Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye to 2009

December 7th is not only a Day of Infamy. It is also a Day of Glory, the birth date of two historic figures: Noam Chomsky and my daughter Saya. :-)

Saya just turned 5, while her birthday comrade turned 81. She celebrated by trying to help make chawanmushi; Noam by giving the 2009 Edward Said Memorial Lecture up at Columbia.

Three days after, 81-year-old Noam celebrated again with another master lecture: "Gaza, One Year Later."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Northwest Flight 253: Negligence or Conspiracy?

Bill Van Auken, from WSWS:
If this episode is to be examined seriously, the question must be asked: What would have happened had Northwest Flight 253 been destroyed?

There is no question but that such a catastrophe would have had immense repercussions both internationally and within the United States. It would have seriously destabilized the Obama administration, politically strengthened the most extreme right-wing sections of the ruling class, and cleared the way for an even more massive expansion of military-intelligence operations overseas and a drastic curtailing of democratic rights at home.

Even the failed attempt has touched off a firestorm of criticism by the Republican right of the Obama administration’s supposed laxity in the face of terrorism.

This found its distilled expression in a statement released Wednesday by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

“We are at war, and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe,” said Cheney. The former vice president and de facto leader of the “war on terror” in the Bush administration condemned Obama for proposing to close down the Guantánamo prison camp and try some of those held there in normal federal courts. He also denounced the US president for jettisoning the words “war on terror” in describing Washington’s continuing wars abroad and attacks on democratic rights at home.

The statements from Cheney—who was at the center of a secret government for eight years, has the closest ties to the military-intelligence apparatus, and is a ruthless advocate of torture, assassinations and a sweeping curtailment of democratic rights—shed light on the political calculations that may have encouraged elements within the CIA and related agencies to keep the “dots” separated and, thereby, facilitate a terrorist action.

Increasingly, the failure to identify Abdulmutallab and alert other government agencies to the threat revealed in Nigeria and Yemen has been attributed to the CIA. How many of the key figures in this agency had close connections to Cheney?

The key to this event may well lie in bitter struggles over policy taking place within the ruling establishment and the state. Despite all that Obama has done to continue the policies of the Bush administration, both in terms of aggressive war abroad and the buildup of police state powers at home, there are elements who want to go much further.

On Tuesday, for the second day in a row, Obama issued a public statement on the abortive airline bombing.

“When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been, so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred,” said Obama in the statement from Hawaii.

This second statement—delivered just one day after Obama’s announcement that he had ordered a “thorough review” of intelligence procedures—reflects the divisions and recriminations within the Washington political establishment and the US intelligence agencies. It is indicative of the immense pressure being brought to bear on his administration, and his own recognition that a successful terrorist attack would have had a profoundly destabilizing effect on his presidency.

There can be no serious investigation into how the Northwest Airline bombing plot was allowed to go so far without considering whether there are elements within the US state that had an interest in seeing it happen, and therefore in suppressing the intelligence and bypassing procedures that would have stopped it.

Getting to the bottom of these questions is impossible without identifying the specific individuals who saw the information on Abdulmutallab and made the critical decisions which blocked careful surveillance and action.

In its editorial Wednesday entitled “The System Failed,” the New York Times cites the voluminous intelligence on Abdulmutallab and writes, “Officials say the warning was insufficient.” It further states, “Officials decided that the warning wasn’t enough to put him on the list of 14,000 people subjected to more thorough airport searches.”

The Times attributes these decisions to “bad judgment calls.” As always, this voice of the erstwhile US liberal establishment can be counted on to provide the most trivial and unserious explanation for what is a deadly serious matter.

Who are these “officials?” They should be named. Moreover, they should be subpoenaed, publically questioned under oath, and compelled to explain their decisions.

Asking the question, who would benefit politically from a major terrorist attack on US soil, holds the best promise of shedding light on what is unbelievably presented as a staggering and inexplicable “breakdown” of Washington’s intelligence and security systems.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Eye of the Beholder

In an isolated rural province in Afghanistan, ten people were killed in a raid by American-led forces. The Afghan government, installed and sustained in power by the United States, said the victims were all civilians -- including eight schoolboys.

There was no international outcry about this incident; it barely garnered a few mentions in the global press. Even these were shunted aside after a NATO official denied the claims of the Afghan government and affirmed that all those killed in the raid were Evil-Doers. Local officials on the scene said otherwise. They said ten civilians had been killed. They said eight of the dead were children. But the NATO official said the Afghans were lying.

What an instructive contrast. In one story, a Detroit attack which did not happen and which killed no one shakes the entire world. In another, ten human beings, including eight children, were slaughtered in a sneak attack by night -- and the world scarcely notices.

From a friend:
I've been hosting my 48-year-old autistic younger sister for a holiday visit at least once a year. Just a year ago, so long as I was able to present identification, I was able to get clearance to go through security and meet her at the gate. It's not a difficult request, or even unreasonable, my sister has no focus or sense of direction and needs assistance.

This year, due to the Yemeni "incident", things changed dramatically. She flew in the day after Christmas, and despite all, I was denied access to the gate and had to allow Alaska Airlines help to wheel her out to where I waited. And now I am informed by Alaska Airlines that If I want to escort her to her gate on the day she departs, I will have to purchase at least a one-way ticket myself, which is the only action I can take in which I have rights to go through security. My mere status as family member, or as co-guardian, isn't enough to prove that I have no sinister intent. Only my willingness to purchase a ticket I have no need for proves that I have no destructive design, according to the company managers I spoke to.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Man Speaks of Mouse

Comandante Castro on Barack Obama:
A few days ago, after President Barack Obama’s remarks at the West Point military academy, where he announced a surge of 30,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan, I wrote a Reflection qualifying his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Price, after he had already made such decision, as a cynical action.

Last December 10, during his acceptance speech in Oslo, he made statements that put forward an example of the imperialist logic and thought. He said that he is responsible for sending thousands of young Americans to fight in a distant country where some will kill and others will be killed. It was an effort to present as a “just war” the brutal carnage against that distant country where most of those killed are helpless villagers struck by the bombs dropped from unpiloted planes.

After these phrases, which were among the first he spoke, more than 4,600 words were used to present his massacre of civilians as a just war. Then he said that in today’s wars many more civilians die than soldiers.

In fact, more than a million non-combatant civilians have died by now in Iraq, Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border.

In the same speech, he praises Nixon and Reagan as distinguished characters. He doesn’t stop to remember that one of them dropped one million tons of bombs over Vietnam while the other had the Siberian gas-pipeline blown up by electronic means under the appearance of an accident. The explosion was so strong and devastating that the nuclear test monitoring equipment recorded it.

The speech made in Oslo is different from that of West Point because the latter was better phrased and recited. In the case of the one made at the Norwegian capital the speaker’s face showed that he was aware of the falsehood in his words.

Neither the timing nor the circumstances were the same. Oslo is close to Copenhagen, the place where the extremely important Conference on Climate Change is being held. . . The most important political battle of human history is being fought there at this very moment. There one can see the scope of the damage that developed capitalism has brought on humanity, which currently needs to fight desperately not only for justice but also for human survival.

Ever Onward To Victory!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December 22, 1963

One month to the day after the execution of John F. Kennedy, his successor held a candlelight memorial service in the Capitol. Very sinister footage.

"O! pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers;
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever livèd in the tide of times."

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just How Bad is the Fuck You Act?

Per the lovely Jane Hamsher, this bad:
Top 10 Reasons to Kill Senate Health Care Bill
  1. Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations - whether you want to or not.
  2. If you refuse to buy the insurance, you'll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.
  3. Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can't afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.
  4. Massive restriction on a woman's right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.
  5. Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.
  6. Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won't see any benefits - like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions - until 2014 when the program begins.
  7. Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.
  8. Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.
  9. No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.
  10. The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year - meaning in 10 years, your family's insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Worthy TIME Tradition


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thieves Like Us

Doctors will get richer under this "reform." Insurance companies will get vastly richer under this "reform". Pharmaceutical companies will get richer under this "reform". But there will still be millions of people left with no access to health care. There will still be tens of millions of people who will get substandard or even pathetically trashy health care. And the cost of medical care, both for individuals and for society as a whole, already the highest in the world, will continue to soar. To make matters worse, taxes will also go up dramatically, by at least $100 billion a year. For extra laughs, while these costs would start hitting the public right away, the "benefits" of the bill wouldn't go into effect until 2013, meaning that a likely resurgent Republican Party, ousting Obama from the White House, and the Democrats from the majority in Congress in 2012, would simply undo the whole thing anyhow. - Dave Lindorff
Barack Obama, evidently, spoke many lies during his 2007/08 run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and fooled many people. Since I worked for him in four primary states and in the general, I volunteer to be one of the first sent to the woodshed.

Sadly, the result of Obama's election is that all of us have been sent to the woodshed, all of us not part of the Bankster class or one of the grand beneficiaries of the now-almost-completely-militarized American economy. We've reached a point where the debate on the Left has become: "Which was the biggest lie? The one most harmful to our children's future?"

Tough call, for the answer changes almost every week. I really didn't think that anything could soon surpass the Mother of All Betrayals: Obama's decision to begin a new war in Af/Pak -- a move which will rocket the United States into a full-blown military/corporate state, one no different in the totality of its totalitarianism than was Mussolini's Italy, Stalin's USSR or Hitler's Germany: the ideology in this case not being racial purity or Aryan living-space or mafia-fascism or a worker's paradise. While the means of domestic control will be different and less brutal -- American brutality generally being reserved for use everywhere else on the planet; and since the great majority of voters will obviously put up with anything, who needs brutality? -- the underlying ideology will be worse. Classical totalitarianism was able to take hold because of deep appeals to very human longings: solidarity, honor, selflessness, color, myth, melodrama. (All insanely distorted.) The heart-and-soul of future American totalitarianism will be a denial of all that is human, because it will be the commodification of everything. Air, water, earth, fire. Education, health, love, sex. Beyond Marx's worst nightmare.

But this week has trumped the Af/Pak decision in what can only be called the final resolution of The Fuck You Act. Health Care Reform was Obama's biggest domestic theme running through 2008. He correctly identified that here was where the stand can and must be made: here was where we stood up against the commodification of everything by reversing the commodification of human health. He endorsed Single Payer. Over and over again, he endorsed Single Payer. Until he won the nomination. That gone, he endorsed over and over again a robust, real and easily accessible-to-all-citizens Public Option.

What we're going to get next week is a massive increase in the connection between wealth and health, a further privatization of public health, a further weakening of controls over Big Insurance and Big Pharm, and for the first time a weakening and reduction of Medicare.

Wow, huh? Makes you think that for the past couple decades we've been electing Presidents for the sole purpose of seeing how far each man can go in destroying the core assumption of the Republic: that there is an actual connection between what citizens vote for and what they get. Bill Clinton is elected as the working-man's anti-Reagan and presides over the destruction of what was left of the social contract, eviscerates unions and destroys all remaining Wall Street regulations. GWB runs as a compassionate conservative, proclaims his desire to restore morality to national government and leads an administration more lawless and destructive of American traditions than any which came before it. Now the Obama Experiment: just how pathetic and narcissistic is the so-called "left," how much do we have to worry about them going forward, just how much excrement will they eat? If we can wrap the glow of Starbucks personality around what are basically corporate fascist developments, then we can take this society as far as we want in our direction, hopes the Prince of Greed.

The passing of the American Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 will give the Prince his answer.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Miraculous Organ

One is always awed and humbled by Chris Floyd.

On the Obama Nobel Speech, in full:
"A narcissist's defense." As a description of Obama's Peace Prize speech, Sir Ken Macdonald's phrase could hardly be bettered. But the intense, near-pathological self-regard in the speech was not Obama's alone, of course; we must do him the credit of acknowledging that in this regard, at least, he was what we so often proclaim our leaders to be: the embodiment of the nation. His soaring proclamation of American exceptionalism, in a setting supposedly devoted to universal principles of peace, was breathtaking in its chutzpah – but entirely in keeping with the feelings of the vast majority of his countrymen, and the ruling elite above all.

Many have already remarked on Obama's adoption in the speech of Bush's principle of unilateral, "pre-emptive" military action, anytime, anywhere, whenever a leader declares his nation is under threat. This approach -- which Bush called "the path of action" -- was roundly scorned by critics of the former regime, many of whom now scramble to praise Obama's "nuanced" embrace of aggression. But again, let us give credit where it is due; in this aspect of the speech, Obama did in fact go beyond Bush's more narrowly nationalist conception, saying: "I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation."

Thus Obama would, apparently, extend the right of unilateral military action to "any head of state" that feels the necessity of defending his or her nation. But of course this is just empty verbiage, a pointless, bald-faced lie that not even Bush would have tried to get away with. Would Obama accept a unilateral, pre-emptive strike by Tehran against Israel, where legislators and government officials routinely talk of attacking Iran? Would Obama cheer the "right" of Russia to strike unilaterally at Poland if the U.S. "missile shield" deal, now on hold, was suddenly consummated? Would Obama support a unilateral strike by India at Pakistan -- or vice versa -- in the still-seething cauldron of tensions on the subcontinent, where both nations legitimately feel threatened by the other? Would he support the right of Kim Jong-il to "defend his nation" by attacking South Korea the next time there is a threatening border incident there?

No, it is clear that only the United States -- and its allies, like Israel -- are to be allowed the supreme privilege of unilateral war. The line was inserted in the speech simply because it would sound good in the moment, and create a temporary emotional reaction that might carry listeners past the macabre incongruity underlying the entire event: giving a peace award to the bloodstained leader of a military machine hip-deep in the coagulate gore of two, vast, civilian-slaughtering wars.

Obama staked his boldest claim to American exceptionalism with a passage that he lifted, almost verbatim, from his West Point speech just a few days before, when he announced his second massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan:
Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other people's children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
Here is chutzpah -- and hubris -- raised to the level of the sublime. Obama has taken the words he used to instigate the certain death of thousands of human beings and the acceleration of hatred, extremism, chaos and brutal corruption around the world -- and offered them as justification for the hideous, unabashedly Orwellian doctrine at the core of his speech: War is Peace. In this perverse inversion of values, Obama, as a warmaker, is actually a peacemaker, you see -- and thus a legitimate heir to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who was evoked at several points in the speech.

And here we come to what was for me the most revolting part of the speech. And perhaps the most significant too. All the cant about America's altruism and "enlightened self-interest" in killing millions of people -- Indochina was one of many convenient blank spots in Obama's historical survey-- for the sake of all the children of the world (red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in our sight) was just par for the rhetorical course. It was nothing that had not been said many times before, including the references -- so lauded by Obama's liberal apologists -- to those inadvertent "mistakes" America seems to keep making; out of a surfeit of good intentions, no doubt. But I don't think an American president has so openly and directly traduced the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi before. (And to do it while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, no less! Oh, that sublime brass....)

Although larded with usual hyper-yet-flaccid, florid-yet-false oratorical stylings that have become Obama's trademark, his words about King and Gandhi drip with scorn and condescension. I was actually taken aback when I read these passages:
I make this statement [about the moral justification for war] mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.
The intellectual incoherence and arrogant sneering behind this supposedly laudatory passage is staggering. After claiming to be the personal embodiment of King and Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent action, Obama gives the game away with this line: "I face the world as it is." Those other two guys, they were just dreamers, they were unrealistic, they were unserious; they didn't "face the world as it is," they weren't savvy and pragmatic, like me. I have to go to war because I'm a head of state "sworn to protect and defend my nation."

Here, Obama indulges in a trope that is pandemic among his apologists: the idea that he was somehow forced to become the head of a militarist state waging endless war around the world, that he has somehow woken up and found himself "the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars." But of course he chose to pursue this kind of power in this kind of system -- chose it, pursued it, fought like hell to win it. It's what he wanted. Yet still this notion of Obama as a helpless victim of fate -- lost in a world he never made -- persists.]

He then goes on to give the lie to his previously stated admiration for Gandhi and King: "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." Thus, King, Gandhi and any practitioner of non-violent resistance to evil are, ultimately, naive, ineffectual -- weak.

Notice the incoherence – or perhaps deliberate elision – at work here. Obama says he must face down "threats to the American people" -- and then talks about Hitler's armies, immediately coupling, and rhetorically equating them, with al-Qaeda's scattered handful of hidden fugitives. Are the American people now threatened by Hitler's armies? Are al-Qaeda's paltry forces -- less than 100 of them in Afghanistan, according to Obama's own war-wagers -- the equal of Hitler's armies of millions of men?

But there is a deeper untruth beyond these cheap rhetorical tricks. For it is blatantly untrue to say that "a nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies." First of all, one cannot make that statement because this approach was never tried. Therefore you cannot say categorically that it would not have worked. Doubtless it would have cost millions of lives; but as Gandhi himself pointed out, the violent resistance to Hitler's armies also cost tens of millions of lives. But Obama's formulation -- which is a hackneyed one indeed -- only deals with one view of non-violent resistance to Hitler: i.e., from the outside, resisting his armies as they poured across the borders. There is another way in which a non-violent resistance movement without any doubt could have "halted Hitler's armies": if it had taken root and spread throughout Germany itself, including among the armed forces and its supporting industries.

In the event, this did not happen. But it was not, and is not, an impossibility for humankind to pursue such an approach. Therefore it is fatuous and false to state what cannot possibly be known: whether non-violent resistance would have thwarted Nazism, and whether this would have been more or less costly than the way of violence.

Similarly, it is false to say that "negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." The only response to this bald statement is: How do you know? Has anybody tried it? No. Therefore you cannot call it an impossibility -- and then use this supposed, untested "impossibility" as your justification for laying waste to whole nations. You may say that it would be unjust to negotiate with al-Qaeda, that those who use murderous violence to achieve their ends should simply be killed or prosecuted. (Although where would that leave the leaders of the exalted, exceptional, unilateral United States?) But of course this is precisely what Gandhi did: he sat down and negotiated with the representatives of an empire that had caused the deaths of millions of his own people. He negotiated with them in good faith, with good will, despite what they had done and were doing to his people -- and despite the fact that many of his interlocutors, such as Winston Churchill, hated him with a blind, racist fury. And he was successful -- although again, not without cost, both before and after the liberation. But Gandhi, and King, knew the costs of non-violence – because they were genuinely savvy, and genuinely realistic about the nature of evil.

In any case, aside from the particulars of any real situation or hypothetical scenario, the speech is a glaring example of Obama's deep-seated (and perhaps unconscious) contempt for the path of peace, and its practitioners. It is also a manifestation of his own inferno, of his desperate need to justify -- to himself and to the world -- his free, deliberate choice to follow the blood-choked "path of action" as the commander-in-chief of a bloated, brutal war machine.

No one forced any of these decisions – or these specious, obscene justifications – on Obama. It is his own narcissism -- his own lust for power, and his love for the system that gave him that power – which has covered him with the blood and shame that now taint his every word and deed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best Movies of the 00s

2046 (Wong Kar Wai, 2004)
Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi, 2003)
Dolls (Takeshi Kitano, 2002)
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)
Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005)
Howl's Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)
In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard, 2001)
Millennium Actress (Satoshi Kon, 2001)
Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001)
Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)
What Time Is It There? & The Skywalk is Gone (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001/2002)
Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhang-Ke, 2002)

Saturday, December 12, 2009


"When a wise man points to the moon, the idiot stares at the finger." -- Confucius
Illinois conman Barack Obama outdid George Orwell's imagination yesterday when, after announcing the beginnings of yet another US aggressive war on a defenseless and harmless nation (or in this case two nations, Afghanistan and Pakistan), he picked up his Peace Prize and made what is without doubt the most obscene and cowardly speech ever made by an American President on the subject of war.

Obama's theme? The Way the World Is

According to this guy, who only holds his increasingly-degraded office because of the anti-war stance he took during the Democratic presidential primaries (and don't let any Hope-a-Dopes fool you otherwise), this is how it is:

"I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars"

“The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace"

“All responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace"

"US troops should be honored not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace”

“The hard truth is that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes”

"Nations will continue to find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified"

"The peoples of the world should get over their deep ambivalence about military action and reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower"

“The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice”

“The goal is not to win a popularity contest or to get an award, even one as prestigious as the Nobel peace prize. The goal has been to advance America’s interests”

“War appeared with the first man … Evil does exist in the world”

“America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace … The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. … We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will"

“America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens"


What a lying, precious, pretentious stooge! To convey this prison guard mentality of human nature and human possibility on such a stage, and in such a bloodless droning tone, after eight years of nothing but American aggressive war. . .

The way the world is. . . Yes, this is the way the world is for a valueless ego prick -- a weasel -- who cares about little other than being the center of attention. Still, the unmasking of this foul, reactionary character is truly stunning.

Some corporate bot this morning in the Mainstream Media -- the Cerberai of the Unspeakable -- actually called this filth "Kennedyesque." Meaning, I suppose, it bears comparison to this:
What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I'm talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind of peace that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.
I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.
Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions -- on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace; no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process -- a way of solving problems.
With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors. So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly towards it.
No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find certain other systems to be profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the people in those systems for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture, in acts of courage.
So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy at American University, June 1963.

As my little girl teaches me every day, that is the way the world is, the way the world dreams and hopes. Compared to that, Barack Hussein Obama is nothing but a flyspeck. And a murderer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Oslo is Burning

“It’s like when you go to the dentist, and the man’s going to take your tooth. You’re going to fight him when he starts pulling. So he squirts some stuff in your jaw called novocaine, to make you think they’re not doing anything to you. So you sit there and ’cause you’ve got all of that novocaine in your jaw, you suffer peacefully. Blood running all down your jaw, and you don’t know what’s happening. ’Cause someone has taught you to suffer – peacefully.” -- Malcolm X
As our Dear Nobel Peace Prize Winner accepts his Orwell Award, let's see how he compares to the Evil One, regarding war & escalation.

Troop Escalation
Bush Iraq "Surge": 28,000 troops
Obama Af/Pak "Surge"(as of today): 98,000 troops

Private Military & NATO Deployment, Iraq/Af/Pak
Under Bush: 192,000
Under Obama: 243,000

Monthly Drone Deployments
Under Bush: 33(avg)
Under Obama: 112(avg)

Troop Stay Extension(% of soldiers on 3rd or 4th tour)
Under Bush(2007-2008): 21%
Under Obama(2009): 37%

U.S. Military Suicides
Bush(2008): 197
Obama(through 9/09): 211

Pentagon Budget
Bush(2008): $586,000,000,000
Obama(2009): $651,000,000,000
Obama(2010, proposed): $690,000,000,000

United States Weapons Sales
Bush(2008): $36,000,000,000
Obama(2009, projected): $54,000,000,000

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Memory of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark

40 years ago this month, unarmed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered in their beds by the Chicago Police and the FBI, on orders of the Nixon Administration. (Funny how Woodward and Bernstein missed that one, perhaps because the operation's Bureau ringleader was Mark "Deep Throat" Felt.) Straight-out death squad killings, and a fitting conclusion to Assassination Decade.

Amy Goodman remembers:

Monday, December 7, 2009

She Goes to My Head

Happy 5th Birthday to my darling daughter. 5sai no tanjōbi omedetou!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Real Man Talks to an Admiral

In the wake of Barack Obama's abject surrender to the National Security State (as Tom Englehardt writes, we should now refer to him as the "Commanded-in-Chief"), a dialogue from the past between a President in a similar fix and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may show how much of a surrender this was.

As the April 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco unfolded:
KENNEDY: I don't want the United States involved in this.

ADMIRAL ARLEIGH BURKE: Hell, Mr. President, we are involved. Can we send in a few Navy jets?

KENNEDY: No, because they could be identified as United States planes.

BURKE: We can paint out their numbers.


BURKE: Can we get something in there? Anything?


BURKE: If you let me have two destroyers, we'll give gunfire support and we can hold the beachhead with two ships forever.


BURKE: One destroyer, Mr. President?


Wednesday, December 2, 2009


There've been many anti-Obama essays over the past few days, but this one -- from a well-known conservative, a genuine conservative -- says it best.
Afghanistan: The Betrayal
by Garry Wills

I did not think he would lose me so soon -- sooner than Bill Clinton did. Like many people, I was deeply invested in the success of our first African-American president. I had written op-ed pieces and articles to support him in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. My wife and I had maxed out in donations for him. Our children had been ardent for his cause.

Others I respect have given up on him before now. I can see why. His backtracking on the treatment of torture (and photographs of torture), his hesitations to give up on rendition, on detentions, on military commissions, and on signing statements, are disheartening continuations of George W. Bush's heritage. But I kept hoping that he was using these concessions to buy leeway for his most important position, for the ground on which his presidential bid was predicated.
There was only one thing that brought him to the attention of the nation as a future president. It was opposition to the Iraq war. None of his serious rivals for the Democratic nomination had that credential -- not Hillary Clinton, not Joseph Biden, not John Edwards. It set him apart. He put in clarion terms the truth about that war -- that it was a dumb war, that it went after an enemy where he was not hiding, that it had no indigenous base of support, that it had no sensible goal and no foreseeable cutoff point.

He said that he would not oppose war in general, but dumb wars. On that basis, we went for him. And now he betrays us. Although he talked of a larger commitment to Afghanistan during his campaign, he has now officially adopted his very own war, one with all the disqualifications that he attacked in the Iraq engagement. This war too is a dumb one. It has even less indigenous props than Iraq did.

Iraq at least had a functioning government (though a tyrannical one). The Afghanistan government that replaced the Taliban is not only corrupt but ineffectual. The country is riven by tribal war, Islamic militancy, and warlordism, and fueled by a drug economy -- interrupting the drug industry will destabilize what order there is and increase hostility to us.

We have been in Afghanistan for eight years, earning hatred as occupiers, and after this record for longevity in American wars we will be there for still more years earning even more hatred. It gives us not another Iraq but another Vietnam, with wobbly rulers and an alien culture.

Although Obama says he plans to begin withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011, he will meanwhile be sending there not only soldiers but the contract employees that cling about us now like camp followers, corrupt adjuncts in perpetuity. Obama did not mention these plagues that now equal the number of military personnel we dispatch. We are sending off thousands of people to take and give bribes to drug dealers in Afghanistan.

If we had wanted Bush's wars, and contractors, and corruption, we could have voted for John McCain. At least we would have seen our foe facing us, not felt him at our back, as now we do. The Republicans are given a great boon by this new war. They can use its cost to say that domestic needs are too expensive to be met-health care, education, infrastructure. They can say that military recruitments from the poor make job creation unnecessary. They can call it Obama's war when it is really theirs. They can attack it and support it at the same time, with equal advantage.

I cannot vote for any Republican. But Obama will not get another penny from me, or another word of praise, after this betrayal. And in all this I know that my disappointment does not matter. What really matters are the lives of the young men and women he is sending off to senseless deaths.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Setting Up the Marks: Iowa, January 2008

You may say we were all incredibly naive about American politics, out of a desperate longing to once again feel part of our society. But stealing from easy marks is still stealing. And a conman is still a conman.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Plus ça change, Part II

Actually, make that Part MMDCCLXXX.
Obama administration will not sign land mine ban
By DESMOND BUTLER, Associated Press
November 24, 2009

The Obama administration has decided not to sign an international convention banning land mines.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday that the administration recently completed a review and decided not to change the Bush-era policy.

"We decided that our land mine policy remains in effect," he said.

More than 150 countries have agreed to the Mine Ban Treaty's provisions to end the production, use, stockpiling and trade in mines. Besides the United States, holdouts include: China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Russia.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., criticized the State Department's review of the land mine policy as "cursory and halfhearted."

The senator described the decision to stand fast on the current policy as "a lost opportunity .... The United States took some of the earliest and most effective steps to restrict the use of land mines. We should be leading this effort, not sitting on the sidelines."

Human rights groups had expressed hopes that the Obama administration would sign the treaty.

Stephen Goose, the director of Human Rights Watch's arms division, said he was surprised by the announcement and called it disappointing. He said that his group had been pushing the administration to conduct a review of its policy but that the administration had given no indication that one was under way.

"If one was already completed, it was not very extensive," he said.

Kelly said that the United States would send an observer group of mine experts to a review conference on the treaty in Cartegena, Colombia, next week.

A report this month by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines found that mines remain planted in the earth in more than 70 countries and killed at least 1,266 people and wounded 3,891 last year. More than 2.2 million anti-personnel mines, 250,000 anti-vehicle mines and 17 million other explosives left over from wars have been removed since 1999, the report said.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Plus ça change

Remember all the whining Barack Obama did in 2007 and 2008 over George W. Bush's favorite death-squad organization, Blackwater?
"When I am President I will ask the Joint Chiefs for their help in reducing reliance on armed private military contractors with the goal of ultimately implementing a ban on such contractors."
"I actually introduced legislation in the Senate before Senator Clinton even mentioned this that said we had to crack down on private contractors like Blackwater because I don't believe that they should be able to run amok and put our own troops in danger, get paid three or four times or ten times what our soldiers are getting paid. I am the one who has been opposed to those operators."
"I am concerned that Blackwater remains in Iraq, and I am concerned that they remain in Iraq and other countries totally unaccountable to US law and totally unaccountable to the law in the country in which they are operating."
Writing in the The Nation magazine, Jeremy Scahill has revealed that Blackwater is currently operating in Pakistan under a covert program which includes planning the assassination and kidnapping of Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects. Blackwater is also involved in a previously undisclosed US military drone campaign which has killed hundreds of people inside the country, with Blackwater operatives working under the Joint Special Operations Command — the military’s top covert action force. This would mark the first known confirmation of US military activity inside Pakistan. Blackwater ops are effectively running the drone bombings for both JSOC and CIA. The CIA drone program is already public knowledge, but military sources say some of the deadliest drone attacks attributed to CIA were actually carried out by JSOC and Blackwater.

Blackwater operatives are also taking part in ground operations with Pakistani forces under a subcontract with a local security firm, operations which include house raids and border interdictions in northwest Pakistan and other areas. Blackwater has also been given responsibility for planning JSOC actions in Uzbekistan.

Amy Goodman's interview with Scahill.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Darkness at Noon

46 years and counting . . .

Unlike the circumstances surrounding "9/11" -- an event which made an already vicious, criminal, stupid, and narcissistic nation even more vicious, criminal, stupid, and narcissistic -- November 22nd, 1963 really did change everything. It broke the country's heart; and it destroyed for good all faith in our Empire as a just and open one. As I wrote in a post about David Talbot's necessary book Brothers:
Forty years later, what is left on a popular or establishment level of grace, complexity, self-deprecation, hatred of the rich and big business, a refusal to demonize others and puff ourselves up, the assumption that people are basically good, and the idea that society and government must be judged by the way the weakest and most vulnerable among us are taken care of?

The answer is: nothing. There is nothing left of that. And that is why the sense of doom and sorrow one takes from "Brothers" will be long lasting. The worst of our history murdered the best and got away with it. Scott free. Not only did they get away with it, they've created the sort of society diametrically opposed to everything JFK and RFK stood for: a country where the least human and most nakedly aggressive dominate everything. This was the newer world others' sought. Born from the gore of Dealey Plaza, they've achieved it.
Yet we dream. And we hope. (Two most human longings brilliantly and ruthlessly exploited by conman Barack Obama in '07 and '08.) John F. Kennedy often spoke about his own dreams and hopes for a better America, and never so eloquently as his tribute to Robert Frost at Amherst College, October 26th, 1963.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I dwell in Possibility
A fairer House than Prose
More numerous of Windows
Superior of Doors

Of Chambers as the Cedars
Impregnable of Eye
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky

Of Visitors, the fairest
For Occupation, this
The spreading wide of narrow Hands
To gather Paradise

-- E.D., 1862

Monday, November 16, 2009


What does it mean to be an urban "Leftist" in 21st-century America? Basically, it means to adopt the following personality: "I'm smarter than you are. I'm more educated than you are. I dress better and have far better taste in music and movies. I'm cooler. My career is everything, plus I've memorized every episode of Lost. I'm on my second divorce and my kids are everything, except when they're not. I Twit, Kindle, and Kopi Luwak. And you don't." Not exactly attitudes one wants in a Sierra Maestra foxhole. So thank God for Joe Bageant, a true man of the Left. At his website and in his wonderful book, Joe cuts through all the smugness, superiority, condescension, passivity, narcissism, and class bigotry which makes the current American "Left" such a sitting duck for the likes of the baboon Right and for hucksters such as Barack Obama. And never a better example then the tetchiness of our brave Starbucks Sandinistas when it comes to smoking. And never a better example of Bageant than this.

Shoot the Fat Guys, Hang the Smokers
by Joe Bageant

I scarcely know where to begin on this topic. As a smoker for 40 years, I think I've experienced every emotion and held just about every opinion possible on the subject. I've enjoyed the hell out of smoking most of the time (before it helped ruin my health), hated myself for being addicted, loathed the fact that despite having both kinds of COPD, I cannot seem to quit. I've quit for up to a year at a time, only to go back. Right now I am taking Welbutrin, which helps more than anything I've ever seen, but I still lapse in and out of the addiction.

As you can see, I'm not prone to defend smoking at this late age when I suffer from so many of its long term effects. Long term suddenly got short on me.

However, I do observe the same things as you regarding the anti-smoking movement. It is extremely classist.

Our society never asks why most of America's underclass people smoke. America is a society at the edge of a cliff. Many people fall over the cliff but instead of building a fence, America sends middle class professionals down in a basket to pick the pockets of the dead and dying victims, either through the "recovery industry" or expensive end of life care and funerary services. In the case of smoking, however, middle class Americans, left or right, seem intent on beating up the victims for sheer enjoyment or, as you point out, to fulfill some unfathomable political agenda. The prevailing philosophy seems to be "Why exercise an ounce of mercy when you can expend a pound of cruelty?"

Smoking and drinking are indeed among the few miserable pleasures available to working class and working underclass folks. They were and are always there for me when little else is, so long as I am willing to pass my money up the class ladder. They make money for the middle and upper classes two ways, first through corporate sales profits, then later through medical treatment for the diseases incurred (or in the case of insured middle class people hooked on nicotine, patches and pharmaceuticals).

Smoking unarguably costs America billions upon billions in medical expenses. But you gotta ask just who the billions are paid out to. They are paid out to the "healthcare industry," which is just that -- an industry -- to support the millions of doctors and others in the professional classes. Which means cigarettes will always be with us. Somebody's gotta pay for their hot tubs and vacations in Provence.

As far as I am concerned the government could ban the goddamned things and we'd all be better off, black market or no black market. That would certainly solve my problem, and I suspect solve the problem for millions of others like me, who wouldn't smoke if cigs were not available at all. I know that probably makes a libertarian like yourself blanch. But I'm only speaking from my own selfish perspective. I wouldn't knock off a liquor store to buy a pack of smokes on the black market, nor would most smokers I know.

Put simply, I'd do anything to kick my nicotine addiction, which as Ray Charles said, "is worse than heroin." I believe him. While I was back in the States this summer working on the new book, my webmaster, Ken Smith, said to me, "You're a vet. Why not use your VA benefits?'" I avoid anything related to the US government for the same reasons one avoids any other criminal cartel. But considering the way my health has seriously gone to hell (COPD, hypertension and type two diabetes) and that I couldn't breathe, couldn't fuck, couldn't sleep, and had arthritic pain 24/7, I decided to go, and as long as I was going, to give smoking cessation a shot. I must say here that the VA hospital treatment turned out to be excellent. Beyond excellent.

I found myself in the smoking cessation program with the kind of people I've known all my life, hard looking people by the commercially indoctrinated middle class standard. There was a tough Lynndie England type who was an Iraq War vet, a black diabetic guy with no feet, a retired construction foreman who was trying for something like the tenth time.

As I looked around and listened to each of these rough looking brothers and sisters speak, I realized that not a goddamned one of them was going to be able to quit smoking. Not because they are weak (hell, half of them have been shot at and shot back) but because of the very real fact of addiction, plus the nerve wracking insecurity of daily American life. No employment security at all, no health insurance for their spouses, no viable future for their kids, not enough real education to comprehend the greater world and the larger forces that govern our lives (which in this country means working against us to make a buck). Eventually any one of these or other hazards will slow-walk them down and fuck up their nerves -– again -– and they're gonna be right back on the fags. Ultimately, some will go down to emphysema or a heart attack.

And I thought: "There's no damned reason to believe I'm special or any different than anybody else around this table. After all, I'm here ain't I?"

I also thought about how so many of the people who read my books and essays, so many of my friends on the left, would view these people if they encountered them on the street. There would be the instant assessment of their coarse manners, poor diction and working man's bluntness that is so often mistaken for surliness, and their obvious lack of education. "Trashy and dumb," would be the verdict.

There are a million ways to be smug and the American left holds the copyright on three quarters of them. Down inside most lefties feel superior to the majority of Americans for the simple reason that they are indeed superior. Morally superior (at least in the justice sense), intellectually and politically superior too, if you exclude every member of the Democratic Party. However, the American left is void of compassion, the thing that is at the very heart of the true left the world round. And by true left I mean the people dying for the cause in places we never heard of and never will.

Given the afore named virtues and qualities possessed by most lefties, they are convinced they know everything about the people around them and what is best for everyone else. People should not own guns, or eat meat, wear fur or shop at WalMart. They should be able to obtain abortion on demand and pot should be legal. Maybe so, but those who do not agree will never be convinced of that by people they will never meet, but who insist upon calling them "sheeple" and "'Merkins" on the Internet and in other public venues.

All of which is not the worst thing in the world. In a nation that proclaims every citizen to be an individual, precious and special in his or her own right, merely for being born, well, a lot of folks are bound to take such bullshit a mite too seriously. As in, "I'm special, and you might be too, but the rest of them are just sheeple." I've done that myself, so I'm throwing stones from a glass house. It took a lifetime to recognize the lack of compassion in American society. Hell, I was raised there too. And it took the raw obscenity of George Bush for me to realize that ideology had taken over the political and civic arenas, the only venues where a society can exercise compassion collectively and by force of legislation and law demonstrate its humanity and evolution.

It was the snuffing out of what compassion remained in the Democratic Party that ceded the political stage to hard rightist forces. The Democratic leadership, fickle spineless cunts that they are, let the rightists reduce everything to ideological warfare, handing the rightists the field of play.

It no longer matters if Democrats are the majority. We don't see our warfare abroad decreasing. It's expanding. And following an ideological war over healthcare reform, we "won." We got reform. Reform which forces 40 million of America's poorest and hardest working folks into bed with insurance corporations, sucking an additional 70 billion dollars a year in public funds from the citizens' pockets into insurance industry coffers. We don't need the insurance companies at all. Never did. Never will. But they are still leeching us because "we won." We the supposed proponents of universal healthcare, we who believe in the right of all children and old folks, the right of all people to freedom from pain and misery, we won.

After the ceding of issues and principles to ideology, the only exposure to politics the people got was to ideological warfare. And the only way they got to vote was based on ideology. The left was entirely sucked into this game. Now it's the only game in town and will remain so. You cannot backtrack on pure meanness once it is unleashed, because if you quit playing the game, soften up and exhibit compassion, the opposition eats you alive next election. Calls you the kumbaya crowd and mocks you mercilessly through its extensive network of media puppets, a la Beck, Limbaugh. The crowd loves mockery. Meanwhile the nation continues to rot under a soulless ideological sun. Perishing for want of a drink from compassion's cup.

I think many Americans voted for Obama because in their minds he represented the promise of a more compassionate America. They forgot, or chose to forget, that the promise was a political promise. Which is to say it was all either just smoke, or unfulfillable by even the best intended mortal in such a heavily armed high stakes whorehouse. Some of the best among us have thrown in the towel, lost all faith in the political process. Frankly, in my 63 years as an American I've never seen more hearts broken nor more bitter people created by a single event. And that includes the Vietnam War.

Those who remain politically involved have internalized politics as ideological warfare. Which means no thing nor person is now safe from the toothy maw of ideology. As the Red Brigades in China showed us, ideology is the big grinder, baby.

For the common people, ideological adherence can only be demonstrated by zeal. And in their zeal, which is really unarticulated frustration at their powerlessness, the people start to cannibalize one another according to the social themes and agendas issued to them by institutions and corporations through the state sanctioned media. What themes are not about conformity are about denormalization of individuals and behaviors. First the smokers (in a country established as a tobacco colony), then the fat guys (in a nation whose government force feeds its people corn syrup through corn subsidies). To see smoking, physical attractiveness and other human attributes and frailties politicized is chilling. To see the left (which apparently does not own a single mirror between them) so whole-heartedly taking part in such cannibalism bodes even grimmer. Among other things, it means that the worst people among us have managed to turn the left once again against their brothers and sisters on this earth, against the very people who most need what liberalism and the left has to offer humanity. Things like justice, genuine equality, environmental healing, freedom from hating and being hated -- all of us bound together by our commonalities as human beings. By acknowledging our equal weaknesses, we become equally strong.

Which means we are fucked. As long as Americans remain convinced we are each so damned individual, unique, special and different from our neighbor, better than our neighbor, we're sunk. As long as we are kept divided, the murderous assholes will keep on owning the game, keep on looting destroying and extorting the people's wealth and health.

Yes, I think the anti-smoking movement is becoming a mass social control program. But not in the ways I sense you see things. I don't believe any grand wizard or corporate cabal cooked it up behind the curtain (although they certainly capitalize on it). Not directly anyway. I believe it just came down the pike wearing opportunity's hat. In America one man's misery has always been another's opportunity to make a buck. We are not good at "the common good." And besides, nobody wants to miss their big chance at that buck, which they are assured will surely come along here in the land of opportunity.

At heart, it's a predatory society. So damned mean we no longer even notice its inherent cruelty. A strongman's democracy in which bodily appearance has become political, and the only allowable vice is self-righteousness.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has leukemia.

Cap remains the greatest scorer in professional basketball history, a winner of three high-school championships, three national collegiate championships, six NBA titles (the last coming at the age of 41). Yet Cap's greatest achievement is himself. Much like Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell before him, Abdul-Jabbar can be seen as the anti-Jordan, the anti-Tiger Woods. (The anti-Barack Obama.) Cap was -- and is -- a man. One who has no patience for Madison Avenue con-men, for David Stern and his NBA corporatists, for the dominant political cultures of his time. Answering the question: Why has this man -- a winner everywhere he put on a uniform -- a man of extreme intelligence -- a master of focus and game shape -- a dominant scorer, rebounder, passer, defender, and teammate -- why has Abdul-Jabbar never gotten a chance to coach at the professional level? A job he has longed for since retirement.

Because contemporary America likes its self-appointed black celebrities to be House Negroes, that's why.

It wasn't always that way. Where it all got started: another journey to the black magic year of 1968.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Greatest Dissolve in Movie History?

Over at Jaime Weinman's fine website "Something Old, Nothing New," there's a discussion going on about the scarcity of dissolves in US movies post-1968. Weinman et al. seem a bit off the mark in terms of timing. (MTV and its all-encompassing 80s stupidity would eventually drive the last nail into that coffin). In the work of 70s American New Wave directors (Coppola, DePalma, Scorsese, Altman, Cimino, Penn, Malick, Robert Benton) there are frequent and sometimes astonishing uses of the effect. (Altman's Thieves Likes Us from '74 seems like one long emerald-toned dissolve.)

In fact, did the 1970s, in terms of thematic and emotional power, give us the greatest dissolve in movie history?

Michael Corleone has lost his father and eldest brother. He is haunted by memories and images of a golden past. He has moved his family away from its New York sanctuary to the open mountains of Nevada. His older sister hates and shuns him, because of the murder of her husband, ordered by Michael. He has renounced his older brother Fredo. And he blames his wife for the recent loss of their child.

Michael comes to his own mother, to ask what it's all about.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kinuyo-san at 100

Our best film critic Chris Fujiwara has written a love letter to the greatest movie actress of all time.

As Fujiwara points out, she made 15 movies with Kenji Mizoguchi, 19 with Hiroshi Shimizu, 20 with Gosho, 9 with Kinoshita, 10 with Ozu, 6 with Mikio Naruse. It is safe to say that no actor or actress in movie history has ever (or will ever) work as regularly with as many great directors as did Kinuyo Tanaka.

She began at the age of 14 in 1924 and would go on to act in over 200 movies. (The exact number is unknown due to the extermination of so many Japanese films [and human beings] in the US carpet-bombings of Tokyo.) She was the first female movie director in Japan, an achievement which cost her the deep emotional and professional relationship she'd had with Mizoguchi, who had no patience for woman directors.

At the centenary of her birth, where does one begin to choose a handful of tributary scenes, among the dozens (or hundreds) of possibilities? One thing Tanaka fans know: she was a great closer. If the most difficult thing for a filmmaker (or novelist) is the creation of a miracle ending that sums up all that came before, who better to call on then she?

David Thomson on Army (1944):
Kinuyo Tanaka is a mother, whose son is going off to war. At first, she refuses to accept what's happening. Then, away in the distance, she hears the new recruits parading and she starts running through the empty streets until she reaches the avenue where they're marching. Rushing frantically through the crowd, she dodges and pushes her way until she finds her son. The emotion builds in a long tracking shot, and (because film stock was so scarce by then) it had to be done in one take. That was all Tanaka needed.

Then came the Occupation and General Douglas MacArthur, who ordered all filmmakers to dig deep and find that liberal/humanist, democratic, socially-conscious center at the heart of Japanese society, mostly by showing the corruption and rot of everything which had come before, before the society was starved and carpet-bombed and nuked (in the midst of surrender pleas) by the democratic humanist Americans. Still, we're talking about Ozu and Mizoguchi, who managed to find greatness.

A Hen in the Wind (1948) is Yasujiro Ozu's Mizoguchi movie. (Can one imagine, even under Occupation, Mizoguchi making an Ozu film?) Tanaka plays a loving wife left at home by a drafted husband, one missing-in-action and presumed dead. Because of the American extermination of Japanese society, Tanaka must do all she can to take care of herself and her son -- including GI prostitution. When the husband unexpectedly returns, the wife is joyous and grateful, for herself and the boy -- but she must confess what she has done. Ozu ends the scene (and the story) with one of the most stunning shots in movie history.

Also from '48, a real Mizoguchi, with an ending perhaps the closest movies have come to religious opera: Women of the Night. Tanaka and her little sister have been separated by the US-created hell of postwar Japan, Tanaka forced into street prostitution, her sister merely wandering. Eventually, they come together, in a bombed-out area surrounded by the remains of what once a church. Tanaka recognizes the sister, and recognizes what imouto-chan has started to become.

Ugetsu (1953) -- perhaps the greatest of Japanese movies. Tanaka again plays a devoted and dutiful wife, to a genius potter who must seek other things, during country-wide war. Midway through the film, during the husband/artist's long absence, we see her wounded by a warrior, as she is carrying home her small boy. At last, the husband returns, oblivious to what may have occurred.

Gilbert Adair: "Sansho the Bailiff (1954) is one of those films for which cinema exists — just as it perhaps exists for the sake of its last scene.” A mother and son are forcibly separated for decades, the son becoming a powerful progressive governor (power eventually renounced by him), the mother sold into slavery and prostitution. She is now blind and decrepit, her feet broken to keep her from escaping.

The son finds her.

Live By the Sword, Die By the Sword

From the New York Times, 11/5/09:
13 people were killed and 30 wounded Thursday afternoon in a shooting at a military installation in Fort Hood, Texas, according to military spokesmen. Lt. General Bob Cone said in Texas that the alleged shooter was an Army Major who opened fire in a “readiness facility.”
Guess there were no Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis, or Afghanis around.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Then and Now

It is April 1961 and a new, young, dynamic President of the United States has made his first major decision: to let a plan go forward, designed and implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency, to land 1,200 anti-Castro exiles on a lonely beach in Cuba, called Playa Girón (the Bay of Pigs). Within 48 hours, all 1,200 men are captured or killed by the Castro Army. Quickly after that, US involvement is exposed. (Most laughingly by paint used to disguise US fighter jets as defecting Cuban airliners being washed away by the rain ~ straight out of Get Smart.)

John F. Kennedy was carefully and deliberately lied to by CIA and the military regarding the invasion's chance of success. In fact, these traitorous advisers knew the plan was doomed, but figured they could mousetrap Kennedy into supporting US air-cover and possibly a follow-up invasion to save the original invaders. Kennedy refused. And he expressed to his brother Bobby his most fervent wish that "the CIA be smashed into a thousand pieces and scattered to the winds."

He learned and he grew and he turned. Never again would he allow the "violent option" to dominate any decision. They killed him, of course. But the lesson is well-learned.

Today is the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama's election as President of the United States. What a magical, emotional night it was! Now, Brigadoon-like, it seems vanished and lost. The hopes and expectations have been dashed. Iraq is still Iraq. Af/Pak will soon become Vietnam II. The War on Terror has not been ended. The Bush-Cheney Terror Regime has not been tried, jailed, or executed. Card Check is gone. The last great industrial union -- the UAW -- has been smashed in a way to make Ronald Reagan blush. Unemployment continues to climb. Climate bill "cap-and-trade" has been hijacked by the Goldman Sachs crime family. All state governments are in a condition of slow-motion collapse with no federal help in sight. Not one part of the country has been re-industrialized. No progressive has any true power in the Obama Adminstration.

Most foul, the ultimate historical sin, is the failure of Barack Obama to do the one thing he was elected to do: break the back of the Wall Street/Bankster Oligarchy. One year ago, Wall Street was flat on its back, like a dog with paws in air. The economy was approaching Great Depression Redux. And the man elected to the Presidency had a legislature overwhelmingly on his side.

Yet nothing has been done, beside the transfer of $25,000,000,000,000 of taxpayer money to the Oligarchy. There have been no investigations by the Obama Justice Department. There have been no Congressional hearings. There have been no prosecutions, no trials, no jail terms. There has been no new regulations. In fact, the Wall Street/Bankster class is now stronger than at anytime in United States history.

Last night, Barack Obama was handed his Bay of Pigs. In five closely watched "off-year" contests, the only result Obama's media spinners can point to is the "failure" by an extreme right-winger to not win the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District, a historically moderate district and one that went strongly for Obama last year, grabbing on to something where the Democrat "winner" received only 49% in the midst of opposition party chaos and after being endorsed by the withdrawing Republican candidate. This is the race the New York Times today claims was "a blow to the Right. . ."  Huh??

Meanwhile, Republicans won clear victories in Governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey, two states that went big for Obama last November. Here in New York City, putz Michael Bloomberg was made to sweat by the marvelous job done by underdog Billy Thompson in the race for mayor, a race in which fellow-Democrat and fellow African-American Barack Obama refused to campaign for Thompson, a race in which Bloomberg spent over $100,000,000 of his own money and a race which Thompson still would have won if pre-election polls did not show Bloomberg ahead by more than 20 points, thereby reducing Thompson's hopes and turnout.

The President is renowned for his "intelligence." So he must be smart enough to realize that a year of back-pedalling on all he campaigned for, a year of weakness in which he has always let others define the terms of the debate, just doesn't work -- not for someone whose entire appeal was "change we can believe in."

So, either Barack Obama -- as did JFK -- will learn to stop trusting his advisers and go his own way, moving toward greatness. Or he will shrink even further and lead us to a post- and anti-Obama regime which will make the Bush/Cheney horrors seem like Eisenhower.

Let us pray Barack Obama can also learn, and turn.