Saturday, February 24, 2018

Letter to the World

Dear World,

Not all Americans are assholes. I feel it is important to insist on this point, knowing, as I do, that there are those who would dispute it.

Granted, our president is an asshole, as are some of the people he associates with, for example, Donald Trump, Jr., Steve Bannon, Steve Miller, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Rob Porter, Mike Pence, and…okay, pretty much everyone he associates with.

But please note that Donald Trump was not the popular choice of the voters in the last presidential election. Most Americans did not vote for him. Only 62,985,134 did. The rest of us are innocent!

Really, if it weren’t for the quirkiness of the electoral college system, along with at least one other factor (or, what is known in Moscow as a “фактор”), Donald Trump would not be in the White House today.

Recently Trump has argued that many of our school teachers should start packing heat. Yes, go ahead and read that sentence again; it is what I meant to write. And it is true.

You may well ask, “What kind of incredible asshole would want to see teachers and suicidal maniacs having shootouts in the halls and classrooms of public schools???”

The answer of course is a violence-prone, Trumpian asshole. Or the kind of asshole that thinks the NRA, in its relentless quest to promote more gun sales in the U.S., needs a little boost from the White House. And this kind of asshole, by the way, is characteristic of practically the entire Republican Party today, the party that has decided that ethics are bullshit.

It is worth noting (as many others have) that every country in the world has mentally disturbed individuals and every country has law enforcement officials who sometimes fail at their job – as did the deputy who declined to enter Stoneman Douglas High School to confront the maniac and his automatic weapon. But not every country is awash with automatic weapons. That’s just us. But it doesn’t make us all assholes! Only the politicians who strive to put automatic weapons at everyone’s fingertips are assholes.

America actually has some truly amazing people, people who are the opposite of assholes. In support of this statement I submit to you the students who have been leading the discussion about our need for better gun control. These young people are incredible – and they’re Americans! See what I mean?

So please, World, don’t give up on us. We will be normal again someday, I promise you. And when we are, it will be because of people like these young Americans - who are striving with all their hearts to make our world better.


Culture World

                       Photo: Newsweek

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Trump : Iranians : : Holden Caulfield : Ancient Egyptians

Wouldn’t it be cool if our president weren’t an idiot? Of course, even if he weren’t intellectually challenged, he would still be a pathologically dishonest narcissist, so there’s that.

But still, you could argue that Nixon was not as horrible a president as Trump is because at least Nixon was not stupid.

What started me thinking about this was a comment by my keen-eyed spouse when she pointed out the similarity between Trump’s language and that of Holden Caulfield, adolescent protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye. Her comment was provoked by a New Year's Eve tweet from the Doofus in Chief.

More on that tweet later, but right now I’d like to make a point about Trump and Iran that seems to have escaped his notice: He is neither admired nor respected by most of the people of Iran. His anti-Muslim bigotry is well known, and his UN speech last September was widely scorned by the Iranian people as insulting to them.

Besides this is the obvious contrast between the clownishly belligerent Trump and the intelligent and open-minded Obama. One thing I learned on my 2015 trip to Iran is that Obama is widely liked and admired there. Since Trump took over, the Iranians don’t feel they have a friend in the White House, and they certainly don’t see in Trump a leader who respects them.

It is true that the Iranian government is authoritarian and it is particularly unpopular among Iranian liberals, but right now President Donald Trump is equally unpopular. His “words of encouragement” are not helpful to freedom-loving Iranians.

And now, back to those words: here is what Trump tweeted on New Year’s Day:

Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

The simplicity of the language and the utter ignorance it expresses are what call to mind Holden Caulfield's pathetic “Egyptian” essay. Here, as a sample, is a passage from The Catcher in the Rye about the conversation poor Holden has with “Old Spencer,” his disappointed history teacher:

“We studied the Egyptians from November 4th to December 2nd,” [Old Spencer] said. “You chose to write about them for the optional essay question. Would you care to hear what you had to say?”

“No, sir, not very much,” I said.

He read it anyway, though. You can't stop a teacher when they want to do something. They just do it.

‘The Egyptians were an ancient race of Caucasians residing in one of the northern sections of Africa. The latter as we all know is the largest continent in the Eastern Hemisphere.’

I had to sit there and listen to that crap. It certainly was a dirty trick.

‘The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us today for various reasons. Modern science would still like to know what the secret ingredients were that the Egyptians used when they wrapped up dead people so that their faces would not rot for innumerable centuries. This interesting riddle is still quite a challenge to modern science in the twentieth century.’

He stopped reading and put my paper down. I was beginning to sort of hate him.

“Your essay, shall we say, ends there,” he said in this very sarcastic voice.

If Holden were a real person I would feel obligated to apologize to him for having compared him to Donald Trump. After all, Holden is at heart a decent guy. But still, Trump’s level of thought about the Iranians, and his clumsy and misguided way of talking about them are uncannily similar to Holden’s take on the Egyptians.

I should add here that I have a special place in my heart for the people of Iran, since I was the Iranian students’ club adviser in a university where I once taught out west. Also, on my 2015 trip to that country, with my buddy, Professor Li Wei, I learned that there was (at that time) a great deal of good will toward the United States among most Iranians. We have a lot to offer each other, we Americans and our soul sisters and brothers in Iran, if only we didn’t have a crude, anti-Muslim blowhard occupying the White House and standing between us.

             Iranian Protestors Taking It To The Streets
                  (From the Washington Post)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Crisis in the Offing

The stink bomb that is the Trump presidency should have as its motto “Thanks for the votes, suckers!”

“Aha!” you say, “because of the tax cut for billionaires!” Yes, but for so many other reasons as well. Anyway, let’s start today’s tour de farce with a glance at that tax bill. This bill is one of those Congressional actions that makes ordinarily cynical people say, “Good God, I haven’t been nearly cynical enough!” Or, as the venerable Onion put it, “GOP Leaders Celebrate Decisive Win Over Americans.”

If Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell were normal human beings with normal standards of honesty they would have put forward their tax plan with these words: “We want to cut taxes for corporations and rich people because they pay for our campaigns. We will throw a few temporary cuts to some middle-class Americans hoping they will let us get away with this, even though they and their children will have to pay for the 1.5 trillion dollars we are borrowing to fund our bribes to our wealthy donors. Of course, middle-class insurance premiums will go up, but maybe voters will forget that our tax plan caused that. Now, if our rich corporate friends will only give us a boost here by suddenly showering their employees with hundreds of dollars (from the billions the taxpayers are giving them), that would help us cover up our scam. In the meantime, thanks for the votes, suckers!”

But such honesty is alien to the likes of Ryan and McConnell. However, Dear Reader, please don’t refer to Washington as a Swamp, because any ordinary, self-respecting swamp would recoil in horror and disgust at the rank and slithery morass that is today’s Republican Congress. But I digress.

The other gross blunder committed by Trump and his enablers last week was the follow-up to a previous gross blunder: the promise to move America’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This incredibly stupid and provocative gesture resulted in a UN vote of condemnation that was supported by almost all of America’s erstwhile allies – including Britain, Germany, Japan, and France.

The Trump administration should have accepted that the UN vote was a rational reaction its own blunder - a blunder which, by the way, further undermined America’s already shrinking influence in the world. But instead of quietly accepting the vote of condemnation, the Trump administration reacted with the belligerent anger of a common street thug. America's UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, promised that she was taking the names of those countries that hurt Trump’s feelings by criticizing him, and that they would pay.

Even worse than the tax cuts for the rich and Nikki Haley’s thuggishness were the attacks that various Republicans have begun to level at the FBI. Orchestrated by the Stink Bomb White House and in close coordination with propagandists at Fox News, Congressmen like Devin Nunes (R - CA) and Jim Jordan (R - Ohio) are trying to make Americans distrust the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Obviously, what they want to do is weaken Robert Mueller so that Trump will be able to eliminate him and wipe out the Russia investigation. Trump wants to eliminate Mueller because the special counsel is all but certain to reveal very damaging information about the corrupt behavior of Donald Trump and/or his family.

Here’s what Republican Congressman Jim Jordan said about the FBI last week: “Everything points to the fact that there was an orchestrated plan to try to prevent Donald Trump from being the next president of the United States.”

Yes, Jordan actually claims that the FBI, under the direction of James Comey, was trying to get Hillary Clinton elected. Can you get your head around that? Probably not, if you’re a normal American patriot. Well, MSNBC host and normal, patriotic American Nicolle Wallace can’t. Here’s what she had to say about her fellow Republicans:

“I can’t get my brain around the insurrection in the Republican Party against Republican-led law enforcement agencies. I can’t shove the round pegs into the square boxes. It’s making me crazy.”

It’s making a lot of us crazy, Ms. Wallace, and it’s going to make the entire country crazy next year if Trump orders Mueller fired and Congressional Republicans support him. There will be crowds in the streets, lots of them and for a long time, I guarantee you.

I believe Trump will have Mueller fired because that’s the kind of person Trump is: crude, bullying, and unconcerned with anything but his own sorry hide. If we had enough decent, patriotic Republicans in Congress to stop Trump from doing this or, at least to replace Mueller with an equally dedicated and competent investigator once he is fired, the country would be fine. But look at the recent behavior of GOP politicians. What do you think?
                           (Photo from Salon)