Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bravo, President Obama!

Watching President Obama speak in the Rose Garden yesterday, I was transfixed by the way he finally grasped the staff of stern, paternal, take-charge leadership. What he did in response to civilian vs. military bickering had the substance of presidential timber.

Whatever one may think about the military intervention in Afghanistan or the Rolling Stone piece (click here) about General Stanley McChrystal, no president should allow the public appearance of disunity at the highest levels to persist a moment longer than is practically necessary.

It sends the wrong message to friends, critics, tagalongs and enemies.

Obama knows full well that not everyone agrees with his policy, jot and tittle. As an intelligent man with a sense of humor, he probably even chuckled at some of the juvenile antics of McChrystal and his staff as reported in the magazine — I certainly did.

But, at present, Obama isn't a private citizen with an expansive intellect: he is head of state in a republic that persists in the historical tradition that people in uniform follow the civilian political leadership, do or die.

Everyone needed to know he is willing to bite the bullet and assume the command that we, the people, placed in his able hands.

Among those who needed to see this were voters like me who were disappointed Obama didn't show such mettle to bring about real reform in health and finance.

Obama's alleged friends also needed to see this: from his self-important band of national security staffers in the White House, to the spineless marvels pretending to lead the Democratic Party in Congress, to the men and women in that den of contracting thieves known as the Pentagon.

Include also critics such as such as the Sunday TV talk show second-guessers, the clueless Republicans, the appallingly undereducated tea-partiers and, yes, the self-inflated windbags such as David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer.

Count among the tagalongs the governments of France and Canada, European businesses, bowing Asian "allies" ready to stab in the back anyone who dares expose themselves that way and the leaders of the Israeli client-state who think they can go it alone.

Then there are the enemies, from the obvious ones in the Middle East, such as Al Qaeda and buddies to the enemies of the United States  comfortably ensconced within our borders, less obvious but as venomous, such as BP, the oil industry as a whole, the protection racket called the insurance industry and so many others among the few and the corporate.

All take note: President Obama won't take any more childishness.

Still, I would hope Obama can find a quiet place for McChrystal doing the black ops at which he excelled (which match my prescription as explained here).

Also, I do hope that he shows the same mettle in domestic matters where conflict just as deadly as Afghanistan is going on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Feeling Native

For days I've mulled over a New York Times story about the town of Fremont, Neb., population 25,000, which finds itself in a raw divide over immigration. What must it feel like to experience the fading away of the town you've known forever into merely a pimple on the globe's fanny?

At the core of all the alleged immigration anxiety that has prompted an unenforceable law in Arizona, self-anointed "Minutemen" in Herndon, Va., and ripples of xenophobia in countless little towns like Fremont, where suddenly the descendants of immigrants oppose immigration, lie not merely some Angloes hankering for their pre-Civil Rights white sheets, much less any real knowledge of immigration demographics, policy or law.

At heart, this is about being a former something, in Fremont's case a mid-19th century railroad and farming town, that has now been absorbed into a more cosmopolitan world, courtesy of urban sprawl, globalization and the Internet.

Fremont is now only an exurb of Omaha, which is "big city" as it gets in Nebraska — been there. Herndon, whose "bustling downtown" you can pass in less time than it takes to read this sentence, had even less significance before its notoriety.

As for Arizona — what can you say about a state that doesn't even observe daylight saving time? — it's been downhill since the alliances between the Pueblos and the Navajos, long before Europeans set foot in the area.

Bewildering, isn't it, to dwell in country music's homeland (or a wannabe facsimile) — with whispered-about wife-swapping, divorce-prone barroom flirting and unmentionable inbred farmland fornication — to awaken with the world at your doorstep and all your wailing misunderstood.

Nothing would seem to resemble the complaint of a hateful Arizona kicker than that of a bewildered Afghan mountaineer (or Mexican farmer or Navajo tribesman or Pueblo villager): "Where do these people come from and what do they think they're doing in my country?"

Watch out, folks, history's multilingual, multicultural bulldozer is coming!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Elect Alvin Green?

Like most folks, I know almost nothing about Alvin Green, the nominated South Carolina Democratic Party candidate for U.S. Senate. He's a 32-year-old military veteran who has neither campaigned nor raised money, other than the blatantly anti-democratic $10,400 candidacy filing fee. Green, who is black, won a primary in a state that has not elected an African-American in living memory.

Green apparently has said nothing and seems a bit confused about his candidacy, let alone his platform -- a blank slate so far. Some say he won the primary because his was the top name on the ballot.

The Democratic Party bosses are squirming, of course. But I wonder what it would be like to have in the Senate an ordinary citizen, even a perplexed one. If this is a Republican dirty trick, as some are suggesting, let's have more of them.

What if the people conducted the people's business in Congress, instead of expensively tailored and coiffed slick mouthpieces of the wealthy and corporations?

Democracy, a novel idea.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Warning to Whitey

There's a lot of anger brewing about a black man in the White House being left holding the bag by a bunch of white creeps in the oil business, Wall Street and the insurance industry. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Talibani and Jihadist West?

There's a growing tendency, among those of us who are non-Muslims and non-Jews in Western societies, to adopt a form of anti-Arab intolerance that mimics the reverse of the Taliban's and a pro-Israeli dogmatism that in some respects mirrors Al Qaeda's jihadism. Both have gained currency and a measure of respectability particularly since September 11, 2001.

Events on that date seem to justify, on one hand, sweeping negative generalizations about the Arab world, Islam and jihadism. What gets spewed as verities would be rejected out of hand if spoken by Arabs or Muslims of, say, the European world and modern rationalism.

Accompanying the smears and sheer nonsense about Arabs and Muslims, is a Gentile knee-jerk hypersensitivity to anything that seems remotely critical of Jews, Judaism or the State of Israel. Here again, the position would be laughable if it were Jews or Israelis somehow raising eyebrows about, say, Canada and Canadians.

Some of us feel entitled to declare that
  • Sharia law should be banned or somehow rejected;
  • the voluntary wearing of the burqa or the niqab is an affront to human rights; and
  • any unashamed presence of Muslims in the USA or Europe is a jihadist slap in the face.
We forget, of course, that Sharia law is akin to Catholic canon law, the Jewish Talmud and the Methodist Book of Discipline. We ignore people who by choice are more traditional than ourselves.

We also make history revolve on the one incident that happened in two of our cities, ignoring the many similar and much more devastating incidents that happened in Arab cities and towns as Western powers (and Israel) engaged in fanatical pursuit of the holy dollar and holy petroleum. Our hurt matters, so theirs does not?

A similar and connected myopia concerns Semitic chauvinism, according to which we get illogical leaps, such as the notions that
  • Germany and Poland were uninhabitable places after 1945 for Germans and Poles who happened to be Jewish;
  • an act of piracy on the high seas that involves killing of unarmed civilians is a hallowed act of self-defense; and
  • when Israel is responsible for espionage against its main financier, the United States, or for massive killings of Lebanese civilians who aren't even Muslim, Tel Aviv must be  defended axiomatically.
We trivialize the real sufferings and deaths of millions under Nazism whenever Holocaust history gets twisted to silence irritating comments that, examined closely, may bear grains of truth. We canonize the law of the jungle whenever we condone the military disregard for international law leading to deaths by any power, or any region, ethnicity religion or ideology.

We actually dishonor Israel, as some of its current and recent leaders have done, when we allow its rogue governments to prevail in the court of public opinion.

The swath of land between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean will not find peace until all of us admit our share of wrongdoings and follies, and begin to show tolerance for those of others with whom we disagree, or are even locked with in conflict.

We ought to lead to peace by example.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Poor Tax

Why is it that almost every day I am reminded of the Great Depression, in particular the Parker Brothers Monopoly game and its "Poor Tax" card? By taxes, I mean the endless stream of corporate scams on the poorest, least educated people.

If you pay attention at what's promoted you'll find come-ons to
  • call toll-free for "easy money" ... just sign over your car and pay interest forever
  • get help with bankruptcy, foreclosure, the IRS ... from "fixers"
  • ask a pharmaceutical or medical supply company ... to bilk Medicaid for you
The latest I've come across, courtesy of Paychex, Chase Visa and your friendly employer, is the application for a Chase Pay Card Plus. Here's the come-on:

"Instead of waiting in line to cash your paycheck, have your pay automatically deposited to a Chase Pay Card Plus account." Sure ...
  • if you pay $1.50 to $3.00 per automated teller machine withdrawal, 
  • $1.00 to $3.00 to find out your balance, 
  • $5.00 for over-the-counter withdrawals (after your four "free" ones)
  • $12 for a check to close your account
  • $3 a month for "inactivity"
... and hey, you can get the card delivered to you extra fast for only $24.75 !!!!

They will allow you FREE point-of-sale transactions (they filch from the merchants, instead).

But wait ... what's this about "3.5% per international conversion rate transaction"?

This is targeted to immigrants (who else would regularly need international remittances?), in addition to the welfare mother waitress with three minimum-wage jobs living in a motel and dreaming of Aruba. The "unbanked."

Did the banks discover the low-income worker "market" while bilking states that "privatized" and "automated" their public assistance programs at the behest of the Bushies? You betcha.

There's a sucker born every day in America -- and it isn't the JPirateMorgan Chase Bank.