Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A "pledge" to do more of the same--nothing that will help the people who most hurt

Perpetual candidate Dino Rossi is the state of Washington’s version of Jason and Michael Myers: the uninvited guest who just won’t stay prone. This non-descript Republican has most recently failed at two runs for the governorship, and is now attempting to unseat Patty Murray as U.S. Senator. You have to hand it to him, though: He’s got the current Republican simple-minded talking points down pat on taxes, budget deficits, Wall Street bailouts, financial regulation and health care reform. Of course he hasn’t given us any details on exactly what he is going to cut in order to achieve “balance,” particularly since the only thing he seems to support is the continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. He might tell us that he supports cutting student loan programs, Medicare and Medicaid, and privatizing Social Security, which he has intimated in the past. But Rossi knows that these are non-starters with most voters. So what does he support that doesn’t make things worse instead of better? Not much, really. He will merely become, if elected, yet another useless Republican cog in the machine. He doesn’t really care about you or your problems.

In the meantime, Rossi’s current attack ads on Murray are quite amusing if you take the time to think about them. The ads seem to blame Murray almost exclusively for every ill that has befallen the country in the past 18 years, which coincidentally equates to Murray’s three terms in office. Naturally, Rossi’s ad fails to mention that Murray wasn’t in a position to destroy the country for at least 14 of those years; Congressional Republicans were busy doing that themselves.

This is part and parcel with the national “pledge”—it can hardly be called a “plan”—hastily concocted by the Congressional Republicans, basically a compendium of Fox News and radio show slogans. The Huffington Post recently included a video in which Republicans lawmakers are heard disseminating the precise same wording in their various speeches; it is clear that there is no independent thinking involved. The pledge pamphlet includes a graph on job growth (and loss) since 2003—which besides conveniently leaving out the first two years of the Bush administration when job losses were rampant, depicts an impossibly sharp drop in job growth at the very moment the Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006. But then again, what are facts to Republicans and the Tea Party people? What else—um, create jobs? How, more tax cuts? Didn’t they try that in 2001 and 2003 and it all it gave us what spiraling budget deficits and anemic job growth in real terms? What else? Add a provision that all federal programs “sunset.” The health care and financial reform bill are obvious targets, but it is not clear if Social Security and Medicare are part of this Republican scheme to create a permanent poverty class—and blame the Democrats for creating it. The Republicans want to end TARP, justifying it by playing the "class war" card themselves; they ignore the fact that slow or no job creation after the 1990-91 and 2001-2002 recessions were largely blamed on financial market weakness. They also want a provision that deems a bill “constitutional” before it comes to the floor. They want any regulation that costs the economy $100 million or more to be approved by Congress. Who is to make these determinations, and how? And once more, the Republicans “pledge” to reduce the federal deficit, something for which they have displayed extreme incompetence in doing since the Reagan administration.

The “pledge” has been rightly attacked for its lack of detail, which is about the only thing that Republicans have shown a “competency” for; cutting taxes, deregulation and starting unnecessary wars don’t require much thinking. Visionary thinking is a non-starter; The Republican “plan” even rejects continued investigations into alternative energy. What did Obi Wan Kenobi say? “Who’s the bigger fool—the fool or the fool who follows him?” We shall see come November.

More anti-tax nonsense

The “anti-tax” revolt in the state of Washington has taken another mendacious twist with Initiative 1082, which claims to save tax payers’ money by privatizing worker’s compensation. Not only will this save money, we are told, but it will “save our jobs.” The foolish Seattle Times’ editorial supporting the initiative noted that this is a business-supported measure, so it would be wise to question their motives. Once more we are provided with propaganda meant to fool the voters into thinking that this is about “jobs” and not more business profiteering on the backs of the disabled. That workers will no longer pay the workers comp tax has been dangled out there as a lure, but which means that businesses that do pass on the cost to workers in the past will see an immediate increase in what they pay. Supporters of the initiative claim that competition will “eventually” lower rates, but this has mainly been true in other states in part due to collusion between businesses and insurers to the detriment of workers. In Washington, the problem is that it is too easy to get compensation; in other states with privatization, the problem is that it is too hard.

In order for privatization to “save” money, it would have to weave around a mishmash that takes into account wages, level of potential workplace injuries, confused jurisdictional and regulatory control and the various insurers own corporate culture, all of which 1077 is purposely vague about. The current state system has high costs, and may not be entirely solvent, but is less susceptible to the principle sin of privatization: the profit motive. Supporters of the initiative claim that that there will still be some state oversight of private insurers, and that there will be some “guarantee” that the same level of coverage will be maintained; but like private insurers in the health care industry, the profit motive will inevitably lead to cherry-picking the "best" and charging the rest higher premiums, as well as providing lesser benefits and more frequent denials of coverage. AIG, a major provider of private workers’ comp, has for years been the subject of investigations for scandalous activity and fraud in workers’ compensation. Conversely, some insured businesses have been accused of purposely under-reporting injuries on the job, in order to pay lower premiums. That some insurers actually pay “dividends” to businesses for money saved on reduced claims, suggesting a high level of claims denials.

Meanwhile, Initiative 1077 seeks to end sales taxes on candy, soda, bottled water and other processed junk “food.” Frankly, bottled water is is one of the biggest consumer scams going, and people who waste money on it deserve to pay taxes on it. The tax hardly hurts the megabusineses that deal in junk, but it is the “principle” involved for the anti-tax crowd. What should be the real point of contention is the sales tax’s effect on the principle consumer of junk—the low-income consumer who is more likely to spender a greater proportion of their income on it. Why do people buy so much “junk?” Not necessarily because its cheap; a full “meal” at McDonald’s is not “cheaper” than fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meat in the grocery store. “Cheap” was 30 years ago; what passes for a “king-size” candy bar today cost ten cents, and you could buy a handful of candy for a few pennies. Today, a candy bar barely larger than a bite-sized nibblet in a Halloween bag costs a dollar.

People like “junk” because it’s “processed,” meaning that it can be consumed on the run. There is also the psychological aspect; in conditions where there is little joy, junk food provides some temporary “enjoyment.” Junk food also tends to be “fulfilling”—as in filling the stomach quickly and absorbing whatever “demand” that the stomach is making at the time. But aside from the not likely chance that the recently-passed tax will actually convince junkies from weaning themselves off their addictions, there is the “class” issue: that the junk food tax is regressive because it effects people with less money but spend more of it on junk to a greater degree (although one suspects that a few pennies on a soft drink can will barely be noticed). But curiously, this has not been the principle talking point in support of the initiative. It will “hurt” Washington businesses, according to them. In reality, this is just part and parcel of the general anti-tax campaign that targets any and all taxes indiscriminately. The supporters of the measure do not care about the health and well-being of junk food junkies or their income status. As always, this about the maintaining the “status quo.”

You have to play nice with the girls

Last week, in the same issue that ran a cartoon carping on the Philadelphia Eagles for giving African-American quarterback Michael Vick a second chance at life after spending two years in prison for dog-fighting, USA Today ran a front page story decrying what it called “sexist jabs” at “female hopefuls” in political races. It referred to “sexist” names like “ice queen” and “mean girl” as “undercutting” a female candidates political standing. Reading stuff like this reminds one of juvenile high school complaints. Have voters not grown-up since then? This is silly sob sister material. A female Democratic pollster named Celinda Lake conducted the poll that found that a female candidate had a 59 percent favorable rating after an initial description (you’d have to ask Lake what that “description” was), and then dropped to 25 percent “after an attack without sexist labels” and eventually to 17 percent after an attack with the aforementioned name-calling.

The problem with this poll—besides being clearly biased and with an agenda to burn—is the suggestion that any “attack” on a female candidate is “sexist.” Even taking the numbers given, the “attack without sexist labels” had a far greater effect on the female candidate’s “standing” than the sexist attacks, which in reality may have the opposite effect “intended.” Furthermore, the media has almost totally ignored the reality that the attacks on Barack Obama, and given the fact that they are coming from a wholly-white “movement” clearly meant to highlight Obama’s “blackness,” tends to highlight the hypocrisy of the media. During the 2008 primaries, CNN continuously decried the alleged “sexist” attacks on Hillary Clinton while refusing to examine her racial code comments about “hard-working Americans--white people” and the RFK assassination—all the while running non-stop for weeks the Rev. Wright video, naturally taken out of context. More recently, while CNN was all over the People Magazine story on Elin Nordgren, ex-wife of Tiger Woods, it failed to discuss the Vanity Fair story on Sarah Palin, which has far greater implications for the well-being of this country. But we’re not allowed to discuss it because it is “sexist,” as feminists immediately condemned it.

Are we not allowed to discuss House candidate Pamela Gorman of Arizona, because it is “sexist” to criticize her campaign? Taking a cue from Palin, Gorman ran an ad showing herself blazing away with a variety of guns, including an old Tommy machine gun. What are we of more sensible mind to make of this? Gorman also appeared at a Tea Party “border” event wearing a shoulder holster, clearing playing to anti-immigrant militants. We are not allowed to comment on this, because it would be “sexist?” She called Mexican president Calderon Obama’s “good buddy”—forgetting that George Bush was such a “good buddy” with Calderon that he gave him hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military hardware to help combat the failed “drug war.” Gorman also seems to suffer from selective amnesia regarding her stint in the Arizona legislature; Republicans have dominated the state for years, and thanks to $10 billion in tax loopholes for businesses (which exceed the total revenue of the state in 2010), and semi-yearly income tax cuts have led to a projected deficit in 2011 that will be 47 percent of the total budget. $750 million will be cut from education, and 13 of 22 state parks are being closed.

But we’re not allowed to comment on this, because it will hurt Gorman, a woman. We are not allowed to say that Gorman is a racist gun nut. Arizona isn’t exactly a game hunting mecca, so what are white Arizonans of the right-wing persuasion doing blazing away with their Tommy guns in the desert? “Practicing” to shoot all those Mexicans in lieu of other suitable “game?”

Gorman and Palin are not the only female political figures who have attracted “unwanted” attention because of their bizarre behavior and beliefs; Michelle Bachmann has practically cornered the market on much of that. Myself, I can take the slings and arrows of being accused of being “sexist” if it means exposing the truth and enlightening the public. But Bachmann is re-elected every two years by her constituency; she doesn’t seem to have been “scarred” by the fact that voters in her district get a kick out of her own incessant taunting, stereotyping and intolerance.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Time for the rich to pay-up

If anyone believes that the anti-tax, anti-government Tea Party movement and the ultra-rich do not have an incestuous relationship, then they ought to pay more attention to the progress of the state of Washington’s initiative I-1098, the brainchild of Bill Gates Sr., father of the Microsoft founder. The initiative calls for a 5 percent state income tax for individuals earning (so to speak) $200,000 or more a year, or for couples earning $400,000 or more. Although there are a few altruistic wealthy who have contributed money in support of the measure, in general, the big money people have thrown in considerable dollars to defeat it. The Seattle Times and its publisher, Frank Blethen, have weighed in against it as well, claiming that it will "hurt business" without fully explaining how. What opponents do not mention is that the “blow” is somewhat softened by a cut in property and business taxes. Naturally, the anti-tax crowd use the generic term “taxpayers,” giving people the impression that everyone is effected by the initiative. In fact “only” 11 percent of wage earners are affected by the income tax while others will actually see some relief; I put only in quotes because it is rather surprising to learn that 1-in-9 Washingtonians “earn” $200,000 or more a year. People like to claim that the state has a bad business environment--unless, of course,they like to make money. Where are these people hiding at, anyways? Why are they being paid so much when so many are unemployed? One thing is for certain: whatever they are doing with all that money, it isn't stabilizing the economy or creating jobs.

The Tea Party people, of course, oppose the initiative, because they jump like rabbits every time the word "taxes" is mentioned. They gobble-up the propaganda of the rich like mindless chickens--without, of course, understanding the implications of taking such a position. We know that the basis behind the wealthiest Americans opposition to taxes is that they simply want to build a large stack so that when things get very bad, they will be able to buy "protection" from the evils born of their cupidity. But what about everyone else? The state of Washington has stripped over $5 billion from the state budget in the past three years, and it has been students and the poor who have born the brunt of these cuts in education, health care and other safety net programs. You ask a tea-partier who might be in that group if we need any of things, and they might stumble and bumble about prisons and police and how education shouldn't be under the control of government--unless, of course, you live in Texas; but it’s hard to get a straight answer out of them what proper taxation should be even for that.

The anti-tax mantra tells us that instead of raising taxes on the rich, we need to do away with “big government.” Currently, the right is only comfortable with declaring the Department of Education suitable for demolition; South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (he of the slave masterish “We must break him (Obama)”) declared so on CNN recently, but then he hails from a state which blocked school desegregation into the 1970s. Further down the road, Republicans want to end Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance. It's really comes down to a philosophy of sorts. They just want enough taxes paid so that they can play armchair warrior and send someone else’s kid to die—and call it “defending our freedom.” What does this mean for the rest of us who are not the rich and well-off, without social safety nets? Everyone else must work until they drop dead, because they can’t save enough on their meager wages, and can’t afford proper health care.

This is the current reality, at least in this state: Washington has the most regressive tax system in the country, because 50 percent of state’s income comes from sales taxes. People who earn less than $20,000 pay nearly 18 percent of their income in state taxes, compared to less than three percent for the toppermost bracket. This form of taxation is insidious, because unlike direct taxes like federal income taxes, you can't find ways of not paying the tax "legally" as the rich and their tax attorneys manage to do. The rich apply far less a share of their income to the necessities of life than the lower brackets, and thus have a greater cushion. Ironically, because the greater share of cuts are in programs like education and health care, the poor who will be the hardest hit are the ones paying the highest percentage of their income to these programs. Bill Gates Sr. knows that this state with its income inequality cannot function without some form of income "redistribution," even if only in the form of maintaining the social safety net.

Opponents of a state income tax for the rich say that this will lead to a slippery slope of more taxes. But it isn't the "liberals" in the state legislature who are pushing this; the legislature has never even touched the idea of a state income tax, because of the backward nature of a populace that condones education spending that is 47th in the country, and the same kind of super-majority hamstringing that has deadlock the state of California. This is an initiative that is up to the voters to decide if they want it. The people "hurt" by the initiative are out-numbered 9-1. Thus what opponents are really afraid of is the potential for class warfare and a first move against the power of the wealthiest Americans. This is a chance for working people to stand-up and say "You've had it easy for too long, paying us slave wages just so you can live beyond your needs. We're aren't going to take this iniquity anymore. We have a right to live too."

Far away in that other Washington, Obama should stick to his guns and allow the Bush tax cuts to sunset for the richest Americans. Why the insistence on calling the sunset a "tax increase" when the cut was really only a "gift" to wealthy Republican backers? It was made temporary because of the fear that it would produce massive deficits. This isn't about politics, as some cowardly Democrats are viewing it in supporting maintaining the cuts for the wealthiest Americans, while the programs for the poor are cut. At least some of us are tired of hearing how "poor" the rich are while the rest of us slowly suffer.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sainz's attiire only out-of-place in boring America

Since sports talk radio is still talking about it, I’m going to throw in my two-cents about this Ines Sainz controversy. It is only “controversial” because America’s cultural mores has taught us that sex needs to be kept undercover, that women dressing in a revealing manner demeans them, and that men don’t know how to “act” when confronted by overt sexuality. There are, admittedly, some American women who want attention, but are nonetheless offended by that attention if it comes from the “wrong” person. But this is a problem uniquely American in western society; it dates back from the days when this country was initially populated by Puritans and governed by intolerant religious types. Thus Sainz’s wet T-shirt and jeans look may have seemed a tad bit deliberately provocative to the New York Jets players who responded with cat-calls and coaches tossing footballs in her direction. And she seemed to be saying to them “Look at me. Ain’t I one hot babe?” And so some of the players said. “You want to get our attention? OK, this is the attention we’ll give you.”

The problem, in reality, is that Sainz thought her attire was perfectly natural, acceptable and ho-hum to her target audience. Sainz isn’t here for American consumption. She works for TV Azteca in Mexico, and the only reason she is covering Jets games is because quarterback Mark Sanchez rates as a currently hot number in Mexico. Her reports appear only on Spanish-language television. In Latin America, where the Euro-elites dominate the media just as they do in the social, economic and political sphere, blonde-haired Caucasian females make frequent appearances, and they set the standard for what passes for attractiveness. You never see any black people on Spanish-language TV; when indigenous or mixed race people appear (the stereotypical “little brown ones”), they are either the maid, the gardener, or some annoying troublemaker demanding his rights.

Shocking as it may seem to boring American feminists, women of European extraction in Latin America seem to take pleasure in displaying their assets; ample cleavage (often of the enhanced variety) and thigh-high skirts are typical of even established TV news anchors, and makes Fox News’ strumpets look positively Victorian. The modestly-endowed Katie Couric wouldn’t make the first cut. I recently observed two car wash exercises by kids raising money for a “Mission to Mexico,” meaning kids from a church group heading down to some impoverished Mexican Indian village to teach the virtues of the evangelical religion; the first group were white kids, the girls were wearing short shorts. The second group were apparently FBI (Full-Blooded Indian), and the girls hear wearing their idea of sexy attire—those multi-colored skirts whose hems reached the ground; I remember seeing pictures of Peruvian women in these outfits in a geography textbook when I was in grade school. Guess which group attracted the most customers.

Anyways, Americans need to get a grip: Americans are boring. Americans get all excited and act strange when confronted by alternate universes of mores and values. The hard truth is that people who watch Spanish-language television will not tolerate being bored to death by Katie Couric and those snores on CNN and MSNBC.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Storm on this parade

“Seattle Taken by Storm” blares the front page of the Seattle Times. This is almost as “catchy”—and fulsome—as ESPN’s “Everything They’ve Got,” which failed to generate much interest in the WNBA’s televised playoff games, with no higher ratings than the meager regular season. I’m all for the women and their fan base—mostly limited, it seems, to rather butch-looking white females—to have their day in the sun. But forcing people to be “thrilled” by the Storm’s winning the WNBA title is like being told to eat your spinach: It looks bad and tastes worse—but it’s “good” for you. Let’s be frank: if this is the most “thrilling” event that the Seattle sports scene has to offer, we’re in deep trouble. Not that we have to trouble ourselves needlessly, however; the Storm winning the WNBA championship has as much staying power as a hot-dog eating contest—mildly intriguing for a moment, then forgotten the next day. There is supposed to be a victory parade of some sort, so the local media will be sure to entertain what curiosity is out there for a day or two longer; but it would be by the slimmest of ironies to say if they had not won the championship, the Storm might have warranted a brief mention on one or two local sports updates, and then forgotten completely until next year (providing the league is still solvent).

For the vast majority of sports fans, the WNBA, and women’s basketball in general, is mostly about the result, not how you got there. There’s just the score running across the ticker on the bottom of the TV screen; Fox Sports’ website doesn’t even bother to run a WNBA webpage with standings and statistics (at least not on its homepage). For non-fans, it’s like one of those football computer simulations; input some variables, and it spits out random results. I’m not saying that disinterest by the general fan is wholly due to play that often appears athletically-challenged and painful to watch, but interest does seem to be mainly of the “go-girl” politics variety. Could the Storm beat a top-tier Division I men’s college basketball team? No. Could they beat a Division II team? Probably not. A Division III team? Possibly, but not likely. A championship-caliber boys 4A high school team? Maybe. There is no getting around the fact that even though the Storm are WNBA champions for the second time, it is, after all, only the WNBA, which was so bad this year that the Storm was the only team in its six-team conference with a winning record, and a 13-21 record was good enough to make the playoffs. Out of twelve teams, eight were required to make the playoffs just so that you didn’t have the conference championship series in the first round. What word am I looking for? Incestuous?

There is nothing that could make me watch a WNBA game after the first headache-inducing time, especially with the players are in those ankle-length duds. It isn’t even fun to laugh.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stopping the slide into fascism

Barely a month into Barack Obama’s presidency, actor and far-right extremist Chuck Norris was calling for a “Second American Revolution,” advising military leaders to disregard Obama’s authority, intimated that there were thousands of right-wing sleeper cells ready to rise-up and retake the country—or else he would run for president of Texas (too bad Bruce Lee isn’t around to give Norris another tail-whipping like he did in “Return of the Dragon”). Norris is the kind of extremist mentality that exemplifies the Tea Party movement, which right out the gate saw a scary black Robin Hood, stealing from “virtuous” whites and giving to “indolent” blacks and browns; to tea-partiers, taxes and budget deficits are means to achieve that end, which is why they oppose them so vociferously. When it comes right down to it, that is the principle conspiracy theory motivating the tea-partiers; to deny this is to ignore the fact of the almost immediate spike in anti-Obama rhetoric that brushed aside his stated wish for toning down the partisan fighting. The attempt to de-legitimatize the Obama presidency began even before he took the oath of office. That this had a racial angle cannot be dismissed as easily as the CNN and the rest of the craven media has; it goes without saying that Fox News has exploited the racial fears of its constituency.

A book published last year, “The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk has Radicalized the American Right” by David Neiwert, speaks to the current movement toward the segregation of society along racial, political and class lines. Neiwert employs the term “eliminationism” to describe the method in which the Hannitys, Becks, Savages, Coulters, Malkins and Limbaughs of the world have helped create a culture of division that dispenses with reasoned dialogue and seeks to suppress or eliminate all opposing sides of a discussion—and even seeks to “eliminate” those who offer opposing ideas. In a nutshell, the new right and its Tea Party constituency has wholly anti-democratic views. Rather than offer constructive solutions to the country’s problems through bi-partisan means, they seek to destroy the “enemy,” especially if they happen to have dark skin like Obama. There is no such thing as “fellow Americans” to these people; you are either American or anti-American. That the right is increasingly displaying anti-democratic—and thus anti-American—tendencies seems to have escaped the attention of the media, and most of the general public.

Neiwert points out that much of the current right-wing rhetoric has disturbing fascist tendencies. There is the tendency to use terms glorifying violence, such as what we hear from Sarah Palin and the anti-Latino immigration advocates; the suggestion of racial superiority, and that the dominate group is being “victimized” by liberalism and alien peoples; the desire of greater homogeneity in both group dynamics and political, social and economic philosophy that naturally benefits only the dominate group. Paranoia, xenophobia and liberal conspiracies (particularly those which relate to income “redistribution”) populate the minds of those most susceptible to this kind of thinking.

Obama and the Democrats failure to counter the eliminationist agenda—thus allowing themselves to be more susceptible to de facto “elimination”—mirrors that which took down Germany’s Weimar Republic, and led to the rise of the Nazis. In the first book of his three volume set on the history of the Third Reich, Richard J. Evans points out that the factors that undermined liberals ability to counteract fascism could be traced to their failure to oppose “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck’s ruthless policies to suppress so-called “enemies of the state,” which amounted to nothing less than a massive assault on civil liberties. Liberals supported anti-Catholic measures, mainly because they saw Catholics—who constituted forty percent of the German population—as a serious threat to “civilization” because of their alleged greater allegiance to the Pope rather than the state. Liberals thus earned the enmity of Catholics who thereafter sought to “prove” their loyalty to the state rather than serve as a bulwark against moral and ethical digressions. Liberals also failed to oppose Bismarck’s anti-Socialist law, which further eroded political and civil freedoms. As Evans notes, “Once more, the liberals were persuaded to abandon their liberal principles in what was presented to them as the national interest.” In effect, liberals left themselves with little credibility and support when it came to mustering popular opposition to the Nazis.

The principle left-wing “opposition” party to the Nazi’s was the Social Democratic Party, which like the current Democratic Party in the U.S. was deemed too “radical” by nationalist and monarchists despite the fact it seemed to do its level best not to “rock the boat” and upset too many people. V.I. Lenin mocked the SDP, declaring that “The German Social Democrats would never launch a successful revolution in Germany because when it came to storm the railway stations, they would line-up in order to buy platform tickets first.” The SDP was also hampered by its failure to achieve some common ground with the Communist Party—much like the divide between the Democratic establishment, progressives and young voters who expected immediate, yet undefined, “change.” Rather than take bold measures, the SDP “acquired the habit of waiting for things to happen, rather than acting to bring them about.” While the Obama administration has some modest accomplishments to its credit, like the health care bill and finance reform, it lost much political capital by its drawn-out attempt to “accommodate” Republicans bent on obstruction; fearful of “rocking the boat,” Obama and the Democrats have been loath to take decisive action using the authority they had. Instead of groveling to the insurance industry and bowing to right-wing extremists, the simple step of budget reconciliation could have led to Medicare for the uninsured, and could have been done in weeks instead of months, and be much more defensible than the confusing health care “reform” bill that did emerge. In end, the administration and Congress only appeared indecisive and largely inactive.

Obama’s problems as president also has some parallels to that of Friedrich Ebert, the first president of the Weimar Republic. Ebert sought a smooth transition from the deposed monarchy to a democratic state, but undermined his position almost immediately by failing to purge the military of anti-democratic elements. His willingness to compromise with ultra conservatives failed to win him friends amongst that element, much as Obama has failed to win “friends” among Republicans who wanted all or nothing in exchange for their “friendship.” And, as Evans notes, Ebert was (as Obama is) subjected to a “remorseless” campaign of vilification and smears from the right-wing press, further undermining his ability to govern effectively. Ebert spent a great deal of time defending himself from the smears, to little avail:

“In a criminal trial held in 1924, in which an accused charged with calling Ebert a traitor to his country, the court fined the man the token sum of 10 marks because, as it concluded, Ebert had indeed shown himself to be a traitor by maintaining contacts with striking munitions workers in Berlin in the last year of the war (although he had in fact done so in order to bring the strike to a rapid, negotiated end).” Obama, of course, has also been accused of being a “traitor” for “undermining” the “values” of the country by supporting the rights of labor--and other things, like being a secret Muslim terrorist.

The second (and last) president of the Weimar Republic was former WWI field marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who was, like George W. Bush, “impatient with the complexities of political events and more susceptible to the influence of his inner circle of advisers, all of whom adhered to the old order. He had no intention of defending democratic institutions from its enemies.” And ultimately neither did labor unions; when the Nazis seemed to be on the verge of seizing total power after Hindenburg and his “inner circle” foolishly gave Adolf Hitler the chancellorship, unions accommodated themselves to the Nazis—which only accomplished their rapid destruction.

The Nazi take-over might yet have been averted if chancellor Heinrich Bruning had, during the Great Depression, taken measures to relieve the general suffering, as many in the German legislature, the Reichstag, supported. Despite the fact that the reparations payments stipulated by the Versailles Treaty had been suspended, Bruning was still loath to raise taxes, or use the extra funds to stimulate job creation, because he feared the kind of smear campaign that Ebert had endured from the right-wing extremist press. The failure to act inevitably led to the destruction of German democracy, especially when the 1933 legislative elections put a plurality of anti-democratic Nazis in office. The passage of the “Enabling Act” in 1933, which allowed Hitler to issue decrees in direct contravention of the constitution, effectively killed democratic institutions. The legislature had already been violently purged of opponents of the act, but SDP chairman Otto Wels did bravely rise in opposition. After noting that the Weimar regime had brought about equal opportunity, social welfare programs and allowed Germany to be an seen as an honest partner in the international community once more, he went on to say that

“In this historic hour, we German Social Democrats solemnly profess our allegiance to the basic principles of humanity, justice and freedom…No Enabling Law gives you the right to annihilate ideas that are eternal and indestructible…We greet the persecuted and the hard-pressed. Their steadfastness and loyalty deserve our admiration. The courage of their convictions, their unbroken confidence, vouch for a brighter future.”

The Nazi response was to mock and deride. Human and civil rights was anathema to the Nazi philosophy, but on the other hand liberals and democrats had dug their own grave and deserved the mocking; Wels’ discovery of principle came much too late in the day. Joseph Goebbels contemptuously remarked that “You only have to bare your teeth at the reds (meaning anyone on the left) and they knuckle under.” Part of this lack of backbone could be blamed on constant threat of violence from the Nazi’s brown-shirted storm troopers; despite the reality that they were the principle cause of public disorder, violence and mayhem, anti-left propaganda successfully placed the perception in the minds of the populace that it was the Communists who were to blame.

In 1933, the Nazis projected the image of decisiveness and the “cult” of leadership—despite the fact that they offered only a purposely vague program based on nationalism, slogans and popular prejudices, especially against Jews and other “inferior” groups. Perhaps if Germans had known what was to come, we may conjecture that they would have been less eager for Nazi rule; but there is every indication that the average German was enamored with the Nazis’ racial and nationalistic propaganda, and would not believe anyone was capable of such future atrocities. The Nazi’s economic policies were also without form until their complete take-over the country; within a few years, the economy would be almost wholly geared to preparing the country for war.

Are there similarities between the rise of the Nazis and the rise of the “new” right as exemplified by the Tea Party movement and the right-wing hate talk media that drives it? It seems clear enough that the Democratic Party, like the SDP, has failed to forcefully defend its alleged principles and counteract the right’s propaganda of jingoism, prejudice and paranoia. Republicans were on the ropes after the 2008 election, but Democrats failed to take advantage of the situation by being disorganized and divided. Instead allowing the Republicans to remain marginalized (and leaving the Tea Party movement marginalized as a lunatic, racist fringe) while pursuing major policy initiatives and fostering the image of being strong and decisive, the Obama administration chose to accommodate the reactionary ideas of Republicans and Blue-Dog Democrats, to mostly unpromising if not disastrous results.

What comes next? The Tea Party is clearly a behind-the-scenes Republican-germinated movement fueled by hate talk radio, Fox News, and the “mainstream” media that chooses to inflate it instead of taking a critical look at it. Republicans sought to use the “movement” as cover so that they would not be specifically identified with its extremism; that a few establishment Republicans have succumbed to Tea Party candidates might suggest that the Republican leadership has lost control of the movement. There is also some suggestion that the hate talk personalities have lost control of it as well; when Sean Hannity told a group of tea-partiers that they were all Timothy McVeigh wannabes, he didn’t expect them to agree that they were. But the Tea Party mentality is already well-represented by the likes of Republicans like John Boehner, Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin, who like that constituency are fulsome in what they are against—taxes and government—and utterly devoid of a vision for the future, let alone ideas to tackle current problems beyond the simplistic propaganda that fuels white paranoia. Even Newt Gingrich, who claims to be non-partisan, revealed himself recently to be just another right-wing extremist when he supporting the ignorant conspiracy theories applied to Obama by Dinesh D’Souza, who should be better known for his racism.

A Republican take-over at this critical time can mean either one of two things: showing themselves to be mere political opportunists who really don’t have a plan save enriching themselves and their friends—or drift the country into a version of fascism, using racial fears of Obama and Latino immigrants as a scapegoat to rationalize policies that further erode civil rights, widen the income disparities and creating a country further divided between “real” Americans, and those who allegedly are not, just as the Nazis declared anyone who was not Aryan was not German—justifying all manner of inequity along racial and class lines. The failure of the right to control the extremism of the Tea Party movement, and the mainstream media's failure to expose it, may make some element of fascism inevitable. Only rational voters now have the power to stop the slide. Will they do it?

Some truths can't be hidden by "facts" claims to be non-partisan, but in general it tends to be more critical of left than the right, in keeping with the right-wing slant of the Annenberg Foundation. I recently came across a “fact check” on the level of mass deportations of persons of Mexican heritage over the years; it wanted to debunk the claim that 13 million people were deported during the Eisenhower administration—which is a patently absurd claim on its face, and Factcheck only embarrassed itself by taking-up the question, as if the eventual "fact" that a mass deportation of 2.1 million was not disturbing in itself. Factcheck also wanted to investigate the claim that Hoover and Truman deported people of Mexican heritage in order to allow job openings for white Americans. Whether or not this was true (Factcheck claims it was not), what public officials say in public and do in private are generally two different things. Factcheck, however, did not attempt to refute the claim that during the 1930s between 400,000 and 1 million “Mexicans”—as much as 60 percent who were U.S. citizens—were deported during the height of the Great Depression in a frenzy of anti-Mexican sentiment by whites angry that “Mexicans” had “their” jobs. There are, of course, the “official” numbers documented by the INS, but given the tenor of the times, they almost certainly conceal much higher numbers.

Interestingly, it was noted that the 1924 immigration law did not apply to people from Latin American countries; it was felt that there was no point in establishing a “quota” or even stopping immigration from the South. It would seem that only beginning with the Great Depression, and since during times of economic dysfunction, that illegal immigration has hypocritically gone to the forefront of public discourse.

The article also confesses that “It is also true that federal immigration officials sometimes used legally dubious tactics in those days. A report to the 1931 Wickersham Commission, taking note of some "objectionable features" of the deportation system, described immigration officials "forcibly detaining groups of people many of whom are aliens lawfully in this country, or even United States citizens, without any warrant of arrest or search." The report added: "It is often customary for the immigrant inspectors to jail suspects, however apprehended, without a warrant of arrest or any other kind of a warrant." And it concluded, "The apprehension and examination of supposed aliens are often characterized by methods unconstitutional, tyrannic, and oppressive." Although Factcheck refused to blame this on official administration policy, states and local governments did in fact engage in their own illegal deportation activity, much as Arizona is trying to do today, using jobs for “real”—i.e. white—Americans sloganeering.

The reality that current deportation mania also has some “objectionable features” was revealed in a recent story concerning one Luis Alberto Delgado. Delgado, who is U.S. born but spent much of his youth in Mexico, where his mother returned after divorcing his father. Delgado and his brother were pulled over by a Texas deputy for a seatbelt violation. Both Delgado and his brother were carrying their “papers”—birth certificate, social security card and Texas ID—but this wasn’t enough. Delgado’s brother was let go because he also was carrying his selective service card, but because Delgado spoke broken English, the deputy took it upon himself to determine that his documents were fake. “They kept saying, ‘These are not your documents. You’re lying to us. You’re going to go prison for 20 years’,” his attorney, Isaias Torres said. “They basically wore him down. He’s a 19-year-old kid.” Delgado was pressured into signing a statement of “voluntary” return and waiving his right for a hearing before an immigration court.

It took three months for the “mix-up” to be corrected, and begs the question: Is this merely anecdotal, or is it a common occurrence? The only reason why we know about this case was because Delgado did not lie down and allow injustice to prevail, and which was so egregious that an attorney agreed to take the case pro bono. It also brings up the matter of what constitutes “proper documents”—especially even when a birth certificate and social security number whose authenticity can be quickly ascertained is not enough to “prove” legal residence? Who should be carrying such documents everywhere anyways? Is deporting someone who is not carrying the “proper papers” merely because they don’t speak King’s English, but looks “Mexican” an expression of contempt for a “Mexican’s” civil rights? Is this proper? Is this just a step in the direction of wholesale violations of the civil rights of anyone who looks “Mexican”—even if they are U.S. citizens? Even couldn’t completely hide this truth.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

To compromise or live--that is the question

BP ’s recent “internal investigation” of the Macondo well “incident” was decried as “self-serving” by many of the company’s partners, and in fact BP’s report did little more than fault itself for “trusting” its partners, when in fact BP’s dirty hands were in the stewing pot every step of the way. Once more, a corporation out to save money by cutting safety corners wound-up costing the environment, the livelihoods of tens of thousands, and itself billions of dollars instead. Will no one ever learn that in the long-run, cutting corners on environmental safety simply does not pay?

In his book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Jared Diamond asks the following question: “At what point do we as individuals prefer to die than to compromise and live?” Some answers to this question run circles around it if not evade the issue altogether: “The free market will come-up with technology that will solve everything” or “We can’t do anything about it because it is all part of God’s master plan.” Both the right and the left blame overpopulation, and suggest that continued immigration into this country will inevitably lead to environmental collapse. But the flaws in this argument are obvious; China today has nearly four times the population of the U.S. on a similar land area with even fewer resources—and yet it is touted as the next world superpower. Another flaw is the assumption that immigrants have the same mania for material goods as white America, consuming ever more natural resources. And it also means, of course, passing the buck to the party least responsible for the sham of environmental protection. Meanwhile, the rich who are hoarding their wealth instead of investing it in the economy seem to think that they can escape the impending misery by hiding behind isolated enclosure like Prince Prospero in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.”

In regard to policy, the Left can be faulted for engaging in a lot of talk, and Democratic politicians too craven before corporate interests to take serious measures to protect the environment. On the other hand, Right-leaning “thinkers,” politicians and constituencies can be accused of being delusional and prone to the disease of short-term thinking. Diamond offers as an example the Bitterroot Valley in red-state Montana. On the surface it appears to be a pristine paradise (at least in the summer), but in reality it is an environmental ticking time bomb. The “old-time” residents generally range from conservative to extreme right, with plenty of anti-government militia and white supremacist types. Although many wealthy people live part-time in the valley or have set-up businesses there, the county in which the valley resides is one of the poorest in a state that is the 49th poorest in the country. Not surprisingly, a “hands-off” attitude toward government and regulation has had consequences.

Mining was once a major driver of the economy, as testified by 20,000 abandoned mines that dot the country, and their toxic residuals are a threat all over the state of Montana. In the beginning, nearby mines and mine workers in Butte were supplied with wood from Bitterroot, until most of the forest land on the hills was denuded, and the Butte mines closed. After the forests recovered somewhat, logging returned. A toothless U.S. Forest Service allowed loggers to practice every destructive method in the book, in what would become known as the “Clearcut Controversy.” The reality is Montana’s climate and rainfall does not allow rapid regeneration of forests, so the timber industry is a “cut and run” occupation. Another problem was suppressing naturally-occurring forest fires, which because the fuel load (underbrush) was thin and fires didn’t to spread into the crown of the more fire resistant mature trees, in fact had positive effects on maintaining forests. The man-made suppression caused an increase in underbrush and saplings, and eventually the tactic backfired, creating more fuel for fires which then engulfed the mature trees.

The Bitterroot has poor soil, but irrigation temporarily created a temporary apple orchard “boom” as well as cattle grazing, which effected serious soil erosion, soil exhaustion and salinization. Only one-third of the “pristine” valley’s watersheds are considered to be in “good” shape. Bitterroot’s principal waterway, the Bitterroot River, is heavily affected by increased sediment from soil erosion, fires, road building and decreasing water levels. Less water also means that most native fish species have also declined precipitously. Whirling Disease, caused by a non-native parasite that infects juvenile fish and causes deformed development, has been blamed for reducing Rainbow Trout populations by as much as 90 percent. Another “introduced pest” responsible for Chronic Wasting Disease, has devastated whole populations of deer and elk; the human equivalent of the disease—Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease—is incurable. Two toxic non-native plants, Spotted Knapweed and Leafy Spurge, have devastated native grasses, especially in grazing land; once established these plants secrete poisons in the soil that kill native plants, and because the Knapweed’s root systems is weak, contributes to soil erosion.

So there is a problem. Because of these problems, the economy of the Bitterroot Valley, and in Montana in general, has been in decline well before the present time; half of all income “earned” by Montanans comes from out-of-state, mostly from government programs and private retirement accounts (the irony is too much for me). What is being done about it? There are “progressive” elements in the valley that demand environmental change, and while there was some action in the 1970s, such voices are merely loud rather than effective. Montana once enjoyed an “egalitarian” society—that is to say, nearly everyone save mine owners were poor. Today, there has been an influx of wealthy newcomers, with different ideas than the “old- timers.” There is, of course, the life style clash, but differences go well beyond that. One irony is that rich residents moved to Montana because of the beautiful landscape and seek to preserve it, while the less wealthy “native” residents wish to exploit the land and use methods destructive to the environment in order to make a living. The newcomers tend to be more moderate than old-time residents, and more supportive of land use regulation. Many of the original valley residents came from the old Confederacy, and others came to escape from urban areas, thus the area swings heavily right. Because they out-number newcomers, zoning laws regulating land use are regularly defeated. But opposition to land regulation in fact has the opposite effect intended: instead of preserving the land, it is being destroyed. Diamond recalls an anecdote where a county commissioner merely called for a public meeting on the feasibility of land use planning; a group of “tough-looking” anti-government militia members packing guns showed-up at the meeting, and it all came to nothing.

Diamond blames the failure to compromise human needs and corporate greed with environmental preservation on such things as “short-term focus,” mob mentality, groupthink and denial. Denial is probably the most pertinent individual explanation; people simply do not wish to face the truth, because it would force them to change, and they do not want to do that. They expect the “government” to keep them safe, even when they oppose needed regulation on environmental protection. In localities with more liberal constituencies, land use regulations can find support, but this isn’t the case in the generality. Case in point is the indecision over global warming, which the Right has obfuscated into incoherence in favor of corporate interests. But the reality is that global warming or no global warming, unregulated green house gases still pose a threat to humans and the environment. Voters could vote out pro-polluters and vote in environmentally-conscience lawmakers, but they do not. When there is gridlock in Washington, they blame the “federal government.” But the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of those voters who simply do not care about environmental protection. Not really. It just isn’t happening for them.

Another failing is the fact that human effects on the environment often occurs gradually, and catastrophes present themselves seemingly completely unexpectedly, so people naturally excuse themselves by deluding themselves that these disasters are not really happening. They simply don’t see them coming, and even when warned that it would happen, still did nothing, or failed to support measures that counteracted the problem. And all too often, as we have seen in recent mining disasters and the BP oil spill, the public failing to demand of their lawmakers to pass adequate protections—especially those on the Right—or giving perpetrators a relative free hand to ignore safety regulations in the name of “jobs,” has consequences well beyond one’s back yard. Life is short, but the human race continues—but for how long? The question then is how many generations must pass before one will properly answer the question asked above, before it is too late.

What is an itchy-fingered cop to do?

The shooting death of John T. Williams, a Native American and part-time wood carver and full-time inebriate, by a Seattle police officer was merely the most egregious lethal event of that particularly weekend. It was still a week before Labor Day, and the police were already busy having holiday “fun.” Williams was just one of five people killed by police within a few days. In the case of the near-deaf Williams, he was clearly a no threat to anyone (let alone the officer) but Ian Birk, a 2-year “veteran” looking for “action,” decided on his own to create a “Dirty Harry” movie with a Native American who was walking past his patrol car holding a piece of wood and a three-inch knife. Birk’s inability to adequately “size-up” the situation points to poor training and lack of cultural awareness; the culture that allows police shoot to kill first and think later needs to be addressed, but that will never happen so long as police internal investigations are white-washing farces and all-white inquest juries find police who kill even unarmed people “justified.” In any event, while police who are killed in the line-of-fire are in fact rare occurrences but get plenty of media coverage; I read a story in a Chicago publication that of 84 deaths by police fire over the past decade, only one made the front page of the Tribune and Sun-Times. A google search for the number of people killed by Seattle police in 2009 only turned-up recent stories about the police killed in two separate incidents in Lakewood and Seattle.

Two of the other four people killed two weeks ago were tasered to death. One was an unarmed man who allegedly was running up and down the street, causing a “disturbance.” The 5-foot-6, 125-lbs man allegedly “wrestled” two police officers to the ground before being tasered, causing his heart to stop. Death-by-taser seems to be an ever increasing affair; an Amnesty International report stated that between June 2001 and August 2008, there had been 351 reported death by taser, and another report found that in the first six months of 2009, there were 96 deaths by taser. Amnesty noted that the manufacturer of the taser has purposely limited or doctored medical studies on their effect, so no one really knows their actual effect on bodily organs or what a “safe” shock is. Whether-or-not Amnesty’s suggestion that police departments ban the use of tasers or limit their use to otherwise “lethal” encounters will decrease the number of deaths by police is admittedly problematic, however; it will merely give police what in their minds are fewer “choices” in their reaction to confrontations that all too often are exacerbated by their own actions—meaning even more deaths.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A superhero I can believe in

Robert Rodriguez’s current film, “Machete,” is clearly meant to be an antidote to the current anti-Mexican political rhetoric and anti-immigrant hysteria. Anyone who looks “Mexican” is fair game to bigots and racists, and against these evil forces even the right to self-defense—orally or otherwise—is denied. Thus “Machete” serves as a long overdue Mexican-American revenge fantasy, with Danny Trejo looking every bit the part of a gringo’s stereotypical nightmare. Unlike “The Expendables,” where Sylvester Stallone and his right-wing friends go to some unnamed Latin American country and serve out right-wing mayhem depopulating yet another non-Caucasian country, Rodriguez’s film turns the tables on the bigots, with comic book violence and with a discernable political and social subtext.

All the evil-doers of the present time are present: Robert De Niro plays the Tom Tancredo/Russell Pearce politician using his hatred of Latinos to stir-up more hate; Jeff Fahey plays a businessman who sees profit in the anti-Mexican hysteria; Don Johnson is the racist border patrol agent who gets his jollies killing anyone he sees crossing over, even children; and Steven Seagal as a crime lord with whom Trejo’s Machete has a special score to settle with. Machete is a former member of the Mexican federal police with a reputation for just mayhem, but who winds-up as a day laborer in Arizona. The businessman, looking for a particular “type” of laborer, picks-up Machete and offers him a job he can’t refuse, for monetary and ethical reasons. It turns out that it is all a set-up: Machete is supposed to assassinate the politician, except that he is the one who is to be killed as the Mexican “terrorist” to be used as a prop to further advance the politician’s mission of race hate. Machete manages to escape detention, and decides that since he is taking-out the people who set him up, he might as well take care of the rest of the racists and bigots, with the help of a priest, an ICE agent and a immigrant-rights revolutionary—and an army of the targeted oppressed and the like.

This is over-the-top, exploitation business, but it does feel good—unless, of course, you are one of the bad guys and girls who treat “Mexicans” like vermin and garbage. And there is the possibility of truth to the set-up; no one knows who killed the Arizona rancher whose death was used to incite support for the Arizona immigration law, although it was recently reported that the killer is likely an American. The rancher was known to be sympathetic to border crossers; for all anyone knows, he was killed by a person or persons who wanted his death to be blamed on illegal immigrants for the purpose of providing political cover for a law patently based on racial profiling.

The film has received mostly positive reviews. An exception is Karina Longworth of the Village Voice, but then again she also mercilessly trashed Oliver Stone’s “South of the Border,” so she may merely be allowing her anti-Latino bias to cloud her judgment; it’s not a good sign when a reviewer slobbers over (white) women’s films and pukes on minority films. Meanwhile, the anti-Mexican agitators are busy stirring-up paranoia about the film inciting a “race war” targeting whites, which is of course BS, but it is useful for people to note that "If you're going to hire Machete to kill the bad guy, you better make damn sure the bad guy isn't you!" Or as the original fake trailer pronounced, "They f--d with the wrong Mexican."

The WNBA is calling all die hard fans who aren't dead yet

Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with the acronym “WNBA,” it stands for Women’s National Basketball Association, or something like that. In order to drum-up interest in the play-offs, ESPN is using the catch phrase “Giving Everything They’ve Got,’ I think. I don’t know if whatever that is will be enough to lure viewers in, although the most current stats show that television viewership for the play-offs is about the same as the regular season—that is to say anemic, averaging about 260,000 per nationally televised game. This is about 60 percent of last year’s figure, but in line with previous years. Attendance this year is also at record lows, even given the fact that announced attendance rarely jibes with the actual attendance. It is easy enough to blame the economy, but the reality is that the product the WNBA offers is, well, boring.

Don’t take my word for it. Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News recently opined that “The pace of a typical WNBA game goes like this: shot-miss-rebound-turnover-miss-rebound-foul-free throws. Furthering the boredom is that most teams still average in the 70s, although the switch to the 24-second shot clock this season did quicken the pace somewhat.” That is to say, it is lacking in the aesthetic department.

Women’s basketball is boring as all beat; I mean, who wants to risk involuntary suicide consuming a whole bottle of aspirin to get over the headache-inducing play? How bad can it get when the only notable thing you can remember is when Brittney Griner of Baylor deposited a roundhouse right flush in the nose of Texas Tech’s Jordan Barncastle last spring—in a college game? Worse, those baggy outfits don’t do a thing for me. Why don’t they wear something more form-fitting? Why do you think women’s tennis is more popular than men’s tennis? I’d even prefer to watch an LPGA tournament over a Tigerless PGA event.

The Seattle Storm are the only team with a winning record in their conference this year, and appear to be the favorite to “win it all”—whatever that means. The Seattle Times has done its level best to pump-up the team, to no avail. Outside the play-by-play announcer and a female radio host who played basketball, the local sports DJs can’t disguise their disinterest when they are not openly disdainful. But my own disinterest is not merely due to the level of play, but the fact that, at least in Seattle, the team is being “sold” on the “appeal” of two white players, Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird; the nature of that “appeal” is something I will leave on the table, although it might be pointed out that during the 2004 Olympics, Jackson appeared with numerous other Australian Olympians in the raw in an “art” magazine.

They are also white, in a city that allowed its NBA franchise to be moved to Oklahoma City; on sports radio talk shows, many “fans” had plainly negative feelings about the black “culture” in the NBA, and couldn’t care less if there was a team in town or not (the fact that Seattle is not exactly a sports town does nothing to help the Storm’s viability). Recently, I saw a photograph of the Storm team after a game: five players, two white, three black; Jackson and Bird were eying each other as if they were lovers, while the black players were conversing amongst themselves. Now, Jackson is from Australia, a place where Aborigines are referred to by the “n-word.” Bird played for Connecticut in college, which was until recently a depository for white and European players. Although I never paid much attention to the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program while I attended school there, I can say that since then I always root for them to take-out Connecticut in the tournament, because unlike most women’s basketball coaches, Pat Summit isn’t afraid to recruit black players in “bad” neighborhoods, even if they are superior athletes. I wouldn’t know if there is, precisely, racial animosity in women’s basketball, but it is a sure bet that that the “competition” level goes beyond team. In the 2008 Olympics, the starters on the women’s basketball team that trounced the opposition were all-black, with Bird a bench player and Jackson on her all-white national team that placed in the Toilet Bowl.

I mention earlier the incident between Griner and Barncastle. After a foul had been called, Barncastle, a blond-haired white player, deliberately, and for no apparent justification other than her defense being third-rate, grabbed Griner, who is black, by the arm and literally swung her around and let her “fly.” The AP story claimed that they “were battling for position near the lane before Barncastle spun around and sent Griner lunging toward the baseline.” But the actual video flatly contradicted this version of the incident. It was a “punk” move, and as she strolled away with a punk’s haughtiness, one could read in Griner’s face indignation at this high-horse arrogance.

Does it seem I actually “care” more than I let on? Not at all. It’s just that it seems politics has more to do with the game than the actual play.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How we forget

If you did not know who Sarah Palin was, and you had to sit through one of her speeches, you might think to yourself “What a smarmy, arrogant, sarcastic, self-involved bore.” This person speaks in simple-minded clichés and inflammatory stereotypes that are essentially meaningless by themselves, but appeal to the reptilian portion of the brain. I recall seeing a photograph of Palin giving an interview while governor. The sofa she was sitting on was adorned with a skinned bear, head and all. On the coffee table was a King Crab. Were these props, or toys? Those things might have been “cool” when you were a kid, but there comes a time when you put away childish things. And Palin has shown time and time again that she hasn’t the personality or maturity to put away her juvenile mean-spiritedness. It is as if she is still in high school, playing “Sarah Barracuda.”

CNN’s—and that of the mainstream media in general—effort to puff-up Sarah Palin into some kind of political powerhouse reached new lows recently with Joe Miller’s surprising showing in Alaska’s senate Republican primary (but then again, Alaskans also found Palin acceptable), her tweet responding to criticism from a union official by blaming Obama for the state of the economy, and defense of Laura Schlessinger’s use of the “N-word.” I understand the “need” by some to find a woman to be an influential “player” on the national stage. But Palin? Palin reminds me of Paris Hilton—famous for being “famous” due solely from subjective media exposure, not for any particularly significant thing she has ever done. But then again, I’m probably doing a disservice to Hilton, since if she is dangerous, it is only to herself, not the country. Thanks to John McCain, the unknown Palin turned from a cynical political prop to overnight media sensation--albeit an empty skirt.

The Palin profile in the latest edition of Vanity Fair--which characterizes her as often violent and emotionally unhinged when crossed and out of public view--is not unexpectedly being called a "hit piece" by the right and "sexist" by feminists. The real crime here, of course, is that the piece exposed the part of Palin that we suspected existed but many did not wish to be confronted with. What's the point, they might ask. Nobody is seriously considering voting for Palin as president--are they? But the reality of Palin speaks for itself, even if CNN continues to do her publicity work rather than reporting the truth.

Truthful reporting would, for instance, include the question of why would anyone entrust Palin with anything, let alone the country? She lied about the reason why she decided to bail on her governor’s position, which she referred to as her “last few months,” when in fact she was barely half-way through her term. While other governors were battling their budget crisis in this unstable economy, Palin simply walked away. The reality was that Palin and her husband owed a half-million dollars in legal expenses—and more, from Troopergate and other as yet unreported revelations of corruption; hell, Rod Blagojevich has more balls (euphemistically, of course) than Palin. There is no doubt that being governor bored her, with all that studying and reading and working with people and all, and the prospect of a lucrative speaking tour funded by wealthy right-wing donors keeping her in the spotlight she allegedly doesn’t crave, was all right too. And maybe there is the issue of competence; with Alaska was gushing with oil revenue, governing was easy because there was so much money to play around with that every citizen of the state received a dividend from the state oil fund (instead of being used for public education, for which Palin had refused stimulus money for). With the spotlight on Palin, her actual aptitude would have been under greater scrutiny had she remained in office.

Palin, for all the rope she has been given by the slovenly media to prove herself a viable quantity, has demonstrated that she can’t be trusted to go the distance. I think that “Sarah Barracuda” is what she has always been: an individual who has a pathological lust for power for its own sake, and will tread on anyone who is in her way to get it. She is also someone who has an uncanny ability to incite a mob mentality with over-the-top “populist” rhetoric that appeals to the darkest instincts of human nature. Yet when she was required to be a leader, she abandoned the field like a coward—which makes her announcement on the eve of the Fourth of July seem just that more incomprehensible. For her own sake and ours, she should bail-out of politics altogether. As for the Republicans, if they see Palin as their future, be afraid—be very afraid, or at least they should.

How people have forgotten about many gaffes that reveal the real Palin. As Troopergate demonstrated, this is an individual prone to abuse power for petty personal interest. As her attacks on Obama during the campaign indicated, she is not “above” using racism, fear and paranoia to “advance” her agenda. As her book demonstrates, she is not “above” engaging in dishonest personal attacks, refusing to take personal responsibility, and being incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction. One reviewer of her book noted that she seemed incapable of “introspection,” meaning the inability to rationalize her beliefs, or reflect on her own errors of judgment and correct them (like, say, George Bush); she prefers to blame others for her mistakes and shortcomings. Perhaps because Alaska is so backward and isolated from civilization, only there could someone like Palin advance from a mayor’s office that resembled a “Louisiana bait shop” to the governor’s “mansion” by stepping on numerous toes, making more enemies in her own party than the opposition, and fooling a lot of people.

Some people remember the Couric interview, but there was, of course, much more. After a 2007 interview with a Pittsburgh radio station, Tribune-Review columnist Dimitri Vassilaros called Palin the Republican’s “beacon of light.” He stated that she was “pragmatic” and “principled,” and was “the brightest light in the land of the midnight sun.” He went to say that Palin regarded the Constitution as her “Bible for governing.” The amusing part of this report was that Vassilaros was not jesting. During the interview Palin’s response to the repeated question if she was planning to run for president was giggling, laughing nervously, behaving as if a 10-year-old being asked if she has a crush on some boy. She never said yes, but she didn’t say no, either. Vassilaros called it “self-deprecation”; it sounded to me more like an embarrassing lack of self-discipline, forthrightness and firmness.

However, radio jockeys in Florida did peg Palin correctly when they exposed her massive ego and lack of common sense when the “President of France”—actually a Canadian prankster—called in to engage in small chit-chat—the ridiculousness of which Palin utterly failed to catch-on to; she actually believed that the “President of France” would call her on some small-time radio show with a less-than-serious news format.

On the campaign trail, in between the annoying, rude speech mannerisms in the same vein as the gut-churning spectacle of other white people trashing a black man in a demonizing and dehumanizing manner, Palin spoke as if she wasn’t aware of media revelations that called into question her “maverick” status. She talked about battling the “good old boys” and ethics reform, yet she was being investigated over unethical actions in the “good old boy” vein in the firing of the public safety commissioner, who had the temerity to not to fire her sister’s ex-husband. She then claimed she stood up to oil companies, yet neglected to mention she is sought to weaken the Endangered Species Act to facilitate drilling in ANWR. More outrageously, she claimed to oppose earmarks, yet media reports say she repeatedly sought–and received–them.

Another reality Palin’s “fans” seem to like about her is that like Dick Cheney, Palin really is a rogue operator who believes she is above the law and even her own self-proclaimed “ethics”–especially given her limited “knowledge” of the Constitution. During the vice presidential “debate,” Joe Biden had to correct her belief that the Constitution didn’t apply to her. One might recall as well during that so-called “debate” the moderator tossed out cream puff questions (abortion wasn’t even mentioned) that were easy for Palin to digest, but at least Biden respected the debate format; his opponent behaved as if this was a campaign speech, interrupted occasionally by someone else talking. Palin’s arrogance (and perhaps a tacit confession of incompetence) was on full display when she announced she wasn’t going to answer questions “the way you want me to.” This apparently happened quite frequently, considering the shallowness of her responses throughout when she wasn’t completely off topic. This “maverick,” “agent of change” and “Washington outsider” repeated the same “folksy” clichés, right-wing talking points and fear propaganda we had been force-fed by the Bush administration for eight years.

It is also interesting to note that while Palin felt she had an “obligation” to denounce “radical” black preacher Jeremiah Wright and “expose” the “full extent” of his influence over Obama to frightened white people, the media paid little attention to Palin’s “anointment” by a Kenyan preacher named Thomas Muthee as the future governor of Alaska. Muthee was known as a “witch-hunter” in Kenya, accusing at least one woman of being a “witch,” her possession by the devil causing a car accident. References to Muthee’s “witch-hunting” expertise could be found on the website of Palin’s church, until it was removed after she announced that she was running for governor. Is this the “godly” woman Palin’s “fans” are referring to?

Is this what Palin’s Tea Party “fans” see in themselves? Is this the “future” we want?

Police Report II

It has just been reported that, not unexpectedly, the Seattle police officer who used racially-charged language and kicked a prone native of Mexico in the head—before discovering that he wasn’t a “suspect”—will not be charged by county prosecutors for malicious harassment. The officer, Shandy Cobane, supposedly “did not intentionally target or threaten the man because of his race or national origin.” The victim was seen on video moving his hand toward his face when Cobane, allegedly intending to kick the hand, planted his boot hard into the victim's head. The prosecutor’s office claimed that Cobane’s actions and words were aimed at the victim’s “lack of compliance, not his ethnicity." But one may fairly ask what part of "I’ll beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?" that the prosecutor’s office didn’t understand. There is no doubt that the officer’s actions (and that of officer Mary Lynn Woollum, who subsequently stomped on the victim’s leg with no apparent justification), was motivated by stereotypical attitudes common among police and public, and a contempt for “Mexicans” fueled by the media. Cobane felt he needed to apply “extra” effort to “get” his point across because the man was “Mexican,” even if he wasn’t, after all, wanted for a crime.

Once more, police get away with a crime. Once more, local authorities will not take seriously crimes against Latinos, because they are Latinos. After all, former Bellevue police officer Mike Hetle, who now works for the Department of Homeland Security, was allowed to simply walk away from killing an unarmed Guatemalan immigrant who was guilty of nothing more than wanting to move back to California. But prosecutors and judges will feed the police thirst for revenge, such as they did against the man who shot the video of Cobane’s assault. Jud Morris, who at the time worked freelance for a local Fox affiliate claimed that he shot the video on his “off-time” but offered the video to his employer. The Fox affiliate allegedly did not find the actions in the video “egregious” enough to air, so Morris took the video to another station. The Fox affiliate claimed that because Morris shot the video with their camera, it the video belonged to them. The Fox affiliate then fired Morris, who neglected to return the camera gear he had been allowed to use--which led to his arrest on robbery charges. The Fox affiliate, Q-13, is known to have a cozy relationship with the police and was plainly embarrassed by the revelation that its management had tried to cover-up the beating incident; that it would easily shed any suggestion that it was a nonpartisan news organization shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Police Report I

In the Sydney Lumet film “Prince of the City,” based on the novel by a former “prince of the city,” New York City police detective Danny Ciello admits to a special investigator looking into police corruption that officers lie under oath on the stand all the time. But what else do you expect? Prosecutors want convictions, and sometimes the difference between a flimsy case leading to an acquittal or one that leads to a conviction is a police officer fabricating a tale. Jurors will always believe a police officer over a defendant, particularly if the latter is a racial minority.

On Monday, a Seattle police officer fired four fatal shots into a Native American named John Williams, who had a “criminal” record of being inebriated and exposing himself to a staff worker at a home for chronic drunks. When he wasn’t drunk, he was described as “buoyant” and “compassionate.” He was also a wood carver, who whittled walking sticks and miniature totem poles. The police had two versions of the incident, which occurred in broad daylight on a busy city street. First they said that Ian Birk, a two-year “veteran” on the force, was sitting in his patrol car at a red light when observed Williams sitting on a short wall whittling on a small piece of wood. Birk got out of the car, advanced to Williams, demanded that he drop the knife, and fired his weapon when Williams allegedly “advanced” toward him with the knife. Now, the problem with this story for the police is that Williams was clearly not engaged in an activity that was in any way a threat to anyone; he was merely occupied in his trade. On Tuesday, the police changed their story to jibe with a video recording that showed Williams crossing the street in front of Birk, who decided that he needed something to do and chased after the apparently dangerous suspect. Birk demanded that Williams drop the knife (but not the piece of wood), and off camera the shots were fired in quick succession. The police claim that Williams turned toward Birk, although it wasn’t yet determined if he “advanced” toward the officer in a “threatening” manner.

But a witness at the scene told the Seattle Times that Williams had his back to Birk when the officer approached him, and Williams did not appear to respond to the Birk’s commands, or was even aware that Birk was talking to him. Williams didn’t appear threatening or aggressive. Birk was at least two car lengths away from Williams when he opened fire.

For me, the question is not who to believe, although I am inclined to believe the story of the witness, given the police habit of lying. The question is why do police have such a difficult time in sizing-up a situation before they start firing away. It is one thing for a man barricaded in a building exchanging gunfire with police; it is quite another thing to arbitrarily select a target who is not empirically engaged in a criminal act, try to prove to be the “tough” guy by intimidating the “suspect,” deliberately escalating an invented “confrontation” and finally “misinterpreting” body language as a “threatening” bodily harm—all within a span of a minute.

Every time a police officer is killed, it is as if the President was assassinated. But when a police officer kills an unarmed man, or deliberately creates a “threat” out of thin air that leads to a fatality, we are supposed to accept it as part of normal life. But for a few of us, the stench of hypocrisy is too powerful to overcome.

End of summer airport blues

The vendor I work for at the airport had an end-of-summer barbecue, ostensibly in appreciation of all our hard work. It was on my day “off,” although I spend most of my “off” time working at my real job, which is writing. I had to make a decision: Free food, or spend two quality hours writing. It was a difficult choice, but I decided on the free food. Not a good choice. When I arrived at the site of the function, in “civilian” clothes but wearing my ID badge, I was treated with contempt by a Port of Seattle rent-a-cop standing “guard” there. He was apparently discombobulated by the sight of a “Mexican” in the vicinity, because “Mexicans” are target number one for the various paranoid airport security outfits. I decided I didn’t want to stay, so I picked-up a burger and hot dog (where was the potato salad and baked beans?) and promptly left, but not before being given the tough-guy routine by a female rent-a-cop on my way out. Geez, some “thank you” for all my hard work—especially with having to look forward to “Winter’s Worst”—what AccuWeather is predicting to be what the Pacific Northwest should expect in a few months.

Since I’m in a bad mood now, I will talk about the airport business. I have an acquaintance who manages a motel, and is a native of India. Knowing I work at the airport, he related an incident that occurred that disturbed him greatly. His mother was traveling to India for some family function; as he stood by to see her off, he observed that the TSA Blue Shirt screeners were greatly upsetting his mother. He advance to see what the problem was; the Blue Shirts were demanding that his mother remove a gold ring that she was wearing around her neck. He tried to explain to the Blue Shirts that a married Indian woman always wears this neck ring for as long as her husband is alive, and to remove it would mean that something bad might happen to him. But they would not listen; they continued to demand the ring’s removal, with the mother equally adamant that she would not remove it. The son admitted that he became angry and demanded to see the Blue Shirt supervisor; the Blue Shirts, not wanting to explain themselves to a supervisor, and conscious of the fact that they were becoming a spectacle in front of numerous witnesses, finally ceased their demands. I don’t think this incident requires further commentary.

News stories have also been circulating about airlines charging mysterious new fees for previous “benefits” that are normally part of the flying experience, with United Airlines a particularly egregious offender. According to, these offenses include many airlines charging booking fees for reservations done over the phone; UAL charges $25 for this “privilege.” Using frequent flyer benefits is no longer “free” on some airlines; US Airways charges as much as $50 for the use of frequent flyer benefits. Exit row seats can also cost you extra; UAL charges as much as $109 extra for an aisle seat. One airline, Spirit, actually charges you extra if you have the temerity to request any seat. If you change your flight plans to another flight, you can be charged an extra $150 (UAL). Of course, we’ve all heard the horror stories about fees for checked bags, but it gets worse; one airline (UAL), charges $175 if you have a bag that is one pound over the 50 lbs limit for one bag. “In-flight amenities” like pillows, soft drinks and snacks will cost you extra on some airlines.

And don't get me started on those pampered numbskulls who occupy Operations, the so-called "brain center" of the airline I work for. It's more like an institution-- and not the one for higher learning.

The lesson to be learned here? Don’t make me mad.