Saturday, July 19, 2014

To Our Dear Ukrainian Friends

Somewhere in Ukraine, in spite of the frightening Russian threat to that country, there is a group of people who read this blog almost every day, even going back to posts written several years ago.

I'm grateful for this loyal readership, but  -  far more than I feel gratitude  -  I feel admiration.  How does someone focus on a political column when their country is confronting all that faces Ukraine?

That takes courage and faith and hope.  It takes courage to focus on the politics of America when your own are so threatened by  Russia's snarling and superior might.  It takes faith to focus on something beyond the current peril, a belief that politics and not war will be your lot.  And it takes hope to believe that democracy and Westernization can come at long last to a people so victimized throughout the twentieth century.  

The world has largely overlooked the travails of Ukraine.  I am old enough to remember what Stalin and Hitler did there and what followed during the long night of Russian control.  But not many my age can remember or even knew originally.  The younger people know nothing of this story.

This week, to the great sorrow of the world, the tragedy of Ukraine reached to the very skies and pulled down a passenger jet loaded with people from all over the world.  Ukraine's troubles are now the world's troubles, and perhaps Europe and the UN will now respond more vigorously on Ukraine's behalf and support President Obama in his determination to squeeze Russia and Putin economically to the breaking point. 

I can't do anything to help you, my Ukrainian brothers and sisters, except this one thing.  I can promise you that President Obama is going to see you through this troubled time and will not let Russia invade your country.  Stay strong.  A brave and very determined man is on your side. 

And so is history.

We salute you.   

Friday, July 18, 2014

Too Late For Billie Holiday

Too late.  It's way too late for Billie Holiday, but today the feds announced they were releasing 50,000 people imprisoned for drug offenses. We are not going to stop locking up hordes of people for sick behavior. The United State imprisons more people per population than practically any other country in the world. Back when there was a Soviet Union, we incarcerated more people per population than the Soviets.  A huge segment of this imprisonment is for drugs.

I don't approve of drug use.  Hard drugs are killers.  But the war on drugs was lost a long time ago.  We have to let those who want to kill themselves with drugs just go ahead and do it.  Moreover, we absolutely have to take the ferocious profits out of drugs, which is what legalization will do.  The profits are "ferocious" because the drug gang wars kill thousands of children every year in our country, even babies caught in the crossfire, and now that same turmoil is producing the conditions which are driving thousands of children to risk death by fleeing across the deserts of Central America, seeking sanctuary across our border. 

The same old sanctimonious segment of our society that opposes decriminalization also created Prohibition and brought gangsterism into our urban world.  And guns.  Up until then there were few guns floating around in American society, contrary to the phony social history you have been fed. Even the cops weren't armed until Prohibition made criminality and gunfire immensely profitable.   

For the past sixty years, the prigs like Nancy Reagan have force-fed us on "Just Say No".  It's vapid advice and silly policy. If we spent the same money on medical care and rehab that we do on incarcerating drug users, maybe we could get them to say no.  I don't know.  But I think it is criminal to imprison sick people.  And treasonous to have public policies that make real criminals rich and cause children to die.

So it's beginning to end now, the long nightmare of delusion about prison for drug offenses.  If the Obama administration gets this monkey off our backs, then that accomplishment is equal to his getting health insurance for our people and full rights and respect for our gay brothers and sisters. 

But it's too late for Billie Holiday, our precious musical genius, who  -  with Louis Armstrong, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walt Whitman  -  transformed the world of art.  They are the greatest of America's artistic geniuses and innovators. They are of worldwide importance.  But Billie died in a hospital room, under arrest for drugs, believing in her last moments that she faced an arraignment the next morning.  What a disgrace!  Not of her but of us.  And the same disgrace coats the federal prison term she had served a few years before.  We jailed a genius for drug possession!  A genius!

No, I won't take your time to bemoan the conditions of her childhood that led her to the world of drugs  -   the poverty, early rape, ignorant mother, homelessness and hopelessness.  It was while working in a whorehouse as a teenager that Billie heard the recordings of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith and knew what she must do.  Terrible the road that led her to that whorehouse, but blessed are we that she heard those recordings.  Hers is a strange and heartbreaking story but she left us a treasure beyond gold.  By contrast, Nancy Reagan and her ilk leave us nothing but a vinegary image already fading away.  And thank God Nancy is fading.  Forget her.  Forget the bitterness and hatred she and her husband sowed in our country.  

Just remember Billie.

Go listen to her now.  And ask her forgiveness.


Friday, July 4, 2014

The Same 35% Still Hate Obama and Say He's the Worst

Headlines scream it:  "Poll Says Obama Worst President".

Oh, for heaven's sake, who cares?

So 35% of those polled by Quinnepac say that Obama is the worst president since 1945?  So what? This is far fewer than the number of voters who voted against him in 2012.  They hated him then and they hate him now.  

It's a warm July afternoon, the Fourth of July to be exact.  I'm going to take a nice nap.  

Wake me when there's some real news.  God bless America and all the ships at sea. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

World Cup: Obama 2 and Putin 0

And now for the score in the World Cup competition for the world.

Obama 2 and Putin 0 as Obama cleans Putin's clock twice.  

My posting yesterday hailed Ukraine's joining with the modern Western world, signing a treaty this week that marked its abandonment of Russia and its alignment with Europe.  And I explained how Obama engineered this by squeezing the hot air out of Putin economically and showing the Ukrainians they were safe to stand up to that shirtless man.

Now comes word in the NY Times that the last of Syria's chemical weapons has gone bye-bye, which means gone to Finland to be destroyed. Obama engineered this nine months ago by threatening to bomb Syria unless Syrian ruler Assad turned over the weapons. By several adroit waltz steps Obama then lured Putin into getting Assad to an agreement, leaving Putin monitoring the removal.   All the pundits right and left blew raspberries at Obama.  He was (a) naive to trust Putin, (b) he was wicked to work with Putin, (c)  he came off as weak and Putin as strong. 


He was smart to trust Putin.  Putin is Syria's near neighbor and didn't want chemical weapons on his doorstep.  He also had stuck his neck out as a once-world-leader and needed to come off okay.

Further, it wasn't wicked to work with Putin when the goal was so good.  Besides, the Cold War is over and we have to adapt to realities as they are. 

Putin did, however, come off as strong.  That was the bait for which Putin fell.  He desperately needs to look strong in order to keep the support of the Russian people while their "empire" continues to melt away.  Obama was right to let him have his empty box. One always has to be aware of what the other guy needs in order to negotiate with him.

And did Obama come off as weak?  Only with the media and the American public. This same misperception has blanketed Obama's method of dealing with Russia over the Ukraine. As with Ukraine, the nature of his play made it impossible for him to explain how he had manipulated Putin.  Why?  Because he may need to do it again about something else. 

Obama did not, however, come off as weak in the view of other countries.  Any leader of a country big enough  to matter knows what Obama has done.  And they appreciate it and admire him for his skill.  Maybe they even learned a few moves as they watched him.

Nevertheless he gets no credit here at home.  His ratings have dropped generally but especially sharply on foreign policy.  The media doesn't get what he's doing and he can't explain it to them. 

Thus the NY Times today salutes the end of Syria's chemical weapons  -  not in the front page news story it warranted  -  but in an editorial.  That treatment downgrades the event in the eyes of the news media.  Further, in this editorial  the NYT buries its acknowledgment that Obama did the right thing.  Buries it in the ninth paragraph of the editorial:  "…the outcome has proved the wisdom of President Obama's decision to threaten, and then back away from, military strikes against Syrian targets when Russia proposed a negotiated settlement…. The chemical weapons are now out of the hands of a brutal dictator  -  and all without firing a shot."

What a contrast between that last sentence and the 100,000+  Iraqui dead and the 4000+ American dead gifted to us by George W. Bush.  A gift that even now keeps on giving…

Nevertheless, Obama has to pay a fearful price politically for his persistence in doing the right thing to save lives and not squander them.  He's gone down personally. The media has let him down.  And so have we. 

Nor will he get any gratitude from those he most benefitted  -  those who didn't die because he refused to be rash.  They will never know what he did for them.

But he will know.  And for a truly good man, that is enough.


Obama Cleans Putin's Clock in Time for the Fourth

This past week Ukraine voted to join the Western nations for trade and other activities.  This is a big fat slap in Putin's skinny face. This is what Putin dreaded. This is why he stirred up trouble in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, as a way of threatening Ukraine. This is why Russian tanks were on the border of Ukraine. This is why the terrorism and intimidation.  And the violence that has taken more than 50 Ukrainian lives.

Putin put it all on the line to scare Ukraine out of aligning with the West.  And he has lost.

Thanks to Obama.

Once again President Obama played it just right.  He didn't let Putin lure him into overt hostile action, which would have given Putin the excuse to roll those tanks.  Instead he squeezed Russia hard enough economically that Putin had to pull the tanks back.  Ukraine's new president saw that Putin had been just bluffing, and therefore Ukraine's leader was emboldened to sign the treaty with the West.

Obama is getting no credit for his smooth moves in this matter, just as he got none for outfoxing Putin on eliminating Syria's chemical weapons.  The media doesn't understand how Obama finesses these tricks.  For a poker player, Obama is also damn good at bridge. But he leaves the media scratching its collective head.  And he can't explain his moves to the media.  The essence of his tactics is that they are secretive and quiet.  Once you start boasting of how you've just finagled one past Putin. you won't ever get a chance to do another such move.

Putin is all about pride.  That explains the shirtless photos, the monstrous Olympic opening, the strutting.  Obama knows this well.  He always allows Putin to hang on to a shred of pride, to keep a good face on his losses. Maybe this knack or focus comes from Obama's young years in Asia, where "face" is so important.  I doubt that.  Allowing the other guy to hold on to a pretense of respectability is standard tactics in all good, shrewd dealing.  Only rarely do you need to shame your opponent.

Some credit goes also to Ukraine for having the guts to sign the piece of paper and thus poke a finger in the eye of Putin, the Russian bear.  The Ukrainians have been brave throughout this difficult time.  They have now made their choice of a future.   On the same day, Georgia and Modova also signed up with the Western world. Like Ukraine these two are also breakaway former Soviet republics.

Welcome to the three of you.  You have had a long and dark time of it but now you have stepped into the sunlight.  So pull up a bench to the picnic table and have some barbecue ribs.  You're family now.

And just in time for the Fourth of July!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Obama Has Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Iraq

Everybody wants to tell President Obama what to do about Iraq.  Meantime the American people think less well this week of his foreign policy ability than they used to, according to a new poll, probably because of Iraq falling apart.


It's all nonsense.  Nothing Obama does about Iraq is going to make much difference in that country.  The one thing he might do that would be effective is put a dictator back in power, a "strong man" who will hold that country together by force of terror.  And that's something Obama isn't going to do.  Because then George W might come back too!

Iraq is going to do what Iraq is going to do. Chiefly it will continue to be the playground or, more accurately, the killing ground of what we today call "factions" but what Lawrence of Arabia would have called "tribes".  The media insist there's a three-way split in Iraq:  Kurd, Shitte, Sunni. It's not that simple.  The warring factions of the desert of old were not organized into such super-blocs.  They were tribal.  Thus today, even within the Sunni or Shiite there are multiple "factions".  These are the tribes of old.  And even as I write, the Shiite are dividing in Iraq just when they should (we think) unite in keeping out some Sunni from Syria.

Throughout the desert lands of the Arabs and Persians and throughout Africa, Europeans carved "nation states" into existence so they could have tidy little packages of governance.  It was ridiculous and arrogant, yoking together traditional enemies.   And it left us with eventual things like the Tutsi and Hutu horror.  It is still playing out in the fighting within African "nations".  Each of two or more tribes fights to secure control of an artificially created state.  Much the same thing is playing out on the sands of Araby.

Think of Lawrence of Arabia, desperately luring the Saudi tribes into cooperating to fight the Turks by offering gold.  No sense of "nation" there.  Just "me, my guys, my family, my tribe and my oasis and whatever we can pick up as the spoils of war."  Actually a very practical organization of reality in a culture dependent mostly on horses and camels for getting around.  When you live in a small world, a tribe makes great sense.

Of course, it's fun not only to fight the neighboring tribes but also  to fight that other religion that's so like yours but not quite.  Ask the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland.  There may be only one God for Muslims, but there are various sub-religions among Muslims, the two chief ones going back to the time of Mohammed himself, if I understand correctly.  The two sides of that ancient quarrel recently made a bloody time of it in the war between Iraq and Iran after the Gulf War.  At that time it was possible to forget tribal and go national because strong dictators said that's how it was going to be. 

I have spent many years working with the Native American tribes.  I know whereof I speak as regards tribal people.  Historically the Native Americans would not pull together against the whites because the ones they should have been uniting with were their old enemies.  Four hundred years after Columbus came barging in and when I was trying to be of use to them, the Native Americans were still not pulling together on the oars.  I thought I'd go crazy, but they had the right to do things the way they thought best.  We won our battles  -  big ones, in fact  -  but probably we could have done so much more.  It just wasn't for me to say. 

Iraq is going to do what Iraq is going to do.  Obama has already done what needs to be done by us in Iraq.  And that is to get ourselves the hell out of there.  We are no longer the prisoner of Arab oil.  There is no longer any reason for us to be prisoner of Arab tribalism.

Good job, Mr. President. You pulled our troops out and say there will be no boots on the ground in Iraq.  That's great for us and clears the way for Iraq to figure out what Iraq has to figure out.  Contrary to what the Euro-American always thinks, we don't know what's best for "our little brown brother," as Teddy Roosevelt would call these people whom we  -  in our supposed wisdom  -  keep deciding we can "control". 

Control?  Have an effect?  Nation-building?  It's enough to make a cat laugh.  If people weren't dying….  


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Did We Just Miss Extinction by One Vote?

We as a species may have just narrowly missed extinction, perhaps by as little as one vote on the United States Supreme Court.

By that same vote the planet may also have just missed one of those major kill-offs like the one that extinguished the dinosaurs and much of the life on earth.

A bit of background: outside the glare of the media, perpetually misfocused as it is,  President Obama last fall ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue regulations that will virtually wipe out coal-fired power plants.  This is a big step in curtailing global warming and also, hopefully, cutting off the acidification of the world's ocean.  It's big news about curbing Big Coal and saving life on this planet.

Big Coal and its friends have been firing back at the Obama administration over this issue for the last couple of years as the Supreme Court has been repeatedly holding that the EPA has the power to regulate climate-changing gases, chiefly carbon dioxide.  The potential harm that CO2 can do was not within the scope of scientific thinking when the Clean Air Act was passed back in Nixon's day.  (And, yes, Virginia, there used to be Republicans back then who were pro-environment, including  -  most emphatically  -  ol' Nixon himself).  Since no one was then much hip to global warming and CO2, the new law didn't expressly authorize the EPA to regulate against the menace.

But in an unusual burst of good sense, the Supreme Court has upheld exactly that power on the grounds that it comes within the duty to protect life and health that the law places on EPA.  And that's the Supreme Court using the term "duty", i.e. the EPA not only can but MUST regulate against the conditions that will turn Earth into the boiling Venus and fry us all on the way there.

This is encouraging.  What is sad is that Big Coal and its buddies have made three trips to the Court to try to get a different result. But we won't be discouraged by their refusal to concede they've lost.  Rather we should be grateful for these repeated court cases because they point out a really dreadful possibility:  If the Democrats lose the presidency in 2016, a GOP president could appoint a right-wing justice to replace the aging and sickly Ginsberg.  That would deliver us all into the hot pot.  The Big Coal signal is clear:  it won't give up but will keep trying and hope to catch a break.  Ginsberg's failure to resign while Obama is president may give them just that break, allowing a GOP president to choose her successor.

Even before the GOP catching a break in 2016, we could be on the road to becoming Venus.  If we lose the Senate this year, it's conceivable that a Congress controlled by the GOP in both houses could vote to scrap or amend the Clean Air Act so as to save Big Coal's you-know-what and destroy the rest of us.  This scenario would be a bit tough though for the GOP to pull off, since Obama could veto such legislation, and the GOP is not likely to have a supermajority adequate to over-ride a veto.

No, the likelier hazard is that the Democrats lose the 2016 presidential race, the GOP thereby captures another seat on the Court and shoves us into the elevator shaft of our planet becoming a Hell.  We would not be tipping over into a slide toward a warmer Earth; we would be plummeting into a one-way, absolutely inevitable and self-accelarating fall into the boiling and sulphuric conditions of Venus. 

The fate of all of our grandchildren and their children and of this "little blue planet" rests in the hands of two women.  Justice Ginsberg and Hilary Clinton.  The former should set aside her self-serving decision to continue on into an older old age and instead resign in time for Obama to replace her.  We CANNOT risk her seat going to a Republican appointee.  As for Hilary, if Ginsberg puts us all at risk by hanging on to her seat until after 2016, some Democrat had damn well better win the presidency in 2016.  Can Hilary do it?

Can she? 

I wonder.

One vote on the Court may have saved us this week.  One woman may save or doom us in 2016.