Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sanders vs. Trump

Bernie versus the Donald. A head-to-head televised debate. This prospect is so exciting, I won't be able to sleep until it happens.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What Bernie Sanders has given us

Bernie Sanders is doing the impossible. I truly did not believe, one year ago, that anybody would be able to force reform upon the Democratic Party to even the extent that he has. As any observer could have predicted, he has run up against a torrent of opposition from the corporate, pro-war infrastructure that is the party itself. Most states do not have open primaries so, believe it or not, the extraordinary support that we’ve seen for Sanders has actually been quite muted. (Due to the lack of open primaries, the size of his rallies have been more representative of his widespread support than have ballot results.) When independent progressive voters are factored in, the results are the surprising and fantastic polls we’ve seen. Sanders has at least a 20% higher approval rating among all Americans than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. He polls significantly better against Trump as the hypothetical Democratic nominee than does Clinton. Making this difference is Sanders’ army of independent voters.

The Democratic National Committee rigged the game against him. This is indisputable. Due to the ridiculous concept of "superdelegates,” which makes the Electoral College look like the pure definition of democracy, Clinton had more than 400 pledged delegates on her team even before Sanders, or anybody else, entered the race. The votes of these super individuals, in some cases, are equal to the votes of thousands of citizens pooled together. In some instances, Clinton controls entire blocks of state superdelegates-- even in states that Sanders won with 75 to 80 percent of the overall vote. Former presidential candidate Howard Dean is an example of a superdelegate-- from Sander’s home state of Vermont-- that’s pledged himself to Clinton even though Sanders won better than 80% of the votes in the state’s primary. That’s not the worst of it. It’s a common misconception that these superdelegates are all elected officials of some kind-- the state’s governor, perhaps, or congressional representatives, or state-level representatives. Some are actual lobbyists. The party allows this. It has found a way to cut out the middle man and just let the monied interests vote directly, representing nobody but themselves.

But Sanders has pierced through the façade. Perhaps above all other achievements, he has exposed the lies and the hidden mechanisms that subvert the democratic process in the party that most pretends to represent the common man. His critics in the party are correct about one key thing-- he’s an interloper. I like to think of him in grander terms than that-- he’s a Trojan horse. He’s an independent running for the nomination of a party he doesn’t belong to because he wants to claim (re-claim?) that party for progressivism. Part of his grand design became clear yesterday. Permitted now to choose five members of the committee that will draw the party platform, Sanders chose, among others, James Zogby, who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s military tactics, and Dr. Cornel West, who has been a valuable writer and educator for decades, marched with Black Lives Matter, and engaged as a profoundly pivotal public critic of President Obama. Of the president, the jazz-obsessed West once said, “I voted for John Coltrane, but instead got Kenny G.” (Contrary to some media reports, this line was not a reference to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s haircut.) I fully expect the passion of Zogby and West to sear through those committee meetings. If only they were televised.

I still believe that Sanders’ electoral strategy has flaws. Choosing to run as a Democrat in a crooked game tempers his political voice well before November arrives, and there will come a point when Sanders will be expected to endorse Clinton, which will be a deeply unsettling sight for a lot of us. The fear that the corporate Democrats have about him, though, is palpable. They expected to be done with him in March. His refusal to end… or as they like to say, “suspend” his campaign before the convention is driving some Clintonites to distraction. (Incidentally, it’s the height of arrogance for anybody living in a state that’s already voted to deny residents of later states the same voting options they had, especially when one of the states is California, with 39 million people.) In July, after Clinton has won California because she has refused to debate Sanders in the state, and when the party is nominating what we can only assume will be either a Clinton/Kissinger ticket or a Clinton/Netanyahu ticket, there will be Bernie-- and his supporters-- speaking out for justice and for the powerless.

Is Sanders damaging Clinton by staying in the race? Of course he is. Anybody that voices the details of her public record is damaging her. But Sanders has been remarkably soft on her, compared with what some of us expected. It has kept his campaign focused and positive, but can be frustrating in real time.

Sanders should be talking about Clinton’s email scandal. He has denied that it’s an important issue in the election. His position contradicts what even the inspector general of the State Department said yesterday about its own former secretary. Clinton attempted to conduct nearly all of her important business at State out of the public eye-- and she succeeded wildly. Putting aside the issue of potential hacking, there are any number of public documents related to Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State that are not accessible today through Freedom of Information Act requests because she circumvented the system. And that was her intent. She committed a crime in doing this, as she did when she covertly employed U.S. diplomats as spies, reporting on our allies at the United Nations. The only reason we know about this offense is because of the WikiLeaks cables. We wouldn’t necessarily know it from other government documents. She was running the department from a private server.

Sanders should be talking about Bill Clinton’s sex crimes. Donald Trump won’t hesitate to do it, indeed he’s already started. Democrats have acted this week as if it’s beyond the pale for Trump to be name-dropping Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broderick, and Gennifer Flowers (wow, that’s a long sentence), even as they trash him over accusations that have less legal standing than do Bill’s accusers. Bill lied about Monica Lewinsky, but she saved the dress. He lied for years about having a sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers, then was forced to admit it in a deposition. Nominating Hillary, with that spouse of hers in tow, puts the Democrats in the worst possible position to make the case to the electorate that Trump is a misogynist that abuses women through a position of power. What, was Camille Cosby unavailable to run?

The Democratic Party has been morally-bankrupt since the dawn of Reagan. That’s when the DNC’s envy over the Gipper’s ability to raise money from private business began completely clouding their judgement. Instead of a three-decade push for public campaign financing championed by one of the two major political parties, the Democrats started calling corporations for bribes and trying to out-Republican Republicans. This year the cluelessness of the party’s leadership reached new heights, however. The bosses, and that’s still what they should be called, had their nominee picked out four years early. She was-- and is-- an awful presidential candidate, a staggeringly-unlikable and politically-compromised choice that now gets outpolled in a hypothetical head-to-head race against the least popular major party presidential candidate in American electoral history.

Sanders provided for them the perfect candidate, nearly as pure as Ralph Nader in both his public and private life, personally popular with unimpeachable character, a long track record of service with integrity, and no skeletons. Instead, they’ve chosen to stick with the playbook, doubling down on the Senator from Goldman Sachs, a woman that’s done more to damage feminism than anybody else in the second wave. And if that’s not enough, the operatives are also succeeding in alienating the next generation of progressive leaders, activists, and change agents, and plenty more who simply plan to be voters when they get older.

These are people that may really believe that America has been transformed by the Obama presidency. Kenny G plays a pleasant melody. Israel is not an apartheid state, they believe. Unisex bathrooms are a human right, but health care needs to be run by private industry for profit. They fancy themselves progressive, but they can't bring themselves to indict the nation that has made them so comfortable. They believe what Republicans believed a generation ago: The system is fair. Living in poverty means you aren’t working hard enough. Of course they believe this crap. Listen to how they sneer at people that work minimum wage jobs. Go to the comment threads of stories written about the Clinton-Sanders race. Sanders’ supporters are described as out-of-touch “hippies” that are secretly misogynist and prone to violence-- and racist also, since Sanders represents a predominately-white state. A death threat made by supporters against corrupted party officials in New Mexico somehow reveals widespread misogyny that Sanders should be forced to own and then denounce, but nobody demands that Clinton do the same thing when one of her supporters, actor Wendell Pierce, physically assaults a female Sanders voter. The comments we hear, instead, are of the stripe: Well, we weren't there. Everybody involved probably drank too much. Even though there’s no evidence that the woman was drinking to excess. (Only one party involved in the altercation was arrested.) I thought we were supposed to believe all women when they make accusations of violence being perpetrated against them, but we also know that, for “liberals,” that standard ends just before we get to the victims of Bill Clinton.

The fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, and of progressivism, in general, doesn’t end with the California primary. The party convention may ultimately lead to a nomination of Clinton, but there will be a battle before that happens. And the accomplishments of Sanders’ successful run at the presidency are already apparent. He has thrust the vital issues of income and racial inequality, trade imbalance, and imperial state-building into the limelight. His presence in the race has not improved the candidacy of Clinton. Don’t let anybody try to convince you of that. She is thoroughly corrupted, and moving her rhetoric to the left isn’t the same as her actually moving to the left. It’s ridiculous to say that Sanders was in this race for her benefit. The lives he has inspired will be his public legacy. The causes he has championed have been the big winners. The movement didn’t begin with him, though, and it won’t end with him either.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The grandmother of bathroom panic

For you young folk, the irrational fear over transgender people being allowed to use ladies’ restrooms is not new to this millennium. One of my earliest political memories is of a lady named Phyllis Schafly, who was a high-profile character in American political life in the 1970s, a passionate opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment for women to the U.S. Constitution.

A St. Louisan, then and now, the founder of Eagle Forum, and a pioneering pearl-clutcher, she warned the country that passage of the ERA would lead to such calamities as unisex bathrooms and equal pay for equal work. She was one of the early figureheads of the Christian fundy movement, really at the forefront before the whole thing ignited behind the anti-abortion movement and the Reagan presidency. In 1979, in the WKRP in Cincinnati episode "Carlson for President," during which Arthur runs for Cincy city council, one of his opponents on the debate panel, the one that has written a book called “It’s a Man’s World, Girls”-- that’s Schafly. That's who she was. She was Anita Bryant without the musical chops or the orange juice, Curt Schilling without the fast ball.

Despite a continued activism, the 91-year-old Schafly has really been off the national radar for about 30 years. I remember hearing about ten years ago that one of her children came out as gay (as did the children of fellow fundies Dick Cheney and Alan Keyes), but that’s about it. In St. Louis, these days, the name Schafly now means ‘micro-brew’ to most people. (There's no immediate family connection to the local brewery.) But she has still been around. I just looked her up. The ERA never came to fruition (nor has equal pay) and, until now, bathrooms have remained largely segregated by genitalia. It’s beyond me, incidentally, why macho men would be so concerned that other people with penises, those that self-actualize as women, even children, are using the other restroom. Get out of our locker rooms, they’re saying, out of our military, our scout troops, our schools, and our churches, but come pee next to me.

Maybe this latest integration danger posed by the federal courts and the Obama administration will place Schafly's name back into the headlines. The threat of a pedophile lurking in the next stall has returned. And this time, it has legs. If we let transgender people have bathrooms, next thing they'll want is wedding cakes. And then, eventually, we'll have to change the laws to make pedophilia and sexual assault illegal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The good

It’s time somebody called the 2016 American election cycle exactly what it is-- the healthiest one in our lifetime. Pretenses are now shattered. The Washington news media is bleeding out. Political consulting firms are scrambling to justify their continued existence. The Bushes are pouting on the sidelines. Progressives are in open revolt against Hillary and Bill Clinton. The Democratic and Republican Central Committees have been exposed as dishonest brokers. Just think of the vast number of reprehensible media and political figures that have been figuratively dismembered during the last 12 months. Think of how much worse things would be if we were still being sold a narrative in which Hillary Clinton was a “liberal.”

Rhetoric is being replaced by an actual examination of the public record. The mushy middle is dying a slow death. Progressive special interest groups have been unmasked for all to see as either genuinely representative of the aims of their rank and file members or nothing at all of the kind. The economic victims of neo-liberal globalization are finally the nation’s most powerful collective voice. Only one cycle ago they were lining up in support of candidates that sneered at their poverty. The activists of the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements are empowered and energetic, writing their names in the history books. Most importantly, thanks to the bold Mr. Sanders from Vermont, no right-wing troll will ever again be able to effectively misrepresent Hillary Clinton, a center-right Republican, if ever one existed, as a Socialist without being laughed at.

Civility may have caught the last train for the coast, but it's a cudgel wielded by the establishment to squash dissent. It is democracy’s most overrated virtue.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hidden histories

Back on the JFK assassination for a day... I’m reading Lamar Waldron’s 2013 book “The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination,” and he contends that the president was killed on the orders of New Orleans mafia don Carlos Marcello. It's not a new name. In 1979, the Senate Committee on Assassinations even determined that Marcello had the “motive, means, and opportunity” to direct the killing. The lawmakers acknowledged simply that they did not have the evidence to prove it.

Waldron has been working full-time on the case since 1988 and says he has the evidence. He has Marcello and fellow godfather Santo Trafficante connected to Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald. Though largely an unknown figure in popular culture today, Marcello was the most powerful mobster in the country for the better part of 40 years. He controlled the game in east Texas, all of Louisiana, and much of Mississippi. His was the oldest family Mafia operation on the continent, and he didn’t have to compete with four other families for control of his part of the country, as the boys did in New York. (He also didn't need the permission of any other families to order the execution of powerful individuals.) His operation was said to have been as financially-lucrative for a generation as General Motors, and the kicker-- he confessed to an undercover FBI informant in federal prison in 1985. (The mobster died in 1993.) I’ve just come from New Orleans, where Mosca’s Restaurant, 17 miles from the Crescent City Connection Bridge, is still operated out of a building owned by Carlos’ descendants.

But I also just completed a book by the father of baseball sabermetrics, Bill James, that dedicates itself to what has apparently been James’ secret second passion throughout his life-- the "true crime" genre. The book is called "Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence." James begins his latest by making the convincing case that the “true crime” aficionado is not necessarily obsessed with morbidity or gore, but with justice. He calls bunk on all Cuban, CIA, and/or Mafia-related conspiracies (like Waldron's), but is bright enough not to believe in the existence of magic bullets. He endorses the theory of the ballistics expert, Howard Donahue, outlined in a book called "Mortal Error," by Bonar Menninger in 1992, that says the third bullet echoing through Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963-- the one that mortally wounded Kennedy, was shot accidentally from the gun of Secret Service agent George Hickey.

The cover-up that followed, he contends, was to protect Hickey's life and reputation, that also of his colleagues, and the livelihood of the Secret Service. With either book, we’ve got a government cover-up, reinforced in theory by the vast number, probably millions of pages, of CIA files still unavailable to the American public, despite a court mandate to reveal. And the Warren Commission findings have now been discredited for more than half a century ago, and effectively contradicted by the later Congressional committee. I’m on it. One of these two authors is certainly biting at the precise truth, and I’m still reading.

5/15/16 update: Waldron's theory seems irrefutable. The mafia-style shooting was ordered by Marcello and Trafficante, upon the brother of the Attorney General that had declared war specifically on the two of them. The order came complete with abandoned and hushed-up prior attempts on JFK's life organized for motorcades in Chicago and Tampa, covered up by Hoover's FBI almost immediately because the mobsters could squeal about the secret assassination attempts of Fidel Castro they had been called to action to perform by the CIA in conjunction with Cuban exiles. (The truth also compromised ongoing actions.) Oswald was, as he told us at the time, a patsy, and Ruby was a Marcello goon ordered to silence Oswald or find somebody on the Dallas police force to do it instead. He failed in his attempt to delegate, but proved to be a crack shot at immediate range. More than forty witnesses in Dealey Plaza claim that the Warren Commission altered their statements. Dozens of people said they saw, and even talked to, men who identified themselves as Secret Service agents in the crowd, but the government officially maintains that the only agents in Dallas were in the motorcade or waiting for Kennedy at the motorcade's destination.

Belief in conspiracy is not, I repeat, not a radical position. The United States House of Representatives officially believes in an assassination conspiracy, likely involving the mafia. In the 1990's, the House ordered the release of all related government files, but its orders fell to nothing after hitting a stone wall. (Oh, the ineffectiveness of a Congressional order when up against the military state.) Kennedy's secretary of state, Dean Rusk, believed in mafia involvement. Robert Kennedy went to his death believing in it. The reality of Jack Ruby alone should cinch it. The Warren Commission sold Ruby to the American people as a patriot. Yet those that champion the Commission and the "lone gunman" theory are the adults in the room?

end of 5/15/16 update

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One of the tricky factors we’re forced to deal with when dissecting and interpreting the historical record is recognizing what people living at that particular time knew about their world, or even about themselves. Hindsight is 20/20, current vision usually less so. As they weren’t alive at the time, a majority of Americans today, for example, probably don’t realize that Hawaii was not one of the United States at the time of the Japanese attack in 1941. Pearl Harbor was a U.S. military installation on an occupied island.

It may have been difficult for 1963 Americans to believe they could be lied to by their government about the murder of their president, but they also didn’t know at the time that the government’s intelligence agency was involved in almost every sort of clandestine global illegality imaginable, from overthrowing foreign governments to promoting regional instabilities. And that's just in Cuba. The people knew virtually nothing of it. Americans experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis through the news lens of a supreme threat of Communist aggression only miles from their shore, but did not yet know, as a citizenry, about Operation Mongoose, the U.S. government's 33 plans for disrupting the government of Cuba, everything from crop destruction, false flag terror operations on U.S. soil, to exploding cigars. History books give us a chronology of events, but not necessarily in the historical order of their reveal.

As Waldron points out, it was, likewise, an easy sell for the intelligence community to convince Americans that Lee Harvey Oswald had been a dedicated Communist. The Red Scare was burning hot. But Oswald had to be the rare “Pinko” indeed that had enlisted in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol, then the Marines, during an era when you were considered "better dead than Red," then supposedly taught himself Russian and convinced all of his military colleagues that he loved the country on the other side of the Cold War (some, we were told, called him “Oswaldskovitch”), yet he was never written up for this pro-Russia behavior in the military, was given sensitive clearances in the Defense Department, and then allowed to get a job at a Dallas firm that made maps from U-2 spy plane photos for the government. He was photographed numerous times with anti-Castro Cubans Americans (including Ted Cruz's father?). Americans watched “nightclub owner” Jack Ruby shoot Oswald to death live on afternoon television, yet it’s strange now to consider that Ruby would not be widely identified in the press as a man with extensive mob ties until the late 1970’s. It’s not that a good many journalists were unaware of the fact. They just said nothing. Americans didn't see the Zupruder film until long after the Warren Commission had closed shop (and years after that before they saw the complete version) so they had no idea that the president's head was yanked backwards after the second hit even though he was supposedly shot from behind by Oswald.

So yes, some of us believe it very possible for large-scale conspiracies, involving multiple players, to stay secret for decades when we’re talking about government agents and underworld henchman. Among both groups, secrets are the stock and trade. And frankly, the secrets surrounding the Kennedy assassination really haven't stayed secret all that successfully. An extraordinary amount of information contradicting the Warren Commission Report has been out there almost from the beginning. Plenty of people with knowledge of events have talked a blue streak. We just don’t have an establishment media that pays those people any mind, or shows an interest in truth. There were a hundred advantages to having Oswald be a "lone gunman," and another one that developed over time, and remains, is to protect the reputations of the journalists that covered it up or had it wrong.

To consider a parallel from today, the United States government did not publicly confirm that it was killing hundreds of civilians with its Middle East drone strikes until March of this year, but those executive murders, over the period of several years, were not exactly what you would call a well-kept secret. Multiple reporters-- but nearly all them outside the main Washington framework, told us of the facts. There was just no institutional pressure upon the Obama administration to confirm them. Same thing with JFK.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Songs in the Key of Cumulonimbus Rainbands

I've just returned from the 47th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival-- my ninth-- but storms were the story of the day on Saturday, the 30th, and Stevie Wonder's performance was washed out "for our safety." No big deal-- only 2,200 miles round-trip, two $75 tickets, and three hours in the rain to see the Eighth Wonder of the World. And I haven't seen any of the first seven.

Back in Des Moines at the same time, music fans were tuned to seven Garth Brooks concerts at the Iowa Events Center. I was all prepared to turn up my nose and declare victory over them for having seen Little Stevie... who incidentally is not so little anymore. (Even the baby girl who performs on "Isn't She Lovely?" is 41 years old.) My neighbors (seemingly all of them, according to Facebook) saw Garth Brooks, at least one time, in a two-hour concert performance, but I saw Stevie Wonder in a dashiki wave to the crowd and sing an a Capella "Purple Rain"even though I wasn't within a hundred yards of being able to hear him.

So I'm declaring a tie.

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The general condition of New Orleans, Louisiana, meanwhile, remains desperate, but not serious.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Laissez les bons temps rouler

This week I'll be absent because I'm road-tripping to New Orleans with my better half. It's my ninth year in a row to JazzFest. We'll probably post a photo online at some point of us standing in front of the Andrew Jackson statue in Harriet Tubman Square.

Cubs, Cubs, Cubs


They're everywhere. They're printing Jake Arrieta no-hitter-themed t-shirts-- a first as far as I know. ESPN.com's full-time Cubs beat reporter, Jesse Rogers (that position exists?), has a story posted about how the Cubs are preparing for more no-hitters this year. Their top three pitchers could pitch a no-hitter "any night," according to pitching coach Chris Bosio. They even have a no-hitter protocol. Saturday wasn't "any night" for one of those three as John Lackey gave up six runs in five and two-thirds innings, seeing his ERA balloon to 4.97. Put your money on Arrieta.

Manager Joe Maddon is baseball's new bad boy, challenging with righteous indignation Busch Stadium's essentially-logical prohibition against t-shirts with the word "sucks" on it. What he doesn't seem to understand is that the rule is in place by the Cardinals at their ballpark to protect against t-shirts aimed at the rival Cubs. How else, after all, would you describe a franchise that hasn't won a World Series in 108 years? And t-shirt manufacturers know this.

Today's ESPN site has no less than ten Cubs stories posted. One subject is Maddon's charity-focused t-shirts. (The guy wears more clothing depicting his own image than anybody I've ever heard of-- and he recently stripped away the Cubs' dress code. Is he so obsessed with his appearance because his counterpart in St. Louis is a matinee idol?) Other story subjects are Javier Baez's new "maturity," John Lackey's thumping at the hands of the Reds, Arrieta, the Cubs' epic run at baseball's single-season record for no-hitters (so far they lead the Majors with one), four more stories about Arrieta and one about his catcher, and one about Kyle Schwarber's Charlie Brown-like existence watching the team chase the pennant while he hobbles around on crutches. (Fear not about Schwarber, Small Bears. Adam Wainwright returned from a torn ACL after only four months last year, and, if there's one thing Schwarber knows, it's conditioning.)

It's only April 24th. How much more can the Cubs possibly give us?