Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haiti: the event

Woke up to an e-mail from iTunes offering an album of songs from the "one of the biggest events in broadcast history," which iTunes says was brought about by "the tragic events in Haiti." Who'd a thunk it?

The poorest, most miserable land in the Western Hemisphere -- the first black-majority independent republic in the world ... coincidence? -- had an annihilating earthquake just so Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and friends in New York, Los Angeles, and London could have a star-studded telethon.

So get yer tunes for only 8 buckeroos.

Oh, sure, "100% of proceeds from the sale" go to the the Clinton-Bush (or should it be Clinton-Bush-Bush?) Haiti Fund, the UN and several other nongovernment charities, including a token Haitian group, named last because no one has ever heard of it.

What are they gonna say: "This is the greatest, cheapest, career boosting promo for managers, producers, singers and distributors ever to come our way and we're doing our darndest to get our share of the limelight"?


There's even a book out -- written before the fact -- about "disaster capitalism." Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism spells out how disaster-shocked people and countries faces with wars, coups and natural catastrophes are rapaciously picked clean and reordered into "free" market economies by corporate reingeneering.

It's happening now in Haiti.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Was Coakley an Insurance Company Puppet?

Who knows how these things are done: some fat cats get together in their no longer smoke-filled room and pick people to run for office? They've never invited me to participate. But if you follow the Roman adage "qui bono?" (who benefits?), it's clear that some folks who are powerful get the best government money can buy.

That brings me back to Martha Coakley, the would-be senator (D-Kennedy) who lost what looked like a shoo-in election just weeks ago. Who benefited from that?

Her defeat means that insurance companies can continue to make gazillions off you and me, since what is left of health care legislation no longer merits the name "reform." By some accounts they'll now make more money and squeeze us even harder.

So why couldn't Coakley have been put up to run with the full knowledge that she would shoot herself in the foot worse than Creigh Deeds? There was no one available to run for the crucial senate seat who had enough common sense to know that it's cold in Massachusetts or to hire people who can spell the state's name?

If you believe that, I have a very nice bridge for you. It crosses the East River.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Coakley -- Change You're Forced to Put Up With

How did it come to this in exactly one year? Last January 20 I was freezing my butt off trying to find my way to the area of the presidential inauguration to which I had tickets. Everything was so hopeful. Today the guys in the black hats have won their obstructionist spot: they have nothing to offer, so they block.

Frankly, the Democratic politicians deserve what they got. President Obama proved to be a wimp, Senate Majority Leader Reid proved to be nothing of the sort, House Speaker Pelosi proved she couldn't politick her way out of a paper bag.

It was a new era of change we could believe in, of hope, of peace. Instead we got endless war, derailed health care reform, same old same old. Martha Coakley proved to be a worse candidate than Virginia's Creigh Deeds, which I didn't believe possible!

So now, Fast Eddie's seat goes to the 41st Republican senator, the one who can shut the whole thing down. Let's all close the store and go fishin'.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Earthquakes and Coups

The U.S. press has always dealt with countries south of the Rio Grande whenever generals march into palaces or Mother Nature throws a temper tantrum. Never mind the ongoing social and economic dramas in between.

This is how we find ourselves hearing about Haiti's "unpreparedness," as if it were New Orleans or some part of Ohio, and not the most wretched, poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, the first self-governing majority black country in the new World, and the one most abused, occupied and exploited by the United States.

The earthquake is natural, but the ensuing human disaster is man-made.

But you won't hear the U.S. mass media delve into the root causes of misery. After all, Haiti vanished from the front pages and television bulletins since the mid-1990s, as it will vanish once again in a few weeks, the minute U.S. readers and viewers get "compassion fatigue" and turn to another channel or turn the page.

Don't believe me? Recall another Latin American country whose name starts with an H. In 1998 Americans were aghast at the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in this country, but the nation vanished from the U.S. radar screen until in 2009 an elected president was overthrown.

Give up? Honduras.

Had Honduran poverty been eliminated in 1999? Were all the proceeds of the aid evenly distributed according to need, or did the lion's share of any money go to the top?

It doesn't matter. U.S. news consumers couldn't have cared less, so why should editors, reporters and TV twinkies.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Why Harry Reid is Right (and Trent Lott was not)

The remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) that then-candidate Barack Obama could win the presidency because he was 'light skinned' and spoke publicly with 'no Negro dialect' may have been ill advised, but they do not compare with the endorsement by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) of a campaign for the presidency that blatantly proposed a policy of racial segregation.

The difference is that Reid's remarks describe a reality. The United States is not, contrary to rumor, a "postracial" nation. Race still matters, unfortunately.

There is a cultural divide between the European-origin population, of any nationality, who came here voluntarily as immigrants and the descendants of slaves who were kidnapped and stripped of their original identity to the point that most blacks cannot identify exactly from which part of Africa their ancestors came. (Whites may think all Africans look alike, but there are profound ethnic and cultural differences among them: such differences exploded into vicious violence in Rwanda just a few years ago.)

Reid, the Democratic Party and even President Obama can be criticized for being spineless and acquiescing all too easily to the Republican goal of taking us all back to 1910—the worst that can be said for Democrats is that they are far too timidly pragmatic to achieve their promises.

In contrast, in 2002 Trent Lott said, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either." That's not realism. Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 on the overtly segregationist "Dixiecrat" ticket, represented a racist point of view that by 2002 had been publicly repudiated by the overwhelming majority of Americans.

Lott clearly believed in efforts to roll back the social and racial clock.

Indeed, the dirty little secret about the Republicans is Richard Nixon's legacy: the "Southern strategy." This has an effort to peel off the South from the Democratic coalition after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In their speeches and positioning, Republicans have carefully broadcast a series of devious, coded nods and winks lending support to the region's enduring segregation.

Who can ever forget Republican presidential standard-bearer Ronald Reagan launching his national 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he emphasized "states' rights" (code for separatism and Jim Crow) just a few miles from the place civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. Surely the Klansmen recognized that Reagan was their boy, as he was.

That's the Republican Party of Trent Lott—and Uncle Toms like Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

It was Steele who compared Lott's Freudian slip revealing the quintessentially regressive philosophy of his party with the frank assessment by Reid that this country is still too racially divided to accept as a leader a black man with the color and speech that unmistakably remind all of the nation's original sin of slavery.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Vacation Lag

People used to laugh at me when I told them I'd spent my vacation, a week in July, reading detective novels in my balcony. But I used to laugh at them when they came back weary from Thailand and points beyond.

The problem with active vacations (hadn't had one in four or five years) and international travel vacations (not taken for at least a decade) is that you end up needing a vacation to recover from the vacation.

Then everything back home feels a little weird.

If you go to the southern hemisphere, as I did, you get a short period of summer, then return to the frigid north. Last weekend I went from 90 degrees Fahrenheit going into the airport at my departure point to 26 degrees F coming out at the other end. That's a 64-degree difference!

This is all to suggest that the wisdom of staying home is ever more evident.

In a minimalist lifestyle, one would read in the balcony for a few days off in summer. Go for trips on tour buses through one's own city. Go to bed when one is tired on Dec. 31st and wake up at one's usual day-off wakeup time on Jan. 1 -- which I have actually done a number of times.

One would sell one's car and walk more. One would buy more produce and cook more. One might get rid of one's cell phone (I still don't know how to answer mine, anyway).

Ommmmmmmmmmmmm ....

Saturday, January 02, 2010

My Beef with Al Qaeda

I don't call them terrorists because, frankly, I am not particularly terrified of dying. As to the twin towers of the World Trade Center, loss of life aside, the buildings were a blight on the New York City skyline. So, no, my complaint about Al Qaeda is quite different.

Having just come back from a numbing 12 hours of international flight, my beef with Al Qaeda is that they've made one part of life stupidly annoying: air travel.

The stupidity isn't really their fault, of course. For that we have the stalwart men and women of the "war on terror" who are forever closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
  • 19 Al Qaedans commandeered four planes in one day? Ground all planes.
  • A Brit nut tries to set fire to his sneaker on a plane? Force everyone to take off their shoes.
  • Other suspected malefactors carried some kind of explosive fuel instead of cologne or toothpaste? Ban all liquids, including especially legitimate aftershave and duty-free foreign wine.
And so on ... per saecula saeculorum, amen. When will they start catching, trying and meting out deserved justice to the miscreants, instead of the sheepish rest of us?