Friday, September 23, 2016

The debasement of Elizabeth Warren

Autumn is lovely. It’s the beautiful season of falling leaves, important baseball games, and-- because it’s an even-numbered year, pandering Democrats. In 2016, the latter translates into the pushing of Elizabeth Warren into the national spotlight to make rousing anti-Wall Street speeches that carry no weight of action behind them whatsoever, but orchestrated to help drive progressives to the polls. This is that magical time of year when it's important to remind voters just exactly what you pretend to stand for.

Warren says she wants Wells Fargo’s CEO, John Stumpf, to resign from his job. She wants criminal penalties sought against the Wells Fargo agents and executives that created phony accounts to enrich the company's stock portfolios, and she wants golden parachutes returned to corporate coffers. But also, she wants Hillary Clinton to be president. And guess what? If you want the first part, you can’t have the last. Wells Fargo and its executives have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Secretary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. In 2011, Bill Clinton received $200,000 alone for giving a solitary speech to Wells Fargo executives and employees. They bought the Clintons. They have to share them with some other large banks, but they own them.

They also own President Obama, these “now much too much bigger to fail” banks. But Obama wanted to do more after the economic collapse, you plead. What could he do in the face of a do-nothing Congress? Well, Congress has shit to do with it. The Department of Justice, under the executive branch, has 100% authority to decide which criminal investigations to pursue, and which punishments to hunt in court. When Wall Street arsonists torched the housing and lending markets, one man and one man alone was responsible for letting the perps walk away scot-free-- Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton stands in now as even more compromised than her predecessor.

This you may label as conjecture, but Hillary Clinton will be president less than four months from now, and then we will find out exactly how illegitimate this anti-Wall Street and anti-corruption campaign message really is. We will still be well within the statute of limitations to pursue criminal penalties against, not only the low-level criminals at Wells Fargo, but the high-level ones that created and fostered the atmosphere of fraud that we now read about daily in media reports. In fact, nothing stands in the way right now. DOJ lawyers can step up any time they choose to pursue what Warren has been calling for on her pro-Hillary stump. Still waiting.

As for Senator Warren, she serves an invaluable role for the Democratic Party, a deeply cynical one for the voting public. She epitomizes what the party claims to believe in and to be working towards. She personifies the path by which Democratic voters internalize that they’re the good guys, and that they have a collective moral compass that Republicans lack, even when there is no difference at all in deed. She feeds an illusion. I don’t doubt her sincerity, but nearly every one of her actions is being manipulated to a cross-purpose. She serves that powerful make-believe progressive movement that works to snuff out the real one each new electoral season.

We were told by party hacks that she was a finalist to be Hillary’s vice presidential choice, when in reality, her name was floated only to assuage angry (and possibly litigious) Bernie Sanders voters. The actual pick for VP then was very purposefully an anti-Warren selection. Because real action must always serve the center-right coalition. This week, with Warren railing against bank corruption during Senate hearings, we have delivered to us specifically-timed think pieces written by Clinton loyalists opining that Warren would be “the second most important person” to the president inside a Clinton White House. There’s no real-world evidence to support this contention whatsoever-- unless we’re referring to the symbolic importance to the party explained above. Warren will be just as short of actual power within a Clinton administration as she is in the Obama one, a solitary, crying voice in the wilderness.

I'm sure that all left-wingers, regardless of party, would agree that the fundamental question at the very heart of Warren’s public service is “are you with her, or are you with Wall Street and the banks?” This question must ultimately be posed of both her colleagues and her constituents. And we already know who Clinton is with. She took millions upon millions from the group of them to rise to where she is today. There is no Candidate Clinton without Wells Fargo, without Citigroup, without Goldman Sachs. Elizabeth Warren’s role in the rigged game is to make you feel better about yourself, superior to the lumbering herd of Trump voters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kaepernicks on campus

Slowly but confidently, Colin Kaepernick's NFL colleagues are joining him in his protest of the National Anthem over the national indifference to racism and institutional violence, but sadly, we haven't witnessed the same electrifying visual images we've seen on NFL sidelines performed by pigskin participants at the collegiate level. Yes, there've been a few, but they've been far between and mostly away from the campuses of the high-profile, Division I institutions.

It illustrates how little power these athletes perceive themselves as having upon the "plantation" that is higher-education athletics in the United States. I don't think they're wrong in their bleak assessment of the situation. Individually, they have almost no power. Without the major financial investments that many NFL players have behind them, they are as expendable as their physical bodies so routinely reveal them to be. Even college basketball players, also exploited, are probably better able to exert power, the great ones in particular, simply due to the fact that their sport allows one or two players to dominate a contest.

The funny truth of it is, though, that, as a group, the athletes have magnificent social and economic power. We saw this at the University of Missouri last fall when members of the Southeast Conference football team, en mass, refused to suit up until the university president had stepped down because of his insensitivity and inaction in the face of racial intolerance on campus. They were successful in their protest within a week, the president was history, and a highly-lucrative contest between the school and Brigham Young University, which had been threatened, went on as originally scheduled on a brisk November Saturday.

The sad irony of all of it is that the college environment is exactly the right one for protest, for independent thought, and for self-expression. It just doesn't work out that way. In an ongoing absurdity incapable of inviting immediate comparison, University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz bans the young adults on his team from using Twitter. Preventing college students from expressing themselves in public is a little like keeping elementary school students from participating in extracurricular activities like sports, music, and dance. It's a big reason they're supposed to be there.

As we saw in Columbia, Missouri a year ago, though, there's a danger posed to the traditional economic structure of an educational institution, and perhaps even to a state, if the students learn to express themselves beyond the simple ability to parrot a humble gratitude for the "rare opportunity" they've supposedly been gifted. To adapt a Kurt Vonnegut idea about education to the collegiate sporting field: If they were no longer using their diplomas as tickets to establishments of the ruling class, they would no longer be obligated to pretend that America is something that it obviously isn't.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The man who built it

The gentleman who wrote Shoeless Joe died on Friday. W.P. Kinsella was 81. He was from Canada, educated at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and his fiction novels and short stories-- that I was familiar with, anyway-- were all about baseball or they were dramatic tales set in Native American communities in Canada. I met him at a book signing in West Des Moines when I was in college, and he signed my copy of the short story collection that included the short upon which Shoeless Joe was based, Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa. I asked him to inscribe it "Go the Distance," a reference to the book and the extraordinary film that came later, Field of Dreams, and he agreed. The next two people in line followed my lead and asked him to inscribe the same. I was so proud.

Bill Kinsella loved the movie Phil Alden Robinson made based on his work. We all do. It's the most important piece of pop culture in our state's history, and I think plays just as well away from home. I grew up on a farm where we had a baseball field built into our backyard too. My father didn't carve out a diamond infield or anything like that, but there was a fenced backstop and the edge of the cornfield marked a home run. Nearly one hundred Moellers gathered for a family reunion at our farm in the summer of 1992, and one of the second cousins from Southern California remarked to her grandmother, "This is just like the Field of Dreams." The movie was only three years old at that time. The grandmother, now 102, appeared by video at this summer's family reunion near Yellowstone National Park, and recalled the anecdote.

My wife and I were gathered with family on Friday, and the topic of Field of Dreams came up, even though we were all unaware of Kinsella's passing. I told my wife, who immigrated from Kenya eight years, you have to see this movie. There are people in this world that associate it with your husband.

Upon his death, I'm grateful for what Kinsella did for Iowa, for my circle of friends and family, and also, of course, the new life and the new legacy that he gave the Eight-- Weaver, Cicotte, Risberg, Felsch, Gandil, Williams, McMullin, and Jackson. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

9-11 at 15

2016 has seen the complete and utter collapse of the traditional news media in this country, along with much of our sanity. Bizarrely, I think we have Donald Trump, largely, to thank for this, although whistle blowing leakers of courage held a detonator, as did lying politicians who’ve given all of us so much for which to be cynical. Trump’s campaign has been a direct repudiation of the establishment media, exposing it as fraudulent even to those in the nation’s hinterlands that don’t spend their evenings concerning themselves with whether or not Matt Lauer deserves to be revered. In the cultural arena, Trump's ultimate legacy will be having welcomed white supremacist and nativist groups back into the open, and I, for one, consider that a positive thing. Where there is light, there is no secrecy. It wasn't Trump's noble ambition. His motive was greed. But now we see who you all are, and holy shit, there are a lot of you.

Hiding behind the flag and mindless patriotism isn't playing anymore, though, as reactionaries watch the activists take to the streets, impervious to danger. The Have Nots have had it. Can you remember a more bizarre September 11th than the one we experienced on Sunday? This one was most notable for the protests against police brutality that took place on professional football fields. The patriotism police must be altogether flummoxed. Their attempts to shame and discredit the agents of social progress have lost all strength. How much authority do you have to scold when your political standard-bearer is running against the Iraq War you defended, against the Washington neo-con establishment that played you for suckers? You're admitting to the world that you were wrong (and meanwhile, here are the Dixie Chicks, still touring). What the hell just happened? Nobody feels like organizing a red, white, and blue parade. The reactionary right can’t attack the left for its purported lack of patriotism when the best presidential candidate they can come up calls Bush the Decider a loser and says that prisoners of war are actually not heroes. It's a dissociative identity disorder. If you couldn't still work out your demons by going onto social media and calling an NFL quarterback "a burrhead asshole," as one of my friend's friends did, you'd have to order up a butterfly net for yourself.

The news media doesn’t know how to handle any of the chaos. The desk anchors didn't pay to get those head shots done only to get so much abuse lumped onto them. They’re getting attacked on all sides-- alternately accused of permitting the lunatic Trump to “mainstream” xenophobia, and then of ignoring the colorful stories behind Hillary Clinton’s compromised candidacy. (Both are true accusations, incidentally.) No doubt American news reporters long for the day when they-- or more accurately, their predecessors-- held the respect of the citizenry, those days when a shiny smile could flaunt his or her journalistic celebrity proudly at dinner parties in Washington and Manhattan. Now, nobody gives a shit. Conservatives hate one media conglomerate, liberals another, and the audience for each has been pared down to a size that essentially qualifies as a cult. Few Americans can name more than one or two members of the United States Supreme Court, but fewer still could tell you which empty suits are currently hosting the CBS, NBC, or ABC evening news. What does their celebrity even mean for them anymore? They’re careerists in a business that gives off such a stink, they might as well be congressional representatives. Directly related, the Trump phenomenon is not a hard one to explain. He’s deeply unpopular with an enormous cross-section of the American population, but the campaign is built upon his direct confrontation with the nation’s news media, and that institution is even more unpopular than he is.

Today's journos are in a knot of their own tying, helpless to defend themselves against charges that they are protecting Hillary Clinton on behalf of the nation’s ruling Washington/Wall Street cabal. (She has been successfully vetted already, but he's still hustling for the oligarchy's endorsement.) There is a clear video made public this week of a frighteningly-frail Clinton wobbling to the sidewalk in broad daylight in midtown Manhattan, nearly biffing it chin-first into the side door of a limousine van, and-- this is an important element-- the campaign refuses to release the candidate's medical records to the public, yet reporters are accused of owning a pro-Trump bias if they publish a word about any of it. Worse, and more bizarre than almost anything previously imagine, these reporters are labeled sexist.

It's a silly season to make us forget the previous one, and the one before that. As the War Without End reaches the age that it qualifies for a school driver permit, we see the modern empire in a state of astonishing collapse. The destruction of the Twin Towers, as if in a perfect metaphor, wound up doing a number and a half upon our national psyche. It's exceedingly difficult at this point to claim victory over the terrorists. The USA is a nation that owns a proverbial hammer, a hammer that it enjoys using at any time and at any location upon the globe. But it is hard as hell to exact a violent revenge upon a group of successful suicide bombers. So we were forced to go another way with it. At a concentration camp in Cuba, we locked up and tortured hundreds of people that we thought sort of looked like the suicide bombers. The Bush/Cheney Energy Corporation took us into a bloodbath in Iraq under a total fiction. The Bush and Obama administrations both made firm allies of repressive governments like Saudi Arabia's, and apartheid ones like Israel's, whose leaders gave generous contributions to the Clinton Foundation and, together, we executed the invasions of nations whose leaders didn’t think ahead to give contributions to the Clinton Foundation-- Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Qaddafi’s Libya, and al-Assad’s Syria.

We see the hijackers' ghosts everywhere, suspecting the terrorists are probably right next door. It’s hard for me, personally, to imagine how the United States could have two better neighbors than the ones it has. Canada is like the better version of ourselves that we like to believe we see in the mirror each day, and Mexico, a culturally rich land with a shockingly stable government considering it breathes next door to a country with an insane policy on drugs and an insatiable habit for them. Yet, according to records printed by the Intercept, we spent $1.1 billion on a “virtual fence” of censors along the Mexican border that turned out to be a technological failure. We threw another $230 million at a failed plan to install radiation detectors at our airports. The lost, priceless treasure of our military men and women in immoral Middle Eastern wars is a profanity-- and not to mention, all for naught. The Taliban holds more territory now than at any point since 2001. According to polls, 90% of young people in Iraq consider the United States to be their “enemy.” Retired U.S. General David Petraeus has recently suggested arming our original enemy in the War on Terror, al Qaeda, in a fight against ISIS. And you wonder why many Americans don’t listen when dicks like him proclaim Donald Trump to be a danger. He is one, but the point goes missing. They are men and women of power operating without moral authority in a nation that also does not possess it.

So the Fourth Estate is gone, unless you have strength enough to reach under its giant, rotting corpse and find the still-beating heart of its tiny children that are the Intercept and Anonymous. Most will never do that, and so they're on their own to do the sorting of what's actually true and what's a press release. On August 1st, President Obama announced his latest war, a new bombing campaign against ISIS in Libya-- and the news media didn’t even notice. That was a day Trump was publicly feuding with a Gold Star father. I'm not sure if he won or lost. The pundits are still debating.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The silence of the Great White Father

The censored reaction of President Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton, to the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline is an unconscionable act. Approximately 5,000 members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American tribes have been protesting in strength, staring down guns and attack dogs, in order to protect their water and their ancestral land from an oil company called Energy Transfer Partners that's been empowered to destroy by the United States government. What would the uproar be if this oil firm wanted to pipe through Arlington National?

The same week the president goes to Asia to tell audiences there the people who elected him at home are “lazy” on environmental issues, he continues a stone-cold silence over the pipeline and the fate of Native lands. To Asian business leaders, he vowed to continue pushing for the planet-mugging trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A provision in the deal would allow foreign companies to skirt U.S. environmental laws and regulations. Late-term president same as the early-term president.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein spent part of her week getting arrested for trespassing in an act of civil disobedience protesting alongside Sioux protestors in North Dakota.


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This is the latest must-read of the election season-- Greenwald explains the complete surrendering of responsibility on the part of the American mainstream media in appropriately critiquing the Hillary Clinton campaign. Corporate news agencies believe that any criticism of Clinton is a boost to the repugnant Donald Trump campaign. I indict Huffington Post and MSNBC, in particular, as well as a so-called “alternative” media source, Mother Jones (which doesn’t deserve to carry that historically-important name). In each case, and you can find all of this online, it's a ceaseless defense of all-things Clinton that is almost humorous. The unfiltered parroting of the campaign's talking points is most annoying, but the McCarthyite attacks on her opponents, channeling the same anti-Russian sentiment of a half-century ago, get my vote as the ugliest.

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How to explain the fact that hundreds of NFL players, alternately African-American and white, have NOT joined Colin Kaepernick in his silent protest of the nation’s anthem?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The perilous fight

How quickly we forget our appreciation of Muhammad Ali.

News and sports observers so quick to praise, upon his death, the life and lessons of Ali are tearing into Colin Kaepernick for his principled refusal to stand for the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before San Francisco 49ers football games. If you’re my age or younger, I suspect this uproar you’ve been hearing for the last three days is something akin to what Ali stared down when he refused an army stint in Vietnam during the 1960s on the grounds that African-Americans had too few rights at home and that he had "no quarrel with the Viet Cong."

For his stand, Ali was stripped of his championship belt. Kaepernick’s employer, to its credit, has stood behind its quarterback, as now have several of his fellow NFL players, but we’ve been treated to online videos of 49ers fans burning their Kaepernick replica jerseys. Many players have publicly criticized their colleague, who says he is motivated to this public protest over the United States’ oppression of black people and people of color.

The jabs directed at Kaepernick would certainly sound familiar to Ali if he were still alive-- How ungrateful can a person be to thumb his nose at a country that has made him rich? Because, you see, in America, if you’re poor and black, you don’t work hard enough, but if you’re rich and black, the country is responsible for your wealth. Ali heard this argument as a refrain a half-century ago. Billie Holliday probably heard it too when she recorded “Strange Fruit” in 1939. White Americans have a hard time appreciating human action that is not selfish in motive.

Another argument is that Kaepernick isn't "specific" about what needs to change for him to end his protest, or additionally, that he has offered no solutions. That is misdirection. Kaepernick has been quite specific. He referred to "bodies in the street" and "people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." That is a reference to police killings for which there has been no justice. Government-sanctioned violence has been a tool of relentless assault upon the black community. If you want solutions, which is not a professional football player's responsibility to give us, check out 25 good solutions from columnist Shaun King. They include more female police officers, required college degrees for officers, routine police drug testing, and independent citizen review boards of police conduct.

They have also argued that protesting the flag is the wrong way to voice your anger, but his is a peaceful method of protest. He has used his platform to create awareness and he has done it at the risk of greater personal loss, including that of life and limb, than any other public personality in recent memory.

Within conservative circles, it’s permissible to many for Donald Trump to proclaim that America’s prisoners of war are unheroic, but a black man projecting ungratefulness for the privilege of living in this country is a bridge too far for their standards of patriotism. Stand between Americans and their red, white, and blue nylon fabric, and you will get burned.

When Ali died earlier this year, this blog made the argument that most Americans didn't understand the true legacy of the Champ. This latest episode is damned proof of it. Like Kaepernick, Ali saw the larger struggle beyond just his individual life as a man of color. The irony of an Ali comparison is that Kaepernick's protest is actually more justified. Why? Because it's the same struggle and 50 more years have now passed.

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Now, about the anthem itself-- and this was certainly not even part of Kaepernick’s agenda. It has a profoundly racist history. The Intercept was first with this-- the re-examining of the song's third verse, and a celebration of the American war machine at conflict with its own people two centuries ago. The song's author, a slave owner, rejoiced in the death of slaves that had recently freed themselves to fight for liberty alongside the British in the War of 1812. The stanza that sees no apparent contradiction between the existence of slaves in the land of the free...

No refuge could save the hireling and slave 
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave 
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

Black people were not considered to be of consequence in Francis Scott Key's land of the free. Kaepernick's point also.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cabin fever

I just returned from a four day-three night stay at a remote cabin in west-central Minnesota. My phone didn't work and the only television was a wicker basket full of DVD movies. It was a marvelous time until our five-person party was pulled over in our taxi cab and robbed by armed men with police badges. They commanded us at gunpoint to sit on the sidewalk and demanded payment for alleged vandalism.

Next up is a trip to St. Louis this weekend and the induction of four new members into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame-- Sam Breadon, Terry Moore, Joe Torre, and Chris Carpenter.