Brexit Brokit. Now Trumpit?

Scorpion and Tortoise

“All we need to do to get safely through this,” said the scorpion to the tortoise and the tortoise to the scorpion, “is be true to ourselves.” (Wikipedia Image)

It was unthinkable that voters in the United Kingdom would elect to leave the European Union. And indeed, thinking was apparently not involved, because the very ones who did it are running around today screaming “WTF?WTF?” and asking please, sir, could they have a do-over? It is unthinkable that voters in the United States would ever, likewise, place their country in the hands of a President Donald Trump. Go ahead, take a minute and try. See? You cannot think it. Doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. Continue reading

The United States of Anxiety

atomic-bomb

Any minute, in any place, the terrorists could strike. We’re the only ones who can save you. Vote for us.

In this the fifteenth successful year of the War on Terror, it is fitting that the leaders of a crumbling empire report to their terrified citizens on the hard-won battles that have been prosecuted in their names. Yesterday, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, did just that, with a forthright report to the oxymoronic Senate Intelligence Committee. Allow me to set the stage:

  • For 15 years, the military power of the largest, richest, most advanced armed forces in the world, in the history of the world, have been deployed against a force of musket-wielding, Toyota-truck-driving desperadoes whose aggregate numbers have probably never exceeded the population of Winchester, Virginia.
  • The United States has spent approximately $14 million per hour on this war, for 15 years — nearly two trillion dollars and counting — on an enemy that has no air force, no navy, no heavy missiles, no armor, no artillery, and not much money.
  • On 9/11/2001, Al Qaeda had about 20,000 fighters. To punish them for their attack on the World Trade Center, we invaded two countries, killed an estimated 1.3 million people (that’s just in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) and suffered 10,000 American fatalities.

Continue reading

The War on Hemp

hemp meme

The Internet went nuts over this meme the other day. Obviously we gotta grow more hemp. Do it, and you’ll go to jail.

It is one of the first crops cultivated by humans, and was a staple crop for the American colonies. It requires less water than  most crops, and no pesticides at all, to grow, and while growing it detoxifies soil and sequesters CO2. Its seeds are a superfood, yielding highly nutritious flour, bread, cereal, “milk”, oil and protein additives — as well as fuel, paint, ink and cosmetics. Its fast-growing stalk yields one of the strongest and most useful fibers known, used in superior paper, canvas, ropes, insulation, cardboard, clothing, shoes and plastic — plastic that is, by the way, biodegradable. This one plant can provide many of the products an industrial society needs, sustainably, while drastically reducing pollution, energy consumption, deforestation, fossil fuel use and providing income for millions of farmers (in places like West Virginia, where glum people sit around in fertile hollows mourning the death of coal).

So, of course, planting, harvesting, or even studying hemp is mostly illegal in the United States and has been for decades. Continue reading

Feeling the Burnout

Bernie

Like King Arthur in T.H. White’s The Candle in the Wind, Bernie Sanders led a rising against brute force, and lost, yet will be remembered for an historic moral victory. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

We knew (didn’t we?) that Bernie Sanders was never going to save the world, or our country. But wasn’t it grand watching him try, and succeed in doing things that everybody knew were impossible to do? Everybody knew it was impossible to finance a major political campaign without drinking the poisoned Kool-Aid of rich peoples’ money. Bernie did it. Everybody knew you couldn’t be a contender if you didn’t like war — all wars, any war, war all the time. Bernie was a contender. Everybody knew that you could not be competitive in national politics if you ever mentioned the words “climate change” without  a sneer and a snowball. Bernie was competitive, after he identified climate change as the number one threat to the future of the United States.

Seems like everybody doesn’t know very much. Still, as they say, even stopped clocks are correct twice a day. Everybody knew that Bernie couldn’t win, because he’s a Jew, a “socialist,” too old, and for all the reasons mentioned above. Everybody was wrong about all the reasons, but right in the conclusion, as the state of New York confirmed yesterday. Continue reading

2015: The Year of Lying Dangerously

Pinnochio

No, we don’t think his nose is deformed. Looks perfectly normal to us. And we’re going to vote for him. Photo by Tristan Schmurr/ Flickr

The crash of the industrial age proceeded apace in 2015. One reason that is not well understood is that a different, parallel trend — the onset of moral bankruptcy accompanying the collapse of American Empire — also accelerated this year, often obscuring the economic news, often by design. Whether one is causing the other, or both are caused by something else, is something for the historians to sort out, if there are any historians. Right now, both are happening too fast to analyze. But let’s focus for a moment on the moral decline.

The ethical glue that once held our culture together — the unquestioned mutual commitment to freedom and decency and fair dealings — is liquefying at a terrifying rate. This is what happens at the end of empires, when the energy of their high ideals is spent, the ecstasy of their ascent is in the past, and the agony of decline causes them — their leaders and their people — to abandon everything they once believed in. Continue reading

Presidential Poll Dancing

TrumanDewey

Pollsters used to get it wrong once in a great while, as when they missed Harry Truman’s victory. Now they get it wrong a lot, and it matters.

There are a lot of things wrong with the horse-race meme as it is applied to presidential politics. (“Coming around the first turn, it’s Chump Change in the lead, with Doctor Strangelove coming up on the inside….”) We all understand, if we think about it for just a minute, that an election is not a horse race, and to describe it as if it is adds nothing to our comprehension of what is actually happening.

It accomplishes the same thing Ronald Reagan used to do, in his early days as a sportscaster, when he took the box scores of a faraway baseball game off the wire service and used them to imagine the game itself and broadcast a play-by-play description. No harm, no foul, we might say; although the broadcast was bogus, it was entertaining, made money for the broadcaster, and was, as they say, inspired by true events.

But what if the box scores were bogus? Continue reading

The Great Rebate: Can We Get Our Money Back?

They lined up like contestants in a game show, in front of the prize they get if they win — a huge airplane known as Air Force One. Hard to know what the intended symbolism was, but it made them look like very small people. They came, ostensibly, to explain why they should be selected Pilot in Chief (with the two current front runners leading in the race because they have never flown an airplane).

They were in California, which was burning. Continue reading

Cops in America: Safer Than They Have Ever Been

Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. If there is a war on cops, the cops in St. Louis County are ready. But where is the evidence, and who is the enemy? (Wikipedia photo)

The notion that there is a “war on cops” being conducted in America — beloved of headline writers, politicians, and cops — is a complete myth. Policing, it turns out, is not an especially dangerous job, nor is it getting more so. If you want to honor someone who goes out there every day and puts his life on the line for you, hold a parade for the person who catches your fish. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial fishing is the most dangerous job in America. On the Bureau’s list of the ten most dangerous occupations, police officer does not appear. Nor is the trend going the wrong way; fewer cops were murdered in 2013 than in any year in the past generation, and it looks like 2015 will be about the same. Continue reading

A Tsunami of Climate Refugees is Drowning Europe

refugees-greek-sea

Can you imagine what it would take for you to take your family on a vessel like this to cross an angry sea to a foreign country, just to stay alive? This boat is bound for a Greek island from North Africa.

One of the most desperate and destructive diasporas in history is rolling out of the parched regions of Africa and the Middle East, over Europe, toward extinction. They are being called refugees from war, but the wars they are fleeing have their origins in the desperation of people who have no food, and they have no food because of the savage droughts being inflicted on their countries by global climate change. Hence, it is perfectly legitimate, and more importantly it is honest, to call them climate refugees.

(Among all 423 current candidates for US President, only Martin O’Malley demonstrated a grasp of this reality when he said that climate change is responsible for the rise of ISIS. He was almost universally ridiculed for saying it, and this tiny, lonely spark of sense fell on wet ground and was instantly extinguished.) Continue reading

American Exceptionalism: Not the Rule Any More

America-Firsters hated it when Will McAvoy deflated the country’s standing in the world on HBO’s The Newsroom. They hate it even more when academic studies show everything he said was true. (HBO Photo)

America-Firsters hated it when Will McAvoy deflated the country’s standing in the world on HBO’s The Newsroom. They hate it even more when academic studies show everything he said was true. (HBO Photo)

In the first episode of HBO’s The Newsroom, anchorman Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) delivers a rant that begins: “There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.  We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, No. 4 in labor force and No. 4 in exports.” Writer Aaron Sorkin was accused of everything but jihad for having his character express such negative thoughts about America, and the program was heartily loathed during its run by real Americans. Now, three years later, a new academic study confirms what Will had to say. And more. Continue reading