Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Concussion - the story of real courage standing up to the industry of the NFL

“Concussion” is a very good and disturbing movie about Dr. Bennett  Omalu, the pathologist who discovered the brain damage caused by playing football. His story of courage, honesty, and persistence is inspiring. This is a very human story about very human people caught in this difficult truth about football.  Oscar nominations for the movie and for Will Smith should be forthcoming.

Short version – football damages the brains of its players.  Not too complicated.  The human brain was never developed over millions of years of evolution to be jarred up against the inside of the skull over and over and over and over again in a game that football players practice and play for years and for decades. 

Is it just the big concussions where a player loses consciousness the problem? No. The bigger problem is the countless sub-concussions that come from every block, every tackle, every bounce of the head off the turf, pretty much every play that every player plays.  That’s the problem.  Blocking and tackling, or, the game itself.

The movie is about the scientist who discovered the brain damage to one of the game’s greatest players  - Mike Webster of the famous Pittsburgh Steelers multi-Super Bowl victory team.  Hall of Famer.  Center.  Block block block block block block …
How does it work?  Apparently what happens during sub-concussions is that a protein known as tau forms around blood vessels in the brain, tau is released into the brain after an event (each and every block or tackle during a game, or during practice, etc.), then more of that protein is released the next time, and more, and more.  The blood vessels become more and more impaired and constricted by the protein and eventually the brain becomes deformed, brittle, dramatically impaired.  The result is CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.  (See the symptoms and tragic human results later in this post)

So, as I have written often, I simply do not enjoy watching football anymore because all I see is brain damage.  I was a big fan back in the Mike Webster days.  Not anymore.

What to do?  I think football will just fade away.  As Will Smith, star of the movie, said in an interview on the Charlie Rose show, his son played football in high school, and Will Smith was completely unaware of this danger to his son.  I believe parents will refuse to allow their sons to play football as they come to understand the consequences.  I believe others will be like me (and Will Smith and the director, Peter Landsman, who played high school and college football) and we will simply stop watching simply because it is not fun to watch people inflict brain damage upon each other.

This is a strangely American problem because football is such a representation of the American notion of “Manhood” – being tough, strong, impervious to pain, courageous, playing hurt, hyper aggressive, punishing, bulling, pushing, conquering, dominating  - all tests of and proofs of “Manhood.”  In many ways football is a representation of the mind set of military warriors, and we all admire the military and their mindset.  They protect us and we are grateful.  But football actually is not war, and the brain injuries last a lifetime and progress to greater and greater damage as ex-players age.

Maybe it’s time to come up with some new ideas about what it is to be a man, what real courage is all about, valuing thought and feeling as well as action and will, valuing mastery but not domination.  Actually, basketball was invented as an alternative to the savagery of football by Dr. James Naismith over 100 years ago. We could watch that instead?

See the movie - if you dare. But you may start to wonder how you can enjoy watching men do so much harm to each other.  I know we have parts of ourselves who a enthralled by watching gladiators fighting to the death, or Christians being fed to the lions, in the Roman Coliseum, but is that who we want to be today?

The film dramatizes the tragic effects of CTE on players.  For your reference, the Mayo Clinic lists these symptoms of CTE:
"Symptoms of CTE are like those of other conditions that involve progressive loss of function or structure of nerve cells (neurodegenerative diseases…
Signs and symptoms of CTE usually begin eight to 10 years after repetitive mild traumatic brain injury. These include:
·         Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
·         Impulsive behavior
·         Depression or apathy
·         Short-term memory loss
·         Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function)
·         Emotional instability
·         Substance abuse
·         Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Over time, memory and executive function may become worse, and other signs and symptoms may develop, including:
·         Irritability
·         Aggression
·         Speech and language difficulties
·         Motor impairment, such as difficulty walking, tremor, loss of muscle movement, weakness or rigidity
·         Trouble swallowing (dysphagia)
·         Vision and focusing problems
·         Trouble with sense of smell (olfactory abnormalities)
·         Dementia
Researchers use the following stages to describe the progression of CTE symptoms:
·         Stage I. Headache, loss of attention and concentration
·         Stage II. Depression, explosivity and short-term memory loss
·         Stage III. Decision-making (executive) dysfunction and cognitive impairment
·         Stage IV. Dementia, word-finding difficulty and aggression
They have also created four stages to describe the process of damage to brain tissue.
CTE causes ongoing pathological changes that once are started, continue to have an effect for years or decades after the original traumatic brain injury or after an individual retires from a sport. Symptoms progress throughout an individual's life.
CTE progresses in two patterns. In younger people, it may begin with behavior and mood changes, whereas in older people, it may begin with cognitive problems that progress and may lead to dementia. It's not known whether there are two different disease processes or if the process changes over time."
It makes me wonder about the endless stories of hyper-aggressive behavior of football players like Ray Rice and O.J. Simpson.  Not to excuse their behavior, but do they suffer from CTE?  I would like brain autopsies on them when they finally pass.  I wonder…

Saturday, December 26, 2015

"The Big Short", or why Wall Street predators should be jailed

The movie, "The Big Short" is a great, entertaining, funny and fun movie about a very serious topic, the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008 resulting in the near total collapse of the world economy.  It is a nice two hour education of the essentials of our Great Recession. It shows the crisis in this country of greed and avarice, and their necessary corollaries - heartless indifference to the consequent suffering of the many millions of middle class and working poor.  

The short summary is that the financial industry made fortunes by selling bad mortages to unqualified people, passed those bad mortgages along into bond funds called Mortgage Backed Securities made up of mostly highly risky mortgages, had them rated as safe AAA bonds, which corrupt bond traders fraudulently sold high risk investments as low risk safe investments to fools.  Fraud.  Greed.  Fortunes.  Multi-generational fortunes for the predators on the top of the greed pyramid. And they thought it was all fair game, to exploit the ignorance and stupidity of unqualified home buyers, and exploit the ignorance and stupidity of bond buyers, and exploit the ignorance and stupidity of giant financial institutions like pension funds.

Wall Street sucked enormous amounts of money out of the middle classes and payed themselves fortunes.  

The movie is about a small handful of men who saw that the the entire housing industry was a bubble built on fraud, and those men made fortunes betting that the bubble would burst, and the values of the mortgage backed securities would collapse along with the values of all the extraordinarily complex and opaque derivatives of those bonds. They foresaw the inevitable catastrophe.

One of the problems with our financial industry is that there is so much money being made by playing zero-sum games that have nothing to do with financing businesses and funding the economy. When the bright minds in banking spend all of their time creating various derivatives of things like mortgages the fundamental reason for banks seems to have gotten lost.  Rather than funding our capitalist system, they became leaches designed to suck capital out of the economy rather than feed it to make it stronger.

Of course, one of the points of the movie is the obvious truth that Wall Street has not reformed, they have only become more consolidated and powerful.  They had done all they could to gut the Dodd-Frank banking reform bill, and continue to pay enormous sums to continue to weaken it whenever they can.  They are coming up with new versions of mortgage backed securities, gulp. They have created flash trading  with super computers that give them insider information that steals more and more money out of the stock market before market moves become public.  They continue to apply their high IQs to the task of transferring money from the middle classes and poor working classes to build their fraudulent fortunes.

But, of course, none of them ever go jail.  They just pay some fines which are no more than the cost of doing business to them.  The greatest crime of all of course is that none of what they do is illegal. Why would it be? they write the laws. They own the politicians.  Who obey them.

Some books that I have read that tell these stories of this predatory greed:
  • "The Big Short" - Michael Lewis
  • "Too Big to Fail - Andrew Sorkin
  • "House of Cards" - William Cohen
  • "All the Devils are Here" - Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera
  • "Liar's Poker" - Michael Lewis
  • "Flash Boys" - Michael Lewis
They all tell the same story - smart guys figure out how to cheat the middle class and steal their savings in order to create their own massive fortunes.

The financial world has been out of balance for a long time.  I think putting some financial titans in jail would be a start to ending this fraudulent mind-set.  When did our brightest Ivy-Leaguers decide that the point of their educations was to become financial predators?

Time for a change.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Trump campaign is really a reality TV show called “Republican Primary 2016”

Trump’s latest headline grabbing shock statement is his plan to kill the families of terrorists:

“The other thing with terrorists—you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives—don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

So, we have a presidential candidate campaigning as a war criminal.  Whew!

I think I have figured out Trump’s campaign.  He knows how to get publicity.  He knows how to grab the headlines. He knows how to drive up his poll numbers. 


It puzzles thoughtful people as to why whenever he says appallingly shocking and disgusting things that his poll numbers rise.  But, the people he is appealing to are attracted to his daring to say shockingly politically incorrect things. It seems to them that he is demonstrating strength, courage.  “Say it like it is!” They think we need a very, very, very strong leader, and anyone who says such outrageous right wing shockers is someone they cheer.

But he’s not being strong or courageous, he’s just getting headlines and ratings.  To him, poll numbers are the same thing as TV ratings. He is a pro - at ratings - not at governing. He’s not in a political campaign, he’s the star of a reality TV show – “Republican Primary 2016”.

The folks who support Trump are facing real problems in their lives as their middle class working lives have been evaporating before their eyes for decades.  So outrageous screeches of anger are expressions of how they feel.  That is very understandable.

But, the problem for Trump is the problem of any addiction.  In the beginning one drink got you tipsy, but in the end it takes a quart of scotch a day to get a buzz.  And then you die of liver failure.

Same with Trump, you start with insulting Mexicans to shock the political system, and have to keep upping ante – calling McCain a loser for being captured in Viet Nam, wanting a data base of Muslims in America, and now calling for the killing of the families of terrorists. Where can he go from here?

I expect he’ll be calling for throwing the terrorists to the lions in Yankee stadium eventually. You live by the shock to get ratings, you die by the shock to get ratings.

He is running out of room to shock.  Then his act gets old - and he “dies”- his ratings drop and his show is cancelled.  Such is life in show business.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Why did they do it? What do we do?

Paris has been attacked by ISIS.  Why? What should we do about it? These are very important questions and deserve some thought rather than knee jerk reactions.

Why have they attacked Paris?  I think to understand that you need to have some understanding of who ISIS is and what they want. There is a remarkable and timely article in The Atlantic that is a long read but worth the effort entitled "What ISIS really wants".  

And what ISIS really wants is the apocalypse.  

They see the world as heading toward the end times, with a final showdown between True Islam and the rest of the world (false Islam and all other religions and beliefs).  They see themselves as on the side of God and fully expect God to make sure that True Islam prevails. ISIS is profoundly religious in their beliefs and motivations, and they see themselves as major players in God's plan to bring about the world that God wants - the establishment of the Final Caliphate.  They see any effort to move Islamic belief into the modern world as anathema needing to be violently eliminated. They see the word and world of Mohammed as sacred and perfect and see themselves as appointed by God to establish that world, and expect God to help them and assure their success.

They see the end times as having been prophesized and see themselves as appointed by God to bring it to pass. But, what does that mean?  Apparently, there is a script: the arrival of the Mahdi to lead them to victory - a massive confrontation with the "armies of Rome" (all those who are not True Muslims, I guess) in Northern Syria at the city of Dabiq - the defeat of "Rome" - the expansion of the Caliphate to conquer Istanbul - the emergence of an anti-messiah who will kill off most Mustlims - and finally (SURPRISE!) the second coming of Jesus will "spear the anti-messiah" and lead the Muslims to final apocalyptic victory.  

Whew, that Jesus guy has a lot of people waiting for his second coming to set up the perfect world after the slaughter of lots of people!  Apparently Jesus is considered by Muslims to be the second most important prophet after Mohammed.  I think there are some fundamentalist Christians waiting for Jesus to come down during the apocalypse and establish a Christian paradise.  So, a tough choice for Jesus, I guess.  Does he establish a Christian paradise or a Muslim paradise?  Either way, I think stoning folks for adultery and homosexuality is part of that Jesus inspired "paradise."  

I certainly hope Jesus has something better to do.

So, the second question is what do we do about the terrible attacks on Paris and the rest of the civilized world?  

DON'T TAKE THE BAIT.  That's my advice. Why do they attack Paris? to incite a massive military response in the Middle East. Why do they want a massive Western attack in the Middle East? As a call to arms to Muslims around the world to flood to the defense of the Caliphate and the initiation of the apocalypse that will end up with the end times and the establishment of (according to their deeply held religious belief) a final Caliphate and a final Muslim Paradise. 

Who wants to rush in militarily to the Middle East and crush the Caliphate?  Well, I guess we can start with Western Christians who also see the end times upon us and fully expect to have an apocalyptic showdown resulting in the establishment of a Christian Paradise (women and homosexuals beware in both cases!)

So, in my mind, that is what not to do - don't invade Syria/Iraq to crush ISIS because it will explode into a world war against hundreds of thousands or millions of deeply fanatical Muslims who seek death in the cause of creating the apocalypse that will establish a Muslim Caliphate paradise.

So, what do we do?  I believe we need to reach out to our natural allies in the fight against ISIS and other slaughtering in the name of Mohammed Islamists - Muslims. Sane Muslims. Adult Muslims. Modern Muslims.  A few centuries back there was the Spanish Inquisition - torturing and killling heretics.  That is Islam today.  Christianity outgrew that insanity.  Islam will too.  Now is the time to help that along. The Christian world knows how to do this.  It has already walked that path.  The Western world knows how to do this, it is part of our past.

It is time for modernist Islam to take over their faith.  Fortunately they are finally standing up and speaking out.  Muslim leaders around the world recently  released a detailed condemnation of ISIS as being un-Islamic.  This might seem like small potatoes to us in the West, but it is the heart of the matter in the Middle East. Who is Islamic and who is un-Islamic is the most important question of all to them. So, these Middle Eastern Islamic leaders say ISIS in un-Islamic, and they cite very scholarly textual justifications.  Here is a list of how ISIS violates the doctrines of Islam according to these Middle Eastern religious leaders (including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine):

Here is the executive summary of their letter:
1. It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry-pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.
2. It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.
3. It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
4. It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.
5. It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
6. It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
7. It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.
8. Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.
9. It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.
10. It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.
11. It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.
12. The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.
13. It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
14. It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
15. It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
16. It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct 
procedures that ensure justice and mercy.
17. It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
18. It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
19. It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God.
20. It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
21. Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.
22. It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
23. Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
24. After the death of the Prophet, Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.

We can't kill our way out of this mess. This is a battle of ideas. This is a civil and religious war within Islam. The West is being used as a tool and a fool by the combatants in this religious war. That is why their attacks are so heartless and nihilistic against the West, as a way of baiting the West into foolish, massive military responses which will explode into a worldwide upsurge of fanatical Muslims and an exponential growth of the Caliphate that ISIS is trying to establish.  

Don't take the bait. Make alliances with those who are the real targets of fanatical Islamist attacks - Muslims in the Middle East.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope Francis speaks to prisoners and to all of us

I continue to be very moved by Pope Francis.  I saw his speech to the prisoners in a Philadelphia prison today.  It was such a fundamentally spiritual message.  He spoke of the message conveyed when Christ washed the feet of the Apostles during the Last Supper.  The message Francis conveyed is that we all get our "feet dirty" as we travel the paths of our lives.  And Christ, the Divine, the Transcendent Eternal Love of God Goddess All That Is, can wash us clean of the "dust" of the past.  Forgiveness.  Renewal.  Hope.  

What a beautiful message to bring to prisoners.  What an important message to bring to me, and to all of us.  Francis is clear that The Divine's cleansing is as needed for him as it is for those he spoke to.  And indeed, isn't forgiveness the key to our own true spirituality?  Allowing God's forgiveness? Forgiving ourselves?  Forgiving others? Not forgetting, of course, but forgiving, changing, starting anew, finding again our True Path, finding again our spiritual connection with the Divine and thus finding again our spiritual path connecting us to all of God's creations, including our world, each other, and ourselves?

Francis has the platform of being the Pope to bring his message to the world.  I stopped being a Catholic decades ago, and I have many issues with Catholic doctrine.  But this Pope's message isn't doctrinaire, it's a message of loving, caring, forgiving, redeeming.  It's a spiritual message not a religious message.  Or so it seems to me.  God bless him and his journey.  I am moved by who he is and his chosen mission.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Pope and what it means to be a man

What strikes me most about Pope Francis and his visit to the United States and his speech to our Congress is his incredible gentle, warm presence. I am especially struck by who he is in contrast to the Republican presidential candidate currently leading the polls who has taken over the news for the Summer - Donald Trump.

What a relief it is to have this contrast.  What a relief it is to have an oasis of kindness and gentleness in the midst of an endless assault of combative nastiness being spewed upon us by Trump (and his imitators in the Republican candidates).

The question most worth asking, in my opinion, is what is it to be a man?  Is it Trump? bottomless wells of aggression, attacks, defensiveness, hostility, judgment, threats, and ultimately violence?  Or is it Pope Francis? bottomless wells of caring, compassion, kindness, mercy, and love?

I think the question answers itself.  To be a man, a true man, the Pope is the model, not Trump.  Caring and understanding rather than attacking and intolerance.  

Nothing could have better highlighted to the American mind the stark choices we are facing in this election than a man whose existence is rooted in his spiritual experience and understanding - as a contrast to a man whose existence seems to be rooted in his relentless pursuit of financial wealth and domination. 

This has been the Summer of Trump.  I am glad the Summer of Trump has ended - the Summer of aggression, hostility, threats, and bigotry.

I hope that we are entering the Autumn of Pope Francis - an Autumn of caring, compassion, tolerance, and understanding.

Just a string of the salient words from the Pope's address to the American people in Congress today: common responsibility, dignity, common needs, freedom, extremism, fundamentalism, polarization, hope, healing, peace, justice, respect, cooperation, common good, dreams, relate, crisis, persons, help, grow, cycle of poverty, environmental challenge, culture of care, selfishness, violence, build bridges, family, freedom, dreams, justice, The Golden Rule.

What a wonderful man.  What a wonderful speech.  It can open our hearts to God, and the love of God, and the caring for God's creations - each other.

Monday, September 14, 2015

After 9/11...

Going backwards in time:

  • Syrian refugees flood Europe 
  • Isis terrorizes Shia in the Middle East  
  • Isis is created by disaffected and persecuted Sunnis  
  • Obama kills Osama, which doesn't really affect much of anything
  • Iraq becomes a puppet of the new Middle Eastern power, Iran
  • Obama keeps Maliki in power too long  
  • Bush keeps Maliki in power too long  
  • Shiite Maliki ruler persecutes Sunnis 
  • Sunnis kept out of the Iraqi government by the Shiite Prime Minister,Maliki 
  • Bush puts Shiite Maliki in power 
  • Bush de-Bathifies Iraq, throwing all Baath Party Sunnis out of power 
  • Bush invades Iraq 
  • Bush throws the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan 
  • Bush fails to find Osama bin Laden 
  • Bush invades Afghanistan 
  • Osama bin Laden kills 3000 Americans on 9/11/2001

  • Starting a war is easy 
  • Knowing what the hell is going to happen in war is impossible 
  • Ending a war is very, very hard

  • Maybe we don't elect a presidential candidate who promises to go out and win a bunch of wars for the American people.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

American History in a nutshell - Aristocracy, American Revolution, Plutocracy

American history in a nutshell: Aristocracy - American Revolution - Plutocracy.  

Stretch that out a bit: British Aristocracy - American Revolution - Southern Aristocracy - Civil War - Industrial Plutocracy of the Robber Barons - Teddy Roosevelt the trust buster - Plutocracy of the Roaring Twenties - Franklin Roosevelt bank reforms and New Deal - WWII post war prosperity - Current Plutocracy of the modern Robber Barons.

WE NEED A NEW TR OR FDR - Obama tried but not enough force - none on the horizon? Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?

The Republican Party might as well change their name to The Plutocrat Party.  Oddly enough, the current Plutocracy has convinced economic conservatives that putting the Plutocracy in power creates opportunities for them, and has convinced the social conservatives that putting the Plutocracy in power will make the country more moral.  What?


Time for an ending of this version of Plutocracy.

Friday, September 4, 2015

One of the many reasons Trump is a dangerous politician

Donald Trump is dangerous for many reasons, but this one stands out to me the most right now - Donald Trump attacks and punishes anyone who says anything against him, even the press which is supposed to be protected by the first amendment. Just one example is that he attacked and demeaned a woman reporter, Megyn Kelly who asked him a tough question during the first debate. And now he personally attacks Kareem Abdul Jabar who wrote and article in the Washington Post pointing out that Trump attacks the press who displease him and thus attacks the first amendment itself.   

That makes him more than a distasteful huckster, it makes him a threat to the country, should the country have a fit of insanity and make him president.

However, the story that most reveals Trump’s nature, in my mind, is when he sued a former beauty contestant who claimed the Miss USA contest was corrupt.  He sent his vicious attack dog lawyer, Michael Cohen,  to destroy her financially for the rest of her life.  What chance did she have against that level of viciousness and financial power?

Some key quotes from this article:

"The Trump confidant also bragged to The Daily Beast about how he “destroy[ed]” the life of a young beauty queen—a woman Cohen called an “idiot.”

…hit with a $5 million defamation penalty in arbitration for questioning the integrity of the pageant’s results.

When asked by host Harvey Levin about the size of the intended lawsuit (“How much money are you gonna get from somebody who works at the Sunglass Hut?”) Cohen said, “It’s not about the money. You understand that. You understand Mr. Trump.”

In her request to have the $5 million award vacated, Monnin asked the court “Please do not enter a judgment that will financially devastate me for the rest of my life based on this record.”

Oops, I think the worst word you can use when talking with an authoritarian, cruel, bully is “please”, shows weakness you see.
"Indeed, Cohen himself explained the meaning behind his nickname, Trump’s “pit bull,” in a 2011 interview with ABC News.
“It means that if somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Cohen said. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.”
That attitude was on display when Cohen spoke with The Daily Beast. “I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen told The Daily Beast reporter who reached out to the campaign for comment over ex-wife Ivana Trump’s 1993deposed assertion that she had been “raped” by her then-husband, allegations she later softened in a statement in which she asked her comments not to be interpreted “in a literal or criminal sense.”
“So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?” Cohen said."
Disgusting is the absolute best word to describe Mr Cohen, and his boss, Mr Trump.  Yuck.

This is an authoritarian and cruel man who should never be given power of any kind, let alone the presidency.  When authoritarians gain power, supported by authoritarian followers and voters, the result can be tyranny. 

I expect Trump to flame out as soon as people start asking real questions about real issues that reveal that he knows very little about anything that a president needs to be intimately aware of.  That is what happened to Sarah Palin, and it is what will happen to Trump.  There are many conservatives who see how shallow his resume and knowledge are, and if Democrats are lucky enough to have him as a Republican presidential candidate, either Clinton or Biden will be able to make him look ridiculously ignorant, which of course he is.  The only tool in his kit box is bluster, threats, and punishment.  He can hurt anyone, and he wants to.  Not good. But he can't win the presidency.

Monday, August 31, 2015

HBO's Show Me Hero, Racism, and The Drug War

I just finished an excellent six part mini-series by the wonderful David Simon (The Wire) called "Show Me a Hero" on HBO.  Really well done, with terrific acting, especially from Oscar Isaac and Catherine Keener.  

It explored a real life event in Yonkers, NY, from the late eighties where the government wanted to establish low cost housing in middle class neighborhoods, which created violently intense opposition.  It has me thinking about the issues of race in our country.

As best I can tell, the worst thing you can do to poor black and brown people is put them into large Projects.  This is just a way of the government jamming them all together in one place and doing their best to forget about them, which is possible as long as their problems don't spill out and intrude into the consciousness of the middle and upper classes.  This last year, there has been a lot of spilling out going on, however.  

As I have written before, the problem with this is The Drug War.  Black and brown people are essentially sectioned off from the middle classes in Drug War Zones.  The people warehoused in these types of environments are part of The Drug War or at least in the middle of the battle zones.  

They are high crime areas, of course, but I believe a very large percentage of the crimes are Drug War related - selling, buying, organizing the drug gangs, killing and terrorizing other gangs, killing the police, killing and terrorizing civilians unlucky enough to be witnesses or in the wrong places at the wrong times.  Young men of color are born into a world that the middle and upper classes know very little of, and I am grateful to David Simon for his windows into these dysfunctional worlds.  

It appears that Yonkers did their integration the right way, which was to build scattered low cost housing that had only about 40 low income people of color in each area.  The purpose was to allow a small number of them to be more easily absorbed into the middle class neighborhood because the white and black/brown neighbors would interact over time and see each other as human, and thus be given a real opportunities to create more meaningful hope filled lives.  

The racism behind the outcries and avid opposition to the building and occupying of these units was pretty hard to watch.  And no claim was made by the show that every person of color integrated successfully into their new neighborhood.  But the point was pretty strongly made that it was a successful effort and the resulting communities have adjusted to each other pretty well.

I believe that this kind of integration, done right, can be successful, and good for Yonkers and good for David Simon to provide reasons for optimism.

Beyond that, I think the bigger question about race in America has a chance to be successfully dealt with by ending The Drug War.  Apparently Portugal decriminalized most drugs with some very positive results.  They stopped treating drugs as a crime and started treating drugs as a disease to be treated.  The result? No Drug War.

An obvious example is in America's own history.  In the early 20th century prohibition made alcohol illiegal.  The result?  The Alcohol Wars.  Gangs terrorized each other, civilians were killed who were witnesses or in the cross fire, etc.  Al Capone built his empire out of blood and terror.  Just like the current gangs and cartels do today in the Drug War Zones.  

So, what happened?  Alcohol was decriminalized and the idea of the head of one alcohol maker or distributor killing and terrorizing another is ridiculous.  Of course they don't.  There is no need.  There is not a massive police occupation of large areas of population that are involved in the making and distribution of alcohol.  Prohibition is over.  So is the killing.

I think the best thing that can happen to the inner cities of black and brown people is to end the prohibition of drugs.  The wars would be over.  The inner cities would no longer be war zones.  The police would no longer be an occupying force in the midst of an endless and hopeless war against the making and distributing of illegal drugs.

Would there be more addicts?  Maybe, but they would be treated as sick and in need of assistance rather than as criminals and thrown into the criminal justice system which does little else other than train them to become warriors in The Drug Wars. And the end result would be fewer addicts, not more, as Portugal seems to be proving.

Some countries have tried it with good success.  Why not here?

And, by the way, wouldn't black and brown people living in the inner cities start to be seen as human rather than as threats once they were no longer soldiers in the misbegotten Drug War?  Wouldn't their neighborhoods have a chance to become much safer and heal?  What could more dramatically elevate the environment of the impoverished inner cities than to have them cease to be war zones?  Wouldn't their assimilation into the middle classes become a much more natural evolution?

I wonder.

Friday, August 14, 2015

George Will says just say NO to Trump

I have never taken Trump seriously. I have always thought he is just this year's version of Sarah Palin, all attitude and no substance. So I am reluctant to write again about this empty suit, but I do so again simply for the pleasure of being able to quote long time conservative thinker George Will about the grandiose one:

"In every town large enough to have two traffic lights there is a bar at the back of which sits the local Donald Trump, nursing his fifth beer and innumerable delusions. Because the actual Donald Trump is wealthy, he can turn himself into an unprecedentedly and incorrigibly vulgar presidential candidate. It is his right to use his riches as he pleases. His squalid performance and its coarsening of civic life are costs of freedom that an open society must be prepared to pay."

I think Trump supporters are versions of the semi-drunk delusional bar fly described by Will, and those who delight in the silliness of right wing talk radio and FOX News, whose main message seem to be that all we need to do is get a president and congress who are really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really. really, really, really, really ... and I mean really ... TOUGH.

And what about the polls?  At this point in the campaigns they are little more than name recognition. Its very predictable that the biggest winners of today's polls are simply the most famous people - Clinton, Bush, and Trump.  Saying you like someone today doesn't mean you are going to vote for them when the time comes.

Thank goodness.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Little Man is Done

No surprise, of course, but Donald Trump has already outstayed his 15 minute of presidential candidate fame welcome.  He managed to make a disgusting sexist attack on Megyn Kelly, probably the top conservative woman media person in the country.  I guess Mr Trump is just not very bright.

No loss.  I don't expect him to go the third party route, he could only do that if there was some kind of ground swell for him, and his swell has peaked and will fade into dust soon enough, it seems to me.  A third party run by Trump might end up getting the Duck Dynasty vote along with his own, but by that time even the DD fans would likely move on.

By the way, I suppose Mr Trump's greatest attraction was his attack on Political Correctness.  Many conservatives are very angry at Political Correctness.  I guess they feel inhibited by such constraints.  But why?

How about sexism?  It's politically incorrect to be sexist, but it's politically correct to be against sexism and to pursue a greater understanding of what that means as time passes and all of us born into a sexist world continue to become more and more conscious of unconscious sexism and chauvinism.  So, is this a tough choice?  Sexist or not sexist?  Obviously Mr Trump has made his choice.  Seems to be Politically Correct is the better choice.  Is that controversial?

How about racism?  It's Politically Incorrect to be a racist, but it's Politically Correct to be against racism, and to pursue greater understanding of what that means as time passes and all of us born into a racist world continue to become more and more conscious of unconscious racism.  Racist or not racist?  Seems Politically Correct is the better choice.  Is this controversial?

And homophobia? Politically Incorrect to be homophobic, Politically Correct to see gays as just folks like you and me but who fall in love with their own sex rather than the opposite.  So what?  This question is being answered generationally, and my favorite statement about it is conservative George Will saying that to the young someone being gay is about as interesting as someone being left handed.

So, Trump will fade into oblivion, probably as noisily as he can.  But who will his enthusiasts switch their allegiance to?  

I doubt that very many of them will change their anti-Political Correctness spots.  But, who knows, maybe seeing their beliefs being portrayed so openly and vilely by Trump can be an awakening for some of them, and maybe they can just walk away from their old politics.  It's not easy to change your mind, or learn new things, but it is possible.  I've done it a couple of times.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Donald trump is a joke but his constituents are not

Donald Trump has no more chance of becoming president of the United States than William F Buckley, and Buckley is dead.  Which is a shame because one of Buckley's greatest gifts to conservatives when he was the leading intellectual voice on the right was to keep the crazies out of mainstream conservatism - that is, he kept out the lunatic John Birch Society, the toxic hatred of the racists, and the paranoid fringes that are consumed with apocalyptic visions and paranoid howlings.  Yes, there was a time when conservatism had actual intellectual groundings and ideas.  Alas, in the age of the Tea Party and right wing talk show ravings designed to boost their ratings at all costs, apocalyptic visions, racist dog whistles, and paranoid conspiracies have taken over too much of the "conservative movement."  Scare quotes because they aren't conservative, they are delusional revolutionaries.  Or so it seems to me.

The problem isn't Trump.  To me he just seems to be a sad old man lost in delusions of his own grandiosity, who actually thinks that being rich is reason enough to elect him to the presidency.  I think his only motivation is his insatiable need to be in the spotlight.  It must be a terribly galling thing for his ego to realize that the history books will write about Obama and other presidents, and he will long be forgotten after his demise.  So, what better solution than to become president? or at least make enough of a splash in this presidential race that he gets some kind of mention in the future?

I don't know if Trump has ever honestly expressed a political opinion of his own.  His public views seem to align with whatever will get him headlines, and his view of previous decades are quite different than his public views today.

I have avoided any posts on Trump because I think he will be a momentary headline.  But the problem isn't Trump, it is the extremist right wing base that is excited by his cynical, opportunistic ravings.

Racism?  How about accusing Mexicans of being rapists?  Tough guy to the max? How about accusing John McCain of not being a war hero because he was captured, and the mighty Trump has no respect for captured people?  Mr. Success Himself? How about having no respect for losers like McCain and Romney?  Oh, what a mighty man Mr Trump thinks he is. 

He's not, of course, he's a national embarrassment, and a Republican embarrassment, as Republican denunciations pouring in from all sides testify to.

No, the problem is that he has a constituency in the extremities of the Republican base that say, Way To GO, tell it like it IS.  Good grief.  And these people vote.  They won't end up voting for Trump in the end, of course. But they will vote for someone. And that is something for all of us to be afraid of, indeed.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dunford's evaluation of threats to the United States

Marine General Joseph Dunford testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in his confirmation hearings to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He looks to me like someone who understands the world.  When asked what the greatest threat to the United States was, he said it was Russia.  Followed by China and North Korea.  Of these three, only Russia is actively making dangerous moves.

I am especially heartened that he did not say ISIS or al Qaeda in answer to that question.

It seems to me that the bloodthirsty fundamentalist extremist segment of the Muslim world can harm us, and is certainly trying.  But they really don't represent an existential threat to this country.  They are a terrorist threat, which is quite different.  They could blow up another building, they could kill hundreds of Americans and Westerners, they could shock our sensibilities with horrific atrocities, they can do all that they can imagine to do to promote deep and disgusting depravities of violence.  But they aren't an existential threat to our country.  

I believe their intent is to act so atrociously as to bait the United States into making the same mistake that W made - send ground troops into the Middle East and wage war against - Muslims (which side to we pick in this horrible civil and religious war, and why?) This would frame the fanatic jihadists barbarities as Islam against the crusading U.S.  This would be an amazingly stupid mistake for us to make.  It would be a tremendous aid to the recruitment of Muslims to the barbarous jihadist side.  It would grow the threat rather than reduce it, or so it seems to me.

I don't believe Russia is out to destroy the U.S. but it does have enough nukes to do so, so they actually could be an existential threat.  And good for four star General Dunford for seeing that and being willing to take that threat seriously.  

Protect ourselves against terrorism, don't get sucked into their pathetic civil wars.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Right wing terrorist kills nine in South Carolina

Dylan Roof, a right wing extremist, slaughtered nine people in an historic black church in South Carolina. This hateful deed puts an exclamation point on the report from the Department of Homeland Security that right wing extremist terrorism is every bit as much of a threat in America as Islamist extremist terrorists. 

We always seem to want to explain away right wing extremist violence as expressions of mental illness, whereas we want to explain Islamist extremist violence as an expression of a murderous ideology. I think it is time to realize the the right wing terrorists are also acting out murderous ideologies. And, indeed, both right wing and Islamist violent extremists have some pretty serious mental problems. I believe what they have in common is the paranoid fear that they are losing the world they think should be - some sort of Islamist fantasy or some sort of right wing fantasy - and they see themselves as brave soldiers out to right the terrible wrongs of the modern world which they see as plunging into an abyss of darkness. 

And, in a way, they are right. The world is changing, and changing very fast. The extremes of masculine chauvinism, of hyper masculine purity that subjugates all that is feminine, or "impure" from a religious, or racist, or sexist  bigotry are dying. We no longer live in a world where everybody is just like us. We no longer live in a world where tough, ruthless men run everything. 

And that is a good thing. The days of brutal Islamism are fading away, and a reform of Islam is happening, despite the violent reaction against it. And, in the West, the days of hyper-masculine domination are also fading away. Hooray for the rest of us!  

Lost, frightened souls are the ones doing the violence. I believe that their violence trying to stop the world's evolution are actually signposts that the path of the future is moving away from their fantasy worlds and into a world of much more balance and harmony. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Containment - not a new Republican War in the Middle East please

I think that the only wars worth fighting have to pass what I call the Mom and Pop test.  That is, if your son or daughter goes off to fight a war, and is killed in that war, Mom and Pop should be able to look at each other and say that even though the pain of loss of a child is unimaginably horrible, at least they can comfort themselves with the knowledge that their child died for a good cause.

I don't see where the wars in the Middle East pass the Mom and Pop test.  The Republican candidates for president all seem to be very intent on running on the idea that America needs to be actively involved in the wars of the Middle East.  The latest entry, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is especially hawkish and sees his hawkishness as his primary virtue. He proudly announces 

"I want to be President to defeat the enemies trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them," he said at his kickoff event.

This seems to be a very clear promise of war in the Middle East to me, a war that does not pass the "Mom and Pop" test.  Who is it we are supposed to fight?  Who are we supposed to support? I think this is a civil and religious war to be fought out by them.  It seems to me that they are deciding that the straight lines of the countries created by the Europeans after WWI will no longer apply.  It looks to me like the Sunnis and Shia are fighting viciously to establish their own countries. Of course, each is fighting to annihilate the other, but it will end up with the establishment of independent countries in some form of uneasy balance - probably a Shia country, a Sunni country, and a Kurdish country.  Iraq and Syria are already gone, and will never return.

Iran is behind the Shia and Saudi Arabia is behind the Sunni, but America has no dog in that fight.  Both sides are hideous and dangerous.  Our only job is to try to keep them from killing us, it seems to me.  That sounds like the old fashioned "containment" policy of the Cold War, where we didn't attack Soviet Communism directly, but did our best to contain their spread.  Eventually, the Soviets imploded, and we had limited our wars mostly to two ill-conceived efforts in Korea and Viet Nam.  I say we have already done our two ill-conceived wars in the Middle East - Iraq 1 and Afghanistan/Iraq 2.

Back to containment, is what I hope for.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The war zones rebel against what they see as a police state

Whites see protests and violence by inner city blacks very differently than blacks see the same events.  They are seeing two totally different things.  

Blacks see unarmed black men being killed by a hostile, occupying police force in the world of the inner city which is little more than a war zone and police state.

Whites see a police force which is doing an enormously difficult and dangerous job being under attack by fools, criminals, and race agitators.  

Wow.  Different realities.

My take is similar to David Simon's - the creator of "The Wire". The inner cities are war zones, the drug war.  The inner cities are discarded places filled with people who are seen as not useful to the economy and thus are forgotten, neglected, disrespected, and held in contempt.  

Simon makes the point that America, and capitalism, cannot function if either unfettered capitalism or unfettered socialism wins totally over the other.  Unfettered socialism becomes the horror of communism, like the Soviet Union and North Korea.  Total tyranny, and the abolition of freedom and caring.  

He also makes the point that unfettered capitalism becomes the horror of plutocracy and oligarchy.  Total tyranny, and the abolition of freedom and caring. The perfect example is how unfettered capitalism deals with the inner city drug war zones - they ignore them - the inner city people don't feed the capital, don't feed the corporations, don't feed the quarterly reports. Thus, they aren't thought about until there are riots.

What is needed is balance.  Balance comes when neither side wins. The Soviets went out of balance and destroyed themselves by Communism.  America is in danger of going out of balance and destroying itself by Plutocracy.

The United States was created to overthrow aristocracy.  It wasn't England that our Founding Fathers rebelled against, it was rule by aristocracy.  When the wealthiest of the wealthy can contribute billions of dollars to control our elections, we no longer have a democracy, and we are living in the tyranny of aristocracy.  We are getting too close to that tyranny, to that loss of freedom.

The plutocracy has chosen the Republican Party and the "conservative movement" to rule the country for the sole purpose of creating unfettered capitalism and unlimited capital.  All costs are to be reduced, including of course the cost of "labor" - the cost of you and me.  They do this with the megaphone of talk radio, and ironically their attack on the middle class is done under the rubric of "freedom".  The more extreme the right wing becomes the less power the middle class becomes and the more power the plutocracy has.  

I have hopes that the American people will be able to walk back away from the blow torch of extremism, and will elect conservatives and liberals who are not crazy. The biggest danger to this is the enormous  amounts of money that the Plutocracy is putting into the election process.  I think they will lose.