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Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

I don’t know a lot of Russian, but I know how to say “Hi.” That’s ironic because I seem to have been mistaken for a Russian troll. I’ve been highly critical of “our cherished democratic institutions” and have for years been pointing out deficiencies in our systems and in ourselves. Yesterday I heard a gaggle of US senators saying it’s Russians that are doing this, and they’re posting this stuff on Facebook. I quit Facebook a couple of months ago, but I was doing exactly the same thing right up till the day I closed my account. 

Facebook says it shut down any number of accounts that were “meant to create political discord” in the populace and claims it edited out some of the most dvisive stuff. I have no way of knowing whether any of my posts were censored, but what I posted was invective. By definition, I’m a sower of discord. I’d like full credit for that, and I’m not happy to share the credit with unnamed Russians.

According to the senators, Vladimir Putin is pulling the strings behind an orchestrated campaign to bad-mouth the USA, with harsh rhetoric on stuff like racial prejudice, environmental pollution, mass murder, suicide, drug addiction, domestic abuse, a permanent state of war, corrupt politicians, material inequality, etc. Sure, we have all this stuff, but talking about it is just divisive. It makes us angry with each other, and we don’t want that.

Facebook has a right to censor my remarks. It’s a private company, and private companies don’t have any obligation to respect my freedom to comment. Government, in contrast, is forbidden to censor me. The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution says “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech . . . ” Interesting that none of these moronic senators made mention of that detail. Notice that the provision doesn’t confine itself to U. S. citizens. Russians are allowed to express opinions, too. Facebook may have a right to censor objectionable political opinion, but Congress has no authority to tell Facebook what discordant rhetoric to allow and what to censor.

You want to see some political discord, take a look at the abolitiionist rhetoric of 1855. If it hadn’t been for the divisive rhetoric of those days, dark skinned people would still be in chains. The divisive rhetoric of 1900 ended child labor and eventually produced gains in the rights of workers. Divisive rhetoric a generation later gave us Social Security and rural electrification. Politics is divisive rhetoric, and any senator or news-reporter or voter that doesn’t recognize that is an idiot.

Oops, there I go being divisive again. Making people angry. If somebody says to you, “I think we ought to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of Arizona,” don’t get mad. Best not to say anything. If somebody comes into your workplace and announces that Trump is making America great again, don’t call him shit-for-brains. Don’t be uncivil to people who don’t agree with you that cops ought to stop shooting black kids. And don’t criticize our electoral process, like the Russians do. You wouldn’t want to upset the system that gave us two corrupt rich people as presidential candidates in 2016. The system that, in its mass media component, suppressed all news about the most popular political figure in the USA and gave us nonstop coverage of the two candidates who put out the best buffets for reporters.

If Putin did what the senators say he did, we should be thanking him. For sure, our own leaders won’t be acknowledging racism, corruption, war-mongering, or injustice, because, once conscious of these problems, they might have to do something about them. Instead, they’re going to crack down on dissident opinion.  For purveyors of invective like me, that’s bad news.

The Detritus of Journalism

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

Either high-level discussions aimed at relaxing international tensions are bad for the USA or such discussions run counter to the interests  of the US mass media. Our news-mongers speak with one voice in their declaration that talks between the leaders of Russia and the USA are not worthwhile. They are determined to convince the American people that Russia is their enemy. This could be a difficult mission, given the low credibility of the news media. We can’t forget that they beat war drums incessantly and universally in favor of futile and expensive conflicts with Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran, all the while defending the thuggish conduct of neighbors Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

The basis for enmity with Russia seems to be what the media call “meddling” in the 2016 presidential election. The news-mongers have bought, en masse, the preposterous idea that Putin was able to convince millions of Americans to vote for Donald Trump, when, with the backing of every newspaper editor in America, the least popular Democrat ever nominated failed to get enough votes in the rust belt to claim the White House.  How these yahoos were transformed into a lynch mob opposed to measures that might contribute to world peace is probably a less complicated story than it appears.

Suppose an editor complains to his publisher that the newspaper should devote less space to celebrity news and more explaining the consequences of privilege and inequality. From the publisher’s point of view, the mission is to attract an audience for advertisers, and discussions of inequality are less likely to gain readers than interviews with TV stars. The dissident editor, like the reporters who work for him, knows that those who make a habit of criticizing the decisions of their superiors don’t last long in journalism, and so he either quits complaining or finds another line of work. This is a problem, because editors and news reporters depend on critical thinking skills to do the work of informing news-consumers. If, in the interest of attracting an audience, news-mongers have to suppress critical thinking in themselves and their subordinates, the quality of journalism must suffer. And so it’s not that a group of clear-thinking professionals have suddenly been transformed into a mob of gullible idiots. Rather it’s that a gaggle of empty-headed, incompetent gossips have shown their true colors. With the critical thinkers suppressed or eliminated, this is what’s left.

This explains how an assembly of news reporters could cry “treason,” without ever checking to find out what treason actually is. How they could forget that the same Bill of Rights that protects them also allows people from foreign countries to express preferences in US elections. How they could present the annexation of Crimea by Russia as a threat to the USA. And how they could condemn, unanimously, a meeting of world leaders aimed at promoting peaceful coexistence between heavily armed nations.

This might not be such a dire situation if we didn’t depend on responsible, critical reporting to maintain a healthy, peaceful planet. If we were inclined to lay blame on any one institution for the sorry state of our republic, the mass media would have to top the list. We can be excused for believing that our embedded mass media crave conflict and are prepared to precipitate it if national leaders fail to engage. Anybody who has ever joined the crowd surrounding a schoolyard fight knows that conflict attracts an audience. Inasmuch as the main focus of our mass media is to peddle the food, drugs and cosmetics that sponsor them, it’s perhaps natural that they should fear concord as an impediment. We can only hope that when the missiles fly, the first ones will drop on the enemies of peace at NBC, CNN and NPR.

Vengeance as Virtue

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

The 17-year-old who slaughtered his schoolmates in Santa Fe, Texas, was on a mission of retribution. According to news reports, he confessed that he selected some kids to survive the massacre so that his “story” could be told. His narrative, if it’s ever made public, is not likely to find many sympathetic listeners, but it should be heeded. It can be expected to differ only in its details from the stories of retribution we welcome in our fiction and in our expressions of national policy.

It was revenge, after all, that motivated us to support our armed attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. As recently as last month, our aircraft launched missiles against targets in Syria to teach the leaders of that nation a lesson. There was no discernible public dissatisfaction with that attack. The Santa Fe killer has never known a time when his leaders were not exacting revenge on some distant enemy or another, always with widespread approval among the citizenry. If he was a cinema buff or video gamer, the lessons learned from our vengeful real-life adventures were reinforced with fictitious stories of retribution as virtue and justice.

If we’re shocked to hear some of the Santa Fe survivors tell us they were not particularly surprised that this happened at their school, we shouldn’t be. We’ve terrorized our children with “active shooter drills” and “lockdown” maneuvers. And just days before the shooting started in Santa Fe, the world’s youth were exposed to graphic depictions of armed force, as any number of teenagers were gunned down by Israeli snipers for hurling stones, in what our leaders tell us was an act of self-defense. The Texas boy’s story will–unsurprisingly–invoke the need for lethal force in defense of self.

What should surprise us is the amount of dissonance Americans are able to tolerate. The news coverage has so far censored out all discussion of the social forces that make this sort of atrocity inevitable. Newsmen aren’t asking how these dead children are different from the ones our ordnance kills every day in places like Afghanistan, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip, but we seem to be OK with that. Most of us seem able to square a deep commitment to bombs and bullets with disapproval of violent crime. Seems as if logic and history should compel us to admit we’re a nation of vengeful, heavily armed cowards who should expect this sort of thing from time to time. Vengeance has become a sacrament of Judeo-Christian culture. Couple that with an abundance of guns and ammo, and you’re going to suffer atrocities every so often.

Full Faith and Credit

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

The dollar, along with all other monetary obligations of our government, is backed by “the full faith and credit of the United States,” as provided by law. What does that mean?

Both “faith” and “credit” are  legal terms with distinct meanings. “Faith” is  not belief in a divinity but the “good faith” exhibited by parties to a transaction. You rely on your employer’s good faith when you work for a future paycheck, just as your employer relies on your good faith when he leaves you to perform your job without close supervision. Duties are performed faithfully. Obligations are executed faithfully. That’s the “faith” that backs the dollar. It’s faithfulness to duty and obligation.

“Credit” is not merely the ability to repay a debt, but honesty to a fault, utter worthiness of belief in every particular. Credit is compromised by carelessness and incompetence and sacrificed altogether by dishonesty and sharp practice. Once lost, credit can be difficult to regain.

From a legal and historical standpoint, “full faith and credit” reflects explicit, implicit and plenary adherence to principles of honesty and duty.

Today,  the full faith and credit of the United States is grievously endangered. Our chief executive, acting on his own, has repudiated an agreement made by his prdecessors in office and adopted unanimously by a resolution of the United Nations. He did it despite demonstrated good faith compliance among the other parties. Seven nations were party to the agreement, which may or may not remain in force among the other signatories. Whatever happens among the other parties, the withdrawal of the USA must be reckoned a breach of good faith and a credit risk of the highest order. The UN made the agreement binding on all parties, and trying to get out of it is simply cheating.

What happens to known cheats and charlatans? How are dishonest traders treated in our markets? Often enough, they are shunned. If the dollar really is backed by nothing more than an empty promise of “full faith and credit,” can it hold its value when its issuer is universally discredited and no longer seen to be acting in good faith? It is possible that world opinion could turn so adverse that dollars might cease to enjoy special status in foreign countries?  What if the general public lost confidence and liquidated its bank accounts or millions of people walked away from their school debt or hospital debt or credit card debt at once?

Some people say the US economy teeters always on the brink of collapse, like a house of cards. Could a breach of full faith and credit be the card that upsets the structure?

Lawn Ordure

Friday, May 4th, 2018

It is a canon of conservatism that republican government requires a measure of order and predictability in the conduct of public affairs, along with adherence to law by those charged with its faithful execution. It’s not clear exactly when this doctrine of law and order was abandoned, but we’ve come so far from it that our mass media now take abitrariness and lawlessness for granted. Actions without precedent, episodes of spectacular malfeasance, and policy reversals of every kind are now as common as dogshit, and, judging from the equanimity of our media, we’ve somehow grown accustomed to the stink.

Trump’s unpredictability should be an unwelcome sign of the failure of ordered government. Instead, we’re invited to enjoy the mystery and applaud whatever surprises he has in store for us. You wouldn’t know from reading the papers, but this is a radical departure from past practice. If you’re in favor of arbitrary rule–or if you’re in the business of peddling drama, conflict and surprise, as  our media seem to be–Trump’s winks and nudges will come as good news. But if you’re comfortable with republican government, you should understand that it’s facing a lethal threat.

There was a time when we citizens, acting through our duly elected and appointed representatives, including our president, could be part of the analysis and debate that used to accompany decisions about public policy. Today, we are isolated from a process so opaque that all discussion and analysis are conducted behind closed doors, so that public policy emerges fully formed, with no history, no rationale, no predictability. And we’re supposed to be OK with that. We understand from news-mongers at NBC and the New York Times that this is the “new normal,” enjoying widespread support among ordinary people. Maybe ordinary people really do want to trash their republican tradition. If so, it’s because they”ve been so thoroughly disinformed by their media that they don’t recognize what’s happening to them.

There was a time when an armed attack by the USA on a foreign country would be front-page news, a shocking development that would provoke public debate over the legality of the action and its potential consequences. Many remember how carefully Richard Nixon covered up the military “incursion” into Cambodia, fearing he might be held accountable for violations of law (as, eventually, he was). Today, despite domestic and international laws that forbid aggressive warfare, the US routinely engages in it. Our media take this for granted, consigning news of such attacks to page three squibs and never questioning the legal basis for war nor examining the potential consequences. To allow such lawlessness to go on without comment is to be complicit in the subversion of our republican traditions

Watchful citizens may have noted the mass media consensus that we the people are to blame for the descent of our government into chaos and ethical anarchy, as exemplified so perfectly by Donald Trump. The media neglect to mention that many more people didn’t vote for him than did. That our congressional representatives are every bit as corrupt as he is, funded almost exclusively by the rich and super-rich, so that they are  disabled from reflecting the will of the people. That the media themselves–mainly gossip-mongers, using celebrity to attract an audience for exposure to an onslaught of advertising for the food, drug and cosmetic sellers that sponsor them–have left us so poorly informed that we can’t peform the obligations of citizenship. They take us for idiots, and they tell us we’re idiots. They will be proved right if we accept, as they do, the “new normal” that so grievously threatens our republic.

No News

Friday, April 27th, 2018

If there was ever any doubt that our news is censored, it is dispelled today with the universal suppression of an important event that took place yesterday at the Hague, in the Netherlands, on the premises of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Fifteen eyewitnesses to the events of April 7 in the emergency department of the hospital in Douma, Syria, were consistent in their testimony that the incident described in Western news media as a chemical weapons attack was a crudely orchestrated panic scene staged for video cameras to provoke an armed attack on Syria. In fact, as you may remember–though little has been said about it since–the air forces of France, the USA, and England dropped bombs on Syria a few days later.

Doctors, nurses, and patients were in agreement that no trace of chemical weapons was detected on any patient, and none suffered any symptoms of chemical exposure. You can search US media high and low for an account of these witnesses’ narratives, and you will find nothing, The Washington Post, in an abbreviated squib, refers to the participants as “alleged witnesses” and makes no reference whatsoever to the substance of their testimony, which was compelling and aired at length by news sources outside the USA.  Common Dreams, Democracy Now, The Real News make no mention today of the testimony, even though it indicates clearly that the attack on Syria was based on a transparent pretext.

On its face, the video is a fraud. It shows “rescue workers” dousing children with cold water from hoses in the emergency room. There are no chemical weapons that can be washed away with water. In fact, there are no non-lethal chemical weapons of any kind. By definition, chemical weapons kill efficiently and indiscriminately. Among people exposed, there are no survivors. Hosing people down is not a treatment for exposure to chemical weapons.

Several of the witnesses told us that the children in the video were snatched from the hands of their parents to be doused. One of them, an eleven-year-old boy, was among those giving testimony, and he is shown in the video being manhandled by “rescuers.” Western news-mongers signal tacit approval of this tactic in their refusal to view the video critically.

We can only guess how a censorship project of this magnitude is managed. We can surmise that news outlets are threatened in some way, but it’s not possible to say how this is accomplished or what the threats might consist of. We know from coverage of the events of September 11, 2001, that the threats are effective. Despite ample evidence of US government complicity in that episode of mass murder, no question is ever raised in the mass media about the government’s account. As a result, many people still accept that three New York skyscrapers collapsed because two were struck by airplanes. We can guess that–in the absence of critical comment–the latest bombing of Syria will enjoy similar public support.

Irenaphobia

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

There’s no such word as irenaphobia, and this should not surprise us. When the pschoanalysts were inventing Greek monikers to describe various forms of neurotic dread, an irrational fear of peace wasn’t something they were encountering in their psychiatric practices. That’s probably because a morbid fear of peace is not irrational. 

Who could possibly fear peace? Certainly, high-ranking military officers could have a perfectly reasonable fear of peace. If the US Army ever becomes unnecessary for the security of Germany, for example, or Turkey, where tens of thousands of US soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen populate dozens of outposts, fewer general officers will be needed, and the progress of advancement for lesser officers will be impeded. It may be that the widespread endorsement of Russia as a mortal enemy of the USA is meant principally to protect the general staff in Europe from redundancy.

Weapons dealers have to fear peace. Next to banking, no other industry offers such abundant opportunities for the enrichment of rich people. A nation at war or under the threat of war will pay any price for arms and ammunition. The ordnance is promptly exploded when received, creating a need for more ammo and, in due course, replacement of the weapons. As an extra bonus, privileged “contractors” get to “rebuild” what the weapons destroy, always at inflated prices and always with ample tribute to the political operators who hire them.

Republicans fear peace. Their voters–gun-toting, bible-thumping, chick-groping, beer-drinking sports fans–crave a certain amount of vicarious violence to hold their interest while rich people quietly relieve them of their labor and their cash. It’s much easier for rich people to manipulate and deceive the rest of us if they can convince us we face a common threat.

Democrats fear peace. The terms of peace always require compromise, and compromise always requires the better armed party to give something up, and Democrats fear they they’ll be blamed for every concession the peace-makers allow. Also, Democrats, like Republicans, are funded by rich people, and rich people like to invest where the returns are generous, such as in weapons-mongering and war-zone contracting. Democrats hold office at the pleasure of these folks.

Newsmen fear peace. War guarantees them a stream of “news,” in the form of press releases and strategic leaks and rumors, without requiring them to do any work. Often enough, there’s blood and violence to feature, and there’s always space for flag-waving, drum-beating, parades, flyovers, and tearful family reunions with returning warriors, decked out, as they always are, in camouflage fatigues. And, when it comes to war-reporting, news-mongers don’t have to worry about accuracy, ever. Mistakes are inevitable amidst the fog of war, as reporters like to remind us. Newsmen fear peace as they fear boring their audience. They know they can attract a crowd with bloodshed and wanton destruction, and that’s what news is for. Then you can sell that crowd the food, drugs and cosmetics your sponsors are peddling.

Political leaders fear peace. War allows them to bask in the delusion that men and women are willing to die for them. In fact, when lives are lost, the survivors quickly learn that dying (or killing, for that matter) for the glorification of your civilian commanders is not a worthwhile enterprise. And our leaders are, overwhelmingly, lifelong civilians. Their “public service” almost always boils down to self-service. They manipulate soldiers and sailors and their gear just as children play with toys, even as the makers of military gear shower them with material and political support. There’s not much our leaders wouldn’t do to preserve the atmosphere of potential lethal conflict that we breathe today.

Ordinary people don’t fear peace but crave it. Deprived as they are of reliable information about their condition, they end up conceding that peace, like justice, is something that must always remain out of reach. And we’ll be right about that for as long as we allow the irenaphobes to control our lives.

Due Diligence

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

Exceedingly rare are news media estimates acknowledging the presence of 800,000 demonstrators on the streets of the nation’s capital. In a protest that took place just a few weeks ago and has been utterly forgotten since, at least a million schoolkids walked out on a schoolday and assembled peacefully in Washington and other cities to demand safety and security from armed raiders. The participants may not know this, but it’s a pretty modest demand from a movement that can turn out this number of young, fit, conscientious citizens for an airing of grievances. 

If you visit the website of March for Our Lives, you find a fund-raising page and a petition you can sign demanding strict regulation of certain kinds of firearms. I’d like to see this assembly of schoolkids broaden their demands, and maybe create a social institution to see that they’re met. Enough of them have gathered at one time to qualify them as representatives of a generation, and not just any generation. Rather, they are the generation that will inherit responsibility for the corrupt shred of a republic that we still call the United States of America.

If they were a group of investors–as they are–they would demand an accounting before accepting liability. What would an accounting conducted with “due diligence” disclose about the assets and  liabililties of the USA? Answers to this question should be the demand of America’s youth, and all its efforts should be directed to elucidating and classifying the elements of a “due diligence” accounting.

Those who hit voting age this year might like to know what sort of damage has been sustained by the national economy, what prospects are for a few decades of clean air and water, whether spending more than the rest of the world combined  on arms and ammo might be excessive, how much is owed in the way of war debt, whether their news sources are corrupted by commercial forces, whether race discrimination has tainted the nation’s moral  sense, to what extent rich people are looting public property, etc. Even the younger kids might demand an accounting from their parents, an accounting that includes the parent’s political involvement, this year, to ensure that the demands of young people are met.

You may have spent a couple of hours listening to some of the oratory delivered in Washington and elsewhere. Maybe you saw an interview with one of Dr. King’s grandkids. You would have had trouble finding extended coverage. Youtube gives you one interruption after another.  But the quality of critical thinking and the rhetorical command of the speakers, even ten- and eleven-year-olds, came through intact.

Whether this is to be a movement or a fund-raising tactic will be up to the participants.  They must know that they are in line to inherit badly damaged goods. Many of us elders ask whether we have equipped them to handle the life-or-death problems we created for them. They can’t be unaware of the possibility that they or their children could be the last generation, even though the topic’s not discussed openly. Maybe it ought to be. What if an accounting made with due diligence were to reveal a mortal danger to their survival? Are they not entitled to know? Is their present value now to be discounted for miseries and privations we are bequeathing them?

They should demand an accounting. They should increase pressure with every passing week. They should see themselves as soldiers. They have already shown that they are far braver than their parents, who allowed their nation to descend so deeply into the filth of war and oppression. They have an opportunity to unite, in huge numbers, behind reason and values. If you know one of these kids, say something.

Cured

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Goodbye, prostate and bladder, adios, carcinoma:
I’ve traded them in for a sack and a stoma.
One testicle’s missing, esophagus, too,
And a piece of my stomach, so here’s what I’ll do.
I’ll make sure that some organs remain to inter
When that most melancholy event should occur.
And from grids that are formed by incision and suture,
My Gypsy will forecast a long, pleasant future:
Achievements abundant and even majestic,
But just now I’m feeling a bit anapestic.

White History Month

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

I thought you might like to get a head start on White History Month, which is just getting under way and will continue till the end of this year. If you watch old movies, you’ve run across the expression “That’s white of you.” It’s meant to be a compliment from one caucasian to another, acknowledging the obvious connection between virtue and skin color. It’s fallen into disuse except as sarcasm. Maybe it ought to be rehabilitated.

In the value system of the new millennium, it’s a challenge to name a single virtue exhibited by any variety of human, but it’s especially hard to find virtue among white people. Richer by orders of magnitude than their more numerous, dark-skinned brethren, they have traditionally used their advantage to oppress and enslave the less fortunate.

White people are armed to the teeth, fighting endlessly among themselves but always reserving most of their bombs and bullets for dark-complected folks. They kill children with as little thought as they exterminate pests. For most of the last millennium and all of this one, they’ve kept busy displacing dark-skinned people to make room for themselves and their polluting culture.

White people are preoccupied with violence. Their favorite subject seems to be killing, which forms the theme of most of their fiction. So many murders are dramatized for their amusement that most white people now think they risk death whenever they venture out of doors.

Their favorite pastimes are car racing, featuring high-speed collisions that are occasionally lethal, wrestling, an exhibition of simulated violence that would, if it were genuine, kill or maim the athletes, and football, which actually does maim the athletes.

White people bring their preferences to politics, keeping the world in a permanent state of war. This is ironic, since they’re consummate cowards,  typically taking on illiterate, poorly armed people, using proxies from the poorest segments of their own population to do the wet work and attacking with robots and remote controlled missiles.

White people consume like vermin, and their waste piles are mountain-high in some places. They’re forever deodorizing and disinfecting. They consider their skin and hair to be ugly and difficult to maintain, and so they keep a supply of cosmetics with them at all times.

Most non-white people privately think white people should be ground up and fed to their pets, but their various moral codes don’t allow them to express this desire. White people, by contrast, have no obligatory moral code and are known for leaving the dead bodies of non-whites to litter the streets of places like Gaza and New Orleans for scavengers to pick at.

Though tanned, our president is widely considered to be white. Raised by white people, he seems to have picked up most of their ways. He’s in the process now of assembling sponsors for new rounds of armed attacks on non-white enemies in Korea and other faraway lands. That’s white of him.