Archive for the ‘Current events’ Category

Some things covid 19 may teach us

March 17th, 2020

So, Facebook has its uses after all.  A friend of mine posted this  Imagined Letter from COVID-19 to Humans, by writer/editor Kristin Flyntz:

Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.

We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt
We will stop
the planes
the trains
the schools
the malls
the meetings
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our
single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.

We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.

Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy? How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?

Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness,
listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?

Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Ask why.

Stop. Just stop.
Be still.
Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.

Serial update

February 7th, 2020

President Chump has struck again.  At his orders, a CIA drone killed Al-Qaeda’s military leader in Yemen some time during the past week.  Although the periodicity is very roughly consistent with previous attacks, I’m not counting this one as support for my theory that Chump may be a nascent serial killer.  (Yes, I know what I sound like.)  For one thing, it appears from the New York Times’ reporting that the timing of the assassination of Qassim al-Rimi probably was dictated by circumstances.  Although a serial killer may take advantage of opportunities as they arise, this factor makes al-Rimi’s assassination look less purely discretionary than was the strike on Suleimani.  More to the point, the United States is at war with Al-Qaeda, which adds another layer of ambiguity to the evidence.  By contrast, in the case of Suleimani, whose assassination  sent me down this rabbit hole, the U.S. is not at war with Iran, so that justification was not available.  A serial killer may take advantage of participating in military operations to achieve his gratification.  However, the victim’s status as a wartime enemy is sufficient motivation for his assassination.  Thus, it is difficult to ascribe an additional, psychopathological motive.

GOP Delenda Est

February 3rd, 2020

I was moved to write to my senator last week. Here is what I wrote.

Dear Senator Leahy,

This afternoon I heard you on Vermont Edition and I was moved to gratitude for my good fortune to live in a state with the wisdom to select such sane and decent representatives as you, Peter Welch, and your junior colleague in the Senate. What I understood from your remarks is that a substantial number of Republicans are so gutless and unprincipled that, for fear of opposition in the primaries, they are throwing over the constitution, the basic principles of fairness and of democratic government, and their own oaths of office, and acquiescing in the effective coronation of King Donald I, even though there are sufficient numbers of them so that, in the unlikely event they were to do what they privately admit they know is right, the impeachment trial would be an actual trial with witnesses and evidence instead of the laborious farce they are allowing it to be, and the outcome would be very much in doubt, instead of the shameless whitewash that everyone expects. What makes it ironic is that, in order to preserve their Senate seats, they are surrendering their congressional powers to a psychopathic would-be dictator. My respect for you is heightened because I honestly do not know how you can go to work every day and be polite to these people. I do not think I could do it. I want you to know that even as our government teeters on the brink of a fundamental change towards authoritarianism and corruption, it is heartening to know that there are people such as you fighting to preserve its aspirations to democracy and justice, and that even if the cause may be, for the time being, lost due to the fecklessness, shamelessness, fearfulness, and corruption of the Republican party, who I firmly believe collectively will burn in hell for it, the spirit of community, responsibility, and liberty lives on in Vermont and was well represented by you.

Sincerely, with gratitude and in sadness for these times,
Seth Steinzor, Esq.

President Bundy?

January 10th, 2020

I have been arguing for a long time that Donald Trump is a psychopath, a creature of stunted humanity, incapable of empathetic understanding of other human beings, whom he regards as mere objects to be exploited and manipulated in the service of his dominant drive for self-aggrandizement.  He was damaged additionally by a traumatic childhood at the hands of emotionally distant and abusive parents.  Over the past few months, Trump’s behavior has raised chilling new questions about the extent of his pathology.

At the end of October 2018, Trump ordered a raid by United States forces in Syria, which resulted in the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the erstwhile Islamic State. Trump watched a live video feed of the raid as it was occurring.  There was no audio, and the video did not show what was happening underground, in the tunnel where dogs cornered al-Baghdadi and three children he had dragged in with him, and where al-Baghdadi blew up himself and the children rather than be shot or captured.  The video showed only blobs of light moving around aboveground, tagged “friend” or “enemy”.  Nevertheless, almost as soon as the raid was over, before he had received any reports from the troops on the ground, Trump exultantly announced the death, reporting as fact his fantasies about the raid, including that al-Baghdadi died a “whimpering and crying” coward.  From his tweets and dramatic embellishment, one thing was clear: Trump enjoyed the experience.  It seems to have made him feel powerful and contemptuous towards his targeted victim. I may be wrong, but I do not recall Trump saying anything in particular about the dead children.  Whatever al-Baghdadi’s demeanor may have been during those final moments, it is fair to infer that his companions were whimpering and crying.  In a blog I posted a few days later, I wrote, “In his announcement of al-Baghdadi’s death, Trump showed us a psychopath enjoying his first violent gratification.  Let’s hope he doesn’t develop a taste for it.”

Fast forward two and a half months.  Trump enjoys another remote-control killing, this time of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, accomplished by drone rather than by Special Forces.  Soleimani had been gadding about the Middle East for decades, traveling quite openly, organizing various murderous activities and organizations and, incidentally, recently helping the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS. He is generally considered to have instigated, caused, or inspired many American deaths.  Since the United States is not at war with Iran, however, none of this made him a legal target of military retribution, an important point reflected in the fact that both President Obama and President Bush, presented with the option to kill Soleimani, declined to do so, as it would have been an extreme provocation and arguably an act of war they were not authorized to commit.

Since Soleimani’s assassination, much lazy commentary has been devoted to making the obvious point that the POTUS, as commander-in-chief, has the constitutional authority to respond militarily to attacks and threats to national security, without prior congressional authorization.  What these bloviators neglect to say is that this does not allow the President to kill at his whim.  In order to distinguish a legitimate, legally justified act of self defense from bald-faced murder, the killing must be necessary to avoid an imminent threat to national security.  Although the White House has invoked the phrase “imminent threat” to justify the attack on Soleimani, it has thus far failed to present any evidence that his activities presented such a threat, or that killing him was necessary to avoid it. The failure to make this case is so glaring that Republican Senator Mike Lee, having attended a confidential briefing on the subject, called it the worst briefing he had attended on a military matter in his nine years as a senator.

Some time in advance of the assassination – we do not know yet whether it was hours, days, or weeks; POLITICO has reported that it was within the past two months, maybe while Trump was still on his al-Baghdadi high – Trump gave the thumbs up to kill Soleimani. Again, although Trump and his defenders claim that this was driven by intelligence indicating an imminent threat, no such intelligence has surfaced.  According to reports, striking Soleimani was included on a list the Pentagon presented Trump of options for responding to heightened Iranian aggressiveness.  They included it as an extreme, intended to drive discussion to the more reasonable measures on the list, and were reportedly “flabbergasted” when Trump went for it.

There being no obvious legal justification for the assassination, widespread suspicion has focused on the likelihood that Trump chose to do it now in order to divert attention from his impeachment.  I find this highly plausible.  It certainly is in line with everything we know about how Trump conducts himself, sacrificing every consideration – legality, truth, national interest, oath of office, loyalty – to whatever he thinks might advantage him in the moment. On the other hand, it seems a bit odd even for Trump that he would take such an extreme action, courting war in a manner that even Dubya had considered too risky.  Maybe there is another motivation, not instead of but in addition to electoral advantage, not a matter of rational deliberation but rather of emotional compulsion, driving Trump further than he otherwise might have gone.

Before going any further, I want to emphasize that what I am about to say does not represent any kind of a firm conclusion, which anyway I am not qualified to make.  This whole post is the product of a dark suspicion, which I cannot shake, and which I think might be worth sharing as part of our collective effort to understand the pickle we are in.  If you want to dismiss what I have to say as rampant crackpottery, be my guest.

Caveat issued, it is significant to me that serial killers tend to be psychopaths who suffered trauma in childhood.  What if Trump’s experience with al-Baghdadi awakened something within him even darker and more awful than his cruel narcissism?  Serial killers tend to observe a certain amount of periodicity in their crimes, depending on circumstances, opportunity, and the amount of time the itch takes to build into something that needs to be scratched.  It took about two and a half months to get from al-Baghdadi to Soleimani.   I wonder what may happen in March or April, and to whom, and with what consequences for the rest of us.

His First Taste of the Hard Stuff

October 29th, 2019

The most essentially presidential act is to send people with guns to kill somebody.  Theoretically, in the United States no one but the president has authority to do that.  Thus, the mission against al-Baghdadi was Trump at his most presidential.  Characteristically, in the weeks leading up to the mission he grossly betrayed the Kurdish allies upon whom he would be relying for its success.  That Trump will betray anyone upon whom he relies has been demonstrated repeatedly.

Of course he lied about the mission, in the course of crowing about it.  As the New York Times has reported, when Trump described the scene in the tunnel where al-Baghdadi blew himself and three children up rather than be captured, Trump was making it up.  He cannot have seen what he claimed to have seen, because the only video he saw was aerial surveillance of the compound, showing blobs of heat sources moving around on the surface variously designated as friend or enemy.  The surveillance could not reach under the surface into the tunnel.  He cannot have heard what he claimed to have heard, because there was no audio.  He had not talked to any of the participants in the event before making his announcement.  Even the claim that al-Baghdadi was “immediately” identified with “100% certainty” by DNA testing on the scene was false.

It is no news that Trump would lie.  When he opens his mouth at any time on any subject, the only question is, in what way do his words diverge from the truth?  I am not indulging in mere hyperbole.   The phenomenon is demonstrated multiple times daily.  The Washington Post has counted thousands upon thousands of instances.  There is no substantive content to anything Trump says.  For some reason which escapes me, the media seem unwilling or incapable of incorporating this fact into their picture of the man.  Each time he lies, they come up with a situational explanation for it.  It is a matter of saying something that he conceives will be to his political advantage, they speculate, or “stoking his base,” or making a mistake, or something.  This time, I heard reporters opine that Trump was “embroidering,” a natural reaction in his moment of triumph.  No, he wasn’t.  He is a pathological liar.  He is incapable of telling the truth to anyone about anything at any time.  Is it some form of willful stupidity, the media’s failure to recognize this?

But truth has a way of leaking through.  Trump described the spectacle he had witnessed as “amazing” and compared it to “watching a movie.”  In his brutish fantasizing about what had occurred, in his exulting over a vanquished enemy, we see several things at work.  One is disassociation.  By contrast, when Obama announced the death of bin Laden, he was grave and solemn and sparing with facts.  This was not merely a matter of decorum, although it certainly was that.  More to the point, Obama had witnessed at length the process of hunting down and killing a human being on his own orders.  Trump showed no similar recognition of the gravity of the event.  As he said, he might as well have been watching a movie.  The characters weren’t real – Trump has many times and in many ways shown that other human beings are not fully real to him – and he was not in any human way connected to them or responsible for what was happening.  They were acting out his fantasy.  In his announcement of al-Baghdadi’s death, Trump showed us a psychopath enjoying his first violent gratification.  Let’s hope he doesn’t develop a taste for it.

Charles Dickens is Alive and Well

July 31st, 2019

Here are two headlines from today’s New York Times:


500,000 Children Could Lose Free School Meals Under Trump Administration Proposal

Trump Administration Is Divided Over Tax Cut For Investors


Unless you were Charles Dickens, you really couldn’t make this shit up.  Come to think of it, isn’t “Donald Trump” the kind of name that Dickens would have given to a character like Donald Trump?

Fambly Valyas

May 17th, 2019

On Point

April 16th, 2019

Recently, Rep. Ilhan Omar incurred the wrath of the Orange Shite by referring to the World Trade Center attacks with the words, “some people did something.”  There is no way that a reasonable person could construe Rep. Omar’s reference to September 11 as minimizing or belittling the scale or importance of that tragic event.  The only reasonable interpretation, in context, is that 9/11 served as a springboard for islamophobia.  As if to illustrate Rep. Omar’s meaning, the present occupant of the White House seized upon her phraseology as an excuse to wave the bloody flag, inflaming anti-Moslem resentment and libeling Rep. Omar as an extremist supporter of terrorism, thus exposing her to death threats. 

I was dismayed to hear David Folkenflik introduce his radio show, On Point, on April 16, by suggesting that Rep. Omar’s words could be interpreted as anything other than what they manifestly were, or that there was any substantive content to the White House response other than hatred, emotional manipulation, and cynicism.  Mr. Folkenflik clearly is an intelligent, reasonable man with a good grasp of language.  It is dismaying when he joins the all too prevalent practice in the media of acting willfully stupid in order to pursue controversy.  To be sure, careful attentiveness to the principle of “both sides now” is a keystone of journalism.  But so is telling it like it is.  Sometimes there are not really two sides to the story.  Sometimes evil needs to be called by its name.   Sometimes – far too often! -by pretending that there are two sides, and by indulging in euphemistic misdirection, journalists mislead and misinform.  Sadly, On Point is not immune to this.

Who Lives By The Sword

March 22nd, 2019

Since New Zealand responded to the recent white supremacist atrocity against Moslems at prayer in Christchurch by quickly moving to ban the types of weapons used in the attack, the American media has been scratching its head and making clucking noises regarding the unavoidable question, why can’t our political classes seem to muster a similar sense of urgency about protecting their constituents from mass murder?  One hears about the power of the NRA, “our”  (every time a pundit employs that pronoun, one can be sure bullshit is about to follow) “gun culture,” and the Second Amendment as construed by “Justice” Scalia (R, Asshole).  What never gets mentioned is this country’s history of toxic race relations.  This omission is particularly strange in light of the geographic distribution of resistance to gun control in the U.S.  The states most strongly opposed to gun regulation are those of the former Confederacy and of the Mountain West, the very places most recently and enduringly polluted with that toxicity.

It seems to have been forgotten that until 1863 slavery was legal here, and that the ultimate reason and purpose of the Civil War was to abolish this abominable practice.  Whites in the slave-owning territories lived in constant terror of slave revolts, and reserved to themselves a monopoly on violence and on the means of violence, which they used with unremitting brutality to suppress even the vaguest hints of rebellion.  After the brief Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War, during which there was some attempt to treat freed blacks with decency, white supremacists once again took control in the South, oppressing blacks in every way they could devise, including horrendous terrorism and casual, daily violence.  As formerly in slave-owning times, whites enforced their dominance with firepower.  The overall oppression was so severe that for the first half of the twentieth century blacks fled the South in droves, seeking a tolerable life.  It was called the Great Migration.  (One might suggest a parallel in what is producing the so-called “crisis at the border” today, but that is a subject for another time.) What they left behind was a society permeated with racially based fear, in which whites used firearms as a means of social control against the black underclass.  The undercurrents of racial separation, fear, and reliance on a gun as a sort of social-psychological comfort blanket, continue today.

The non-coastal Western states suffer from a lingering frontier mentality, which includes recent history of genocidal, exploitative interaction with Native American tribes. Whenever someone speaks of gun ownership in terms of self defense, I hear, in addition to the slave-owner terrified his chattel will rise up against him, the voice of an early white settler in Montana or Iowa, alone with his kin, nearest neighbor perhaps miles away, feeling a real or imagined threat from outraged indigenous people.  The Indian Wars started in the East in 1622 and continued right up until the 1890s, moving westwards all the time.  In historical terms, a hundred twenty years is not that long ago.  Reflexive attitudes, such as finding comfort in firearms, die slowly, particularly when the origins and reasons for them are largely unacknowledged and unexamined.

White people, long the majority, whose dominance over other groups was obtained and buttressed with bullets, today are a declining demographic in the United States. In a few more decades, if present trends continue, they will be only a plurality.  Meanwhile, unless they can adjust healthily to their lessening dominance and find a way to feel secure among demographic groups many of them traditionally have hated and suppressed, who they have some reason to fear may feel reciprocally, many whites will feel increasingly embattled and despairing.  We see signs of this already in slightly declining white life expectancy and elevated rates of addiction and suicide.  A healthy adjustment is perhaps in doubt. Assuming the worst, they will not be inclined to accept restrictions on the weapons they traditionally have leaned on for social control and individual security. Resistance to gun control in America will relax only as the collective political power of white people ebbs, and as white people learn to get over themselves and live in peace among the people surrounding them.  I hope the latter occurs long before the former reaches its nadir.

Using a Sledgehammer to Swat a Fly

March 6th, 2019

Congress is on the brink of voting on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, intended as a rebuke to Representative Ilhan Omar, who questioned why it is “okay” for powerful lobbying groups “to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” meaning Israel, compounding her previous sin of criticizing the influence on Capitol Hill of the American Israel Public Action Committee.  As a sop to even-handedness, language has been added to the resolution also decrying anti-Muslim bias, but the clear motivation is to slap down Rep. Omar.

As a Jew who frequently doubts whether Israel deserves the level of support it receives from the United States, I have written to my Representative, the excellent and honorable Peter Welch, urging that he abstain from voting on the resolution.  The fact is that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Arabs is brutal, discriminatory, oppressive, and often and in many ways violative of international law.  By referring to an age-old canard that American Jews have divided loyalties, Rep. Omar chose a tactless way of challenging our government’s reflexive support for Israel; but dissenting on policy, which is what she intended, is a far different thing from embracing bigotry against Jews.  A newcomer to the national stage, Rep. Omar needs to learn to express herself in a more acceptable manner.  On the other hand, the House needs to consider the substantive merits of what she has to say, and not to react in such a hysterical, extreme manner as to drive home the very point that Rep. Omar is making.