Sunday, 30 August 2009

Summer of Hate

The August recess is almost over, so now we get to see whether Obama has an Act II or if he really thinks the way to handle screaming, gun-toting bullies is to smile and describe Section 18 of the bill once again.

Or whether the people who actually put him in office and elected historic Democratic majorities to both houses of Congress get to have more say than six senators from states where the buffalo outnumber the bipeds.

This summer has been a lesson in intimidation and hate campaigning. It’s curious that there has been virtually no push-back from the White House or its party against the anti-democratic and crypto-violent tactics deployed against them.

Anyone who’s ever joined an organization has had the experience: 90% of the group comes to agreement on a given issue, but the two who are against it shout, scream, stomp their feet, move to adjourn, seize the microphone, denounce fascism and exhaust everyone. Whether or not they win concessions, they succeed in pissing everyone off and driving away participants.

Protecting democratic process means having a strategy to isolate and marginalize these hijackers and putschists because they always appear and have boundless neurotic energy.

What is most remarkable about the town-hall spectacle is that Obama’s spokespeople haven’t picked up the eight-foot cudgel laid at their feet and beaten the Beckites and their Republican toadies over the head with it.

The Dems could have poured it on about ‘democratic process’, ‘listening to both sides’, ‘engaging in civilized debate’ and developed a fairly unassailable talking point that could have had considerable long-term impact. People generally do believe in being polite even in political debates.

Most incredible of all was the White House’s refusal to denounce the practice of bringing along guns. Make no mistake—these weapons were used at the rallies, just as an armed robber ‘uses’ his pistol when holding up a Seven/Eleven, whether or not he fires it.

It is only one step from waving a gun at your enemies to shooting them, and I have no doubt that this step will be taken sooner rather than later. What will the White House say then? I can hear it already: ‘We condemn violence and will leave all comments on criminal acts to the proper local authorities. . . .’

Meanwhile, will Obama allow armed thugs to dictate our social policy? Say it ain’t so.

Friday, 28 August 2009

I had the pleasure of attending three ‘Fringe Festival’ plays over the last two weeks and have to say (even though I know it’s a cliché), Hurrah for New York! This festival arrives during the summer doldrums to showcase dozens of valiant theatrical efforts brought in from all over the country—201 shows this year. It’s a crap shoot to know what to go to as there are very sketchy reviews, but I scored on all three.

The big Broadway shows can be amusing, but you often see overly packaged and deboned fare that results from a too-slavish ear for the latest fads burbling out of television. Singing and high kicks are nice, but spectacle wears thin if there’s no there there.

Fringe plays are set in funky little venues scattered around downtown, cultural centers or converted warehouse spaces with a few dozen seats, mostly bare stages and nothing but the inventiveness and skill of the actors turning the spotlight on themselves for 90 minutes. It conjures the old Manhattan (and Brooklyn for that matter) of the days of vaudeville and burlesque when mobs of immigrants and day laborers, gangsters and low-lifes occupied the streets at every waking hour because their dingy tenements were too oppressive for anything but sleep, if that.

They poured into the revues, dancehalls and dime museums for a few cheap laughs, titillation and sometimes a decent singing act, launching many of the stars of Hollywood’s golden age in the process. Television and the movies themselves killed off all that. And yet its spirit survives in these talented youngsters working for years for the chance to stand in front of 50 people with a musical instrument or a homegrown script and make magic. They’re terrific.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I Take That Personally

I now have a personal stake in the outcome of the healthcare debate. Met Life just wrote me that I’ve been turned down for something called Critical Illness Insurance.

It’s amazing that even in the context of employer-sponsored health insurance, one has to battle with the vampire corporations for the privilege of sending them your money. Here I am trying to be a responsible citizen, plan ahead and purchase additional protection in the hypothetical case that I get medical bills too high for my regular coverage. Instead, the corporate lords say I might actually cost them money for reasons that they refuse to divulge.

The episode illustrates the fundamental irrationality of the system. I am essentially offering to pay an additional tax on my income to enter an insurance pool to stave off health-induced bankruptcy, even though this is unlikely to occur. But my contribution—which under a government-run plan surely would be welcomed with open arms—is turned down.

This is exactly why we have medical care for the rich, the illusion of coverage for the working middle class (until they actually need it), an imperfect safety net for the destitute and Fuck You, Asshole, for everyone else. Only the elderly, protected by socialized medicine since the 1960s, escape the nightmare.

However, my still healthy heart is gladdened by the news that the Congressional Progressive Caucus is feeling its oats and drawing a line in the sand over the so-called public option. According to accounts on the liberal blogs, some 80 members of the House are vowing to vote against any health bill that lacks it even if that means defeating the best-laid plans of the terminally wimpy Obama White House. Even if that means allowing the Republicans to crow about the End of the Obama Presidency.

Personally, I suspect that a defeat like that, early on, might be just what our new prez needs to grow a pair. In any case, I’ll take a clean loss based on something that we actually want over a stupid new system that enriches the insurance companies that just turned me down and solves nothing in the long run.

If the Clintons had gone for a clean defeat on a good health system instead of compromising themselves into a corner and losing anyway, we might have started out this debate on much healthier ground. Pardon the expression.

Complexities of Baader-Meinhof

I have been mulling over a fascinating new German film on the strange phenomenon of ultra-leftist violence during the 1970s in Europe, specifically the Red Army Faction (RAF) popularly known as the ‘Baader-Meinhof Gang’ for its two most notorious figures. I went to the movie assuming that I knew something about the mentality and politics of this group as a version of the Weather Underground and by extension an outgrowth of the social upheavals of that epoch that I lived through.

But the account in The Baader Meinhof Complex suggests instead that the two phenomena were so profoundly different as to be almost unrelated. Although they both emerged from the largely student-based anti-Vietnam war movement and the facile identification with marxist-inspired Third World rebellions from Angola to Bolivia, Andreas Baader comes off as an absurd blowhard who couldn’t have sat still for a class in dialectical materialism, a wild delinquent inspired more by John Dillinger than Franz Fanon.

The film skates rather superficially over the group’s main characters, allowing only former journalist Ulrike Meinhof a bit of development before she bolts out the window and into the life of a political assassin. But considerable attention is dedicated to plumbing an even more interesting facet of the period: the enormous resonance the group generated among German youth.

It is hard to fathom, from our distance, how this band of half-baked kids with guns turned the heads of an entire generation. Baader is shown at one point getting nabbed by the cops because he—one of the most wanted figures in all of Europe—attracts their attention by joy-riding down a highway in a stolen car. He’s an avatar of Oedipal revolt, an arrested adolescent with Daddy issues and a moral zombie who doesn’t seem to notice the bodies piling up around him, both his victims’ and his glazed-eyed minions’.

The logic of violent attack on the institutions of Western power was easy to peddle at a time when Nixon and Kissinger were raining down destruction on the Vietnamese civilian population. Yet at the heart of the film is something entirely different, a psychological response that does not have its U.S. counterpart.

In a courtroom scene one bomber’s middle-aged parents express their sympathy for her ideals, the dazed, mousey wife telling a reporter that her daughter’s department store firebombing has caused her to ‘feel myself liberated’ while Dad chimes in with something about ‘holy self-realization’.

The odd moment, taken from a true account, is revealing. It suggests that the German state, run by Baader and Meinhof’s parents’ generation, is ineffectual in response to their reign of terror in part because it is still atoning in silence for Adolf Hitler, for having allowed him into power and for having survived his 13-year festival of death worship. And it cannot crack down with the usual police-state tactics because that would only confirm the metaphor in the eyes of the young--that the Nazis were back.

The irony, of course, is that for all their alleged liberationist sympathies, the RAF are also legatees of recent German history and especially the indifference to human life that the Nazis made into a state ideology. ‘The Baader Meinhof Complex’ is certainly an apt title for this reminder that trauma, papered over and hidden away, inevitably resurfaces, and that the result is rarely pretty.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Shame of Lockerbie

It was appallingly tasteless for the Libyans to turn the reception for convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi after his ‘compassionate release’ into a pep rally, and I empathize with the relatives’ families. But the British press has been concentrating on something scarcely noticed on this side of the sea: the fact that he probably didn’t do it.

Scroll back to 1989 and recall, just to get started, that the U.S. government had and still has a miserable record in getting their terrorists straight. The most recent obvious example is the bizarre search for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

But long before that our leaders have counted on the loyal lapdogs of the fourth estate to jump on terrorist acts and promptly pump up as the guilty party whomever is the Enemy du jour. The one exception is when the evidence is so overwhelming they can’t get away with it, but had the Oklahoma City bombing occurred beyond the reach of the FBI, we might still think the Ay-rabs had done it.

For example, Libya’s Qaddafi was targeted in 1986 by Ronald Reagan—resulting in a bombing that killed his 1-year-old daughter—after a notorious nightclub bombing in Berlin. That attack probably was committed by cells under the protection of Syria, not Libya. But who cares?

The most likely suspect for the Lockerbie attack was Iranian agents, not Libyans, given that a U.S. navy ship had shot down a civilian Iranian airliner full of religious pilgrims five months before. No one even apologized for that massacre—imagine our reaction if the Iranian air force had knocked out a Delta passenger jet over the Indian Ocean.

So the Iranians were plenty mad, but the Reagan gang wasn’t about to get into apologies and look soft. Having known some of them, I have no doubt that they were privately chortling over the carnage and making jokes about it.

Now Lockerbie occurred just before Christmas 1989 when westerners make pilgrimages to celebrate their religious holiday. Does that have a familiar ring?

If it had occurred today, the fit with U.S. policy goals would be perfect. But back then, Iran was needed to stay out of the first Gulf war to liberate Kuwait, and they did so. Who better to trot out as the culprit than Qaddafi who had nothing to offer at the time?

Some may object to the appalling cynicism implicit in such an accusation. How could our leaders knowingly obscure the facts of a terrorist attack on its own citizens? Then again, why wouldn’t they? Did they hesitate to use the pain of the 9/11 victims to start a war in Iraq?

The accused Libyan faced the Catch-22 of either insisting on his innocence or getting a chance to die at home. He opted for the latter and dropped his appeal but continues to insist he did not kill the 270 people at Lockerbie.

So who did? And why can’t the truth come out?

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Story Time

Several polls quoted this weekend show strong evidence that Obama is losing the liberal wing of his own party and a large chunk of the independents who put him in office as well.

Some of the dissatisfaction has to do with the lame-ass, Clintonoid approach to reforming our absurd healthcare system; a lot is related to Obama’s complicity with the padding of bankers’ balance sheets after they drove the country into the dirt, wrecked home ownership for a generation and undermined the livelihood of half the workforce.

A bit of the slippage is caused by his continuation of Bushite policy in the realm of executive autocracy, warmaking, civil protections and the abuse of prisoners.

But beyond the twists and turns of this or that policy, I think Obama is also losing those of us who put our faith in him because he hasn’t given us a credible narrative to set against that of the wackosphere.

Sarah Palin’s troops and Rush Limbaugh’s listeners know what they’re about, and they’re not the least bit shy in expressing it. Down with government, down with taxes, up with their goofball, armed individualism. Away with all politicians and their lies—but make sure I’m taken care of by the state.

Boiled down to its essence, their picture of a perfect society is selfish, mean-spirited, hypercompetitive, punitive, clan-based and violent. Oh, and Christian.

What is our message? Who is articulating it?

Who is calling out the reactionaries’ discourse and vision and showing the brutality and indifference to human suffering embedded in it?

The healthcare fight provided vast opportunities to personalize the debate and show how the current system drives people to financial ruin when it doesn’t kill them outright. Instead, Obama and his star team have allowed seniors to seriously think reform will damage Medicare and promote euthanasia.

A half-dozen tales like those shown in Michael Moore’s film Sicko would have generated quite a different narrative. Why didn’t the Obama geniuses frame the healthcare fight around people like them?

The answer, I sadly admit, is that elm trees do not bear pears. To attack head-on the insurance companies that run and ruin our lives would bring Rahm Emmanuel into conflict with the guys he’s planning to have finance his next campaign. The financial sector is calling the shots, and the Obama Democrats are following the British Labor playbook.

That leaves us with zilch.

There is nothing quite as psychologically debilitating as betrayal, and I fear current trends because as Obama systematically ditches those of us who tried to generate a new national narrative with shared goals, there will be no social forces left to resist the loonies. Just like the Clintons, the current leadership thinks it no longer needs us and can horsetrade its way forward by deal-making with the elites.

They apparently think the revolt of the ultras is a mere nuisance that the big boys can handle. Good God, they don’t even mind that people bring guns to Obama’s public appearances! Who wants to defend people who aren’t interested in defending themselves?

After the November triumph, the Obama campaign convened us in conclaves around the country to articulate our goals and desires. It was potentially the beginning of a mass movement to bring about things like national healthcare reform.

We patiently sat and listened to each other, put our data on sign-up sheets and waited for the next call.

It never came.

Now, my e-mail inbox is full of exhortations to pour into the streets and support Obama’s legislation—although as his own cabinet continuously backpedals on its key components, I’m not exactly sure what that legislation contains at this point.

In any case, I don’t feel like it.

Obama’s enemies know what they think and shout it from the rooftops. They envision a society that they want to live in, and their loudmouth leaders spell it out. They have a horse in this race.

I’m not sure I do.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

What is going on?

I’m not (quite) ready to give up on the government-run insurance option, health care reform in general or Barack Obama. But I wonder how long our supposed leaders are going to try our patience.

There are interesting debunking documents on the web patiently explaining point by point how the tinfoil-hatter/birther/gun-toters are making up shit and then tossing the giant BMs at Fox News for an echo effect. Who cares? We know this. This is not news.

What is sorely lacking is not common sense or decent reform proposals, but rather a strategy to combat the wackosphere. It’s about setting the terms of the debate.

The Obama approach to date seems to be to treat those who circulate at his town hall meetings packing heat as distinguished professors of health economics whose views must be aired and to which calm responses must be issued—whether or not anyone is listening to them.

He’s like a Monty Python figure tied to the stake and discussing fine points of theology with the Inquisitor holding a book of matches.

The stance is consistent with Obama’s insistence on repeatedly extending the hand of bipartisanship to the Republican minority, which then repeatedly proceeds to hack off a few fingers.

All the same, it is not yet clear who is going to come out of this exercise triumphant. The short-term consensus is that Obama is getting his butt kicked, and it’s hard to see how he’s going to turn this ferocious trashing to his favor. If he does, he’s a genius.

On the other hand, maybe he’s a sellout and just a fancy shill for the big money boys.

Given the biped affinity for strong leadership, there’s something uninspired and repellantly wimpy about a president who seems to backpedal on every aspect of his reform policy and whose aides leak harsh attacks not on the people who want them dead but on ‘the left of the left’, i.e. the concerned citizens who got out on the street last year and put them into office.

Nevertheless, I reserve judgment on the strategy because the results are not yet in. They will be soon.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Theft, Greed and Videotapes

Avoiding more news about the political collapse of the Democratic Party leadership on health care is made easier by reading about another predictable aspect of life in New York: corruption. Where to begin?

First, we had a delightful tale of our chief Political Sex Worker, Pedro Espada, Jr., and the $120,000-a-year Albany job cooked up for his son, apparently (make that obviously) in exchange for his return to the Democratic caucus after a brief sojourn in the fleshpots of Republicanism. The younger Espada quickly resigned after a reporter followed him to ‘his’ office and discovered that he didn’t know how to log onto ‘his’ computer there.

Next there is the news that our state legislators can legally ‘resign’ from office on New Year’s Eve when they reach 65 so that their pensions kick in while remaining in office at the beginning of the ‘new’ term. This means that on top of their $100K salaries, they can pocket another $60-70K in retirement pay. Sweet.

More disturbing to anyone who walks by buildings or travels over bridges is the ongoing probe into the corruption of cement-inspection firms. These are the entities that are supposed to make sure important structures don’t collapse like the Minneapolis river span because someone tried to save money on cheap concrete. Turns out—surprise, surprise—that construction companies have been getting automatic passes from some of the people being paid millions to make sure we’re safe.

Construction is a notoriously seamy business, and as for the influences that are rumored to pululate therein—let’s not go there, for now. But while the health ‘reform’ movement succumbs to the screaming assholes we innocently thought we had voted out of office less than a year ago, it’s great to know that good old-fashioned urban sleaze trudges on unchanged as well.

One could have foolishly thought that the Obama election reflected a recovered sense of collectivity, the funny notion that we should pull together somehow and see if we can build a better society. Tut tut, my dear. Turns out that bipeds have two pockets but only one question: how much money is in there?

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Wait

I haven’t felt much like writing on this blog lately, and you all know what I am talking about.

It’s bad enough to have to listen to the evil-minded, demagogic, professional know-nothings whipping up the crazed biped masses over Obama’s fairly wimpy health reform plans.

But it is downright depressing to keep watching for the appearance of Mr O’s BALLS and not finding them.

If there isn’t a turn-around soon, the healthcare reform fight is going to turn into a fiasco that will make Obama look like a half-dozen bumbling Clintons rolled into one. I mean, my God, the man and his party have a huge mandate, 60 U.S. senators, a comfortable margin in the House, a devastating economic crisis opening people’s minds to the idea of C-H-A-N-G-E. And with all that he can’t ram a half-decent social reform through Congress?

Worst of all, he doesn’t look like he really wants to.

Obama’s limp-ass response to the double-barreled assault on reason from his enemies (not adversaries, enemies) makes him look like an ineffective leader and the worst kind of Harvard-bred academic with no street smarts and no idea of how to deliver a knuckle sandwich. I know it got him elected, but that was then.

Even the business types are seeing him this way. Try on this revealing commentary from a website called ‘’ no less:

His banking policy, which is vital to recovery, became hostage to Geithner and Summer’s deep loyalty to the industry and his lack of interest in rocking any boats. All Team Obama has done on the banking front is write a lot of blank checks, hold some bogus ‘stress tests’ in lieu of doing the real thing, and raise a stink on a few symbolic issues to try to paper over the failure to embark on real and badly needed reforms. . . . We could use someone at the helm who is willing to plot a course and stick with it, and instead what we have is someone long on charisma and short on resolve’.

I would add that the charisma is going to dissipate very shortly if there isn’t something other than the endless, and endlessly annoying, appeals to hold hands and sing.

Not incidentally, there is more and more buzz in the blogosphere that the famous ‘recovery’ from the economic mess is a dead-cat bounce if not total bullshit. Today’s stock market tanking had some of the eternal optimists momentarily sobering up.

In addition, if you read the fine print on the latest bank failures, the figures are getting larger, and the underlying insolvency more ominous. The $25 billion Colonial Bank that collapsed last Friday was supposedly doing fine just before becoming the largest implosion since Washington Mutual last fall.

A smaller one called Community Bank of Nevada also went under with total book assets of a mere $1.52 billion. But the FDIC said CBN will cost it $781.5 million to fix—meaning over half its listed assets were worthless. How many others are out there? How much has the Geither-Summers push to dress up the banks and declare them healthy merely postponed the reckoning?

We elected Obama to clean house and do things differently. We’re waiting.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Who needs a spanking?

Amid the often baffling details of the healthcare reform plans under ‘discussion’, I think there are now two broad, competing political narratives in the battle:

(1) Indignant Americans are rising up across the land to defend their rights/interests/pocketbooks from dastardly/bankrupting/socialistic ‘Obama-care’.


(2) Ignorant yahoos are being egged on by the Republicans to bully our democratic process into meaninglessness and undermine any chance for an adult debate on healthcare.

While the former narrative seemed to be dominant in the early weeks, I sense that the latter is now catching up, and meanwhile there is inevitably more discussion around the breakfast table about the various measures involved. There is more heat than light at present, but the fight is far from over.

I am reminded of the presidential election of recent memory and wonder if Obama’s strategists, including himself, are not consciously allowing the opposition to paint itself into a corner by acting like raging children deprived of their Ovaltine. As I am on the road and have a chance to see cable news for the first time in several weeks, I can’t help but notice that the voices against the reform are associated very consistently with images of furious, nasty-looking white people.

That may play down here in Tennessee, but it also flops big-time elsewhere. If the winning coalition from last November holds together—always a big conditional—it should be possible to roll over these loudmouths and simultaneously establish the terms of debate for future issues: adults versus the WAAAAAAAHHHHH Brigade.

The Republican/Glen Beck approach of openly calling for a disruption of the whole process might lead to a victory more apparent than real and one that comes at a high price, too. Average bipeds are not distinguishing themselves in capturing the underlying arguments—witness the demands to ‘keep the government out of Medicare!’—but overall most people don’t like strong-arm tactics and believe in respectful debate especially about issues that concern them directly.

That doesn’t mean we’ll get anything like a decent reform package given the usual backtracking and spinelessness among our alleged allies. But if something minimally defensible emerges from this catfight, Obama & Co. will be back to fight another day.

They actually might know what they’re doing. I sure hope so.

Monday, 10 August 2009

One-handed Evenhandedness

The juxtaposition of the healthcare ‘debates’ and the 40th anniversary of Woodstock brings into sharp relief the double standard of our pundit class when addressing the issue of civilized and polite discourse. Recall (if you’re my age) how the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s was constantly under attack by the self-appointed guardians of The Right Way To Do Things for shouting at politicians, throwing marshmallows at Hubert Humphrey and generally behaving rudely to the authorities. Those actions were endlessly denounced as undemocratic bullying, and Richard Nixon even turned them into a set-piece in his campaign appearances by allowing a few dozen opponents into his mass meetings and then turning the crowd against them.

Now, however, organized shout-downs and wild paranoia are merely taken as signals of ‘deep concern’ among a broad swath of the public, at which the CNN opinionmeisters stroke their collective, powdered chin and utter ‘ummms’ and ‘uh-huhs’. They annotate the decibel level as an indicator of the sincere passions in the heartland, not itself a topic for dissection.

There’s also a more contemporary comparison to be made: the media treatment of Henry Louis Gates’ arrest in Cambridge. How much of THAT commentary focused on Gates’ allegedly inappropriate comportment v/s whether or not a citizen should be frog-marched out of his own front yard in handcuffs?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Peering into the Future

I always ask people at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s meals in the year before a presidential election two questions:

-Who will be the two parties’ nominees?
-Who will win?

This tradition goes back to 1979 in which not one person around our table took seriously the rather bizarre candidacy of one Ronald Reagan.

Needless to add, the 2007 gathering was just as clueless. The sure winners were going to be Rudi Giuliani (or maybe Mitt Romney) and Hillary Clinton. Not one person dared to suggest that a fairly obscure first-term black senator from Illinois would get anywhere near the nomination although one person thought he might work as a vote-stimulating No. 2 on a Hillary ticket.

I recall our shortcomings as seers because of a phrase that keeps going through my head as the health reform fight drags on against the backdrop of organized nuttiness: ‘Don’t bet against us.’

The Obama camp generates a lot of disappointments, but given recent history I still hesitate to assume I know more than they do on how to score political victories.

The Sonia Sotomayor nomination certainly was occasion for frustration as we kept waiting for the counterattack against all the offensive and racially-charged fear-mongering and insults. We can’t know today the full implications of that debate. But it is curious to note that she won confirmation by a comfortable two-thirds margin and attracted 10 more votes than Samuel Alito did.

Sotomayor now takes a Supreme Court seat (I hope she kicks ass there until she’s 100), and Obama is in good shape to win with his next appointment when the times comes.

The wackiness on display over the health care issue is enough to wonder if we have licensed enough psychiatric nurses in this country.

The bullying tactics from the usual suspects are awfully tiresome and reminiscent of how utterly lame Bill Clinton was with his smiley-reasonable response. He did nothing to build up forces that could counter these dangerous tendencies, and we got hanging chads, Bush, Iraq, subprime and Guantánamo as a result.

I don’t think we should expect people to ‘get’ the dangerously authoritarian and narcissistic tendencies embodied in the tea-bagger/birther/Palinoid-KnowNothing movements. Like negative political ads, assuming the eventual triumph of common sense among bipeds is not a winning formula.

On the other hand, predictions of the collapse of Obama’s presidency into a repeat of the ineffectual Clinton interregnum have proven premature. Those confidently boasting of a quick return of the radical right in 2010 are seeing ‘green shoots’ where none have so far appeared.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Pittsburgh killer

Forgive me for not feeling much of anything over George Sodini’s sick fantasy of himself as the tough guy taking down The Enemy, in this case a roomful of young women doing exercises. It’s all so predictable that I guess I’ll leave the mourning to people who still think we aren’t actively fomenting such outcomes.

Not that there’s a direct line between an individual case of psychosis and the pandering dementia served up daily on cable or the criminally irresponsible social attitudes toward guns. No one is exactly to ‘blame’ for what happened in Pittsburgh, but all you have to do is turn on the TV to see people cheering the attitudes sustaining this sort of senseless slaughter. How tragic can things be that aren’t really accidental?

One hardly needs to read through Sodini’s now-public diary ravings to find out that the guy was upset because his weenie wasn’t getting the attention he thought it deserved. Therefore, all women are guilty and deserve to die. Nothing new there.

But as usual the standard reports are cherry-picking that narrative line from the guy’s screed and downplaying his enthusiastic membership in the lunatic fringe that somehow has become the "other side" in our national debate. Turns out Sodini posted to ‘militia’ websites in the 1990s, and in recent weeks as he tumbled over the edge, he associated Obama’s election to the take-over of white womanhood by black males.

Amerika has chosen The Black Man. Good! In light of this I got ideas outside of Obama's plans for the economy and such. Here it is: Every black man should get a young white girl hoe to hone up on.

This repugnant horseshit sounds almost laughably antebellum, but isn’t the subtext a familiar and disturbingly current one? Sodini sounds like any one of the army of disgruntled guys who are being coached incessantly that they’re really special underneath, but somebody is cheating them out of their deservedly triumphant march through life. Hour after hour, the Glen Becks and the Rush Limbaughs are drilling into them the idea that they could be on top, but undeserving minorities and (the horror!) actual females are getting the prizes instead.

Add the hilariously lax regulation of armaments that we have agreed to as a nation, and you get the exactly the mayhem cooked up in his toxic stew of a brain. It’s as surprising as liver cirrhosis should be to an alcoholic.

Instead, we get assurances that nothing could be done, like the local police chief who told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Democrat that Sodini ‘just had a lot of hatred in him and (was) hell-bent on committing this act, and no one was going to stop him’. Yeah, just a lone wacko, so whocouldanode?

When we decide we don’t like this sort of behavior, we can do something about it, which would reflect true lamentation and regret instead of what we get—another chorus from the hired wailers at CNN.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

I Fear for Everyone’s Sanity

When the history of the present period is written—if any bipeds are still around to actually write it—the ‘birther’ movement will take its place next to the mass suicide of the followers of Heaven’s Gate for sheer improbable wackiness. Still, you can’t deny it makes great cable TV for anyone bored with Jerry Springer reruns.

I’m still trying to get over watching MSNBC for the televised naked mud wrestling match between 'birther' Orly Taitz and host David Shuster on the new ‘proof’ that Obama was actually born in Kenya. It was more embarrassing than walking in on your grandparents having sex.

In a normal world Taitz would be institutionalized for her own safety. Instead, she is making herself a celebrity and probably attracting juicy donations to her website from people who still can’t get over last November.

Has anyone picked up on the irony that the spokesperson for the ‘birthers’ herself saw the light of day (however briefly) in the Soviet Union and was permitted to emigrate to Israel where she had privileges awarded her due to her religion, not her birthplace? If she were still there, no doubt she’d be an enthusiastic supporter of Avigdor Lieberman, the recently arrived Moldovan nightclub bouncer who is now the Israeli foreign minister and thinks the Arabs should pledge allegiance to Judaism or leave.

Then there’s the question of how she obtained permission to reside in the United States. One website says she had ‘anchor babies’, that nasty term referring to how foreign women get themselves established here by giving birth on U.S. soil. Now there’s something for Lou Dobbs to take up.

The whole circus says something about the debasement of public discourse engendered by macho cable-news screaming. Shuster and Taitz really looked like mirror images of each other as they railed away oblivious to what the other was saying. Given the way political thought is now produced here, the Taitz spectacle is predictable, and in fact she fits right in. Lunacy is so commonplace that it’s no wonder people are willing to believe that Obama’s health reforms would require you to euthanize Grandma.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Iran redux

The Iranian mass show trials which began Saturday suggest a floundering regime on the abyss without a clue about how to reawaken support among its shrinking base. Putting former ministers, high-ranking legislators and journalists on trial on the farcical charges of being agents of foreign powers is certain to backfire and leave the coup leaders like Khameini and Ahmadinejad in a cul-de-sac with few options.

I spent years living under a military dictatorship and find many of the accounts emerging from Iran entirely familiar, even predictable. The Iranian state appears to me to have about as much popular support as the collapsing Latin American dictatorships enjoyed in their waning years. Some lasted longer than others, but it was clear from the inside that their eventual disappearance was only a matter of time.

But these wounded beasts can do a lot of damage, and that is worrisome given the viciousness of the Iranian repressive apparatus to date. The Islamic revolution has a long tradition of torturing and disappearing its supposed enemies, so it’s not surprising to see the accused appear ashen-faced to recite the coached ‘confessions’ beaten out of them, which they will promptly disavow once out of the clutches of their thug jailers.

But it isn’t clear what the Ahmadinejad faction can do with the 100 defendants short of putting them all before firing squads. The more phony charges the leadership drums up, the more ridiculous it appears. The trials are made to order for the opposition, which now need do nothing but point out the glaring absurdity of the whole exercise. Day by day the ruling party loses credibility and authority.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the reports leaking out of Iran is the evident sympathy for the opposition among police and soldiers. Only the regime’s shock troops and Praetorian Guard, now turned into a huge corporate enterprise sucking dry the economy, can be counted upon to do the bosses’ bidding. This fact alone should shorten the regime’s survival by years.

When Ahmadinejad’s electoral coup first occurred, I wondered how long the momentum of his opponents would last. It was nice to think they would force the mullahs’ hand but more likely that the regime would crush the protests, and the whole cat-and-mouse game would continue indefinitely.

Now, I’m inclined to think that events may well accelerate toward a denouement much sooner.

When August Pinochet faced defeat in his 1988 plebiscite, he contemplated staging a coup similar to what occurred in Iran. He wanted to put out some fake results and intimidate the electoral officials. Instead, his military chiefs put a stop to his plan with the backing of the conservative parties because they decided that the 1981 constitution put in place by the military government was more important than the personal fate of its leading member.

So Pinochet was forced to accept that he had lost the vote. The result is that Chile’s democracy, run for nearly two decades by Pinochet’s sworn enemies, remains hamstrung by those structures.

In contrast, by jettisoning Iran’s electoral process and rigging the results, Ahmadinejad has undermined the political structures of 30 years’ standing and thereby raised the stakes by several orders of magnitude. Once he and his friends are finally ousted, there’s no telling what the country will do with its ‘Islamic republic’. The goofball religious fanatic may end up doing more to end the theocratic state than a whole generation of reformists.