Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Still Here

Last day of the month. Good day to turn over a new leaf. (Thank you, Paul--you know who you are.) Lest you think I've come down with some crippling illness or left the country or something other that's drastic, be at ease. I've just been unbelievably slothful about writing and can offer no viable excuse. But each day the little voice in my head--perphaps that imaginary crazy person up there--keeps telling me that I'm neglecting my duty. This is a damn curse actually, and I think I got it from my father who was duty, duty, duty about everything. Not that being dutiful isn't a good thing, maybe even a virtue, but is it really necessary to apply the concept to things you do voluntarily, such as blog or read? Alas, I do. So buck up, my little small gaggle of regular readers, if you're still here. I'm back on the job, and I'll be regaling you with my idiosyncratic takes on this folly we call living in the dying empire.

In the meantime, here's a video by a band I've just recently discovered. Enjoy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Things Happen Ridiculously Fast

In my first glance at the news today, to my astonishment, the suspected terrorists in the Boston Marathon explosions have been identified as two brothers recently here from Chechnya. Pictures of them went out worldwide yesterday. And today already one of has been killed by police and the other is on the loose still but there's a gargantuan manhunt in progress. A cop's been killed, a security guard at M.I.T. who apparently was just sitting in his cruiser. This second guy doesn't have a chance of getting away. I hope they take him alive, but my guess is they won't. It would be helpful to find out what the motive for the bombing was. Both these guys in their mid-20s.

Update I: Turns out these guys were not recently from Chechnya, but have been living in this country for a number of years. They caught the second guy, alive. He's all shot up from the first encounter with the cops when his brother was killed. I cannot believe that the city of Boston was literally shut down for the entire day. Somebody told me it cost them over $600 million to do that. Wonder if it's worth it?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Bombed

We're never going to hear the end of these stories: two bombs detonated today right near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Considerable carnage since the bombs were placed among the spectators lining the route of the runners. Apparently two people have been killed and scores wounded. At this point nobody knows anything about who did this or why. Pretty much what Obama said in his brief statement about the incident tonight. He did not call it "terrorism," which is probably a good thing. I'm conjuring up visions of some poor Muslim family somewhere in the U.S. trying to make a living in perhaps a little grocery store having their business burned, or their son beat up, by some crazed yahoo who will take the news of this outrage in Boston as a reason to hurt a Muslim. Isn't it sad that just as I've come to expect as "almost normal" periodic terrorist attacks inside the U.S., I've also come to expect as "completely normal" persecution of minorities in this country as a matter of course?

Update I: Casualties have been upped. There are now three dead and over 150 wounded, some very seriously, as in amputations necessary.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Imperial Mentality

Whenever Noam Chomsky speaks, I listen. He is one of my heroes. For decades he has spoken out against the madness that is US foreign policy. His spoken just as eloquently in behalf of the poor, the displaced, the miserable, the cheated, the victims of concentrated wealth and power that rule the globe. He reminded me in a recent article, what wonderful things are being done by our close ally the state of Israel in its neighborhood. His reflections were brought on by recent visit to Gaza, that hellhole for Palestinians situated between Israel, the sea, and Egypt, all hostile neighbors. Chomsky talks about the settled Israeli policy to repress the people in the Gaza Strip: "humiliation, degradation, and torture." It's an integral part, he argues, of the conqueror mindset. And without saying so directly--as he has in other places--he would surely argue that the U.S. has it too.
The need to humiliate those who raise their heads is an ineradicable element of the imperial mentality.

In the case of Israel-Palestine, there has long been a near-unanimous international consensus on a diplomatic settlement, blocked by the United States for 35 years, with tacit European acceptance. 

Contempt for the worthless victims is no small part of the barrier to achieving a settlement with at least a modicum of justice and respect for human dignity and rights. It's not beyond imagination that the barrier can be overcome by dedicated work, as has been done elsewhere. 

Unless the powerful are capable of learning to respect the dignity of the victims, impassable barriers will remain, and the world will be doomed to violence, cruelty and bitter suffering.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lest We Forget

With all the folderol lately on the anniversary of the Iraq war, the beginning of the Iraq war, I suppose, we tend to forget that distant time when this country launched itself into a 10 year conflict based on a tissue of lies. All it takes to divert the American people from thinking, remembering, or reflecting is some kind of circus, the greatest of which of course is a shooting war pitting American "heroes" against the boogie man of the hour, in this case Saddam Hussein and his crew of devils in Iraq. Mega sports events are always good for this too. in the country is generously supplied with both.

But Chris Hedges reminds us in a recent article in truthdig. He calls it "The Treason of the Intellectuals." Here's what he had to say:
The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as Bill Keller, Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.
He goes on to say that all these worthies not only acted as cheerleaders for the war, but went out of their way to ridicule and discredit those of us – and happily I include myself – who opposed the accursed war from the very beginning. Just peruse that list of above. Many shining lights of the left (and some centrists)! And from this vantage point, you really have to wonder about these people. Al Franken? Chuck Schumer? Hedges argues that all of them were more concerned with their political fortunes then with, and I don't think it's an overstatement in this case to say: "virtue." The virtue of standing up for what is right, moral, and true.

Read the piece. Hedges is eloquent in his outrage.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Drug War: A Lotta Smoke

One of my best friends in the whole world, a guy I could count on to help me in just about any situation I can ever get into, one of the kindest and most caring individual it's ever been my honor to know, retired from the DEA not too long ago. I told him one time, "Bob, you're the only drug agent I've ever hugged." He told me one time, and I'll never forget it, that he loved my sons – and I know he does – but that he wouldn't hesitate to bust them for smoking pot. (I don't know if I ever really believed that then. I certainly don't believe it now.) Well, it appears that pretty soon nobody is going get busted for growing, having, or smoking pot. Already in two states so-called recreational marijuana is legal, and we're now seeing public opinion shift to the point that it's easy to see that in a few years marijuana will probably be decriminalized if not outright legalized over most of the country.

 Here's the gist of it:
[N]ew polling data from the Pew Research Center reveals that a federal policy following the will of the people would loosen up pot laws all over the country. According to Pew, Americans not only want pot legal, but believe marijuana is more medically beneficial, and less potentially dangerous or morally wrong, than the federal government suggests.   According to the Pew Research Center’s data, a historic number of  Americans -- a majority of 52% --  now support marijuana legalization, and even more -- 60% of Americans -- say the federal government should not intervene in state-sanctioned marijuana laws.  While younger Americans (65% of Millenials and 54% of Generation Xers) are the most likely to support marijuana legalization, Baby Boomers (50%) and the older Silent Generation (32%) are increasingly favoring marijuana legalization, too. (Story here.)
It would appear that the handwriting is on the wall for prosecution of people over pot. An astonishing number of people who are jamming our jails right now are in there on drug charges, and the majority of the drug charges involve marijuana. It's ridiculous. Some of us and have known for literally years that smoking pot is not harmful, far less harmful than legal alcohol, plus it has undoubted medicinal benefits as well. (Naturally, like anything else human beings can get their hands on, marijuana can be abused, and it should not be available to children. But it's obvious that a great many of the American people are actually informed about this issue – that somewhat of a surprise, that they should be informed about any issue – and you can bet that a great many of them have experience with the drug. So they know whereof they speak. They just aren't buying the dishonest scare propaganda from the anti-drug establishment anymore.

I don't think my friend Bob is ever going to change his mind about this. He's just too enculturated. But the world is changing around both of us. It's just something he will have to get used to. Won't make me love him one whit less, but I doubt he'll ever smoke a joint with me once it ain't against the law any more--although I do have to wonder just how long it will ever take the troglodytes in this state to wake up. I might not live that long.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Quittin' Costs an Arm and a Leg

 Well, the war in Afghanistan has probably caused hundreds, if not thousands, of real arms and legs. It is a war that, like many of our wars lately, seems interminable. The president has set 2014 is a time when we're going to withdraw. Of course that doesn't mean that no Americans will be left there. What it means is it will have some sort of "caretaker" force in place for God knows how many more years. So the war is still to be costing the American taxpayers out into the foreseeable future. Just like the war in Korea, which ended in an armistice in 1953. We still have thousands of troops over there at the cost of again, God knows how much.

But that just brings me to the point: getting out of Afghanistan is going to cost the taxpayers of the United States $5 billion just to move the tons and tons of equipment and vehicles out of there. (Story here.) At least $5 billion. Could be more. And of course we are going to leave billions of dollars worth of gear and equipment for the Afghan army to use. It just boggles my mind: we don't seem to have any trouble finding money for this kind of stuff, a war that's gone on for 12 years and that's cost us literally trillions of dollars. But there are 50 million people in this country who are "food challenged." A polite way of saying they don't have enough to eat. I just saw film yesterday with this shocking statistic: during their lifetime, one out of every two children in the United States will be hungry.

Think about this. We're getting ready – you better believe it – to fight another war, or two. Out there on the horizon we have North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Do you really think we're not going to get involved in one or several of these places?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

No Bad Dogs, Just Bad Sniffs

Several years ago there was this Englishwoman – I forget her name – who wrote a book, it was probably one of many, about dogs. It was called No Bad Dogs. She was really quite an amazing person: she would approach any dog even dogs with a reputation for being vicious, and these dogs would accept her like one of the family. None of them ever attacked her or was anything but nice to her. It was really quite an amazing thing to see. And as a dog lover, I've often had that phrase "no bad dogs" reverberate in my head whenever I'm around a dog who's skittish or nervous or even threatening. I often had this thought about dogs when I see the K-9 corps dogs, cop dogs, dogs who've been trained to either attack people on command or sniff out drugs, explosives, etc. Not that these jobs are necessary sometimes, although I do question attack dogs almost on principle, because somehow it seems unfair to the canines to put them to such uses. Because basically it goes against the nature of the dog, its basic nature, to do things harmful to human beings. Dogs are at their core devoted to people. Of all the animals on earth, their lives are the most closely integrated with ours.

Anyway, all this just leads up to a satisfying report on the Supreme Court's decision in Florida v. Jardines, an opinion was handed down recently. "In an opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Court affirmed the Florida Supreme Court. The Court held a dog sniff at the front door of the house where the police suspected drugs were being grown constitutes a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment." And it was therefore illegal without a warrant.  In essence, they found that the police would be trespassing in this case.

You got to get a picture here. The cops, or the DEA guys, with their dogs just come up on your porch– without a warrant – and let them have a sniff around. If the dogs alert, they bust in your door and collar you for those pot plants or your stash. (Or they say "whoops" because I can't find anything. either way, they bust into your house and search it without the authority to do so.) The Supreme Court said that's a no-no. You can read more about the Court's reasoning here. But it should be noted that it was a 5-4 decision, in the most unlikeliest of justices was the swing vote here. So the American people came within an ace of seeing their civil liberties erode even more.

But never fear: that will happen again soon enough.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


My son Ben is going to graduate from the law school at the University of Florida in a few weeks. I'm really quite proud of him, as I am of all my kids. He's done really well in school, and in a way following the late bloomer path his father did, spending some years out in the world before deciding what he wants to do with his life. And now he's about to launch the rest of his life as an attorney. Already has a job at a good firm. Way to go, son!

I've often thought and others have occasionally observed that I might've been a lawyer. I'm not unacquainted with law school. I did fairly well on the JSAT years ago and actually began law school in the fall semester of 1965.That's a long time ago. I was 22 years old at the time and had yet to grow a brain. But I did have the presence of mind to know I did not want to be shoveled into the maw that was the Vietnam war, an absurd Cold War exercise in "stopping Communist aggression" that cost over 58,000 American guys their lives. I wanted no part of that damn war, so I enrolled in law school at LSU. Long story short: I attended about six weeks . . . and was crushingly bored. The only good things that happened to me that semester were: I met my darling wife Susan in the Catholic Newman Center next to the law school (where I used to go to nap between classes) and I kept my ass out of Vietnam. It was all perfectly above board. Those were back in the days of the draft, and you could be deferred if you were a full-time student. (It was an excellent way, it might be observed, to make sure that only the poor and disadvantaged of the nation did most of the dying for the rest of us. The kids who could not afford college were the guys who got drafted.)

I didn't mean to drag this on and on. Suffice to say, I eventually had to spend four years in the Air Force, but I never got sent to Vietnam. And I never became a lawyer. I became a historian instead when, after growing a brain, I went to grad school and got a Ph.D. in American history thereby assuming the mantle of pointy-headed intellectual, which I leave it to others to determine whether it's an apt description or not. I'm not for a moment insinuating that my son Ben did not grow a brain long before his old man did. Indeed, he had a firm business foundation and was doing well before he departed for law school. I can only wonder what might have been had I stuck with the law, which, by the way, has always remained interesting to me, if you're talking about constitutional law, philosophy of law, stuff like that. But not the day-to-day grind of it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Man, We're Doin' Great, Aren't We?

It's April Fool's Day today. Somehow this post seems entirely appropriate for all of those millions of fools in this country who think we have anything that resembles justice and equality in this society. Here in its entirety, another little insight (from Salon a few days ago) into just how the richest people in this country since the beginning of Reaganomics have stuck it to the rest of us hard and repeatedly while laughing all the way to the Cayman Islands.
Pulitzer Prize-winner David Cay Johnston has highlighted yet more statistics that illuminate the spike in income inequality in the U.S. in recent decades. Flagging Johnston’s analysis, HuffPo noted Monday, “Incomes for the bottom 90 percent of Americans only grew by $59 on average between 1966 and 2011 (when you adjust those incomes for inflation)… During the same period, the average income for the top 10 percent of Americans rose by $116,071.” 
Johnston offered a visual analogy for the disparity in a column for Tax Analysts last month:
The vast majority averaged a mere $59 more in 2011 than in 1966. For the top 10 percent, by the same measures, average income rose by $116,071 to $254,864, an increase of 84 percent over 1966. 
Plot those numbers on a chart, with one inch for $59, and the top 10 percent’s line would extend more than 163 feet. 
Now compare the vast majority’s $59 with the top 1 percent, and that line extends for 884 feet. The top 1 percent of the top 1 percent, whose 2011 average income of $23.7 million was $18.4 million more per taxpayer than in 1966, would require a line nearly five miles long.
We're doing just great in the land of the free, aren't we?