Tuesday, December 2, 2014


treason- (trè'z'n) 1. now rare. The betrayal of any trust or confidence; breach of trust. 2. The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.

U.S. Constitution Article III.
Section. 1.
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
Section. 2.
The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;— between a State and Citizens of another State,—between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.
In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.
The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
Section. 3.
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Words see their meanings distorted and shifted over time. The Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution have simply been discarded as “quaint” by the Department of Justice. The current Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment as protecting the freedom of religion of corporations as well as interpreting their free spending of money to buy elections as protected free speech.

In the post-Orwell era it may be useless to try to assign logical meaning to words, but what the hell, what else have we got to lose? In the days of the Founding Fathers wars were fought between nations with canons and muskets. Now we have permanent war and wars have been declared on everything from poverty to drugs to breast cancer to terror. It would be no more of a stretch than those made by the Supreme Court and the Department of Defense to consider actions by an alien body such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association as an act of war against an American state, and by extension, against the United States of America. The GMA isn't merely lobbying and bribing legislators to do its bidding, the traditional and now legal procedures for having one's way; it is attacking the State of Vermont in a US court over a law passed by the elected state legislature to protect its constituents from corporate malfeasance. A number of corporations belong to the GMA. Monsanto is one and it is no surprise to see it at war with the citizenry of Vermont, as it seems to be at war with the entire population of the earth. Starbucks is another member and that's another matter. While sipping a Starbucks cappuccino did you stop to consider that you might be contributing to a conspiracy to commit treason?

It gets worse. The present act of war against the State of Vermont is apparently to be fought in US courts. It is still to be hoped that a rational judge will throw the case out and assess a hefty fine for bringing a frivolous suit, but with Active John Roberts still at the helm of the Supreme Court, you never know. However, secret negotiations are going on now for the so-called “trade agreements” TTP and TTIP which would set up off shore courts run by and for corporations to carry out war on elected governments, such as the Vermont Legislature, throughout the world. Fines could be levied by the corporate courts on any non-compliant government, with no recourse to review by any court or agency accountable to the public. That would instantly make all local, state and national governments dead meat. Not a shot need be fired, not a bomb thrown, nor a plane high-jacked. This plot is being hatched within the US Government. President Obama wants it in place soon. The corporate-owned GOP congressmen are enthusiastic. The Fox Crazies want Obama impeached for extending health care insurance to those who need it, and for “Benghazi” but never do they mention TPP.
The way I read it, Article III, sec. 3 of the Constitution states that the Judicial Branch shall rule over pretty much all disputes between states, individuals, and foreign states. An effort by the Executive Branch, with approval by the Legislative Branch, to cede such duties and responsibilities to an alien court would seem to be at the least unconstitutional, or with a more generous interpretation, an act of treason, that is, if you accept my personal perception of artificial entities such as the GMA or the US Chamber of Commerce as enemy agents.
Next time you're stopping for a coffee at Starbucks, think about what you're doing.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Fat Lady Has Sung

It's over folks! The 238 year American experiment with democracy has ended, not with a bang but with an embarrassing fart. The unrelenting efforts of the Supreme Court to undermine the Constitution in favor of its corporate sponsors have borne their fruit and both Houses of Congress have now passed into the control of the oligarchy, along with the judiciary. Will the executive branch follow? Does it matter?

In the wake of the mid-term elections, which broke all campaign spending records for non-presidential elections, and may have set new records in percentages of voters not showing up (most reports state the national voter turnout as 36.6%), Democrats have taken to blaming everything from factions, strategies, the press, voter suppression laws, the widespread perception of the two parties as being equally corrupt and ineffectual, the failure of candidates to embrace Obama, and Obama himself, to the nastiness of the Republicans for the debacle, but the debacle stands.

From the nether world of the ex-Confederacy comes news of Rush Limbaugh's latest tirade. He urges the new GOP  Congress to be unrelenting in their quest to dismantle the country. This time I can only agree. Please don't offer any compromises to Obama. He has a tragic affinity for compromise and a tendency to meet his declared enemies 3/4 of the way on any issue. So keep the heat on, Radical Right Republican Reactionaries, pedal to the metal, all the way to oblivion-- total meltdown or nothing!

Well meaning friends ask me if I think the results will have an effect on the next presidential election in 2016. What can I say? Actions have consequences. Inactions do too.

The appointment of George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000 led to a catastrophic series of events from which the United States has never recovered and probably never will. In case your memory isn't working as well as it once did, in short order we witnessed: a corrupted Presidential election, a stock market collapse, 9/11, an unfocused invasion of Afghanistan, the illegal invasion of Iraq, the Bremer administration of the occupation, tax cuts for the rich and the conversion of a budget surplus into a monster deficit, Hurricane Katrina and “good job Brownie” in New Orleans, torture as DOD policy, domestic spying as NSA policy, massive voter suppression, deregulation of everything that needs to be regulated, another stock market collapse with a too big to fail bailout followed by too big to jail and the Great Recession.

While prior to this election, most serious news was successfully suppressed, apart from hysteria inducing stories of ebola, ISIS and out-of-control immigration, the day after the election the news came out of a newwhistle-blower, Alayne Fleishman, who spoke of her difficulty in getting the Justice Department to hear and do anything about the crimes she witnessed while working for JP Morgan Chase. Just a few weeks before this news surfaced documenting his reluctance to prosecute big-time banksters on criminal charges, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation. Fortunately for the denizens of Wall Street, as quickly as a magician can pull a rabbit out of a hat, a nearly perfect Holder clone, Loretta Lynch, was found among the inner circle of lawyers who alternate between defending white collar criminals of the sort who work for banks, and working for the Justice Department. Her current gig is US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She's the one Obama appointee almost certain to be approved by the Senate. Even Rupert Murdoch supports her. Jamie Dimon can continue to sleep soundly. While Republican Senators, and some Democrats, couldn't bring themselves to approve Debo Adelbile, a well-qualified lawyer, as head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department because he'd once defended Mumia Abu-Jamal, it's hard to picture Republican Senators blocking her appointment just because she has defended a number of crooked bankers. Besides, she's black, and of course, they wouldn't ever want to be seen as racist.

The goals of the new GOP controlled Senate will be:
1. To repeal Obamacare- This may prove more difficult than thought since thousands of people now have health care who didn't have it before. It's one thing to deny something to people. It's another to take something away from them once they've got it.

2. Approval of the Keystone Pipeline and the evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mitch McConnell, the new Senate Majority Leader, who famously stated in 2008 that his top priority was to assure that Obama would be a one-term President, has a new priority. He feels the responsibility to block all action on climate change and to reign in the Environmental Protection Agency, which his new colleague in the Senate, Joni Ernst, the ex-hog castrator from Iowa, has compared to the Gestapo. It will be interesting to see how well Senator Ernst does her work in Republican committee meetings.

3. Approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Pact.
Obama wants it to happen and the corporate owned GOP Congress will be happy to speed it along. These are the democracy ending “trade agreements” that have been in secret negotiations for months. Secret because if the public knew what was in them there would be rioting in the streets. (or am I being uncharacteristically optimistic?) There's a bitter irony in this since Republicans have always railed against international institutions such as the UN which “threaten US sovereignty”. The TPP, negotiated in secret by a cabal of large corporations, will end all local and national sovereignty in the USA and everywhere else, and cripple the ability of elected governments to legislate on matters related to the environment, food safety, workplace safety, minimum wage, working conditions and internet privacy. They may still be permitted to debate whether theories about evolution, gravity or climate change may be discussed in schools, so we'll probably have to retain a skeleton force of elected officials. Not too big though, since ALEC now writes most US legislation. Yes folks, if you hadn't noticed, government has been privatized. TPP is the biggy, the bomb in the schoolhouse, the one big thing that makes everything else fade into insignificance since it basically abolishes electoral-based governance.

There may be historic reasons for a bit of optimism. Many of my liberal friends are hopeful that in 2016 Democrats will retain the presidency and retake both Houses of Congress. Republicans are in a quandary about whom to select for their Presidential candidate from among the brain dead, the certifiably insane and the sociopaths in their number. All three groups were rewarded with remarkable success in this year's elections. In a bit of a panic over this situation, Wall Street groups have dragged out the name of Jeb Bush as a possible saviour from outside the three main factions.

On the other side of the aisle, it appears that Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her new Athena, Goddess of War mode, is the only Democratic candidate. Hmm, Bush-Clinton! Wonder what that will do for voter turnout? At least the electorate may have an inkling of who the candidates are. Campaigning as the less horrible choice didn't work this year and there's no assurance that it will in two years either. We'll have to pin our hopes on the GOP picking a really grotesquely horrible candidate, something clearly within their capabilities.

History can move quickly. Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany at the start of 1933, following the huge gains his Nazi Party scored in the 1932 elections. Before he died in his Berlin bunker just eleven years later, WWII had devastated much of Europe. That's even faster than the devastation brought on by the election of 2000, although don't tell that to an Iraqi. Some 13 million Iraqis and Syrians are now reported to be displaced and homeless. By 1946, following the Nuremberg trials, Europe was starting to rebuild. Our own recovery (as well as that of Iraq) from the wake of 2000 hasn't gone as well and with the election results in, it may be on permanent hold.

On a brighter historical note, it was in AD 41 that Emperor Caligula discussed making his horse Incitatus the newest member of the Roman Senate, on the basis that his horse was capable of doing as much as the current members. Some things haven't changed in two millennia. We haven't crowned an emperor yet but the electorate, who still theoretically get to choose members of the Senate, took a similar course as Caligula, giving the nod to such luminaries as the aforementioned Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis and incumbents such as Pat Roberts, a stellar all-star cast.

The Roman Senators didn't take the slight lying down. A bunch of them got together and stabbed Caligula to death and then tried to restore the Republic. That failed, as the Roman equivalent of our Secret Service rounded up the assassins, killed them and saved the Empire. The good news is that the Roman Empire glided on for another relatively good three or four centuries till Romulus, the last Roman Emperor was deposed in AD 476 by Odoacer, one of the invading barbarians. 435 years after Caligula! That's a pretty impressive run.

The ascendancy of Jim Inhofe to Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works may throw a monkey wrench into our hopes for a similarly long, slow decline. We all know that our planet earth won't be around forever but mostly we think in terms of geologic ages, a bit of an abstraction. Senator Imhofe may change the time scale of the planet's demise to something most of us humans can relate to personally. The good Senator, like many of his Oklahoma constituents, is not unduly concerned since he and they know that the second coming of Jesus will carry us all (at least the righteous amongst us) away to heaven when we manage to arm Israel sufficiently to pacify the Middle East. The Bible tells us that there will always be seeds and the harvest, no matter what Monsanto is up to and that God creates the weather so what is all this presumptuous talk about our changing it.

Once again, there is a kernel of hope, despite all odds. Our current form of government has been called by many names. Recently Sheldon Wolin dubbed it “Inverted Totalitarianism”. That may be technically valid but sounds a bit academic for my taste. I prefer “Corporate Fascism”, which besides being reasonably accurate, touches an appropriate nerve. The oligarchs running the system all seem to be driven by an insatiable lust to exploit the planet and gather the world's riches for themselves. They are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. While the current operating mode may be corporate fascism, or whatever name you choose to apply, their phenomenal success is leading inexorably to neo-feudalism. Once everything in the world is owned by the Walton and Koch families, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Paul Singer and a handful of others, we can all go back to being serfs. Mass consumption will end. After all, how much can those people consume? Pollution will be reduced, along with life expectancies. This may not be the future you had hoped for your grandchildren but hey, life is a gift; it's a wonderful planet. Its population of seven billion people may be radically reduced along the way but with a little luck the planet may be restored to health for our grandchildren's grandchildren.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The 2014 Punditalia Political Platform

Punditalia has published its platform for American politics in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Although 95% or more of our suggestions have not yet been taken, we believe they remain valid.

It may be too late to contemplate realistic political improvement in the United States since the country has sunk into passive acceptance of fascist oligarchy, from which escape will be difficult. Nevertheless, hope is always the last to die and hey, things can always get worse if nobody does anything.  

The current state of affairs in the US is well described in an interview by Chris Hedges of John Ralston Saul and Sheldon Wolin.  Wolin defines it as "inverted totalitarianism".

There is one dim but ongoing ray of light in the continuing, if futile thus far, efforts to undo the Supreme Court's legalization of bribery in its landmark Citizens United decision. The most grotesque travesty of justice since the Dred Scott decision, Citizens United effectively ruled that corporations are people and money is speech. For those of you who may not remember the Dred Scott decision, in 1857 the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, ruled that African-Americans, whether free or not, could never be citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in court. It went on to hold that slaves taken by their owners to states where slavery had been abolished, did not become free.

The Dred Scott Decision, coming at a time when slavery was being challenged, attempted to solidify its legal basis and insure that the rights of slave owners would be secured. Citizens United, like Dred Scott earlier, went far beyond what the Court was asked to decide, in a similar attempt to promote property rights over human rights.

Even Antonin Scalia, no slouch himself at tarnishing the image of the Court, has written that the Dred Scott decision tarnished the reputation of Justice Taney and aggravated the tensions that led to the Civil War. John Roberts will bear that burden for Citizens United. It remains to be seen if it will take an insurrection, another civil war, or just a Constitutional Amendment to rid the country of this aberration.

While the threat to democracy posed by the Citizens United decision is obvious to anyone who gives it a thought, new so-called “Trade Agreements”, most notably the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which are currently being negotiated in relative secrecy, would effectively establish rules barring the exercise of democracy, not only in the US but throughout the countries joined by those treaties. While the negotiations are closed to members of Congress and the public at large, these provisions are being written by trade associations and corporations seeking power and unlimited profits. The concept is that any government, local, state, provincial or national, which enacts legislation which might limit or reduce profits of a corporation, could be sued for damages in a special court, set up by the corporations and responsible to no elected body.

While we may hold a minority view here, the enactment or proposal of any such trade agreement would meet our standards for treason. Although these negotiations are being conducted by a theoretically Democratic administration, make no mistake, the only hope of stopping these diabolical “agreements” is to make sure that both houses of Congress have Democratic majorities. Many Democrats have sold out to the big corporations too but the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the US Chamber of Commerce and allied subversive groups. If you're eligible to vote, we urge you to do so but please, make sure that anyone you vote for is committed to opposing TPP.

For those of you who are not US citizens, we hope you've read this far. TPP is not just a threat to Americans or to American democracy. It is a very real threat first to the member countries, but if this goes through, its effects will spread. Your phone calls and emails are already being monitored by the NSA. Perhaps that doesn't bother you. You have nothing to hide. But things can get worse. You may wake up one day to find that you're forced to eat foods that meet US Government standards. For those of you living in Italy, on Sunday night, October 19th, at 10 or 10:30 PM, RAI 3 TV will have a program dealing with TPP. Forget Ebola, forget ISIS, but be very, very afraid. TPP is worse than both of them. Get out and let your politicians hear about it.

Many other issues need to be addressed, from climate change and ending the permanent state of war to dismantling the surveillance state and demilitarizing the society but if Citizens United isn't overcome and TPP canceled, we're cooked.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Jobs Nobody Wants

We usually hear this phrase in conjunction with immigration policy. Should we allow more Central Americans into the US to pick our grapes, tend our gardens or process our meat products? Here in Italy, people arrive crossing the Mediterranean rather than the Rio Grande, or else they trek in from Eastern Europe. The pizza makers and tomato pickers are mostly from Africa. People from Eastern Europe do practically everything, with a heavy concentration of them looking after the old and the infirm. It would seem that in both the USA and in Europe there are many jobs that nobody wants to do, despite unusually high levels of unemployment. US Speaker of the House John Boehner recently said that “a rising number of people would rather sit around”. He was partly right. He should have said that most people would rather sit around. That's what drives investment Johnny!   Most rational people would prefer to sit around and get money from their investments rather than being paid to work. The problem is that some don't have anything to invest. They started life on the wrong foot or rather, in the wrong womb.

What are these jobs that nobody wants? Cleaners of houses, streets, offices and porta-potties, hamburger flippers, coal miners, steel workers, soldiers and pesticide sprayers come freely to mind. Some unloved jobs get done by importing or finding people so desperately poor that they'll do anything. Other unpleasant tasks such as embalming the dead or pouring molten steel get done by paying the workers handsomely. We've managed to eliminate many of those nasty jobs. The steel mills have been exported to cheap labor countries. Undertakers appear to be secure for the near future but no doubt some entrepreneur is already devising a scheme to freeze dry bodies for low cost embalming and cosmetic treatment in Honduras. Once upon a time coal miners were paid enough to make a decent living despite the dangers and the hardships of the work. After years of only partially successful union busting, coal companies have invested heavily in gaining approvals for the cheaper and more efficient technique of mountain-top removal to get at the coal. It's a bit hard on the local environment but with the jobs gone, there's not much reason to live in those places any more anyway.

Soldiering has an up and down history of desirability. While defending one's country may be a noble endeavor, and in remote centuries kings demonstrated their valor by leading their armies in battle, few of us really want to spend our lives as paid killers. The draft was used to overcome the reluctance of the masses to devoting themselves to this line of work but when too many people objected to killing people they had no quarrel with, the draft was eliminated in the US and an all volunteer military was instituted. Salaries were increased to the point where they represented the best economic opportunity for people from the poorer outposts of the society. The better money was combined with promises of free college later and useful training while in service. Many of these promises turned out to be hoaxes but then, that's been the nature of all sorts of recruitment throughout history.

As the American state of permanent war goes well into its second decade, those sorts of enticements have worn thin. Now, besides the good money and the deceptive promises, hero status has been bestowed. At every major sporting event in the US, uniform wearing veterans are called upon to receive our praise and gratitude, or to sing the national anthem as fighter planes do awesome flyovers. Not all veterans are happy with being anointed as heroes but it apparently stimulates the recruitment needed to keep the military industrial complex's lower echelons fully staffed.

Ironically, some of the jobs nobody wants aren't so terrible in and of themselves. Picking fruit may be strictly for cheap imported labor but last year a lawyer friend of ours flew in from Santa Monica to help pick his sister's olives for four days. He loved it. More and more of our neighbors are having friends visit from Ireland, Holland and even Bermuda to help with their olive harvest. I'm unconvinced about the inherent joys of olive picking but intrigued by the Tom Sawyer aspect of this phenomenon. We have more olive trees outside our door than I'll ever want to pick myself so if any of you want to share in the joy of the harvest, you're welcome to come and help. Free wine and bruschetta for the pickers, though you'll have to find your own accommodations and travel arrangements.

Gardening is another of those unwanted jobs that many of us spend a godawful amount of time and money on without any financial return. We do occasionally get some help from the most sought after resident of our village, an extraordinarily hard working fellow from Albania. If he could be cloned, there would be work for five of him.

What is a job that people really want to do? What makes people do the job that they do? Back in history a century or so, and still today in some parts of the world, people seemed to give less thought to this than they do now. If their father was a butcher, they'd be butchers. If their father was a farmer, chances were even better that they'd be farmers too.

Growing up the the American suburbs, that pattern was broken for me. I had no idea what work was or what adults did. Female adults cooked and shopped. Male adults put on a suit, walked to the train and reappeared, briefcase in hand, in the evening. Now, thanks to the popular TV show Mad Men, we've learned that they spent their days smoking, drinking, scheming how to outfox their colleagues and having illicit sex.

My brother and I were sent to a testing service in New York to determine what, if anything, we were fit to do and what we might enjoy doing. His childhood talent for burying ants in tar using only a magnifying glass proved to be a precursor of a successful career in weapons systems, a scientific orientation that the testing service recognized and encouraged. In my case the testers found a propensity for argument even stronger than the desire to draw, leading them to urge a career in law. Alas, my argumentative nature was so strong that when a neighbor, who was both a lawyer and a judge, advised me that the quality of my law school performance would be far less important to my career than the number of local civic and political organizations I managed to join, rather than acknowledging the generosity and wisdom of his words, I scuttled the entire project to follow the advice of a brilliant but naive professor of American art and architecture who claimed that America needed architects more than it needed lawyers.

Lawyers, architects, doctors, dentists, businessmen, professors. They're all thought to be desirable positions. Why? The obvious answer is money. All the people emigrating from scenic, unspoiled places to industrial wastelands do so because they need money to live. That's simple enough but once you have enough money to live, what makes a job something you want to do? Money is always in the list of motivators and for some people it comprises the entire list, but two other major factors, pleasure and mission, seem to play a part.

The mission of the doctor is to heal people; the architect wants to create a better built environment, the lawyer hopes to bring justice to the society; the journalist wants to reveal the truth; the teacher intends to impart a richer and more rewarding life to people growing up; the priest wants to save souls. The mission always sounds good; the actual tasks involved are often less appealing. 

Medicine has been the best paid major profession* for as long as I can remember, conferring prestige as well as high income, although those formerly distinct rewards have tended to become synonymous. Since we all fear for our lives and for our health, and medicine requires years of study and preparation, the high level of compensation seems justified. Yet how many of us would want to do what they do? Specialization brings greater income but who would want to spend their days, weeks and years probing one unhealthy rectum after another, or examining a steady stream of oozing skin rashes?
Surgery can be as bloody as working in a butcher shop but your bad cuts may end up as litigation rather than sausage. (*among major professions I exclude pro sports figures, hedge fund managers, bank CEOs, heads of Mafia families, politicians, and oligarchs, who combine to make up a numerically insignificant privileged class)

Architecture has been romanticized to the point where architects don't get paid, since the pleasure of the work is compensation enough. The public is unaware that in major architectural offices the people dreaming up exciting new buildings are vastly outnumbered by those writing reports, meeting minutes, peer reviews or specifications and by those preparing door schedules and foundation details.

I can assume that many young lawyers who want to see justice done spend an inordinate amount of time writing wills or devising schemes to keep wealthy clients from paying taxes or employees. Teachers who want to create a better informed generation may spend most of their time maintaining order and assuring that no crimes are committed on their watch. Soldiers who want to defend their country, which hasn't been under attack since before their parents were born, may find that their political superiors send them out to invade places they'd never even heard of. Conceivably, some politicians have have started their careers thinking they might help their country, only to discover that raising campaign funding to secure their reelection is a full-time job in its own right, one which entails soliciting bribes from deep pocketed contributors in return for making those contributors their only constituents who matter.

Money and mission are important but surely the pleasure experienced in doing something must play an important part of making a job desirable. Pursuing a career in the arts is an extreme case of people driven by the love of an activity itself, regardless of the economic sacrifices it entails, but many lines of work, from being a chef to being a scientist, pilot or explorer have some of this aspect.

As I recall, boys at the age of career decisions enjoy playing sports more than almost anything else. The ultimate dream is to be able to play games into middle age and get paid vast amounts of money to do so. The only activity they'd rather engage in is sex, but opportunities are always inadequate. They may resort to dreams to fulfill their desires but few would dare dream of making a career out sex work. Chances of becoming a shortstop for the Yankees or even making it onto an NFL practice squad may be slim, but the odds of making that much money in sex are slimmer still.

For years, feminists have lamented that women's opportunities in professional sports are limited, and they're right, but nature provides a degree of symmetry. Women may have a harder time breaking into professional sports than men but they have opportunities in sex work that men would die for. Girls are raised differently than boys, or were until recently, but based on the inherent pleasure involved and despite the lingering stigma attached, I'd have thought that the oldest profession would also be the most sought after career option. There are signs that, just as the best and brightest young men are abandoning the traditional professions to seek their fortunes as hedge fund managers, increasing numbers of their female counterparts have taken to prostitution to work their way out of student debt.

Playing games into adulthood can pay extremely well but only for a very select few in this most competitive of worlds. For the vast majority seeking such careers, the rewards are meager for such gruelling work. That may also be true for prostitutes but success doesn't get their faces on Wheaties boxes so neither we nor the IRS can know where their career opportunities top out.

While many military people may object at being called heroes, perhaps we could give a boost to some more needed occupations with this strategy. There are other occupations outside the military which are also statistically risky. Besides steel workers and coal miners, there are garbage collectors, loggers, fishermen, farmers, roofers, police and fire fighters, heroes all. Let's start calling our electricians, plumbers, teachers, nurses and septic tank cleaners heroes. For that matter, if we held up our sporting matches five minutes for a patriotic musical tribute to our fruit and vegetable pickers, maybe enough Americans would enter the trade so that the US could end its border controversies.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Panem et Circenses part I.

Most of our ex-patriot friends in Umbria will disagree, and some will be appalled, but what I missed most during our six-week foray into the Homeland was our bread. Terni bread! Many Americans and other foreigners hate it, finding it too bland. It contains no salt and it becomes stale after about two days. Nevertheless, it goes well with many things already salty enough on their own, from prosciutto to stews to cheese, and it gets delivered to our village square every morning. We also have casareccio or Genzano bread, two varieties with salt and a heavy crust, for an occasional change of pace.

Our daughter Francesca, who lives in New Jersey, is an excellent cook and is not indifferent to anything related to food. She shops regularly at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and she uses mostly organic foods. So far, so good. There is a vast variety of breads available in the US, with every imaginable type and combination of grains I've heard of, and some I never knew existed. Nevertheless, all those healthy Whole Foods breads we were exposed to had the taste and consistency of marshmallows blended with oatmeal.

My Luddite tendencies came to full full fruition with the introduction of the cellular telephone, a device I've learned to carry around unused, uncharged and, more often than not, turned off. On this trip I discovered that these tendencies run deeper than I'd imagined. My aversion to cell phones has now been matched by my disdain for sliced bread. Part of the pleasure of eating bread comes with the joy of cutting a slice or a chunk to the specifications of your immediate needs or desires. I've come to view bread slicers with almost the same contempt, although not the cold white hatred, I've always had for cars with automatic transmissions. Our entire family shuns pre-grated parmigiano but our American daughter goes one step beyond her parents by not owning a post-industrial revolution style cheese grater. She uses the finger grater variety, which takes about twenty minutes to grate a day's supply. You know you can't grate much more from a given piece of cheese when the grated stuff turns pink from the blood of your fingers.

The American relationship to food appears to be becoming schizophrenic. The corporate-owned Congress refuses to require or even permit the labeling of foods containing GMOs or most anything else. Something like 84% of food sold in American supermarkets is banned from sale in many other countries, notably Japan and the European Union. The FDA, originally established to protect American consumers, now mostly shills for the big Agro businesses in their quest for bigger profits, no matter the costs to the environment or human health. Secret trade agreements threaten to undo our last shreds of food safety. Given this climate, a large part of the public simply gives up, eating whatever is cheap and refusing to question what they're eating. The ever smaller part of the American public that can afford to be selective in its food purchases has grown more paranoid about what it eats. For companies, such as Whole Foods, which live off this anxiety, profits are up, as are prices, and they provide more and more choices for their increasingly nervous and demanding clientele.

On several visits to Whole Foods, I noted the availability of such essentials as: sweet potato corn tortilla chips; organic mild green Mojo green chilis with cheese and a hint of lime; organic lightly salted blue corn tortilla chips; three seed non-GMO savory dipping chips with Himalayan pink salt and Tellicherry cracked pepper- gluten free; vitamin water ZERO naturally sweetened fruit punch; organic anti-allergenic laundry detergent; soy or rice WHIP vegan dairy free no cholesterol; Vitality beverage at $3.79 for 10 oz in two flavors, pomegranate mint or blackberry hibiscus; organic energy shots in either chocolate raspberry or wildberry relish. You may have noticed that most of these items were in the “junk food” section. I was desperately searching for fried pork rinds, one of the diminishing number of typically American things that I still crave. Whole Foods failed me here but, thank the Lord, they were found at a more traditional supermarket. I suspect they're banned in Europe, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps they're fried in some popular variety of carcinogenic oil, or perhaps there's no pork in them at all and they're fabricated from processed GMO corn with petroleum based flavorings. Sometimes one just feels the need to live dangerously. Fried pork rinds satisfy that need in me. Fortunately, we have a contact in Naples who can feed my habit through the American PX.

While in the US, we got to see the movie, Food, Inc. It's well done, albeit chilling. Go see this film if you've decided to embark on a strict diet. You'll have an easier time renouncing most of the foods you may have been overindulging in. It definitely made us grateful that we'd be returning to Italy sooner rather than later.

It's all too easy to joke about what's going on in America with regard to food. In fairness, I should also take note of the changes that have occurred in the forty years since we left. Olive oil, parmigiano, decent coffee and fresh herbs were hard to find in most of the US in those days, and fresh vegetables were very limited. Now, everything grown or produced in the world is flown in from a place where it is currently picked, packed and processed, ideally by very low cost labor. Seasons have been abolished. This conforms to the venerated American tradition of extreme pendulum swings.

Tobacco use was almost obligatory until it became the nation's biggest killer. Now we try to confine sales to the third world. A concern with alcohol abuse led to the advent of prohibition in 1920, which in turn generated speakeasies and organized crime until the need for respite from the Great Depression, along with the weight of centuries of human tradition, led to repeal in 1933 and the restoration of alcohol as a legal tax paying growth industry. Marijuana, for which hundreds of thousands of people remain incarcerated, is in the process of becoming legal in the midst of the Great Recession. Weed may become a significant source of tax revenues but, given the privatization of our prisons and contracts with states to insure that they must be kept filled, most of those folks, especially the darker complexioned among them, won't be getting out anytime soon.   Asbestos was correctly regarded as a miracle product in the 40's and it was effectively used in nearly all building materials, until it was revealed as deadly to human health. The costs of its removal in renovation projects now threaten to exceed construction costs.

We would love to imagine that lessons were learned and that GMO foods could be limited, labeled or eliminated before millions ingest huge doses of GMO related pesticides and die as a result, just as other millions did before action was taken on tobacco and asbestos. Living in Europe, one is tempted to say that food corruption is just an American problem; let them stew in their own canola oil and eat their own pink slime, but this is a battle that won't respect national borders.

To those war lovers who advocate bombing Iran or closing in on Russia to make the world safer, I would suggest that you could more effectively turn your attention to the far more deadly sociopaths hanging out in St. Louis, in K Street lobby shops, and on Wall Street. War is hell. It shouldn't be wasted on the wrong targets.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Panem et Circenses part 2 (part 1 wil follow)

We penetrated the Homeland frontier just a week before the Super Bowl was played in East Rutherford, NJ, in the new $1.2 billion MetLife stadium. Due to frequent
snow and what used to be known as polar weather before the poles melted, we didn't get out very much, except for a day or two in the metastasizing malls of Paramus. The Garden State Plaza was the largest shopping center in the East, perhaps in the world, when it was built, and since then it's only gotten bigger. It now has sections of valet parking for those intimidated by the vast parking areas or too infirm to walk from their outer reaches. While I've always disliked malls, I must admit that the vastness of the GSP, plus the rather tasteful paving used throughout, makes it one of the few places in northern New Jersey where you can go for a long and pleasant walk when the frozen snow covers everything outside. You only have to learn to ignore the shops.

I had hoped that the blizzard conditions would intensify, making the first cold weather Super Bowl an epic catastrophe with thousands of drunken fans overrunning local emergency rooms for frostbite relief but alas, the weather eased off for twenty-four hours and the blizzard conditions only returned after the game when disheartened Denver fans found themselves stranded by inadequate public transit and canceled flights. The game, even if not played in conditions banned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was indeed a catastrophe. A friend of my son-in-law showed up to watch the game with us, bearing large quantities of pizza. Everyone but me was in the kitchen as the game got underway and after the first play from scrimmage, the score was already 2-0 Seattle.

This trip was full of nostalgia for me and this first play reminded me of my own aborted football career. As a fourteen year old true sophomore third string junior varsity quarterback aspirant I was inserted into the lineup for the final series of a hopelessly compromised late season game. Under pressure, on my first and only play, I threw the ball up in the direction I thought someone would catch it, just before being smothered by the entire defensive line. Indeed, someone did catch the ball and ran it back for a pick 6. The following season, just like one of my NFL favorites, Kurt Warner, I was stocking shelves at a supermarket after school, as well as becoming something of a beer expert. Unlike Kurt, I never got another chance at football, which was probably all to the good since even in college, beer connoisseur or not, my weight never surged beyond 160 lbs,(73 KG.).

Back at the Super Bowl, by the time the pizza was sliced, Denver was down 8-0 and the game continued its long downhill spiral. Peyton Manning won't be working in a supermarket next season. He'll be back, promoting nearly every product sold in the supermarket on TV, in addition to his day job of QB for the Denver Broncos for a cool $20 million. He's better than the game outcome suggested and I wish him well in his comeback from well remunerated humiliation.

The one positive from the game was that Mike Ditka, the Hall of Fame player and coach, and never known as a shrinking violet, agreed with me that playing a championship game on a February night in NJ was stupid and unfair to players and fans alike. I'm afraid Mike won't be back as an NFL TV commentator next season.

No sooner was the pizza consumed than the hype for the Winter Olympics grew to a crescendo. That's not unusual for a major TV sports extravaganza but the strange thing here was that the vast amount of promotion seemed to be about politics rather than sports. President Obama was apparently embarrassed by having had Vladimir Putin bail out Uncle Sam's ass by negotiating settlements with Iran and Syria to avoid yet more disastrous wars. Rather than showing some gratitude, the US Congress, the media and the administration launched a non-stop campaign of hate and ridicule against Russia. But then, Putin had also given asylum to Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who had done the unforgivable by exposing crimes of the US Government against its people and its Constitution, and a crackdown on whistle blowers has been the one area where Obama has displayed a steely resolve. Putin may like to be photographed bare-chested but from all the
pictures in the news, you would think he never wore a shirt. Congressmen talked of boycotting the Olympics because Putin had announced policies nearly as hostile to gay people as those of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Obama made a point of neither attending the games himself nor sending anyone from his family or Administration, though he stopped short of an official boycott. He did appoint Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King as official US emissaries to the Olympics in a “so there!” gesture.

During the anti-Russian campaign, the rock group Pussy Riot was also in the news. They were getting out of jail in Russia, where they had been for some months after convictions on charges of “hooliganism motivated by anti-religious hatred”. Meanwhile, back in the USA, three anti-nuclear peace activists, an 82 year-old nun and two men, 57 and 63 respectively, were up for sentencing. They had cut through security fences at an Oak Ridge, Tennessee nuclear weapon production and storage facility, hung banners and painted Biblical slogans on walls in blood. They were originally charged with misdemeanor offenses of trespassing and vandalism, for which they could have faced one year prison terms, but the Obama Administration, not to be outdone by Putin in cracking down on dissidents, upped the ante to multiple felony charges with potential sentences up to thirty-five years. By the way, these three terrorists breached the largest nuclear weapons facility without encountering any security personnel. To date we've heard of no prosecution for criminal negligence of any of the functionaries entrusted with security.

Vast media attention was given to the inadequacies of the Olympic planning and the quality and color of the drinking water in Sochi. This may have all been a smokescreen because while Putin was concentrating on keeping his games safe from Chechen terrorists, an alphabet soup of American agencies, including the CIA, FBI, NSA, NED, IMF and the State Department, was fomenting coups in Venezuela and Ukraine.. It didn't go as planned in Venezuela but with the help of Andriy
Parubiy and his neo-Nazi militia, they successfully staged a coup in Ukraine reminiscent of the earlier glory days in Iran and Chile. With the elected president chased out of the country, our man Yats was hastily installed to run the disfunctional country and see if IMF austerity will work better there than in Greece or Spain.

The opening ceremonies were splendid and temporarily muted the anti-Russian campaign. The Americans narrowly won the opening competition for most tasteless ceremonial outfits by wearing the American flag as seen by someone on LSD. The Germans took silver by flaunting a well-intentioned multi-colored homage to the rainbow coalition, which simply came off as garish and ugly.
The Irish olive drab military outfits with splotches of orange and green took the bronze. They were simply ugly.

We've enjoyed the Olympics and while we tend to appreciate great athletic achievement regardless of the nationality of the athletes, we were pleased to see the Russians do so well on their home turf in the face of so much hostility. Some Russian Olympians courageously offered up symbolic support for the beleaguered Pussy Riot. We waited in vain for some American athletes to indicate their displeasure with the brutal treatment of American political prisoners, but there are, after all, those Wheaties endorsements to think about. Seeing little Norway lead the medals chase in the early days was a cheerful surprise. As an American, I was happy with the remarkable successes of skiers Bode Miller, Mikaela Schiffren and Ted Ligedy but given the jingoistic mood in America, the failure of the US hockey team to reach the final brought more a sense of relief than disappointment.

The star of the Olympics for our family, in part due her strong physical resemblance to our five-year old grandson Willie, was the sixteen-year-old Russian figure skater, Yulia Lipnitsaya. 
She blew her chance for the gold in the women's finals, but her earlier routines simply lit up the games. The US gold medalists in ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, were brilliant and dominated their event, but if ice dancing is a legitimate winter games sport, I see no reason why ballet performances should not be entered into competition at the summer games.

The biggest surprise of the games to this observer was the failure of the US team to succeed in those strange games which combine cross country skiing and shooting. Our skiers excel in the Alpine events as well as in the trick skiing and snow boarding events, and the US is the most heavily armed, gun-crazy nation on earth. Where was the NRA? How could they allow peace-loving countries like Norway and Germany to outdo us in gun-toting events?

The closing ceremonies were as impressive as the opening ceremonies, although they were spoiled somewhat toward the end by the appearance of cloyingly cute, enormous inflated bear, seemingly on loan from Disney studios. Nevertheless, the games did their job, entertaining the public and distracting it from the more serious competitions played out in the worlds of politics, economics and the military.