Saturday, November 08, 2008

California Goddam! (With apologies to Nina Simone )

Election elation… like a spiritual orgasm or simply a loosening of a long held burden, Tuesday was a night of bliss for anyone who has suffered through these past eight years of treason, mediocrity, veniality, and incompetence. The election of Barack Obama is in every way poignant and meaningful. Symbols matters. Pathos matters. There has been a perceptible shift in public consciousness and the moment will live on as its own entity forever, like a man on the moon.

And like a man on the moon, the moment itself will be of no practical importance save for what it serves as a catalyst for. Four days later is not the time to start registering cynicism. I think I can live off the glow from Tuesday night for at least eleven weeks. And perhaps even eleven weeks and one day further, because seeing Barack Obama sworn in with Michelle and his little girls by his side, I can say to anyone, in any country, that’s MY president. That’s what WE are all about.

But that was a true statement in 2000 and 2004 as well. Symbols matter. We carry darkness in our hearts. George Bush was my president, and for eight years we DID stand for torture, ignorance, war, and, recently, economic degradation due to criminal greed.

This is why, in the midst of the euphoria of seeing a man named Obama win the presidency of the United States of America… I have to look to my own state, and say “California, Goddam!

Goddam you, California for saying YES to bigotry and hatred in the form of Proposition 8!

“Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer”

Goddam you, California for looking with love and affection at an African-American man and then spitting in the faces of men and women simply because you cannot accept secular consecrations of same-sex matrimony!

“Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer”

Goddam you, California for putting the comfort of chickens and pigs raised for slaughter above the civil rights of your fellow citizens!

Goddam you, California for running the YES on 8 campaign premised on the fear that parents are too stupid to speak to their children about issues of sexuality!

Goddam you, California for running a cowardly NO on 8 campaign that further stigmatized same-sex marriage by tacitly apologizing for bigotry (“no matter how you feel about marriage…”)!

“You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality”

Goddam you, California for being on the front lines of the civil rights marches, student demonstrations, sit-ins, and immigration rallies of the past and not stepping up to help your brothers and sisters in their time of need!

Goddam ME for letting the enthusiasms of the moment distract me from the fight against ignorance and oppression… just because I’m not one of those directly impacted!

This is one of those times I used to wonder about, times in history when individuals and groups were being oppressed. I used to wonder where were the people of conscious? How could this have happened? Where was the courage? Where was the organized outrage? Where was political will?

“I've been there so I know
They keep on saying ‘Go slow!’”

I used to assume that in our enlightened day things would be different. Naturally we would be more rational, more fair, more graceful in our dealings with our fellow citizens. We are California. We have a Republican governor who thinks universal health care is a good idea. We have a Hispanic mayor for one of the largest, most diverse cities in the world. We have a three-tiered higher education system and research facilities that are the envy of world.

We have medical marijuana!

I thought WE were different from those “hick” states that want to ban the teaching of evolution or restrict a woman’s access to health care. I thought we were the “New Frontier,” the zenith of the best of moderate progressivism.

I thought… but I forgot, too. I forgot about Rodney King. I forgot about Japanese internment. I forgot about Armenian exclusion laws. I forgot about Pete Wilson. I forgot about Zoot Suit riots. I forgot about May 1 and Macarthur Park. I forgot about “local’s only” surf Nazis. I forgot about Daryl Gates and choke-holds. I forgot about Rampart. I forgot about Prop. 187 .

I forgot about a lot because you don’t want to remember the stuff that hurts. The stuff that makes you think that maybe we aren’t that good. We aren’t that liberal. We aren’t that civilized.

What hurts is that, this time, I can’t point my finger at the LAPD, or a Republican governor or a big corporation and say “you are to blame!” I can only look at my fellow Californians. I can only look at myself.

We aren’t that good.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In case, at some future moment...

... I forget, I put away, the things of the heart
I want some keepsake of the time
when that which was possible
became actual. When the promise
affirmed the better portion
of our nature and said
"Yes, this is who we are
and this is how we will
move forward."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election 2008: A "Close-Enough" Democracy

Election 2008: A “close enough” democracy

The United States has a rancid method for selecting its chief executive. Two presidential elections are held on the first Tuesday in November every four years… the first is the ceremonial popular vote and the second is the “for real” electoral vote. Only the latter really counts.

Ask 100 Americans what the electoral college is and perhaps 40 of them will even know what the hell you are talking about. Most Americans, even after the elections of 2000, believe that their votes matters when it comes to choosing the President. Even those who feel they understand the electoral system are bound to say that somewhere along the line, their vote does matter because, somewhere along the line, the elector is popularly chosen.

You remember that campaign for elector, don’t you? Gosh, it seemed it would never end… all those negative ads…

Truth to be told, the electoral system is complex by design. Complexity is hard to communicate, which is why the whole subject is glossed over when we discuss democracy in America. We would rather believe the mythology of “one person, one vote,” rather than the more uncomfortable truth that the electoral college is in place to assure the hegemony of the two party system.

We trust you to vote for EVERY office except the most important one, because god-knows what would happen if someone from outside the club got in. Ross Perot… unhinged, perhaps paranoid though he may be, at least knew when he was outgunned. It’s not so much that he couldn’t get the votes in ’92, but that he simply couldn’t win, not without causing a constitutional crisis. Of course, the fact that the electoral college IS a constitutional crisis (in spirit if not in law) is overlooked.

Inertia has taken over. Most of the time the voting public is so doggedly apathetic of Federal politics that it is happy to look the other way. When scandal and catastrophe reach the front pages (as it did in 2000 and as it should have done in 2004) the thought of fundamental problems being at the heart of our democracy creates a kind of aphasia of the political consciousness. We can’t talk about these things because it would mean upsetting the underpinnings of our beliefs about ourselves. It is much easier to look at the “stupid” voters in Florida who couldn’t navigate a ballot, to blame Nader, or the nerd who might cause trouble by acting like a sore loser.

Political stability is not one guarantees of a free society, but at least at the Federal level, it is kind of cult which trumps our revolutionary ideals.

That being said, I am thrilled to go to the polls tomorrow. Here’s a quick rundown of how I am voting. I am including the state-wide ballot initiatives because, though flawed, California’s system of initiative, referendum and recall is a model for the nation. If I were to construct the perfect democracy, initiative, referendum, and recall would join proportional representation, parliamentarianism, election day holiday, and public campaign financing as foundations for that political utopia.

President of the United States
OBAMA - Naturally. Barack Obama has his charms and his drawbacks. But a president is not just a noun, he is an adjective. For eight years, “President of the USA” has been a byword for incompetence, belligerence, and willful ignorance. I believe that Obama has the energy, guile and the necessary narcissism to speak as America, and not simply for America. Symbols are meaningful, but substance counts, too. If Obama is “just” another JFK then little will get done in the next four years (and let’s hope that is the ONLY comparison that will be made with the late president). If he presses genius into service… and by all accounts, he just might… and he can win over detractors the way Regan and Clinton could (and I have my doubts) then things might get done.

But great, good, or indifferent, it is important that the psychic bleeding be stopped. Obama, on a very fundamental level, represents that basic change.

Also, it IS meaningful that Obama is an African-American… and more so that his is mixed. At my core I am a Woody Guthrie, Mark Twain, Studs Terkel (RIP) kind of patriot. I love that I can point to a guy like Obama and say “my President. That’s what WE are all about.”

Congressional Representative
SHERMAN – A nerd. A guy who embarrassed himself on The Colbert Report. The sort of fellow who if you saw him, you might want him to do your taxes (he is a CPA!) but not necessarily run your life. But he is also a progressive in a time when that means something. He cares about human rights. He knows that this Federal takeover of the banks is un-American, and he’s not afraid to go against the party line. Also, he is responsive to his constituents, which, out here could be a college professor or a porn actress.

State Senator
PAVLEY - The Greens (the party to which I, for the moment, affiliate with) are not running very many candidates at the moment. In any case, I do have some affinity for the Democrats at this moment, if only because we find common cause in ridding ourselves of the stinking corpse of the current administration. Fran Paveley is a Dem, which is good enough for me in 2008, but she’s also an environmentalist who gets things done. It helps that she actually knows what she’s talking about as well.

State Assembly
BROWNLEY – A down-the-middle kind of Dem with an interest in education. Essentially “ho-hum” but we have two choices… the Democrat or the Republican. That’s the way it goes in two-party, winner-take-all land. In a proportion system it might be worth-while for a Green or a progressive independent to run but things being what they are… also, I can’t bear NOT to vote.

That being said… so we live in a country where we can’t directly elect a president – an office that the electorate could conceivably study up on, but we are expected to make decisions between ten different judgeships? Who follows these careers? One candidate, Cynthia Loo, has spent time as a “Superior Court Referee.” Another, Steve Simons, has been a “Consumer Rights Advocate.” I can probably come up with a reasonable narrative for these careers, but is this really an office that should be left to a ballot? I have no problem leaving this choice in the hands of a qualified executive… a Mayor, a Governor, a City Council. Isn’t this what we do with the Supreme Court?

State Measures
1A - YES Money for the bullet train linking LA and the Bay Area. It’s about fucking time! They’ve only been talking about it for 30 years. Every governor has turned it down. Never the right time. Meanwhile, England is linked to France by a high speed train UNDER the fucking water! Meanwhile, Japan yawns in apathy over their bullet train. California probably should watch her purse (god, how sexist!) but this is a project that, when completed, will generate a lot of income for the state via tourism and interstate travel. Two hours to San Francisco? Punch my ticket, sweetie!

2 - YES Requires higher standards for animal confinement at farms. Animals raised for our consumption should be treated humanely before they are killed. Scare tactics on the “NO” side focus on racist suggestions of “Mexican” eggs and concerns for increases in cost of food. I doubt anyone will fall for that weak tea. The fact of the matter is that we are completely detached from our food. Maybe we think a chicken is running round free and an occasional egg drops out or that a pig is somehow “caught” while living free and wild on a farm. No. Think trash compactors. Think horrors.

3 - YES Money for children’s hospitals. I support hospitals for sick children.

4 - NO Requires parents to be notified if the daughter seeks an abortion. Abortion is a medical procedure which should be available to all women. Presumably, a daughter with an open, loving relationship with her parents will communicate her heath concerns to them. But, sadly, many parents suck. What if it wasn’t abortion… what if it was a blood transfusion and the parents are religiously opposed to such a procedure? For this reason, Operation Rescue must be disappointed on Tuesday.

5 - NO Changes existing drug offense sentencing rules. Drug laws are absurd. All drug use should be decriminalized. But we don’t live in Fairy-land. There are ways of moderating the draconian legislations in this State, but Prop 5 isn’t it. Good intentions, poorly construed.

6 - NO State money for local law enforcement. The usual “the criminal element is taking over” argument. Police and firemen always need more money. In a different time, a different election, I might say yes to a $965 million allocation to crime fighters. But not in 2008.

7 - YES* We are in an energy crisis. We will not drill our way out, and hybrid and ethanol are dead ends. We need big government. We need mandates. We need FDR. What we get is a sloppily-written piece of potential legislation with more holes than a good emantaller. A lot of good people are on both sides. But California needs to be in the vanguard of the green economy. We can tinker with the details later. But 7 needs to pass. UPDATE: I ended up voting NO at the last minute. I kept seeing the face of T Boone Pickens and remembering how he destroyed John Kerry in 2004. A disgusting human being who is seeking to make loads of dough now that his wells have dried up.

8 - NO Would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. This is known as discrimination. Opponents are homophobic and/or simply stupid. No reasonable thinking person can make an argument that two people of the same sex marrying would undermine the legitimacy of so-called “traditional marriage.” Similar arguments were made to keep whites and blacks from marrying not so many years ago. Let’s get over it as a people. Let’s enter the 21st century.

9 - YES Keeps the victim of a crime informed about the machinations of the criminal. Seems common sense. Surprised it isn’t common law.

10 - NO Helps consumers buy alternative fuel vehicles. Good intentions but I fear that it would favor hybrid vehicles. Prop 7 is the more comprehensive plan.

11 - NO Gives a small cabal of power brokers the authority to redraw district lines in the State. Wholly anti-democratic.

12 - YES Gives nearly a billion dollars to veterans to buy homes and farms. It is a pitiful recompense for the lies and, frankly, abuse of the armed services by the exiting administration.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Other People's Toilets - Part 2

Other People's Toilets – Part 2

photo credit: Adam Rompel

I temped for about four years back in the late '90s/early naughts. Much has been written about the topic of temping by better writers than me so I will leave it to them to tell the big narrative.
I worked a couple of six-month stints at the corporate office of a major banking concern. I was pretty anonymous there. I did heavy lifting, loads of filing, and various other menial, degrading tasks that they still saw fit to pay me $15 an hour for (well, the agency paid me $15. I probably cost about $20 an hour to the company.) It was a stiff, joyless place with people well-ensconced in cubicles, and overly serious about bits of paper going this way and that.
My own cubicle was in a wilderness of empty cubicles so I was seldom seen or heard. I did my work efficiently and quickly and always had time to fart around on the Internet and make little sculptures with my office supplies. (I will say that this company has THE BEST office supplies I've ever experienced. I particularly adore the mollusk-shaped tape-corrector device. A true object d'art). By the end of my tenure, my little space was a testament to man's desire to free his bonds of servitude. It was Dilbert meets Fluxus.

Anyway, I only mention this because on my last day of work I merrily went around the building slapping Avery labels on undersides of desks, sides of urinals, on the insides of light fixtures, under the cushions of ergonomic chairs, etc. On these labels I had printed snotty, smart-ass slogans meant to satirize this degrading, soul less workspace. I found a bunch of these labels while cleaning out my home office and am prepared to ditch them in the bin, but some of them still make me giggle. So I figured I'd consign them to blogspace in perpetuity.

In no particular order:
“Ask yourself:'what have I done to piss GOD off?'”

“Cheer up! In a few years... you'll still be doing the same thing!”

“You'd be surprised where they hide cameras nowadays” (NOTE: this one was stuck on the upper-underside of a urinal.)

“REMEMBER: It's not who wins or loses, but where the hell is my fucking coffee?!?!”

“How's that English degree working out for you?”

“DON'T WORRY! In the next life you will make them summer as you have suffered.”

“RIGHT NOW someone is coveting your parking spot.”

“FREE SPANISH LESSONS! Just ask your custodian!” (NOTE: I realize now that that comments is indeed racist, however, at the time I meant it as a commentary on the segregation of labor by race and class. But in retrospect, I wish I would have given this one more thought.)

“Cheer Up! At Lunchtime you can go kill yourself!”

“The boss thinks you're CUTE”

“Office Tip #33: Take your 15 minute break ten minutes before you go home. That way, they'll have to pay you overtime!”

“All temps are ARMED”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Where are those German Linguists When you need them?

We need a new word, people.

Schadenfreude is one of those words that lets people know you’ve been to graduate school. It is an extremely useful word in that it gives a name to a phenomenon which we had not heretofore had a name for. (Well, technically, there is the Greek word epicaricacy, but that’s still a borrowed word, isn’t it?) We needed schadenfreude because it is rather common in our complex society to take pleasure in the suffering and misfortune of others. Celebrity culture is primarily a machine which produces individuals who are built up, adored, and then summarily destroyed. We like seeing the beautiful and the famous humiliated. Closer to home, the thought that a co-worker who seems more on the ball than you gets passed over for a promotion makes us giddy. Yes, we’ve all had the feeling, even if we didn’t have the word. Having the word, however, makes it all somehow more delicious because it suggests that this is a natural, and therefore common state of mind. We don’t need to feel as though we are bad people because we take Satanic joy in the miseries which befall our fellow human beings. After all, if we name it, we can assume that many people claim it.

But as common as the schadenfreude experience is, there are other equally common states of mind having to do with our interactions with others. I feel these states of mind should have a noun into which we can collect their aspects. For example… think of a person you are acquainted with on a casual or professional basis. You see them occasionally and are not close by any means. Whenever you meet them, the small talk quickly turns to this person unloading their problems on you. Thus, a passing conversation which ordinarily would take approximately thirty seconds, soup to nuts, stretches on and on like a real engagement…. like you would have with your friend. But you are contributing. You are not asking searching questions. And you are certainly not curious.

I experience this in the workplace Without going into the particulars, there is someone for whom I occasionally do some work. This person brings me the works. I do it. This person then pays me. That is the extent of the relationship. The face time should last about twenty five seconds… tell me what you want me to do; tell me how soon you need the work back, and have a nice day. But in the midst of this I am made to suffer through the minutiae of this person’s personal travails – children running rampant… husband with a goiter… aunt with loose bowels… car with achy oil filter… wood-chipper at midnight… cat with goiter… exhausting. And I am sure all these things are causing maximal stress…. but why me? Is my face that kindly? Do I look like someone who’s got it together enough to give advice? Do I sell Calgon?

But between sympathy and simply ignoring these agonies. I find that what I want is for this person’s sufferings to be amplified so that I can experience schadenfreude. In other words, this person communicating her problems perverts empathy and sends it to the Bizarro world. I want this person to suffer so that I can receive some recompense for having to listen to the moaning.

Yes, I know it sounds evil, but it really isn’t. It isn’t because I don’t really have that sort of power. If I did, chances are I wouldn’t want to experience this anti-empathy will-to-punish. But the helplessness of being in the midst of this upchucking of problems and catastrophes creates the perversion. It does not come from me.

So we need a word for this sensation… this anti-empathy will-to-punish. Something like “punitive empathy.”

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Schadenfreude, the Surge, and the Ethics of Pulling out of Iraq

Does It Make It Easier…You’ve got someone to blame…

Five years is a short marriage but a long war. The news media, with its usual shoulder-shrugging has been spending time looking at polls and showing scenes of the statue of Saddam Hussein being torn down and smacked with sandal heels. A handful of stalwarts on the right continue to view Iraq as a frontline in a real global war (rather than as a distraction from the continuing criminal activities of terrorists in just about every country except where we are); Goldwater/Regan Republicans (the “realists?”) bite their lower lips, rend their garments in disdain over the incompetence of the “aftermath follies” of Rumsfeld, Bremer, et al, while simultaneously speaking in terms of “victory” and playing up the modest successes of Bush’s surge strategy; Democrats drool over November and forward bromides about withdrawals, and progressives and democratic socialists (a few of them around. Never in the media.) want to wash their hands of the whole fiasco. Leave. Don’t look back.

These are, of course, extremely crude, sweeping generalizations. I wouldn’t want to be categorized by someone like me. Pigeon-holing and defining the narrative arc of complex individuals is the role of the media and politicians. But the categories serve a purpose. Namely, they force a libertarian/progressive/lib-dem like myself to confront a very dicey ethical dilemma. To put name to myself, to place myself in the spectrum of political thought, is to take up the chorus of that old union song “Which Side are You On” and say, finally, this is what I believe, not what I’ve been told to believe. This is what I own.

“My side” hates Bush (often personally) and his administration. This is a club which is becoming increasingly diverse in its membership. Truly, these past eight years have been disastrous on so many levels – from the criminal negligence of ignoring intelligence reports about al-Qaida prior to September 11th, to the lying about links between al-Qaida and Iraq as a pretext for war, to illegal surveillance, to the illegal detentions, to a generalized shift towards a unitary executive office, to an embarrassingly mishandling of the economy (amazing how Democrats are seen as bad for business when two generations of Bushes have been responsible for recessions), to a whole-sale erosion of our diplomatic clout on the world’s stage – but if it’s been bad for us, think for a moment about the lives of typical Iraqis have been turned upside down for years to come. The “successes” of the surge have done nothing to improve the daily lives of Iraqis who have had to endure up to 22 hours without electricity, scarce sanitation, and the daily terror of not knowing whether wearing a particular color of scarf will get you killed or save your life when you go to get your groceries.

Meanwhile, solider number 4,000 just left the planet after being destroyed by a roadside IED while another 130,000 play the four-out-of-a-hundred game of Russian Roulette. (Perversely, the fact that it took until this week to reach the 4K mark is seen as evidence of the surge’s success by boosters. Presumably, if things were worse, we would have been at this number in… January?)The law of averages, of course, is on the side of the average solider. The good money is on them coming home. Of course, what condition they will be in when they arrive is another question. There are no flag-draped coffins for missing limbs or tortured psyches.

All these things make it easy dig a fork into Bush. It is easy to look at that vacant visage and find the taproot all of the problems of the past eight years. It is easy to view Bush’s reign as a petty powergrab by bottom-feeding opportunists spurred by a Freudian drive to destroy his father (himself a lumpen, though by all accounts, a serviceable functionary.). It is easy, because it is probably true that he is the worst executive we have ever had.

The ethical problem, however, has little to do with Bush himself, or the coven of incestuousness that is his “team,” but rather my personal investment in a narrative that views his failures as evidence of validation. That validation – that “we” were right in 2000 and 2004 – requires that Bush succeed at nothing and fail at everything. This is beyond mere schadenfreude, and a good deal more than sour grapes. It is a notion that in order for things to get better, they have to get a lot worse. “Success” for Bush means emboldening him for possible future actions… a sense that “well, if this worked… maybe we can do the next thing…” such as saying yes to war with Iran or a continuation of the fascistic unitarianism that has become the hallmark of the Bush reign. Failure and humiliation will somehow redeem us as a nation. It will allow us – Democrats and Republicans alike – to point at a single individual and say “it wasn’t us… it was always him.” Scapegoat or sacrificial lamb… either way, the fiascos of the past eight years suggest a way out for all concerned; a possibility for renewal.

Were that the case, then there would be no ethical problem. If we fail the Iraqis or the Afghanis, if we don’t return some semblance of social order and material infrastructure, we will be responsible for a slow, indirect genocide that will result from civil wars, intolerable poverty, disease, and generalized hopelessness. For them, the war is not a “folly,” or an example of extreme hubris on the part of a cadre of neo-cons, it is a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions. It is not an embarrassment which will go away on January 9, 2009, it is a daily smothering of civilization within its very cradle.

This desire to see the surge fail informs the instinct for withdrawal. I say instinct because one naturally recoils from the flame when it first licks the underside of the palm. But we lit that fire and fed it with gasoline before we ever started getting burned ourselves. Now we want to pull away because our flesh is being seared, leaving the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to put out the fire with little more than sand.

It is unethical…immoral, possibly criminal… to leave Iraq in this state. Far beyond the “you broke it, you bought it” platitudes coming from the apologists there is simple humanitarianism to be considered. We did the wrong thing for the wrong reason. I liken it to taking over for a quack surgeon. The wrong limb has been amputated… the kidneys are shot… gangrene is spreading like kudzu… for sure the quack needs to be removed from scene (and punished), and his support crew should be changed over as well. But the man on the table will die and organ harvesters will crawl out from the dark corners of the operating theater to collect whatever is left that isn’t rotting. … It may not be the world’s greatest metaphor, but I think it does demonstrate a simple fact: we have a responsibility to the those for whom the invasion and the occupation has meant a lingering death sentence. This concern must trump any concerns we might have for our “standing on the international stage” or our strategic interests in the region. And on the left, this concern must trump any fear that a kind of success and peace in Iraq down the line will be credited to Bush. (I simply don’t think that sentence will ever be written in a high school text book, but if it doesn’t I hope to hell there are better historians TEACHING the class.)

Any success must be measured by the quality of life for Iraqis rather than Halliburton stockholders, military pragmatists, and campaigning politicians. Ideally, we should remove or downgrade our own military presence in favor of UN Peacekeepers. ( I realize this can’t happen under current conditions. But I don’t think our military can keep a civil war from happening. I think it is essentially inevitable and we should do what we can to shelter and protect “average” Iraqis… whoever or where they might be.) Ideally, the blue helmets would work in concert with an international coalition of NGOs and local organizations to Marshall-plan the hell out of the country. 18 hours of guaranteed electricity will speak much louder than an insane mullah calling for jihad.

These programs will not be popular with Americans as we enter the long recession. They will want more money for their own programs and the will rage over the sky-rocketing price of flour due to the ethanol bubble. Politician will forward populist rants about how we need to focus on our poor and our children. And they will be right. But we must pay this debt that we owe to Iraq. Not because it is the American way, but because it is merely the right thing to do.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Running Along the Margins: Nader in 2008

Only in a political culture as moribund, dysfunctional, and undemocratic as America’s could Ralph Nader’s presidential bid be considered an evil among progressives and a Machiavellian treat for the Republicans. I have to confess, when Nader made his announcement this morning on “Meet the Press” I cringed. I feel that it is a kind of desperation; a very expensive way to actually get the press to discuss the issues that Clinton and Obama don’t seem to want to discuss.

(Busy as they are trying to find ways of scraping a few delegates away from the other on the road to an eventual anointing by a super-delegate. )

The press isn’t really interested in talking about how corporate influence corrupts the democratic process, or how deregulation has undermined trust public trust and – not incidentally, the economy. The cringe is really a recognition of how quickly Nader will be relegated to the margins after his “spike” of being on “Meet the Press.” He will be talked about briefly. Obama has already politely acknowledged Nader’s heroic status (Thus shoring up something like progressive bona fides) while Clinton almost instantly dismissed Nader’s run as a “passing fancy.” Tomorrow, Nader will be again sent to the back pages along with Ron Paul. There will be no debate invites forthcoming. No ruminations by pundits, and certainly no traction on the important issues he has always brought up. After all, if major party dissenters like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, or even John Edwards can’t sustain a conversation in the public forum, what chance does Nader have? His narrative has already been spun: the “spoiler,” The man responsible for Bush’s election in 2000.

(Yes, despite the fact that Gore won Florida and that the blame lies squarely with a corrupt Republican political machine in Florida and a Supreme Court who went on to make one of top five worst legal decisions in US history, somehow Nader and his puny 2.7% somehow destroyed America. It is almost like a variety of psychosis the way Americans seem unable to place the blame where it correctly lies. It is much easier to accuse the least powerful entities in our society for the ills of the world than it is to actually look squarely at those with actual power and influence. If the economy and the health care system are broken, then it MUST be illegal immigrants who are to blame. If Bush won Florida in 2000, then it must be Nader’s tiny presidential run which destroyed our dreams and sent us down this near-decade long path of darkness. But let’s put corruption and voter disenfranchisement aside for the moment. Let’s say Bush won Florida fair and square. What does that say about the Democrats that they could not beat this guy who, in 2000, seemed as hollow, vapid, and clich├ęd as he does today? And what’s their excuse for 2004?)

Nader is not running to win, and I don’t believe he ever has. He himself has said that if the Democrats can’t “landslide” the Republicans this November against a super-hawk war lover like McCain (he of the 100-year plan for Iraq) they really need to reconsider their place in the meager two-party plutocracy that is the American national political system. I don’t begrudge him his run, but I also don’t know what it is really going to do except spend money and send him to speak in front of college students or get interviewed on Amy Goodman’s show. \

What he says needs to be heard, of course. I just wish there was a smarter, more efficient way of getting that message out there other than running for elected office (has he ever considered running for a state office or the Senate?). This protest-run won’t really do what he wants it to, and it may further erode his ethos, which will further marginalize a man who was once (and, by all rights, should continue to be) a giant in our culture.

Any I don’t know if Nader is interested in sniffing around and asking other questions, such as why Israel’s bombing of Syria in the Summer of 2007 has essentially been unreported, or why we talk so tough about Cuba while we turn a blind eye to China’s continued abuse of human rights at home and in her dealings in Africa. Or, why have the Democrats (and the American people in general) allowed a unitary presidency to come into ascendancy?

I don’t know if Nader will go to these places, but I have never doubted his courage to make the trip.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

America: You had me, then you lost me.

Super Tuesday did something that I didn’t think was possible anymore… filled me with something like pride in my country of birth. Specifically, the American people voted as though they were politically involved and curious. By all accounts they turned out in droves on the Democratic side (or “Democrat Side” if you are Bushish. The new Normalcy.) to vote for either the first woman or the first African American to run this joint. On the GOP side, citizens rode their John Deers and Hummers to the local Elk’s club to say “yes” to sunstroked McCain or “yes” to what-the-Huck and definite “no” to that Fuller Brushman, Romney. Actually – the voters on the Republicans side said “no” to the machine of the anointed.

But then Super-Tuesday gave way to “give me a cigarette” Wednesday, and then to possibly the most depressing day in recent memory – the day an American presidential administration said “yes” to torture. I suppose they thought that the shameful debate about the “nature” of water boarding (whether it is an “according-to-Hoyle,” Webster’s definition of torture) had gone on long enough and they said “fuck it. We’ve got eleven months. They already hate us. Why not own our evil?” But the surprising thing is how it’s not really an issue… even a few days later. No one seems to care that people are being tortured as a matter of course… as a matter of public policy.

Worst of all, that tired, anemic old “ticking bomb” canard has found legs in the debate. You know the one. Freshman writing teachers always roll it out for their students to chew on. “Well, if it’s the choice between torture and a bomb going off…” etc. The fact is, the moral argument is moot on that level. Think about it: the interrogator is the person who makes the choice between the guilt of inflicting torture and the guilt of having allowed a bomb off. He/she not going to consider policy in a situation like that. It is your typical strawman argument. The day-to-day needs of interrogators are more like “does this guy know of a training camp in Lahore?” or “does this guy know where Bin Laden is hiding out?” in other words, important strategic concerns. Bomb builders. Not bombs ticking.

Somehow forgotten in all this “debate” is the fact that we (the US of A) convicted and executed Japanese military representatives for using (wait for it!) WATER BOARDING on AMERICAN soldiers.

Friday, February 01, 2008


My Seinfeld Moment

Scene: A local grocery store chain in Los Angeles. No names, but they all have a bakery attached to them. I am shopping, buying some stuff. It’s coffee time. So I bebop over to the bakery for a coffee. But I don’t need a lot of coffee. My caffeine needs are minor. I need a hot, caffeinated beverage in a not-large container. Ok…

Attendant: Can I help you?
Me; Yes, a regular coffee of the day, please?
Attendant: What size?
Me: Small, please.
Attendant: We don’t have small. We have medium and large.
Me: uh…
[At this point, the Attendant is pointing to the demo cups.]
Attendant: [holding a small cup up] Medium… [holding the large cup up] Large…
Me: I’ll take the smaller of the two.
Attendant: [holding up the small cup] Medium?
Me: That’s the smaller cup. That’s the one I want.
[The attendant sets the small cup down and starts to ring me up.]
Me: Why do you call the small cup “medium?”
Attendant: That’s all we have. Medium and large.
Me: Yes, but medium only exists when there is a small and a large size to compare it to. It comes between large and small.
Attendant: [annoyed] This is all we have. Do you want this or not?
Me: I just want you to recognize that it is silly to have a medium size of something but not a small. It doesn’t make.
Attendant: I don’t need this…
[She storms off. I am standing waiting for someone to give my money to. Meantime, another customer comes up and asks another attendant for a small coffee. This other attendant agreeably serves the customer and completes the transaction without fuss. I then pay this understanding attendant.]
Me; Uh, so I’m paying for what?
Attendant 2: Small coffee?
Me: Yes, But why is it called “medium?”
Attendant 2: It’s actually called “regular.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bill, Shut the Fuck up!

Bill Clinton minimizes Obama's massive victory in South Carolina by noting how Jesse Jackson ALSO won South Carolina twice, in 1984 and '88. Does this suggest that Bill has noticed that Jackson and Obama are both black? Does it suggest that he is simply an enthusiastic supporter of another candidate who happens to be his spouse?

Or does it suggest a degree of desperation from a former candidate who himself won South Carolina in two straight elections? (1992 & '96 - although, granted, he was running again Lyndon LaRouche in the latter primary.) Is it just something to say in defeat? There is no way Bill is doing a "Jesse = Obama" equating. I assume that he Bill is incapable of just letting certain things go.

Maybe he should have. After all, California will give it to Hillary, good and proper. Tea leaves may not have any relevance in this election cycle. So much is in the air. Serious candidates representing Americans who have been historically shit-canned. Clinton (women), Obama (African-Americans), and Edwards (the working poor). This should be the proudest moment in history of the Democratic party.

If Hillary wins, will Obama join her cabinet? Edwards would be a smart choice for either's Attorney General. How do we like the sound of Secretary of State Clinton? (But WHICH Clinton?) Or Chief Justice Clinton? (Well, is Bill eligible?)

Meanwhile,on the other side... is there a 21st century Republican in the bunch? Is there a non-pandering, non-whack job in that fruit salad?

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Case of the Clap: Blinking at the State of the Union

- Bush doesn't want us to sacrifice or to serve because when we are "doing for our country" we aren't spending money and creating personal debt. When we volunteer, we come together as a community and we become more invested in our political culture. When we serve, we own the country. When we are served, when we are pandered to, mommy and daddy can continue drinking through their lost weekend.

- Washington DC is a kind of political Vatican. What goes on there, the rituals, the ceremony, is totally disconnected from the laity. How can simple civility take precedent over the fact that this failed president has bankrupted this country?

- Governor Sebelius of Kansas wants to be Obama's running mate.

- Republicans are more committed to their party then they are to the country. It is peculiarly American form of fascism. I doubt very much that they all believe that the answer to terrorism creating a surveillance state via the FISA court?

- Bush will self-rapture after he leaves office.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Quick Sniff Ahead of New Hampshire

POST- NEW HAMPSHIRE SNORT: I like how the news is reporting Hil's win as "an upset" while Obama's win in Iowa was an "upset." Clearly, folks of a democratic bent are thinking "we don't give a shit! Black dude, Bill's wife, Pretty-boy John... we'll take him! Just get the Bushies out!"

Cynical like any good Gen-X denizen who hollers from the sidelines, I have been bored witless by the political process that is Iowa. But now I am caught-up in the whoopdeedoo. So here are some quick observations about the candies:

Obama – Charismatic, super-smart, glib. Attractive to old-school liberals. Not terribly substantive. Would cause the racists to organize into a massive militia.

H. Clinton – Cold, confused, cowardly with regards to her support of the Iraq war. BUT, probably an effective executive on her own terms. She certainly has the Rolodex for a dynamic, experienced cabinet. PLUS would have access to the most qualified adviser in the history of the Republic. Super curious about whom would be the running mate. Technically, hubby could. Wouldn't he fucking love that?

Edwards – The real deal. Kennedyesque. Very sympathetic. More like B. Clinton during his “Man from Hope” era. Nightmare for corporate America or the biggest disappointment to the progressive Democrats. Might pull Greens. (whoopee! 17,000 votes!) Nader likes him.

Richardson – Probably the most qualified to be chief executive. All but invisible. Was he too fat?

Kucinich/Ron Paul – The usual angry populists who get the margins. Good ideas. Sane critiques. Very European in some ways. They’d do well if we had a genuine democracy. (i.e. proportional representation.) Proof of media and machine manipulation of the process. I like how Paul’s significant percentages in Iowa are relegated to a second graphic page on CNN as though he were a pesky Nader or John Anderson. – Kucinich: most appealing wife…. Next to Hilary’s.

Huckabee – Kindly. Friendly. Experienced. Funny. Absurd name. Anti-Evolution. Anti-Abortion. A nightmare.

Romney – above, but add $$$.

McCain – Dream-team with Colin Powell. Beloved of Reagan Democrats. Quietly corrupt. Slightly mental. Cowardly (in present incarnation). Wouldn’t fight back against Bush Jr. and pandered to Falwell. The choice of Lieberman. ‘Nuff said.

Guliani – Biggest fiction in Republican politics since Harding. Hero by default (like Junior). Exploits 9/11 at every turn. Destroyed crime scene (9/11). Hates ferrets. An unfunny joke.

Thompson – Evidently lost a bet. Complete non-entity. Hot wife.

Bottom line – A Green since 1990, I will vote for whatever Dem gets the numbers. I would prefer Edwards, but I am, like “whatever.” Not apathetic. Not slackering. More like, “just get us the fuck out of this abyss.” We are in a dark, dark place, people. And since no one in the House or Senate has the balls to get the impeachment ball rolling, we have to suffer another year of this loathsome, demonic, administration. - Still, there is something 40-Year Old Virginy about electing an African-American or a Woman... in other words, it would be about fucking time. I wouldn't kick them out of bed for snoring.