Sunday, August 09, 2015

Down in the Gabacho Pit

Tomorrow dawns like a suicide.” U2, Sleep Like a Baby Tonight

Part I
Not having time to piss away, I didn’t watch the first GOP debate, either the Kid’s Table version or the Main Event. The whole thing is contrived and ridiculous and serves only to show how skilled our political schemers are at making a total mockery of democracy. From what I gather after skimming various media sources, bluster-king Donald Trump was the big “winner.” Most of the candidates made at least one patently absurd statement, and none of them talked about important issues like climate change, income inequality, race relations or prison reform. Classic! Just ignore what you don’t want to talk about and poof! it ceases to exist.

Over the next ten months or so Trump and Walker and Rubio and Bush and Paul will pound on one another, shove one another further right, spew all manner of blatantly false and stupid gibberish, while the talking heads on the tube will jabber about poll numbers and campaign coffers, which horse is surging and which is fading. Substance, depth, historical context? Forget it. Facts and coherence are completely optional in this day and age; Fox News requires neither. The candidates will bang on about illegal immigration, border fences, abortion and Planned Parenthood, Iran, their love and fidelity for Israel – all distraction issues. The GOP has spent the past six years obstructing every proposal, idea, or suggestion made by the White House, a stance which has paralyzed the government at a time when people, real people, are in need of help, and the most pressing issue of our time, climate change, requires real action.

Part II
Meanwhile, it’s Fiesta here on the American Riviera, Old Spanish Days, that magic time of year when white people make fools of themselves by donning sombreros and shawls and shouting “Viva La Fiesta!” at every opportunity. For five days the inconvenient fact that the Spaniards were brutal colonizers is ignored. All the local pols ride in the Fiesta parade up State Street (billed as the largest equestrian parade in the nation); they wave, blow kisses, point and smile to people they know, make sure they are seen by potential voters, photographed by the local papers. The best moment of the parade for me was when Nick Welsh, the Angry Poodle columnist at the SB Indy, tossed a cascarone (an egg filled with confetti) that barely missed County Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

De La Guerra plaza is a sea of vendors selling tacos, tortas, burritos, churros, roasted corn, soda, water, funnel cakes and lemonade. Grills hiss and smoke rises into the sky. Across the street at the beer garden – which I am renaming the Gabacho Pit – 20 and 30 something’s look for hook-up opportunities and cough up $6 for a plastic glass of beer. The guy I was standing next to nudged his buddy and said, “Man, all this fine architecture is making me rethink my wedding vows.” Have at it, pal. After one beer, my wife and I became bored and bailed from that scene.

The real Fiesta happens on the east side of town, off Milpas Street, at Our Lady of Guadalupe church, where the food is as authentic as the crowd. You will see pale faces at Guadalupe, but for the most part it’s a Latino crowd, people with deep roots in Santa Barbara, family ties, history. Long lines at the food booths and plenty of private security to make sure matters don’t spiral out of hand, lots of children, elderly people with knowing eyes, trinkets and wares for sale. Guadalupe is the place to be.

If only the presidential campaign were as short as Fiesta.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

One Man's Obsession

“The truth is, we are all caught in a great economic system which is heartless.” Woodrow Wilson

My wife tells me I should spend more time writing about being a father to two teenagers and all the trials that entails. Why, she asks, do you bitch, moan, and whine about politics and social injustice and racism and climate change? What good does it do?

She has a point.

Perhaps the reason I obsess about politics and social injustice rather than my children is because I sense that it is those areas of life that have the potential to limit their choices for happiness. Perhaps it’s because I am amazed at how radically the world has changed in my short time on this planet. And perhaps I obsess because I am afraid.

Unlike most American political leaders, and the entire gaggle of Republican presidential candidates (the Democrats are equally hapless), I believe that climate change is real, happening every minute of every day, gaining momentum that will be irreversible and catastrophic. Sticking our heads in the sand will not work because in a relatively short time the sand is likely to be submerged under several feet of seawater.

The other day I was listening to Democracy Now and Amy Goodman was interviewing a Latin American economist whose name I never caught, but what he said stuck with me. The world’s political leaders, he said, the economic high priests, hedge fund managers, resource extractors and capitalist cheerleaders know we are headed off the cliff. They know. The tragedy is that they keep doing the same stupid things.

Stupid is going to destroy this planet. I can’t, under any circumstances, be described as a fan of the Catholic Church, but the recent missive issued by the Pope summed up our situation very well. Name one other world leader who has made the case for immediate fundamental change – economic, social, political -- with equal vigor? Most nations are marching in neo-liberal lockstep with the United States, denying the evidence and insisting on business as usual. The major network news outlets in this country – profit centers of corporate America -- never allow the words, “climate change,” to be uttered on air, opting instead for the more benign term “extreme weather,” as if the cause of extreme weather is a mystery.

What was it George Orwell said, first they steal the words, then they steal the meaning?

I sense that time is running short, and the stakes mounting. I wonder what it will take to make our leaders and the oligarchs who own them wake up to the fact that business as usual is fatal. The future I see in my head is that of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road; society has collapsed, the sky is permanently gray, the landscape denuded of life, food is scarce, and death is always near at hand.

Yes, I obsess. Can you blame me?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In Praise of Divine Madness

“In totalitarian states, justice, like truth, is irrelevant.” Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion

On the American news networks it’s all Donald Trump, all the time. What outrageous, illogical, insulting or ignorant statement did The Donald make today, and did his latest bit of idiocy equal a bump in the polls? This is all that matters. Trump is fodder for comedians and mainstream media bubbleheads. Trump is a Carnival of One, irresistible to a media machine that thrives on trivia.

Buffoons are nothing new in American politics; we’ve seen them before, and will see them again. What is unusual is to see so many buffoons from one political party at one time. The mediocrity of our presidential candidates – from both parties -- is not reassuring. These hopeless fuckers are the best we can manage? I thought this was the exceptional nation, the world’s beacon of hope…

I like what Bernie Sanders has to say about economic inequality and the urgent need to radically reform a system that makes a few stupendously wealthy and millions abjectly poor, but I am suspicious of Sanders when it comes to foreign policy, particularly the US’s sleeping arrangement with Israel. When this marathon campaign finally ends I have no doubt – none at all – that Sanders will urge his supporters to back Madam Clinton. Bernie will make pious noises about Clinton being the Democrats best hope of retaining the White House and keeping the GOP wolves from conquering all branches of the federal government. I can see the scene now…with passion and conviction Bernie will assure his backers that Clinton will represent their interests, hopes, and dreams...Bernie might even believe this fantasy.

It doesn’t take any imagination to guess whose interests Madam Clinton will represent should she win the White House. Just follow the trail of dollars that leads from Wall Street to her campaign coffers.

Can a nation engaged in endless foreign military conflicts act peacefully at home, or does the mentality of militarism bleed into domestic affairs? I ask myself this question as I struggle to keep track of all the mass shootings in this country. Church, military recruiting office, theater, shopping mall, elementary school, university…have I missed any? The numbers of domestic dead and wounded grow, become staggering, then, ultimately, numbing; the blood is washed away and the victims forgotten. The cycle repeats.

I am reading important but depressing books – The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Wages of Rebellion by Chris Hedges -- heavyweight stuff by remarkable writers and thinkers. Alexander and Hedges connect the dots, from an economy that relentlessly searches out the lowest labor cost wherever in the world it may be found, to the failed “War on Drugs,” launched decades ago by that paragon of law and order, Richard M. Nixon, to foreign wars that never end, and to the wholesale takeover of all branches of our government by corporations.

A couple of examples are useful here. First, Anthem is poised to acquire Cigna, and become an even more dominant player in the health insurance industry. Can you spell M – O – N – O – P – O – L – Y? Anymore, this is all American corporations excel at: getting bigger by buying other companies so they can amass more political power, more influence, and more dominance – all, naturally at the expense of consumers. If you think this sort of thing is beneficial, I urge you to book a flight on an American airline.

Two, the case of former Attorney General Eric Holder, who has returned to his rightful corporate home at Covington & Burlington, a power house DC lobbying firm. This means that the former chief law enforcement officer in our country, who had responsibility for prosecuting white-collar criminals, crooked CEO’s who gamed the system and fleeced millions of average people, will now advocate, advise and if necessary defend those very same companies and people.

The revolving door between government and corporate boardrooms is heavily greased and, for this reason, because of this perverted symbiosis, Chris Hedges believes we are on the expressway to corporate totalitarianism. The powers arrayed against us – and by us I mean ordinary citizens who work for wages and don’t employ lawyers and lobbyists – are insurmountable. And yet, it’s imperative that we wake up and resist, even if we are doomed to fail. A quality found in rebels is a divine madness that makes them willing to take on battles they cannot win, but nonetheless must fight.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Greece at the Feet of the Market God

“Why were the banks, rather than Greece, bailed out in 2010? Why was Greece asked to change its ways and accused of reckless borrowing, rather than the banks accused of reckless lending?” Chris Arnade, The Atlantic

I’ve been thinking about Greece for the last week, trying to wrap my brain around what has happened to that country at the hands of European bankers and their government enforcers. Greece has debts it can’t possibly repay, not now, not five or ten years from now, and the solution imposed by European banking interests is more austerity, more cuts to pensions, and wholesale selloffs of public assets. If it sounds like a familiar solution that’s because it is the standard formula for making sure financial interests – we can call them elites – get their due, no matter what. Similar action was taken in the United States, in the once thriving manufacturing city of Detroit, Michigan.

Why is it that bankers can make reckless loans they know can’t be repaid and suffer no negative consequence when that is exactly what happens? We get moralizing about lazy and slothful Greeks and the moral hazard of cancelling their debts. The lazy and slothful must be taught a lesson no matter how painful the learning is to the young and the elderly, the hungry and the homeless. We, the prudent and productive, reserve the right to dictate how you will set your shaky house in order. The first essential lesson is that you must worship at the altar of the infallible Market God. You will look to the Market God for answers to all the critical questions of life itself, it boils down to measuring, quantifying, and slapping price stickers on all human activity. Got it?

The financial elites have rigged systems all over the globe to socialize losses and privatize gains. This is why the world’s richest people and corporations get richer while more and more people get poorer. It’s a sadistic arrangement that feeds on itself and now pervades every aspect of our lives. It’s the reason medical care in the United States is a privilege, not a right; it’s why major corporations exploit prison labor; it’s why the wealthy and politically-connected legally avoid paying their fair share of taxes; it’s why “democracy” is a fa├žade, a charade we go through periodically to legitimize a system that enslaves and impoverishes us.

The Greek people overwhelmingly rejected austerity. European financial interests ignored the will of the people. Elites ignoring the will of the masses is the story of our time.  

Friday, July 10, 2015

Elvis, Bernie and Hillary

OK, folks, I haven’t written anything for a while now. I was in Las Vegas at a conference for a week. I landed at 9:45 p.m. on Saturday night and the temperature was 104 degrees. The next day it was 111 or something obscene like that, but fortunately I was indoors most of the time, shuttling between the Westgate Hotel and the LV Convention Center. During my stay the main question on my mind concerned water, and specifically the source of Vegas’ water. Lake Mead I was told. I didn’t see a single notice in the Westgate – or the Convention Center for that matter -- about saving water, and I doubt that many of the tourists or conference goers gave water a second thought. Hailing from drought-ravaged California, water is always on my mind.

Given a choice of places to go, I would not choose Vegas. I’m not a Vegas person. I don’t bet on horse races, play cards, roll dice or do anything else to put my limited funds at risk. I walked through the Westgate casino – a dismal place in need of a facelift – past the slot machines and blackjack tables, past the bored-looking dealers and the bronze statue of Elvis -- without a shred of interest. Las Vegas seems like an absurdity to me, an improbable city set in an inhospitable landscape. To me Vegas is a theme park in Hell. Everything in the hotel was overpriced – bottled water cost $4, a bowl of fruit went for $6.50, an awful turkey club for $12, etc. I subsisted on water, trail mix, protein bars, and coffee.

Anyway, I’m back on the Platinum Coast, where water is scarce, homes cost a kings ransom, and the poor are pushed to the margins where they don’t annoy the tourists. It’s high season and State Street is sun-splashed and jammed with visitors, gawkers, Europeans with American dollars in their pockets and motivation to spend.

I had a three-hour layover in Phoenix on my way back to California and, as if that wasn’t bummer enough, the airport sound system piped in a radio interview with Donald Trump. Talk about slow torture. To hear Trump tell it, he deserves to be president of the United States because he has succeeded at everything he has ever set his hand to, plus he has guts and gumption and would negotiate great deals with the Chinese, and he’d drive all the illegal immigrants back to Mexico where they belong, and he’d balance the federal budget, eradicate ISIS and make America great again.

Donald Trump is a dick.

The other morning I heard a report on ABC News about Bernie Sanders and how his presidential campaign is drawing large, enthusiastic crowds compared to the relatively small crowds that Hillary Clinton is drawing on her highly staged campaign stops. Bernie pulls in 9,000 while Hillary draws a paltry 850. Ah, but let’s not forget, the ABC reporter reminded us, that Hillary is light years ahead when it comes to fund raising, which, as we all know, is the only thing that matters in American politics.

Not one word – not one – about why Sanders is drawing large, enthusiastic crowds. What is Sanders saying that resonates with potential voters? ABC News won’t say. Maybe they don’t care – Hillary’s got the dough, the corporate backers, the name and organization, and when it’s all said and done and Hillary has the nomination on ice, Sanders will undoubtedly urge his supporters to put their shoulders behind Hillary.

What does Sanders think about the military budget, Israel settlement building in the West Bank, or the number of civilians in Gaza killed by the IDF in the last five or six years? What does Sanders have to say about Yemen or Syria or US relations with China for that matter? Your guess is as good as mine.

ABC’s lazy reporters and editors should be horsewhipped. Or confined to the Westgate hotel in Vegas for a month. Or forced to listen to Donald Trump’s stump speeches until their ears bleed and they scream for mercy – or death.