminated. No sooner did we lose communists as enemies than we were excoriating radical Islam. Hussein and Bin Laden were quickly replaced by Assad and Putin. That’s because, for some, panic is a profitable condition, and you can’t have panic without enemies. Makers of pharmaceuticals and weapons and proprietors of private prisons thrive on fear. Bankers and other opportunists are adept at turning it to their material and political advantage. Frightened people are distracted, and this makes it easier to separate them from their principles and their property. The only thing our manipulators have to fear is that there might be nothing for us to fear.

Of all the terrorized people, the most pathetic are the civil liberties activists. Most of them seem to be in hiding. People who organize protest demonstrations hardly ever say, when 30 people show up, “This protest is a failure.” They should. As for the absent dissidents, they would never admit it, but they’re scared, many of them, of getting arrested or photographed or seen on TV by their boss. Their trepidation gives other would-be demonstrators an additional thing to dread: being part of a demonstration so miniscule as to be an embarassment, a testament to the weakness of iconoclastic spirit and proof of delusion among the protesters.

Nothing puts a bigger chill on dissent than fear. We know that when the authorities kill, justice is suspended. There is almost always a ready excuse in police brutality episodes and almost never a successful prosecution, and there is no prosecution at all in most cases. The risk of punishment is not a deterrent to official violence. It’s the sort of condition that will get you to say “Yes, Officer,” and “Sure, Officer,” when you’d really like to be saying something else.

In some quarters, the deployment of weapons of war in our neighborhoods is seen as a declaration of war on the people, and some citizens are not putting their hands up, despite the intimidating array of force. They know they can’t prevail by force of arms, but they believe it’s possible to restrain corrupt authority by force of numbers. Their demonstrations of courage and commitment are meant to empower their neighbors and relations, and we have seen them in action this past week. They may not win the battle of Ferguson, but they won’t surrender either.

The founders of our republic anticipated malfeasance in high places, and so they gave us the means to dissolve corrupt authority and replace it. All it takes is a majority, but here in the home of the brave, the majority is paralyzed with fear.