Archive for the ‘Current events’ Category

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.

Banging all our heads against the wall

January 4th, 2019

As the nation, or at least the media, obsesses over the president’s insistence that spending $5.6 billion on a physical barrier along the southern border is more important than nearly everything else the executive branch does, along comes Francisco Cantu in the January 17, 2019 issue of the New York Review of Books to remind us of the context to which the phrase “government shutdown” currently refers.  Mr. Cantu points out that since the 1990s our government’s policy regarding immigration along the southern border has been known officially as “Prevention Through Deterrence,” that is, reliance upon the forbidding geography and climate of those regions to make migration prohibitively difficult and dangerous and to channel migrants who persevere into areas that can be blocked by patrols and barriers.  The predictable result is that people die trying to cross the border.  You may be interested to know how many.  No accurate count exists, because, according to Mr. Cantu, the death tolls do not include thousands of people “who have been reported as missing and never found, not to mention those whose disappearances are never reported in the first place.”  The official tally, says Cantu, is more than 6,000 between 2000 and 2016.  “When the Border Patrol demands recognition for saving lives,” says Cantu, “it’s as if firefighters were asking to be thanked for putting out a blaze started by their own chief.”

Take a moment to let that sink in.  Our government’s official policy since the Clinton administration has been to create a state of affairs leading to the deaths of at least 6,000 people, nearly all of whom wanted nothing more than to become productive members of our society; and our current political imbroglio centers upon the president’s insistence on taking measures which could be relied upon to up the death rate.   Building a wall along the border will not stop desperate people from trying to go over, under, or through it, or die in the attempt.  When you hear or read a reporter or commentator tossing off the phrase “government shutdown,” that’s what they’re talking about.

Thousands of people are dead by design already, pursuant to official policy of the government of the United States.  The so-called “debate” over the wall is little more than a disagreement over how best to run the death machine.  I say, good for Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues for standing firm against the president’s horribly wasteful and monstrous demands.  But that’s a far cry from moving towards a humane, sensible, reality-based immigration policy.

Lebensraum

December 27th, 2018

My attitude about real estate development is summed up by the old joke about the Vermonter showing his flatlander cousin, up from New York for a weekend visit, around the family hill farm.  After climbing through woods, they reach a small meadow with an expansive view across the valley.  “Beautiful!  Great place for a house,” says the flatlander.  “Great place for a meadow,” says the farmer.

In my book To Join the Lost, a takeoff on Dante’s Inferno, while walking through the grove of suicides we encounter a real estate developer.  He’s hiding in a pile of used clothing, like a homeless street person trying to keep warm.  As we bid him good-bye, a pack of wild animals finds him and begins ripping at him with their teeth:  “something scorned exacted revenge.”  So much of the way we treat the land is ultimately self-destructive.  Sooner or later the meadow, and the wildness and beauty of which it is the placid seeming face, will have their way with us.

Other, more anthropocentric values are implicated, too.  Once in a while I receive a card or a latter in the mail from someone who’s canvassing my neighborhood looking for homes to buy and flip.  They buy it, they upgrade it, they sell it at a profit.  I write back and tell them that they are opportunistic scum, destroying neighborhoods with absentee ownership and artificially inflating property values so that housing is ever less affordable.  I tell them that what they are doing should not be legal.

Ken Schatz, Commissioner of Vermont’s Department for Children and Families, recently announced that homelessness is worsening in Vermont, despite all our creative policies and the millions of dollars we’ve poured into programs to address it.  (Ken, I hasten to add, is one of the best, most competent, conscientious, good-hearted, and hard-working public servants I’ve known.)  Homelessness is a multifaceted problem.  There’s not one single magic wand solution.  However, experience has shown that one of the major, most effective things that can be done about it is to – wait for it – put people into houses.  Yes, if people have housing that they can afford, they tend not be homeless.  One thing we could do to enhance the availability of affordable housing would be to discourage speculation in housing stock.  Mommy and daddy should not be allowed to buy a house for Biff or Buffy to stay in during their four years at UVM, with a view to either retaining it as a rental income property or selling it at a profit after the little darling graduates.  Colleges should be required to provide adequate on-campus housing for their students, so that the transient student population doesn’t eat up the affordable housing stock, driving up rents and depreciating the physical condition of the dwellings and the neighborhoods.  All forms of speculative investment in real estate involving housing should be subject to severe discouragement through confiscatory fees and taxes, calibrated so as to allow residents to upgrade the properties they live in while denying rewards to flippers and absentee owners.  Conversion of owner occupied properties to absentee owner rentals should be particularly strongly discouraged.  The point is not so much to privilege owning a house over renting it, as to combat the practice of treating a house as a profit center.

If we were in the midst of a famine, we would not permit speculative investment in staple foods to heighten scarcity and drive up prices.  Why do we allow this with housing?  People fill the homeless shelters and routinely exhaust the funding for emergency motel beds.  Families sleep through the winter in their cars.  A house isn’t just a financial asset.  We shouldn’t allow housing to be treated that way.  Homelessness is one result of something scorned, exacting revenge.

 

Ten Questions for the New Year

December 20th, 2018

  1.  What would happen to Trump’s support if, after being indicted or impeached, he were to seek asylum in Russia or Saudi Arabia?  (In contemplating this question, it may be helpful to remember Sabbatai Sevi, the seventeenth century “mystical messiah.”  He won a huge following in the Jewish world of that time, many of whom held fast to their faith in him even after he disavowed his messianic mission and converted to Islam.)
  2. Why do we still occasionally hear the phrase “enhanced interrogation” used to describe torture by U.S. operatives?
  3. With so much happening in the world that is worthy of intense discussion, why would Mary Louise Kelly of NPR devote her most vigorous questioning of Amy Klobuchar to followups designed to wheedle an indication that she is going to run for president, after Klobuchar already told Kelly she’s “considering” it?
  4. Even if “wanting your children to do better than you did” may have been at one time a component of the “American dream,” why would a parent want his children to do better than he did if he had given them a comfortable, privileged start in life?
  5. Why are Americans nostalgic for a snickering mediocrity who lied us into an unnecessary war of aggression that resulted in the worst disaster for American foreign policy since 1812?
  6. Why is it considered important, among the news media, for us to know almost everything that Donald Trump says, leading almost every newscast with his latest tweets when it is as well established as could be that literally everything he says is either abusive, false, or misleading?
  7. Why does so much of the national media’s political journalism consist of speculation about what may happen, or what may be said, or what the effect will be on one political party or the other, instead of telling us what the political class, individually and collectively, are actually doing?
  8. Why do American reporters in the national media never challenge stupid, false, misleading, or outrageous statements by major politicians, in contrast to the BBC, whose reporters do not hesitate to interrupt heads of state and tell them to their face that what they are saying is not credible?
  9. Why do American journalists persist in pretending, in the face of all the evidence, that Donald Trump has any substantive reasons for anything he does, other than impulse, ego, financial self-interest, and nativist racism?  To put it another way, why does “journalistic objectivity” create an ethos of willful stupidity?
  10. Why do we rarely or never hear, in reporting on the marijuana legalization  movement, about the impact on costs and other aspects of the mental health and substance abuse treatment systems?

Black Friday

November 28th, 2018

Suppose you are the manager of the biggest department store in town.  Black Friday is approaching.  From various sources, you hear that thousands of shoppers are going to converge on your doors at 8:00 that morning, drawn by the attractiveness of your wares and their inability to obtain similar merchandise in their home towns. Even now they are gathering in the suburbs and parks, hiring buses to come to your city, planning their approach and their strategies to take maximum advantage of the bargains on display in your windows.  What do you do?

Although you might hire some additional security to maintain order in the aisles, I am pretty sure that you will not employ armed forces to beat the shoppers away from your doors.  More likely, you will beef up your staff of checkout clerks and floor walkers to handle the increased traffic.

I have been watching our government’s response to the so-called “immigrant caravan” with horror and disgust.  A sane and humane government, confronted with the approach over weeks of a few thousand people fleeing terror and desperate for the benefits of life in our jurisdiction, would not greet them with tear gas and thousands of military personnel. These are not ravening hordes bent on pillage, rapine, and destruction.  These are people who, for the most part, want nothing better than to contribute to our society by giving it their labor, their intelligence, their imagination, their children, and themselves.  How sad that our response to people who want to give us precious gifts is to beat the shit out of them.  I am perfectly aware of the need to protect our borders and to maintain legal order with respect to immigration.  The way to do so, in this situation, was not to rush military units to the border. What our government should have done, and still could do if it were not headed by a psychopathic narcissistic sadist, would have been to send thousand of bureaucrats to the border, each with a briefcase, a computer terminal, a stack of forms, and the training to process asylum and other immigration claims in an accurate and expeditious manner.