Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blue Christmas

Much to my surprise, I found, in a recent PBS Christmas special by Andrea Bocelli, that the most beautiful, moving and apt song was Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” What surprised me even more was that Bocelli sang the song in a duet with country singer Reba McEntire. While this prepared me for something trite and mushy, the song revealed, in Bocelli’s Italian-accented, pitch-perfect rendering, an elegantly simple melody—which, with the familiar melancholy lyrics, made it almost perfect for the season.

            I’ll have a blue Christmas without you,
            I’ll be so blue thinking about you,
            Decorations of red on a green Christmastree
            Won't be the same, if you're not here with me

And when those blue snowflakes start fallin'
And when those blue melodies start callin'
You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white,
But I'll have a blue, blue Christmas.

            Now clearly, Elvis wrote “Blue Christmas” as a kind of love song: while his love will be “doin’ all right with her Christmas of white,” he’ll be having a blue, blue Christmas without her. But the song works for almost everyone. Christmas is traditionally white and bright, sparkly and happy with friends and lovers and family all gathered in joyous harmony to celebrate the birth of the savior whose arrival promises peace, salvation and forgiveness to the world. As everyone knows, though, the reality is anything but. To begin with, the man-god of Christianity is almost nowhere to be found in the modern American (and increasingly worldwide) Christmas. The trading of gifts has become the centerpiece of this once holy day. Rather than a celebration of spiritual renewal, the day has become an orgy of gift buying and bargain hunting that stresses out even the most relaxed shopper. One has to calculate which friend or family member to gift, and in what measure: what did he/she give me last year, will my gift be a fair exchange, will he/she like it, will the kids remember this Christmas as the best ever, will their gifts induce sufficient envy for show-and-tell at school, and on and on. Frantic shopping for exhausted parents consumes the weeks before the holiday, as do arrangements for dinners, parties, card sending and painful decisions about whom to include and not to include. Whether or not one is staying within prudent bounds monetarily, the season’s spending is constantly being rated by economists as either sufficiently reckless to rescue the retailing year, or anemic to such an extent that businesses will be hard pressed to stay solvent. For the Christmas shopping season has become so central to all retailing, and retail sales to the economy, that if consumers don’t overextend themselves and max out their credit cards, the whole economic structure trembles. It is as if not shopping—being reasonable—has become the primary sin in America. All of which is a roadmap for the “blues.”
            And this doesn’t even get to the interpersonal spectrum. All the pressure to perform, whether with the right presents or the proper and traditional Christmas decorations, ritual fare on the table, and holiday hilarity every minute, can’t help but result in disappointment and strife. No one really ever gets precisely what he or she wants, and if by some miracle (or pre-Christmas agreement) it happens, it’s simply not surprising enough to satisfy that inner childhood memory everyone carries around. The food never quite measures up to that inner family memory either. Then the undercurrent of resentment either stays suppressed and causes what the Italians call “agita,” or it explodes on the wings of too much egg nog and brandy into open warfare. We all know what that’s like.
            So when Elvis Presley wrote his corny love song, he wrote more than he knew. Our modern Christmas is always without a “you” we are missing—whether through breakup, as Elvis meant it to be, or through absence of a more permanent kind. More, it is without the central “you” of the holiday, Christ himself. It is without his central gift to the world—peace and love and harmony and forgiveness. It is given over, instead, to the opposite of his humble birth in a manger: to the exaltation of pride and wealth and excess and an orgy of consumption that is sickening in its wastefulness, but is a boon to the profit mongers who rule the holiday as surely as if they had invented it. And though it is surely understandable that people everywhere in the northern hemisphere want and need a little light festival to fend off the coming blues of winter, there can be little doubt that blue has increasingly become its emblematic color.
            Who knew Elvis would be the one to provide its most perfect expression?

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Good Guy With a Gun

You really can’t make this stuff up. The National Rifle Association, after a long period of silence, has finally responded to the Newtown Elementary School massacre. Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, held a press conference today (Dec. 21, with no questions allowed), to offer his solution to mass school shootings. Here’s what he said:

"I call on Congress today to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation."

La Pierre explained that his proposed program, which he dubbed the “National School Shield,” would be headed by former Arkansas Republican representative, Asa Hutchinson. After adding, apparently in agreement with Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert, that “Innocent lives might have been spared,” if armed security had been present at the Newtown school, he summarized the NRA position with this well-prepared sound bite:

            "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Now there’s a philosopher for you, and one with great sympathies for innocent children too.  LaPierre resembles the aforementioned Louis Gohmert in that regard. Gohmert, on December 16 (perhaps anticipating LaPierre) expressed sorrow at the death of Sandy Hook principal, Dawn Hochsprung, by saying to Chris Wallace on Fox News,

"Chris, I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids…"

            So there it is, folks, the simple solution of our right-wing geniuses. Just arm teachers or principals to shoot first and ask questions later, to make schools more like prisons than they already are—with armed guards at every gate—and you solve the problem just like that. As to what little children or even big ones will think about having to be locked in and guarded (with assault rifles?) to ensure a “safe” environment for learning, well that’s a possible downside we’ll just have to put up with. Guns, are, after all, one of the constants in American history that kids should learn about anyway.

            Now that I think of it, perhaps a little history would be appropriate here. Robert Parry, a fearless journalist and creator of Consortium News (, provided us with some of that history—that behind the adoption of the Bill of Rights, including the 2d Amendment so dear to gun owners and the NRA. The Bill of Rights was in truth a late concession by conservatives like James Madison, who actually considered such a bill unnecessary because the already-agreed-upon Constitution specifically “set limits on the government’s power and contained no provisions allowing the government to infringe on the basic liberties of the people.” But Madison finally agreed to 10 amendments to spell out the people’s rights, and thank god for that.

            As to the second amendment, which reads—“A well regulated militia(,) being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”—its meaning was clarified, according to Parry, at the Second Congress when the government enacted the Militia Acts (there were two: the first on May 2, 1792, the second on May 8, 1792). They decreed that all white males of military age were conscripted, and should provide themselves with a bayonet, a musket, shot, and other equipment needed to serve in a militia. This lends credence to the long-held idea, and plainly implied in the amendment’s actual wording—recently overturned by the current idiots on the Supreme Court—that serving in a militia was central to the right to bear arms. The idea, again according to Parry, was to ensure the “security” of the young nation. To do this, there needed to be militias armed and ready not only to counter possible aggression from European powers like Britain, France and Spain—all with claims in the Americas—but also to subdue Native American tribes on the frontier, and to “put down internal rebellions, including slave revolts.” The wealthy southern planters who made up a large portion of the new nation’s most prominent citizens—Madison, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe—were especially concerned about keeping slaves under control. Real estate speculators like George Washington were likewise concerned about keeping restive Indians from decreasing the land value of his western holdings.

            Thus, it is clear that the Second Amendment so precious to conservatives had nothing to do with some idealistic ‘freedom’ for nature’s individual noblemen, Americans, to possess guns. If anything, those who wrote the Second Amendment would be alarmed at the numbers of the “masses,” whom they feared above all, running around with high-powered lethal weapons. Their chief concern was security—and security, as we have seen so vividly in the past fifty years, is compromised by the free availability of millions of lethal weapons (300 million weapons in a nation of 310 million).

            The only thing that is really secured by our absurd gun policies is the ability of weapons manufacturers to take advantage of the American male’s adolescent power fantasies to make huge profits.

            Profits before life—it could almost be the mantra of American capitalism.

Lawrence DiStasi

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown, Oh Newtown

I feel compelled, more than usual, to write about Friday’s massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. To begin with, I grew up in southern Connecticut, though in the once-industrial center of Bridgeport, not in the much tonier community that is Newtown. No matter, Newtown yet has a ring for me made grimly relevant by the massacre: my mother used to say, when we kids were driving her nuts, “I’ll end up in Newtown.” That’s because its claim to fame in those days was a state mental hospital, known as Fairfield State Hospital, which operated from 1933 to 1995 when it was shut down. It housed 4,000 patients at its peak, encompassed many many buildings, and used to do sweet things like shock therapy, electroshock therapy, and frontal lobotomy.
            Today, the site has been taken over by the town, most buildings razed, and new municipal and sports complexes erected on the grounds, but its legacy remains—most grimly when I heard about Friday’s shootings, and was thus already prepared for my conclusion: yet another nut case with access to America’s favorite weapons. 
            As it turned out, that wasn’t a bad guess. The shooter’s name was Adam Lanza, and so far we know that his mother, whom he apparently killed first, at home, was somehow connected to the school—not as a teacher, as initially reported, but perhaps as a classroom aide. Adam, around 20 years old, fit the typical mass murderer profile: not very sociable, nor competent at anything useful, but quite bright. According to most reports, on Friday he dressed himself up in combat gear—black fatigues, bulletproof vest—and, after shooting his mother in the face, drove her car to the Sandy Hills Elementary School and burst in firing. He had the weapons we’re all familiar with by now: a Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol (probably with extended 30-round magazine), a Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol (also with extended magazine) and, either with him or in his car, a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle. All were said to have been registered in the name of his mother, which makes one wonder whether she was a gun fan too, or whether she did the craziest thing of all and purchased the guns for her son. I heard one analyst last night speculate on what may have been the motive: Adam, a son living in a home absent of a divorced father, may have been jealous of his mother’s attention to her little students, and so killed her, and then as many of them as he could to magnify his statement.
            But, in truth, the latest reports cannot find any school connection for Nancy Lanza, so this could be nonsense. More important, this speculation about motive misses the real point—one I’ve made several times before. It’s not what prompted yet another American kid to murder. It’s the fact that someone in this chaotic mental state had easy access to the most lethal weapons on the planet. Police speculated that he probably fired 100 rounds or more. Imagine. Hundreds of bullets spraying everywhere in a school, or a classroom (one gets ill thinking of what may have gone on in a single classroom) filled with little kids, in seconds. Minutes. And in their wake, six or seven adults, mostly teachers protecting their charges, lying dead (including the school principal); and no less than twenty children, mostly kindergarteners, their worst nightmares having come true. My first reaction was “who could slaughter children like this?” “What species of monstrosity could do such a thing?” (Again, recent coroner’s reports say that most victims were shot at close range—very intentionally) But again, that’s not the key here—though the emotional impact of babies being willfully snuffed out like this might have some effect in the main debate. The key is the weapons. Insane people (and, in my view, anyone who keeps such weapons in a home is insane) can buy weapons like these, and even more lethal ones, with little more than a credit card. Gun shows proudly display these and other high-firepower wares for the great “sportsmen” of America; for the legions of paranoid assholes who argue that the only way to stop violence is to be armed to the teeth oneself.  There have been photos online today of Israeli teachers with assault rifles over their shoulders watching over their kids. And one idiot commented that American teachers and schools should do the same: every teacher in every classroom should have a weapon in her desk or closet and be prepared to use it. Christ Jesus (the great unwashed no doubt would argue that even Christ would use a gun if he were an American).
            So get ready to hear the whole weary song being repeated in the coming days. It’s already started. We need more gun control. We need to have stricter licensing. We need a prohibition on assault weapons (pistols, like the Glock, are just fine; as are hunting rifles, in this view). But then the counter-attack: what about our Constitutional right to bear arms? What about our need to protect ourselves from all the criminals out there? all the terrorists out there? all the dark malcontents who plot daily to rob us blind out there?
            And the whole history of America will come into play once again. The nation, these United States, and before that these thirteen colonies, were born in violence. Guns were viewed as the prime necessity in a land that was being occupied, brazenly stolen, from its original inhabitants. Because these ‘savages’ had a nasty way of resisting their dispossession; so the only ‘good’ one was a ‘dead’ one. Guns were also the prime necessity where human beings were shipped in chains from Africa and sold as chattel laborers—because these slaves had the nasty habit of resisting the ‘natural law’ of their enslavement and tended to run away. So the only way to keep one’s ‘property’ from disappearing, or worse, turning on its owner, was to keep it sighted down the barrel of a gun—and to lynch a few every now and then for didactic purposes. What’s sad is that the very same arguments are used now—updated for popular modern consumption, but essentially the same. Property must be protected. Rights must be protected. No true American can depend on the government. So the best protection, the only way to protect what you have, is a good gun. Or several.
            We all know what comes next. The pusillanimous pieces of excrement we elect to the United States Congress, some of them, will make a few noises about this latest tragedy, and wring their hands over the challenge of balancing American freedoms against the safety of our children, and give heartfelt interviews on news programs and talk shows. And then every proposal will be talked out and delayed and the deaths lamented and regretted until finally the whole issue will die of neglect, and fear. Fear not of the hundreds of thousands of shootings, the deaths of innocents. But fear of the National Rifle Association and its ability to mount phone and letter-writing campaigns threatening to vote against the ‘traitorous bastards’ who would strip red-blooded Americans of their gun-toting rights.
            And we will all wait for the next massacre, and wonder, ‘now how did a nut case like that get his hands on weapons of mass destruction like that?’
            And the deaths of innocents will continue.
            Unless—and one barely has the temerity to hope—this time is different. Unless..we remember the opening line of John Milton’s most famous sonnet:
            “Avenge, O Lord, they slaughtered saints…”
            And avenging takes the form, at long last, of a gun-control law that can begin to remove, if not the occurrence, at least some of the probability that a crazy person can so easily, so quickly, slaughter so many innocents.

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, December 14, 2012

Michigan's 'Right to Work'

Everyone knows by now that the state of Michigan, one of the strongholds of American labor, on Wednesday passed a “right to work” law—meaning that non-union workers can work in jobs that are protected by union efforts, but without having to join the union that protects them. The new law was rushed through in a lame-duck session of the legislature by a solid block of Republicans, many of whom lost their seats in the recent election. The Repugs knew that if they didn’t pass the law now, they’d probably never get it through the new legislature. They also knew that their governor, Rick Snyder, elected two years ago as a ‘moderate,’ would sign the bill despite his promises not to. Michigan thereby joined 23 other states with ‘right to work’ laws—a movement that seriously threatens the very existence of unions in the United States.
            What is the result of leaving workers without union help? A story in the Dec. 12, 2012 Bloomberg News (reprinted on Yahoo News) by Leslie Patton provides some indication. The story, comparing the salaries of a McDonald’s line worker with a McDonald’s CEO, focuses on the life of Chicago native Tyree Johnson. In his 40s, Johnson works at two McDonald’s in Chicago (he needs the two jobs to try to make ends meet) as a fry cook for the princely sum of $8.25 an hour. McDonald’s CEO until July, Jim Skinner, meantime, earned $8.75 million per year (580 times what Johnson, a 20-year employee, makes). This means, as Patton points out, that Tyree Johnson would need to work about a million hours—more than a century of work—to equal the yearly pay of his boss, Skinner. This is consistent with what we’ve been hearing for years now: that the pay of America’s CEOs and other “winners” in the economic lottery has been skyrocketing (when Johnson started at McDonald’s 20 years ago, the CEO ‘only’ made 230 times his pay), especially compared to the earnings of middle and lower class Americans. And it’s gotten worse since the economic collapse of 2008-09. Patton points out that the ‘recovery,’ such as it is, has been the most uneven in recent history: the top 1% saw their earnings increase by 5.5%, while those in the bottom 80% saw their earnings fall by 1.7%. And that doesn’t even count the top 0.1% who are really raking it in. But for the likes of the bottom fifth like Tyree Johnson—whose ranks are increasing due to the downturn, with the numbers
 employed in fast-food restaurants and retail giants like Wal-Mart expanding exponentially, all at minimum wages, while the net income of their employers (McDonald’s, Yum [owners of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Kentucky Fried Chicken] and Wal-Mart) has increased by a whopping 22% since the downturn—life just keeps getting harder. Just to pay his single-occupancy hotel rent of $320 a month, Johnson needs both of his McDonald’s jobs. As to buying the $99 computer he found online (Johnson actually trained for a year and a half at a computer school), forget about it. This is one of the reasons he is attending meetings of a Workers Organizing Committee of low-wage employees hoping to get a $15/hour wage in Chicago—but it has to be done beneath the radar. McDonald’s fires workers who even hint about unions or organizing. They actually have a hit squad of skilled union busters whom they fly in to areas where union talk gets started.
            And that is the key link between Johnson and Michigan’s new law. Without unions, low-wage workers are in precisely the position factory workers were in at the end of the 19th century (and workers in Bangladesh are in now). Any one worker trying to fight the power of a corporation with money to burn and power to match was helpless. Only if workers banded together and thus wielded the power of numbers and the threat of a strike could they begin to get some traction in the struggle for better wages and better working conditions. But it wasn’t easy. Trying to organize a union could get you at least fired, and perhaps killed. But over the 20th century, conditions improved. American workers could earn a living wage sufficient to support their families, move to a decent dwelling, even send their kids to college. And most important, they had a kind of job security. Not anymore. Employers have grown increasingly bold about firing workers who try to organize—a number that has increased dramatically over the last thirty years, according to Dorothy Sue Cobble of Rutgers University. Because if workers had union protection, a corporation like Applebee’s wouldn’t be able to get away with paying some of its workers $4.95 an hour—the wage allowed for waiters and others who get tips—when they were actually washing dishes and mopping floors. Without a union, it took years, and a class action lawsuit by four workers to finally get a ruling in their favor.
            What’s hard to understand is how workers became so powerless. Workers are, after all, the most numerous group in any nation. They are the ones who turn the wheels of industry, of farming, of construction. How did it happen in a government 'of the people' that a few legislators could pass a law that eviscerates the last vestiges of people power?
            This is the story that economists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson tell in their 2010 book, Winner Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned its Back on the Middle Class. It is not a pretty story. Basically, it is the story of money and how the conservatives with money—corporations, Wall St. financiers, professionals like doctors and lawyers—decided in the late 1960s and early 1970s that they needed to act, and soon, to organize, organize, organize and use their power to influence the legislative process. A key memo from Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and soon to be a Supreme Court Justice, sounded the alarm and was passed to virtually every boardroom in the country. It urged corporations and businesses to use their money and power to turn the legislative process in their favor and away from unions and workers—mainly by means of intensive organizing and lobbying. It urged the formation of foundations to provide the intellectual propaganda to promote the glories of business and capital and “free” enterprise allegedly ‘free’ from government interference—foundations like the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and countless others.
            The corporations succeeded beyond anything they could have imagined. The surprising part is that money began to corrupt the legislative process not with Ronald Reagan, though it did then as well, but with the Carter Administration. In 1978, a major labor law reform bill to restore some rights of workers was a top priority of unions, and seemed to have the votes to pass Congress. But a delaying effort by Republicans and southern Democrats stalled the bill in the Senate by means of a filibuster. The bill faltered, and then failed. The message was clear to all: business now had the upper hand in Washington. With Ronald Reagan’s success in firing Air Traffic Controllers when they tried to strike, thus breaking their union, the power shift was almost complete. Violations of the National Labor Relations Act rose; strikes plummeted; more and more factories moved to the non-union states of the South. The results have been catastrophic for average American workers and a bonanza for upper management. In 1965, average CEO pay was about 24 times the pay of an average worker. By 2007, it was 300 times the pay of an average worker, at about $12 million per year. Nor is this just the result of a global trend, for American CEO’s earn more than twice the average for other rich nations. And when you get to the real mandarins, the hedge fund managers, the rise has been obscene: as Hacker and Pierson point out, in 2002 a hedge fund manager had to earn $30 million a year to be one of the top twenty-five managers; by 2007, a hedge manager had to make $360 million/year to make that level, and the top three managers were each earning $3 billion per year!
            Now the myth has always been: well, this is what can happen in a free-market economy. Brilliant entrepreneurs can drive the economy to ever new heights, and the government has little or nothing to do with it. Hacker and Pierson say this is nonsense. They say it very plainly: “The winner-take-all economy was made, in substantial part, in Washington (i.e. by government).” How? In three simple ways. By the way government treats unions; by the way it regulates executive pay; and by its policing (or non-policing) of financial markets. What Hacker and Pierson do is to lay out, chapter and verse, how this is done. Sometimes it is done with the passage of specific legislation, such as the passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. This bill, cleverly inserted into a budget bill, essentially prohibited any regulation of derivatives trading. And it was the pet legislative project of Senator Phil Gramm, the Republican chair of the Senate Banking Committee (who made his wife, Wendy, the head of the new Commodity Futures Trading Commission). This was the bill that allowed the wild derivatives trading that essentially brought down the economy in 2008. By that time, of course, Gramm and his wife had left the government (she to become a board member of Enron, with salary and stock income of around $1.8 million), he to the board of UBS (the Swiss-based global financial giant), which needed a massive bailout when the financial sector nearly crashed in 2008.              
            That’s right. There is always a payoff to those in government who do the bidding of the corporate giants. This is mainly done through PACs, or political action committees. The growth of corporate PACs compared to labor PACs is instructive: in 1976, there were 224 labor PACs, while in 1986, there were 261. Modest growth. Corporate PACs, though, exploded: in 1976 there were 922; by 1986, there were 2,182, outspending labor by two or three to one. This of course had its effects, and not just in reducing the power of labor unions. It also had positive effects for the top earners. First, when Jimmy Carter tried to reform the tax code by instituting more progressive taxes—especially a hike in the capital gains tax—he was met with a major offensive from business interests: they had their bought-off reps insert an amendment that not only did not raise capital gains taxes, but cut the capital gains tax rate in half. And Carter’s own Democratic Congress passed it, reducing the rate from 48% to 28%. Reagan followed with his so-called Economic Recovery and Tax Act of 1981, which reduced capital gains once again, cut the highest tax rate from 70% to 50%, and substantially reduced the estate tax (benefiting mainly the wealthy). As Hacker and Pierson summarize it, “Both parties were now locked in a struggle to show who could shower more benefits on those at the top.”
            As to the 2001 tax cuts now at issue in the struggle between President Obama and the Repugs, “more than a third went to the richest 1% of Americans—a staggering $38,500 per household per year when all took effect” (the Repugs cleverly delayed the full effects of this tax cut to the wealthy: they gave an average $600 rebate to middle income earners right away, but delayed the full benefit for their upper income cronies—7% of benefits the first year, but 51% ten years later!) And as everyone knows, people like Mitt Romney and Lloyd Blankfein now pay only 15% on their capital gains.
            Again, the key to all this has been the greater organizational money and power of the corporate and financial barons, and the reduction in organizational power on the progressive side, mainly with the demise of unions—the only organizations that used to be able to curb corporate power. Now it becomes clear why corporate-funded organizations like ALEC and all the PACs supported by the Koch Brothers and their cronies always try to initiate legislation in state houses to limit or outlaw unions—as in Michigan, Wisconsin, and so on. With unions marginalized, there is no power in the nation that can compete with corporate money and organization. The middle and poorer classes simply have no organization. And when they do manage to get something going—as with the Occupy movement of last year—they are viciously attacked both externally, by police, and internally (by agents provocateurs urging mindless violence).
            The key here, as always, is understanding. The corporations and financiers know what’s at stake, they know they’re at war, and they take appropriate, deadly action.
            What about you?

Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Palestine at the UN

In case you had any doubts about the significance of today’s (Thurs, Nov. 29) bid by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for United Nations “observer” status for Palestine, here are a few facts to chew on.
            First, Palestine is expected to prevail in the General Assembly vote by a large margin, possibly as much as two-thirds of the delegates. This will include European nations such as France, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland that have long formed a solid block against Palestine on this issue. It will not include Israel, of course, and its longtime poodle, the United States, along with its longtime poodles, Australia, Canada and Great Britain. But the opposition of these nations will have no bearing on the case: the Palestinians are on track to win this one big.
            What that means is that though they will not get full member status with voting rights, the Palestinians will have access to UN agencies and treaties, and, most importantly, the right to join the International Criminal Court (the ICC). This, in turn, will allow them to bring their cases alleging Israeli war crimes and violations of international law before the ICC. Now what any thinking person should be asking is: why should Israel and the United States and Great Britain (the Brits pledged that they would support the Palestinians in their admission bid if only they would promise NOT to seek an ICC case against Israel) worry about this? Why should the United States be putting immense pressure on Abbas to abandon his UN move, suggesting that it will cost him $200 million in development aid currently blocked in Congress, and more if Israel freezes the transfer of tax and tariff funds it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf? Isn’t Israel a law-abiding member of the international community, one of the great democracies of the Middle East?
            Well, no, it’s not. And this is what the world needs to know (not that it’s been any secret for the last 60 years, but the mainstream media, especially in the U.S., routinely buries this kind of “anti-semitic” information). The world needs to know that Israeli settlements—all of them, not just the ones President Obama convinced Netanyahu two years ago to “freeze”, and which Netanyahu has since started building again—are illegal. They are illegal specifically according to the very United Nations that Palestine is now seeking to join (actually it has been seeking full UN membership for years, and has always been blocked from full membership by, you guessed it, the United States.). In a little document called “Israeli settlements in the occupied Arab territories,” (easily searchable online) issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in April of 1996, the Human Rights Commission does the following.

1) It notes ‘with appreciation the report (E/CN.4/1996/18) submitted by the Special Rapporteur pursuant to resolution 1993/2 A of 19 February 1993, in which he recommends, inter alia, that the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land and the construction or expansion of settlements should be halted immediately..
2) Reaffirms that the installation of Israeli civilians in the occupied territories is illegal and constitutes a violation of the relevant provisions of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949..
3) Reiterates its request to the Government of Israel to comply fully with the provisions of Commission resolutions 1990/1, 1991/3, 1992/3, 1993/3, 1994/1 and 1995/3 (in other words, the several times the UN has already “reaffirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories”and with which Israel is in noncompliance)..
4) Urges the Government of Israel to abstain from installing any settlers in the occupied territories and to prevent any new installation of settlers in these territories.

            That seems plain enough to me. And what terrifies the United States and Israel and their allies is that it will be plain enough to the International Criminal Court and the whole world as well. As Francis Boyle, the renowned international lawyer and legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority for years, said today in an interview, observer status (and he made the point that Switzerland had observer status until about three years ago, so it’s not some flimsy or inconsequential status to have) will give the Palestinians the legal standing to bring the case he’s been urging them to bring for years to the ICC—the case against the illegality of the Israeli settlements. As anyone who reads can clearly see, the Israeli settlements are illegal, and such illegality is precisely what the ICC is meant to adjudicate. So the first case the Palestinians should bring, according to Boyle, is the case against the settlements. After that, it may also choose to bring the war crimes case against Israel stemming from its violations of international law in its previous (2008) invasion of Gaza. A UN report, the famous (by now infamous) Goldstone Report, in fact did find evidence of war crimes, specifically that the Israeli military attacked civilians, hospitals, schools and individual homes in Gaza (see my blog on this, “Condemning Goldstone,” Sept. 26, 2011.)
            Of course, Israel is already fulminating and threatening to take “whatever actions are necessary” if the Palestinians should “use this platform for confrontation.” Which I guess means that the Palestinians should conclude that taking Israel to court would be considered a hostile act—something like firing rockets, perhaps. And perhaps they are right. Because what Francis Boyle said in his interview suggests that this legal track may now become the next step in the long Palestinian fight for justice. He called it “a legal intifada.” The problem for Israel, and the United States, is that though legal actions may be devastating in their effect, they cannot reasonably be called violent, or war-like, or what Israel likes to call an “existential threat.” Because isn’t that what imperial nations are always prating about—the rule of law? Well, yes, but not when the wogs want to use the law. Because when “they” use the law, they can become a threat to the reigning myth—the myth that Israel, along with its propaganda ally, has long perpetrated: that Israel is innocent of any wrongdoing, that it is only trying to defend itself, and that in doing so it always abides by international norms; and that it is those lawless Palestinians and other Arab or Muslim states who pose a deadly threat to its people’s existence.
            So if the people of the world—including the benighted and propagandized people of the United States—were ever to see, via the International Criminal Court, the truth about who the criminals actually are, then the Emperor’s clothes, hair, and every other pretense of civilization would surely vanish. Who knows what might happen then? With Palestine in the UN, we just might get to see.

Update, 11/29: the General Assembly voted 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, today to give Palestine observer status at the UN. The US and Israel voted "no," joined by the powerhouse nations of Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Panama. 

Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Esty Campaign in final stage

The end of the campaign to fund Esty: A Novel/Memoir is closer than ever--a mere 6 days left until we go to press on December 1. So if you haven't yet joined the effort, there is still time. It's a communal publishing venture that rewards donors with either autographed copies of the new book, or a place on the Acknowledgments page, or both. Don't be left behind: we're about 4/5 of the way there. Join the Esty campaign by clicking on the cover icon or the link below, which will take you to the Indiegogo page. All donations, no matter how small, are deeply appreciated.

Thanks for all the help,
Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You Can't Kill Them All

One of the things that occurs to me as I watch the horror videos of Israeli airstrikes once again battering the 1.5 million defenseless people of the Gaza strip with U.S.-supplied rockets, bombs and god knows what else, is that though the Israeli military, with American help, has the capacity to kill all the Palestinians, it can’t quite bring itself to do it. This is not because its own public opinion would object. According to a report by Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada (, recent rallies by Israeli citizens and remarks by its public officials indicate that a large portion of Israelis would like nothing better. Gilad Sharon, the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, for example, recently said this:
            We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire. (emphasis added by Abunimah)
No, it’s because, despite the wonderful example of the United States (which Israel could in fact follow exactly with its arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons), Israel fears the negative world opinion that might result. This is due to the fact that most Americans still believe Israeli propaganda—that it is this lonely democracy trying to defend itself from hordes of crazed Arabs and Muslims out to destroy it.
            As to why Arabs and Muslims side with the Palestinians, neither Israel nor the United States media ever really addresses that. The “conflict” or “war” is always presented as if it just broke out spontaneously, usually when the Palestinians do something bad, and Israel has no choice but to “defend its people.” ‘They fired rockets at us. They have fired over a thousand rockets at us. They have even fired rockets as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem! And their rockets don’t try to avoid killing civilians, as ours do.’ As if the Palestinians, a refugee population under as severe a military blockade as has ever existed, could even get their hands on sophisticated rocket systems capable of precise targeting. And as if poor little Israel did nothing, has never done anything to incite that pathetic rocket fire.
            The truth, though, is that both historically and proximally, Israel has been provoking and attacking and ethnically cleansing and starving the Palestinians for the better part of a century. Most recently, they shot and killed a mentally deficient boy who wandered too close to their security fence keeping Gazans in their open-air prison. And shortly after that, eviscerated another young boy playing soccer—apparently a suspect activity for Gazans. And shortly after that brought off one of their “targeted assassinations” by killing the Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari and his son with a drone strike on his car. (Here again, the imitation of one nation’s tactics by another is haunting: after Israel’s success with these targeted killings—no arrest, no charges, no trial, just kill the bastard—the Obama administration has adopted this tactic as its favorite in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.) As to the history, a recent piece by renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappe reminds us of just how commonplace and enduring Israel’s attempt to get rid of the Palestinian people entirely has been. What Pappe reminds us—in a piece whose main burden is to show how even today, the ethnic cleansing operation known by Palestinians as the Nakba is continuing in the plan to forcefully remove 70,000 Beduoins from the Negev Desert, their home for millennia—is that the very term Nakba was first used by Israel’s military. Here is part of his discussion:
Long before the Palestinians themselves understood what was the essence of the Israeli master plan to expel them, and the far-reaching implications of the country’s ethnic cleansing, the perpetrators themselves found an adequate term in Arabic to describe it: Nakba (catastrophe)….The term was mentioned for the first time not in Arab or Palestinian sources but in Israeli military intelligence sources. It appeared in leaflets the Israeli air force distributed during those ten days in July on the eve of a very singular attack on a village or a town….The leaflets demanded in the main the “peaceful” eviction of the village and its surrounding areas. If not, the leaflets warned, the village would be severely punished. We do not have all the leaflets but here is the one rained on the huge and beautiful village of al-Tira near Haifa in the middle of July 1948:
“The sword will cut your throats without pity or compensation. If you insist and continue with your wrong doing … you should know that our airplanes, tanks and artillery will grind your village to dust, shell your houses, break your back, uproot you from your land … and your village will become a desert. Oh the people of al-Tira, if you wish to avoid a Nakba [sic] … surrender. The victorious Israeli army has already demolished the criminal hotbeds of Jaffa, Acre, Tiberias and Safad. It has occupied tens of villages in the south and the north, and this triumphant army will destroy you in several hours.” (Ilan Pappe,, 20 July 2012)
            It is, of course, this very Nakba (a term recently proscribed by an Israeli law upheld by its courts; the authorities don’t like being reminded of the murderous theft their nation has engaged in any more than Americans like being reminded of ours) and its final solution that Palestinians have been fighting in any way they can. What else can a people like the Gazans, blockaded on land, sea and air, whose airport and most other infrastructure including potable water has been destroyed, whose fishermen cannot fish, whose economy—what was left of it—was destroyed in the 2008 Israeli invasion and who now, 80% of them, live on the relief food provided by UNRWA (with Israel fiendishly calculating how many calories a day will prevent Gazans from starving, but “keep them on a diet”)—what can such people do to salvage a sliver of dignity other than protest? Other than fight back against their occupier? Other than launch a stone or a curse or a rocket?
            To be met, when they do so, by a mainstream media in the U.S. and Britain describing the resulting massacre as a “war.” A “rocket war.” As if there were two roughly equivalent nations engaged on a field of battle. As if a people with no protection whatever, no anti-aircraft system, no system of air-raid shelters, no air force, no artillery, no military equipment to speak of other than what can be smuggled in through tunnels, can be at war with one of the most modern, best-equipped, nuclear powers in the world. It’s an absurdity. There can be no war between two such antagonists. Which is really what frustrates the Israelis. If only they could go all out and flatten Gaza, as most Israelis seem to prefer. If only they could somehow magically “disappear” all of the Palestinians, not over time, not little by little as they have been doing, but instantly, quickly, with some sort of death ray that would leave no trace.            
           Fortunately, there is still an outside world, still world opinion, still a few people of conscience left in the world who can express their outrage, and more important, an elected government now in Egypt run by the elder brother of the Hamas regime in Gaza (the Muslim Brotherhood). This is why there is now talk of a cease-fire. This is why there is now a trip to the region by Hillary Clinton. This is why the Israeli army apparently won’t be unleashed for a second time in five years to go house to house on their killing spree. They know that “killing them all” would not play well on the nightly news, much less in an increasingly-inflamed Arab world. Even killing a dozen or so from one family is met with hand-wringing in the world press. So if ‘killing them all’ is to have any chance, it will probably have to be the slow holocaust that has been in progress now for over sixty years. And the world will have to go on lamenting the ‘stubborn’ nature of this ‘conflict,’ and American presidents will have to go on blessing poor Israel’s “right to defend itself” until, it hopes, as Israelis hope, there will one day be no more Palestinians to defend against.
            But oh, how long that might take. And oh, wouldn’t it be so much cleaner and easier if killing them all were still an option.
Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Esty Funding Campaign

The campaign to fund Esty: A Novel/Memoir is almost over--a mere 16 days left until I go to press on December 1. So if you haven't yet joined the effort, there is still time. It's a communal publishing venture that rewards donors with either autographed copies of the new book, or a place on the Acknowledgments page, or both. Don't be left behind: we're about 3/4 of the way there. Join the Esty campaign by clicking on the cover icon or the link below, which will take you to the Indiegogo page. All donations, no matter how small, are deeply appreciated.

Thanks a million,
Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election High

I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching the election returns last night. It was a little like watching the World Series, only with all four games coming in one night. And like the recent series, it was a virtual “sweep” for the team I was rooting for, team Obama. All that was missing, for me at least, was the chance to be a fly on the wall of Romney headquarters—it’s always interesting to see how losers respond—or even better, on the wall of Repuglican headquarters in Mississippi or Alabama or Kentucky or Texas. To be able to observe how these folks reacted to the outcome they most dreaded—the “black socialist” in the White House for four more years—would’ve been sweet indeed. As it was, it was pretty sweet to see how the mainstream pundits reacted. Most kept trying to keep up the pretense that “anything could happen,” and “it’s far from over yet,” when, in fact, the election was over pretty early in the evening. CBS was already predicting that Ohio was “leaning” to Obama by around 7PM if I remember correctly. They had Nevada “leaning” too. Then when Wisconsin fell to the President, and Pennsylvania came through as well, the writing was on the wall for all to see—the President had not only won, but would win big.
            The only real mystery in this election was how Romney did as well as he did in the first place. The guy is a robot. And a Mormon to boot—Mormonism being the weirdest religion ever invented, not to mention the most racist (Mormons traditionally believed that Black people descended directly from Cain—you know, the guy who killed his brother Abel and then wondered if he were his brother’s keeper—pretty appropriate, come to think of it, for a capitalist like Romney). And made his money in leveraged buyouts, perhaps the most heartless form of financial skullduggery yet invented by the Wall Street boys. I mean of all the candidates that a Repuglican party might have selected to represent them, could anyone imagine they’d choose the one most easily caricatured as the essence of rapacious, self-aggrandizing, look-out-for-number-one, white-bread capitalism? And yet they did, holding their collective Tea Party noses as they did so, or not. All of which goes to show that once again, Barack Obama is the luckiest politician alive when it comes to the self-destructive dopes who run against him.
            So the mantra of the Clinton administration, it’s the economy, stupid, ought to be amended here: it’s the Repugs, stupid. I mean, they’ve invested their whole strategy in a vanishing constituency: mostly old, mostly southern, mostly racist, sexist white guys. And suddenly, last night, there they were, looking around and wondering if perhaps they ought to figure out another way to win elections. And all you had to do was compare the crowd in Obama’s Chicago headquarters, with the crowd in Romney’s Boston mausoleum—all older, white, lookalike and increasingly grim faces in the latter (at one point they started to sing, to scream, really, God Bless America; which was quite eerie); a rainbow of colors and types and smiles on the faces of the mostly young, dancing, flag-waving crowd with a sense of destiny in the former. Two Americas. One dying. The other coming into its own like a gathering tide. What’s hardest to understand is how these older, and presumably wiser folk can’t seem to get this. Or maybe they can. Maybe that’s what really animates them: their sense of foreboding and growing certainty that rich as they are, powerful as they are and have always been, their days are numbered. That, amazingly, they are not going to able to “take back the last century” as they had hoped. And from my perspective, it couldn’t be happening to a more deserving bunch of dinosaurs.
            What remains, now, is for the progressives who have had to live through all of Obama’s ditherings these past four years to figure out how to keep his feet to the fire. Because the table is now set for a still-hopeful Obama (as was clear in his speech last night) to bend over backwards once again to try to get people who hate his guts to make nice with him to “solve the country’s problems.” Uh oh. Here we go again. Here we go into Grand Bargain time. And if Obama, as representative of the left, can be pressured into yielding ground on the basic social contract enacted by FDR and Johnson and the rest—Social Security and Medicare and Civil Rights and Rowe v Wade—in order to get the Repugs to agree to raise taxes a hair, then his re-election campaign would be better off having failed. The point is to keep that from happening. It may take marches and demonstrations and civil disobedience. It may take more (I keep having this fantasy of Wall St bankers barricaded in their gated mansions, with marauding bands of desperate workers howling outside). But whatever it takes, it’s going to have to be done because we know, now, after four years, that Barack Obama will only respond to popular pressure. If he’s left to his own advisers and his own instincts, he’ll allow himself to be rolled again and again by filibustering Repugs.
            So here’s to last night. And here’s to Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin. And here’s to the end of Romney. And here’s also to the coming struggle; because as we should all know by now,  election victories are only the first step in a marathon. As we in California found out to our horror when the $36 million dollar campaign to defeat Proposition 37, (a modest attempt to force the food industry to label genetically modified foods—what a concept!), succeeded in so confusing the masses that they voted it down. How anyone could vote against knowing exactly what one is putting in one’s body is beyond me, but a majority actually did. So don’t think the oil barons or the corporate food kings or the Walton family or the pharmaceutical drips or the military-industrial hogs or the banksters are finished. They’ll be out in force, perhaps greater force than ever. And it falls to us, the people, to do everything possible to curb that power, to bring it to heel, and keep it there.

Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Just Vote

There are lots of things I could say about why it’s important to vote.  But since most have been said, ad infinitum, I’ll limit my exhortations to just a few.
            Vote to make sure the Republican money machine doesn’t win—to spit in the eye of American Crossroads (Karl Rove) and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Koch brothers and Exxon and Wal-Mart and Monsanto and all the rest of the vultures.
            Vote to let the world know that some of us, at least, are not taken in by Mitt Romney’s indefatigable lying, and find it outrageous and obscene.
            Vote to let the rest of the United States know that global warming is not a hoax (this is the title of a book written by Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who, if Romney is elected and the Republicans take control of the Senate, is slated to chair the Committee on the Environment and Public Works—the very one that rules on measures to combat global warming. No joke.)
            Vote to make sure that the entire structure of the New Deal (Social Security), as extended by the Johnson Administration (Medicare, Civil Rights, etc.), is not dismantled by the crazies of the Republican Right who have been frothing at the mouth to reverse FDR’s reforms for seventy years.
            Vote to register your protest about the wild and wildly increasing inequality in what was supposed to be an equal society: the six Wal-Mart heirs have about $92 billion in assets. That’s enough to feed every hungry person on earth (the UN estimates $30 billion/year is enough to eradicate hunger world wide), including those with insufficient food in the U.S. And this: for every dollar the richest 0.1% of Americans earned in 1980, they’ve added three more dollars to their wealth; while the poorest 90% have added one cent to theirs!
            Vote to make sure your elected reps know that you’re pissed about facts like these: that for every dollar of profits earned from 2008-2010 by our great corporations like Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, GE, and Dow Chemical, the public treasury got one cent in taxes (that’s a 1% tax rate). (facts from Paul Buchheit,, July 2, 2012) And Willard (Mitt the Twit) Romney is campaigning on the idea of reducing taxes for precisely these corporations “so they can compete in the global economy!”
            Finally, even if you’re not enthused about Obama (and who is these days), vote anyway, vote your anger, vote your outrage, vote to thumb your nose at all those who think they can continue to hoodwink the people and exploit and ruin the commons, while lining their own pockets with ever more cash and perks, and then get to call it “public service.”
            In short, just vote. Remembering the old Tammany Hall mantra: vote, early and often.

Lawrence DiStasi 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bainport: Shipping Jobs to China

There is no more vivid example of Romney hypocrisy (well, perhaps I shouldn’t say that; Romney’s campaign consists almost wholly of hypocrisy) than what’s been happening in Freeport, IL at the Bain Capital-owned Sensata plant. Sensata makes automobile parts like sensors—you know for the American car industry that Romney thought should be jettisoned. And its owner, Bain Capital (hence the name protesting workers have given to Freeport: Bainport) has recently decided that it’s moving the whole plant, lock, stock, and barrel, (without its workers, of course) to China. But, you may say, Romney has vowed countless times that he’ll be “tougher” on China than Obama, and that he’s going to be moving millions of jobs back to the U.S.A. In the realm of action, though, what the company he founded and used to head, and in which he still owns major stock, is doing is shipping the whole thing to China (where wages are an average 85% lower). You can read about this on a great website,, which has all kinds of goodies, including a just-released documentary on the whole ugly story.
            I heard about it this morning on Philip Muldaury’s show on KPFA, and it really is ugly. Not only are these capitalist swine moving the whole company to China, but before doing so, they brought Chinese workers to Freeport to be trained by the very Americans they are going to replace. The American workers had no choice but to train their Chinese successors because if they didn’t, they were threatened with firing right away, which would then lose them their unemployment compensation. What I also heard, and then read about on, was that many of the company’s workers have refused to take this lying down. They’ve established picket lines and started a whole series of actions (including a protest to the National Labor Relations Board) to try to stop the move. So far, it hasn’t worked, but it has certainly pointed to the massive hypocrisy in the entire Romney rationale for being President (watch what I say, not what I do). Said one protester—retired plumber Paul Holz, who was arrested, American flag in hand, for demonstrating outside Sensata:
            "I am totally against outsourcing work from America. Jobs need to stay here, so I decided to go down and join the protests." (The Guardian, October 27).
Other workers have set up an encampment outside the plant,  held protests, and tried to block vehicles shipping the plant parts to China. The result has been over 20 arrests, including the arrest of Jesse Jackson. The company, in turn, has threatened to close the plant even earlier than planned if the demonstrations continue. At least one worker, Joanne Penniston, 35, was unintimidated, noting that the plant is closing anyway. With a daughter to support, though, and her job ending December 16, Penniston is worried:
            "There are no jobs here in Freeport. It's like a ghost town. Probably I will have to move," she said. (The Guardian)

            That shouldn’t bother Mitt; it’s investor profit, after all. And maybe that’s his plan for America: create enough ghost towns, get enough workers unemployed, and moving, and desperate, and willing to work for Chinese wages, and then maybe his capitalist cronies will begin to find America a “profitable” place to invest in again. Maybe. Meantime, it appears that large numbers of Americans are believing his promises to create 12 million new jobs (I keep waiting for him to show his magic wand of job creation, but it appears that all a candidate has to do is say something like this often enough, and the rubes believe him!) to have upped his poll numbers to the point where some polls actually have him ahead of the President.
            Seriously. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Global Warming and Other Sorrows

I watched two documentaries on PBS last night (Tuesday, Oct. 23), and I was apoplectic after each one. The first, a doc about the Cuban Missile Crisis, was an eye opener concerning the extent of the danger the world faced. I knew the basics—Russian missiles placed on Cuba awaiting Russian ships steaming to arm them with nuclear weapons, and an American blockade committed to stopping the nuclear-loaded ships—but what I didn’t recall was that an American U-2 flight over Cuba trying to get more precise photos was actually shot down by a Russian missile. This could have been the ball game right there, because the American military (especially the rabid Gen. Curtis LeMay) was frothing at the mouth, even before the loss of an American pilot, to go in and wipe Cuba off the map. With this American death, a hotheaded President could have been steamrolled into ordering an immediate retaliatory strike. Fortunately, John F. Kennedy was doing everything he could to keep things from getting out of hand, so no strike was ordered. Nor were the American people told, much less rallied to “remember the Alamo.”
            Then JFK, with the help of Russian Premier Khrushchev—also definitely frightened of Armageddon after the U-2 shootdown—managed to forge a face-saving agreement. The details were new to me. That is, Khrushchev had already demanded a quid pro quo for removing his missiles: the United States would have to remove its missiles placed in Turkey on Russia’s border. ‘If the U.S. can’t stand having missiles 90 miles from its shores in Cuba, then Russia can’t tolerate U.S. missiles in Turkey either,’ was the point. Of course Kennedy couldn’t agree to what everyone was calling “blackmail.” ‘Just bomb the bastards’ was the prevailing opinion, both in the military and among most of Kennedy’s advisers. But Kennedy, like any rational person, saw the logic of Russia’s demand. Not only that, he knew that the missiles in Turkey were old and outdated, and essentially useless. Should the world be plunged into nuclear holocaust over useless missiles? That was the question he asked, and he eventually answered “No.” He sent a secret message to Khrushchev saying that the U.S. would promise to remove the missiles in Turkey in exchange for the Russian removal of the missiles in Cuba—only the deal had to be kept secret. Russia could not crow publicly about having outmaneuvered the United States. Khrushchev agreed, the ships turned back, and Russia began to dismantle its Cuban missiles, not mentioning Turkey. Crisis averted.
            But just imagine if another president had been in the Oval Office. Imagine if it had been Johnson, or George Bush, or Romney. Would one of them have been willing to deal with the Russkies? Or would Curtis LeMay have prevailed, with nukes flying both east and west? It’s a terrifying thought, but one we should all be thinking about right now. 
            The other documentary was even more disturbing because it referred to a crisis that’s current. This one was a Frontline documentary, Climate of Doubt, by wheelchair journalist John Hockenberry, about the anti-global warming machine that has, since 2008, turned the entire debate around. When Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth came out, it seemed to convince large majorities of the American people that Global Warming was indeed a threat that had to be dealt with. Right now, though, less than 50% of the American people are convinced of the threat, and the numbers are getting worse by the day. And it’s all due to a money-is-no-object campaign by conservative think tanks to cast doubt on the science. These people are not only relentless, not only callous in pursuit of more money, they are, in my view, murderers. Because the result of their campaign will eventually be weather-related catastrophes that will kill people in numbers beyond our imagining.
            Hockenberry interviewed them on all sides. There are the heads of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who say flat out that man-made global warming science is a myth and a hoax. It’s not man made and it’s not harmful. After all, carbon is a valuable element, necessary for trees and plants. So putting more in the atmosphere is a good thing! Myron Ebell, head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is typical: he calls it a David and Goliath debate, with the conservative doubters being David and the government-sponsored scientists warning about global warming as Goliath. Thus, what the conservatives do (and they’ve done it in conflict after conflict) is turn the entire argument on its head, adopting the stance of 60s radicals, and portraying themselves as the little guys putting themselves on the line against the powers-that-be. Of course, the fact that these so-called “think tanks” are funded by some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in America—like the infamous Koch Brothers—doesn’t seem to enter the equation. They insist that they have won the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans in the “heartland” (there’s a “think tank” named the Heartland Institute), and they are proud and cocky and filled with the flush of victory.
            To gauge whether they’ve won or not (I won’t even dignify the arguments of their so-called scientists who cast doubt on global warming science), all you have to do is look at what has happened in Congress and the presidential race. Have you heard anything about carbon trading or global warming at all in this year’s debate? No. All you hear, from both Obama and Romney is bragging about which one can move faster to give coal companies more rights to blow off the tops of mountains, or coal fired plants more license to burn dirtier coal, or states more rights to drill, baby, drill off the coast. To give Obama credit, he actually did try to get the carbon trading bill through Congress in 2009. He was roundly defeated then, and the notion has been quietly but firmly laid to rest ever since. Hockenberry tried, as he made his documentary, to interview most Republican members of Congress to ask them if they believed global warming was real, if it was mainly caused by humans, and if they believed anything should be done about it. To a man (or woman), they simply refused to talk to him or answer any of his questions. The debate over global warming, in short, has become a non-issue, with no one feeling compelled to even address it any more.
            To be sure, there are further reasons why the global warming debate and measures to remediate it, have disappeared since 2008—mainly the collapse of the economy. People who fear losing their jobs (if they still have them) are easy prey for think-tank pseudo-science; passing legislation that will make it harder to get energy or make companies more responsible for putting carbon into the atmosphere is easily translated into fewer jobs. But it’s even more disturbing than that: scientists (98% of whom support the conclusions of global warming science) are increasingly portrayed as government-supported elitists who are probably socialists interested in expanding government power over the regular guy. One interviewee said “Green is the new Red.” To be an advocate for the environment is to be a freeloading commie and probably queer to boot. And to hear the legislator from North Carolina who introduced a bill to outlaw global warming in North Carolina (a state with a highly vulnerable coastline that scientists have been urging should be shored up against a predicted sea rise and massive destruction from hurricanes), is to listen to a man who thinks science should make “sense” to him. If it doesn’t, if he can’t comprehend it via his senses (I suppose he doesn’t believe in relativity or quantum theory since he can’t see electrons with his naked eye), then it’s simply not real.
            So this is the situation we now have, folks, in huge swaths of this nation. Global warming is a hoax promoted by a bunch of chicken littles. We need to produce energy any way we can. And if the planet doesn’t like it, tough shit for the planet. God is, after all, on our side. And he wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen to our divinely-chosen exceptional nation, would he???? (Reminds me of this latest Republican Yahoo, Richard Mourdock, running for Senate in Indiana, who said that when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape “it is something that God intended”—so who are we humans to interfere?)

Lawrence DiStasi