Friday, January 26, 2018

One more iteration of "X" is ruining America and poisoning its youth

One advantage of being on Medicare but not yet senile is that you're old enough to remember previous iterations of "whatever" -- in other words, the moral panic that the media and the politicians are pushing this week.
Today's bette noir is social media in general and Facebook in particular. Although that company is trying to clamp down, still many people are writing whatever they want on Facebook,undermining the company's efforts to help the government tell us what to think. Now, I know a lot of you are saying, "first amendment" but that's just wrong. The Constitution guarantees freedom of SPEECH, not freedom of WRITING (nor does freedom of the press cover it, since that belongs only to those who own one). So thus we have Marc Benioff, a tech company CEO, who told the World Economic Forum in Davos that Social networks would be regulated “exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry.” “I think that, for sure, technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive, and we need to rein that back as much as possible,” he added. You know, I heard the same thing about long hair on boys and AM radio on NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report in 1964 after the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Later I discovered that the NBC news hacks had plagiarized old stories about Elvis Presley's hip swaying and Chuck Berry's guitar playing and just changed a few names. And over the years we've had both media (television, 8-track tapes) and content (folk music, hip hop) blamed for juvenile addiction. Along, of course, with the perennial triumvirate, sex and drugs and rock and roll. [And the utterly American bat-shit crazy collective hysterias, like the child care centers that engaged in Satanic ritual abuse that sacrificed children to drink their blood, etc., in the 1980s and1990s. [And, yes, it happened and, yes, people were accused, tried found guilty and sentenced. The main difference with the Salem witch trials of the 1690s being that after three centuries, we did not hang people for witchcraft, just sentenced them to prison until they died of their own accord.] So who is this Benioff character that is channeling network news anchors from half a century ago? The boss of Salesforce, which peddles "customer relations management", socalled "solutions." Which is why, I suspect, he's thinks Facebook is so dangerous -- because instead of listening to whatever his outfit is putting out on behalf of its client, we might ask our friends about some product. In other words, the modern incarnation of the noble race of door-to-door fuller brush salesmen. And its not just Benioff. "A string of Silicon Valley heads have spoken out in recent months about their fear that social media could be more psychologically damaging than anyone expected," reports the Guardian. You know, just like Elvis's hips and that pinko commie plot, Sesame Street. This would be hysterically funny except that in a country so farkled as to have Donald Trump become president after he lost by three million votes, anything is not just possible, but actually happens. All the time.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Ping-Pong diplomacy revisited: The two Koreas Olympic love-fest

The lightning negotiations and cooperation between North and South Korea for the Olympics is being compared to the emergence of a bromance between President Nixon and Chairman Mao in  1971, almost a half-century ago.

Ping-pong diplomats: Zhuang Zedong and Glenn Cowan
In the midst of the Vietnam War which had dominated international relations and domestic politics for years, a chance encounter between Zhuang Zedong and Glenn Cowan, two participants in a table tennis tournament in Japan, and the resulting friendly exchanges between the two stars, one an American, the other Chinese, led to the Chinese to inviting the American team  to come on over and stage a few exhibition matches.

After 22 years of American refusal to recognize or even say "hello" to the government of China the contact over a few ping-pong games led to an official Nixon state state visit a few months later.

China's motive --to break its isolation-- was obvious, but how could this be with a rabid anticommunist like Nixon in the White House?

Well, it turned out that Nixon was not the character he'd been portraying in the soap opera of American electoral politics. But mostly, it was about the American defeat in Vietnam.

Defeat? Yes, defeat. War is the continuation of politics by other means. And the United States had been  politically defeated despite its overwhelming economic and military superiority.

Ping-pong diplomacy broke out in April of 1971, and here's how Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr., one of the most highly regarded American military historians, described the situation in Vietnam in the Armed Forces Journal in June of 1971:
The morale, discipline and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at anytime in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.

By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having _refused_ combat, murdering their officers and non commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.... 
"Frag incidents" or just "fragging" is current soldier slang in Vietnam for the murder or attempted murder of strict, unpopular, or just aggressive officers and NCOs....

Word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units.

In one such division -- the morale plagued Americal -- fraggings during 1971 have been authoritatively estimated to be running about one a week.
Remember, this is a full-bird colonel, one step below a general, describing in real time the state of U.S. forces in the middle of a shooting war. Implicit in this description was not just defeat, but the danger of a mass rebellion or mutiny by troops in Vietnam and perhaps all over the world.

Basically, ping-pong diplomacy was about the Chinese taking advantage of the desperate situation of the United States in Vietnam to break Washington's economic, diplomatic and political blockade against them.

Russia also took advantage of this situation, through detente and deals to reduce military spending on things like nuclear bombs and ICBMs.

What both Moscow and Beijing could offer was to pressure North Vietnam to accept some sort of peace deal that Nixon could use to pacify antiwar public opinion and (hopefully) avoid an openly catastrophic defeat in a shooting war. Of course, little they cared that, as Che Guevara had explained, from a revolutionary perspective, Vietnam's fight was more important right then than either country's advancement of their economic and diplomatic goals, even if quite legitimate in and of themselves.

When politicians, gasbags and scribblers recall 1970s ping-pong diplomacy as the model for the rapidly escalating rapprochement between North and South, there's more than surface amity.

The United States has put itself in a no-win situation in the Korean peninsula. Since the end of World War II Washington has relied on its military superiority. Trump thought he could use bluff and bluster to score another "win" (I don't believe he cares about the outcome beyond "proving" the incompetence --or worse-- of previous administrations). He thought with America's "military might" he would succeed.

He is acting the same way he did in business, where it led  his projects to multiple bankruptcies, forcing him eventually to become a reality TV star and "luxury brand" to (mostly foreign) suckers. Another Kardashian, but without the name or looks.

On the other hand Kim Jong-un played Trump like a violin in the hands of a concertmaster. He understood that Trump's posturing, bluffing and bluster would disrupt the united front against North Korea, and took advantage of it with a very public mad dash to obtain a nuclear deterrent, or at least a credible appearance of having one.

He understood there was nothing Trump could do about it without at least seeming to put South Korea and Japan on the brink of annihilation, as well as possibly provoking a response from China or Russia, both of which have land  borders with North Korea.

And Kim had an ace up his sleeve: the victory in South Korean elections of a party that has promoted better relations and mutual economic entanglement with the North. Not because this party is composed of angels, but its leaders reckon that given the South's overwhelming economic superiority, it had everything to gain by bringing North Korea under its wing and reducing American influence over the peninsula..

Having established --or at least convinced everyone-- of his capacity for nuclear retaliation, Kim now plays the "can't we all just get along card" with exquisite precision: on the eve of the Olympics and with a moving gesture --Koreans of the North and South marching together under the same banner-- that will bring a tear to the eye of everyone save the most hardened cynic.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Late Season's Greetings: No Merry Christmas, no Happy New Year

[I wrote this on December 25. I didn't post it then, but after shithole and Hawaii ... ]

There was no Christmas in my house this year: nor in my heart.

I've spent hours and hours meditating on how I felt thirty years ago, and how I feel today.

Because then I was on the verge of despair. As I am today.

As 1987 came to a close, I was still in Managua, absorbing the collapse of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. Few on the left then even saw it, but somehow, pretty much as long as I'd been in Nicaragua I'd not been able to close my eyes to countless problems even though I trusted --more than that, I was convinced as a matter of religious faith-- that no matter how battered and bloodied, the Revolution would win through.

But by the end of 1987, I'd finally admitted to myself that it wasn't true. The essence of a people's revolution from below [not "regime change" from above] is the organized movement of masses of regular people trying to take control of society to forge a better future. In Nicaragua, by the end of 1987, that movement was dead. The militias, unions, associations of farmers and women and students were all hollowed-out shells rapidly being transformed into nests of bureaucratic privilege. I was losing my religion,.

After the truth became undeniable a couple of years later, many on the left blamed the Sandinistas. I did not. The poorest country on America mainland with an adult population about 1% that of the United States was unable to withstand Washington's onslaught, especially after the Soviets stabbed them in the back, refusing to provide the promised planes and choppers that the Sandinistas needed to fight the contras, and Western Europe provided only token, symbolic help.

The Nicaraguan revolution was drowned in the blood of the war, asphyxiated by the economic crisis it produced. But worse, its heart was ripped out by the way it was condemned to solitude, left twisting in the wind. There were many things that the Sandinistas did that people considered mistaken and debilitating. And there was an overriding question of the growing indications of the demoralization of the revolution's leadership, the FSLN.

And I don't mean just or mainly fighting spirit, although there was that too. I mean a loss of integrity and honesty, the taking of privileges that, minuscule as they may have seemed, simply devastated the trust of the population in the Sandinista Front given the desperate economic situation most people faced.

I left Nicaragua having made two interconnected decisions: that I would abandon politics and journalism.  I did then, at least for a little while but I went back to both, thinking the Cold War is over, we are living in a new world.

What has that to do with today?

The feeling of dread, that what we feared might come to pass has already become inevitable, that the ghost of Christmas future is here not to give us warning and a chance of redemption, but to mock our stupidity, especially the idea that we are "the resistance."

It's been more than a year since Trump achieved a majority in the slaveocracy's electoral college even though he lost the election by three million votes.

It is time to stop pretending that he doesn't know what he is doing, that he is alienating "our" allies or that he isn't accomplishing much on account of Congress.

It may all be an act or he may quite sincerely be delusional and even psychopathic. But you are what you pretend to be.

He acts as if he actually believes the United States is in a war of all against all, and "we" have been betrayed by "our" leaders who were trying to get along with many other countries instead of insulting them, threatening them militarily and confronting them economically.

I don't think there's a concept in current political discourse more wrong headed than that Trump is just playing to his base, throwing them a little red meat, protecting his narrow slice of the electorate and similar drivel.

What Trump is doing is to cohere a mass movement that is unconditionally loyal to him. He is doing so by constantly projecting himself as the sole embodiment of "America First," and saying the problems "regular" Americans face are due to betrayal, to treason.

He is not running for re-election, he is campaigning to become America's Putin -- actually, worse.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Fidel and I, and a nation unforgiven

[I wrote this on Facebook a year ago, right after Fidel's death, and meant to publish it here, but never did. Reading commemorations from Cuba on the first anniversary of his death, I was struck by several that spoke about Fidel's leading Cuba now, in the present tense, not the past. Then I realized I understood without even thinking about it.]
Fidel: his truth is marching on.
Over the past few days many people have asked me what I thought of Fidel's death. I've done a few press interviews, and to my surprise, I found it difficult to formulate an answer, and I think I've finally figured out why.
I was a 7-year-old Cuban kid from a millionaire family who had no clue everything in his life would be upended by the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
And I was an increasingly rebellious Cuban exile adolescent in Florida in the late 1960s who did not recoil when he realized he was being increasingly attracted to the ideals of Fidel and Che.
I did not realize then, I could not possibly have known, that these circumstances would shape the rest of my life.
Yet they have, and they should not have. That is my reaction to the news about Fidel.
Decades ago, the Cuban revolution --and with it the figure of Fidel Castro-- should have receded from politics into history. It took 20 years, give or take, for the United States to accept the reality of the other great revolutions of the 20th Century, the Russian, the Chinese and Vietnamese. The old disputes were negotiated and settled: "borrón y cuenta nueva," we Cubans say, wipe the slate clean and start over.
But it never happened with Cuba.
Donald Trump will become the twelfth American head of state to preside over the economic blockade Eisenhower initiated as part of the preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Yet the great majority of those that fought at the Bay of Pigs are now dead. Those of us who have even the vaguest childhood memories of those days are now on Medicare. Isn't it time to let go?
It was time to move on decades ago. But we can't. The blockade --the economic war against Cuba-- still goes on. The forcible, violent occupation of part of Cuba's national territory still goes on. And the insistence of the Americans that they --and not Cubans-- have the right to decide Cuba's fate goes on.
What Fidel did was to head the fight for the Cuban people's right to self-determination. That, not socialism, not being pals of the Russians, not helping to wipe South African apartheid from the face of the earth, was his greatest crime.
And that crime could not have been anything but the collective crime of the Cuban Nation. So even a death certificate with his name on it cannot expiate it. And even with his body in ashes he remains in the fight.
Fidel hasn't died because the Americans won't let him. Even now, the United States will not accept that they could not break him, or the Cuban people. And until they do accept it, Fidel will remain part of the fight.
Even in death, he remains unforgiven. The battle he fought, that he dedicated his life to, remains unresolved. His people, the Cuban people, remain undefeated.
Some day I will reflect on Fidel's death, perhaps in mourning of his passing or in celebration of his life. But that day will come when the battle he still leads is won.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The tax cut that's really needed --
but neither party will talk about it

No one --including the Schumer-Pelosi Democrats-- is talking about the one tax cut that should be made as a matter of basic fairness: excluding social security payments from taxable income.

Nancy and Chuck: getting ready to sell out the middle class
Why? Because that money has already been taxed when you earned it and the government took it out of your paycheck. That's true also of the tax on the employer. From the point of view of the company, what "they" pay is simply part of the cost of having you work for them, same as if it appeared on your pay stub. In fact, the main category for company bookkeeping is not "wages" but "payroll" which includes the taxes and the cost of benefits that do not appear on your paycheck stub.

The other part of the social security trust fund are interest payments on the bonds the government theoretically sells the trust fund when it takes social security tax money and uses it for other things, mostly wars and toys for the generals.

But aren't government bonds tax free? Exactly. Rich people pay no federal income tax on the interest from bonds they voluntarily buy from the government, whereas regular people pay tax on the interest from government bonds when the income finally comes to us in the form of social security payments.

And government bonds at all levels have paid much lower interest rates than they would have had to pay if the federal government didn't give itself an automatic "loan" from the social security trust fund.

If Congress is going to talk about cutting taxes, stopping the double taxation of seniors' social security payments should be the first item on their agenda. Social Security payments are way too low anyways: the average is about $1,300 a month, and they are being cut through the "raising the full retirement age" scam.

The first step in fixing social security should be to exclude social security benefits from taxable income.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Puerto Rico is not 'America' -- it is the victim of American colonialism

All the liberals and news commentators keep stressing that Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. And they bemoan the fact that half or more of the U.S. population doesn't know that. Even Fox News is doing it as it tries to defend Trump's performance.

But there is a reason why so many don't "get" that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. And that reason is, simply, that it is not part of the United States. It is no more part of "America" than India was part of England when the Brits ran the place.

Anyone who has even the slightest acquaintance with Puerto Rico knows it is a different country. It has its own language, culture, traditions, history and above all, a strong sense of identity that even 120 years of American domination have been unable to erase.

That understanding permeates how Puerto Rico is regarded in U.S. culture. It's not that teachers fail to stress enough in high school that it's "Puerto Rico, USA," for when did anyone have to be told to remember that Wyoming is part of "America?" Or New Jersey? Or even Mississippi  (although Phil Ochs made a pretty good case for Mississippi finding itself another country to be part of).

Does this mean that Washington is off the hook for Puerto Rico? No, quite the contrary, the fact that Washington has stripped the people of Puerto Rico of the right to control their own destiny makes it even more responsible. Especially because it has dominated Puerto Rico so that American banks and corporations can loot the place.

In a detailed presentation by New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez on the island's public debt crisis, he points to a very simple and devastatingly revealing number -- the difference between Puerto Rico's Gross Domestic Product and its Gross National Product. GDP is how much wealth the island creates. GNP is an indicator of how much it gets to keep.

A handy chart from the Federal Reserve shows that the GNP/GDP ratio went from almost one to one in 1960 to two to three for the last 20 years, in other words, that the island's economy only keeps two-thirds of the value it produces. That's a loss of more than $30 billion a year.

A different, much more conservative method for calculating how much Puerto Rico is losing, which uses Gross National Income (GNI) instead of GNP, shows the island being ripped off to the tune of nearly $20 billion a year.

So when Trump complains about the island's huge public debt or an infrastructure that already was on the verge of collapse, remember that it was American domination that made it so -- and the rebuilding of Puerto Rico should be paid by Washington, not San Juan.

Not because Puerto Ricans are "American," but because despite it being a different country, the United States has lorded it over them and fleeced them for more that 100 years -- and we owe them.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Puerto Rico: incompetence, indifference and colonialism

It is going to be a staple of the liberals and the left that the way the United States has allowed Puerto Rico to become a humanitarian catastrophe in the wake of Hurricane María is a result of  incompetence and indifference powered by Trump's racism.

But behind that is a more fundamental cause: Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, and has been since 1898, when Washington wrested it from Spain along with Cuba and the Philippines.

What is a colony? A country that does not govern itself. From its origins the United Nations has had a formal principle against colonialism, but the United States pays it no mind.

In the early 1950s, Washington lied to the U.N. saying that Puerto Rico had become a self-governing "commonwealth," but as recently as June of 2016, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that Puerto Rico is an "unincorporated territory." As defined by the court when the United States first acquired the island, Puerto Rico is a place that belongs to, but is not part of, the United States.

Congress exercises unlimited power over Puerto Rico. It can do whatever it wants, can (and does) create special laws that apply only to Puerto Rico, and even the constitutional rights of American citizens can be ignored.

Congress just did that a year ago, refusing to let it file for judicial protection under the bankruptcy laws (unlike every other jurisdiction under the U.S. flag), and instead imposing a seven-member banker's junta to dictate budgets and policies to the island's government.

(Puerto Rican journalist Juan González gave a major speech a year ago going into detail on how U.S. colonial domination has bled Puerto Rico, driving the country into an unending depression, massive emigration to the United States, and bankruptcy).

Puerto Ricans have no say in what the United States does with their country. They do not vote for President. There are no Senators from Puerto Rico, nor any members of the House of Representatives either, just a non-voting "resident commissioner" who is little more than a glorified lobbyist.

There is only one way Congress can surrender its unlimited power over Puerto Rico, which is to transfer Puerto Rican sovereignty to someone else, just as Spain transferred it to the United States in 1898. Congress should renounce its authority, allowing the people of Puerto Rico to determine the island's future, including its future relationship with the United States.

Right now all sorts of politicians and journalists are saying that Puerto Rico is part of the United States but that is not true, strictly speaking: it is a separate, distinct country, but one that the United States owns.

But you will also hear politicians --especially Puerto Rican ones who are aware of the reality-- arguing on behalf of the island by saying Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. That is true, but by a 1917 act of Congress, and not the Fourteenth Amendment which was adopted after the Civil War and makes citizens "All persons born or naturalized in the United States." Under the law, people born on the island do not do so "in the United States."

At least until the last few days, half of the U.S. population did not even know that Puerto Ricans were American citizens. And it's not just racism, but the obvious, self-evident fact that Puerto Rico is a different country (combined with the encyclopedic ignorance produced by American schooling).

There is a reason for Washington's indifference to what had happened in Puerto Rico, especially evident in the first week after María. It is the indifference of a colonial power towards a country it has conquered.