Monday, May 22, 2017

"For Spacious Skies, For Amber Waves of Grain..."

America, "Land of the free, home of the brave," is bi-polar. At once, she professes to love freedom, and then she hates it. Her minority peoples of color have borne the brunt of this Jekyll-Hyde personality. It comes of a germ deeply embedded in America's DNA. How else to explain a history of confinement of innocents unparalleled among civilized societies?

America enslaved her African-American population for over 250 years, despite those unfortunate people having done nothing wrong. Again, she forced Native Americans unto reservations though they had done nothing wrong. She forced Japanese-Americans into internment camps though they had done nothing wrong. Today, America holds me in prison though I have served my time and have done no wrong since my initial offense.  

In all these instances, the State has made lame assertions to justify its prolonged confinement of hapless human beings. Of prolonging slavery, they said: "Imagine what chaos would ensue if four million people, ignorant and lacking in survival skills, were set loose upon the countryside." Similarly facile statements - made to play upon the public's own self-interests, and its fear of the confined - were laid at the feet of Native Americans, Japanese-Americans, and me. It has never mattered to the State that such assertions are without merit. What matters is that the State is vested with great power. The power to deny liberty is awesome.

What will it take to cease this endless assault upon precious liberty? First, it will take acknowledgement that such assaults have, and continue, to take place. A sickness must be realized before it can be cured. Then, it will take real people demanding that this aberrant nature be purged from our national psyche once, and for all.  

I was sentenced to parolable life in 1997. Explicit in that sentence was that if I served that time with good conduct, I would be eligible to go home in 2013. I went about serving my time with distinction. That was my plan. (What other plan is there for a serious man who needs to get home to his family?) Now, at the age of 66, I am in my 21st year of confinement, courtesy of America's sick tendency to defer freedom for as long as it possibly can. Again, there is no end in sight.

Today, we have the modern version of America's well-documented obsession with mass incarcerations. Over two million souls languish in America's prison - a quarter of all of the imprisoned people on Earth. There are even private prisons to complement the State's efforts. Yes, everyday Americans can profit, financially, from the imprisonment of their fellow Americans. (How sick is that? Out of the window goes any incentive to set men free once those men become inventory on the shelves.)

Americans are numbed to this nation's bent for mass incarcerations. They take solace in believing they will not become one of the confined. During slavery, whites were assured, by virtue of their race, theat they could not be enslaved. Likewise, whites - even blacks - were assured, when they saw Native Americans a being herded onto reservations. When the Japanese-Americans were rounded up for the internment camps, again it was race that saved everyone else from the same fate. 

Individuals manage to circumvent a sense of guilt for these mass imprisonings by casting the prospect of such guilt against their sense of relief that the same could not happen to them. As startling as this self-centeredness sounds, it is more astounding Americans' lackluster desire to redress this fundamental defect i its creed.  

I once was guilty. Then, I paid my debt to society. Now, I am owed my liberty - like the slaves were owed; like the Native Americans and Japenese-Americans were owed. 

Free me, and the many others like me who have served their time, and yet continue to be held in America's deep State. Let us go home. Then, let us all free America. Yes, this nation - guilty for so long of imprisoning innocents - must, and can be liberated from her compulsive need to confine. She, too, deserves a second chance.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Nikki Ain't Playin' No Games

For all of President Trump's limitations, give the man credit: He has surrounded himself with some tough cookies. (If only they and their boss could get on the smae page.) There's defencse secretary, "Maddog" Mattis, secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and the fiery Nikki Haley, Ambassodor to the United Nations. 

Haley is the one who, as governor of South Carolina, shed tears when nine of her constituents - African-Americans at a prayer meeting - were shot dead by the racist, Dylan Roof. Days later, she looked up at the confederate flag flying over her capitol - the most prominent symbol of America's racist past - and demanded that flag come down, forever.  

While Trump is loathe to impugn the Russians in any way, neither Mattis nor Tillerson has hesitated to call them out. And, Nikki, if she wasn't such a fine lady, would spit in their eye. Of America's attack on that Syrian air base, Nikki stood toe-to-toe with her Russian counterpart and assured him, "there is more where that came from." 

Trump has been quick to call out the Chinese over North Korea's provocative behavior, (despite China having less control of its client than Russia has over Assad.) Yet, in the days leading up to America's attack on the Syrian air base, and in the days that followed, Trump has not once let the words "Russia" or "Putin" escape his lips. Senators Graham McCain has called Putin everything from a "thug" to a "war criminal." Trump will not so much as call Putin "contrary." 

What is this wedge that rives that Republican leadership? How odd becomes this American president when faced with the spectre of Putin. Trump is blinded to what everyone else seems to know: Without his Russian benefactor, Assad would be toothless, and as dead as Khadaffi.  

This has left many ordinary Americans shaking their heads and wondering, "What do the Russians have on Trump?" Perhaps the ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into Trumps's ties to the Russians will tell us.  

Meanwhile, chew on this: Russia has sophistacated anti-missile systems - the S-300 and S-400 - deployed in Syria. If the Russians had chosen to use those systems against America's incoming Tomahawks, chances are they could have stopped many of those missiles in their tracks. They did not choose to do so. Trump got a freebie. Putin cannot afford to let that happen again. The next time Trump sends a tomahawk cruise missile anywhere near Putin - or Putin's boy, Assad - America had better be ready for a fight. Just sayin'...

So, why did trump bomb Syria? (Believe me, it wasn't for the babies.) It would appear, with his approval numbers tanking, the only thing Trump fears more than Putin, is low ratings. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Legacy, or Aleppo

America went into Iraq and blew it up, (and lost over 4,000 of our sons in the bargain.) We did not go into Libya - we flew over, and helped blow it up. (We lost none of our sons.) We did not go into Syria, nor did we fly over; it blew itself up. (Again, America lost none of its sons.) Now they seek to blame President Obama for Syria being blown up because America did not go in to save it from being blown up, when going in would have meant helping to blow it up while losing many of our precious sons, besides.

Then, they say, "Obama should have armed the moderate rebels in Syria." Arm the moderates. First, doesn't "moderates" sound soft, especially when cast against the likes of those gangs fighting in Syria? Imagine the "moderates" - walking around with their fancy USA weaponry, and ISIS walking up to them and saying, "Give us those guns!" Then, imagine the "moderates" handing over those weapons immediately, and asking, "You won't hurt us, will you?" Next, the detractors would be accusing Obama of arming ISIS.

Obama's presidency has been a deliberate and consistent attempt to lower the world's temperature - literally, with his global warming initiatives, and figuratively, with his Iran nuclear deal, the opening to Cuba, and the draw-down of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Precious few of America's son have died on foreign soil on Obama's watch. That is by design. If no one else appreciates that, the mothers and fathers of American soldiers certainly do.

Still, there is Aleppo, and the Syrian diaspora. America must not be insensitive to their sufferings; neither should it saddle itself with the blame.

People everywhere have a right to protest; even to rebel. They do not have a right to have their own way. that has to be earned. Sometimes, to get it, one has to fight for it.

With the right to protest comes a responsibility to accept the consequences. The Syrian people protested against their leader, Bashar Assad. The protests became a rebellion. When the fighting started - the consequences - the Syrians skedaddled.

The American colonists, after living over 150 years under British rule, protested, and rebelled against King George. When the fighting started, the colonists stuck to their guns. Homes burned. Cities fell. Men, women, and children died.

The colonists fought on. There was never a guarantee that they would win. Ask the soldiers at Valley Forge. They were a wretched lot. Yet, they weathered their terrible losses and , after years of more fighting, they won their freedom.

President Obama realizes that no nation is so great that it can assume the responsibility of shaping the destinies of other nations. That responsibility rests with that nation's people. They, alone, must decide what they want, and whether it is worth fighting, and dying for. They do not need America for that. They need vision, courage, and commitment to their ideal.

The Syrians had a vision. They lacked the courage and the conviction to see it through. They claim to have wanted freedom from Assad. They expected someone else to deliver it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Barack, Let it Be

I have great admiration for Barack Obama and his presidency. I become increasingly uneasy with his apparent obsession with "legacy."

Outside of Abe Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation," presidential legacies tend to be mundane, and the stuff of nerds. You were president. Given great power, you had to do something. Let history decide if it was worth remembering.

I thought all along that President Obama sounded a bit foolish when, during his aggressive campaigning for Hillary, he openly appealed to voters - especially African-Americans - to protect his legacy by coming out and voting for her in. I cannot remember any other president, Democrat or Republican, imploring voters to protect him, as though only he and his accomplishments were encased in glass. If presidential legacies are as fragile as that, then none but the most stout should be safe.

Subsequent administrations may seek to "white-out" their predecessors' achievements, but the spirit of that administration will last through the ages, especially if that spirit is genuine. To tout the greatness of your deeds taint those deed with a haughty spirit.

Chill, Barack, chill. You smiled and lit up a nation, a world. That is the pearl of your legacy. No subsequent administration can touch that.

With Trump, More is Less

In observing Donald Trump, I am reminded of the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry is dating a women whom Newman has dumped. Jerry is dumbfounded. Elaine suggests, "Maybe there is more to Newman than meets the eye."

"Oh, no," Jerry responds, "there is less."

People - especially Republicans - struggle to understand, and then defend, Trump's outlandish remarks and antics, many suggesting, "Maybe he knows more than we think."

Oh, no. He knows less.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Po' Ass Can't Take a Whuppin'

“It’s a po’ ass that can’t take a whuppin’.” That bit of wisdom came to me courtesy of my uncle, Red Carter, many years ago. It still holds true today. And there is no better example of that than former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

The great heavyweight champion, George Foreman, after dismantling a ring opponent back in the early 70s, tempered the praise of ringside announcer, Howard Cosell, by saying, “Anybody can dish it out. A real champion is the man who can take it.” 

Again, it was George who tweeted this to Ronda following her devastating loss to Holly Holm in 2015: “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Foreman! Down goes Ali! We all got back up Ronda. So will you.” 

Except, Ronda is not made of the stuff of those great fighters. Less a champion, Ronda was more a product of UFC promotion, and the public’s twisted desire to parallel the triumphs of women in sports to those of men.

ESPN sports analyst, Max Kellerman, once compared the rise and fall of Ronda Rousey to the ups and downs of Mike Tyson’s career. Let’s see:  Ronda is 14-2, with one knockout and nine submissions by armbar. Tyson is 49-4, with 43 knockouts; the same number of KO’s as Rocky Marciano. (Not quite the correlation they were looking for, huh?)

Perhaps it is in the labeling: During Tyson’s reign as heavy weight champion, they proclaimed him “The baddest man on the planet.” During Ronda’s run, they proclaimed her “The baddest woman on the planet.” Ah… except, there is this rub:  In the fight game, only the heavyweight champion can reasonably call himself, “The baddest man on earth,” for only he is obliged to take on all comers to prove it. The champions of lesser weight classes – middleweight, welterweight, lightweight – are compelled to fight only men their size, or smaller. 

Back in the 40s, a two-fisted bartender, nicknamed “Two-ton” Tony Galento when asked if he could beat then heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, famously replied, “I’ll moider de bum.” Joe took the fight despite being outweighed by 200 pounds. He beat “two-ton” Tony down. Being heavyweight champion, Joe simply did his job. If some behemoth had challenged heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, in that same manner, Mike would have had to do the same. Such responsibilities come with the territory. 

Proclaiming Ronda Rousey “The baddest woman on the planet,” meant nothing. If a 235-pound female shot putter had challenged bantamweight champion, Rousey, to a fight, Ronda would have laughed and said, “lose a hundred pounds, girlfriend, and then come back to see me.” That would have been a bantamweight champion doing her job. 

Ronda burst onto the UFC scene with one spectacular victory after another, most of which came within the first minute of the first round. Gorgeous, to boot, they packaged and sold her before she knew who “her” was – trumpeting Ronda “The greatest female fighter ever!” at one stage in this ballyhoo, a handler, at the mention of boxing champion, Floyd Mayweather, scoffed, “Ronda would ‘rad doll’ him.” They had gone too far.

Of mixed martial art’s many disciplines – judo, boxing, karate, jujitsu – boxing imparts the most enviable edge. To simply be able to punch ad adversary in the mouth is extraordinarily menacing. Ronda’s principle discipline is judo, where she earned a bronze medal at the Olympics. As MMA fighters go, her striking/punching skill is tolerable; her ability to defend against strikes, atrocious. Ronda was a “one-trick pony.” Deny her the armbar, and she becomes a punching bag for skilled strikers. Holly Holm, with her boxing background, maintained her distance from Ronda with good footwork, and then pounded her to a pulp. 

On December 30, 2016 Ronda Rousey marched on the octagon for what should be the last time. The initial optics were convincing  - she appeared in great shape. She wore her trademark “mean-mug.” But, she had not come to fight. Ronda was there to collect three million dollars and get the hell out of there – one last time – in under a minute. Mission accomplished. She took some punches, grabbed the money, and was out of there in 48 seconds.

There is a world of sports far removed from mere mortals. It steams with testosterone as toxic as the Venusian plains. It is a land of giants – of Shaqs, Gronks, and Phi Slamma Jamma. There, boxing greats like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson cut other great fighters to shreds, as though they held straight razors in each hand. And hitters, like Big George Foreman and “Iron Mike” lift 200-pound bruisers off the floor with a single punch. It is a land of men, unsafe for women and children.