In Memoriam: JFK

“Once upon a time the world was sweeter than we knew. Somehow once upon a time never comes again.”

Monday is the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy. I suppose we should do as Christians do — celebrate the birth on its anniversary, mourn the death when its date comes around, but I cannot separate them.

I remember all too well having a President who embodied grace, intelligence, learning, excellence and humor; whose every utterance, from formal speeches to casual asides, reminded me that I was a citizen of a remarkable country, summoned in me a swelling pride in its principles and achievements, while at the same time calling me to strive to make it better.

If you did not live through that time, or if you do not agree with some policies or beliefs he espoused (as I did not, at the time) you will find it easy to dismiss my pain as the edited dreams of an old man remembering a Golden Age that never was. You would be wrong. My memories are verifiable.

I make no claim that it was an easy age. The arms race, the Cold War, the failed invasion of Cuba followed by the terrifying Cuban Missile Crisis, the first mutterings of the storm that would break in Vietnam, the crisis in civil rights in America, all these were part of an age that was far from tranquil. But we were led by a man who held before us constantly a vision of a country that stood for things — important things such as honor, compassion, human rights, freedom. And we stood for those things, as he once said of the race to the moon, not because they were easy, but because they were hard. And that is why that difficult age was, at the same time, golden.

Until that awful afternoon and endless night in November of 1963. It was then, for me, that the music died. And it seems to me now, although it’s probably just coincidence, that it was on that very day that America began its long, inexorable slide into the status of a Third-World banana republic — a slide that, for 99% of our people, has yet to slow down. We never saw his like again.

So I wish your spirit Happy Birthday, Mr. President. I hope you will forgive me if I am not able to celebrate.

This Week in Amerika

Back in Washington D.C. in 2002, Neo-Nazis were on one side, police on the other. Now, the distinctions are getting blurry. (Photo by Elvert Barnes/Flickr)

Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, during the last few weeks, the following things have occurred:

A 61-year-old woman was convicted of disorderly conduct after a two-day jury trial in Washington. Desiree Farooz faces a sentence of up to one year in jail for what federal prosecutors described as an attempt to “impede, disrupt and disturb orderly conduct” of a Senate committee hearing back in January. It was the confirmation hearing for the nominee to be the next Attorney General of the United States, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama. During the hearing, Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby said out loud that Sessions — a renowned racist who for that very reason was once denied a federal judgeship by that very Senate — had a “clear and well-documented” record of “treating all Americans equally.” Ms. Farooz laughed. According to witnesses it was not a particularly loud or prolonged laugh. Other witnesses said it was the only appropriate response to Shelby’s outlandish claim. Capitol police pounced and hauled her away to prison. Continue reading

In Defense of Sean Spicer

Like a stopped clock, even Sean Spicer can be right once in a while. Probably not twice a day. (Caricature by DonkeyHotey/Flickr)

Sean Spicer is an idiot, of course, in service to a numbskull, and deserves ridicule for much of what he says from his White House podium. But not everything. Piling on — assuming your opponents are always and everywhere wrong about everything — is as ugly when progressives and Democrats do it as when conservatives and Republicans do. Spicer is being pilloried for making a statement the other day that was true and important and deserves consideration. As despicable as Adolf Hitler was,  Spicer said, he “didn’t…sink to using chemical weapons.”

Here, breathe into this paper bag. Settle down. Hear me out. Continue reading

A Syrian Pyramid Scheme?

Soon all of Syria, like Azaz, will be at peace, as long as we don’t run out of bombs. (Wikimedia photo)

My children learned early on that when they made a pronouncement — such as, “Marijuana is actually good for you,” or “teenagers shouldn’t be forced to get up early” — they would get a standard comeback from me: “How do you know that?” Read it in the paper, or saw it on TV? What publication, what channel, by what author or reporter? What were the qualifications of the person making the claim, and what evidence was offered, and what did you think of the quality of the evidence, and the argument? (This parental rigor has had two results: none of my children has spoken to me since the mid-1990s; and they are all skilled critical thinkers.)

So now the pronouncement, not from young children but from the much less mature Trump Administration, is that Syria’s President Assad has used Sarin nerve gas on his own people, again, in his brutal prosecution of the years-long civil war there.  He killed 70 people, we are told, many of them children,in the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhun. The United States must punish him, say the Trumpists, because the last time he did this, in 2013, President Obama let him get away with it. I have a few questions: Continue reading

DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE!

The F-35 has single-handedly made America Number One again — at wasting money on weapons that don’t work. But wait there’s more. (Photo by Heath Canjandig/Flickr)

It is entirely fitting and proper that we scrape together $85 billion by defunding federal programs that “show no results” — such as Meals on Wheels, school lunch programs and health care for poor people — and give it to the defense department. Because unlike these loser programs, the defense department always gets results. If you have any doubts at all about this, three examples should suffice to set you straight: Continue reading

This is Not Your Father’s Cold War

It all has such a familiar feel. Russia is once again our primary enemy in the world. Implacably, tyrannically, cunningly, it plots our downfall, engineers our destruction, and prepares for war without ceasing. It’s déjà vu all over again, we even catch ourselves referring to them as Soviets, and Godless Communists, which is silly, they are no more Communists than Trump is a Republican. But the thrill is the same as it used to be, the thrill of the monster under the bed, the nameless, faceless dread from which only Mom, or Saint Ronald of Reagan, or The Donald, can save us.

Nothing that feels so right and familiar has to make sense, and that must be a good thing, because none of this does. Start with the fact that the $600 billion elephant (that’s what America spends on “defense” every year) is pretending to be terrified of a $50 billion mouse. That’s right — The Donald’s proposed increase in military spending for the next budget equals the entire annual Russian defense budget. Continue reading

In Praise of Sin Taxes

The world’s best example of the evils of unearned wealth argues against it. Of course, it should read “…discourage them from working and achieving…” but, hey, if he could speak the language he wouldn’t be who he is. Whom?

In the 1970s, Republicans discovered they could reliably win elections by pronouncing taxes to be anathema, which is to say, evil, irredeemable, on a par with the seven deadly sins. Henceforward, they declared, there would be no new taxes and no tax increases. Also henceforward, members of the other party  would be referred to exclusively as “tax-and-spend” Democrats.  It worked so well that now, Republicans are in control of everything. Continue reading

On Being President Chance the Gardener

[NOTE: Promotion of this post was rejected by Facebook. No reason given.]

In his 1971 novel Being There, Jerzy Kosinski told the story of Chance the Gardener, a simple-minded laborer cloistered his whole life in the townhouse of the wealthy man for whom he worked. When, on the death of his employer, Chance is cast into the world, people insist on mistaking his profound ignorance — he can’t read or write, knows only what he has seen on TV or in the garden — as Zen-like wisdom.

In the novel, virtually everyone who encounters Chance refuses to accept that he could be as limited as he seems, and imagines for him an alternate reality of profound wisdom, which they then manage to see confirmed in the real world. Before long, Chance is advising the President of the Unites States on economic policy. This scene demonstrates how it works:: Continue reading

Antidote to Civil War? Or Precursor?

New York attorney Gregory Locke boarded the subway last Friday night and was appalled by what he saw. Every window in the car, every advertisement and map, had been defaced with a swastika. And there were slogans, such as “Jews belong in the oven.”

“The train was silent,” he said in his Facebook post about it, “as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do. One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work. I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purel. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.

 “Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017.

 “I guess this is Trump’s America,” said one passenger. No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.”

Two Americas. Using the same subway car in close succession on a Friday night in February, each leaving their mark. Each with something very important to say to us. Continue reading

No News is Good News

An early adopter of manipulating masses with fake news.

Fake news has been with us for a very long time. Has anyone heard about (I won’t ask if you remember it, because nobody is that old) the Gulf of Tonkin attack on U.S. ships that never happened, but that caused Congress to validate the Vietnam War? Anyone remember Saddam Hussein’s fictional weapons of mass destruction? If we stop and think about it, a large proportion of all news is, and always has been, fake. But then, if we stopped and thought about it, it would be a victimless crime.

There is much less going on here than meets the eye. Continue reading