Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Fire This Time

Grand juries return indictments, in most locales, anyway. One exception is St. Louis County, Missouri. Darren Wilson is free, Michael Brown is dead, and justice has not been served.  

White police officers routinely use deadly force against black citizens, and are rarely, if ever, punished under the law; it simply doesn’t happen. The word of the officer, or officers, is always deemed to hold more weight than that of the victims or eyewitnesses. Every time a white-on-black shooting happens our political, civic and media leaders tell us to remain calm, be patient, allow the legal system to work.

And each time, the system protects the status quo.

This nation cannot escape the shackles of its racist past. Yes, of course, progress has been made, but the wound of our racist history lives near the surface, ready to start bleeding when the bandage is next ripped off. The state -- local and federal -- has declared war, it seems, on its black citizens, arresting them at an astounding rate, incarcerating them by the drove, and employing deadly force against them at the slightest provocation. This while enacting a neo-liberal agenda that denudes public sector spending, exports jobs to low wage countries, privatizes schools, medical care, housing, and other essentials of life.

Against the backdrop of the Ferguson travesty, the nation goes about its business, the major media merrily promoting Black Friday sales at Wal-Mart and Macy’s and Amazon. My e-mail inbox is full of offers, buy now, save big, don’t miss out on these awesome deals! 

Where do I order justice for Michael Brown, his family, his friends, his neighbors?

There will be no Black Friday extravaganza for Michael Brown, no holiday season that now stretches from Halloween to New Year’s Eve, no festive parties, family gatherings, church services, or Christmas dinner.

Darren Wilson, the unindicted officer, his conscience apparently clear, may experience any number of these events.

Is it me or is the United States a perverse, bizarre nation? There are certain areas in which we are the world’s undisputed leader: arms sales, military weaponry, income inequality, incarceration -- and let’s not forget the high marks we score when it comes to child poverty and homelessness.

We excel at spectacle; we’ve made the annual Super Bowl a worldwide must-see event; we hold concerts with A-list entertainment stars whenever a natural disaster strikes or to honor our fallen or maimed warriors. And when it comes to turning holidays into reasons for shopping, no nation is in our league -- we sit alone at the head of the table.

And what we do with money and politics is breathtaking; we’ve taken influence peddling to an entirely different level.

The fire next time, the fire next time, the fire this time.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dateline Ferguson: Justice on Hold for Another Day

Waiting for the grand jury decision out of Ferguson, Missouri. Listening to KPFK radio, a good leftist station.

The question at hand is whether or not the grand jury will indict Darren Wilson for shooting and killing an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown.

The Governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, says the authorities are on hand to protect property, people and speech.

Interesting, but hardly surprising, that the governor didn’t mention justice. Justice is rarely at issue when a white police officer kills a black man.

Justice wasn’t an issue in the days of slavery, or in the era of Jim Crow, and it sure as hell isn’t an issue in the age of Rodney King, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Treyvon Martin and Michael Brown.

If recent history is a guide, the smart money says Darren Wilson will not be indicted.

The grand jury will spout the standard excuses for why a white policeman should be exonerated: the white officer feared for his life, the black kid was dangerous even if unarmed, the facts are murky and defy consensus. 
The major American news media is fixated on the expected protests that will follow the announcement; will those protests turn violent? A mob of angry black people is every white person’s nightmare. Detroit. Newark. Watts. Remember those long hot summers in the 1960’s, when the veneer of racial progress and harmony exploded and the authorities deployed the National Guard to restore order?

Justice may wither and die, but property must be protected.   

The militarized Ferguson police force is at the ready, on high alert, surplus Pentagon weaponry locked and loaded.

As the daylight fades here on the west coast, I’m thinking of James Baldwin, of Amiri Baraka, of Langston Hughes, of Angela Davis and wondering how much longer American racism will endure.

Or to pose the question another way: when will black lives be worth the same as white lives?

Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown six times. How will the chief of police and the prosecutor justify this fact? Is any level of force excessive when it is directed against black people?

Switching now to a live feed on the New York Times website. No action yet, just people standing around, fiddling with cameras or iPhones.

The prosecutor reads a long statement, detailing how the grand jury went about its monumental task of separating fact from fiction, of real evidence from speculation. The credibility of many witnesses or alleged witnesses -- black folk from the neighborhood presumably -- was deemed to be questionable or contradictory.

Michael Brown was shot and killed for the petty theft of a package or two of cigars.

No indictment, no surprise. This is America and we’ve seen this film many times before.

Justice will have to wait for another day.   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Shocking Absence of Shame

Cornel West says – and it’s hard to disagree with the good professor -- that this is the age of cowardice and cupidity in America. Think of what we have become in the years since Ronnie Reagan announced that it was morning in America.

We wage war on the poor and less fortunate, engage in wars abroad without congressional approval, spy on our own citizens, torture, allow white men to murder black men with impunity, and defile the environment in the name of profit.

The monstrous Keystone XL pipeline will be built, eventually, and it will carry some of the dirtiest oil known to man across the heart of America and down to the Gulf, and sooner or later the pipeline will spring a leak and create a disaster. By that time, the politicians who voted in favor of Keystone will be long gone, retired in luxury, with a pension and health care guaranteed by taxpayers, or sitting fat and happy in a corporate suite.

We talk a lot of shit in this once great nation about our military prowess and the power of our economy, but what we rarely talk about anymore – because we can’t without totally exposing our hypocrisy – are notions of fairness and justice, of equity and community. Forget the idea of being judged by the content of your character – no, man, the only measure that matters is the content of your bank account, your stock portfolio, your real estate holdings…ideals are for suckers, fools, and limp wristed liberals.

Any person with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a brain to think will stand dumbstruck in this cruel America; despair falls like a heavy blackout curtain.

A dozen years of continuous war and what is the message from our civilian and military leaders: that more war is needed; they can’t wait to drop more ordnance on the Middle East. It’s good business for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and General Dynamics.

Look at the stock market, many of the same people say, not your hourly wage or the grand total of your debts; the market is up and that can only mean that the economy is sound.

Ignore the man behind the velvet curtain: focus on the lights and the fire and the smoke and the noise. How many times will we fall prey to the masters of distraction, believe them when they insist that up is down and white is black and that the American Dream is alive and well – and available to all – when in fact the Dream is DOA.

How much of this madness is enough?

Children should not go hungry in America, but they do, because we let them; children should not be homeless in America, but too many are. We have money for wars without end and tax breaks for people richer than Midas, but we can’t afford to feed and house children or pay their parents a decent wage.

Our lack of shame is as astounding as our hubris.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Feed the Beast

“Efficient democracy can only mean democracy castrated.” John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards

Another Veteran’s Day and the nation is still at war with a tactic. The US is back in Iraq, purportedly to train Iraqi soldiers so they can defend their country against the Islamic State. Train? Didn’t we spend half a dozen years and billions of dollars supplying and training Iraqi troops, only to see those troops drop their weapons and gear and flee at the first sign of combat? Who’s fooling whom here?

On this Veterans Day, like all the ones that preceded it since 9/11, everyone who has served in the military will be referred to as a “hero.” The word hero is now so overused that it has lost all currency. If every service member is a hero, none can be. I suppose a soldier can act heroically in an illegitimate conflict, a conflict based on lies and misinformation and geopolitical calculation, it’s possible. But please, don’t tell me that you fight to protect my freedom, that’s BS.

We are told that staunch allies like Somalia, Iceland, and Taiwan support the latest American foray into the Iraq civil war. I’m certain that Somalia -- well functioning and prosperous nation that it is -- is making a significant contribution to the cause, just as I’m sure that President Obama can explain the role that Taiwan is playing in the fight to contain the Islamic State…

I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating: if the US had an ongoing draft, these wars of choice would end because the American public wouldn’t stand for it. But because the War on a Tactic is largely fought out of sight, off the books, by mercenary corporations and remote control, the public can’t see the costs or even remember that we have been at war, somewhere, continuously, for more than a dozen years.

And we are no closer to winning.

The US is the bull in the china shop, blundering here and there, blinded by its own righteousness, deaf to the futility of its efforts. We keep doing the same things and expecting a different end result. When we toppled Saddam Hussein the genie popped out of the bottle, and now we can’t figure out a way to stuff it back inside. Syria is a wreck; Afghanistan is a mess; no end in sight, no way to back out of this folly of perpetual war.

This isn’t a heroic age, it’s a cowardly one, full of pipsqueak players, charlatans, idiots, fools, and power obsessed assholes. Perpetual war is a terrific moneymaker for American arms dealers and the security-intelligence complex, so it must be kept going.

The beast must be fed, even if it means starving the people of what they need.

No, this isn’t a heroic age at all. We search in vain for a white knight or a gilded lily; we dick around in the Middle East at our peril; we kill one “militant” and ten more rise up to take his place.

And so it goes.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Black Tuesday

No surprise that the Democrats got their collective ass kicked last Tuesday. It’s damn hard to win a midterm election when the small percentage of the electorate that bothers to vote has no idea what you stand for. Most Democrats ran away from President Obama, with predictable results. The Party’s big strategic thinkers will now misread the outcome and determine that the only way to be competitive with the GOP is to slide further to the right, which is why voters have no idea who Democrats are in the first place.

Democrats are simply lousy storytellers. They cannot frame issues the way Republicans can, and therefore, time and again the Democrats fail to move voters. Republicans talk about “freedom” and “security” and “personal responsibility,” and all manner of “morning in America,” Ronald Reagan claptrap, and voters in red states lap it up like starving kittens.

Of course, millions of dollars in dark campaign money from the likes of the Koch brothers doesn’t hurt.

I expected the Democrats to take a beating. Stand for nothing and you will lose everything. And now? Well, we face two long years of a Republican-controlled congress. The corporate toadies and flat out nutcases in that diseased body will dump their wish list on the steps of the capitol and dance around like drunken sailors on an extended shore leave. The Keystone XL pipeline and Trans Pacific Partnership, tax cuts for corporations, attacks on the Affordable Care Act and Social Security, more privatization of essential services, total disregard for the threats posed by climate change – the panoply of Republican wet dreams. It’s going to be ugly and amusing at the same time.

If Obama had a spine he could at least dictate the agenda for the next two years, but when push comes to shove, Obama will support the GOP wish list as if it were of his own creation.

Bipartisanship usually means somebody’s getting sold out.  

My country has become cold and callous, mean-spirited and stupid. We criminalize the poor, herd our citizens of color into for-profit prisons, abandon inner city kids to a lifetime of dead-end jobs, turn working people into minimum wage slaves, burden college students with debt, and begrudge senior citizens a dignified retirement.

Black Tuesday, brought to you by the Democratic Party.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Trapped Between Bad and Worse

Like most Americans, I’ve ignored the midterm elections, the ritual bashing of the party in power. As always, voters are faced with a choice between bad and worse. I have been receiving a steady stream of hysterical e-mails from Democrats and Progressive organizations, asking for money for this or that candidate or issue that is in danger of falling to the right wing money machine. None of these messages are read; I refuse to open my wallet for any candidate of any party. Let’s face it, the two political parties in this country are part of an utterly corrupt, broken system; both are held captive by corporate interests. If nothing else, Republicans are predictable – they adhere to rigid free market ideology and atavistic social policies.

I don’t know what Democrats stand for. Ever since Bill Clinton, Democrats behave like Republicans, sucking at the same corporate teats, and pushing policy prescriptions that favor the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and poor. Barack Obama is a staunch defender of the status quo. Even when all his political stars were aligned in 2008 and 2009, Obama pushed a tame, timid agenda, and retreated at the first sign of Republican pressure. With the notable exception of Elizabeth Warren, Democrats can’t articulate who they are with any force, conviction or emotion, and for this reason, they will most likely lose control of the Senate and face an even wider Republican majority in the House. 

There are a couple of ballot measures at the local level that are interesting. Measure P would limit hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in Santa Barbara County. Big oil has poured gobs of money into defeating this measure, raising the specter of lost jobs and tax revenue. Oh my! The horror! Any measure that aims to screw with Big Oil can’t be all bad, so even though P isn’t perfect, I’ll vote for it. Measure S would raise $288 million in bonds for upgrades at Santa Barbara City College, our local academic jewel that now draws students from all over the world, to the detriment of local students and the rental housing market. I understand why City College markets itself all over the globe – tuition dollars – but until the College is committed to making classes and programs accessible to students from SB, first and foremost, I won’t vote for its bond measure.

I was tempted to sit out this year’s elections, but on Tuesday I’ll walk over to the junior high school and cast my ballot to legitimize the political class. My choices are limited by party rules that favor known quantities over fresh faces, by a media machine that works hand-in-hand for the powers-that-be, and by a perverse campaign finance system.

My choice is between bad and worse.