Thursday, September 22, 2016

Race to the White House

While I am a big sports fan, I confess I’ve never been able to generate much enthusiasm for bicycle racing. However, I do vaguely recall watching on TV some indoor banked track races, perhaps at an Olympic games competition. The singular quality of those races was that nobody appeared to want to win the race. The cyclists meandered along, as slowly as possible, watching to make sure that no one else started to move quickly. Eventually someone started to move and then the chase was on in the dash to the finish.

As the American presidential marathon grinds to an end, I am reminded of such races. Like the Olympics, the World Cup and the European Cup, this competition is held every four years, and as with those other contests, the qualifying events get started soon after the competition declares its current winners.

The presidential primary races got off to the same slow start as the cycling contests, with a huge field of competitors idling along, burning through campaign contributions while generating absolutely no momentum. Jeb Bush blew through $100 million in sponsorship deals without ever accelerating to more than a walk. He spent the most but he was not alone in never getting to the point where the race speeds up. Unlike the bikers, the political aspirants did not all share the same discipline. Donald Trump peddled to the front of the pack and started to pull away immediately, to the chagrin of both the other competitors and the sports press, who had all considered him a non-contender. His bike carried a bullhorn and he yelled “losers” to the audiences as he hurled his water bottles in the faces of the attending fans. None of the other bikers ever caught up and they got together later to agree that this was no way to run a race. His triumph was like no bicyclist in memory. Trump’s victory inspired reactions closer to those generated by Sonny Liston when he was boxing’s heavyweight champion: fear, grudging respect and a desperate wish to see someone eliminate him from the scene.

In the other heat, Hillary Clinton started very slowly but having friends on the competition committee, not to mention all the sponsors, she started three laps ahead of the others in a six lap race. The NYT and the WaPo sent race tracking vehicles to report on her every move, unmindful of the fact that they were blocking the track for other competitors. The TV reporters wearily, though happily enough, reported on her uncontested glide to victory, even as Bernie Sanders unlapped himself time after time as his ride generated double or triple the speed of the preordained champion. With the competition committee hurling sticks at his wheels, his final sprint fell short.
a race gone wrong

We have now moved on to the final race. The race to the White House. The media have done their part to assure that the race is unsullied by any mention of issues, freeing the track for a perfect race based on the character, or lack thereof, of the two approved contenders. Thus it will be Team Blue versus Team Red; the establishment Democrat, vilified by the opposition as a lying, traitorous, liberal, corrupt, greedy, opportunistic criminal against the non-Establishment Republican, vilified by the opposition, along with most of the MSM and much of the Republican Establishment, as being a shallow, dangerously ignorant, corrupt narcissistic boor with the emotional development of a small abused child and the personality of an eighth grade bully.

Hillary Clinton emerged from the Democratic Convention with a bump in the polls and the endorsement of her vanquished rival, Bernie Sanders. She extracted the latter by modifying the platform to bring it slightly more in line with democratic values, such as support for a higher minimum wage. Earlier, in response to similar pressure she had changed her position from pro to anti-TPP. However, just as she started to pull far ahead, she nominated Tom Keane, the former Governor and Senator from Virginia as her Vice-presidential choice. Tom Keane is by all accounts, a nice man with an admirable record as a civil rights lawyer. However, his two most recent public utterances prior to his nomination were in support of TPP and more banking deregulation, arguably the two most vital issues in this election year. (We must admit that issues count for even less than vice presidential candidates in presidential elections.) This came as a dagger to the heart of the small but energetic democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Donald Trump was not to be outdone. Shunned at the Republican Convention by the GOP leaders (the Bush family stayed away en masse) and ridiculed in the press, he saw a chance to pick up support from angry Democrats and he quickly maneuvered out of that situation by picking Indiana Governor Mike Pence from the scarier realms of the twilight zone. Pence is best known for saying:
  • smoking does not cause death.
  • Climate change is a hoax,
  • a HIV testing center in his state must be closed,
  • he would give personhood status to embryos, and
  • he would keep Syrian refugees out of his state.
A persistent theme emerged arguing that Trump had really never wanted to be president but simply sought to inflate coverage of his name and his brand. Michael Moore made the most compelling case for this scenario but he was not alone. Moore had also written that Trump would win and why.  For a time it seemed that a total blowout was in the works and Trump would be the biggest loser in history.. Matt Taibbi stated convincingly that the race was over but was being prolonged by the media to boost TV ratings. At about the same time, Hillary’s ratings started to plummet and Matt had to wonder what the hell was going on.

People had once again underestimated Clinton’s capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of landslide victory. The Keane nomination had been tone deaf but she followed it by naming former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar as her transition chief, and thus a top advisor, in her new administration. For the uninitiated, Ken Salazar was the poster boy for corporate rapaciousness with regard to the environment. He never saw a proposal to clear cut a forest or sell off government lands that he didn’t like. She followed that with her own Mitt Romney moment. Mitt had sealed his fate in 2012 by claiming that the 47% of Americans who didn’t pay income taxes (because they didn’t have sufficient income to be taxed) were parasites. Hillary thought, and foolishly said, that half of Trump’s supporters were “the basket of deplorables”, i.e. racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic. She may have been objectively correct, unless she underestimated the percentages, but it was not a politically correct or even politically clever thing to say.

All conventional wisdom would suggest that this would be a landslide election, even if Clinton is an unpopular candidate to a degree without precedent. She has done amazing things to alienate voters,from her failures as Secretary of State to her gaming the primary, but nothing like Trump. He started off last year by insulting everything and everyone that the Republican Party has venerated for the past three or four decades. He has insulted people of every identifiable racial, religious or ethnic group and lately has taken to suggesting the appointment of people to high office that in another time, when there where more institutions available for the mentally troubled, would not have been permitted out on the street. To be fair to Trump, he was the only Republican candidate who said that Americans need Social Security and need to have access to health care. However to counter allegations of sanity, he came up with a tax plan as deranged as anything that Paul Ryan could conjure. When serial sexual abuser Roger Ailes was ousted as chief of Fox News, he was immediately signed up as an advisor to the Trump campaign. Insulting a couple who had lost their son in military action would have appeared to be a sure path for Trump’s exit from the race but no, Donald Trump seems to be unable to lose support, no matter what he does or says. Many people are so disgusted by the political process, by what government has become and what it has done to the country that they would prefer to see it implode rather than see the status quo given new life.
David Bossie

Peter Thiel
Roger Ailes

If indeed, this is a race to see who can lose, Hillary Clinton has an ace up her sleeve. She has tied her campaign to continuing the legacy of Barrack Obama. That legacy is spiraling downhill fast, as Obama campaigns ceaselessly for TPP, the “trade policy” designed to end all legislative democracy throughout the world in favor of corporate rule. Tying her candidacy to him is about as astute as Trump accepting the support of former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke but conventional wisdom, or any wisdom at all, seems to have no bearing on this race.

Another race comes to mind. At the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, a rookie, JR Hildebrand, led the race on the final lap, to everyone’s surprise. He was trailed by another driver, Dan Wheldon, who was also not expected to be in contention. On the final curve of the final lap, Hildebrand lost control of his car , crashed into the wall, slid along the straightaway to the finish line just after Wheldon had slipped by for the win. Will we see something like that? Who is leading? Who will crash?

This race cannot and will not end well. Someone must lose and either way, it will be us, the public. Our best hope is that the country, and the world, will survive for four years and have another chance to set things right.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Before You Flee the USA

We’re hearing a lot of vague talk about people leaving the USA if Donald Trump is elected president, a prospect that most pundits and pollsters view as being as unlikely as the passage of Brexit.  As someone who left the US at the time proceedings to remove Richard Nixon from office were underway, I thought I might offer some perspective and some advice to potential self-exiles.

Richard Nixon resigned on August 9th, 1974, 249 days after I moved to Italy. His place in the White House was taken by Gerald Ford, the only American President never to have been elected to either the presidency or the vice-presidency, having been appointed to replace Spiro Agnew, who left the vice-presidency under federal indictment for corruption. Ford’s one memorable achievement as President was to pardon Nixon of all criminal charges for which he might be indicted.

Despite his 2008 campaign slogan of hope and change, once elected, Barack Obama modeled his presidency on that of Gerald Ford. Fearing that prosecution of Nixon on burglary charges might tear the country apart, Ford had pardoned Nixon before any indictments were even prepared.  While Bush had never been impeached or indicted, his crimes, rather than burglary to steal political secrets, consisted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Obama chose to pursue a policy of looking ahead rather than behind in order to secure cooperation from Congressional Republicans.

His appeal for unity and non-partisanship appears not to have borne the desired fruit, other than sour grapes. Indeed, he has opened the door to Donald Trump, who openly boasts that his war crimes and disregard for the Constitution and international law will be bigger and bolder than those of George W. Bush. This kind of speech was unthinkable only a few years ago. Bush even took considerable measures to keep his criminal activities secret. When some of the grimmer details leaked, President Obama went to unprecedented lengths to prosecute the leakers and to steadfastly avoid prosecution of the criminals.

Now we’re faced with the prospect of a President Trump, although he is still considered an underdog, due to his monumental unpopularity ratings and the fear that he inspires. Standing between him and the White House is Hillary Clinton, whose own unpopularity rating only trails that of Trump by a few percentage points and who may still have legal problems lurking. She may have the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain overwhelming victory despite Trump’s trashing of the Republican Party establishment. The Obama Administration has managed to delay or completely omit any prosecution of his ordained successor for breaches of security related to her private web server and there has been no mention of the many violations of electoral law throughout the primaries. This complicity has enabled Clinton to stay in the race for the Democratic nomination and win it but the growing perception of a conspiracy between the Obama Administration, the DNC, and the mainstream media to anoint the Clinton candidacy could lead her to defeat.

As prolific author and old college classmate of mine, Frederick Ramsay, recently put it, we’re now faced with the choice of a Benito Mussolini and an Eva Peron.

Before you give notice at work or put your house on the market, you might want to consider a few facts regarding life abroad as an American ex-patriot.

  1. The USA is the one major nation in the world that taxes its citizens based on their citizenship rather than on their place of residency.   US taxes are low but there’s no escaping them unless you’re rich enough to be able to afford a Panamanian business adviser. Demonstrating the exceptional ability to have it both ways, the US also taxes non-citizen residents based on their residency, rather than their nationality.
  2. The US has recently made a considerable effort to make life difficult for US citizens residing abroad through what are mostly referred to as FATCA provisions. Among other things, these require that foreign banks report accounts held by US citizens to the Internal Revenue Service. Banks don’t want to incur this responsibility and for the most part they are simply refusing to open accounts for US citizens, or to close those already open. The FATCA regulations go beyond this so before you start packing, you should probably check them out. Brokerage houses are also canceling the accounts of US citizens living abroad, although we suspect that if the account is sufficiently large, they may make an exception.
  3. It is possible to renounce US citizenship but the fees for doing so have recently been tripled to something over $2000. That might be a reasonable investment but it will almost certainly result in a thorough audit of your tax returns to examine your motives. We all know that people all over the world are begging to become US citizens, so what is your criminal motivation for going against the universal consensus? We risk stating the obvious by reminding you to obtain a desirable citizenship before giving up the passport that got you there. Being a stateless person is not a desirable option.

Now, if all these warnings haven’t dampened your desire to escape the asylum, there remains the big question--- where to go?

Canada seems to be the first place Americans think of when contemplating an escape from the NRA or other US excesses. Donald Trump plans to build a tall wall along the Mexican border but if more Yankees start crossing the Canadian border than people crossing that US border from the south, will the Canadians do the same? At least there’s the risk that they may become less welcoming. There are many lovely places in Canada, at least in the summer, but realistically, how many people can Vancouver absorb?
Umbrian olive grove

I have never regretted moving to Italy. After forty-three years, I still think it’s the best place in the world to live but such views may have been distorted by its abundant and wonderful wine. There are some drawbacks. For example, if you need to work, Italy is a difficult place to live. The country is very welcoming to anyone who is financially  self-sufficient and who can thereby help the national economy. However, your education and professional credentials will not be acknowledged. Steady employment is difficult to find, even for Italians. Self-employment is also difficult due to the bureaucracy, unless one can find a way to work abroad while living here.

Housing in major cities, where there may be some possibilities of employment, is expensive. However, there are splendid opportunities to live in rural settings. Property taxes are low and the medical system is both very good and accessible. In some parts of the south, houses are being given away by local governments to people who pledge to restore them and live in them. If you have the means to be economically independent, you can probably live well in most countries, even in the USA, and there are less expensive places live than Italy, but none have the cultural and culinary advantages of this blessed country.  

Between writing this and posting it to the blog, we have witnessed a catastrophic earthquake in central Italy, proving that no matter how wonderful a place may be, none is immune from natural or unnatural disasters.  So among the drawbacks of Italy, I suppose one would have to include the threat of earthquakes.
Go paint the Irish coast

Language is a consideration for anyone contemplating relocation. Americans are not very adept at other languages and beyond a certain age, usually around thirteen, most of us can kiss our linguistic ambitions goodbye. That helps explain the allure of Canada, despite its climate. There are some other options in the English speaking world worthy of consideration. Ireland is a beautiful country with a mere four million people, most of them charming.. Artists pay no taxes there on their art income, so if you’re an artist, you might want to give it a look, unless climate is important to you. Other options include Australia and New Zealand, both places where work is legal. Bermuda is a beautiful small island with 65,000 people, in the middle of the ocean, the perfect place if you own a company with profits to shield.
Bermuda, population 65.000

England is a country I wouldn't have considered to be much of an option for US exiles, given as how Tony Blair converted it into an American colony of sorts.  I mean, if you want to leave on political grounds, why go to a State Department subsidiary?  However, post-Brexit, everything needs to be reevaluated.  A few years ago, prices for almost anything were insanely high, but then one pound was worth $2.  Post-Brexit, the pound has slipped to about $1.35 and if the trend continues, the UK may not be so impossibly expensive.  On the other hand, British residency may no longer confer unlimited access to the rest of Europe, but there are still quaint pubs, beautiful gardens, a Queen and lots of history. While some parts of the country may confront  Americans with a language barrier as impenetrable as that of France, there is little risk of being subjected to younger people saying "I'm good" or "I'm like....."

Malta, population 450,000
If Americans speak a language other than English, chances are that it’s Spanish, which is good because Spanish is the language of many countries in the world, most of them with better weather than Canada. Generally, the smaller the country, the the easier it will be to get by with English. Big countries, such as France, Germany and Italy, have many millions of people who speak their own language, so if you don’t, you will remain something of an outsider. There aren’t many people in the world who speak Dutch, Finnish, Greek or Maltese. Those who do may be just as proud of their language and culture, but a higher percentage of them will speak English, making your exile a bit easier.

Two other rules of thumb:
  1. If you have enough money to live comfortably, the poorer the country, the better you’ll be able to live. This is probably the reason that American oligarchs and their politician employees are working so hard to devastate the American economy. Slavery is out of fashion these days but multitudes of low wage workers can make life so much more comfortable for the affluent or even the moderately well off.  
  2. The political climate of a country is largely dictated by what the people have lived through a couple of generations back. Thus, countries which have suffered through decades of Soviet communist rule tend to swing to the right, often the extreme right. Poland and Hungary are two prime examples but Austria, which is far enough east to have felt the pressure, has also flirted with the far right recently. Germany, Spain and Italy, having lived through the worst of the fascist dictatorships, have tended left in the post war era, although after seventy years that phase may be ending. Latin American countries, having virtually all been under the thumb of American-imposed fascist military dictatorships, keep struggling to go left, except where those dictators remain in control. There are exceptions, such as Cuba, which was and still is under a communist dictatorship of sorts. We don’t know where that will end up but Cuban refugees in the US have produced a font of ultra-right politicians such as Ted Cruz and Mario Rubio, along with thousands of rabid right wingers in the Miami area. They are pushing hard to validate our theory.

I have a classmate/friend who just completed his fourth visit to Ukraine in as many years. His blog features descriptions of his travels along with many beautiful pictures. The country is very poor and has a history of rampant corruption but we surmise that it would be a very cheap place to live. It boasts a strong musical tradition, a lovely landscape, except for Chernobyl, and splendid architecture. An undercurrent of fascism and an on-going civil war would seem to be its major drawbacks.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have had some indirect contact with Nicaragua, an economically viable tropical retreat. The weather is hot and hotter, but if you’ve had it with snow, it might be the place to go. The son of a cousin of my wife has opened an Italian restaurant/pizzeria in Leon, Nicaragua called Borgo Italia. Leon is is just twenty or thirty km from the Pacific coast. Sunshine, surfing and Italian food sounds like a winning combination to me.  Tell Navin that we sent you.

It seems that Nicaragua has mellowed out enough to keep the American dogs of war at bay after regaining control from the US imposed regime via elections. It’s hard to predict where the country is headed but it seems to be following the lead of Costa Rica in becoming a new vacation and retirement home for Americans, Canadians and others.

We could speculate further on potential havens for escapees but first should note that while the exodus is largely predicated on a Trump presidency, actions taken by the current president, the “constitutional scholar” Barack Obama, before the inauguration of the next president, could affect conditions in the US and the rest of the world far more than anything a President Trump is likely to do, and which neither a President Trump nor a President Clinton are likely to be able to reverse. If Obama succeeds in slipping through his pet “trade agreements” during the lame duck session, all legislative responsibilities pass into the hands of large multi-national corporations. This in effect will eliminate already lax environmental rules. European food standards will go, allowing the spread of whatever substances the privatized FDA deems fit for human consumption throughout the world. The FDA currently enjoys a reputation roughly on a par with those of the US Congress and the Supreme Court.

Global warming will accelerate as emissions standards are relaxed.   You might want to hold off on your plans for exile until after the lame duck session of Congress ends. Should the trade agreements go through,  consider heading for higher, cooler lands, as those lovely low-lying tropical paradises will come to resemble Hell, with Ireland and Scotland emerging as the new wine countries.

Good luck!

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Modest Proposal for the Refugee Problem

While Donald Trump and his GOP rivals were competing to claim who would take the most extreme measures to keep refugees out of the US, from the liberal side we’ve heard a stream of platitudes about what a boon to the country the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees will be, and how the diversity of the population has been a source of strength and variety.

Yes, it’s true. We now get to eat pizza, hot dogs, tacos, spring rolls and even soul food at adjacent stands in shopping mall food courts throughout America. We forget how long it took, or is taking, for the groups who brought these foods to be fully accepted by the mainstream population.

People seem to prefer to live among people like themselves. It’s not just blue-haired ladies with matching eyes in the gated communities of South Carolina. Urban liberals in NY or  LA, who insist on eating in a restaurant of a different ethnicity every day, don’t really want to see or talk to people who shop at Walmart or vote Republican. The US may be a great melting pot but the ingredients are only amalgamated up to a point. The segments of the population remain segregated and stratified to the point where most districts and most states are never politically subject to change.

Here in rural Umbria we have an ex-pat community of people from all over the world, but their similarity in tastes and attitudes is far greater than any of their national differences. While some may be more economically conservative than they let on in public, they are all rigorously socially progressive. Social conservatives and people with strong religious views are looked upon askance.  As for the local people, there is a similar degree of conformity, however superficial.  Being hunters, most wear the same camouflage outfits, drive the same Suzuki jeeps, and share a predilection for becoming prematurely overweight.  Whatever their political views, they all display the same paralyzing level of cynicism about politics and politicians.

The local and ex-pat communities seem to get along well, given that the latter bring money and work. Refugees can be seen in the nearby towns and cities, mostly begging in the supermarket parking lots, but in the countryside, they are rarely visible. Our immigrant foreigners are predominantly women from Eastern Europe who have come to be live-in help for aging people who can’t manage on their own. They blend in. Interest in the cultural diversity they bring is minimal but they are certainly well integrated. Italy was accommodating and assimilating immigrants fairly well until the French, English and Americans decided that Colonel Gaddafi had to be overthrown. Since then, not so well.

In theory, liberals and conservatives may be split on whether to welcome or send back potential refugees but their visceral reactions are probably not all that different.. Those reactions will depend on whether they can find some common ground and reciprocally advantageous dealings, or whether the newcomers simply come to be seen as “the other”.
Aren't they cute
less cute

Before considering what to do with the refugees, it might be worth considering why there are suddenly so many of them, and where they’re coming from.

In the US, where Donald Trump wants to build the Great Wall of Mexico, Mexicans have been coming to the US to pick crops, tend gardens and do a number of other jobs that Americans citizens don’t want to do and that agribusinesses and other businesses want done on the cheap. It’s a Republican nightmare. Republican voters resent competing with illegal immigrants (now officially referred to as undocumented workers) for low wage jobs while big Republican donors want the cheap labor. This dilemma crosses party lines but the redder the state (e.g. Texas), the more strident the hypocrisy. Working conditions on both sides of the border are fairly bad and from the latest statistics that I’ve seen, it appears that about as many Mexicans are now going back to Mexico as are entering the US. There are still lots of people coming illegally, so what’s going on?

Much of the flow of refugees across the US border consists of people fleeing what were often referred to as the Banana Republics, i.e. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. What those countries have had in common, besides bananas, are brutal fascist regimes, either installed by, propped up by, or trained by the USA. Some of our politicians are referring to the border crossers as murderers, rapists and drug dealers, while more kindly disposed politicians tend to call them people seeking the American dream. Rather than seeking the “American dream”, I would tend to see them as people fleeing a universal nightmare. Young women are being raped and slaughtered in those countries.

A US backed coup in 1954 installed the first of a long series of military dictators in Guatemala. A civil war between the government and Mayan and Ladino peasants lasted from 1960 until 1996, with a death toll of 250,000. The Guatemalan Government earned recognition as the first Latin American country to “disappear” its opposition in large numbers. Former leader Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and sentenced to eighty years in 2012 for genocide but his conviction was overturned quickly when he was deemed too old for such a sentence. In recent years corruption seems to have superseded genocide as the country’s major problem.

El Salvador has the closest relationship of all Central American states with the USA. Oligarchy dominated the 19th Century, to be displaced by military dictatorships in the mid-20th Century. El Salvador’s civil war was shorter than that of Guatemala, lasting from 1980 to 1992, during which time El Salvador actually made news in 1989, even in the US, when a US-trained death squad murdered a group of Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. Many El Salvadorans live in the US. A significant number of them joined US street gangs and were deported back to El Salvador, where they joined up with armed survivors of the civil war to establish street gangs at home. They deal in extortion, kidnapping and drug trafficking and have infiltrated the government, the police and the military. The murder rate is El Salvador is just over 100 per 100,000, the highest in the world.

In 2008 Manuel Zelaya was elected President of Honduras. He was deposed in 2009 by a coup financed by CEAL, a business group in Honduras, represented by Hillary Clinton’s friend Lanny Davis. She prevented Zalaya from returning to Honduras and helped arrange the elections which he was kept out of. The US immediately recognized the new government and provided military assistance to it, despite the law saying that the US can not assist a government established by a coup d’etat. The State Department simply claimed that it was not a military coup. Since then Honduras has become a militarized state and by 2010 it had the world’s highest murder rate. We don’t know whether that title is currently held by El Salvador or Honduras but people are fleeing for their lives from both countries.

There seems to be little talk about this flight from terror in the American media, just that a lot of people are illegally crossing the US border. Ending US support for the Banana Fascist military regimes wouldn’t solve the crisis overnight but with time, the people would regain control of their countries. They might then be the ones to build walls-- to keep the gringos out.

The subject of refugees from the Middle East comes up a bit more.  Here again, there are decidedly different takes. I have a friend who talks about his wonderful doctor from Syria. Others don’t want to see any damned Muslims. Does anybody ask about why there is now an abundance of refugees from the Middle East? Perhaps they know but just don’t want to think about it.

In 2003, the USA, under President George W. Bush, invaded, occupied and destroyed Iraq, one of the few secular countries in the Middle East, for no rational, strategical or defensible reason. Members of the Baathist Party, made up of the dominant Sunni sect, were dismissed from the military and all government positions, and declared to be unemployable. Just imagine Ohio and Pennsylvania being invaded and occupied by an unstoppable superpower which decreed that anyone who was a Roman Catholic or a registered Republican was not fit to be employed in any capacity! It has taken some time but after being pushed out of their jobs, their homes and their neighborhoods by the invasion and the ensuing civil war, the younger and more energetic Sunnis have emerged, with Saudi money and US weapons, as the new ISIS or ISIL or DAESH or the Islamic Califate. The older or more pacific Iraqis have fled to whatever adjacent country they could escape to, mostly Jordan and Syria. Those countries, flooded with refugees, are in dire straits. Syria’s dictator, who has kept a lid on sectarian strife, however ruthlessly, now faces internal opposition, reinforced by personnel from Al Qaeda and other Islamic radical groups, while also receiving support from the US (which, led by Senators John Mc Cain and Lindsay Graham, always seeks to find the good guys, i.e, the “moderate rebels” and ply them with advanced weaponry) and “America’s best ally in the Middle East apart from Israel, Saudi Arabia”. This alone would have been enough to set off a huge flow of refugees, but alas, the neo-cons struck again, following Sarkozy’s lead, to support the overthrow of Col. Gaddafi. Sarkozy at least admitted to having a motive. He was after a large share of Libyan oil, but what were Cameron and Obama/Clinton thinking? Oh wait, it was destroy them to save them, that recurrent American theme.

Let’s put aside the tall walls and the cheerful platitudes. We all know the china shop policy: break it and you’ve bought it, but we prefer to adhere to supermarket policy. That bottle of ketchup that fell and shattered as you reached for something else is just a small bit of the supermarket’s overhead, so don’t worry, somebody will be there to clean it up before anyone can track ketchup all over the store. Life and shopping go on uninterrupted. Comforting, but let’s be serious folks. It wasn’t a bottle of ketchup. We brought a whole herd of elephants into the china shop, or to reshift the analogy, we set off a containerful of explosives in the supermarket. They’re out of business! Surviving customers and employees are fleeing the wreckage.

We Americans don’t deal with moral debts too well, partly because we have trouble acknowledging them in the first place. We did eventually get rid of slavery but it took a very bloody civil war. There was talk of forty acres and a mule for the freed slaves but neither the forty acres nor the mules ever materialized.

We did better with war reparations and war crime trials when imposing them on other countries, but somehow, the laws we established in Nuremberg have never been applied to our own misdeeds. Our moral debt to the world is growing even faster than our our balance of trade deficit. What’s to be done about all these refugees that we’ve displaced?
cat skulls being cleaned by bugs- photo by Trip Advisor

Among the adventures of my distant youth, I spent a number of months in the State of Oklahoma undergoing military training. I can vouch for the terrain being every bit as challenging as the Arabian desert, where fate also led me to spend a significant amount of time. Oklahoma in those days was notable for countless little Mom and Pop museums featuring large snakes, scorpions, centipedes and God knows what other poisonous denizens of the desert. Among my most vivid memories there was the ten day period when the temperature never went below 41°C (107°F), day or night. Then there was the bug epidemic in Oklahoma City. Large brittle bugs were all over the streets and sidewalks to where you couldn’t take a step without crunching one. Some people have made a life for themselves in Oklahoma- mostly football coaches- but it is a challenge. If Syrian and Iraqi refugees have survived through the destruction of their desert kingdoms, they can thrive in Oklahoma.

Jim Imhofe proves climate change is a hoax
Oklahoma’s most important political leader is Senator Jim Imhofe. Americans are terrified by fanatical Islamic terrorists and the widespread rejection of refugees from the Middle East is largely a function of the this fear. I would suggest that refugees in America have as much to fear from our homegrown religious fundamentalists as the other way around.

I hereby propose that one half of the territory of Oklahoma, excluding that already set aside for Native Americans, be set aside as a new colony for refugees from the Middle East. If they survived under the bloody regimes of Saddam Hussein and Assad, they can make it in the desert fiefdom of Jim Imhofe. The more fervent Islamacists believe that 72 virgins await each martyred jihadi in Paradise. Jim Imhofe believes that the environment of this planet is in God’s hands and that it’s presumptuous to think that man can influence it. That could be seen as a standoff between two rival belief systems, except that while there is no scientific evidence confirming or denying the existence of Paradise or the presence there of compliant virgins, there is actually a broad scientific consensus that man is mucking up our climate and our atmosphere.

I see the settling of a few hundred thousand refugees in Oklahoma as a win-win situation. If they quietly assimilate, we’ll just see more Arab specialties in our food courts.
shawarma may be the new pizza
If they turn out to be mostly hard-core religious fanatics, they’ll have to compete with the very tough and well armed locals. We’ve seen competition between rival sects before. Jehovah’s Witnesses vs. Seventh Day Adventists, Scientologists against everybody. Look at Utah. Mormons were thought to be a subversive group. Mitt Romney’s grandfather was driven out of the US for his polygamous views, but by 2012 Mitt got to run for President, the dream of every aspiring American.

Our views of marriage have opened up a lot recently so we should have no trouble accommodating traditional Islamic customs. We’ve seen Irish terrorists, German terrorists, Italian terrorists, southern white terrorists, so why the unique obsession with the Islamic faction? The IRA was largely financed in Boston and New York, the Likud in NY and LA. It may be tough but it’s time to move on. I can understand and even feel the widespread aversion to the Other, having just watched parts of the Republican National Convention, but I’m betting that all those Syrians and Iraqis will make Oklahoma a better place.

Sunday, January 31, 2016


The political establishment in the USA is peeing in its pants. Normally, the two political parties have colluded to not rock the boat in which the corporate fascist oligarchy cruises. The parties keep their public differences limited to things such as which public services to cut first, opportunities for prayer in public schools, and the availability of abortions, guns, and union representation. The parties theoretically agree on equal pay for men and women, with a subtle difference in emphasis. Democrats want to guarantee that women are paid as much as men for similar work while Republicans strive to assure that men are paid as little as women. Most Republican and many Democratic politicians join to support trade agreements which enrich a few corporate patrons while effectively disenfranchising entire nations, starting with the USA. CEO's, vulture capitalists and hedge fund managers keep getting richer and most everyone else poorer. 2016 was supposed to follow the same script. The Koch brothers pledged to spend a billion dollars to maintain the desired result.
Clinton II?
Bush III?

Somewhere, the train of inevitability got derailed. The chosen heiress to the presidency now trails an older democratic socialist senator from Vermont in the polls in New Hampshire and may also fall behind in the coming Iowa caucuses. Bernie Sanders wants to break up the bailed out banks too big to fail or jail, but his name has virtually never been mentioned in the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the four national TV networks over the last six months of 2015. Despite the blackout, his rallies have consistently outdrawn those of his rivals in both parties and he has risen steadily in all polls. He's projected as an easy winner over any of the Republican candidates and running stronger against all of them than Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party establishment is aghast that a pretender to the throne has stepped forward.
Bolshevik Bernie

Meanwhile, the big noise is on the Republican side. Most of the Koch millions have gone to Jeb Bush but with the Jeb! campaign having peaked with the support of about 3% of the party faithful, some of that money is now being funneled toward Marco Rubio, who makes a strong case for being a malleable enough establishment puppet. Currently in second place is the radical right wing fanatic, Ted Cruz, the man most hated by his peers in the Senate, on both sides of the aisle. Many of the original seventeen GOP candidates have fallen by the wayside as The Big Noise, Donald Trump, has emerged from reality TV to take a commanding lead for the Republican nomination. While spewing hate in every direction in mono-syllabic tough guy rants, he's the only Republican in the race who doesn't want to destroy Social Security and Medicaid and who acknowledges a need for health care available to all.
Il Duce II?

Last week I spoke for the first time in years to an old friend who has known Donald Trump for most of his life and worked with him over several decades. He believes that Trump entered the race on a lark, primarily to gain a lot of free publicity which would enhance the value of his many properties. Having no particular ideology beyond the art of the deal, and no significant goals beyond making more money, he probably never dreamed that he'd get so far in the campaign. He may have never wanted to either, and his increasingly truculent statements may have been a tactic to be eased out of the contest. He has offended a wide array of people, from former GOP standard bearer John McCain to Latinos and Muslims. With each new outrage, rather than being drummed out of the party, Trump has seen his popularity surge. His recent endorsement by Sarah Palin has brought yet more support from beyond the lunatic fringe, while stirring more fear at party headquarters. How much further does he have to go, or can he go, before he's finally squeezed off the stage? A few days ago, after insulting Fox News host Megyn Kelly, and by proxy, all women, he chose to self-exclude himself from the stage by boycotting the GOP “debate” on Fox, the unofficial propaganda organ of the Republican Party. Whether or not Trump ever really wanted the job, or has ever actually been a Republican, the man does have a huge ego, and his success in the polls is no doubt feeding it.

I watched the Trumpless debate and came away with two impressions. First, the candidates all fully collaborated in the media blackout of Bernie Sanders. Every one of them said how much he looked forward to running against and defeating Hillary. Bernie's name was mentioned once, and that in a feeble jest about him being a good candidate for Sweden but not for America. Apparently Sweden is a hellhole. That was one more mention than climate change got, or the state of the economy for that matter.

Secondly, the absence of Trump gave the remaining candidates more time to display their mind-boggling ignorance and other endearing traits. Rand Paul, the only source of rationality in the evening's festivities, mentioned that arming both sides in an expanding civil war didn't seem like a particularly clever or conservative idea, but that was lost on the herd of belligerent fools he shared the stage (and the auditorium) with. They see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys but can't tell a Sunni Muslim from a Shiite, much less a jihadi terrorist from somebody just terrorized out of his home. Nevertheless, they want to arm all the good guys, whoever they are, to kill all the bad guys. If they can't get it done, Ted Cruz will carpet bomb them all, although he might not wait. The good guys are us, (Republicans) while more or less everybody else, except those aspiring to legally emigrate to the US and become Americans, just like Ted Cruz himself, are the bad guys.

Witnessing this spectacle must make those urine drenched seats of power particularly uncomfortable now. Trump could cost the party not only the presidency but the congress as well. Cruz could put the party in the freezer for generations, if not in the morgue. Various types of remedial action are under consideration. Efforts to exhume the Jeb! campaign will continue. After all, the original plan was for a Hillary-Jeb! election to maintain the Bush I- Clinton I- Bush II- BushLite- Clinton II or Bush III line of succession. Jeb's mild public persona may lure many to ignore his rabid ideological bent, most evident in his efforts to suppress public schools while governor of Florida, and to ignore his important role in getting his dimwit brother appointed to the presidency in 2000. However, his recent defense of Gov. Rick Snyder, who knowingly poisoned the 102,000 residents of Flint Michigan, as a good man trying his best to solve an awkward problem, may not help his chances in a general election. Still, if he can let his inner nastiness shine through that bland facade, he might still have an outside shot at the nomination.

They've done it before
Weeks ago we heard rumors of a plan to draft Mitt Romney, should the convention become deadlocked. Unless Trump proposes something unimaginably hostile to the base, such as ending all aid to Israel or contracting his planned Tex/Mex wall construction out to China, a deadlocked convention seems increasingly remote. Just the other day, a Republican Congressman suggested that a non-controversial candidate, such as Paul Ryan, should be persuaded to step in. Paul Ryan? Non-controversial? The same Paul Ryan who occupies the Koch funded Dick Cheney Chair in Applied Sociopathy at the American Heritage Foundation? Perhaps Gov. Rick Snyder would be ready to step down and join the ticket as VP.

None of the above options looks plausible at the moment so what's the Establishment to do? If it comes down to a narcissistic Mussolini-style real estate tycoon running against a democratic socialist who thinks this is Sweden, somebody must step up to keep the Empire safe. Michael Bloomberg is considering a run as an independent to save New York and the rest of the country from the fascists and Bolsheviks. Can he do it? He has the chutzpah and, more important, the money to undertake this quest. A few years ago he gained an illegal third term as mayor of New York City by buying the City Council's vote to make an exception of him. As mayor he launched a successful campaign to convert Manhattan into a millionaire ghetto.

This could shape up as a three way, all Empire State contest: Trump- Sanders- Bloomberg. While Bernie Sanders is a senator from Vermont, he was born and grew up in New York. Hardly a reassuring prospect for The Establishment! Trump and Bloomberg would split the billionaire and wannabe billionaire vote, opening the road to the White House for Bernie.   Will they call in the CIA, or will unlimited money alone prevail to reverse the trend and have Hillary Clinton, another New Yorker, albeit an adoptive one, displace Bernie on the ballot. That should be enough to dry out the seats of power, keep the Koch blood pressure down and keep Sheldon Adelson's hair from falling off. Two NYC billionaires and one NYC multi-millionairess. A win-win-win choice even if The Donald is still not fully house-broken. The plutocracy is accustomed to running the government through well-paid surrogates. Taking on the work directly might be a challenge but seeing the number of volunteers in their midst, they seem to feel they're up for it, but would Donald Trump really want to live in that shabby old White House?


Saturday, December 19, 2015

New Flavor of the Month

The last global trend in S and M economic/political policy was “austerity”. While it hasn't fully run its course just yet, it has yielded many of its desired outcomes. Greece is on its knees, Portugal, Spain and Italy are still reeling and hoping they won't follow Greece into permanent bondage, while Ireland has reclaimed its pre-boom place in the European economic pecking order. In the US, while business indicators seem to be moving ahead, the life expectancy of the white working class has taken an unexpectedly sudden drop. These subjects have reacted to their masters at the IMF and the World Bank in somewhat different ways.

The Greeks protested and voted to oust their dominators and dominatrixes but alas, the new government sold them out, deciding to subject them to further beatings. The Spanish and the Portuguese both seem to want to follow the Greek course by voting against the bondage administrators but it remains to be seen if they will have better luck than the Greeks. While I live in Italy, I have no idea how Italians hope to escape their bonds but they've always been good at international maneuvers. The Great Houdini was, after all, an Italian. 

The Irish, having grown up under the strict tutelage of Roman Catholic nuns, for the most part just told the banks, master we have erred, beat us, hurt us, and so they were beaten some more. There are isolated cases of the Irish growing restive as they learn that their Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Enda Kenny, chief lecturer on the joy of pain that austerity brings, even after taking two pay cuts, earns more than the British Prime Minister David Cameron, as do Irish Parliamentarians vs their British counterparts. The Americans, always the ideal passives of the world, don't appear to realize that they are being beaten, unquestioningly accepting media propaganda that the discipline is ordained by God. The coming year will see if there is any awakening of an urge to throw off the chains.

Talk of austerity has faded recently as other concerns have captured the public imagination. Flavors come and flavors go, just as colors change with the season. Two or three years ago every shop window in Italy glistened with violet tones. Last year the orange Guantanamo prisoner uniforms inspired a surge of orange, but it never really caught on. This year it's all shades of gray. As in fashion, so it is in the world of news.

In July 2014, Senate Resolution 498, written by Senators Bob Menendez (NJ) (best known for his determination to maintain bad relations with Cuba and Iran) and John McCain (AZ) (best known for picking Sarah Palin as his presidential running mate), was passed by unanimous (100-0) vote on the same night that Israel launched a massive assault on Gaza, the third since the siege started in 2008. The resolution supported Israeli efforts to defend itself from rocket attacks. They additionally voted $428 million for Israel's Iron Dome missile system and later added another $225 m to replenish the Israeli arsenal, depleted by the three week assault on Gaza, which killed over 2200 of the 1.8 million people penned up up in the 360 square kilometer (about twice the size of Washington DC) strip. For seven years the Israelis had maintained a land and sea blockade of Gaza keeping out products such as shoes, paper, tea, coffee, wood, cement and iron. Food was allowed into the territory to not exceed careful calculations of the minimum necessary per capita caloric intake for the population. In the assault, 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals, two UN shelters and the only power plant in the territory were bombed. Strong measures!
self-defense measures

Since the UN partitioning of Palestine in 1948 there has been a recurring cycle of violence, with a pattern emerging of Arab aggression met with crushing retribution, interspersed with short-lived attempts to broker peace accords. It seems the Israelis got fed up with the never ending cycle of violence and came around to an unstated policy of eliminating all those troublesome Palestinians. This was perhaps one of the few possible rational solutions to the Israeli dilemma, but surprising in light of twentieth century history, coming from this particular group. The dilemma results from the unworkability of either the two-state solution or the one state solution for Palestine/Israel. The original two state solution, mandated by the UN, is no longer feasible because the Israelis have seized a vast amount of the Palestinian territory and rendered most of the rest unusable by the Palestinians. The one-state solution, i.e. allowing Israel to swallow up the entire territory and its inhabitants, may be the future, but it doesn't promise well for the long term. The Israelis want a Jewish state but the Arab birth rate is significantly higher than the Israeli birth rate so the ruling group would be destined to become a minority. Apartheid, a policy that worked for a while in South Africa, is already effectively in place.

Genocide is a term that we associate with the Nazi campaign to exterminate Jews during WWII but there have been numerous other cases of one national or ethnic group trying to wipe out another. In Rwanda, the Hutu made a serious effort to eliminate the Tutsi; most Armenians were eliminated in a purge by the Turks that the Turks have continued to deny doing to this day. In China, Mao made an all out effort to eliminate the professional classes. In the USA, the Native Americans, or Indians as they were called until recently, were decimated by the new settlers. Many of these conflicts were the intensification of long standing rivalries or revenge for perceived offenses in the past. Hitler viewed the Jews as an inferior race and sought to eliminate them not for anything they might do but because of his own warped perspective on racial purity.

The US Senate has put a whole new spin on mass killing with its certificate of approval on pre-emptive genocide, the new flavor of the month. Once approved, it's become as trendy as those violets or shades of gray, putting talk if not the reality of austerity into the category of yesterday's news.

When the US launched its shock and awe invasion of Iraq in 2002 it harbored no thoughts of extermination of the entire Iraqi population. Our PNAC crusaders only wanted to create regime change to allow Saddam's enslaved subjects to taste the fruits of American capitalism and democracy, except that we made the entire ruling Baath Party unemployed and unemployable, which led, unsurprisingly, to widespread ethnic and religious civil wars. A decade later, the battered, beaten and hardened Sunni Muslim groups, have emerged, with Saudi money, American weapons, and jihadi fervor, as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), leaving headless corpses in their wake. What's the answer? We have to wipe them out, whoever they are or call themselves! (They have more aliases than a CIA secret agent, using also ISIL, Daesh and lately IS, for Islamic State) This has played right into the 2016 US presidential campaign and its bizarre coverage in the media. Candidates are falling all over themselves in a rush to declare that they will kill more Islamic terrorists faster than their competitors. While the Republican candidates excel at this sort of rhetoric, the sitting president and his leading pretender to the oval office, do not sit on words alone. The president has taken on the tedious chore of wiping out suspected bad guys by drone attack in the far corners of the world. Former Secretary of State Clinton seems to light up with glee recalling her part in the overthrow and grisly murder of Colonel Gaddafi, another designated bad guy. Her delight in that bloody moment seems to render her blind to the reign of chaos left behind and the vast flow of desperate refugees it has launched on Europe.

The presidential campaign is obviously too long and it needed a lift, which ISIS has provided. Before that, in order to avoid the serious issues of the day, the candidates had to simply rail about the illegal immigrants coming across the Mexican border. Who would be tougher? Donald Trump won that shouting contest and leads the field.
contenders to lead the free world
Now, we've seen Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino breathing fresh air into the campaign. We have entered World War III,” Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, declared. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas said Americans were “just plain scared…..We have an enemy out to kill us, and we have a government we don’t trust anymore.” There's an incursion of Syrian refugees into Europe and a prospect of some getting to the United States. Donald Trump wants all the Muslims already in the country, as well as any newcomers, to be issued special identity cards or other identification, perhaps a number tattooed on their arm. The lesser candidates don't want to see or hear of them at all. We don't need to kill them. Just keep them out.

There is a bit of confusion in the rush to kill. Everybody wants to kill ISIS. Our neo-cons want President Assad gone, preferably dead, and therefore want to arm the people opposed to him. The people who most want to topple Assad are Sunnis, many of whom belong to ISIS or Al Qaeda, that is, the bad guys. The Russians are also out there killing ISIS and we've been taught that Putin and the Russians are among the worst bad guys. The Turks, who belong to NATO, are fighting against both Assad's forces and the Kurds, who in turn are fighting ISIS. Lindsey Graham wants to arm them all, a policy seconded with a bit more caution by some of his campaign adversaries. Most of the candidates want boots on the ground but none are sending their daughters. So, whose boots?

Any discussion of pre-emptive genocide would be flawed if it failed to note that three GOP candidates for president attended a meeting of the National Religious Liberties Conference on the same weekend that they got together for a presidential debate. The leader of the Conference, the Rev. Kevin Swanson, emotionally proclaims that the Bible teaches us that homosexuals are to be rounded up and executed. Debate within the Conference centers around the proper means of execution. The candidates, Jindal, Huckabee and Cruz, were welcomed to the gathering but didn't stay for the speeches or debate. His attendance apparently having done nothing to boost his poll numbers, Bobby Jindal subsequently dropped out, leaving Huck and Cruz to soldier on, almost alone, in the anti-gay crusade. Now Ted Cruz seems to be gaining on Trump and has a shot at becoming the GOP candidate for the presidency.

A word of caution. Ethical concerts apart, and the majority of my American countrymen appear to have no trouble setting aside such concerns if any do exist in their hearts and minds, there is one practical problem with the current penchant for pre-emptive genocide.

The last time a religiously identified group was singled out for extermination, Nazis killed about seven million Jews, drastically reducing the European Jewish population and virtually eliminating it in some countries. By that standard, the number of Palestinians to be eliminated is manageable and the territory is small. The US fervor for the elimination of Muslims is more problematic. Based on the counsel of our Israeli and Saudi advisers, our hawkish congressmen want to get the killing bandwagon rolling in earnest, as opposed to the token drone killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, with a major (nuclear?) attack on Iran, which is the main center of Shia Muslims. Shiites, one of the two main branches of Islam, constitute a 10 to 15 % minority of the estimated 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. At the same time, most of the jihadis carrying out terrorist attacks these days are Sunni Muslims. All western democracies seem poised to respond to the challenge of ISIS by unleashing their military might. Ted Cruz wants to make the sands of the desert glow in the dark while Carly Fiorina appears to advocate taking out Russia at the same time. Simultaneous attacks on both Shia and Sunni Muslims could conceivably result in their reunification, something they haven't been able to achieve on their own in more than a thousand years.

Furthermore, while most of this huge swath of humanity is currently peaceful, or even passive, under all out siege that could conceivably change. In addition to a number of Muslim majority countries there are also millions of Muslims living in Western countries. It might be prudent to consider the fate of Nazi Germany in the wake of its rather efficient killing program of its perceived internal enemies. To skeptics who might protest that Nazi Germany only fell due to being militarily overextended, I would point out that the US currently has military bases in three quarters of the world's countries and has “special forces operations” going on in most of them.

As we are now in the holiday season, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. May we move on to a new and better flavor of the month. As the shades of gray fade, may we skip the bloody red and make blue the color of the year for 2016.