Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Easing Up

Just a spot of good news in the gloom that's been engendered by the horrible killings of all those innocent people last week. The LA Times is reporting that the president is going to push for some sort of formalized arrangement to throttle back on federal enforcement of marijuana law, which, as you all know, treats pot like it was heroin. Now that two states have formally legalized possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, it makes no sense, as Obama says, to devote federal resources that could be much better used elsewhere to a war on a virtually harmless recreational and medicinal herb. With any sort of luck, the doors will be opened even more broadly for legalization in more states across the country. About time.

Related articles

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Just When Is It Time?

Savor a second this statement from the Wall Street Journal on the shootings in Connecticut.
As happened after the shootings at Columbine High School, where two students shot 12 other students, there will be calls for the control of guns, notwithstanding the existence of 200 million guns amid a U.S. population of 311 million. Last year in Norway, a nation with a tight gun-control and licensing regime, Anders Breivik methodically gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, on the island of Utoya. [...]
There is time enough for that public debate and all the usual intellectual tensions put in motion by such discussion. But not at this moment. Newtown's massacre is a crushing event. The emotions pouring now from every person in the United States toward those families are the right ones. It is better to let them run for awhile.
There is time enough for . . . public debate and all the usual intellectual tensions put in motion by such discussion? What everybody should do now in the face of this unspeakable evil is what? Let our emotions run! Just be sad all over. Are you f--king kidding me? Can it get more craven than this, this pious concern for straight thinking? What's the WSJ saying? That we cannot think straight right now because we're all too overwrought by having some loon with a semi-automatic weapon blow 20 first-graders away? That this horrifying crime has gotten us too upset to be rational? That the best thing is we all avoid the intellectual tensions that come with debating whether a civilized society should all virtually untrammeled access to weapons designed to kill human beings? Access to purchase guns at gun shows to anybody from sociopaths to psychotics? We're not going to think straight about this is until we've wept enough about this Newtown catastrophe?

Just think about the crass manipulation involved right here. The WSJ knows what history shows: that the further we get from this event, the more likely the NRA and its 2nd Amendment freak show will prevail on our spineless lawmakers to do nothing. The best time to do something about keeping this sort of horror from happening again is right now.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Don't ask me why, but I think this is hilarious. And don't ask me why I'm doing this to you, but it was one of the many discoveries I made at The Useless Website. Have fun.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Exactly My Question

This piece in Slate asks exactly the question I have: If Newtown doesn't change the way Americans treat guns, can anything? Precisely. Just how many innocent people have to be blown away because they have the misfortune to inhabit the same time and space as some asshole blazing away with a gun and a grudge?

Here are some potent paragraphs from the article, with commentary:

I keep reading that we have 300 million guns in this country. “This is a gun country,” Jeffrey Goldberg writes at the Atlantic. “We are saturated with guns.” Actually, I think that’s only half right. We are saturated with 300 million guns but we are not truly a country of guns, because that would means we collectively understood and respected them. I’ve lived in Israel, where nearly everyone serves in the military and knows how to use a gun. That’s a place where it’s possible to imagine an armed defender stopping an assailant like Adam Lanza or James Holmes. In the United States, we’re divided, and we have no universal basic knowledge of weapons. We make it incredibly easy to buy the kind of weapons that shoot and shoot again instantly, but we don’t search people at the doors of schools or malls or movie theaters, and we don’t post armed guards in these places. We have the guns without the safety checks. We call that freedom. We invoke the current Supreme Court’s understanding of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Lower courts strike down bans on carrying concealed weapons, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit did last Tuesday, eliminating an Illinois law.
I, for one, cannot for a moment understand what the impulse is driving people to want to carry a concealed weapon, much less walking around packing in plain sight. And the thought that we have 300 million guns abroad in this land is beyond belief. I mean, what does this say about this country? I don't know this to be a fact, but I would bet that there is no other country on the globe with a ratio of guns to people as high as this. I read somewhere the other day that sometime late in this decade, the number of guns in the country will outnumber the number of people . . . just take a second and think about that. Good God in heaven!
The cost of this definition of freedom is too high: That’s the point advocates for gun control make, over and over again. If this lesson sunk in, maybe we’d take seriously the results in Australia, where a massacre of 35 people led to a 1996 ban on semi-automatic and automatic rifles and shotguns. (Adam Lanza had the first, according to reports.) Australia also started a mandatory buy-back program for the weapons it banned. A drop in the firearm homicide rate and the firearm suicide rate followed, according to some research. There are other, smaller fixes, a by now familiar list: Bring back the ban on assault weapons, which Congress allowed to expire in 2004. Ban the sale of rapid-fire ammunition. Quit letting people buy weapons at gun shows without background checks. That alone could help keep guns out of the hands of some people who are mentally ill and not getting treated.
You're damned right the cost is too high. All of the suggestions made in this paragraph ought to be implemented here, but I'm here to tell you, I'm not at all optimistic that anything is going to happen. The gun lobby is so powerful and our politicians so lily-livered that at best what might pass is some toothless, meaningless gesture so all those jerks can go back to their districts and claim to have addressed the problem. I've railed against the credulousness and ignorance of the American voters for a long time. I'm just hoping that this time, this outrage, these 26 dead people, will have a loud enough wail from their coffins that our gutless legislators will find some courage to do the right thing. . . . But I'm not going to hold my breath.
Those steps would help, and they would also signal the beginning of a cultural shift. With a big push from the gun lobby, in the last generation we’ve become a country in which no social disapproval comes with owning a semi-automatic handgun you’d never hunt with. As Slate’s David Plotz wrote in an email this morning, “If you stigmatize the ownership and use of guns for most recreational uses—and in particular the ownership of handguns and non hunting weapons—there will be less presence of them in the culture, less use of them, gradually fewer and fewer of them in society, less tolerance for people talking about them and playing with them, and as that happens, guns will become less present, less accessible, less embedded in American society and that gun crime will fall accordingly ... It is not a single legislative change or even an overnight cultural change. It is a gradual process.” Right. We need to reckon with the kind of country we actually are—one in which semi-automatic weapons are used far more often for harm than for self-defense—and act accordingly.
A cultural shift, you say? I won't live that long, but please, God let it come for my grandchildren. They should not have to live in world where elementary schools have had to turn themselves into fortresses because crazed killers with guns that can be had easier than a driver's license are stalking innocent targets.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Couldn't Do It Yesterday

My emotions simply would not allow me to write about the horror in Newtown, Connecticut, yesterday. Twenty-six people slaughtered by a 20-year-old with an semi-automatic rifle . . . in an elementary school. Twenty of the innocent victims were first-graders, ages six to seven. Reports say that not a single one of these precious children had fewer than three bullets in them. The shooter wanted to make sure they were dead. He succeeded, and then, as is the norm in such events, he shot himself.

I've got no room for ruminations about the meaning of life and death, overwhelmed as I am by two overpowering emotions. A sadness and grief for the parents of all those little angels and for those dear little children . . . and here just days before Christmas, the happiest time of the year for first-graders. I have wept more than once at the immensity of this loss not just to those people directly affected, but to the whole country. Just think: for the rest of their lives, hundreds of people affected by this tragedy will have no other association for Christmas but this act of murderous violence.

And of course the other emotion is a deep, burning anger that this country in effect sanctions this sort of thing on a regular, recurring basis by its refusal to pass laws restricting the access to guns for crazed individuals like the guy who for whatever reason was driven to blow 20 little first-graders with a rifle and kill 6 grownups trying to protect them. The cowardice and baseness of these charlatans in Congress who dare to think of themselves as leaders, who don't have the balls to stand up the NRA lobby, which I can assure you will be out in force after the initial horror of this event dies down. For the moment, the gun nuts are silent, as are their abettors in Congress. But soon you see and hear them out there in public. They will be out working again against any law, any response by sane people to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people. (Hell, it if were up to me, I'd impose the same kind of restrictions on guns that are common all over the civilized world, but that's a forlorn hope in this insane gun culture in which we live.) I tell you, I think this is as much a crimes almost as murder itself. To deliberately thwart measures that could prevent murder . . . what else would you call it but a crime?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Republicans are the Problem

Hey, I didn't say it. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, who write a column for the Washington Post said it right here. It's immaterial really that I completely agree with what they're saying. And this was back in April they said this . . . long before spectacle of these same guys apparently prepared to commit fiscal suicide rather than recognize what's been screamingly obvious for a long time. To wit: the country needs to have people with a modicum of brains running the government. It is going nowhere and will never go anywhere with the set of moron Republicans on the far right who are setting the agenda for this whole bloody country. What a mess these people have made of things.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


This is from the wonderful blog "Some Assembly Required," which I check just about every day. I have to confess to a fellow blogger's appreciation of how an ace does it. His name is Charles Michaelson, and if you only have one blog to read, I recommend him before even me. Not that I'm all that scintillating. Charles is better at this than I.

Don't for a second think that what the Republicans are saying about the travesty they just pulled off in Michigan, i.e., passage in less than 48 hours of right-to-work legislation in a lame duck session with no public hearings has anything whatever to do with "freedom," as they claim and proclaim unceasingly. No, brothers and sisters, what we're talking about here is plain old-fashioned union busting. This a continuation of the war against organized labor that's been going on since the 1870s, when workers first began organizing in the face of industrial oppression. The hiatus in war that happened in the 1950s and 1960s was just a respite.
“'Right to work' sounds like a law guaranteeing you a job, or at least protecting your job once you’ve got it. ... In fact, it’s the opposite. The main effect of right-to-work laws is to outlaw regulations of employment and allow your boss to fire you without cause.”

The battle over right-to-work in Michigan isn't over right-to-work laws or even over unions. It is another front in the war of the rich against the rest of us and the rest of us are losing. [Emphasis mine.] Its about the shredding of the American Dream and the dissolution of the idea of equality. It is not the last battle we will lose as we retreat to penury and lifetime indebtedness, just one more in a growing tide of defeats for the middle class. Those of you who thought the struggle between capital and labor was a thing of the past have not been paying attention. (Source)
Organized labor is less than 10 percent of the U.S. workforce, hardly a threat to the hegemony of wealth, but they are hated anyway, as a force that can mount credible opposition to the nefarious plans the fat cats have for the rest of us, and anything the fat cats can devise to cripple them will be done. This stuff in Michigan is just raw-knuckled political warfare. 

Heads up, anybody who really cares about freedom and not the propaganda blatherings of the sworn enemies of regular folk and their welfare.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tramp, Tramp, Tramp

Following up on yesterday's lament about the gargantuan amount of our national treasure we're giving to the U.S. military establishment, consider this: The U.S. war department [I have decided I am no longer going to refer to these people as the Department of Defense. When the government was founded in 1789 it was the "war department." It did not become the Dept of Defense till after WWII when the military establishment had its beginnings as the bloated monster it has become.] has roughly 1,000 bases around the globe for our "defense." (This doesn't count the over 4,000 military sites we have here in the U.S.) Just roll that number around in your head for a bit. If you're not saying "what the hell!" and "how much is all of this costing?", then you're not paying attention.

The "What the Hell!" is a natural reaction. The answer to what it's costing us is quite another matter. But there's a guy who's done all that homework in this lengthy article.

The bottom line is approximately $170 billion. Can you imagine all the good we could do here at home with this money we're spending to cover the globe with our war-makers?

That tramp, tramp, tramp you hear is the sound of your money marching away to the great beyond.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What We Do Best

I ran across this piece from a few months back, and in this time of soul-searching about national expenditures--the "cliff" approaches, don't forget--it's good to spend a little time reminding ourselves of where this country's money really goes. It goes to the military machine, brothers and sisters. Have you heard the screeches from the Pentagon that if the country goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff," our national security will be endangered?

How is it that we have gotten to the point in this nation that anyone, anyone with half a brain, would actually believe that taking a few hundred billion away from the military would endanger the country? You have to wonder first of all, who in the world is endangering us? There is no nation state, no group of terrorists, or jihadists anywhere who endanger the security of this country. Really? People believe we're in danger.

Well, they should consider this article. It will take you about 5-6 minutes to read, but I can boil down the salient points for you:
  • "On August 29th, the Associated Press reported that a “team of 200 U.S. Marines began patrolling Guatemala’s western coast this week in an unprecedented operation to beat drug traffickers in the Central America region, a U.S. military spokesman said . . . in the post-2001 era, along with two disastrous wars on the Eurasian mainland, we’ve been regularly sending in the Marines or special operations forces, as well as naval, air, and robotic power.  Such acts are, by now, so ordinary that they are seldom considered worthy of much discussion here, even though no other country acts (or even has the capacity to act) this way.  This is simply what Washington’s National Security Complex does for a living."
  • Are you ready for this? I don't think so. I was floored, but here it is: "the U.S. actually tripled its arms sales last year, hitting a record high, and cornering almost 78% of the global arms trade.  This was reported in late August but, like those 200 Marines in Guatemala, never made onto front pages or into the top TV news stories.  And yet, if arms were drugs (and it’s possible that, in some sense, they are, and that we humans can indeed get addicted to them), then the U.S. has become something close enough to the world's sole dealer.  That should be front-page news, shouldn’t it?" 
Continuing from the piece:
Think of it this way: the United States is alone on the planet, not just in its ability, but in its willingness to use military force in drug wars, religious wars, political wars, conflicts of almost any sort, constantly and on a global scale.  No other group of powers collectively even comes close. It also stands alone as a purveyor of major weapons systems and so as a generator of war.  It is, in a sense, a massive machine for the promotion of war on a global scale.

We have, in other words, what increasingly looks like a monopoly on war.  There have, of course, been warrior societies in the past that committed themselves to a mobilized life of war-making above all else.  What’s unique about the United States is that it isn’t a warrior society.  Quite the opposite.

Washington may be mobilized for permanent war.  Special operations forces may be operating in up to 120 countries.  Drone bases may be proliferating across the planet.  We may be building up forces in the Persian Gulf and “pivoting” to Asia.  Warrior corporations and rent-a-gun mercenary outfits have mobilized on the country’s disparate battlefronts to profit from the increasingly privatized twenty-first-century American version of war.  The American people, however, are demobilized and detached from the wars, interventions, operations, and other military activities done in their name.  As a result, 200 Marines in Guatemala, almost 78% of global weapons sales, drones flying surveillance from Australia -- no one here notices; no one here cares. 

War: it’s what we do the most and attend to the least.  It’s a nasty combination.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Damn Those Cripples Worldwide, I Say!

I just have one question, which I'm afraid I have been asking over and over again for some time: what is wrong with these people? These crackpot ideologues of the Republican party who cannot bring themselves to approve a treaty that in essence makes the U. S. American with disabilities act, which this country passed years ago, the gold standard, the standard for the rest of the world. But our crazy Republicans could not bring themselves to ratify this treaty. 

On July 26, 1990, President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. The bill had passed the House and the Senate with only 34 legislators combined opposing it.
This week, 38 Republican senators voted nay on a U.N. treaty that would extend the ADA to the rest of the world. They included six senators who had voted yay on the original bill in 1990.

The treaty was adopted by the United Nations six years ago and has since been ratified by 126 countries … just not the United States.
Even a last-minute appeal by former Sen. Bob Dole, himself a disabled veteran, as well as every major veterans group and even the Chamber of Commerce, could not sway Senate Republicans. (source)
The arguments they marshal against this humane treaty are basically two. First, it's a lame duck Congress and it shouldn't be voting on important matters. It should wait for the new Congress. That is just so bogus on its face. These people are dealing the fiscal crisis of the ages, are they not? It's just bullshit, like so much else the Republicans deal out.

Second argument is the fear that passing the treaty will enable the United Nations to assume all sorts of powers over the U.S., such as forcing it to do certain things and voiding its laws. This argument is specially designed for lunatics, Tea Party nuts, and court jesters. It doesn't even deserve a response, and I'm embarrassed to have repeated it.

So before the world, we once again advertise what fools we are. It's pathetic. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Most Bizarre Thing

The lady you see below killed herself the day after she made this video. The story is here.

They didn't give it an acronym, sexual arousal disorder, but if they had, it would be SAD. And that's what this whole story is. Very sad. Of all the miseries that flesh is heir to, this is one I have not ever heard of before. Watch the video. This poor lady. Have ever heard of such a thing before?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Go See It

Go see Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's latest movie. It's a treat, and unlike Hollywood's usual performance with history, this time it gets it down pretty close to accurate. I saw it again yesterday for the second time, and to tell the truth, I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie more than once in a theater (DVDs not counting). Here's what I had to say about it to a gaggle of LSU historians I've stayed in contact with over the years when I first saw it, about ten days ago:
This is another of Spielberg's masterpieces. There was so much that was right about the movie, that nit-picking its faults seems somehow unimportant, although we historians are to do it anyway. The film's meticulous attention to the tiniest details is something that characterizes it and can't possibly be appreciated with just one viewing. (I'm definitely going to see this again.) And the excellence in the portrayal of lesser characters in the story such as Alex Stephens, Gideon Welles, and U. S. Grant simply underscores the overall mastery of how he has caught the people, places, and the time in a narrative that rings consistently accurate. If there's been a better depiction of the American political process on screen, I don't know of it. I don't know which guys are going to be competing with Daniel Day-Lewis for the best actor Oscar, but I would not want to be one of them. He will win in a walk. And finally a Lincoln much more likely to reflect what the reality was will displace all those semi-deified cinematic images we've been carrying around in our heads all these years.
There are certainly enough historical inaccuracies for people familiar with the period to wag the familiar scolding finger at Hollywood for not being more careful. But, truth be told, historians are almost always displeased with the way the movies depict a subject they are expert about. So you won't be surprised if I make the following critical observations.

--Events depicted that never happened, some of them hokey, others just invented
  1. Lincoln's conversation with a couple of black soldiers in the beginning of the movie. Never happened. Plus one of them claimed to be from the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry. This unit existed and was black, but never left the Trans-Mississippi theater. 2nd Kansas did fight at battle of Jenkins Ferry in Louisiana in 1864, but absurd that hand-to-hand combat was depicted. Never happened, much less the wholesale slaughter of the Confederates (no prisoners) by the black troops.
  2. Singing of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" after passage of the amendment in the House. Gimme a break.
  3. Vast public celebration in Washington after passage of the amendment. Never happened.
  4. The matters discussed at the Hampton Roads Conference between Lincoln-Seward and the three Confederate commissioners.
 But there were enough excellencies to outweigh the problems by far. I've already mentioned Daniel Day-Lewis's performance. But Sally Fields was excellent, as was Tommy Lee Jones as Thad Stevens, and David Strathairn as William Seward. James Spader did an excellent job as Democrat opponent of the amendment in the House, Ohioan W. N. Bilbo. Everything else from cinematography to score was excellent. The best Spielberg flick to come down the pike for a while.
Here's the IMDb page.
Here's the Rotten Tomato page.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Cliff

Are you as tired as I am of hearing about the "fiscal cliff"? What a wonderful phrase for the lamestream media! Crisis, baby! News is one crisis after another. Gotta keep the clowns glued to their screens to see who's going to be the hero and get us out of this crisis so we can get ready for the next one. (And don't worry, there will be another crisis for you to fret about when whatever one they're onto now plays out. I might observe that genuine crises such as frightful global warming, the absurd gouging the Defense Department is doing on our striated national budget, and the escalating illiteracy of our society . . . well, none of these are a crisis because they )

Have you noticed lately that the best I can seem to gin up for the blog is something that doesn't involve dealing with the news? It's because I'm just seem to get constantly pissed off at the news anymore. And not just accounts of the infuriating posturing and intransigence of the Republican party which has given itself over body and soul to the moron, lunatic right-wing of their aggregation. No, I've gotten fed up with the very way the news is being reported on places like PBS where I watch the news every night. More and more as time goes on, they have taken on trappings of their mindless colleagues.

Hear this: the cliff . . . we're probably going over it. At this point, I cannot discern any inclination on the part of the Republican leadership to cave on their primary mission which is to protect the fat cats and continue to carve up all the lesser beings into smaller more digestible bits. The Republicans have been so twisted by their twisted ideology they no longer understand how to function. Up to now, the president and his party have shown admirable spunk in resisting all the bluster emanating from the likes clowns such as Mitch McConnell and his counterpart jester in the House John Boehner. We shall see what we shall see, but my guess is we won't see it till after the new year begins. Unfortunately we are going to have to hear about it ad nauseum until it's time to move on to the next crisis.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Get Acclimatized

This is a pretty funny, quintessentially British bit of humor. Enjoy.