No flags for me this patriotic week

Confederate battle flags unfurled at state capitals. Ten Commandments monuments in courthouses. Swastika tattoos on the forearms of skinheads.

It’s pretty easy to dislike and descry totems like these, isn’t it?

The first is a sad remnant of not just a lost war but a morally bankrupt way of life, one based on the false presumption of the inherent inequality of different iterations of our single species. The second enforces the desire to impose the majority mythology on the personal, social, and political lives of everyone, believer or not. And the last is nothing else than a declaration of ignorance, hatred, and violence.

This week, with Canada Day on the Tuesday and U. S. Independence Day on Saturday, one question begs to be asked: How about adding the Maple Leaf and the Star Spangled Banner? Do they belong on the same list of evil influences as the others?

Most people will say no, and many will find the very question offensive, if not nonsensical.

Not me.

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Dancing around the truth of Charleston

At the core of the right’s self-serving reactions to the Charleston massacre is one truth that’s so obvious that it must be its blinding clarity that keeps conservatives from seeing it. America’s racism is so deeply engrained in the culture that to many people it has become invisible.

How else to comprehend explanations like Mike Huckabee’s, that a young, male white supremacist’s slaughter of nine black churchgoers is most importantly another secularist attack on Americans’ right to pray? Or the NRA’s loathsome cry for — what else? — more guns, so that those targeted churchgoers could have gone all O.K. Corral on the perp’s ass?

This mass murder — no, it’s not an “incident” or an “event” — highlights how hard it is for some white people to admit the widespread reality of racism. No, it hasn’t gone away. And ignoring it won’t make it go away. Continue reading

Killing a killer is killing

Why capital punishment?

What makes a society kill with calculated, cold-blooded rationality?

If I were ever going to support the death penalty, certainly the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, would qualify for my approval. After all, he and his brother killed four people and injured more than 250 others, apparently without a thought for the lives they were changing, wrecking, and ending. Tsarnaev is reported to have shown little or no remorse, nor has he ever denied his part in the attack. He was quite willing to plead guilty and accept life in prison without parole if the state would take the death penalty off the table.

But even in this case, I am as revolted by the penalty verdict as I was by the initial outrage.

Perhaps more revolted.

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A new book shows the true history of American “gun rights”

9780190228583The reactionary remnant of movie hero Clint Eastwood was at it again recently, boasting that if Michael Moore had arrived uninvited at Eastwood’s home, the way that Moore famously did at the home of Charlton Heston, Eastwood would have shot him.

Eastwood didn’t talk about having his gun pried from his “cold, dead hands,” but his bravado was clearly part of the misunderstanding of history that underlies much of the mindset — and too much of the rhetoric — of the Tea Party and its sympathizers.

It’s too bad that very few of these uber-patriots will hear of, much less read, a meticulously researched, absolutely persuasive book — Robert J. Spitzer’s Guns across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights (Oxford, May 2015).

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Canada’s PM: a warrior wannabe

On his way to European ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a surprise visit to (almost) the front lines of this year’s “War on Terror” headliner, the Kurdish zone of Iraq. While there, he had a great photo op with the leader of the Kurds and peering through binoculars at distant ISIL positions.

(Harper also visited Baghdad, but there he refused to participate in a joint appearance with the unacceptably Iran-friendly president of the whole country.)

What a pile of self-serving political crap.

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Hey, you! — Stop fracturing your own spine back there!

The reactions to the arrest-related death of Freddie King in Baltimore are as varied as you’d expect. Some of them defy comprehension, while others show careful, clear thought.

It’s not easy to excuse arsonists and looters, but it is possible to understand them. You try living with the profound weight of both poverty and racism, day after day, year after year. At best, your outrage overflows when a Freddie King dies, and you join a street protest that you know, deep down, will do little other than give your more violent impulses a non-violent outlet. At worst, you’ve been shortchanged so often and in so many ways that you never experienced the self-respect that would have restrained the mindlessness of the mob you’ve joined. Sometimes, when a scream of outrage isn’t enough, there just isn’t any other way to let the injustice out than an act of rage. I’m not condoning it, mind you, but I do have to try to understand it.

The reactions of some of our public actors are no easier to condone, but they are harder to understand. Just a few of them will give us a sense of the range of these outrageous responses.

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They had them at the dollar sign

Republican presidential wannabes parade before billionaire Sheldon Adelson to shout out mandatory uncritical solidarity with Israel. Then it’s back to Iowa to begin the crucial fight to win, not the nomination itself, but the endorsement of the Koch brothers.

Meanwhile, the current Democratic president fights off the progressive wing that nominated and then worked zealously to elect him, fighting to ensure that the secret Asian trade deal stays secret until it is blasted through a sympathetic Republican congress on a no-amendments-allowed, “fast track” vote.

Jeb Bush plans to “outsource” most of his campaign to a “private” PAC, in what looks at first to be a strange move to distance himself from control of his own push for the White House.

Hillary Clinton keeps as low a profile as a presumptive nominee can, hoping to ride out both the trade deal debate (“take no position, lose no supporters” seems to be her tactic here) and the Clinton Foundation contributions-for-favours stink (maybe now we know why those “private” e-mails had to go away).

What’s going on here? Is there some sort of connecting theme? Of course there is.

Money. Lots of money. Continue reading