Sunday, December 20, 2009

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

The Continuing Saga of a Homeless Man and his Dog

by Jack Rafter

"He's not right in the head," Gordon said. About Obama.

We were sitting in the library to escape the cold. I had on dark glasses, doing my blind act so I could get Vincent in. Gordon shook his head as he stared at the newspaper spread in front of him--all about the war in Afghanistan, the President sending in 30,000 troops.

Gordon lives in a boxcar. Spends most of his time in the library. Used to be a stock analyst. Now, he can't help it, his mind craves a bone to chew and wants to furnish theories on everything.

"So you're saying he's crazy," I said.

"Crazy in a special way," Gordon said, tapping his pencil on his forehead. "Very special."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he looks and sounds normal. He has this beautiful shiny wife and these darling little girls. The whole family shines, I don't know how else to put it. They sparkle. If you could make dolls out of them and mass market them, I guarantee you'd be a billionaire inside a month. It'd be the biggest thing since Ken and Barbie. Maybe bigger. It's Ken and Barbie with kids. And they have lots of nice clothes."

"What's that got to do with his being crazy?" I said.

Gordon held his pencil up and poked the air. "I said crazy in a special way. Specialized craziness. There's nothing you can do about it. You can't fix that. You can't give him anything for it. The people closest to him probably can't see it. Although I'm startin' to wonder if his wife has noticed anything unusual. Maybe she has, but, like most devoted wives, she just covers it good, maybe even hides it from herself.

"But the rest of the world, especially all the ones that voted for him, are startin' to wonder what the hell's goin' on. There's this huge gap between what he says and what he does, and there's almost no place where the two items line up, where they converge. So, everyone's goin' around lookin' dumbfounded, like a bunch of tourists left stranded by their tour guide. They're all scratchin' their heads, sayin' things like, 'What's the matter with this guy? Is he crazy? Doesn't he know he's totally wrecking his credibility?'

"And the answer is yes, he's crazy. And no, he doesn't know he's wrecking his credibility. Or if he does, he doesn't know why. And that's because there's actually two people there. There's BARACK OBAMA!! --The savior of mankind, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That's the one who gives the speeches. And then, there's this other guy, the one we see the rest of the time, whose name might as well be Joe Blow, Rufus Smith or Dick Cheney. Say, you wouldn't have a spare dollar on you, would you?"

"Are you kidding?" I said.
"I just thought if we pooled our money we might make out better for lunch."
"Maybe so," I said.

During the lull, Vincent got up, stretched, and lay down again. I could feel him panting against my leg. Gordon tapped his pencil some more, biting his lower lip. You could hear the springs and wheels clinking in his mind. "It's the speeches, you see. That's where I first noticed it."

"The speeches?"

"Yeah. There's this drama, this explosion that happens. He's a Shakespearean actor. He goes from being Rufus Smith to BARACK OBAMA!! In his speech, he becomes Captain Ahab. Says he's gonna hunt down the great white whale. No, I don't mean something racist. I just mean he's Ahab! He's goin' after this great shiny thing, maybe the greatest thing you ever heard of. Willing to go to the ends of the earth to get it. And we're right with him, boy. We're the crew of the Pequod, and we want him to succeed, we want him to get this thing, too, whatever it is. Why? Because of his speech--his words are so lofty, they soar, they fly clear up to the mastheads, there's religious fervor in his voice, his eyes shine and gleam--they roll back when he cuts loose. He says great things and he believes them. And that's how he gets you and me to believe them. See what I mean? He lifts us up with his words. He charms us, makes us fall in love with him. It's the same thing actors do--exactly the same damn thing. Laurence Olivier wouldn't let people watch him rehearse. You know why?"

I shook my head.

"'Cause he didn't want anyone to see him fumble. Because then all they'd see was this little guy, this mere mortal named Larry. No, first, he had to get it right, you see, had to get to where he believed it himself. Then, when the curtain went up and the lights hit him in the face, he could take off. He could fly in the air. And he became. . .Laurence Olivier. Sir Laurence! And it's the same thing with Obama."

"So you're saying he's like Olivier. . .or Ahab?"

"I'm saying he's whatever in the hell he wants to be when he's makin' a damn speech, 'cause he actually believes it. He says he's goin' after that elusive whale, then that's what he's gonna do. Shoot, in that moment, he probably thinks he can steer the bloody boat all by himself. And throw the harpoon right into the whale's gizzard. Problem is, once the speech is over, once the applause dies down, the lights fade out, and the cheering hysterical mob goes home, he just becomes plain old Rufus again. This little guy in a suit. And you can bet there ain't gonna be no whale huntin' goin' on after that. Man, I'm thirsty. You thirsty? Wish I had a little somethin' to drink."

At that moment, Oscar, another refugee from the trainyard, passed our table clutching a National Geographic. He leaned close on the pass and mumbled, "Better look like you're readin' Braille, Jack. Yonder comes the librarian."

* * *

Well, we went out and scrounged something to eat. When we got back, Gordon was still going on about Obama's alleged craziness. He shoved a book over to me: The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. That's Gordon, for you, always reading weird things.

I glanced at the book. It seems that back in 1968, the Sunday Times of London sponsored a single-handed round-the-world yacht race. First prize--L5,000. Naturally, the best sailors in the world entered it. And then there was this unknown, this outsider, a failed businessman from Bridgwater, Somerset, named Donald Crowhurst.

"He was heavily in debt," said Gordon, "and he was after the prize money. Somehow, he thought he could win this thing."

"So what happened?" I said, "And what's this got to do with your theory about Obama?"

"All right," said Gordon, "Just bear with me. Okay, here's this guy, Crowhurst--well, first off, he's married, got a pretty wife, nice children, guy's a real charmer. He's smart, been to school, he reads, he knows all the sailor's jargon. He doesn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out, but he manages to get a financial backer to pay for the boat. Everybody takes him for a pro, but he's not really much more than a weekend sailor. What he is--he's delusional. He's acting out the part of an adventurer. He probably pictures himself sailing home to cheering crowds, knighted by the Queen, like Chichester. He's charmed everybody, including himself. But the story mushrooms. Even before he sets sail, it's a big story. People all over England are rooting for him. He's the underdog and they all want him to succeed."

"Then, he takes off. And right away, he runs into problems. His boat's not as good as he thought it was. He's not making good time. He knows if he drops out of the race he'll have to pay off his backer--the full price of the boat. That would mean selling his house, everything he owns. He'll be ruined. So he makes one of those fateful decisions. He decides to abandon the race. But he doesn't tell anyone. Instead, he more or less stays in one place, sailing around in circles off the coast of Brazil. At the same time, he begins altering his logs, reporting false positions to make it look like he's still in the running. In fact, he makes his reports sound so good that, for awhile, toward the end, he's being cheered worldwide as the likely winner of the race."

And that causes a whole new set of problems. Now Crowhurst realizes that if he actually comes in first, his logbooks are sure to be scrutinized by experienced sailors. And he'll be exposed to the world as a fraud. . . .

In June, '69, Crowhurst's boat was found adrift and abandoned in the Sargasso Sea.

Found in the boat were two sets of logs. One contained the poetic ravings of someone who had become completely unhinged.

Gordon picked up the book, opened it to the first page and handed it back. At the top of the page was this inscription:


"Paranoid grandiosity tends to be well organized, relatively stable and persistent. The complexity of delusional conviction varies from rather simple beliefs in one's alleged talent, attractiveness or inspiration to highly complex, systematized beliefs that one is a great prophet, author, poet, inventor or scientist. The latter extreme belongs to classical paranoia."
Prof. Norman Cameron, Yale
(Ency. Brit.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

copeland morris A DREAM

Wrap-around sunglasses
Ear to ear you wore
In mourning after
The sermon.
The strangeness of a willow
Embraced me once more.

You worried about my dreams;
Addressed me as "sir"
As curtly as you could
In the sedan where I seemed to live.

A man who rolled down the windows,
What must you do for him? Not even God
Can change the past.

Paul Valéry wrote his poems
When he was pulling on socks and shoes:

"God made everything out of nothing,
But the nothingness shows through."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

The Continuing Saga of a Homeless Man and his Dog

by Jack Rafter

Woke up to snow this morning. Damn near froze my ass off last night in my little tent by the train yard. Nights like that make you feel grateful for a dog. Good ol Vincent snuggled up close, kept at least part of me from freezing to death. Problem is the sleeping bag. She's all gone to rot and the feathers are falling out. Gonna have to scrounge another somewhere. We boiled some water over the cookstove, had some oats and coffee. Then broke camp and hightailed it downtown. Straight for the library.

I carry a blind man's fold-up stick in my shoulder bag--got it for a dollar at the Mexican flea-market. So if we go in somewhere, I just get out the stick and put on a pair of dark glasses. Vincent always pulls a little ahead of me on the leash, so with the sunglasses and the stick in play, people think he's a guide dog. That's how I smuggle him in on cold mornings. Some may wonder why he doesn't have the leather harness gizmo with the handle on it, or how come a guide dog looks like it hangs out in junkyards, but they never say anything. Nobody messes with blind people nowadays. They're all scared of lawsuits, and they don't want to look like assholes.

I thought about using the blind act as a panhandling gimmick, but you want to be careful with a thing like that. I figure if it gets you and your dog in out of the rain or cold, that's one thing. But if you use it to enrich yourself, it could turn on you. You don't want to mess with your Kharma. So we walked in.

Well, everybody was there. All the folks from the train yard--there was Billy and Frank and Lena, Oskar and Clarice. All sitting at different tables or hunkered down in comfy chairs. Trying to appear nonchalant in their filthy clothes with unkempt hair and scruffy beards. They all had books in their hands or a magazine, and looked almost studious, like the bedraggled pupils of a hobo cooking class. I nodded to them, subtly, as I walked by. Had to keep looking straight ahead, of course, like I couldn't see them. They knew who I was, so they nodded or winked on the sly. There were others besides them I didn't recognize. I tell you, cold days like this, the library starts looking more and more like a day-shelter for the homeless. The librarians spend half their time being a cop, making sure nobody's asleep. If they are, then out they go. You have to sit there with a book and try to look like you're reading or studying, when all you're really there for is to get warm and think about how you'll score your next meal.

Maybe that's why the city keeps cutting the library hours. God forbid the place should become a haven for outcasts trying to get out of the cold. I read somewhere that Mayor LaGuardia kept the libraries of New York City open clear through the Depression era. The last one, I mean. He knew the homeless were bunching up in those places, but he wasn't gonna shut em out because he had a heart. He also knew it was the one thing people could still do for free--read books. Well, there you go--one more example of the demon socialism.

I spied a friend seated at a table in the history section, so I took a seat across from him. Vincent plopped down on my foot and leaned against my leg. Big smile on his face. I knew he was happy to be out of the cold. So was I.

My friend Gordon was sitting there bent over a newspaper, looking at it real close. Squinting his eyes. That's how you know it's Gordon. You can spot him a mile away. He spends a lot of time in the library even on warm days cause he actually likes to read. He'll spend upwards of eight hours at a stretch reading. Today it was the newspaper. But it could be anything. Novels, poetry, plays, history, music, art, travel journals, you name it. Definitely a sick man. He needs glasses, but he won't buy them cause he doesn't have the money.

He's a strange dude. Used to be a stock-broker. Had him a wife and kids, cell phone, SUV, the whole nine yards. Then the crash came. He lost a lot of money--his own, and other peoples' too. He almost jumped out the window of his twenty-second floor office, but something changed his mind.

He went through his savings. Lost his home. His wife divorced him. He was a little crazy for awhile. Maybe still is. Hard to tell. He's on some meds, I believe, but he forgets to take them. He moves around a lot. He started out staying in a friend's garage. After the friend kicked him out, he showed up with a tent and lived in the freight train camp. That's where I met him. From there, he went to a salvage yard where he took up residence in the back of a wrecked Volvo station wagon. He was there almost a month. Then it was a condemned house for two months, a dilapidated barn for a week, followed by a tool shed behind a machine shop.

The tool shed was interesting. He figured out how to pick the lock. He only stayed there at night after the machinists went home, and he was always careful to put the lock back on the door in the morning. He said he really liked the tool shed cause it had a portable electric heater nobody was using and a grimy old radio that still worked. Also, the machinists kept regular hours and they were predictable. So he stayed there six months and nobody had a clue someone was living there.

Then one night a workman showed up needing some tool or other from the shed. He heard music playing softly--Gordon had the radio tuned to a classical station to lull him to sleep--Debussy's Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Fawn. The machinist turned him over to the cops. He spent three months in jail for breaking and entering, trespass, and vagrancy.

He now lives in a boxcar at the freight yards.

When I sat down, he said, "Hi, Jack," without looking up from his paper. I said hello, Gordon. Then, he held up a hand and said, "I'll be with you in a minute." I looked at the paper. He appeared to be reading about the president's latest machinations--sending more troops to Afghanistan. Added to the ones already there it would make a total of a hundred-thousand troops. Gordon made little groaning sounds and shook his head. He squinted his eyes.

"You oughta get yourself some glasses," I said after awhile.
"I know," he muttered. Then held up his hand again, so I shut up. He kept reading, squinting, groaning. Finally, he shook his head and mumbled something.
"What's that?" I said.
"I said there's something wrong with him."
"Wrong with who?"
"With the O-man. Obama."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean there's something not right about him."
"You mean he's crazy?"
"No, not crazy. Not exactly."
"Well, what do you mean, then?" I said.

Gordon picked up a pencil and stared at it for a moment, his eyes almost crossed. "I mean he's not right in the head."

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Arthur Silber writes of Obama's recent extensive deliberation over what to do in Afghanistan, and the protracted appearance of seriousness over the decision, and the writer believes that "The mountains have appeared to labour mightily--with strong emphasis on "appear," for image and PR is not the main thing at this stage of the disintegration of the American Empire, it's the only thing..."

Obama wants to appear careful, prudent; and in a couple of days he will enlighten the public about "the job" that he will be careful to get done there. There will be an increase in US combat troops of something like 35,000. On a recent Bill Moyer's Journal, the actual recorded conversations between President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara and conversation between House Speaker Mansfield and the President shows beneath LBJ's surface the age old fear of being out-hawked by the right-wing. The President understood, or seemed to understand, that it was a mistake to give in to military escalation; but he did so anyway, knowing on some level the wrongness of it.

Obama is a smart man and is always projecting some kind of cool rationality; but he would seem to be doing the same thing LBJ did. Our new president however doesn't reveal that much in the way of the agony of such a decision.

It is a bloody absurdity for Obama to speak so eloquently and proclaim political principles so lucidly, only to backtrack on those principles and then proceed in the opposite direction. Weakness or dancing to the strings of puppet masters? We don't know. Today's President Karzai, while perhaps not as murderous as President Diem once was, is saturated in the same kind of corruption. Obama falls, as Lyndon Johnson did, into the same kind of political snare; and it seems perhaps reasonable to question his powers of reason.

Every remaining illusion will be stripped away and deconstructed; and after Obama comes a kind of deluge; but meanwhile during his tenure of office is this eerie twilight when things seem very surreal here in the belly of the beast.

I like the way Arthur Silber opens his essay, with the words of Horace:
The mountains will be in labour; an absurd mouse will be born.

This article is cross-posted at le speakeasy

Monday, November 09, 2009

Why Americans Don't Have Decent Health Care And Probably Never Will

by Grayson

After the movie one night,
I went into one of those
big chain ice cream parlors,
the kind of place where they mix your
cool fluff on a marble slab,
carefully weigh it,
top it off if necessary
(or take some away)
then hand it to you
take your money.

So when the girl handed me my
chocolate amaretto with sprinkles on top
I noticed at least half a dip left on the slab.
“What are you gonna do with that?” I said.

“Throw it away,” she said
and started to scrape it off the counter.
“Wait a minute, why don't you
give it to me, I'll eat it.”

“If I do that I'll have to charge you for it.”

“But you're throwing it out, so it's
lost anyway.”
“Either I have to charge for it
or I have to throw it away.”

“Who says?”
“My boss says.”
“What'll he do if you give it to me?”
“He'll fire me.”
“But he's not here.”

“They watch us through a camera.”

“You're kidding. Who watches you?”
“Somebody. I don't know who.”
“Where's the camera?”
“Up there behind me.”

“So they watch you through a camera?”

“How much do they pay the person
to watch you throw ice cream away?”
“I don't know.” She looked at me.
“Do you want this?”

“I guess not.”

And she scraped it in the trash.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


The coveted Maltese Falcon has been awarded to President Obama, in anticipation of some unfortunate policies he inherited from either Bush or Cheney; whose dirty business he plans to continue. Such would be Our Falcon of Perpetual War and Secrecy: the surveillance state, indefinite detention, unnatural rendition, banker's ejaculations, and the cover-up of the CIA/Pentagon torture affairs, to name but a few.

In order therefore to balance the positive encouragement which Norway has lately invested in him, with the Nobel Peace Prize; he has been awarded The Bird, as a countermeasure that signifies the public's unrealized hopes out of his own grandiose inertia. If Obama can accept the Nobel for the better choices he could make in the future, as president; then he is equally obliged to graciously accept a dousing with cold water.

He must clutch the Maltese Falcon; for what other choice has he allowed himself?

The president encourages the same activists who helped elect him, to make him do real things (as opposed to simply humping the bully pulpit). I say that before the President is swayed by advisers who tell him that the lefty folks and assorted progressive bloggers are "unreliable", that we should prove those sourpusses wrong, by jumping on the President's Awards Train. Like good sports, we should get up a Lifetime Achievement award for him, and sign endorsements in the spirit that moved the good people of Norway, for the day when the US Air Force will quit rubbing out Afghan kids. Perhaps the Academy of Arts and Sciences can present Obama a preemptive Oscar, trusting that his lifetime of achievement is inevitable, in the category of "Best Performance by a Leading Man".

And from the graveyard of empires comes a new trophy for the president's desk: the Gilded Poppy, soon to be announced by the Karzai Brothers of Afghanistan.

The rhetoric of hope, and revival of inspiration that Obama has perfected, with its resonance in the future, must require a real proliferation of awards. The President will have to give himself the Medal of Freedom to top it all off.

The journalist, Naomi Klein, has said this about the Peace Prize, "I think the moment of just rewarding Obama for awakening hope and optimism has clearly passed."

Klein goes into the depressing developments following the UN-sponsored investigation of Israel's recent military crackdown in Gaza. The overwhelming force that invaded the ghetto included bombardment with white phosphorous and the casual shooting of civilians, a few of whom were held at gunpoint before being shot. The South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, completed an exhaustive investigation which was widely acknowledged as fair, as being unbiased.
But what we see, as in the context of the climate negotiations, is the US is reengaging, but in an extremely destructive way, using their status, their seat at the table, to undermine international law. That’s happening in the context of the climate negotiations, and now it’s happened in the context of the Goldstone report, where, rather than strengthening international law, the US pressure on Abbas and also their own words and actions undermine a crucial report, which should have been a breakthrough.

And the Obama administration wasted absolutely no time in selling out Judge Richard Goldstone with no basis of fact whatsoever. The report was extremely balanced. The Obama administration could have stepped back and allowed it to work its way through the UN system, really kind of hid behind the UN on this one. Here you have a judge with an extraordinary international reputation for his belief in international law and his commitment to the reality of the—of “never again,” whether in the context of Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. And this is somebody who’s really, really been committed to that idea. And the US has allowed his reputation to be destroyed, and contributed to it in many ways. So this is a moment where Palestinians more and more are saying, “OK, you raised our hopes, and now you’re dashing them.”
Obama disappoints some in the gay community because of his delay in repealing the "Don' Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which has allowed gays to serve in the military, but still holds them behind a wall of silence, confined by stigma and ostracism.

And NOW's Illinois Chapter can recall that Barack Obama used his strong oratory to condemn George W. Bush for leaving the 4th Amendment in tatters, with a call to restore Americans' rights of privacy and freedom from being spied on.

Barack Obama in 2003:
Yes, I would vote to repeal the U.S. Patriot Act, although I would consider replacing that shoddy and dangerous law with a new, carefully crafted proposal that addressed in a much more limited fashion the legitimate needs of law enforcement in combating terrorism (for example, permitting a warrant for the interception of cell phone calls, and not just land-based phones to accommodate changes in technology).
Fast-forward through the 2008 election campaign, when Obama shocked progressives and liberals by letting the telecoms off the hook, for aiding and abetting the Bush surveillance crimes. Let's see what happened earlier this month, when the Senate dealt with the odious provisions of the Patriot Act. No, they could have let the "sunset provisions" take effect in December, as scheduled. But they didn't.
Instead, the [Senate Judiciary] Committee just passed a bill to renew all of the PATRIOT powers that were set to expire at the end of the year, with only a handful of the original reforms that were first proposed by Senators Feingold and Durbin's JUSTICE Act and Committee Chairman Leahy's original PATRIOT renewal bill.

Instead of adding more protections to the bill, as EFF and the Times have been urging (along with many other Americans who have been organizing Facebook and Twitter activism around PATRIOT reform), the Committee this morning voted to accept seven Republican amendments to the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act to remove the few civil liberties protections left in the bill after it was already watered down at last Thursday's Committee meeting. Surprisingly and disappointingly, most of those amendments were recommended to their Republican sponsors by the Obama Administration.
What kind of FBI do we have? What kind of country is this, where librarians can still be gagged, after receiving a National Security Letter, that compels them to remain silent, after turning over the reading lists of people who use the library? Perhaps The Sir Talks-A-Lot Prize will be awarded to our new president for repeatedly reminding us that there need not be a conflict between liberty and security.

Barack Obama was elected because he inspired trust and talked about justice; and he seemed organized for diplomacy rather than force when he was running for president. His manner was disarming; he had principles that were well received. And people were insisting on change and were anxious to oust the republicans.

But lately, folks who support Obama want his leadership to improve; they want him to do better at moving and articulating his policies. Where, for example, is his political argument being used to influence his own party? Obama's standoffish style of leadership and his courtesy to republicans who are obstructing everything just looks like weakness, and it hasn't resembled a cool strategy, or a strategy of any kind.

It's the stuff that dreams are made of.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Okay, I'm going out on a limb, here. My good liberal friends tell me you can't reason with people who treat facts like the plague, who rank our President alongside the anti-Christ. But. . .gosh darn it, somehow, I just feel a grudging respect for those brave souls who have planted their sabers for a principle: to stand as one against government-funded health care.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I believe the raging minions have a right to be heard. They're Americans, too, God bless 'em. Including the ones with guns strapped to their legs. Why, they don't mean any harm. They're just marching to a different drummer, that's all.

So, this goes out to you, all you townhall protesters—you ”teabaggers,” “Birthers,” and “Glenn Beckers,” whoever you are. Wherever you came from. Listen, I'm not half the man you are. If I were lying in bed in pain and somebody offered me free cancer treatments or an open-heart surgery, why I'd chuck my pride and take the charity so fast it'd make your head fly. That's how lily-livered I am!

But not you, not the Birthers and Beckers. You've taken a stand, by golly, even if it's to your own detriment. Don't we usually equate that with heroism? Most of you are just an illness away from utter ruin. Half the foreclosures are the result of sky-rocketing medical bills. Yet, you Patriots (even some who are on Medicare!) are willing to stand up and say, “No! I will not take one thin dime of your filthy government money! Not even to save my own children if they should fall ill!” Now, that, my friends, is bravery!

Show me one banker, one measly CEO, who would have done that during the bailout!

So, in the interest of fair play, in the spirit of Obama, who seems to want nothing more than for everyone to just make nice and try to get along (he did win the Nobel Prize, after all), I offer this modest compromise. Please, hear me out:

First. I agree with my friends on the right: no one should be forced to carry health insurance. I call this the “Survival of the Fittest” Option. If you get sick and die, well, that's the breaks. Like Grampa used to say: “Some days it's chicken, and some days it's feathers.”

Second. The Public Option should be available. After all, a clear majority supports it, don't they? Around 72%. Assuming we're still a democracy, assuming Congress and the President haven't been bought off by the insurance corporations, the majority should win, right? At least that's what I was taught in fifth grade Civics class. Well, we'll see.

Third. Now, get this: Those fine Americans who still believe in free and unfettered private enterprise will be allowed to sign a waiver, stating their intention to refuse all government assistance. That's right—with a stroke of the pen, you can kick those stinking government boys out of your lives forever!

And it will be business as usual for the health insurance companies! Their doors will remain open! You teabaggers, Beckers, and others, will be allowed to purchase all the insurance you can afford.

Now, let's be clear on this. Let's be fair. Signing this waiver would be a one-time option. You can't come back later and change your mind. Make no mistake—the Devil will tempt you. When you see all those crazed liberals getting free checkups and free colonoscopies, you may be tempted to back-slide on some of your hard-won principles. Don't succumb! Think how unfair that would be to the insurance companies for whom you fought the good fight—not just the CEO's struggling to maintain a minimum level of prosperity in these hard times, but--dear God!--think of your hard-working agent, the one who looked out for you through thick and thin, through all the price increases and rising deductibles; the times you may have been justly denied coverage; the good—dare I say it?--family friend, who sent you all those birthday and Christmas cards through the years. You owe him something.

(And, of course, by signing the waiver, you also agree that you will no longer require the services of public schools or libraries, you'll haul your own trash to the dump, and should any emergency calls issue from your home, they will not be answered by police or fire departments.)

There, you see? Everyone wins! I believe this plan is workable and fair to all parties concerned. A few may sicken and die, but at least, it will be their choice!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Yesterday numerous cops in heavy riot gear entered the University of Pittsburgh campus, after dark. RAW STORY, among others, has offered early reports on the heavy-handed dispersal of a peaceful protest at the university. What is clear from a host of video coverage is that the five-hundred students who were voicing their opposition, as well as passers-by and spectators, were dispersed by police in riot gear. Some were arrested, some tear gassed; and a few policemen pursued students into the foyers of their dorms.

The outdoor assembly was called to express solidarity with G-20 protesters in the city who were suffering rough treatment at the hands of police. Students reacted with disbelief to the police invasion, but did not panic, even while in a state of shock and dismay.

Accusations of anarchism were sometimes sent flying here and yonder, through the city of Pittsburgh and in mainstream media; but it is a stretch to call the G-20 protests themselves an example of anarchy. The massive looting of the US Treasury by engineered chaos of credit default swaps, overseen by the Federal Reserve, facilitated by lawmakers who abolished financial regulations, is most like anarchy; and the demonstrators who have had to wear protective clothing and helmets to lessen their chance of being seriously hurt by police, are not so much the anarchists. Besides, it is an ugly example of American journalism when pundits take the low road and describe these demonstrations in Pittsburgh as riots.

The police did proceed methodically on campus. Officers weren't out of control, for the most part; but to the astonishment of the students, the rough treatment, which resulted in bloodied heads and arrests, was completely uncalled for. The Pittsburgh Chief of Police issued a declaration that called the gathering an "unlawful assembly". Since when are peaceful demonstrations monitored by campus security overruled by city authorities?

But the atmosphere has changed during the past few years, over the rules regarding citizen rights to have peaceful demonstrations. So-called non-lethal riot projectiles, beanbags and rubber bullets are being used by cops; and hits to soft tissue, or the neck and head, sometimes result in death. It was recently revealed that the FBI wants to quadruple its electronic surveillance capacities; moreover, federalized police and a multitude of new police entities are infiltrating the most innocuous peace groups and fielding provocateurs to incite or even commit violent acts at demonstrations.

A fundamental danger to our liberties is growing in the enhanced police powers we are seeing; and these are especially visible in the increasingly harsh policing which arises more frequently, at a lower threshold of provocation. A more brutal array of crowd control weapons is also being readied to deal with unrest. The ear-splitting sonic weapon is already in use against crowds at the G-20 protests in Pittsburgh; meanwhile, some version of this device is being used by the Micheletti Junta in the Honduran capitol, targeting the Brazilian Embassy, where the ousted President Zelaya is staying under diplomatic protection, as the Golpistas with their armed goons are savaging the president's supporters on the other side of the gates.

It should be noted that right-wing "teabaggers" and the nitwits who travel (some with sidearms) to US Town Hall meetings on the insurance companies' dime--and others among them, who muscle their way into overcrowded venues and beat on the windows--miraculously don't get tear gassed or have police batons batter their skulls. You'll never see one of those ultra-conservatives taking a rubber bullet in the neck for the cause.

One of the Pittsburgh students is overheard asking a policeman about the rough stuff and the cop invasion of campus. Amid other public objections to the G-20's economic cabal, the bankers' bonanza, and the globalization agenda with its worst foot forward in Pittsburgh, students wanted to voice their objections, on their own campus, and let it be known that they didn't like the way police have been abusing demonstrators in the city. Well, on Friday night they had one hell of an object lesson, to the effect that if you protest against some things (and not others) the police in their heavy riot uniforms will give naysayers something to think about. A student is heard to ask why. He asks why and why again. But no answer was offered Friday night.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

The scene is of wildfires burning at night, of smoke and flames on the outskirts of Athens, making a ring in the distance around the Acropolis. In an account by Guardian reporter, Helena Smith, there's a sense of the scale of destruction:
Environmentalists said that the blazes had caused "biblical damage" to an estimated 120,000 hectares of virgin fir and prime forest.
This is enough to awaken prophetic vision, or at least it should call to mind something of the Ancient Greeks' interpretation of "the cycle of history", at the very least. Climate change is making this part of the Mediterranean world drier; and there are periodical reports and suspicions that developers set some fires during this dry season, in the countryside and along the coasts, to make tracts of land available for more hotels and resorts.

The piecemeal burning of civilization is what we notice more and more on this side of the ocean: the undermining of civilized conduct, the ubiquitous propaganda that spreads paranoia and delusion, and the busy corporate takeover of government, and the normalizing of endless war. And each of these is like a shower of sparks and embers, its own hand of arson, of social damage and upheaval, which has set wildfires that spread across the land. We are engulfed gradually as the smaller and larger fires converge.

The fires are at the gates of the city. Governments that do the bidding of corporations have the arsonist's hand, helping along the inferno. Like those who sold junk mortgages on Wall Street, they are piling wealth into the hands of the few; and if disaster capitalism is not separated from the organs of government, and cannot be closely regulated, it will surely push this world backwards into slavery, where children are once more in the workhouse, forced to stand on treadles all day.

Bush and Cheney's torture chamber is finally being opened for public inspection. They took the United States to the late stage of empire, represented by sadism and circumvention of law, and corruption of office holders. The mistreatment of people held in custody is one measure by which a country is condemned as uncivilized.

CIA and military interrogators threatened prisoners with imminent death, and made horrors of drowning on waterboards; stripping men and boys and leaving them in freezing cold, beating them and threatening their mothers and children with harm. However, the new president is not sure we should dwell on the past.

There must be a line between advertising and indoctrination that has blurred. Corporations are now backing charter schools in the US, where they can control the curriculum. The civic institution of public school will be all that the poor have left; and rundown schools and rundown neighborhoods will go together. The corporate charter school idea uses gentrification by real estate development to push out the unsightly poor.

And it will be an uncivilized state of affairs; if fires such as these make their way to the city. It is also sad to say; but the very last thing this government will give up is its expeditionary army, and its fortified bases overseas, and its military adventures. And these things are unsustainable. They cannot or will not see that the tether will break; for those who rule us cannot imagine what peace is. Their civilization might outlast them; but they insist on their delusion of power, and govern according to that.

Members of the US Congress who have sold out to insurance companies have flung the most incredible fantasies into the public debate over health care. A bland paragraph in the bill that concerns having a doctor reimbursed for an elective discussion with families, about living wills and end-of-life decisions, is distorted into some template for euthanasia. It's hard to relate to this level of dishonesty.

In Canada, people cannot be denied medical help because they have "pre-existing conditions" and they use their health card in any part of the country without worrying about paying out of their own pocket. In Canada, the government can cover every individual, without exception, on 7 percent of GNP. In the USA, the HMO system eats up 9 percent GNP; and fifty million people are still uninsured. The delusion is rampant that the status quo system is not in the business of rationing care and denying certain medical procedures to those who have the insurance.

There is a difference between living in error and living in delusion. A person living in error can get new information, grab an olive branch if one is handy, and beat out a fire before it spreads; but a person in delusion is putting a match to a wildfire.

Homer is clear about the delicacy of Ate, goddess of delusion, when he says,

"her feet are delicate; for she steps not
on the ground, but walks upon the heads of men."

--The Symposium, Dialogues of Plato, (trans., R.E. Allen)

Friday, August 07, 2009


For Ahab it counts. The monumental water conceals
Moby Dick, the tempo of nightfall, and the drowned.
Leave us to our melancholy as we sail onward.

We find the Pequod and we pursue it; and that speck
On the forecastle is him. The sea stabs at us; and a cry
Is heard, "Have you seen the white whale?" The others
Become men, our discovered country, as the Rachel leans
In their direction. We have also run hard on the whale,
Upon the plundered ocean. Ahab, help us.

Do not hurry us to the end of time, going to seed
In rooms full of rag dolls without our lost children,
Or escaped to some such tattooed island, weeping
Beside the stumps of trees in a burned orchard,
Unrecognizable. We are not unreasonable.
But it is not in Ahab's nature to help us.

How can we leave our lost children? You who rage,
You won't help us? You with your elbows on the maps?
Whereas we have only your Ishmael now, who alone
Survives; let his charmed life be enough.

Leave us to our melancholy as we sail onward.

Our seaworthy Rachel means what to us? She resembles
The good ship the Argonauts took up on their shoulders
When Jason reminded them that they must carry the mother,
She, who once carried them. A wave, an inscrutable sea,
Almost a dream, lays us out on dry land.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

grayson harper CHENEY

Cheney comes on the talk shows
and talks about the good old days
when he and his buds were the big
kahunas who ran the show
and told everyone to kiss their ass.
Sometimes they'd drop
firecrackers in a cocktail glass

and watch the wait staff lose their wits.
And they were always hiding the gardener's tools;
they'd make him climb the roof
to retrieve a shovel or a rake.
The maid opened her thermos one morning
and found a snake.

Warm nights
they threw off their clothes
and ran naked through the sprinklers.
George pounced on a frog
as it hopped through the grass.
Cheney pinned it to a wall and called it fate.
They sat around throwing darts
while it twitched and scraped.

Now and then a cat would appear
in the library or the Lincoln bedroom.
Someone—he can't remember who—
tied an orange tabby to a curtain rod
then poured water down its throat
just to see what it would do.

They dumped a keg of gin in the goldfish pond one time.
They blindfolded a goose, then hung it from a clothesline.

Cheney says they had a thing for dogs.
Someone would bring them over in a van
and drop them off at night,
dogs of every shape and color:
poodles, retrievers, borzois, beagles,
foxhounds, otter hounds, red-bone
coonhounds, border collies, beaucerons,
old english sheepdogs,
welsh corgis, tibetan spaniels,
pekingese, chihuahuas, great danes,
dobermans and pugs.

They hung them from a pipe
and beat them with clubs.

Cheney's voice is quiet and bland
like a clerk or a sexton.
The reporters nod and smile
and ask him gentle questions.

When he's finished with the scene
he's carried off in a limousine.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Our President in Africa: "No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or if police can be bought off by drug traffickers."
Really? Is he talking about their country? Or ours? Isn't he describing what happened on Wall Street? Where's the investigation for all that? Why are bankers being rewarded for thievery instead of punished? Why are the folks who were in on the fix now entrusted with the repair work? And we certainly know that our entire government, from the President on down are bought by the corporations, the banks, the health industry, the whole works.

Obama: "No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top. . . No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery."
And even as he utters these words, Mr. Obama's Justice Department has sought to throw out Habeas Corpus at Bagram Air Base, and is arguing for the right to detain individuals without the benefit of lawyers or trials--even if they have been acquitted of all crimes! And, despite what this president may say, torture continues.

Yet, without even a hint of irony, Mr. Obama winds up saying, "That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there. Now is the time for that style of governance to end."
Oh, Really? So I can't help but wonder: is hypocracy now simply a part of the equipment of being President of the United States? How is it possible for us to be parading around the globe telling everyone else how to live, how to make a "democracy" when the mote in our own eye is as big as a battleship?

What makes us think that we're not laughing stocks when we do that?

The world is watching us. The world is watching Mr. Obama. I hope he doesn't blow it.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Gov. Sarah Palin, channeling Gen. Douglas MacArthur, spun her fabulous fable in front of cameras, for her true believers. Resigning from the office of governor, with the blood of the world's most beloved moose on her hands, she behaved as if nothing had happened. Alaska would take care of itself; and in her view the sky was the limit, and she could free up her schedule to pursue the most powerful access to killing machines that presently exists, in Washington DC.

The bootheels of our civilizing force and the stamp of America on everything, is what Sarah is about; and the rest of the world is just a fresh kill, dressed out like poor Bullwinkle. Palin is worse than Boris Badenov and his sidekick Natasha, put together. Palin is the ammo queen, the absurd pinup for our shoot 'em up, militarized culture: a demon-banishing, burn-them-at-the-stake alternative; if President Obama should prove inadequate in his increasingly deceptive and secretive mission of "change you can believe in".

A dishonest leader will be exposed in good time. Before long the witnesses will strip him of his mask. Look at the struggle in Iran, where Iranians find themselves transfixed by the martyrs' blood; it's obvious that the spellbinding effect of their solidarity remains with us, as we are moved deeply; and these images stay with us long after the screen has gone dark. To witness the bravery of protesters in the streets, recalls the indignation that brings such strong resolve to the young. And when Iranians of all ages march in profound silence in their millions--even without words--they inspire us to understand something deeper in their history.

Bush, our former president, continually waged low level, covert war against that country; and his legacy builds on past interference in Iran's history, continuing the hope some have, of sowing social discord there. In America, those who take to the streets have been neatly blacked-out in the mass media; the parent corporations and their boards of directors, and their masters, control television and have drawn down a curtain, effectively screening off dissident behavior. We are so saturated as a nation with disinformation and propaganda, so dulled by a deadened, phony political life, that the minute we see something halfway real, it's not surprising that we feel somewhat more alive, as we watch these events unfold.

As a child, it was fun to watch The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. At the end of their comic escapades the two friends managed to frustrate the cranked-up scheming of the fumbling and somehow funny villains, Boris and Natasha. Usually at the end of the show the friends ("moose and squirrel") would reflect on what had happened, and sometimes would come up with an unexpectedly touching lesson, or moral of the story. So we're on our own. It just gets harder to explain the moral now that Bullwinkle is dead, so to speak. If you know what I mean.

I've been searching for what to say to Iranians for whom I feel great respect. I suspect there was foul play in Iran's election; others contest that I am naive. But repression is a language unto itself, and the exaggeration of violence, which is then added to the wearing down, the erosion of what sovereignty the people have, is expressed in the people's sense of loss and injustice. This is an indictment of any government that takes advantage of its people. Along with the issue of fraud is the politics of a cosmetic democracy.

The moral of the story is not just that a veneer of respectability covers some religious people, and a few of them are not worthy of that respect. Palin in our country represents people whose religious and ideological convictions confer rights to do the meanest things to those who are not like them, for as long as the believers can feel no remorse. This has been going on since the beginning of our country. They believe God blesses them when they look down on others, when they take without asking. The underlings are reduced to slavery and the slavemasters feel entitled to the forced labor.

No, my Iranian friends, the real moral is that we are fighting for the same things, under the eyes of those leaders who scowl at us, in our cosmetic democracies.

Happy 4th of July! I wish there were more ways to make Sarah Palin look funny.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Maybe some day this country will grow up and realize that sex is a fairly routine activity, and what people choose to do in private behind closed doors, whether inside or outside their marriage, should have no bearing on one's ability to govern. At that point, maybe we will be able to get over it and laugh it off when the Bill Clintons and Governor Mark Sanfords of the world go out and screw around. Big f'n deal. Who the hell cares? And maybe, just maybe, we can skip the charade of the philanderer making these overtly tearful public displays of mea culpas; here it is going on, what?--two weeks?--and Sanford is still blathering on about it, while insisting that God wants him to stay on as governor of South Carolina. (It truly becomes a gut-ache when the God card is played.) Wisely (for once) Sanford's wife has chosen to stay in the background rather than expose herself to the usual public disgrace and humiliation of the "good" wife doing the "we-will-weather-this-together-I-will-stand-by-this-schmuck-no-matter-what" routine. John Edwards' wife has written a book about his affair, for Godsake, and is now making the talk-show circuit! The whole thing is so ridiculous and absurd and sickening, and it's long past time that we threw it overboard as a cultural event, as we have mostly already done with public hangings and lynchings. I keep waiting for the one guy among all these idiots who will actually stand up to the press for once and say the very thing that may put an end to this childishness once and for all. I would have thought Clinton was smart enough to say it, but no, he fell in the same trap as all the others, and tried to lie his way out of it. At which point, everyone on the planet who wasn't born yesterday knew what the sonofabitch was up to. So what should the answer be when asked that deadly question by the press?, i.e., "What were you doing with that girl?"

Simple. "It's none of your damn business." Now, what's so difficult about that?

Monday, May 25, 2009

copeland morris THE HERON

The heron stands where the lily was.
He makes himself visible with a slight
Movement, where his feathers were drawn
On undisturbed water, pond and marsh by
Shadow, canals connecting rows of houses.
Unreal before he was real; it was as if
Vertical lines could cast no shadow.

Just as harvest is the moon's omen
And the sun whispers when it's time to die;
The art of magic expresses something else.
Even ones and zeros can break the handcuffs
Of sheriffs. The heron places his stillness
In each of us; and he in his beauty is greater
In tall grass and still water where he disappears.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Back in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, the infamous Torquemada didn't have to bother producing the "metrics" or data that would prove the productiveness of torture. This is because the confessions of so-called heretics had no intrinsic significance. Nearly everyone confesses under torture, regardless of whether they have anything important to confess. Torture, after all, is an instrument of terror. Former Vice-President Cheney was an advocate of torturing prisoners in US military custody. He still crows about it; he is still quoted on cable news, saying that we need more waterboarding, more criminal mistreatment of our prisoners, more and more of the inhumanity--and only then will we be safe as a nation.

Whatever it is that makes civilization so civilized went missing during the Bush and Cheney administration. Admittedly, there have been crimes tucked away from sight by this National Security State, since the Vietnam War ended; but the vulgarisms and the crimes committed wantonly by the past administration have represented such a break with traditions and law, as to leave most of us dumbfounded or in a state of shock. With torture policy released through the chain of command, these leaders severed all ties with decency, soiling themselves and their country.

It was frankly disconcerting to see how wildly the staff at Langley, CIA Headquarters, cheered President Obama, when he paid them a visit recently, and gave assurance that none of their interrogators would be brought up on charges for "following orders". On the other hand, our new president, to his credit, has signaled his willingness to let justice take its course, if evidence points toward the architects, major figures in the former administration. Those who manipulated and subverted the law, and the decision makers who threw in their lot with the torturers, will need lawyers if they hope to make a defense in court.

The Bush White House was at war with law, against both US law and international legal norms, which were the law of the land under treaty obligations the US government had supported and signed.

Sam Stark's 2007 February essay in Harper's, Flaming Bitumen, Romancing the Algerian War, builds upon Alistair Horne's historical account of the Algerian war of independence in the 1950s.
[Historian Alistair Horne] shows the psychological trauma [torture] imposes on those ordered to commit it, as well as the corrosion of military discipline and morale that spreads as exceptions to the laws of war become the norm. Donald Rumsfeld, it is reassuring to know, received a personal copy of A Savage War of Peace, alerting him to such relevant passages as the chilling words of Paul Teitgen, a former hero of the Resistance, who, as secretary-general of Algiers, recognized in Algerian prisoners "profound traces of the cruelties and tortures that I personally suffered fourteen years ago in the Gestapo cellars." "Once you get into the torture business,' Teitgen told Horne in an interview, "you're lost...All our so-called civilization is covered with a varnish. Scratch it, and underneath you find fear." " (my bold)
Fear, wearing a mask of bravado and daring, could be seen on the faces of those French colons who were proud to have their pictures taken for the bloody news stories, standing in front of heaps of Arab corpses, men whom they had tortured and executed. French men and women reading the stories, absorbed in the photos, were horrified at the cost of "victory" in Algiers. How could they live in a world with their Arab brothers, those who presumably belonged to the same culture, the same language, after such crimes had been committed? The conclusion, the consensus in metropolitan France, was that such a victory could never be worth the cost.

Americans still have to live in the same world with populations its military is regularly mutilating and killing. This is a war in which no end is predicted. A war that has included torture of captives: waterboarding, beatings, extreme sensory deprivation for men in solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, stress positions, terrorizing with dogs, sexual humiliation, anal rape with broomsticks and other objects;...and the list goes on.

America's leaders have yet to explain how a war waged at such a cost, a war that is never contained, but always expanding, can either be won, or end.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


CNN simplifies it for you: civilized nations si, pirates no. The human interest story of an American merchant captain tossed into the lifeboat and his voyage through dread in the hands of three Somalian pirates, in waters off the Horn of Africa, is one of those stirring soap operas you won't forget until a few days have passed. Watching CNN and Fox News, it becomes more and more evident that the public is being constantly doped up on yellow journalism, fear, and sentimentality. And news anchor, Wolf Blitzer, is titillated by the suggestion that news broadcasts are not so much about informing the viewers, as in making sure they take a timely delivery on all the things they would be pleased to learn. For instance, the saga of the Portugese Waterdog that the Obama children have named, Bo.

The orchestra sat on its hands; there was no crescendo of Victory at Sea when three pirates were shot dead, in a combined operation of Navy Seals and the US ships and aircraft that supported the operation. One is breathless, nonetheless. And who isn't impressed at such a daunting rescue? And all snark and sarcasm aside, who is unmoved by a beaming, bearded American sea captain, who is relieved that his ordeal is over?-- not to mention the sight of his wife in tears, in the grips of laryngitis, barely able to speak, to stammer out her thankfulness to the heroes who saved her husband?-- and flanked by older children, a daughter and a son, with stunned expressions on their faces? And then the mood of grandeur, the pièce de resistance: to make it an affair of state, to ennoble it, the report cuts to the president of the USA, Barack Obama.

But what have we not been told? What is the backstory? What events preceded this week's episode of Heroes? Well it's only been a short while since the Bush administration basically hired the Ethiopian army to invade Somalia, and topple its Islamic government. The Ethiopians have withdrawn, leaving the nation prostrate and in the grip of political anarchy. Then there is the consideration of what so-called civilized nations have been doing in the waters off the coast of Somalia.

London Independent Columnist, Johann Hari, writes in Huffington Post that European nations have abused the fishing grounds off the coast of Somalia; and since an earlier collapse of government in that nation, have polluted its sea lanes and coast.
In 1991, the government of Somalia - in the Horn of Africa - collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia's unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the men we are calling "pirates" have emerged.
To summarize this little pocket of history, it seems that at the very moment that the Islamic Courts government had brought some stability to Somalia, in the belly of the beast that was Bush/Cheney, was brought forth the cunning plan to push the people of that country back into chaos, using a little Ethiopian muscle. Most Americans are sadly unaware of the chain of events; and cable news and the big network establishments are nothing if not scrupulous at keeping them dumbed down and barefoot, as they stare vacantly at the latest action thriller, while Wolf Blitzer holds the simple script for simple minds. The power and majesty of the United States of America.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

copeland morris DRAWING WATER

A belief in words is like water captured,
What you drew from the well, whatever
The sketch became under your hand. It was
Dressed up like a raincloud. It lay in the swells
Of the ocean. It had as many moods
As the seasons reveal, shifting as I longed
To be near you. There is a rhythm in what
I would say; though when I heard your voice
My own words were paralyzed. Years become
Reservoirs into which thoughts have pooled.
There is a Hausa saying--"It is with the body's
Water that one draws water from the well."

Sunday, February 22, 2009


This week the doomsaying over the world financial crisis became hard to ignore. In a Reuters report, Paul Volcher was quoted as saying, "I don't remember any time, maybe even in the Great Depression, when things went down quite so fast, quite so uniformly around the world". George Soros likened the current tailspin to the financial collapse of the Soviet Union, a turbulence more severe than the Great Depression. (Pedro Nicolaci da Casta/Juan Logoria reporting)

According to Soros, the financial system worldwide has "effectively disintegrated".

Topping the list of radical measures to meet this crisis, we have the idea of nationalizing the banks, and the less discussed notion of abolishing the Federal Reserve altogether, and printing "greenback" dollars, as Lincoln did during the Civil War. This was money not borrowed nor beholden to interest payments, but created from whole cloth, so to speak, on the full faith and credit of the USA.

The world today has stepped into a hole, and no one yet knows how deep it is. The terrible danger is in not being able to put a reliable number on the numerous debts and defaults that the banks are holding.

The best argument for nationalization of the banks is that it would make all the "toxic" papers visible. This would act like a formal bankruptcy proceeding; by audit and evaluation of all holdings, examiners could be able to advise as to invalidating the credit swaps or making the necessary markdown of assets. Some debt would be written off in this process.

Without such examination and consolidation, it seems futile to try piecemeal bailouts for banks, on the order of a $trillion or a $trillion-and-a-half, against an occult debt, that may run to the tens of trillions of dollars. But this is the avowed policy of the new administration, plus a supplement of around $800 billion to stimulate the economy.

Abraham Lincoln believed a government had the power to issue its own currency, and was not bound or obligated to borrow it from private sector sources. The Federal Reserve is a collection of powerful banking interests, which have insinuated their way into the status of a "semi-governmental agency", by the power of compound interest. We might want to change that at some point.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travelled to China this week, with hat in hand, it has been said. And under the circumstances, the Chinese are not altogether happy with the posturing of certain American politicians, who accuse China of manipulating its currency, the yuan. And the Obama administration includes some of those trying to scapegoat China; but the light has not yet gone on in American heads to acknowledge that US lifestyles are to some degree negotiable, contrary to longstanding belief, since all other nations are beset by this calamity. There is undoubtedly a lot Americans can learn from the collapse of the late Soviet Union. Dmitry Orlov recently gave a speech to a small audience in San Francisco, where he outlined what he calls Social Collapse Best Practices, a concise guide to coping with the kind of meltdown the Russians experienced; and he describes how they were able to survive that ordeal. Orlov has long predicted that the US was headed for the kind of breakdown that befell the Soviets.

Thanks is owed to blogger, badger, for catching a translation of this excellent report by Frederico Rampini, from Italy's La Reppublica:

The palpable tension on the upper floors of China's leadership structure is proportionate to the wealth that Beijing has entrusted to its great overseas debtor. Fang Shangpu, the head of China's foreign exchange bureau, makes this very clear: "America must protect the interests of foreign investors. Its currency is China's number one foreign investment". With 2,000 billion dollars in official foreign currency reserves, Beijing's central bank is the richest on the planet. But that war-chest is subject to de facto sterilization. Its destination is obligatory: US Treasury Bonds, yet again, as always. In 2008 China bought a further 700 billion of them. Every US treasuries auction would fail if the Chinese central bankers did not turn up to play the role of kind-hearted creditor. And this situation continues despite the exchange-rate losses they have already suffered : since China's renminbi abandoned its fixed parity to the dollar (in July 2005) it has risen by 21%, thereby decreasing the value of China's dollar investments to an equal extent.

Meanwhile, the social costs of the US locomotive's crash are extremely severe. In the third quarter of 2008, as a result of the fall in exports, China's growth rate was brutally halved: 6.8% in GDP growth as compared to 13% in 2007. Following the mass layoffs in the textile, toys and electronics industries, the unemployed workers forced back into the rural economy now officially number around 27 million. Over a million and a half young college graduates too are unemployed: an even more politically explosive army of discontents. Now that Beijing needs to mobilize all available resource to relaunch its domestic growth, it is frustrating to remember those 2,000 billion dollars "frozen" to finance America.

The straw that has broken the camel's back is the revival of protectionism in Washington. First Treasury secretary Tim Geithner accused Beijing of "manipulating" its currency. Then came the Buy American clause in the 787 billion dollar public expenditure package launched by Congress, with Chinese steel as its number-one target. Xi Jinping, China's vice president and designated heir to the supreme leadership position, is furious. He too briefly abandons the language of diplomacy: "Even in this crisis", says Xi, "certain westerners seem to have nothing better to do than pick on us. I would like to remind them of some of our merits. Firstly, China does not export revolutions or hostile ideologies. Secondly, we do not export poverty or hunger. Thirdly, we do not export armed conflicts".

The seething resentment in these words does not yet mark the end of Chimerica. With Mrs Clinton the regime's leaders will rehearse the continuation of a constructive dialogue, convinced as they are that aggravating the global recession would benefit no-one. But in the light of mainstreet America's increasing hostility towards them, the leadership of the People's Republic is studying a "Plan B". Its most audacious moves include using the country's massive currency reserves for new purposes: to finance buy-ups of deposits of raw materials in other countries, ranging from Australia to Africa to Latin America. A reconversion that would have heavy consequences: a blow to the stability of the dollar, a worrying shortfall in treasury funding for Washington. However, the decision to step over this fatal threshold has not yet been reached: "We hate you but we can't do without you" is still the key sentiment in the present phase. But even Confucian patience has its limits.
What should we make of the power relationship between China and the US? One is the ascendant power, the other a power in decline. The world's manufactured goods are being made by the lender, while the borrower is the world's most strung out consumer and debt addict. Grab those dollars till they scream, for one day the bottom will fall out.

Friday, February 06, 2009

grayson harper TERRORISTS

Those red devils that whipped
Custer at Little Big Horn
rode into battle spangled and costumed
or stripped naked painted
red yellow charcoal black the color of death
Some decorated their faces with dragonflies
they put handprints on their horses' flanks
drew rings around their horses' eyes
dangled human scalps from spears.
They were terrorists. They flew
screaming through the blue coat troops
unhinging them so they could scarce think
how to work their carbines
scared so bad they shit themselves
then shooting, stabbing,
bashing out their brains with stone clubs.
So there's nothing new about our folk
feeling entitled to invade and murder
darker skinned people in their homes
or slaughter their women and children
while they sleep in their beds,
only these particular ones apparently
weren't interested in our brand of
but instead decided
maybe they should give the stupid
fuckers something to think about.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The carnage Israel is committing in Gaza is entering its third week. This is more of a mass murder than a war, with Palestinian deaths now numbering over 900. Israeli deaths will add up to only 15 or so as things stand now. What is happening is a disproportionate destruction of the weak by the strong. The Israeli Air Force is bombing what is essentially a vast ghetto of one-and-a-half million people. This ghetto is cut off from most outside aid, and has been under economic siege by Israel long before the present hostilities broke out.

American congressmen and US media giants are endlessly versatile when it comes to marketing a case for the Israelis, no matter what cruelty is visited on women and children in Gaza by the IDF. It appears as a novelty whenever any instance provides the Palestinian side of the story.

The Israeli blockade of the necessities of life, supplies they have held up and limited to an insufficient trickle of humanitarian goods, has choked life in Gaza, and made it impossible for the local generators to run, which provide water for a great many families. How often has it been reported that such a strangulation of humanitarian goods is itself an act of war against Gaza and its people?

And what is the sin that the Palestinians committed? Not the unguided rockets which one can say are insignificant compared to the US armaments that the Israelis are using on schools and ambulances, and on neighborhoods where they have wiped out whole families. No this is not a very credible pretext for Israel. The real offence for which the Palestinians are so harshly condemned to death, is that they refuse to renounce the Hamas government they themselves elected. This is what the Israeli leaders will not tolerate.

And then there is the cynical timing of this slaughter to consider. And the veto by the US ambassador to the UN, blocking a cease fire resolution. Here we are at a moment in the US where presidential power is about to be transferred to a new administration. The Bush administration in its last days in office is rushing sophisticated weapons to the leaders of Israel, bunker busting bombs supposedly meant to target Hamas fighters.

And very little light is shed in America upon the tactics Israel pursued against the lawful Hamas government, the habitual use of extrajudicial murder, in what are called its "targeted assassinations", orchestrated as a political front of war against Hamas leaders, the arrest and incarceration of parliamentarians and holders of executive office, or the real campaign of terror against municipal government, the murder of policemen and police cadets.

How should responsible people outside this tragedy react when they learn that half the population of Gaza are only children?

Under international law Israel bears the responsibility, enumerated in that body of law, since it is acknowledged to be an occupying power, with respect to the Palestinians. Under these laws occupiers are expected to behave as if they were the responsible grownups. This ongoing massacre in Gaza exposes the lie of all of Israel's professed humanitarian language and talk of self-defense. There is no self-defense that can be claimed by a powerful oppressing nation over subject peoples.

An article by Nir Rosen, Gaza: the logic of colonial power, exposes the hypocrisy under which the powerful get to name terrorists and define what constitutes terror:
I have often been asked by policy analysts, policy-makers and those stuck with implementing those policies for my advice on what I think America should do to promote peace or win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. It too often feels futile, because such a revolution in American policy would be required that only a true revolution in the American government could bring about the needed changes. An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.

Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims' struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed … these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose. [...]

Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.

copeland morris ENTWINED SONNET

Her shaded eyes, her necklace black velvet, onyx. Anguish she spoke; and he carried on, obsessed As only a young man could. An odd harm...