Wednesday, September 24, 2014

When in Doubt, Start Bombing

The US of A is bombing…again.

I saw President Obama’s brief remarks about the bombing campaign in Syria – the latest American-led assault on Arab territory. We never learn. Having created through hubris the conditions that spawned ISIS, the US is now obligated to bomb the shit out of ISIS. The irony is that for the time being at least, the Assad regime in Syria – against which the US considered a bombing campaign a year or so ago -- is sort of, kind of, our ally.

Or instead of ally should I say “partner,” as in “partner nation”? The US no longer has allies, we have partners, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The extent to which the language of the corporate boardroom has insinuated itself into civic discourse amazes me. “I’d like to introduce our glorious partners in this dubious venture…” The US seems to believe that having such committed partners as the aforementioned monarchies will convince the world that this truly is a joint operation.

Try not to laugh.

When viewed through the US’s schizophrenic lens the Middle East is a confusing mess; the friend we embrace and arm to the teeth today turns foe tomorrow and jams a sword in our neck. We create these monsters and then find that we can’t control them.

There is, however, one constant that governs US policy in the region: oil and Israel. Never take your eye off oil and Israel and you have a fair chance of understanding what the hell is going on, why the US supports one despotic regime and calls another the equivalent of Nazi Germany.  

Obama – who more and more looks a pathetic and empty figure, more than ready to trot off to pen his memoirs, open his presidential library, and reap rich rewards from corporate America – offered the obligatory praise for America’s warriors, the brave men and women of the world’s greatest fighting force, engaged, yet again, in a noble struggle against Evil. We prefer our enemies to be easily recognizable as bad people, and the file footage the US media plays over and over of ISIS forces brandishing AK-47’s is designed to reinforce this idea. Watch any major network news broadcast for longer than thirty seconds and you’d think ISIS is five miles outside of Washington D.C., bearing down on the White House in a fleet of Toyota pickup trucks.

In many ways the US is a dumb nation. Whatever mojo we once had evaporated years ago. This Syria chapter in the War on Terror will add at least another six years to our doomed quest to rid the world of whacky Islamic fundamentalists. We will keep bombing bad guys in order to destabilize and degrade them, and they will keep popping up in new locations, under new names and new banners.  

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Daddy Dumb Ass

I hit the August doldrums and haven’t recovered yet. When was my last blog post? Can’t remember and I don’t feel like looking it up. I’ve got plenty of thoughts running around the track in my brain, none of them sublime or beautiful or remotely insightful. Typical human ponderings, such as this: why can’t my son rinse his dishes? Is it so much to ask that he rinse the food from his plate or bowl, clean out the fucking sink and throw the refuse in the compost bucket? The kid’s smart but this simple task is beyond his capability. This is the kid, who recently turned 18 and celebrated his birthday by getting a tattoo on the inside of his right bicep, a quote from Emily Dickinson, rejecting sage advice from his old man to wait and think about what those words will look like in 20 years. Might as well have been pissing into a tornado – the kid is smarter than me, more worldly and in touch with what’s real. I don’t know shit.

The boy isn’t going to Southern Oregon University after all. We drove to Ashland in June for orientation, rubbed elbows and backsides with nervous incoming freshmen and their neurotic helicopter parents, got the kid registered for classes and waded deep into the cesspool that is financial aid; this last bit put the Fear in me, big time. The idea of taking out a parent loan that we would be paying off for the next decade or so made my stomach clench. Loading up with education debt is the American way, part and parcel of the racket of higher education in this wayward capitalist nation. We stood at the precipice, ready to sign, ready to pack the Honda CRV and drive the kid back to Ashland, help him move into his dorm room.

And then the boy announces that Southern Oregon was sending him the wrong vibe, telling him to back off, stay away, retreat and regroup. I admit – it was hard to accept and I was ticked off. I liked SOU because it was a liberal arts school with only 7,000 students in the beautiful Rogue Valley, with downtown Ashland less than a mile away, and I made the mistake of thinking that my kid could attend this school and avoid getting lost in the crowd, that he might – in spite of his propensity for self-sabotage – have a college experience that would buoy him for the rest of his life.

Joke’s on me, the idiot daddy, although all along I wanted the boy to attend Santa Barbara City College for two years and then transfer to Southern Oregon or the American University of Paris or Bennington or wherever, saving a boatload of money in the process. Shit, kids flock to the American Riviera from Japan and China and Taiwan and Norway for the sole purpose of attending the esteemed Santa Barbara City College, and my son is here, with a place to live, a room of his own, and he looks this gift horse in the mouth and says, no way, man, I ain’t going. 

He found gainful employment at a local coffee house, but of course he hates the work, his supervisor, rising at 4:30 a.m. in order to open the joint at 5:00, when only the homeless and Mexican day laborers are stirring on the streets of SB. He grinds beans and cleans equipment, sweeps the floor, wipes down the counters, then returns home and sleeps for 14 hours.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Laughing at the Moon

I will not write about Gaza and Israel; I will not write about Iraq or Syria; I will not write about income inequality or militarized police forces or racism. We’re in the dog days of summer here on the Platinum Coast and State Street is full of European tourists -- strolling, shopping, eating, gawking, bumping into and annoying us locals. What can one expect when one lives in a prime tourist destination? The world arrives here by plane, train, bus and rental car, eager to check us out, experience the fabled Santa Barbara lifestyle, whatever that is.

My son leaves for college in Oregon in about a month. We’ve been sorting out financial aid and loans, learning the definition of subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Like many 17-year-olds my son is hard to read; he rides his emotional train up and down, sleeps prodigiously, and tells his parents as little as possible about what he’s doing or where he’s going. We give him space, confident that when he needs to talk to us, he will. He’s facing a large change in his young life and although he claims it’s no big deal, we know better. The kid is nervous, as he should be. Is he ready or not? I don’t know. I fret a bit about his work habits and wonder if he has it in him to make the social connections that could make or break his college experience.

I have to stop and remember myself at my son’s age. I had the same hubris when I joined the Air Force and was sent to Japan; like my son, I couldn’t get out of provincial Santa Barbara fast enough. Aching for adventure, I landed at Haneda International Airport on a rainy night, the neon lights reflecting off the slick streets. On a long bus ride to Yokota Air Base I realized how alone I was – and how far from home. I had no idea what I didn’t know. Older hands tried to school me but of course I never listened.

My 12-year-old daughter has had an uneventful summer; she stays up late, watching TV on her laptop, and wakes up around 10 or 11 a.m.; she hangs with friends, paints her nails, fusses endlessly over the clothes hanging in her closet. Her moods alternate between sweet and demonic – and change without warning. We know one has changed to another when she slams her bedroom door and screams that she hates us. Our transgression? Unknown. Our very existence, I suppose, the fact that we say no when she wants – demands – we say yes. She watches lame shows on the Disney channel and their theme songs get into my head. Dog with a Blog? Really.

I do a lot of laundry, wash and dry a lot of dishes; I pick shirts and socks and underwear from the floor, uncertain if they are clean or dirty; I corral shoes, pair them up with their mates, and return them to the closet where they belong, wondering, always, why my children cannot put anything back where they found it. When I lay my head down to sleep at night the kitchen is clean, the sink empty, everything is in order and in its place, but when I wake up in the morning and switch on the light there are several plastic cups on the counter, crumbs on the counter, and banana peels in the sink.

One kid going off to college, another about to enter eighth grade, their dad has gray in his beard and worries in his head, a case of the blues. Tonight I’ll stand in the doorway and laugh at the moon.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

We’re Back in Iraq…Real Patriots Engage in Torture…Pariah State…Foodies and the Idle Rich…

I guess President Obama couldn’t resist giving the Air Force and the Navy the green light to lay down some bombs in Iraq. When it comes to Iraq, US presidents can’t resist a military option. Obama’s trigger finger has been itching ever since the Islamic State began gobbling up huge swaths of territory, in the process routing Iraqi troops the US spent millions of dollars training and equipping. When the going turned dicey, those troops dropped their weapons, stripped off their uniforms, and scattered.

What does Obama hope to achieve with this latest round of US aggression in Iraq? There are strategic and military calculations to be sure, but with mid-term elections on the horizon domestic political considerations take precedence over those. Obama doesn’t want another Benghazi on his hands.

Late last week President Obama admitted that in the aftermath of 9/11 the US tortured “a few folks,” and the Prez admonished those of us who see torture as an abomination under any circumstances from becoming too sanctimonious and judging too harshly the motives of “patriots” who water-boarded innocent Muslims. Wow! How far the US has fallen. That Americans tortured human beings is proof that Osama Bin Laden won the so-called War on Terror. Bin Laden won precisely because he made the most powerful nation on earth adopt his twisted methods. Whatever moral standing the US once had in the world – albeit standing that was always situational and strategic – is gone now. No matter how you slice it, the US is a brutal, hyper-militarized nation.

Bibi Netanyahu blames Hamas for the civilian casualties in Gaza because Hamas refused to accept a ceasefire proposal put forward early in the one-sided conflict by Israel and Egypt. Bibi fails to mention that Hamas wasn’t consulted about the proposal; Hamas was expected to gratefully accept the terms dictated by its adversarial neighbors, sight unseen. Aside from the US, which will be the last nation on earth to abandon Israel, the world isn’t buying Israel’s horrific behavior or Bibi’s Big Lies. Among them: Hamas is responsible for the latest conflict in Gaza; Israel has a right to defend itself and that’s all it has done for the past month, defend itself; the Palestinians are morally bankrupt and don’t care if their children are murdered; Israel truly cares about Palestinian civilians and does everything in its power to minimize civilian casualties, including notifying people in advance that their homes are soon to be blown to shit; Israel only wants peace.

In an interview on Democracy Now the other day I heard Noam Chomsky say that the reason most people in the world either hate or fear Israel has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with Israel’s policies: the outright theft of Palestinian land and water, the endless settlement building, the inhuman siege of Gaza, the belligerent militarism and utter disrespect for international law, and the blatant racism against non-Jews within Israel. In the eyes of most of the world, all these transgressions make Israel a pariah state.

I was walking along De la Guerra Street the day after the end of Santa Barbara’s annual Fiesta, that venerable five-day homage to the town’s Spanish heritage and major tourist magnet that draws thousands of people each year – who can resist a parade, Flamenco dancing, Mexican food, Mariachi bands, and plenty of drinking? – when I overheard a couple of workmen talking. One of them said, “This was a nice town before it got ruined by all these rich fucks from LA.” To which his partner replied, “Yeah, rich fucks and foodies. What the fuck is a foodie anyway?”

And there you have it.

Saturday, August 02, 2014


I think it was the American writer, James Baldwin, who said something to the effect that the reason he was such a harsh critic of America was because he loved this country so much. I think what Baldwin meant was that he loved what America could become – if the nation came to its senses about race relations and accepted African-Americans as full citizens. If you have read the Fire Next Time you know that Baldwin was a devastating critic of racism.

Since 9/11, when we Americans lost our collective minds, I have had a hard time accepting this country’s behavior on the world stage. We reacted to being attacked by a stateless band of terrorists by invading and occupying Afghanistan, a mess we are still not free of. We then pivoted abruptly and attacked Iraq on totally manufactured pretenses, one of the most monumental blunders this country has ever committed. We enthusiastically traded our civil liberties for “security.” We began kidnapping suspected terrorists and spiriting them away to secret black sites, where we – or our proxies – tortured them. We occupied Iraq and proceeded to create the conditions for a brutal civil war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. We put military forces on the ground in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and other African countries. We killed innocent people with drones.

But one thing we didn’t do was ask why.

George W. Bush sputtered on about how Muslims hated the freedoms enjoyed by people in the West, an argument I never bought for a second because it was obviously absurd. Hate our freedoms? No, what some Muslims hated in 2001 – and hate to this day – is our political, economic and military behavior in their part of the world, primarily our blind support of Israel.

That support is on full display now, in both US government circles and the fawning American media, which has eyes and ears only for how Hamas is terrorizing poor Israelis. When Israel needed more ammunition to kill more Palestinians the US was quick to throw open the doors of its strategic stockpiles in Israel. Take what you need with our compliments, and good hunting. I find this action to be incomprehensible and reprehensible. As it stands, Israel has total military superiority over Hamas and requires no additional assistance from the US. Despite its many pronouncements that it takes every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, the fact is that Israel is targeting and killing innocent civilians, and putting a collective hurt on the people of Gaza.

Why is the US helping Israel commit war crimes? Why are billions of American tax dollars handed to Israel year after year in the form of loans, grants and military assistance? Congress cannot spare a dime to help the city of Detroit, but it has no problem allocating billions for Israel. And do we receive Israel’s cooperation and everlasting gratitude in return for our generosity? No, Israel routinely thumbs its nose at its primary benefactor and continues building settlements in the West Bank, erecting walls to separate Jews and Arabs, passing Draconian laws to solidify its apartheid system, and, of course, periodically bombing Gaza.

Like James Baldwin, I expect better from my country.