Monday, September 22, 2014

Not One Red Cent from Me, Guys

Once, I confess, I opened my checkbook at every whimper of liberal lingo. I know better now, thanks primarily to Barack Obama.
Every day brings a flood of e-mail from Democratic candidates and fund-raisers telling me that disaster is just around the corner unless I give them money.  I consign their pleas to e-limbo without a murmur of compunction.
“Koch Brothers!” “Republican Senate!”  they shriek, the way Republicans howl “Benghazi!” and “Taxes!” A pox on all of them, say I.
What good, pray, has Democratic control of the Senate and the White House done for this floundering, sick, declining, hell-bent-for-war nation?  Democrats have not passed a meaningful piece of progressive legislation since the 1970s. The Constitution says only a simple majority is needed for passage in the Senate, just like the House. But the Democratic majority in the Senate has allowed the Republicans to pervert the filibuster to the extent that 60 votes are needed to accomplish anything. So much for democracy.
What about such liberal stalwarts as Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Bernie Sanders . . . Puh-LEEZE!
On July 17, the Senate showed its true colors, cowering to AIPAC and voting 100-0 for a resolution in support of Israel’s murderous carnage against women, children, schools and hospitals in Gaza.  The so-called “Warren wing” of the democratic party was part of that willfully blind 100.
The other progressive in my county joined me for lunch the other day.  “Must I resign myself,” he asked, “to a Republican Senate next year and a Republican White House in 2016?”
I replied as honestly as I could: “Probably.  So what?”
Here’s what: Most of the truly awful legislation that’s passing the House would also clear the Senate. Obama might have the gumption to veto some of the worst of them.  But these actions, like those that have taken place on the Washington stage for the last 13 years, will be just a puppet show for the corporate string-pullers who actually run the country. Our lives will continue to get worse.  Our infrastructure will continue to decay.  The common folk will continue to stagger under the burden of endless war. The Bill of  Rights will be a memory.  
All of this is happening now and will continue to happen after the November vote.  
Chris Hedges, one of the most clear-sighted visionaries still writing, had this to say Saturday at the big climate march in New York:
“Bill Clinton found that by doing corporate bidding he could get corporate money -- thus NAFTA, the destruction of our welfare system, the explosion of mass incarceration under the [1994] omnibus bill, the deregulation of the FCC, turning the airwaves over to a half dozen corporations, and the revoking of FDR's 1933 Glass-Seagal reform that had protected our banking system from speculators. Clinton, in exchange for corporate money, transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. This was diabolically brilliant. It forced the Republican Party to shift so far to the right it became insane.”
Insane.  I hear the word ever more frequently these days. A writer friend noted the New York Times report today under the headline “U.S. ramps up major renewal of nuclear weapons." Our so-called leaders in Washington, he observed, “are insane.  Not just evil.  Insane.”
This ramping up would cost a trillion dollars or so. It would take place under the auspices of a president who was given the Nobel Peace Prize for making a couple of speeches, full of nice rhetorical flourishes, decrying nuclear proliferation.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thanks for the Memories

You reach a certain age and each revisiting of a favorite place becomes precious -- because it might be your last.

We are in such a place. The red rock and canyon-pocked splendor of southeastern Utah deserves better than the state government that would enable its desecration. But then, all the special places in these United States deserve better than the political whores who allow them to be raped and pillaged.

Enjoy them while you can.

Green River. We overnighted there last night, in the same campground that was base camp for our first trip through Twenty-Nine-Mile canyon, whose collection of native American rock art has been called the world's finest outdoor art gallery. We ritually partook of the locally-grown melons without which no visit to Green River is complete. We remembered setting out from here for our first visit to the then-newly created Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument. Far out on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, Saxon, our canine companion then, turned Dance Hall Rock into his personal playground. Green River. S'long, old friend;if we never meet again, thanks for the memories.

Moab. My older brother Bob said, "If you are permitted only one national park in your lifetime, make sure it's Arches."  Amen. We pitched a tent in a park in Moab and rose before sunrise to photograph the wonders of Arches.  How proudly we introduced others -- Dave, Gene, Vicky, Joyce -- to the place that inspired Ed Abbey's finest work, "Desert Solitaire." Oh, the hikes we had in younger years in the LaSals and the desert surrounding Arches! What vicarious joy we took from David's conquest of the toughest slick rock mountain bike trail in this Lycra hard-body Mecca! Early on the loop he hooked up with three college kids from Texas. Already in his 50s, he led them to the crest of every climb. "You've been doing this for a while, haven't you?" one of the youngsters said. "How old are you?" Dave replied. Twice the size of the town where we first camped for Arches, Moab today has added sky diving and hot air ballooning and ATV adventures, zip lining, Hummer touring, paragliding; luxury resorts and glitz and zesty nightlife. We forgive you, you old tart.  And thanks for the memories.

From Monticello, just down Highway 191, we discovered Windwhistle campground, where we staged the west's greatest slumgullion breakfast for a hungry gaggle of fellow adventurers, then walked like Spiderman up the steep wall of a slickrock butte. We consumed our first Utah red trout in a cafe there, and shared tall tales of discovery with drivers in a Jeep rally. We read Newspaper Rock and ventured to the very edge of a wilderness high in the Canyon Rims overlooking Canyonlands National Park, merely the second-best one of all. This was The Last Adventure for Sandy, the cocker spaniel who allowed us to share fine trails with him East and West, North and South.

Blanding. At Edge of the Cedars museum we met the artist who was attempting to reproduce every piece of native art destroyed by the flooding of Glen Canyon to create Lake Powell. A noble spirit, he. From our tent in a meadow high up in the nearby Abajos, Sandy ventured out to make friends with a trio of cowboys, rounding up cattle to be taken down to their winter pasturage in the valley. A local cafe on another visit introduced us to Utah-brewed Polygamy Porter ("Why settle for just one?"). Farewell, Blanding, good-bye Monticello. If we never pass your way again, thanks for the memories.

Ah, Bluff. All three of our beloved dogs have camped with us in Butler Wash in the shadow of the great southwestern landmark called Comb Ridge. Aided by a newfangled gadget called GPS we traversed back-country slickrock to find our very own Anasazi ruin.  Others, of course, had found it before us, and one had taken a flat rock and made a kind of altar on which subsequent visitors placed found treasures -- potsherds and arrow tips: veneration to the spirits of the old ones who allowed us to visit their dwellings. We climbed to Cedar Mesa; we hiked around Natural Bridges; we explored the banks of the San Juan and its Gooseneck meanders.  Mexican Hat. Valley of the Gods. Monument Valley. The Sand Island petroglyphs. The old Mormon Trail. How reluctantly we leave you this time, Bluff. Thanks for the memories.

Remember the sunrise concert by the native American flute player on the remote trail in the Canyon Rims? The guitar -pickin' singer at Cowboy Blues? I wonder what became of the fine cook who tried to make a go of it serving continental cuisine on the corner of the back road to Cortez? Did we really lose a trailer hitch on the impassable last three miles of Hole-in-the-Rock road? How many times have we set up in the great high campsite overlooking the river valley to the east, the Straight Cliffs to the west?  So sorry we couldn't revisit the nearly life-sized shamans etched in the cliff side at Sego Canyon. How regally the pronghorn brushed past Saxon and me as if we were just another sagebrush on the high prairie! A pox on the asshole from California who (untruthfully) boasted of killing half a dozen rattlesnakes on Sunrise Rock trail. Was Rooster Rock the best campsite ever?

Brandi, the Rhodesian ridgeback who is the incumbent Trail Dog, welcomed the return to a desert environment after enduring the rainy mountain forests and strange critter-smells of the north.  On the way down to Bluff through the red rock cliffs, he became agitated.  Perhaps he remembered guiding us (me with a brand new metal hip) across the vast slickrock slope to the very foot of Comb Ridge.  More likely, he caught the scent of a nearby deer-crossing. "Turn me loose," he seemed to say, "and I'll hunt down our supper."

Never mind, mate. The Navajo Twins restaurant on the edge of town still serves a right good chile relleno. You can eat on the patio in good weather. But it's the rainy season here and they were predicting flash floods in some parts of the San Juan Valley.

Remember the time it rained all the way from Green River to Chinle?

Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but memories.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This Train Ain't Bound for Glory

Ferguson, Mo., is not the last stop on this line.

Maybe there is no last stop in deeply racist Amerika. I shared a Pulitzer Prize with the rest of the Detroit Free Press news staff for reporting on the riot in which 43 black citizens died while their city burned around them. Things would get better, we thought while tallying the terrible costs of this civil distress.  This was half a century ago. "Things" are not better.

A wise and respected friend remembers his teen and young adult years in his parents' ranch-style house in then all-white Ferguson.  It was half a block from the intersection of Lang Drive and West Florissant Ave. where, just a few days ago, the Ferguson police used military force -- tanks, tear gas -- to suppress a crowd exercising its First Amendment rights. They were protesting the death of an unarmed black Ferguson teen-ager fatally shot be a white Ferguson police officer even as the kid threw up his hands and pleaded for his life.

Ferguson, my friend recalls, was lily white when he lived there. Today it is two-thirds black.  Three of the 53 members of of its militarized police force are black.  There is something terribly wrong with this ratio. My friend,  who is in daily contact with St. Louisians familiar with the benighted suburb, says they describe the Ferguson police as "brutish, stupid and unlucky." They blundered into a McDonald's in their riot gear and racist zeal and arrested a small throng, which, alas, happened to include two working journalists.

My friend says he grew up in a place "so steeped in racism that it is difficult to imagine the Deep South as being all that different." He writes that "my own family was as steeped as any and frankly I have struggled all my life to dissolve with reason and experience the attitudes imbued in me almost before I was old enough to walk."

This good man's confessional recall triggered an array of empathy in our online circle of writers, lawyers, teachers and philosophers. "You've got to be taught," Oscar Hammerstein III wrote, "to hate and fear, you've got to be taught, from year to year, it's got to drummed in you dear little ear."

My father's  racism was merely reflective of the common attitude in our all-white suburb of Cincinnati. Before kindergarten we knew there was, deep in The City, a place called "Niggertown," where people different from us in color and of lesser intelligence loitered insolently in deserved squalor. We knew the Niggers begrudged us our superior lifestyle, and if given the chance would take it from us by violence, which is why they had to be kept in Niggertown. In John and Dorothy Ashby's brilliantly satirical musical play about post-riot Detroit, "Three Six," the police would sing this prelude to a raid on a black numbers runner: "Ring around the ghetto, keep the Niggers in. Let them knife each other, fightin' over gin."

When the men of my suburban neighborhood joined my father in a tenperate glass of Heudepohl at the Westwood Inn, they never contemplated lynchings and fiery crosses, but they never either voiced disapproval of the depredations of the KKK not that far away in Terre Haute.  And when white hope Billy Conn fought black Joe Louis for the world's heavyweight boxing championship, not a penny was bet on Louis. The sons of these men went off to fight World War II in all-white units of a segregated army and most of those fortunate enough to return home in one piece liked the segregated United States they came home to and built Levittowns to keep it that way. Lyndon Johnson was condemned in the North, too, for letting Niggers have too big a piece of the Bill of Rights.

I spent my early years in journalism in Iowa, working often in towns where you could walk from end to end without seeing a black face, except perhaps laboring in the rail yards at the dirtiest and basest of jobs. My eldest son was swimming in the newly desegregated municipal pool when he saw his first black contemporary. For the briefest of moments he stared at the black kid in unbridled astonishment. Is there a glimmer of hope somewhere in this little event in that same son's life? That he was arrested protesting the Vietnam war in Washington DC. That he was stashed with thousands of others in RFK stadium before being shipped off randomly to storage in a precinct jail. That when I finally tracked him down in a precinct on a far edge of the district, and posted his bond, he refused release.  Why? "He's leading a protest," the jailer told me. "They say one of our officers insulted a black prisoner."

Like my writer friend, I have "struggled all my life to dissolve with reason and experience the attitudes imbued in me almost before I was old enough to walk." The great imperative of this struggle for me was to assure that the attitudes were not passed on to my children. Perhaps I succeeded. I hope I succeeded.

Even so, I have done little to slow the train that has just passed through Ferguson, this highballin' train of deeply racist America, this train that's bound not for glory, but for infamy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Magnetism of the Mountains

GOLDEN, BC, Canada -- Our northern cousins are as adept at Yellowstoning their treasures as we are. Routing major highways through the hearts of national parks makes it easy to love them to death.
Then, too, we blundered into Canada on the long weekend of their biggest national holiday. In the Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia, all of Canada, it seemed, was up and about.  The highway running through Kootenay National Park was a long narrow parking lot for the populace of Calgary, seeking relief from a heat wave that sent temperatures higher than those we had fled back home in New Mexico.

Visitors seeking the summit of Revelstoke on the wildflower Parkway,the ice fields of Glacier or the sun-drenched jewel that is Emerald Lake flounder in a sea of logging trucks, 18-wheelers, rental RVs and SUVs mounting kayaks and mountain bikes and canoes and camping gear. Venture onto a remote forest service road that's not on the tourist maps and you'll share it with Volvo-loads of escaped Windsorites looking for black bears, mobile drilling rigs looking for black-gold treasure, locals driving off-road vehicles at race-track speed. This is an area of brawny, beautiful mountains; of crystalline streams and trout-teeming rivers and lakes; of forests still nearly primeval.  Little wonder everyone wants their piece of it.

Although virtually all the campsites are occupied, we have a sense of peace and solitude, an island of tranquility among the trees of the Golden Eco Adventure Ranch and campground. We can walk to the vast mowed field where paragliders and other daredevils of the defy-gravity gang land after leaping off a rocky crag high on the slopes of Mount Seven.  World records for distance and speed have been set from this starting point.

Our campsite is surrounded by hundreds of miles of biking and hiking and equestrian trails.  You can ride a ski gondola almost to the summit of Kicking Horse Mountain and walk or bike down to the valley. But you'll share those trails with oodles of hard-bodied Canadians and queue up for most of the morning to get aboard that gondola. Just about everyone says the views make it worth the wait. Canada's mountain parks offer orgies of scenery that neither hordes nor rainstorms can despoil.
Time and the economy have taught the winter resort operators to become year-round destinations for tourists and vacationers. Two excellent German restaurants serve more than passable roladen, jagerspaetzle and blitz torte mit schlag to those who throng to the Kootenay Valley.

 But the culinary crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies is the Cedar House, a small, Swiss chalet-style place with a sunny side veranda overlooking Golden and Reflection Lake. Corey Fraser, trained at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver, is the latest in a line of superb chefs who have kept this restaurant on Canada's finest-dining lists for years.  Like many world-class eateries, Cedar House specializes in fresh local provender, prepared with consummate care and innovation. Its salads are visual works of art that join choice local fruits and vegetables in exotic flavor marriages. Fraser prepares regional delicacies --steelhead trout from the Columbia, duck that swam on Lake Loon, grass-fed Alberta beef, free-range Invermere chicken, Vancouver scallops -- with love, imagination and subtle sauces. Even a simple creme brûlée becomes a Cezanne still life in Fraser's kitchen, garnished with razor-thin slices of apple and peach, wild strawberries and blueberries, half a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream, half a scoop of tangy raspberry sorbet and a slather of something silky and chocolate. Come hungry. Stay long.

A refugee from Stateside clings only briefly to the stereotype of the hardy Canadian as perfect custodian of ecosystems and their wild denizens. Two well-intentioned amateur ecologists opened a shelter for homeless bred-in-captivity wolves a few miles outside of Golden. Visitors pay to watch and photograph the wolves and listen to lectures about wild creatures and environmental responsibility. The chap who took our entrance fee asked where we were from.  "New Mexico," I said, "where ranchers shoot grey wolves as fast as they can be re-introduced to the area where Aldo Leopold once wrote about the 'fierce green fire' in their eyes." "We're no better here," he said.  "We hunt them legally, with no restrictions whatsoever--pregnant females, pups, all fair game.  Some places offer bounties.  Others sterilize them. You'll learn the terrible truth about us if you stay for the next lecture." We stayed.

There is considerable allure in these parts for entrepreneurial outdoorsy types to set up small businesses that leave time free for snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, hunting, fishing -- or hang gliding.  But they, too,face terrible truths about their mountain paradise.

Sandra and her husband, who have owned and managed the local general store cum gas station for ten years, are selling out and heading south.  "Last winter was the last straw for us," said Sandra.  "Thirty below, not just for a day every now and then, but for weeks at a time. The cougars had no prey in the high country so they came down here in the valley and ate livestock and family pets. All our neighbors lost dogs to the cougars." She nodded toward the aging mongrel they found abandoned in the woods nearly a decade ago. "We kept that one indoors all winter," she said.  "Next winter we'll be in a place where he and our girls can run free in safety."

We topped off our gas tank and drove back to the Golden Eco Adventure campground.  We watched a paraglider land in the field.  He was from Toronto.  "This place is unique in the world," he said.  "Perfect thermals for flying.  Our whole club membership is planning to come up here next summer for two weeks."

The mountains will be waiting for them. Man has many ways to smother them with affection, but he can't really love them to death.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Far from the Crowd's Madness -- Briefly

The traveler welcomes his brief enislement from the marvelous modern tools of communication, his not having to face the morning diet of news reports and story lists for news aggregators.  His companion sagely says that reading them these days is "like peering into Hell."

Here on Horseshoe Bend of the Bighorn River, where rugged northeast Wyoming kisses tough old southeastern Montana, you can't access the Internet, pulling in an audible radio station isn't worth the effort, and who ever heard of television?

So like most of our countrymen, even those with the dubious blessing of total access, we turn our backs on Israel's genocide in Gaza, ignore the "lakes of blood" one newsman saw in Bibi's relentless war on nunneries, hospitals, mosques,schools and civilian homes. We are deaf to the unbelievable idiocy of Washington's buffoons, whores, half-wits and criminals.

We look instead for the great stallion Cloud and his herd of wild mustangs, somewhere in the wilderness of the Pryor Mountains. The legendary beast is getting old, but still roams his domain, still commands his mares, yearlings and colts. Recently a younger stallion challenged him for leadership of his herd and Cloud suffered severe wounds.  But, a BLM ranger assured us, he has recovered. 

Even here in this high, lush country a worldly thought intrudes: how like the stallion who challenged Cloud are the arrogant governments led by our own seeking to destroy Vladimir Putin's rule of the Russian herd. Rational thought does not provoke these intrusions on sovereignty; just animal power-lust, a raw and unbridled force of primitive nature. Man was thought to have risen above this.  What hubris!

There! Off less than a hundred yards from the rough, tortuous jeep track we are ascending! A bachelor stallion of the Pryor mustangs, grazing a grassy swale! As we aim our cameras, he obliges with a regal rearing on his hind legs, forelegs kicking high,deep black mane shaking. Then he vanishes behind a rocky crag.

Mission accomplished. We abandon the search for Cloud, turn around and head back toward Horseshoe Bend.

Going downhill, the reservoir behind Yellowtail Dam is an oval emerald, glistening in the hot mid-afternoon sun. Across the road we can see the rooftops of the fish hatchery. Because the day is clear, we can make out the settlement of Lovell, 14 miles distant.  Even here, in the domain of the wild horses, or at our campsite, where the sun paints the cliffs of Bighorn Canyon blood red every dead-silent dawn, the ugly truth of the real world is never far away.

We know that even as we thirstily drink in the beauty that surrounds us, wars that we instigated, whether overtly or indirectly by stealth, are sapping precious resources and snuffing innocent lives. We know that those who lavish our treasury on these wars callously refuse the pittances to feed hungry children in our own country. We know these things but are grateful for the diversions nature provides in this precious place.

From a high cliff above the river we can see Devil Canyon. The fickle river gorged this canyon millennia ago, then altered its meander leaving the old gouge high and dry. Now, 900 feet below, the Bighorn churns -- a rich green as viewed from above -- on its new course called Bighorn Canyon. No apologies offered, none requested.

This place is home to raptors. Cruising broad wing hawks drift brazenly overhead, so close it seems that we could reach up and grasp their razor-sharp claws. Brandi, our usually intrepid Rhodesian ridgeback, instinctively ducks behind a boulder.

We scan a circle, trying to spot a peregrine falcon on the hunt. These swift raptors nearly disappeared from the Bighorn high country, their eggs rendered infertile by the DDT they absorbed from consuming their prey. Along came Rachel Carson's disclosures in "Silent Spring" and the banning of the pesticide. The peregrine are back and thriving, although none chose to show themselves to us today. Never mind, it's comforting just to know they're there, somewhere, filling their appointed niche in Nature's scheme of things.

These days it's trendy for our elected clods and dunces to denigrate Carson and her research in clouds of revisionist non-science that suit their denial of climate change. A pox on them.

A pox, too, on the extractor oligarchs who would frack, drill, pillage, loot and destroy the very ground we're walking on, and the politicians who would allow them to do so. The fossil fuel lords have fooled too many people in these parts. They link their own prosperity, poor fools, to the fortunes of the drillers and diggers and despoilers.

Bighorn Lake is emerald, again, in the setting sun. What a beautiful planet this is, site of the spectacular accident that enabled life to form. How fortunate we humans are to have risen to our present place in the hierarchy of that life.  How little we have done to deserve such fortune. So little that one day all too soon we will have forfeited it.

Onward to Canada's Kootenay Valley.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts Where the Wind and the Bighorn Marry

THERMOPOLIS, WY--This is the first time we have visited the beautiful Wind River canyon without seeing bighorn sheep. What else would you expect when it’s 104 degrees on the rocky slopes where they liked to frolic?

Weather extremes, a symptom of man-driven climate change, seem to be everywhere these days. Even in this hotbed of climate change deniers, Jesus freaks and Dick Cheney, 104 degrees is a little much.

In Mac's bar and package goods store, every stool and table was occupied at mid-afternoon the other day.  Most of the patrons would otherwise have been fishing for trout or gunning down wolves from low-flying helicopters.  It was just too damned hot for such manly pursuits. Nobody paid attention to the ball game on the wide screen TV -- who cared about the Pittsburgh friggin' Pirates? -- but the beer was flowing fast and some of the good ol' boys were heating up an argument about whether the water was a little cooler upstream in the Bighorn above where it merges with the Wind to roar through the canyon.

Over at Hot Springs state park, Dan'l's normally tireless border collie, Max, spurned her game of fetch and flopped down in the cool, green grass.  Our ridgeback, Brandi, took a sip of the Wind down in the canyon, then headed back to the truck to beg for some of the cold stuff he knew was there.

The north campground at Boyson Lake state park was virtually deserted despite the abundant shade.

All over the West, creatures are migrating from their traditional habitats because they have become inhospitable. Cooper's hawks no longer hunt from my back gate in New Mexico in the winter time; they've moved the southern limits of their range to higher, cooler ground. The very existence of some species is threatened now by the rapidity of climate change. The polar bear is the most famous example but far from the only one. Sea turtles,pikas, frogs, pandas,bees - these are just a few of the species that are vanishing all too quickly.

Down at Mac's the prevailing wisdom held that the trout of the Bighorn were simply to be too damned lazy with the heat to take bait these days, but don't try to sell that line to fishermen off the coast of Wales, who have seen some of their most profitable catch move hook, line and habitat to cooler North Sea waters.

Arrogantly proud of our ignorance, we humans have been turning our natural world inside-out and upside-down for far too long now. Maybe the day isn't that far off when we'll have to got to a zoo just to see a robin.

Yesterday, on the banks of the Wind, our macho lion-hunter Brandi was frightened away from a choice piece of shade by a hostile butterfly! Really.  They were all over the place.  Down south of where we live that used to the case with the regal monarch, too.  Now it's endangered.

Perhaps some day the human race will vanish, victim of its own follies,leaving the planet to the insects.  Lord knows there's plenty of those flittin' around in this heat!

There remain somewhat unspoiled a few magnificent places in the North American west, places I want to explore before I die.  We're headed for some of them -- Bighorn Canyon up the river where perhaps the water's a bit cooler; Kootenay lake, river and national park in Canada, where perhaps there's still an unmelted ice cave or bit of glacier.

At least Brandi will be safe from hostile butterflies up there.  But is that good? That could even be tomorrow's argument at Mac's bar.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Our Legacy of Dead and Maimed Children

How deeply this country has sunk into depravity! It is now one of the world’s most egregious jailers, abusers and murderers of children.

Israel, with American military hardware, is raining terror upon the deprived, under-nourished, ill-housed, blockaded, sick and suffering Palestinians in the Gaza.  Nearly 200 have been killed, 30 to 50 of them children.  The kids who survive are not “fortunate;” they suffer the world’s highest rate of childhood post traumatic stress disorder.  Nightmares, attention deficit,  dysfunctional bowels, incoherent thought patterns, intense depression — these are our gifts to the children who survive.

We protect the Israelis with our technology,  with the super power of the most expensive killing machine in history.  The so-called “iron dome” that deflects 90% of the rockets fired at Israel from Gaza is 100% U.S. technology paid for 100% with American tax dollars. The air strike that tore off the arms of a three-year-old Palestinian girl in Khan Younis was conducted by an American plane given to Israel as “foreign aid”, dropping American bombs using sophisticated American guidance systems. So the bomb that killed two invalids in a nursing home, or the one that destroyed a home next to a mosque, may not have been accidents.

In the Americas, Honduras has become a murderous hell-hole in the bloody chaos that followed the American-backed coup d’etat that ousted a democratically-elected head of state.  Most of the children flooding across our border are fleeing the violence in Honduras.  We have incarcerated them in conditions unfit for animals and cannot wait to throw them back to the hell from which they fled — a hell that we created. They are refugees but we call them illegal immigrants. 

Coalitions of religious, civil liberties, human rights, medical, legal and labor organizations have documented these horrors and demanded an end to them, but our government simply growls at these frightened kids and the many others who might follow them across the border, “We will send you back.”

We slaughtered a million and a half Iraqis bringing “freedom and democracy” to that benighted land.  How many of them were children?  Far, far too many in the view of any but the most barbarian of cultures. Not to mention the maimed and traumatized and parentless children who huddle in the rubble of their devastated country, lacking potable water, adequate medical treatment or proper nutrition.  This is their “gift of freedom” from the United States of Endless War. Unindicted war criminals like Cheney and Rumsfeld and Perle still boast about “achievements” there, just as Netanyahu’s  toadies boast of their “achievements” in Palestine. How many dead and maimed children constitute an “achievement?”

We financed and trained the neo-Nazis who drove another democratically-elected head of state  out of office in Ukraine, where our foreign policy has created a new hell-hole of civil war, death and destruction.  Of course children are among the victims.  We don’t know how many.  We don’t care.

How many dead and crippled children did we leave in Libya?  How many children have our drones killed? 

In our own country, more than 16 million children live in poverty, lacking adequate food, housing, medical care and education.  We cannot afford government programs to feed them, to improve their schools, to give them a ray of hope, but we can afford trillions for the war machine that turns children into collateral damage.

A majority of United States citizens purport to be Christians.  Perhaps they follow some Christ , but not the one who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me . . . .”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

This Is MY Country . . .

The United States of America: one nation, under surveillance, with libertine injustice for all, especially women.

To be deemed a patriot, rather than a terrorist (there are no other designations) in this new United States, one must worship a Christian god and play by the rules of the old, male theocrats who interpret god's directives for the rest of us, and make them into the law of the land. No Buddhists, Muslims,atheists or Hottentots need apply.

Our wars are just wars; we must wage war unrelentingly because there is so much evil in the world, especially in places with lots of crude petroleum beneath the surface. Such places tend to teem with non-Christians who are worthy only of becoming collateral damage in our just wars.

The most important beings in our new United States are called corporations. They are people, like us, only richer and more powerful, with many more rights than we have.

Our masters, the theocrats and deeply religious corporations, have been forced to move heavy-handedly against a rampant new sin of the modern world: the enjoyment of sex by women. God invented sex for the making of babies and only for the making of babies. Doing it for fun is a crime against church and state -- and certain closely-held or faith-based corporations.

There are three branches of government in the new United States.  The legislative branch consists of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Some members of both houses are called Republicans and some are called Democrats.  They are largely indistinguishable from one another. Each of them is owned by corporations and the only legislation that ever passes these houses is made of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.

The judicial branch of government consists of courts of various kinds.  Some make sure that our jails are kept full of people of color.  But the most important court of all is the U.S. Supreme Court, which is run by five, old Roman Catholic males. Their job is to make rulings that enable the people called corporations to become ever richer and more powerful. They also monitor the subservience of women and suppress seditious ideas like equal pay for equal work.

The third branch of government, the executive, embraces the president, his cabinet and an enormous bureaucracy. The president's main job is to decide who's a terrorist. Terrorists can be arrested for no reason at all, tortured, incarcerated forever without charges, and killed at the discretion of the president, who, in fact, is the sole custodian of the official kill list. The kill list is like an insurance policy on our fleet of drones, to make certain they're working properly. The cabinet advises the president on important matters like foreign policy. Iraq is their handiwork. The vast federal bureaucracy exists mainly to give the Tea Party something to wax wroth about. The Tea Party is a loose alliance of gun nuts, libertarian fruitcakes, religious kooks and anti-tax crazies who want to keep government's hands off "their" Medicare.

To one degree or another, each branch of government has a role in managing something called "the economy." The economy is about money. Government sees to it that the richest one per cent of us get more and more money.  That leaves less and less money for the rest of us. This is the way god wants it to be.  God, it seems, is just another oligarch.

Most of the richest among us, especially the people called corporations, pay no taxes, so it remains for the poorest among us to pay for our wars.  Our budget for military stuff is bigger than China's budget for rice plus Russia's budget for vodka plus the U.K.'s budget for kinky sex. You could probably even throw in France's budget for pâté de fois gras, and still have room for John Boehner's tanning salons. We can't afford to waste our tax money on food for poor kids or medical care for veterans of our wars or fixing our decrepit infrastructure or improving our public schools or reducing pollution or slowing the pace of the climate change that is destroying our planet.

The most important task of our government is called national security. Keeping us secure requires the government to listen to everything we say and watch everything we do -- even in our bedrooms ("Better not be having FUN in there!")

Our tax dollars maintain a very special government outfit called the CIA. Its job is top secret.  So is its budget. So are its agents, unless they've been outed by Dick Cheney.  The CIA sees to it that dictators we don't like get violently overthrown and replaced by dictators we do like.  Sometimes after liking a dictator for a decade or so, we decide not to like him. That's called Saddam Hussein. Except in Ukraine where it's called Svoboda.

Is this a great country or what?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Shootout on the Greensward

For most of the fortnight, the Young Guns were in the saddle. Nick Tyrgios, a sprite of 19 playing out of Australia, went eyeball-to-eyeball with Rafael Nadal, the best player in the universe, and sent him packing. Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who'd have to show i.d. to get a pint at the pub on the corner, played up to his "Little Fed" nickname and ousted the defending champion, Andy Murray. Milos Raonic, a fuzzy-cheeked Canadian seeded No. 8 in the tournament, littered Wimbledon with ace-riddled corpses en route to the semifinals.

Now it was High Noon in London. Novak Djokovic, already with six Grand Slam notches on his pistol grip, dodged Dimitrov's best bullets, ever upright to fire one more round of his own. It wasn't easy, but the veteran prevailed.

Out of the shadows came the Old Man, ready for one more showdown at the Grand Corral of tennis, Wimbledon's Centre Court. Raonic had never played there. For a decade, Roger Federer owned it. Now 32, father of two sets of twins, he's ancient in tennis terms. But his straight-set dissection of the kid was almost boring in its clinical efficiency.

The Young Guns were gone. The Big Four  of tennis -- Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray -- had won 35 of the last 37 Grand Slam championships.  One of them was about to claim a 36th. Could it be the Old Man? Could Federer, who with 17 holds more Grand Slam titles than any man in history, win an 18th, and a record eighth at Wimbledon?

Appropriately, in his twilight, this most elegant of tennis champions is now coached by Stefan Edberg, who introduced elegance to the sport, and once ruled supreme at Wimbledon. Under his influence, Federer had reached the final showing more and more of the attack-and-volley style that had marked his early career -- back when HE was the Young Gun, taking it to Pete Sampras, the reigning king of Wimbledon.

Djokovic was on a mission of his own: beat the legend here, on his best surface, and the svelte Serb would regain the No. 1 ranking in the world. The rivalry between him and Nadal for that encomium is the most compelling narrative in tennis today.

And so began what would be the tone for much of the match: Djokovic seemed to dominate, holding serve effortlessly, while Federer struggled but somehow stayed even until it was 6-all. Throughout, we saw occasional flashes of the old, ascendant Federer. "Balletic," my companion aptly described one masterly backhand volley winner.

Federer's serve became the most fearsome weapon in the match.  He would finish with 29 aces, more than twice his opponent's total. But Djokovic's steel will, his incomparable all-court game, his savage returns of all but Federer's very best serves, won the next two hotly contested sets.

The worm had turned for the younger player, who forged ahead 5-2 in the fourth set. But writers of Federer's obituary had to erase their pages. The Old Man fended off a championship point, then won five games in a row to square the match. Once again he was Wimbledon's will o' the wisp, maker of shots that only he can make, that leave his opponent shaking his head in wonder.

Four-all, fifth set: Whoever broke serve next would win this thrilling thing.  Djokovic, he of the iron resolve, held. Roger's serve, his best weapon all day, deserted him. Two feeble offerings and he's down love-30. The end was mercilessly abrupt after all the day's heroics. Federer would not make history.  Djokovic would rule the tennis world, a gracious champion who actually thanked Federer "for letting me win today."

It had been, thanks especially to the Young Guns, one of the most exciting Wimbledons of recent years. The Old Man did not ride off into the sunset. "See you next year," he said.

Federer, even in defeat,  had added to his legacy yet another five-set classic for the ages.

But of course.  This is Wimbledon after all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Food Was Good, but Nobody Noticed

The lunch club was in a bad mood today.

“My attitude needs a lift,” Floyd said.

“There is no hope for this bleeping country,” Wade said with a deep sigh.

“The BRICS are going to destroy the dollar, and with it our entire damned economy,” said Jim.  His MBA specialty was international finance.

“What we get for sanctions on Russia,” I said.

Gerald said, “Did any of you see Hillary on TV the other day, when she was asked about the vast wealth she and Bill have accumulated, and whether it blinds her to the economic straits of real Americans? It was a snide question, but even I could think of more than one intelligent answer.  I cringed when Hillary said instead that she and Bill are not among the ‘truly well-off.’”

Groans around the table.

“I could not tolerate her as president,” Floyd said. “I wonder how she as president  would prevent the economically powerful BRICS coalition from torpedoing the dollar.  Surely she would not call off the sanctions and quit demonizing Putin.”

“Maybe,” Wade proposed, “she could start by putting duct tape on Kerry’s mouth. Somebody needs to do it and Obama clearly won’t.” 

“It seems to me,” Jim said, “that a wise president would convene a panel consisting of Dean Baker, Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Simon Johnson and maybe one or two others, lock them in a room in the White House and not let them out until they had come up with a new and viable economic plan for this country,”

“Hell,” said Wade, “Obama doesn’t even know how to pronounce Krugman’s name.”

“Economists can’t resolve out foreign policy mess,” I said.  “We flit from one disaster to another, compounding our difficulties with each new blunder. Now he’s sending ‘advisors’ to Iraq.  Has he never read the history of the Kennedy presidency? Of the Vietnam war?”

Floyd said: “I read a piece today by William R. Polk, a top foreign policy advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.  Let me read from it:

A whirlwind, as the Old Testament warns us, is the inevitable reaction to the sowing of the wind of war. That is what we are seeing today in Iraq. Now, it seems, President Obama has decided to try whistling in the wind.
Whistling in the wind is the least dangerous interpretation of Mr. Obama's decision to put 300 "advisors" into Iraq—where have we heard of such a move before! Those of us who are old enough will remember that President Kennedy began in the same way. Arguably he was a bit more realistic, sending initially about six times that many "Special Forces" (then called "Green Berets") initially to Vietnam. Both Kennedy and Obama swore not to send ground troops, but Obama can at least claim credit for being more honest: our "advisors" are to be "combat ready."
“Honesty is not one of Obama’s most prominent characteristics,” Wade said. “He may not be quite as bad as Bush on the truth-falsehood scale, but no matter what he says, it sure looks like we’re headed for Vietnam all over again.”
“Even our allies privately don’t trust us,” Jim said.  “The Snowden revelations of spying nailed that coffin shut.  If the BRICS assault on the dollar does come about, the Brits might stick with us, but you can bet the European Union will bail on us.They already snicker behind our backs about our hegemonic mania while our problems at home fester and get worse.”
“Amen!” I said.”Millions of jobless, out of work so long and so abandoned by their government that they’ve given up hope.  Legions of young people, burdened by trillions in student debt, and unable to find decent paying jobs even with their hard-earned degrees. Desecration of our public lands: our grandchildren may have to go to a zoo just to see a robin.”
“This conversation is not providing the attitude lift I needed,” Floyd said.  “Let’s find something pleasant to talk about.”
The ensuing silence was broken only when we all decided to call for our checks.