Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ugly Little Liars

I always assumed that the official tale of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was bullshit. There were too many holes in the White House and mainstream media narrative, but the holes were papered over in the rah-rah and the gushing over the heroics of Seal Team 6. I frankly didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Yes, Osama bin Laden was a sociopath – no argument there – but what’s the essential difference between the murder he organized and the murder inflicted on Gaza by Israel two times in the past five years?

The killing of bin Laden was a political opportunity, and Barack Obama used it to paint himself as a decisive military leader. It was his Bush “Mission Accomplished” moment, but did it bring the absurd, wasteful and counterproductive War on Terror to an end?

Of course not. The War on Terror is a bonanza for the military-security complex and a host of private intelligence and mercenary corporations, and as long as the money flows, the war will go on.

Let’s not forget that Osama bin Laden was a fugitive for nearly a decade after claiming responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. He was the world’s most wanted criminal, prime target of every intelligence and military asset the US and its allies possessed, but all that time he eluded detection and capture. Ironically, it appears the Pakistanis – our stalwart allies in the War on Terror (wink, wink) -- knew where bin Laden was for almost five years.

Seymour Hersh, one of the greatest investigative journalists ever, has written a 10,000 word article for the London Review of Books that yanks the pretty wrapping paper from the official bin Laden story. The White House immediately issued a classic non-denial denial, meaning Obama’s spin-doctors ignored specifics and condemned the whole; numerous pundits have jumped on the bandwagon to discredit Hersh.

If Hersh’s sources are reliable, bin Laden was, for all intents and purposes, neutralized, under virtual house arrest by the Pakistanis. He wasn’t masterminding deadly Al Qaeda operations, and when the Seals blew his shit into the next world, he wasn’t armed, either. The most dangerous terrorist on the planet went down without a struggle. The Seals never came under fire.

The truth of the bin Laden raid is too mundane for the Pentagon and Hollywood. What was needed was a tale of American bravery and daring: the Pakistanis had no idea the US was coming, Osama bin Laden was armed to the teeth, the CIA located him with the help of “enhanced” interrogation techniques, etc.

Governments lie, they always have, they always will, and that is why an independent, inquisitive press is so vital in a democracy.  

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Scare Tactics

“How can hope be sustained in such a world? First, be shedding all illusions about the capacity of the rulers of the world to reform themselves.” Tariq Ali, The Extreme Center.

One of our local TV news outlets is an ABC affiliate, so my wife usually watches that channel in the morning, to find out what the weather is going to be and to catch some local news, delivered with amateurish exuberance by our local talking heads. At 7:00 Good Morning America comes on, invariably with the latest airline disaster, a dramatic train wreck or highway pileup, maybe a kidnapping or school shooting. If it bleeds or screams or wails or has the potential to scare people, it leads.

It amuses me to no end to hear people who call themselves “journalists” whip up fear of ISIS with scanty facts, almost no context, and the same file footage over and over, giving the impression that blood-thirsty ISIS evildoers are pounding on our gates. This used to piss me off but now I just find it amusing. ISIS is our creation and a direct consequence of our hubris in the Middle East, a region we do not understand. ISIS is also a fabulous windfall for the arms merchants who profit from death. Some deadly terror group had to replace Al-Qaeda. With Bin Laden and Saddam dead, and our leaders not yet so bereft of sanity that they dare start a war with Iran, ISIS is the perfect follow-on foe, stateless and barbaric, and savvy with social media.

Starting an armed conflict doesn’t cause the US to pause and consider as it once did; our leaders are eager, it seems, to impose their will with Hellfire missiles.

In his most recent book, Tariq Ali, a prolific writer and intellectual, argues that no external force exists that can knock the US from its dominant position in the world. Ali doesn’t accept the notion that the US is a fading empire that must follow in the footsteps of the British Empire, or, going further back in history, the Romans. Because I’m one of those soft-headed people who think the US should accept limits, retreat from the idea of global hegemony, and focus on domestic issues like health care, education, the environment and wealth inequality, I found Ali’s assertion depressing.

But I think Ali is correct when he writes that, “Any change from above or within the existing structures is unlikely, unless the threats from below become too strong to resist.” Unfortunately, unlike Spain and Greece, I don’t see any organization in the US coherent enough to challenge the current order. Backing Bernie Sanders for president in 2016 might make one feel better, but without an entire political party dedicated to challenging neoliberalism and a belligerent foreign policy, the prevailing structure will remain in place.

And make no mistake, the neoliberal edifice erected over the last 30 – 40 years is strong and its beneficiaries will fight hammer and tongs to keep it just the way it is.

Meanwhile, over on Good Morning America, the FBI has uncovered another ISIS plot to strike against the American homeland. The horror, the horror, lock your doors, and pull your children close.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Random Notes of a Scattered Mind

“There is no justice in America, but it is the fight for justice that sustains you.” Amiri Baraka

My son came home with a bag of clothes from H&M, t-shirts and a couple of extremely thin cotton shirts that cost $9 each. As I always do with clothing, I looked at the label to see where the garment was made: Bangladesh. I wondered about the human being who sewed the shirt, what his or her daily life was like, and how much this unknown person earned for this insubstantial garment I held in my hands.

Baltimore on my mind, the fire this time, burning right in front of our eyes, and white pundits entirely missing the point as they spout nonsense about law and order. They don’t get it. Oppression breeds rage, hopelessness breeds despair, and sooner or later a spark touches off a fire that becomes an inferno. Connect the dots. Urban communities in America have been deindustrialized, jobs at living wages are hard to find, especially for people of color; policing in these communities is harsh, brutal and murderous; the downward spiral has been swirling for nearly two generations. What do we expect will happen?

He doesn’t have a prayer of winning the nomination, but I’m glad Senator Bernie Sanders has entered the 2016 presidential contest. The race desperately needs another voice, a voice not fueled by corporate dough, a voice that speaks to the real, everyday, mundane concerns of average people: jobs, wages, housing, health care, education, and the condition of our planet. Bernie Sanders won’t champion populist themes and then turn his back on people in favor of the tired neoliberal agenda that has sundered the middle class and created obscene wealth and political inequality.

The “system” will call Bernie Sanders a radical, a socialist, even a communist, hostile to capitalism and the American way; he will be ridiculed and laughed at, marginalized and largely ignored by the media machine. Remember Ralph Nader?

May. The drought drags on here in California. No rain in the forecast. In Nepal, another body is pulled from the rubble. The earth seems melancholy.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The US doesn’t mourn the victims of its drone attacks. Turkey doesn’t recognize the Armenian genocide that happened 100 years ago. History didn’t happen, just as the earth isn’t warming as a result of human activity. A fair number of sane and sober people actually believe that Hillary Clinton has shed her heavy baggage and now cares about us commoners. Back in the 1940’s, Henry Miller called America the “air conditioned nightmare.” I wonder what Henry would say if he could see the joint now. We wage perpetual war against shadow enemies and reserve the right to ignore casualties unless they are our own and can be exploited to show how evil our enemies are. The other day I heard a Republican nitwit, a congressman from one of the red states, jabbering about the dangers of our overly generous social safety net, and how it makes people dependent on the government. I wondered if this joker really believes this claptrap or if he’s merely an ideological robot. The only people with a safety net in this country are those that don’t need it, and by that I mean the ultra-rich, the corporate chieftains, the bankers, and the energy company czars. In this twisted nation, the poor bailout the rich, not the other way around. In Saudi Arabia, public beheadings are common, and yet we still call the Saudis our friends. We give Israel weapons with which to murder Palestinians. Somewhere in the world, the global battlefield, an American drone is hovering over a target that may, or may not, be a terrorist; it could just as well be an elderly grandmother on her way home from the market. Was the world this nuts 30 years ago? Who killed the Arab Spring? The masters of war and the ministers of global finance never sleep. Waist deep in BS, that’s what we are. One by one, we extinguish the thousand points of light. Dark days and darker nights ahead.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

True Religion

My 18-year-old son, who is taking a gap year to figure out his future college plans, and how he’s going to pay for the privilege of an education, has been learning some hard lessons about the wonderful world of work. He has two part-time gigs, one at a coffee shop in the posh SB Public Market, and the other down in a trendy restaurant in what is now called the Funk Zone.

Both establishments are owned and operated by sole proprietors with oversized egos. Understand, dear readers, that coffee and food are now serious business – particularly in a destination town like Santa Barbara. The “foodies” have invaded what used to be an industrial swath of territory, with their Avant-garde ideas of food-as-art, or whatever the hell they think they’re doing. Seems to me that it’s all about buzz and presentation, slick marketing and public relations designed to draw in our local celebrities (Oprah, Michael Keaton, etc.) and Hollywood types in for the weekend.

What my son has discovered in both places is that owners have inflated egos and often act capriciously, like deciding, out of the blue, to reduce the kid’s hours by two-thirds with no notice whatsoever – and of course without explanation; the young lackeys who pour the drinks and serve the customers are not entitled to know why the puppet-master yanks the strings.

You would think that a trendy restaurant would spend some time training new employees, but my son reports that this isn’t the case; new workers are expected to know what to do the minute they walk through the front door and, if they stumble, the owner calls them out in front of others. On-the-job training by humiliation. You see, even if they are treated like dirt, workers should be grateful for the very opportunity of working in a popular Funk Zone establishment.

The service industry blues, my son, low wages, irregular hours, asshole bosses. I’m sorry that the American Dream died a long time ago.

If what I hear is true, the Public Market is in financial trouble, surprise, surprise, a dubious idea bearing dubious fruit. According to my son, who is nothing if not keenly observant, foot traffic during the day is scant, and what traffic exists is not made up of people who live in the surrounding area. With much media fanfare about renewal and mixed use, the Public Market displaced an old, dilapidated Vons grocery store that actually served the needs of the surrounding neighborhood. Along with working folk, elderly people and students, my wife and I shopped that Vons for years. Now, most of the million dollar condos above the Public Market remain unsold, and the retail spaces down below are vacant. Again, surprise, surprise. The developer probably figured, it’s downtown Santa Barbara, just a block off magic State Street, we can charge whatever the hell we want and the money will roll in like a tsunami.  

Sometimes the smartest people in the room prove to be dumb fucks when they get out on the street and come face to face with reality. Working people in this town cannot afford to pay $10 for a scoop of ice cream or $12 for a bowl of noodles.

But make no mistake, Santa Barbara isn’t unique in this respect: greed and exploitation is not only our national ethos, it’s our true religion.