A Different Road But The Same Old Trip

 

The movie came out in the Summer of 1969.   A year after Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered.  Kennedy, was 42.  King, was 39.

The Democratic convention had boiled over in Chicago, as the nation’s youthful mantra became “The Whole World’s Watching.”  Richard Nixon, was in the White House, promising to end the war in Vietnam with “honor.”  Instead, he escalated the fighting, until Congress finally shut it down by cutting off funding in 1973.  At one point more than 500 Americans were being sent home in body bags each week while the government assured us we were winning the war because their body count was higher than ours.   Seldom mentioned is the fact that a disproportionate number of the American dead were African-American.  Or that our intention was not to  win the war in any traditional sense, but to wear the Vietnamese down by attrition, even though the Chinese and the French had tried the same thing before us and failed.  It’s important to know the history of your enemy before going to war.  The Vietnamese, had been fighting off foreign invaders since at least 938 A.D.  LBJ, had no idea.

Those who could, avoided the war by signing up for a six year hitch in the National Guard or obtaining a II-S college deferment.   This was back when the Guard was still used only as a force to protect and serve on U.S.  soil, an idea that went away with the Bush/Cheney Administration.  They needed more soldiers you see, and they knew that America wouldn’t put up with another round of military conscription (100,000 men per year were drafted during the Vietnam War), so they very cleverly turned everyone into a hero and sent the Guard overseas.  I’m still surprised that they got away with it.  But then I remember that people forget. They had forgotten Vietnam, where nearly 17,000 Americans died in just one year with no exit strategy.

And so the path to war was once again open  for an entire generation of Americans that answered their nation’s call not to defend U.S. soil, but to act as a mercenary force for the Kuwaitis and the Saudis and big oil, to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

Eventually, the lessons of Vietnam were lost.

At war’s end, more than 58,000 Americans and between 900,000 and 1.1 million Vietnamese had been killed, and nobody was sure exactly why.  Some said it was to stop the spread of Communism.  Others thought it was wrongheaded and without justification because the Vietnamese never had represented a threat to the United States and Ho Chi Minh had no intention of letting either the Soviet Union or the Communist Chinese march in a take over his country.

There was however, oil in the South China Sea, and untold mineral riches in the jungles of Vietnam.  Some of us wondered about that, as the United States was locked down between two opposite poles, those who favored the war and thought it was winnable, and those who did not.  “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” we all said.  And most of us meant it.  Later we worried, as the Bush dynasty took us into Afghanistan and then Iraq, once again without an exit strategy.

In August of 1969, Richie Havens opened the Woodstock Music Festival with his driving rendition of “Freedom.”  How much of it we had was up for grabs, as we were old enough to die in combat, but too young to vote or buy a beer.   There were the Hippies and the Yippies, the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, Students for a Democratic Society, the Young Republicans and a new feminist movement.  We were millions of lost souls in search of personal and collective salvation.

As the nation reached absolute polarization, “Easy Rider” appeared.  A movie about two young dope dealers on chopped Harleys, hitting the open road in search of America.  It  spoke to the frustrations of my generation in ways that were both real and symbolic.

A lot of us bought bikes.  Steve Heitke, picked up a used Harley and turned it into a chopper with straight pipes rising high into the air off the rear wheel.  It was loud.  Like rapidly repeating artillery fire.  I got my hands on an old Matchless, stripped off the front fender, and gave it a deep metallic purple with silver feathering paint job.   Second gear had been ground out of the gearbox, but I kept riding it anyway by pretending second gear had never been there and shifting directly from first into third.  It rattled a little as I shifted past second but you can get by without second gear if you really have to.

I had just turned 21 when the movie was released, and a bunch of us went to see “Rider” in Minneapolis.  I remember my old friend and fraternity brother Warner “Shorty” Smithers was there.  Shorty was only about 5 feet 6 inches tall, but he was a former wrestler for Edina High School, and one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known.  We used to hang out at various watering holes in the Minneapolis area.  I can recall the Triangle Bar over near the University of Minnesota, on the “West Bank.”  It was a sometime hangout for local Hells Angels.  According to the Angels website, their Minneapolis chapter wasn’t formed until 1982, but I’m here to tell you that bikers wearing the Angels colors were hanging out at the Triangle Bar in the late 60’s.  I know.  I was there.  Maybe they were just passing through.  Legend had it  that Bob Dylan had played the Triangle once or twice.  We kept hoping he’d show, but he never did.  Dylan, was in the area for a time, I was told he’d lived in an apartment above the Baskin Robbins ice cream parlor near Territorial Hall, but by then he’d probably left Minnesota for New York.  There was also “The Depot,” an old bus depot that had been converted into a bar with a enormous dance floor downtown.  Shorty, eventually got a degree from the University of Minnesota and moved to Nevada, where he managed one of those restaurant/casino operations out on the highway before you get into Vegas.  It was Shorty, who took me bar-hopping the night before I was to be inducted into the military.

I had been drafted.   The government had done away with college deferments and set up a lottery system.  They drew numbers based upon birth dates.  The lower your number, the better your chance of being called up for the Army or the Marines and being sent off to the human meat grinder in “The Nam.”   My number was 28, so basically, I was toast.   They put us up in a cheap hotel the night before induction and made me the “group leader.”  I had to sign a piece of paper saying I would be responsible to see to it that all the inductees in the group showed up for their physicals the next morning.  I figured the group could take care of itself, as I left the hotel to hook up with Shorty to slam down a few beers at one of the Twin Cities finer strip clubs.  I had never been in a strip club before, but I figured I was probably going to die within the next two years anyway, so why not.

The thought of buying a used VW Microbus and heading to Canada, had crossed my mind.  But it just wasn’t something  I was intellectually wired to do.  Not at that time of my life.  I was young and still clinging to the hope that it wasn’t all for naught.  That it wasn’t all just happenstance.  That somewhere, someone might actually know what he was doing.  We were all young then.  As young as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, on those big, beautiful choppers, symbols of freedom rolling across the open highways of America.

I hadn’t thought about “Easy Rider” in years, and then it came on tonight, on the country music channel, of all places.  As I watched, I wondered what happened to the motorcycles Fonda and Hopper rode in the picture.    According to a piece in the New York Times, four bikes were built for the movie, two “Captain America” choppers for Fonda, and two somewhat less conspicuous red and yellow bikes for Dennis Hopper.

One of the “Captain America” bikes crashed and burned at the end of the movie.   It was totally trashed.  You can see it happen if you watch the film.  The other three, the paper says, were stolen.   Gone, until the late, great and legendary newspaper publisher Otis Chandler, master journalist at the Los Angeles Times, and auto and motorcycle collector, hired Ojai bike builder Glenn Bator, to build two replicas of the Fonda and Hopper bikes from scratch, starting with Florida police motorcycles for a base, just as they did for the bikes built for the movie at a reputed cost of $500 each.

Bator, says he charged Chandler $15-thousand each for the replica cycles which Chandler then turned around and sold to the Guggenheim Museum in New York for $200 thousand.   I don’t know if that’s true.  It could be.  The three stolen and still missing bikes are more interesting to  me.  You have to wonder who has them, and how he (or she) feels, being forced to hold secret the location of three  of the most famous motorcycles in the world.  Icons of 1960’s America.  A time of intense dissent, anger, turmoil, repression, growth and joy.  You pretty much needed to be there to understand it. Not to mention the ongoing struggle of trying to understand how we traveled from our certainty of changing the world so that we couldn’t “be fooled again” to arrive at our current locale, with the United States fueling military conflicts across the globe and our own government setting aside due process and spying on us daily while our trusted news anchors salute an ongoing parade of American heroes returning from the latest war.

Gaza: Stop The Insanity

The third United Nations school in ten days has come under fire in Gaza.  Some of the estimated 240,000 Gazans who are currently displaced were using it for shelter.  Ten were killed.   UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is calling it a “criminal act.”  UN officials say they have repeatedly supplied Israel with the GPS coordinates of their schools in Gaza.

The Gazans are trapped.  There is no place for them to go.  They are being slaughtered.

1,700 have now been killed in Gaza.  Thousands are injured.  Most of the dead, according to NGO’s, are civilians.  On the other side, 64 soldiers and 3 civilians have been killed in Israel.

It’s reported that of the last 13 rockets Hamas fired into Israel, one was intercepted by the “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system.  Twelve others landed in open fields.   For its part, Israel strikes back with one of the largest and most modern nuclear-armed military forces in the world, supported by the United States.

Israeli officials complain Hamas is using populated areas for launching rockets.   Where do they expect them to go?  In the middle of an open field where they can be easily picked off by Israeli jets?

Israel’s first stated objective was to stop the rockets.  Their objective then changed, to blowing up the tunnels, but they said nothing about the dozens of tunnels running into Egypt,  or the fact that Gaza is a what?  A nation?  No, it’s not that.  Okay, it’s an area, an area some call the world’s largest “open air prison” that’s been under siege for years, leaving its people tunneling out to obtain what they need to support their lives, and yes, to fight back against Israel.  But the Israelis didn’t stick with that objective.  No, they changed it again, saying they would stop their offensive once the threat from Hamas had been eliminated.  Is that even possible?

The Israelis are beginning to sound like the Bush Administration when it went into Iraq.   They started out by saying they were going after weapons of mass destruction,  then switching to regime change and finally ending up with a claim of needing to democratize all of the Middle East.  There might have been one or two other objectives I’m missing.   The Bushies kept changing their reason for the invasion of Iraq so often that it’s difficult to keep track of their reason for invasion at any given moment, a trick Netanyahu now seems to be employing.

At the same time, Israel refuses to engage in peace talks.  Why?  Really.  How do you settle your differences without some form of communication?   By elimination of the enemy?

When an Israeli solider goes missing, the Israelis claim he has been “kidnapped.”   But when they attack Gaza, they call it “war.”   Soldiers are not kidnapped during a time of war.  They are captured.

This insanity needs to stop.  Israel is in danger of becoming that which it most detests.  Concerns about being called “anti semitic” will no longer matter, as the number of dead and wounded so clearly and terribly, speaks for itself - and Israeli officials give the appearance of being more interested in maintaining the status quo than in reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The Bush Administration failed in its misguided attempt at using the U.S. military to democratize the Middle East.  Netanyahu and his hard-liners are also sure to fail as they attempt to reach a military solution to a political problem in Gaza and the West Bank.  Sooner or later they are going to have to meet with the Palestinians, representatives for all of the Palestinians, not the Palestinian Authority minus Hamas, and talk this out.  Again.  Hopefully this time they can arrive at a formula for a lasting peace, possibly based at least in part on what they agreed to in earlier talks and then reneged on.  Or, they can settle for the non-solution of ongoing carnage and never-ending war.

As in the past, whatever happens, you can be sure it will be the other guy’s fault.

It’s Not Al Jazeera They Fear, It’s The Truth

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, is threatening to shut down Al Jazeera in areas controlled by Israel, comparing the Doha-based network to a Nazi newspaper published in Germany during World War II?   Possibly motivated by the Foreign Minister’s words, someone opened fire on Al Jazeera’s office in Gaza.  Last night, the Al Jazeera reporter filed from the AP office next door.  As of yet, to the best of my knowledge, no one has opened fire on the AP.

I’ve been watching all the news networks I normally watch, Euronews, France 24, the BBC and Al Jazeera.  Rarely do I bother with American broadcast news with the exception of Amy Goodman and “Democracy Now!”  It’s just too much of a disappointment.    Anyway, if I want to see one of America’s journalistic guiding lights like Brian Williams, I can always tune in one of his comedy bits from Saturday Night Live,” or catch the newest video of him rapping (through the use of clever editing) on what now passes for the Tonight Show on NBC.  How does that line from the song “Dirty Laundry” go?  “I could have been an actor, but I wound up here.”

For those of you who aren’t old enough to know, tv news in America used to be pretty good.   It was news-driven as opposed to being personality-driven and weighted in favor of journalism rather than doing whatever might be necessary to increase a show’s ratings.    But then, in the 1960’s, the consultants came along, convincing station (and network) owners and managers that newsrooms could be profit centers.  And with that, we were off to the infotainment races.  Millions of dollars were on the line, as once serious newscasts became happy, chatty and entertainment driven.  If meaningless crime stories and Hollywood gossip drew an audience, then that’s what the nation’s tv news moguls would provide.  Meaning, American broadcast journalism, for the most part, went right down the crapper,  which is why I watch the European news channels and Amy Goodman.  Because they continue to put journalism ahead of entertainment.

Al Jazeera, is right there, putting journalism first, and being slammed by the Israeli Foreign Minister, for doing so.  Perhaps that should be expected?   Some in the United States were doing exactly the same thing when U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq.   Reporters from the U.S. news outlets were “embedded” with the troops, which meant they were contained, controlled and limited in their ability to gather  information.  It was a brilliant PR move by the Pentagon.  Of course you could say they were working for their side in the conflict.   If you think that’s okay, then you know nothing about objectivity.   Or free speech.  Or supporting a democracy.  It’s an admittedly fine line.  American journalists shouldn’t do anything to put American lives in jeopardy but they also have an obligation to their viewers and readers to present a full and legitimate picture of war.  It’s a call that must remain in the hands of journalists, not generals or foreign ministers or the guys and gals in the sales department.

Al Jazeera, is funded by the ruling family of Qatar, the House of Thani.  They are a monarchy backed by proven oil reserves of 15-billion barrels.  Their oil wealth means they don’t need Monsanto, Pfizer, General Motors, AT&T, Walmart, or any of the other advertisers to survive.  And that makes Al Jazeera, a threat.  At the same time, under the time-honored “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” rule, I don’t expect them to do much real reporting on the Royal Family or the Qatari government.   That aside, AJ appears to have greater freedom to report what they want without having to worry about losing advertisers.

Another threat to those who would use the media for their own purposes, is the British newspaper, The Guardian, which is funded by a trust “which aimed to ensure the paper’s editorial independence in perpetuity, maintaining its financial health to ensure it did not become vulnerable to take overs by for-profit media groups.”  Like Al Jazeera, The Guardian, has been criticized for its coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

U.S. officials didn’t care for Al Jazeera’s reporting during the Gulf War, because their reporters weren’t embedded with U.S. troops, which meant they were showing what was happening, warts and all, the actual horrors of war, while the U.S. outlets broadcast sanitized video-game images handed out by the Defense Department and standups (selfies) of reporters riding with the troops.  No blood, no bodies, just targets going boom and being eliminated in  little puff of smoke while the reporter did his voiceover from the bank of a tank.  Just like a computer game.  At the same time, Al Jazeera was criticized and called biased because they were covering the news.  I watched both, the U.S. networks and Al Jazeera through both U.S. invasions.  The difference was both dramatic and enlightening as to the human tragedy, the actual horrors of war being  caused by a vastly superior American force.  It’s no wonder American officials wanted to hide visuals of children, women and the elderly being torn to bits by artillery fire.  It wouldn’t have played well with the folks back home.  It was a lesson they had learned from Vietnam.  A mistake they weren’t going to make again.

And now Israeli officials are having these same problems.  And once again, similar to American officials during the Gulf War, it’s not Al Jazeera they fear.  It’s the truth.

Homo Sapiens - A Lost Cause?

 

There are days when it’s difficult to have even a scintilla of optimism for our species.

With Israel bombing Palestine (again), the United States bombing Pakistan via drone attacks (again), someone shooting down a civilian airliner over the Ukraine where victims bodies apparently lie rotting in a field, warfare continuing in Syria with more than 50-million refugees worldwide including thousands of children showing up at our southern border seeking shelter from the storm in Central America, ongoing problems in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, massive demonstrations in Paris and London and so forth and so on, this is one of those days.

Drone strikes in our undeclared war against suspected terrorists in Pakistan and ongoing carnage from the Syrian conflict have become such regular occurrences of  the news cycle as to be of little interest.  Most people don’t even bat an  eye.  It’s somebody else’s  problem.  It’s happening somewhere else.  So long as we’re safe, why worry?  The ballgame’s on and there’s plenty of beer in the refrigerator.

I am reminded of the old theory that we may never have been contacted by space aliens, because they wouldn’t want to have anything to do with us.  Who could blame them?  Slightly closer to home, who can blame American kids for being less than happy as they leave college saddled with huge debts for the privilege of working their backsides off to get degrees to better contribute to our culture (such as it is) while others don’t bother enrolling at all.  Who can afford it?

One wonders what the world would be if we took half the money and effort we now expend on killing one another, just half, and instead devoted it to peace through education?

Don’t hold your breath on being contacted by the little green guys from Vega any time soon.

Political Leaders Acting In The Nation’s Worst Interest

First Senator John McCain is booed by his very own constituents for calling the President a “decent man.”   Which speaks volumes about his constituents.  A real classy bunch of people.  Now McCain is saying Mr. Obama, is “cowardly” for waiting for the facts to come in on the Malaysian plane that was shot down over the Ukraine.

So Mr. McCain wants the president to act before all the facts are in?   That’s real bright.   Is he looking out for the country, or just playing to his base?

Apart from walking a fine line between supporting the nation on one side and betraying it on the other, John McCain, Dick Cheney and a few others of a similar ilk, are an embarrassment.  In McCain’s case, he is an embarrassment to the people who elected him in the great State of Arizona and to the United States as well.   The naive ravings of Michele Bachmann,  make me ashamed of admitting to having been brought up in her home district in Minnesota.  John Boehner’s most recent ramblings about a possible and thoroughly ridiculous lawsuit against the President, would be laughable if it weren’t so obviously a terrible waste of the taxpayer’s time and money.

This kind of insane behavior on the parts of elected officials seeking to appeal to the extremist wing of their base is outrageous.  It must be stopped for the very simple reason that it is bad for the country.   The sad and frightening part is that even if these wingnuts disappear, they will likely be replaced by others who are of a no less intemperate and thoughtless nature.

Could it be that the fault lies not in our leaders, but in those who elect them?  An American public that has been misinformed, disinformed, misled and dumbed down by an irresponsible media to the point that our Constitutional Republic may be broken beyond repair?

What good is a system that replaces one inadequate and self-aggrandizing politician with another because the electorate is too stupid to  see the need for progressive change?   By which, I mean something that moves us forward as a people, rather than backward.  If that’s where we are, and we may very well be, as many in the old “solid south” apparently want to roll our culture back to the late 19th Century, then what hope do we have?

Are there enough of us who will dig in our heels and say “Absolutely not?  We will not let you turn back the clock on America?”

Israel: Doing The Same Thing Over And Over Again And Expecting A Different Result?

So the Israeli military, one of a handful of nuclear-armed powers in the world, is going to march into Gaza?  And how will that promote peace?  How?  Are they going to kill every last Palestinian in one massive peremptory strike to ensure that there will be no more rocket strikes against Israel?   They’ve conducted similar military actions in the past and it hasn’t worked long-term.   So here they go again, whipping up another Palestinian insurgents vs. the massively superior Israeli Army blood-fest.  Why?

We’ve all heard the axiom that one form of madness is doing the same thing in pretty much the same way over and over again and expecting a different result?

You can’t help but connect this latest round of fighting to the right-wing Netanyahu Government’s refusal to open talks with the recently formed Hamas/Fatah unity government.   Although media outlets in the west generally side with Israel and refer to the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers followed by ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza as being the reasons for this latest round of fighting.  Mostly, they talk about the rocket attacks, even though it appears many or most of the rockets are homemade, and are by no means a match for anything the Israelis might fire back.  How can most of the American news outlets be expected to do otherwise?  They are nearly all commercial enterprises and Israel is the one nation in the oil rich middle east the United States and its corporations can depend upon long-term.  We also have our good friends the Saudis to depend upon, but our relationship with them is somewhat  tenuous, as it is based upon the House of Saud retaining control of those who favor a 15th Century mindset.  Even now, when they aren’t beheading convicted criminals in a public square they might be stoning women for adultery.  The Israelis, on the other hand are 21st Century solid, even though they complain that the fighting would end if only Hamas would stop firing rockets into their midst while they continue making matters worse by expanding settlements in the occupied territories.

The old and over-used “It’s not us, it’s them” position leaves little framework  to move forward with any kind of a peace process.  Truth be known, if you’re looking for someone to blame, you should probably go after the British, who first promised Palestine to the Arabs in return for their support in fighting the Ottoman Empire during World War I, and later did an about-face and issued their written support in the Balfour Declaration to use the region as a homeland for the Jewish people.  It turned out to be a recipe for ongoing conflict.

This current situation raises a valid question of whether Netanyahu, and those on the right in Israel, have a real interest in peace because it might demand a two-state solution and an Israeli pullback from the occupied territories.  Is it imperative for Israeli moderates and progressives to take more of a stand against the nation’s ultra-conservatives?  Is that even possible?  Is this even open for discussion in the American media?  The Israelis, are surely not of one opinion on how Israel should move forward to end this seemingly endless dispute.  Too often, the American media makes it appear that way.

Hamas was losing popularity in Gaza, and had been driven to join a unity party with Fatah.   With that, Israel finally had a government entity with which it could negotiate, an entity representing both the West Bank and Gaza.  It may very well have had Hamas on the political ropes where it might have been forced to negotiate a lasting peace.  Instead, rockets are flying into Israel, and Israel is marching into Gaza after Netanyahu refused to talk and instead promised to retaliate for the formation of a party which included Hamas.  Gaza’s democratically elected leaders.

Israel has a right to exist.  The Israelis have a right to defend themselves.  So do the Palestinians.   However, it seems painfully obvious that there will be no peace so long as one side or the other seeks a military solution to what is largely a political dispute.   There will be no peace so long as centuries old ethnic hatred and religious dogma are given greater consideration than secular political dialogue.

Talking, even if you are talking to someone you loath, is a place to start isn’t it?  Or  is endless bloodshed preferable?

Repeated attacks against civilians, regardless of the reason for the attacks, puts Israel in danger of appearing to be that which they most detest.   The following is from the  website “avaaz.org,” which the British newspaper The Guardian, calls “the globe’s largest and most powerful online activist network.”   It provides some insight on  how Europeans are viewing the conflict.

Here is some of the avaaz piece, “Israel-Palestine:  This is how it ends.”

“These are war crimes and we wouldn’t accept that anywhere else, why accept it in Palestine? Half a century ago Israel and its Arab neighbours went to war and Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Occupying territory after war happens all the time. But no military occupation should turn into a decades long tyranny which only fuels and benefits extremists who use terror to target the innocent. And who suffers? The majority of loving families on both sides that just want freedom and peace.

To many, particularly in Europe and North America, calling for companies to withdraw investments from financing or taking part in Israel’s occupation of Palestine sounds completely biased. But it’s not — this is the most potent non-violent strategy to end the ritual violence, ensure Israelis’ security and achieve Palestinian freedom. Israel’s power and wealth dwarfs Palestine, and if it refuses to end its illegal occupation, the world must act to make the cost unbearable.’ -avaaz.org

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Tonight “The Intercept” is reporting that NBC News has pulled its correspondent from Gaza, after he reported on an Israeli attack which resulted in the deaths of children.    Perhaps he simply could not stomach the carnage?  Perhaps it was something else?  NBC’s viewers are entitled to an explanation.

By Thursday evening, 231 Palestinians, including 48 children, had been killed.  On the other side, one Israeli had been killed.  At the very least this situation will only fan the flames of ethnic hatred and leave Israel with a horrible public image problem.

Hillary For President? They’ve Gotta Be Kidding

Just read an interesting piece by Andrew Sullivan, a bright and very well informed guy.  He brings up a couple of relevant points regarding the Clintons.

Based upon Mrs. Clinton’s possible run for the Presidency,  they need repeating.

Point one, is that Goldman Sachs, “has donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation.”  Point two, is that the payoff  has continued.  Last year, Sullivan reports, “she gave two paid speeches to Goldman Sachs audiences. (Her customary fee is $200,000 a speech.) …”

Hillary for President?  They’ve gotta be kidding.

The Argument For A Return To Typewriters

 

Good morning sports fans, including those of you who got hooked on the World Cup, and are now going through post-event depression with nothing to look forward to.  At least not for another four years.  Why does it have to be every four years?  Why not every two years?

If the world can get together every couple of years to stage a form of international tribal warfare without any death or destruction through the good clean fun of international futbol, then maybe we can figure out a way to stop slaughtering our own kind through endless warfare with bullets and bombs?   If we truly are at the top of the chain of life intellectually, and it appears we are, as our big brains are the only thing we really have going for us, then why have we continued killing one another, presumably since the dawn of man (and woman)?

Keeping in mind, with consideration for the timeline of the Universe that we’re barely out of the cradle as a species, one wonders if the U.N can’t stop the killing, then maybe FIFA can?  Maybe a common love of sports can overcome our primal need for self-destruction?  Maybe FIFA can come up with a set of rules to run the world?  To get Hamas and the Israelis to stop shooting at one another and possibly control government spying in the process?  Although getting the United States to stop spying on its allies is really a stretch, even in the absence of a declared war.

One of the most interesting stories out there today - which means you almost surely will not see it on local tv news - is that some German officials, still stinging from American electronic spying on their Chancellor, are now considering a return to typewriters.  Wait, let me do that again.  A RETURN TO TYPEWRITERS!”  That’s better.

Can you imagine?  Going back to those old Royals and Smith & Coronas, although they wouldn’t need to take it quite that far.  They could just print it out on their laser printers using word processing technology to keep things moving along while eliminating the need to get ink all over their hands from changing those messy ribbons.  They’d still have to deliver their messages via some sort of “snail mail,” but hey, think about the payback.    They’d have to beef up the post office, and that would mean job creation, as we return to the comfort of relative privacy in moving forward by taking a step back into the world of snail mail.   Top, top, top security, might mean delivering messages by hand using…..gulp….actual people with security clearances or old fashioned messenger services.

Putting people back to work through a combination of government and private payrolls, as opposed to laying them off to increase corporate profits to line the pockets of the already wealthy?   Something that might help rather than hurt the once great American middle class?  Now we’re really getting radical.  Karl Marx, might even like it.  Which means people who don’t read would surely condemn the idea.

Think of it.  Being able to communicate with another human being without the certainty that someone has the capability of either listening in on your conversation or peering over your shoulder reading every word of every email and text message you send.   Feel the hot breath of the NSA on the back of your neck?

Maybe humanity isn’t ready for all this hi-tech?  Maybe we’re getting ahead of our ability to control this monster of our own creation?  It’s nothing new, you know.  Mary Shelly, came up with this very same idea back in 1818 with Frankenstein.  The difference, of  course, is that Shelly’s creation was imaginary.  Ours, on the other hand, is real.  Its video screen glow stares back at us on a daily basis.

Feels like something needs to be done.  It feels like we’re whirling out of control with no electronic privacy at all.  None.   If they can get to Angela Merkel, they can get to you.  Making matters even worse, our credit card numbers are out there bouncing around all over the place, just waiting to be scooped up by sociopaths eager to drain our accounts and wreck our credit ratings.

Isn’t there a certain feeling that it’s only a matter of time before you become a target?  Just a matter of numerical elimination before your number comes up and you get your brains hacked out?  Kicked to the economic curb with the rest of the peasants?  Wonder why you’re stressed out and maybe a little paranoid?

This is better living through technology?    Same old story.  We thought we were buying beachfront and ended up in a swamp.

A return to snail mail is starting to sound pretty good.  Or we can wait for the villagers to grab their torches and pitchforks and go nuts again, in yet another universal admission of how underdeveloped and arrogant we truly are.

World Cup Final - No Goals But “Keeping Us Entertained”

 

Meanwhile, over on World Cup Soccer at half-time, “No goals, but loads of talking points.”

Really threw me when they switched their coverage from ESPN over to the local ABC station. Found it, following some momentary expletive-laced panic.   I’m hooked on the World Cup, and I wish they wouldn’t play with me like this.

Even when you get the channel right, there’s a lot of catching up to do.  First I had to learn the rules, then the point system for pairings (which I still don’t understand, but I’m re-reading “Algebra Made Easy”) and now they’re changing channels on me.

Every time the announcer mentions  “Schweinsteiger” Mel Brooks pops into my head and I start laughing.  That leads to a mental association with Inspector Clouseau trying to pronounce “Mr. Stutterstat” and Mrs. Leeverlilly from “A Shot In The Dark,” and I’m off to the races.  None of it has anything to do with soccer, of course.   Or futbol, sorry.  It’s just the way my mind works when nothing’s happening.  Probably better not to try and understand.

A German player obviously suffered a concussion in the first half but they left him in the game. Pulled him out a couple of minutes later when he fell down. Gotta start taking concussions more seriously? Of course that would pretty much be the end of American football as we know it.

The director, apparently getting edgy about the lack of scoring and nothing happening other than the apparent concussion, breaks away from the game twice to go to beauty shots of Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue, with Christ appearing to hold the setting sun in his arms.   One of the announcers remarks that as beautiful as the shot is, the director should probably stay with the action, as it would be a shame to miss it should one of the teams actually score.

I’m fully enjoying the World Cup, but plan on taking a short nap unless somebody scores in the next ten to fifteen minutes.

Oops, there’s a yellow card.  Not sure, but I think it was Schweinsteiger who just threw a body block into Frau Blucher.

It helps to have an active imagination when there’s no scoring going on.  I sense a shootout may be on the way but I can’t be sure.   A.B. Normal and I are still trying to figure things out.

#############

Okay, I’m back and we are now into the first overtime.  The British announcer has once again proven his people to be grandmasters at understatement by saying these are “Two good teams just canceling each other out a little.”  Works best if you imagine it with an English accent.

Somebody wake me when they get to the shootout.

#############

The fans screaming brought me to.   Players for both sides are on the ground, grimacing and holding various body parts.  It looks bad.  Schweinsteiger is down.  Now he is back on his feet, but with blood streaming down his face.   He’s out of the game.  He’s back.  The announcer has just suggested that Schweinsteiger might have set a record for the amount of time spent on the ground nursing injuries. What a guy.

Wait a minute, Mario Gotze just scored for Germany.  That, could be it.  It is.  Final score, Germany wins, 1-0.

What a great game.  Wish we didn’t have to wait 4 years for the next one.

Germany Tells Top U.S. Spy To Get Out

So Germany is telling our top spy to get out of their country?  Let’s take stock.

Our top spy is being booted out of Germany, our ally, whose leader, Angela Merkel, is among the most popular contemporary national figures in Europe, while two whistleblowers (heroes to many), have been forced to seek asylum, one in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the other in Russia while the NSA is broadly condemned for unnecessary spying on American citizens and Republicans pretend that children crossing the border (under the protection of an Act signed by George W. Bush) is a “crisis” demanding immediate attention above all else and that President Obama and the Democrats are to blame.

I’d say the Obama Administration is to blame for all of this except that I’d be playing right into the hands of the Republican Party whose leaders created this mess, from his holiness Ronald Reagan to Cowboy Dubya Bush, and who continue to place their party above the good of the nation.

The New York Times reported on July 7th, “Originally pushed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers as well as by evangelical groups to combat sex trafficking, the bill gave substantial new protections to children entering the country alone who were not from Mexico or Canada by prohibiting them from being quickly sent back to their country of origin.”

Bush, signed the bill and the kids are arriving at our doorstep by the thousands.

But you say!  Obama, should be doing more!  What can he do?  Whatever he tries will either be stonewalled by a Republican filibuster in the Senate or stomped on by the Republican majority in the House or slighted for requesting more money to deal with problems at the border.  Texas Governor, Cowboy Rick Perry (who acts like a first cousin to Dubya Bush), suggested that the President could solve the problem with an executive order rather than even attempting to request funding from the Congress?  Not very clever and very obvious,  Governor Perry.   Another executive order.  And another condemnation from the Republican Party for circumventing the process.

But the real big one for the President, is that he is utterly helpless to do much of anything with regard to pulling in the reigns on the NSA and its illegal spying on American citizens (and Angela Merkel).  If he does, and if there is another attack on the U.S., he will be roundly blamed by the Republicans for letting it happen.  And they know it.  They’re already blaming him for illegal immigration prompted by an Act signed by Cowboy Dubya Bush.   This blame game has been their plan from the very beginning.

Senators Introduce Bill To Secure Women’s Health

Received the following from Senator Elizabeth Warren, regarding a bill she is co-sponsoring to fight the impact of the Hobby Lobby Case.

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         Sen. Elizabeth Warren

I was stunned by last week’s Hobby Lobby ruling.

Stunned that we live in a world where the Supreme Court of the United States of America would even consider putting the interests of big corporations before the fundamental rights of American women.

Stunned that the Court would establish precedent for one enormous slippery slope on letting employers deny individuals health coverage for any medical treatment.

Today, my Democratic colleagues and I are fighting to do what the Supreme Court failed to do: to protect the basic rights of American women and families.

Led by Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall, we’ve just introduced a new bill – the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act. The bill reverses the Supreme Court’s decision by making it clear that employers cannot deny access to any of the health benefits required by the ACA – not immunizations, not blood transfusions, not HIV treatments, and not birth control – while preserving reasonable accommodations for religiously exempt employers.

If we’re going to respond to Hobby Lobby, it’s got to be through a legislative fix. And if the Republicans won’t fight for the women they represent, then we’re going to take that fight to them. Let them explain why they think employers should decide what health care a woman can get covered by her insurance .

Sign up now to show your support for the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.

I cannot believe that in 2014 I have to send you an email about protecting access to birth control. We’ve got a lot of other big problems in our country to tackle right now.

Millions of people still haven’t recovered from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. More and more young people are drowning in student debt. Too many workers are struggling to stay out of poverty on a minimum wage, and millions of others are struggling to save for retirement. Seniors keep getting told they’re going to have to get by on less.

But the Republican Party has made it clear: They want to spend their time working to deny women access to birth control and punch as many holes in the Affordable Care Act as they can.

Just look at the facts:

  • In 2012, Republicans tried to pass the Blunt Amendment – legislation that would allow employers and insurance companies to deny women’s health care services – even birth control – based on any vague moral objection.
  • When the Blunt Amendment failed, the Republicans resorted to hostage-taking. Remember last year’s government shutdown that nearly tanked our economy? That all started with a GOP threat to get Democrats to change the law so employers could deny coverage for birth control.

When Democrats wouldn’t cave and the government shutdown backfired, the Republicans turned to their conservative friends on the United States Supreme Court – five justices who are among the top ten most pro-corporate justices to serve in the last half-century – to do what Congress and the American people would not: give corporations rights to determine women’s access to health care coverage.

We cannot stand by while the radical right of our country conducts a full-scale assault on women’s rights and basic health care.

Help us fight back against the Hobby Lobby ruling. Sign up now to show your support for the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.

This is 2014, not 1914 – and we’ve had enough.

Thank you for being a part of this,

Elizabeth

So (gasp) There Were WMD’s In Iraq?

This could be a real problem for progressives, me included, who have been carping about the “fact” that Dubya Bush took us into Iraq, even though no WMD’s existed.   This is not to say I’m progressive about everything.  Just some things, and the claim that Saddam Hussein had WMD’s, is one of those things.  I never believed it.

This morning I’m reading that the “ISIS” army has sized a chemical munitions storage facility north of Baghdad, containing some  “2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled decades ago with deadly nerve agent sarin or their remnants were stored along with other chemical warfare agents,” according to a report in the Guardian.

So Bush, Cheney and Conde Rice were right?  There were WMD’s in Iraq?  What will ISIS stumble across next, a stockpile of deteriorating nukes Saddam had hidden away in some giant spider hole?

Ah, but wait.  It may not be that simple.

A report from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies states-

“Although the damaged Bunker 13 at Muthanna contained thousands of sarin-filled rockets, the presence of leaking munitions and unstable propellant and explosive charges made it too hazardous for UNSCOM inspectors to enter. Because the rockets could not be recovered safely, Iraq declared the munitions in Bunker 13 as ‘destroyed in the Gulf War’ and they were not included in the inventory of chemical weapons eliminated under UNSCOM supervision.

And from another section of the report-

The UNMOVIC inspectors were forced to leave the country in March 2003, shortly before the start of the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom). In the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group (ISG) scoured Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, but found none. The ISG concluded that contrary to the pre-war intelligence estimates, the Iraq had unilaterally destroyed most of its undeclared CW stockpile after the 1991 Gulf War and had not resumed the production of chemical weapons.

And another-

Because of the hazardous conditions in Bunker 13, UNSCOM inspectors were unable to make an accurate inventory of its contents before sealing the entrances in 1994. As a result, no record exists of the exact number or status of the sarin-filled rockets remaining in the bunker. … In the worst-case scenario, the munitions could contain as much as 15,000 liters of sarin. Although it is likely that the nerve agent has degraded substantially after nearly two decades of storage under suboptimal conditions, UNMOVIC cautioned that ‘the levels of degradation of the sarin fill in the rockets cannot be determined without exploring the bunker and taking samples from intact warheads.’ If the sarin remains highly toxic and many of the rockets are still intact, they could pose a proliferation risk.”

 

 

 

 

It appears that Iraq, had destroyed most of its chemical weapons stockpile and that the chemical weapons that were left behind were deemed to be so old and degraded as to be useless.   According to the report in the Guardian, “A US state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, expressed concern on 20 June about Isis seizing the complex, but played down the importance of the two bunkers with “degraded chemical remnants”, saying the material dates back to the 1980s and was stored after being dismantled by UN inspectors in the 1990s.  She said the remnants “don’t include intact chemical weapons … and would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely use this for military purposes or, frankly, to move it”.

So the threat from WMD’s claimed by the Bush Administration continues to have been fiction, although you can be sure some on the right will seize upon this “degraded” and unstable stockpile, as evidence that the Bushies were right and the lefties were (and still are) wrong.

Free Ray Nagin!

 

Poor Ray Nagin.  His head must be spinning.  He’s been sentenced to 10 years in prison and all he did as Mayor of New Orleans, was to (allegedly) accept some stuff from some people who wanted to be nice to the now former Mayor, in the hope that he would keep them in mind when the City issued contracts, including some following Hurricane Katrina.

What’s wrong with that?  Our entire federal system operates on bribery.  Why should Nagin go to prison for something our federal legislators accept as their norm?   It’s D.C. SOP.  But it’s not, you say?   This was personal remuneration and not campaign funding, you say?   What’s the difference?, I say.  Funding is funding.   Federal officials can receive it now, in the form of campaign “donations” (legal bribery), or they can get it later, by accepting high-paying positions with private companies including lobbying firms once they leave the House or Senate.

Call it what you will, a pay-off is a pay-off.   A bribe, is a bribe.

We need to either free Ray Nagin, or throw much of the Congress in the pen with him.   Or we could change campaign finance law and rewrite other laws so that public service would be just that, public service, as opposed the the current corrupt and self-aggrandizing system we are forced to endure.

Poor Ray Nagin.  He didn’t do anything some of our esteemed Senators and members of the House do every day.  And then they go on the tube an smile about it.  I’d be smiling too.

The Great American Immigration Distraction

Texas Governor, Rick Perry, has refused to greet the President of the United States with a handshake at the airport.

Perry’s people said there would be no handshake, that the Governor would prefer a formal meeting to discuss the crisis on the border.  President Obama, has agreed.  There will be a meeting, at which, I hope, the President of the United States will look Perry in the eyes and demand to know why he is telling people that he, the President, could be part of a conspiracy to bring illegal immigrants from Central America, across Mexico and into the United States.

The President of the United States is promoting illegal immigration?   Wouldn’t that be similar to the Republican Party refusing to move forward on an immigration reform bill in the House  for purely political reasons?

It’s nuts, right?  Of course it is, or I should say Perry is, for suggesting something so absolutely ludicrous.  Even if he made  the allegation on FOX News. Which he did.

Under President Obama, the number of border patrol agents has reached an all-time high.  So has the number of deportations.  But then, nothing this president does will satisfy the Republicans.  That’s their game plan.  Has been from the beginning.   Acting more like a crime syndicate than a political party, Republican gang leaders met at a D.C. watering hole on the night of the inauguration and decided to opposed everything the Democrats and the Obama Administration would propose, even if that meant doing harm to the country.   It’s a torch Rick Perry, continues to carry as he lies to anyone who will listen about the President being involved in a conspiracy to increase illegal immigration.

To borrow from Bill Maher, it’s all just “batshit crazy.”

Apparently the Governor of Texas has been spending too much time at his “Niggerhead” hunting camp, dreaming up new attacks on Obama, now that he and the other wingnuts of the Republican Party have played out their other insane charges against the President, who, I admit, needs to swing back more often than he does.

Obama’s greatest fault may be that he continues to try and be far too reasonable with people who have no interest in reason or compromise.  Their only interest is self-interest.  Everything else is a ruse.   Like this latest immigration “crisis” which Perry and other wingnuts lay at the doorstep of Mr. Obama. Never mind that in 2008, then President George W. Bush signed the  William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act,”  making it mandatory for the U.S. to grant special protection to undocumented children entering the country, or that for decades Republican growers and businessmen eagerly hired illegal immigrants who came to the country seeking employment while Republican political leaders, supported by those same growers and businessmen, condemned the system for its failure to fix the nation’s “immigration problem.”   It’s been hypocrisy at its worst.

Truth be known, the real ongoing conspiracy, is undoubtedly that Republicans don’t want the country to solve its immigration issues.  The immigration “crisis” which regularly drives them to near hysterics,  has in the past, and continues in the present, to provide them with cover for their multiple misguided deeds and efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, their failure to get Osama bin Laden, their outing of a working CIA agent, their ramping up of illegal spying on U.S. Citizens, their move to eliminate due process for Americans on American soil, their abject failure at dealing with Hurricane Katrina, the destruction of the American middle-class and on and on, including their ongoing refusal to pass any legislation that would benefit the country for anything other than warfare, because it might give the appearance of accomplishment for President Obama.

And what has Mr. Obama done?  Or perhaps I should say, what was he able to do before a newly elected Republican House set out to block every single initiative he sent their way?  Barack Obama, set us on the path to national healthcare for all Americans.  That alone, that one accomplishment, is monumental.

The Republican Party’s willingness to do whatever they must to damage the image of this president with near total disregard for the cost to the nation is at best anti-American.  At worst, it’s clearly sedition.

The issue of illegal immigrants is not new.  In 1982, while working for KABC-TV, I accompanied Immigration and Naturalization Service agents (this was before the creation of ICE) on a raid of the onion fields in Ventura County.  The grower had sirens installed in the trees around the fields.   When he saw the INS trucks, he blew the sirens and his illegal employees began to run.  They didn’t get away.  They were rounded up not like human beings, but like so many animals, and placed in buses to be taken back for processing.  While riding back to Los Angeles I commented to one of the INS agents that I couldn’t believe what I had just seen, that it wasn’t the kind of thing I imagined was happening in America.  “Do you speak Spanish?” he said.  “No,” I said, “I don’t”  “Better learn it fast” he told me.

So here we are, 32 years later and Rick Perry and the Republicans have just discovered we have an immigration issue?  Give me a break.  None of it, of course is Barack Obama’s creation.  None of it is his fault.  It’s been going on for decades while our politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, looked the other way because the illegals were coming here for jobs, most of which, the American public had no interest in doing.  Do you want to go out and pick onions from sunrise to sunset?

Federal legislation providing immigration reform won’t happen until Republicans in Congress let it happen.   That hasn’t happened, and it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, because the Republican Party needs the immigration “crisis” to hide behind, lest the American people begin discussing just how badly they’ve mismanaged the nation.

The immigrants will continue to arrive, so long as there are jobs.  So long as they can improve their lives by doing so.   It’s an American tradition of more than 350 years.   And Republicans will continue to claim it’s a “crisis,” to deflect the American public’s attention away from their many failures.

The Hobby Lobby Decision - Another Symptom Of Broken Government

 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This snippet from “rawstory.com”  is one of the the most concise explanations of why the U.S. Supreme Court horribly overstepped its judicial function, with five conservative Roman Catholic men, letting their personal religious beliefs override federal law.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in a scathing, 35-page dissent that her colleagues had “ventured into a minefield” with their ruling, arguing that the majority had invited “for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.”’

Boom.  There it is.   It is not the job of the Supreme Court to make law, it’s the job of the Congress.  And they did, with the Affordable Care Act.  And the five conservative justices struck a piece of it down.  They re-wrote the law and that is not their job.

What happened to the balance of power between the Judicial, the Executive and the Legislative?  When did the the U.S. Supreme Court become all powerful?   Who is directing the thoughts and beliefs of the highest court in the land?

Is the conservative majority on the court being directed by a clear vision of the need to interpret laws written by the Congress and signed by the President?  Or are their rulings being unduly influenced by Vatican dogma, leading them to strike down any law they find to be in conflict with their personal religious beliefs?

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