Sunday, May 01, 2016

Torches and Pitchforks

It’s almost reality, the presidential matchup the corporate media has been salivating for, Trump versus Clinton. The major commercial networks will use the public airwaves, for which they pay nothing, to earn buckets of cash carrying Trump and Clinton campaign ads, and the inevitable debates. It will be great for the corporate bottom line, wonderful fodder for the pundit class, and downright terrible for the nation. This is where we are. The oligarchy is alive and still in control.

Despair is an easy option. Watching the Republican Party reap the reward it has sowed for years alleviates some, but not anywhere close to all, my despair. The party strategists and bigwigs have blown the dog whistle for decades and what finally came home to them is the atavistic Donald Trump. Bummer.

What bothers me is the other party, the Democrats, the one that is supposed to be all-inclusive, champion of working people and the environment, women, equality and social justice. We know this isn’t the case any longer. As Thomas Frank points out in his new book, Listen, Liberal, the Democrats have been sprinting away from their traditional constituencies since the early 1970’s. As a result, the Party apparatus was hijacked by the Clintons and others of their ilk, so called New Democrats (Barack Obama included, which explains his energetic support of the Trans Pacific Partnership secret trade agreement) who embrace a savage neoliberal agenda that has devastated the middle class.

Our democracy is weak, the game rigged to produce preordained results. This is nothing new in American history -- we’ve traveled this rutted sideroad before. The wealthy and powerful always do everything they possibly can to limit direct democracy simply because they can’t control it. They talk about the “will of the people” and all that blather, but what they really mean is the will of their kind of people. So, we see arcane nominating rules and outright efforts to deny people their right to cast a ballot; we see how potential third parties are ignored and marginalized by the media, prevented from participating in debates and candidate forums.

The political duopoly serves its masters and makes serfs and slaves of the rest of us. As Robert McChesney and John Nichols note in their book, People Get Ready, “Unemployment, inequality, and poverty are best understood not, in the end, as economic problems, but instead as political problems. They require political solutions.” McChesney and Nichols go on to say that the level of corruption in contemporary American politics -- the blatant buying of politicians from both parties -- would make Gilded Age icons blush. The wealthy have never had it so good; 40-plus years of propaganda and scheming and manipulation has put them in the catbird seat.

But cracks are appearing in the foundation of this deeply entrenched oligarchy. The economic pain has become so widespread and pervasive that people are once again receptive to New Deal-style solutions. Bernie Sanders never had a prayer of winning the Democratic nomination -- the whole Party edifice was arrayed against him -- but he has succeeded in dragging bedrock middle class issues like income inequality back into the light. And when movements like Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, climate justice, humane immigration reform and voting rights, to name a few, coalesce with the understanding that their separate struggles are in reality one overarching struggle, the cracks will become fissures.

It has happened before. It will happen again. The People know the current arrangement is not only inequitable but unsustainable. Hell, the oligarchs themselves know this is true, which is why they are so desperate to delay the day of reckoning.

Tick, tock, torches and pitchforks.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Oligarchs Paradise

“I know not why it should be a matter of congratulation that persons who are already richer than any one needs to be, should have doubled their means of consuming things which give little or no pleasure except as representative of wealth.” J.S. Mill

Slick Willie still has balls. It takes a hefty pair to stand in front of a crowd in Philadelphia and tell African-American protestors that government policies that hurt them and their communities were really, at heart, for their benefit.

Your lives mattered so much to my administration that I made them a living hell. I had to destroy your communities in order to save them.

No apology required.

Bill Clinton’s crime bill, passed back in the mid-90’s, was not designed to protect the lives of African-American teenagers; the intent was to allay the fears of white people who thought black gangs like the Crips and Bloods were about to overrun suburbia, and to demonstrate that Bill Clinton was as tough on crime as any Republican.

The Clintons triangulate everything for political advantage. Yes, I physically beat you to a pulp, but surely you can see it was for your own good? Turn the tables, blame the victims. The Clintons have made this tactic into an art form.

The thought of another Clinton administration is nauseating. We deserve better than someone who has used her position in government to enrich herself. Who asks us to believe that Wall Street banks are happy to pay her upwards of $200,000 for a single speech without expecting anything in return. This is insulting -- we know how the world works.

Our democracy is a democracy in name only because the political system, at least at the national level, is deaf to the needs of average citizens. How many times have I written this or something similar on this blog? The disconnect between the rulers and the ruled is severe. It’s clear that people from all walks of life and circumstances want peace, decent jobs, some measure of economic security, safe drinking water, breathable air, food that isn’t laced with poison, and a voice. The political machinery produces few of these things because to do so would require the rulers who own and operate the machinery to give up their privilege, and that never happens.  

As Robert McChesney and John Nichols note in their new book, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy,  the solution to all these issues is political. Income inequality is about distribution of wealth, and that involves politics; climate change is all politics; the impact of technology on employment opportunities for our children is about government policy. But we have to understand that from the very beginning, the leading lights of the American colony, and then the American nation, feared the masses, the passions of the mob, and protected private property, the landed, and the slave owners. If the status quo is going to change, we cannot ask politely and wait for an answer -- we must demand.


Democracy is messy and unpredictable. The alternative, however, is what we see happening now: environmental degradation, extreme income inequality, political paralysis, a weak and debased corporate media that only serves to distract citizens from reality, and wars abroad that go on for decades. Poll after poll shows that this is not the America people want.

I know it’s not the America I want. I want this country to live up to its ideals, and I’d like my children to have half a shot at lives that are not reduced to toil, want and insecurity.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hey, Bartender

Don’t ignore the little people; don’t look right through us as if we are wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. I can assure you that our money is as good, and our thirst as pronounced, as the strapping gentleman, or the buxom female, who garners all your attention.

What am I talking about you ask. Fair question. The other night my wife and I went to a well known music club in Santa Barbara to hear Eric Hutchinson and his band. The place wasn’t crowded when we arrived; we stood at the bar trying to decide what libations we fancied. Two bartenders on duty. One of them, bearded, wearing a white shirt and gray vest, was talking wine with a couple seated at the bar. The other was rinsing glasses two feet from us. Neither acknowledged us or made eye contact. Being polite types, we waited patiently. Surely one of them would raise his head and take our order. Nope. The first guy kept talking, the second kept rinsing glasses. We may as well have been invisible.

I was immediately transported back several months, to the Westgate Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. I was attending a conference and staying at the hotel, and one evening I went down to the casino and sat at the bar, less than three feet from a bartender who did everything but look at me or acknowledge my existence. I was so stunned by his absolute indifference that I didn’t say anything -- I just sat there and waited, fascinated to see how long he could go without acknowledging me. After seven and a half minutes -- yes, I timed it with the stop- watch on my iPhone -- I gave up.

This happened to me three times at the Westgate, which says more about that crappy joint than it does about me. After the third time I strolled over to the concierge and asked to speak to a manager. An African-American woman listened to my tale, told me that the hotel was under new management, and promised to relay my concerns during the next all-staff meeting. No apology, no chit for a drink, not even a smile, now that I think of it.

I’m not a tall man, I’m a runt, and this I think, more than anything else, explains the troubles I’ve experienced with bartenders. The two examples I note here are not the only times I have failed to get service; this happens frequently, in establishments all over my hometown. My wife is convinced that I bear some sort of secret marking visible only to bartenders. Now, I know that some of you are thinking that this dilemma (which, in the big scheme of life is really, really minor, boo-hoo can’t get a drink,) is easily solved if I adopt a more forceful approach, call out to the bartender, tap my debit card on the bar or wave a fistful of dollars to get his or her attention (to be fair to female bartenders, I can say that they ignore me less often than do their male counterparts). But here’s my point: tall men don’t need to resort to these kinds of histrionics -- they step up and are served -- or are at least recognized.

That’s all I want, really, to be recognized, acknowledged, noticed. As a rule, I’m very appreciative of servers and bartenders and busboys, their work isn’t easy and customers can be a pain in the ass. My wife and I tip well because we are working-class people ourselves. I don’t expect anyone to kiss my ass; I do expect people in service businesses to provide service.

So, bartenders, don’t overlook us short people. Like I said, our money is good.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

My Interview with Amy Goodman - Santa Barbara Independent - April 5, 2016

Amy Goodman Talks 20 Years of Independent Journalism

Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now, the only public media program that airs simultaneously on radio, cable, satellite television, and the Internet, will be speaking at UCSB on April 10 at 7:30 p.m. Goodman, along with longtime writing partners Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, are on a 100-city book tour to promote their latest book, Twenty Years Covering the Movements Changing America

Amy Goodman
Click to enlarge photo
Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman’s list of journalism awards and accolades is too lengthy to mention. Suffice it to say that Goodman has walked the walk in war zones and areas wrecked by natural disasters, and has been on the ground to cover major stories such as the recent Paris climate negotiations and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Brian Tanguay caught up with Amy Goodman on the eve of her book tour. 

When you started the broadcast back in 1996, did you have any idea it would become what it is today?We thought it would be a nine-month project, ending with the election, however that turned out. We were the only daily election coverage in public broadcasting. But there was more demand the day after the election than before. More and more stations wanted to pick us up. First it was community radio stations, then NPR, and public access television stations. Then PBS stations asked to air us. It just grew and grew. We’re translated into Spanish and Democracy Now is now carried on 1,400 public stations. Our growth is an indication of the hunger for independent voices.

Democracy Now started at a time when media consolidation in the United States was gathering momentum. Did the prospect of trying to establish an authentic voice in a corporate-dominated environment give you pause? Sadly, they have left such a huge niche — in fact, the corporate broadcasters are now niche broadcasters. These corporate networks feature such a small circle of pundits who know so little about so much. Our work at Democracy Now is giving voice to the vast majority of people whose voices are not represented. That’s what gives us our authenticity.

You and your team at Democracy Now have profiled, featured, and interviewed people that the corporate media ignore. I’m thinking of Noam Chomsky, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Jeremy Scahill, Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy — a long list of important voices that the average American knows little if anything about. Was providing a platform for voices like these part of your original vision or did that evolve? These are voices that need to be heard. I won’t say these voices have been blacked-out — maybe whited-out is more accurate — but we’re talking about thinkers and grassroots leaders, and people closest to the issues that impact their lives and communities and nations. 

Of all the interviews you’ve done and events covered, is there one that stands out more than the rest? No, it’s more the inspiration of so many different voices. Our team at Democracy Now uses all its skill and diligence to give voice to people closest to the issues. This is critical in a democracy.

Can you recall the number of times you’ve been arrested in the course of reporting? (Laughs.) I don’t have the exact number, but I will say that it’s unacceptable that police arrest reporters. Our job is to be in the streets covering events and talking to people who are excluded from the conversation. 

Which corporate media broadcasts do you watch? As many as I can. It’s important to understand how events are framed, and what questions aren’t being asked. 

What unsettles you when you look at the contemporary political landscape, particularly the election coverage? The lack of diversity. 
What gives you hope? The movement. There’s no question about it. This book, written with my colleagues Denis Moynihan and my brother David Goodman, is about people all over the world who are challenging discrimination against immigrants or fighting for gay and lesbian rights or economic and environmental justice. The persistence and dedication and ingenuity of these people is inspiring.

I have to ask you this question, Amy, because it’s one of the most important questions of our time. Have you seen Hamilton? I can’t believe you’re asking me this question! It’s as if you have a little lens into my life. I have been wanting to see Hamilton, but of course there’s no way because the show is sold out for months. But then a week ago a friend of mine came into town for my birthday bearing tickets for the show! It’s an unbelievable work that is changing the face of Broadway. Who would have thought American history could be told through hip-hop and rap?

Friday, April 01, 2016

Reefer Madness Redux

“When the Great Scorer comes to list the main downers of our time, the Nixon Inauguration will have to be ranked Number One.” Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail ‘72

Like many people of my generation, I detested Richard Nixon and just about everything he ever stood for. Nixon was an evil dude, and he surrounded himself with authoritarian creeps like H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson. Bad times, unrest in the cities and on college campuses. Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. King had been murdered and the heart seemed to have been ripped from the nation.

Like Donald Trump today, Nixon was a Law & Order guy, a tough talking high sheriff who would lock criminals up and bury the key. To rid the nation of the scourge of dangerous drugs, Nixon and his henchman launched the War on Drugs. This bad idea is still with us, all these years later, and our prisons, many of them operated by corporations for profit,  are filled to bursting with former users and junkies.

Nixon’s War on Drugs was erected on a foundation of out and out racism. An interview with John Ehrlichman that came to light recently makes the real intent of the War on Drugs crystal clear. Here’s Ehrlichman, speaking with breathtaking candor in the mid 1990’s:

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

There it is, in all its sinister glory. A diabolical scheme hatched by a paranoid government to put white, pot-toking hippies and black smack junkies back in their boxes and slam the lid. Only Nixon, I think, only that rat bastard was evil enough to conceive of such a plan, and the consequences plague the nation -- not to mention Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, to name a few -- to this day. Obama came out the other day and said that drug use and abuse is more of a health issue than a criminal one, a good start, albeit way too late, but I wonder if he would have said anything if record numbers of white folk weren’t getting hooked on heroin and prescription opioids. When a social problem impacts the pale skins, the government acts and money begins to flow toward solutions.

God, why am I thinking about Nixon? It’s a lovely day outside my window and I’m free of the work clock, there’s lots of cold Lagunitas in the fridge, a couple of bags of sunflower seeds, but more to the point, the current political circus is awful enough without drifting back to our dark past. If I start thinking about Nixon I will invariably think about Henry Kissinger and Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Millions of people killed. Nixon and Kissinger, W. Bush and Cheney -- a gallery of unindicted war criminals. I’m not sure the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. Kissinger is considered a sage in some circles; W and Cheney run free still, make speeches for good money, and never bother to hang their heads in shame.

The horror, the horror, the horror!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Death Trap

My point is, with Hillary Clinton, we know what we’re getting — a corrupt war-mongering, duplicitous neoliberal Wall Street shill posing as a progressive. With Trump, we get a narcissistic businessman posing as a fascist. Neither one as president would actually be what they are pretending to be during the campaign.” David Lindorff

The letter from Honda was alarming. IMPORTANT SAFETY RECALL  (in red typeface).  “Honda has decided that a defect which relates to motor vehicle safety exists in certain 2007-2011 model year CR-V vehicles.”

And in bold typeface this: “The defect in these vehicles could kill or injure you or other people in your vehicle.”

Wait a minute...Honda has decided? What about Honda has discovered or determined or learned? Decided?

It gets even more macabre: “Specifically, in some vehicles, the driver’s front airbag inflator could produce excessive internal pressure upon deployment. If an affected airbag deploys, the increased internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture (break apart) and deploy abnormally. In the event of an inflator rupture, metal fragments could pass through the airbag cushion material possibly causing serious injury or fatality to you or others in the vehicle. Past ruptures like this have killed and injured vehicle drivers.”

But the best part came next. “The remedy parts needed to conduct driver’s airbag inflator recalls will become available in the Summer of 2016.”

So, if I understand this correctly, my family and I should continue driving our potential death trap until Honda has enough parts available to conduct its recall. Happy motoring from now until Summer 2016, which means what, exactly? July? August? Early September?

Honda is rather blase about the possibility of my or my family’s potential death or dismemberment. Play the odds, take a road trip, avoid rear-ending someone…

Honda’s recall took my attention from the presidential election and the terrorist attack in Belgium. Knowing the American corporate media will draw the wrong conclusions about Brussels, I avoid the news. I still believe that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims are peaceful people who want the same things Americans, English, French, Spanish and Africans want: to exercise some control over their own destinies, to raise their children, to work, play, travel, and worship. All the reasonable human expectations. Extremists, whatever guise they wear, get the attention, and Islamic extremists motivate Western nations to wage war endlessly. Don’t misunderstand -- attacking innocent civilians is barbaric and cowardly -- but so is launching laser-guided missiles at a wedding party from a remote-controlled drone. Both acts terrorize the innocent; both acts stoke the fires of vengeance.

And let’s not forget or ignore root causes. Who mid-wifed the birth of ISIS?

The Dance of the Phonies staggers on. Cruz and Trump and Hillary. Bernie Sanders is still in the race, though you’d hardly draw this conclusion from the mainstream media. Hillary is awful on the stump, wooden and pedantic. Little of her hubby’s magic rubbed off. All Slick Willie had to do to make audiences swoon was start his lower lip quivering. Try as she might, and try she does, Hillary cannot convince the masses to like or trust her.

We trudge toward our Hobson’s choice. Dear voter, how would you like your death, brutal and quick, or less painful but more drawn out?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Fork In The Road

Throughout the Western world the financial system has become an exploiter of the people and a deadweight loss on economies.” Paul Craig Roberts

Looks like we owe the Feds money again, but may get a refund from Jerry Brown, which means our tax dance for 2015 might be a wash. Had we owed both Federal and State I might have had a nervous breakdown. Our daughter is flunking Physics -- no surprise -- she hates the subject and doesn’t apply herself, and sooner or later will understand the relationship between effort and results. Mom and dad have to go meet with her teacher. The work we do for the money we need to sustain our life is often a soul-sucking grind, and like many Americans in the low-low middle class, though we claw we never seem to get ahead; one calamity and we’re toast. Maybe our lot will improve when Donald Trump becomes president. He’s a winner, or so he tells us at every opportunity, and when he wins, we win.

Forget I said that, I’m joking, of course. Trump, Clinton, Cruz, Rubio, nothing is going to change, no matter which of these people is elected. The American economy is a scam, a house of cards, operated by an oligarchy for the benefit of the oligarchy. As John Jay said when this nation was founded, “The people who own the country run it.”

The mass of people who work for wages understand this, and, at some level, they realize that it is the “system” that causes their struggles, not some fault of their own; not laziness or lack of will or initiative, but a system designed to make them, or keep them, poor. Trump spews plenty of garbage, but when he talks about how trade deals like NAFTA (thanks, Bill Clinton) have decimated the American working class, he’s right, and I think this is why he sounds like a savior to some people.

What about Bernie Sanders? Yes, if Sanders somehow overcomes the Clinton death grip on the Democratic Party and all its machinery, he might shake a few crumbs from the system, but his ability to do so will entirely depend on the makeup of Congress, and this is fraught with uncertainty because so many Democrats are now Republicans, ideologically speaking; Sanders might have difficulty pushing his agenda with Democrats in control of the House and Senate. Of course if those bodies remain in Republican control, Sanders would be stymied at every turn.

Both parties are corrupt, as is the entire electoral system. Voters are offered two unpalatable choices -- isn’t democracy grand! It’s like going to the dentist and being told that your cracked molar can be pulled with needle nose pliers or vice grips, which do you prefer? Politicians, at least at the national level, no longer trouble themselves representing the interests of the voters who elect them. Instead, they represent the corporations and wealthy donors who own them. This guarantees that the critical issues facing the nation will not be addressed, except at the most superficial level. And when it comes to an issue like climate change, superficial measures are a recipe for disaster and death.

Getting back to Trump and his traveling circus for a minute. What is his economic policy? Just win, baby? Knock the Chinese over the head with a two-by-four? Invade Mexico? Any voter -- white, black, brown, or rainbow colored -- who believes that Trump will improve their lot economically is flat nuts.  “I will make great deals,” is not a policy. Running an empire, even one bordering on collapse, is not the same as starring in a make-believe TV show. Blithely declaring that one will “strengthen” America’s military, when 54% of the discretionary budget is already being spent on America’s sprawling military apparatus is not only stupid, it’s suicidal. But that’s Trump. Buffoon, blowhard, egomaniac.

And as of today, the GOP frontrunner.

I’m too tired to think about a Hillary Clinton presidency. I despise the woman; she is mendacious and mediocre and malignant. In my mind, Hillary’s almost as frightening as Trump. Most of her experience is covered with a thick coat of failure, and she has blood beneath her fingernails.

How did America come to this pathetic fork in the road?