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January 12th, 2018

My mother didn’t use the word “shit.” She never hesitated to use other expletives, but this one she found offensive and avoided. She changed five kids’ diapers, but she didn’t like what she found there, and fecal references were frowned on at our house. I once asked her if we could get squeeze bottles for mustard and ketchup like they had in restaurants, and she said the sound disgusted her, and, no, we’d have to struggle with jars and bottles as long as we were in her house.

My father wasn’t quite so delicate. He would tell us about using the outhouse in winter, and also about digging a new hole and relocating the shack every so often. I don’t remember any explicit references to shitholes (Should I slip a hyphen in there, for pronunciation purposes?), but that’s what he was talking about. The President’s reference tells us, among other things, that he’s not familiar with outhouse culture and really doesn’t know what a shithole is.

Trump will be remembered as the man who made “shit” a household word. You might hear the word uttered on TV now at any time of day, and it’s likely to be there from now on. Mothers of young children may be concerned, because the little lads and lasses tend to pick up naughty words as readily as candy. So it looks like we either have to censor news about the commander-in-chief or corrupt the language of our children.

Here’s a possible solution. We substitute the word Trump for all fecal references. So when little Johnnie complains that his spinach puree looks and tastes like shit, Mama can tell him, “Don’t say shit. It’s not nice. Say Trump.” Dogshit becomes dogtrump. “Do you have to pee or do Trump?” mothers will inquire.  Bulltrump, ironically enough, is the president’s stock-in-trade. “Lying sack of Trump,” will be heard regularly. Diapers could become known as trumpsacks. Then there’s the Shite House over on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I could go on, but nature calls. You might say I have to take a Trump.

What’s the Official U.S. Religion?

January 1st, 2018

“(N)either a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church,” declared the U. S. Supreme Court in 1947, citing the ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment. “Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.” 

In fact, the United States government does prefer one religion over others, and that religion is Judaism. Our government’s recent announcement recognizing Jerusalem as territory of the Jewish state of Israel amounts to an establishment of religion, in violation of the Constitution of the United States. Defying United Nations resolutions explicitly forbidding the annexation of Jerusalem by any nation, the announcement is accompanied by billions of dollars in economic and military aid to Israel, a nation that accords preferential status to people of Jewish ancestry and maintains, on religious grounds, a permanent state of war with its non-Jewish neighbors. The obvious focus of U. S. policy is to preserve the Jewish character of Israel and, eventually, to establish Jewish dominion over all of Palestine.

The United States government also gives tacit approval to the Jewish nation’s arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons, at the same time as it condemns the state of Iran for developing nuclear capacities that could eventually produce a nuclear weapon. Today, the U. S. government tolerates threats of armed force against Iran by the Jewish state–adding its own threats of violence as an Israeli proxy–even as it tries to disengage from a war that killed and uprooted millions of Iraqis because of unfounded suspicions about that nation’s nuclear capacities and the potential threat it posed to the Jewish state. The U. S. government nods with approval at Israel’s importation of Jews to displace Palestinians from Jerusalem and other annexed territory.

Not only does our government give direct aid to the Jewish religion through the Jewish state, it persecutes people of Arabic extraction here and abroad on behalf of the Jewish state. Members of Congress are lobbied incessantly by Jewish interest groups to adopt resolutions meant to punish and humiliate Arabs, Persians, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. Candidates for high office single out the Islamic religion for condemnation.

In the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the United States government rounded up Arabs, even as it arranged for the destruction of critical evidence of involvement in the attack by the Jewish government of Israel. Since 1967, out of special concern for the Jewish state, the U. S. government has been engaged in a systematic cover-up of events surrounding the sinking of the intelligence vessel U.S.S. Liberty, whose crew was nearly eradicated by fighter jets of the Jewish state of Israel.

At this moment, Muslims across the country are under special surveillance by state and federal law enforcement authorities. Police agents have infiltrated mosques and local Muslim groups, and Federal agents have targeted Muslims for phony terrorist plots. Hundreds of Muslims have sat in U.S. captivity in the years following 2001 without charges, and thousands have been subjected to torture. No other religious groups are represented in any numbers among these prisoners.

Does anyone doubt that there would be no conflict between the United States and the Islamic faith but for the preservation of a Jewish (and altogether European) state on the eastern Mediterranean? Does anyone doubt that our military adventures in that region are prosecuted on behalf of the Jewish state? Are we not as a government promoting an establishment of religion when we hold prisoners without charges, administer torture, subvert the rule of law, encourage the illegal annexation of territory and wage war to preserve the religious identity of a foreign nation?

In the Event

December 5th, 2017

We probably should be encouraged by the news that North Korea has successfully tested a missile that’s capable of hitting any target in the USA. Previously, the range of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapon delivery systems limited its destructive capacity to targets on the Pacific Coast of the USA. Now that Washington is within reach, maybe San Diego and L. A. can be spared.

Heeding the lessons of our adventures in Baghdad, we should not assume that there will be dancing in the streets if Washington is vaporized. It does seem unlikely, however, that our outside-the-beltway population would opt for the total annihilation of humanity if the capitol were our only loss.

If you haven’t been through D. C. lately, it’s definitly worth a trip. The decadence is, in the overblown jargon of D. C. neojournalists, “stunning.” Even from the beltway you can smell the money. Corruption so infuses the atmosphere that it’s easy to doubt whether the roads and overpasses will support the weight of the traffic.

The people who dwell there aren’t aware that most of the rest of us tend to gag at conspicuous displays of wealth. As you pass the bling-studded edifices that clutter the landscape, you might wonder how people get so rich on the doings of a debt-burdened government. Wonder on. Wonder how a legislator becomes a multimillionaire after 20 years in Congress. Wonder how news reporters bring down six-figure and seven-figure salaries. Wonder who keeps the principal players in office year after year, decade after decade. Wonder why ordinary people aren’t trampling the mall bearing torches and pitchforks.

We tend to forget that a state of war continues to exist between North Korea and the USA, despite repeated attempts on their part to negotiate a peace. We destroyed their country when I was a child, and they’ve been worried that we would do it again ever since. And now we have a government that’s threatening to do just that.

We all have friends and associates in Washington, D. C., so there will be grief if the North Koreans attack. And you hate to see all that alabaster pulverized. On the other hand, if we have to sacrifice a few buildings and our member of Congress and president to ensure the survival of the rest of us, is it really such a high price to pay?

Collusion

October 31st, 2017

If we look critically at the story propounded by the embedded mass media as “Russian meddling in the 2016 election,” it looks like most of the collusion is between news reporters and political manipulators in this country. Object: to sell the meddling story to a gullible nation. 

The media don’t seem to find the idea of meddling preposterous. If the minions of the Democratic party couldn’t swing the election, financed to the tune of billions of bucks and supported by nearly every newspaper editor in the country, what might Russia expect to accomplish with a few pathetic trouble-making items on Facebook and Twitter? Are the news-mongers serious when they try to sell this as meddling? Israel meddles. At best, Russia merely dabbles. Most likely, the motives of the parties involved were altogether commercial and not at all political. There’s a lucrative elections industry here, and there must be Russians who would like to feed at that trough, alongside our own mass media.

Both politically and journalistically, there’s nothing like the denunciation of an enemy to attract an audience. As denouncers, the candidates Trump and Clinton were in fierce competition, assigning hostile intent variously to Iranians, Arabs, Russians, Koreans, Venezuelans, Chinese and lesser powers, even to the ends of the Earth. Neojournalists from Washington to Honolulu joined the scapegoating mob, and the populace is now expected to take up torches and pitchforks against the named enemies. Tested by the atrocities of September 11, 2001, the people were found sufficiently gullible to cast blame on just about anybody but their own corrupt leaders in politics and the media. It is the collusion between these powers that we should worry about, but don’t rely on the media or government for warnings.

Kneeling for La Borinqueña

October 20th, 2017

My city is likely to receive a bounty from the hurricane that trashed Puerto Rico. Hartford is home to tens of thousands of people with roots in the island culture. Over the coming days and weeks we should expect many hurricane evacuees to arrive here, where they can find friends and relatives. People from the Caribbean have enriched our city in my lifetime, and a wave of new arrivals is an occasion. Let’s hope our community can come up with a coherent strategy to accommodate them.

In the wake of the hurricane,you might have expected our national government to be at work on a coherent strategy for Puerto Rico. We hear that “the island” borrowed billions of dollars and can’t pay them back. To judge from published reports, the money didn’t go to “the island” or to most of its residents. Rather, it seems to have ended up in the pockets of rich people, who got richer in proportion to the money that was advanced. Poor people got poorer, but they’re the ones whose pockets will be emptied to pay the money back. No coherent strategy has been suggested  to deal with that situation.

Even though it’s part of the USA and its residents are American citizens by birthright, Puerto Rico is administered as a colonial possession. It’s subject to special federal laws that facilitate the exploitation of labor and natural resources for private profit. For a hundred and some years, capitalists have seen to it that the status of most islanders hovers slightly above that of livestock. Roads, bridges, utilities, schools, and public amenities of every kind are denied proper maintenance, making the entire infrastructure delicate and vulnerable to destructive weather.

Don’t look for a coherent strategy to deal with destructive weather. With the island reeling from two storms in quick succession, causing unprecedented damage, you might expect some suggestions for what to do when the next one strikes. Because forecasters say it will. I haven’t heard a thing. It appears that some residential neighborhoods at low elevations will have to be abandoned permanently. What will happen to the people who lived there isn’t discussed. By anybody. How and when normal commerce will be restored is anyone’s guess, and we hear no plan of action from any source. Here’s a place that ought to be a tropical paradise, and yet its future is bleak. Why?

Some think the problem is political. Puerto Rico isn’t a sovereign but a possession of the US government. Public policy for Puerto Rico is made not in San Juan but in Washington, DC. Given a chance, the people of Puerto Rico might achieve a better state of preparedness than the coalition of bureaucrats and businessmen that govern today and that have failed the people so grievously. This compact island could be generating electric power to a modern grid entirely with inexhaustible solar and tidal resources, if only the oil and gas industry were willing to give up the island’s lucrative market. It’s an island with ample high ground and no system to relocate people threatened regularly by flooding, which is predicted to get worse with each passing year.

Puerto Ricans will probably achieve some sort of equilibrium as they cope with the devastation. Many will leave the island. Many who are here on the mainland now will find ways to aid those who remain. Government and the mass media will almost certainly hinder efforts at recovery, as they maneuver to create opportunities for rich people to profit from the disaster. Because of the corruption of these institutions, Americans have no reliable knowledge of what sort of future Puerto Ricans want or need, further impeding progress. In places like Hartford, support for the recovery will be strong across all segments of the public, but Puerto Rico will soon be forgotten by most Americans. The resolve and resourcefullness of its people will determine the island’s future.

Nine to Five

October 18th, 2017

In the struggle against sexual harassment in  the workplace, the first step must be accountability for notorious, justice-evading, serial sexual predators Clarence Thomas and  Bill Clinton. Thomas, whose victims were attacked by the  political establishment of both parties as liars and  opportunists, sits on the Supreme Court of the United  States. Clinton, whose victims were branded sluts by his  loyal wife, continues to draw enthusiastic applause from  Democrats of all sexes. Every honor we bestow on these  two is an endorsement of sex crime.

Notice how elegantly the mass media manage to talk about  sex harassment without mentioning either Clinton or  Thomas. In defiance of logic and the weight of available  evidence, the media decided to vindicate these two. It  was a cynical decision, but it enabled reporters to  avoid pointing out from time to time that an author of  historic court decisions and a much applauded president  are sex fiends. A reporter can’t pay proper respect to  these two without lying to himself and his readers.  Better just omit these two successful sexual predators  from the discussion.

We should note that there was no such thing as sexual  harassment until fairly recently. It was taken for  granted that men in positions of authority had absolute  power over their female subordinates. If your sister’s boss was a gentleman, it wasn’t because he had any legal  obligation toward her. I had a boss–a well-known  attorney placed in a position of authority over a staff  of young lawyers–who ordered one of my colleagues, a  shapely woman, to turn around to be displayed to a  visitor. She reported it, but in those days it was  considered harmless and trivial. Still is. We have legal obligations now that we didn’t have then, but they’re  weak, as the elevated status of Clinton and Thomas (not  to mention Trump) attests.

Almost 30 years ago, I was invited to coach a high-school mock trial team representing my alma mater. The  case involved a woman who was propositioned by her boss.  The common law was just then beginning to recognize that  employees ought to be protected from such abuses of  authority, and there were a few new cases that were meant to do just that. Sexual harassment was a  new legal term of art. Since then, I’ve represented several victims of workplace sexual abuse. In every case, the culpable party was the boss, and every one of these guys thought he was doing the woman a favor by paying attention to her. Like Clinton. Like Thomas.

Our clients showed great courage in taking their bosses to court, especially considering how things turned out for victims of celebrities like Clinton and Thomas. The fact that these two men still command respect puts a chill on any victim of workplace abuse. Weinstein, Cosby and Trump are beneficiaries of the lax-enforcement doctrine adopted by the media to accommodate these two. The cost is placed on working women, millions of whom, ironically, voted last year to put a sex fiend and his enabler back in the White House.

If we were living in a work of fiction, Clinton and Thomas would both have broken noses. Fiction can return us to an age when our value system included an  inclination to protect the weak from the strong. We  abandoned that value when we became what we  euphemistically call a “superpower.” As a nation, we’ve  destroyed some of the weakest peoples on earth, yet  we’re unapologetic, even boastful. Like Thomas. Like Clinton. Like Trump. Can’t maintain that  attitude and a binding moral code at the same time.  Victims of bullies are left to sink or swim by people  like us. If we lived in a work of fiction, the victims  would band together and buy some muscle to inflict  retribution, and values would be restored by force.

But we don’t live in a work of fiction, and in real life there’s no security for working women until we insist on justice for the sex criminals that walk among us. We can’t excuse our sons for their sexual misconduct and affect shock when our daughters are molested.

Ope Springs Eternal

October 9th, 2017

I had a call from a doctor conducting a study of Veterans Hospital patients who had been prescribed “opioids” for pain. Two years ago, after some major surgery to my digestive tract, I got a big bottle of oxycodone, which is a tiny pill that kills pain like magic. It mimics the effects of heroin and is every bit as addictive. The researcher wanted to know who had prescribed the drug and how much warning I’d received about the risks. I didn’t have much to offer in the way of details. I’d spent a month in intensive care with 20 different nurses and a dozen doctors, and they all merged together. I’m sure somebody told me about the risks of the pills, but I already knew about addiction, which I’ve seen at pretty close quarters. 

The interview, which was recorded, went on for about 15 minutes with questions probing how much I knew about opioids and what I might recommend in the way of precautions, counseling, intervention and other possible means of reducing risk. I told her she might want to consider calling the drugs “narcotics,” which they are, instead of “opioids,” which might not be so readily recognized as addictive. I suppose that’s just what the drug-dealers intended, to disguise the addictive potential of the drugs our doctors are giving us.

I was a little surprised that in 15 minutes my interviewer never asked about the euphoric effects of the drug I’d taken. Did she think I hadn’t noticed that two pills not only relieve your pain but also get you high? Take two more in two hours and double your pleasure. No VA doctor or nurse ever talked to me about that, and this researcher seemed to be censoring it out of our conversation. I suggested that patients probably ought to get at least this warning: “If you want to get high, don’t use this. Use something else. Unless you’re dying, in which case addiction’s not a worry.”

Instead of probing that subject any further, my interviewer veered off to ask the question that made her regret she’d called me. “Is there anything we haven’t talked about that relates to your experience with opioids?”

“Duh! Cannabis! Ever hear of it? Legal in my state, but not for VA patiens. It’s a pain killer. It’s a euphoriant. It’s not habit-forming. In fact, it cures addiction in many cases. Doctors and nurses won’t even talk about it, even though most of you use it.”

She stammered out a few expressions of surprise. I asked her directly if she used cannabis. No answer. Totally discredited. So be on the lookout for a study of veterans prescribed “opioids.” Whatever they tell you, stay skeptical.

Keep and Bear

October 2nd, 2017

At least some measure of blame for the mass shootings in Las Vegas yesterday must be assigned to five right-wing justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. With four justices dissenting, the court majority made a decision a few years ago that guaranteed this killer’s personal right to carry firearms. The judges were not bound by any law or doctrine to sanctify that guarantee, but, rather, were persuaded by the arguments of a powerful cabal of weapons manufacturers. If that decision had gone the other way, the Vegas shooter might not have found it so easy to open up with long-range, automatic, military-grade weaponry on a crowd of concert-goers a quarter mile away. 

The high court decision involved a Washington, DC, statute that would have effectively disarmed DC firearms owners. In overturning this law, the court majority had to ignore the language of the Constitution. Unique among the ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights, the second amendment has a condition attached. It doesn’t say, simply, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Rather, that language follows the acknowledgment of a condition under which the founders lived, namely, that a “well-regulated militia” was in those times “necessary to the security of a free state.”

In our jurisprudence, words are considered to have meaning, and this condition wouldn’t have been inserted into the amendment without some purpose. It marks a recognition among the founders that a time would come when the security of our free state would be maintained not by a militia but by a standing army and navy, as it is today, and a federal guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms would no longer be necessary.

The five justices decided otherwise. The guarantee is personal and entitles individual Americans to carry guns “for self-defense.” The clause referring to a well-regulated militia is as quaint and anachronistic as it sounds and in no way diminishes the right guaranteed by the main clause.

The practical effect of this counter-logical decision is that the record toll achieved by the Vegas killer will be surpassed sooner or later unless we repeal the second amendment. The high court’s decision gives us no alternative. Not that repeal would bring any radical changes. Repeal would not place a ban on firearms, but it would make regulation possible. We might expect some states to enact laws like the draconian statute that the court invalidated, while others, maybe Nevada, might allow residents to carry assault weapons on the street. But if Nevadans suddenly wanted to follow a more prudent course, they could. Repeal of the second amendment is an idea whose time arrived yesterday.

Trump Abandons Stateless Children

September 5th, 2017

In support of its decision to rescind the federal policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants to enjoy some of the privileges of citizenship, the Department of Justice declares  that its adoption was in defiance of federal immigration law. Known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the policy is a direction to immigration officers to refrain from enforcement actions against immigrants who entered the country as children, provided the beneficiary is 30 years old or younger, is attending school or has a high school diploma or honorable discharge from the armed forces, and has no criminal record. The policy has been challenged in federal court on the grounds that the president doesn’t have the authority to relax enforcement under current immigration laws. The Justice Department’s action amounts to capitulation to the court challenges. It acknowledges the plenary authority of the legislative branch to make immigration laws. It’s likely to result in a loss of employment and possible exclusion from the USA for hundreds of thousands of young people.

If the logic of the rescission were applied consistently, our armed forces would be obliged to interrupt combat operations in Syria and Afghanistan and generally refrain from killing people in faraway places. These operations are in defiance of our constitution which explicitly vests the legislative branch with plenary authority to declare war. The president may be commander-in-chief, but, just as he’s not allowed to make immigration laws on his own, he’s not allowed to attack foreign countries without congressional action.

If it seems odd to you that an unlawful exercise of authority that benefits disadvantaged people is so easily challenged while an unlawful exercise of authority that amounts to mass murder goes unchallenged, you’re not alone. If you’re planning to write your member in support of a legislative solution to the problem facing these young immigrants, you might also remind him or her of this other longstanding abuse of presidential authority and the devastation and misery it’s causing people in distant lands.

Unprepared

August 29th, 2017

Knee-jerk hypercapitalists may recall the words of their celebrated  spokesman Grover Norquist: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The quality of preparedness and response furnished by state, local and federal authorities to the people of Houston tells us the drowning was successful. Even though the “responsible” authorities knew that there would be widespread flooding, there was no evacuation plan, no advance provision for emergency shelter, no coordinated rescue strategy, nothing to indicate that Houston or Texas or even the USA has a functioning government.  You might hope that your state and city have made better preparations for big emergencies, but they probably haven’t. 

Not that anybody is asking. Well into the third day of the crisis in Houston, you can search high and low for journalistic criticism of government authorities, and you will find nothing. On the contrary, the media have been showering praise on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which didn’t even show up until Day Two of the disaster, and the Texas National Guard, which is “mobilized” but still ineffectual as of Day Three. You might expect that the question on every reporter’s lips would be “Was any lesson learned from Katrina?” It’s not.

What do you have a right to expect from government in an emergency like the one in Houston? The answer seems to be, “Nothing.” The consensus among reporters is that this disaster is simply too big and too severe for government. Nobody is questioning the decision of authorities in Texas not to evacuate Houston in advance. The media people know perfectly well that it was a bad call, but they’re censoring the inadequacy of preparedness out of their coverage. You can see that there are few boats plying flooded neighborhoods, few cots in emergency shelters, few buses delivering refugees, no sign of responsible government whatsoever. Plenty of video of inundated neighborhoods and occasional rescues by private parties, but not much in the way of an organized response, and no comment from the media.

The censorship should come as no surprise. The corrupt institution we call journalism depends on access to government officials for a supply of press releases, statements, and leaks to feed the information stream we innocently accept as “news.” In return for access, news-mongers must refrain from criticism. It makes it difficult for us news-consumers to assess the performance of our leaders, but accountability is the price of freedom.

If all this sounds like capitulation, it is.  The Houston police and fire authorities are prepared, but not for this. Terrorism is the big risk, and the authorities are armed to the teeth for that sort of unlikely event. Heavy weapons, kevlar suits, shields, and armored personnel carriers have been distributed in abundance; boats for flood-prone areas, not so much.

It’s true that Texans voted for less government, but maybe they didn’t deserve to get it.