Thursday, May 29, 2014

Snowden’s a wuss according to our esteemed Secretary of State

Secretary of State John Kerry thinks Edward Snowden is a traitor who should, “Man up and come back to the United States.” Oh, the irony. In the 2004 presidential campaign, candidate Kerry was the victim of a Swift Boat smear campaign that attacked his conduct during the Vietnam War, his anti-war activities and his patriotism. Ten years later this same man is using ad homonym attacks, name-calling and schoolyard taunts to try and discredit Edward Snowden. Actually, it’s even weirder than that as the name calling is a direct challenge to Snowden’s manhood. Snowden’s a wussy, Snowden’s a wussy.

What this childish tirade is supposed to accomplish is beyond me. If we’ve learned anything about Snowden since the first NSA documents were released a year ago it’s that he is a very smart guy. Does Kerry think Snowden is going to become so enraged by his insults that he’ll hop on a plane and meet the Secretary of State behind the White House for a fist fight? Kerry’s juvenile comments will only help reinforce Snowden’s decision to never return to the U.S.

Shouldn’t the Secretary of State use a bit more tact in a situation like this? No one on the planet believes that Snowden would be treated fairly if he returned home. If Kerry is simply releasing some pent up frustration over the situation, he should probably keep that among a few close friends and not make an ass of himself by airing it publicly.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Our puppet president

I don’t think Barack Obama is really President of the United States. No, I’m not talking about a “Kenyan-born communist Manchurian candidate” conspiracy. It’s much more below the radar than that, but no less cause for alarm. I don’t think Obama is the person who has his hands on the controls of our ship of state. Other people with names we wouldn’t recognize and benign job titles in offices in the Pentagon, NSA and CIA headquarters, the Federal Reserve and in the C suites of America’s largest companies, run this country. Obama is a figurehead.

I believe this because of the huge chasm that has existed between Obama’s words and reality since he took office in 2009. He advocated for more transparency in government, but we have less, far less. The surveillance state has its tentacles into every facet of our lives and whistleblowers are punished instead of hailed as heroes. He said he’d close Gitmo, but he hasn’t. He said he wanted to move in a new direction after eight years of Bush, but based on the government we have today, it’s like Bush never left the Oval Office. He brings economic inequality to the forefront in speeches, but his economic policies do nothing to change the status quo. He said he wanted to improve our image internationally, but recent polls indicate that citizens of other countries view the United States as the number one threat to world peace.

The Deep State is real and in control. Obama gives the speeches, poses in the photo ops, but the real work of the government is carried out by bureaucrats who are not accountable to the voters. I wonder sometimes about when Obama came to the realization that the President of the United States was merely a title and not a job description. Once you’ve been inaugurated and you’re sitting in the big leather chair in the White House, there isn’t a helluva lot you can do about it. I would think it would be soul-crushing to realize that your vision for America, the vision that voters agreed with, would never become reality, that you would be forced to spend your tenure spinning excuses for why this or that couldn’t be done, or worse, why we need to do things that you find personally reprehensible.

Yes, Obama has had to try and deal with a hostile congress, and that certainly has been a thorn in his side. But that doesn’t adequately explain why we are where we are today as a country. With the exception of the Affordable Care Act, Obama has not used his office to rally Americans around the proposals and policies he advocated as a candidate in 2008. Why? We hear a lot of the same inspiring words and phrases he used six years ago while campaigning, but once the speech is over we don’t see any effort to turn those words into reality.

If this is America’s future, a puppet president willing to dance for the public while unelected bureaucrats run the government, it’s a bleak future that will see a once powerful and admired democracy devolve into a reviled international pariah.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Signs of the times: American injustice

A teen in Texas faces the possibility of life in prison for selling some hash brownies.

No one responsible for the 2008 economic blowout that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and homes has served a day in jail.

A judge in Olympia, Washington decided that a wealthy businessman who had been arrested for his 7th DUI shouldn’t spend any time in jail because, “It wouldn’t be fair for him.”

Dick Cheney thinks Hillary Clinton should pay for the four Americans who died in Benghazi, but claims that the deaths of nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians in our illegal invasion of Iraq were justified.

The bank Credit Suisse was found guilty in a U.S. court of aiding in tax evasion, a felony. Their punishment is a fine and temporary oversight. No one at the company will go to jail.

U.S. drones continue killing innocent civilians in the Middle East without legal repercussions.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with most of the prison population made up of non-violent offenders.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Innocent bumper sticker or invitation to murder?

It’s come to my attention that you don’t have enough to worry about in your life, so here is something new to keep you up at night. The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office in Palatka, Florida has posted a warning to drivers on its Facebook page that stickers on the back of your vehicle are inviting criminal activity.

That’s right. Your choice of decals or bumper stickers can tell a bad guy a whole lot of information about you and your family. For instance, a parking pass can tell a criminal where you go to school or work. A “My daughter is an honor student at xxxx” tips off the nogoodniks to where your child goes to school. Your “I love my Chihuahua” bumper sticker makes it clear that your dog will pose no threat once I break into your house. And don’t get me started on the stick figure family. If you have these you deserve to be murdered in your sleep.

If this seems a bit over the top to you, I agree. I picture myself leaving Target, walking across the parking lot and seeing a guy with swastikas tattooed on his forehead standing behind my car with a legal pad taking notes. Probably not going to happen. Most criminals are not, shall we say, sophisticated or patient enough to decode your bumper stickers in any useful way. And when I see stick figure families, they’re usually on the rear window of a rusted, decades old minivan, which should convey to even the dimmest thief that they are not a prime burglary target.

I appreciate the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office for the warning, but I’m leaving my “I won the Powerball lottery” sticker on my car, thank you very much.

America’s climate change deniers are putting hundreds of millions at risk

Interesting article at Daily Kos, Republican science denial – a clear and present danger to U.S.National Security, that illustrates clearly the tremendous price this country and the rest of the world will pay as a result of Republican denial of man-made climate change. The author argues that Republican inaction on climate change represents a clear and present danger to our national security as more and more people around the world become displaced from their homes and communities by rising seas.

The author raises a very serious question — what can be done about elected officials who stand in the way of solving a major national and international calamity? — but then backs away from any discussion of the politically explosive answers. What would you do with someone who represents a clear and present danger to our national security?

The Republican’s climate change denial is putting the entire planet at peril. How do we solve this? Everyone in America is entitled to their opinion, as wacky as it might be, but here we have a case where science denial could cost human lives and will certainly cause pain and suffering for tens of millions and harm the economies of many countries, including our own. Wars and revolts are a certain outcome of inaction on climate change as displaced populations due to rising seas move to higher ground.

Many scientists are saying we’ve crossed the Rubicon and our chances to turn things around are diminishing day by day. A virtual handful of science deniers in Congress and the Senate are doing everything they can to prevent legislation from passing that will attempt to deal with climate change. After the upcoming mid-term elections their may be even more knuckle-draggers in Washington. Obama doesn’t seem to have the strength or will to work around these human obstacles. What can we do?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The dead live again through holograms

So Michael Jackson performed at the recent Billboard Music Awards show. No, he wasn’t pulled from his grave and reanimated with the blood of virgins, although would it surprise you if he had his people try? The performer was a hologram surrounded by live dancers.

First it was Tupac, now Jackson. I’m not sure how I feel about this trend. On the one hand, it’s really just one technological step away from a routine music video, with a 3-D performer instead of a 2-D performer. On the other, it can be unsettling to view such a realistic performance from a singer who’s been lying in a coffin for years. It would certainly add a new dimension to a remake of the Thriller video.

The technology is here, so I’m guessing we are going to see it used a lot more. There may come a day when it will be so affordable you could create holograms of your deceased loved ones, and sit by the fire with Granny who died ten years earlier. Wait, that’s creepy. How about a favorite pet? You could create virtual soldiers so the enemy wouldn’t know if what they are shooting at was real or not. Why not a virtual self who goes to work for you when you need a day off?

“Jim thinks he’s so smart. I can see right through him.”

That’s the problem with some new technologies, whether you like them or not, they will endure if someone can make money from it. It’ll be interesting to see where this one goes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I'll be damned. I'm stupid.

Conservative humor usually involves banana peels and gorilla costumes, and they don’t do irony. It’s just a little bit over their heads. So the latest effort by Republicans to be clever and appeal to those “snarky young people” is, of course, a total fail. Inspired by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez who used to be a Democrat, the Republican National Committee is offering the above T-shirt for sale with her catch phrase: "I’ll be damned. I’m a Republican.”

Yes, you will.

Friday, May 16, 2014

One more nail in the war on drugs coffin

Momentum is building for real change in America’s draconian policies toward illegal drugs, but we still have a long way to go. A new report by the London School of Economics analyzed in an Alternet article looks at the huge economic and social costs of the international war on drugs, and why we should be dismantling a failed policy that is doing much more harm than good.

Looking beyond the most obvious damages caused by the drug war — drug cartels, violence, jailing of citizens for non-violent crimes — the research exposes the lesser known, but no less harmful, costs of our current approach: enforcing drug laws actually increases the profitability of illegal drugs, counter narcotics efforts worldwide are based on faulty assumptions and have led to horrible unintended consequences, there are huge costs related to displaced populations, how mass incarcerations are a public health disaster and the harm done to constitutional commitments when long established principles are sacrificed to meet the reactionary needs of the drug war.

With the exception of a few Washington drug warriors on the propaganda payroll, virtually no one thinks the war on drugs has been a success. This latest report is one more in a long line of indictments of our failed drug policies and confirms that the war on drugs can’t end too soon.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Destroying America to save it

“Okay everyone, let’s huddle. So here’s the game plane. We’re going to bring congressional business to a grinding halt. We don’t pass anything the president wants. Then we’re going to do everything in our power to sabotage the country’s economy. At the same time, we will throw mud at the president at every opportunity. Whether it sticks or not doesn’t matter, the media will shout “Benghazi” as many times as we want them to. As the country goes to hell-in-a-handbasket, our candidates will point the finger at Obama. Fortunately, polls tell us uninformed voters will blame everything on the president. Muhahahaha.”

Think this is simply a cynical partisan attack on Republicans? Not really. According to Thom Hartmann in his Salon article, Republican’s deadly political strategy, ruining our country hurts the Democratic Party, a meeting was held on January 20, 2009 where the above strategy was mapped out as the Republican game plan for the Obama years. Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich and Pete Sessions have admitted this was the wrecking ball approach they took once Obama was elected.

If this doesn’t make you angry you don’t have a pulse. The Republican party is willing to destroy America in order to save it. There needs to be another word in the dictionary for this, because cynicism simply isn’t strong enough. It’s criminal, in my mind, but, as Hartmann points out, it’s also proving effective. Voters in this country are so ill informed about the workings of Washington (thank you, national news media) that the only name that comes to mind when looking to assign blame for policy failures is Obama.

Republicans have consciously trashed the economy and thwarted any policies that could help alleviate the financial pain and suffering of millions of Americans for no other reason than to hurt President Obama’s reputation and win seats in the mid-term election. Let that sink in. Destroying America’s economy and blaming Obama has been the Republican strategy all along. Why is this not treasonous?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ann Coulter tries humor. Fails miserably.

Okay, so I’m jumping on the Ann Coulter bandwagon. Thinking she would be funny, which is always dangerous for conservatives, Coulter posted a photo of herself mocking the current #bringbackourgirls initiative to bring back the hundreds of Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Of course, the Internet got a hold of it and the second photo is merely one of dozens of “revised” posters. I’m not adept enough to put my comments on the paper, but here is my contribution:

I make other blonds seem smart

I hate everything and get paid for it

I hate you, but don’t think you’re special

Love is for wimps. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Jesus.

One time, I knocked out a liberal with my Adam’s apple

I hope they killed a thousand trees to make this piece of paper

I make power shakes with kittens and baby’s tears

Defense spending is way out of control

For way too long the Defense Budget has been untouchable. The Department of Defense continues to claim that it can’t afford to make budget cuts as other government agencies are being asked to do. Really? Take a look at the above chart to see just how much more we spend on defense than other countries. This chart, which was prepared by Winslow Wheeler of Project On Military Procurement (POGO), shows that we are grossly spending more than all our perceived enemies combined.

The government claims it’s not trying to be the world’s policeman, but it sure is spending like it is. It’s time to start rolling back defense spending.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dark Soul - A short story

“I was paralyzed. It was as if I’d been duct taped to the mattress. All I could do was tilt my head up. I watched the shadow…thing, came out of the closet. It was a black, vapory figure like a man covered in smoke. I’m not religious, but it made me think of a dark spirit or soul, if that makes any sense. It didn’t actually walk, but glided, not like some cartoon ghost, but like…smoke or fog, rolling over the floor. It came close to me, then backed up, as if it was harassing me. And it held something in one hand, silvery, a knife, and then it showed it to me, like I was supposed to understand something.”
            “Tim, relax. You’ve got yourself tied up into a knot.”
            “No. Don’t be sorry. Remember we talked about that? It’s okay to say what you’re feeling. You should never apologize for that.”
            “I have a hard time with that.”
            A soft dusky glow filled Dr. Gwen Sebastian’s office as she and Tim Hathaway discussed his dream. “It sounds very much like sleep paralysis,” she said.
            “Sleep paralysis?”
            “It’s a condition that some people experience while falling asleep or waking up. It’s a dream state, but one that is more intense than your normal nightmare and often mistaken for an actual event. There are some researchers who think alien abduction stories are related to sleep paralysis. But anyway, the condition seems to produce very similar experiences. Incapacitating fear, a threatening shadow figure. Sometimes it’s a person who sits on your chest and restricts your breathing so you feel like you are suffocating. It’s been recorded for centuries.”
            Tim leaned forward. “Really?”
            “Does that make you feel better?”
            “I guess it does. I mean, it seemed so real. You know? To learn that it’s an actual condition…yeah, that does make me feel better.”
            “Let me ask you something. Have you suffered any kind of emotional trauma recently? Sometimes this will trigger sleep paralysis.”
            “I’m in the middle of a very ugly divorce. We were only married three years, but it went downhill fast. Three year’s time and now we hate each other. All we do is argue. I’m having a difficult time handling the anger.” Tan, darkly handsome with a runner’s body, the twenty-five year old architect absently rubbed the back of his neck.
            “Okay. Let’s talk about that at our next session.”
             The traffic was heavy leaving Edina at 4:30. Tim wasn’t happy to see Elizabeth’s number show up on his phone.
            “Yeah,” he exhaled.
            “I’ve been asking you for a week to bring over the Buddha statue and my sister’s painting.”
            “The Buddha statue is a big deal. Did you convert recently?”
            “Why do you have to be such an asshole, Tim? It’s a simple request and we live ten minutes apart.”
“Saturday. I will bring everything over Saturday morning.”
Elizabeth disconnected and Tim dropped his phone onto the passenger’s seat as if it was burning his hand. “Fucking bitch,” he whispered.
As usual, the brief conversation with his soon-to-be ex-wife gurgled up like stomach acid throughout the evening. He’d never met anyone who could make him as mad as Elizabeth. She managed to find something buried deep in his subconscious that no one else had ever found, and push it and push it until he was raging with anger. It drove him to therapy. Even though they had been separated for six months, she was still an unwanted part of his life and the resentment flared like a severe allergic reaction every time they spoke. He poured a scotch around nine and watched part of an old Soprano’s episode before deciding sleep was the best way to forget.
The moment his eyes opened, the dark soul was hovering over him like a demonic surgeon examining a patient. There was a flash of silver and Tim watched a knife rise into the air, somehow attached to a dark appendage. Every muscle in his body clenched in terror as the knife came falling toward his abdomen, but it stopped at the last instant, and the smoke man seemed amused. Tim struggled, but was again unable to move at all. He’d never felt so helpless. The ephemeral being finally drifted away from the bed and dissolved through the door. Seconds, minutes, hours passed, still Tim could not move. His body shuddered when the shadow appeared again, only to return and become one with the darkness. Tim finally regained control of his muscles and ran to the bathroom, flipping on lights as he went, making it just in time to vomit in the toilet. 
            The first call from the office the next morning was to his therapist, begging for pills that would knock him out for the night. Not sleeping wasn’t an option. Tim’s partner in the firm, Grace Andersen, a tall, pale Nordic beauty who was the creative book end to his business skills, set a cup of coffee on his desk.
            “You look like you need this,” she said, sliding into a nearby chair and crossing her long legs. “More nightmares or did you take my advice and ask Xena the Warrior Princess across the hall out?”
            “Unfortunately it was nightmares. My therapist tells me it’s sleep paralysis. They’re dreams, but hyper real dreams where your body is paralyzed. Happened again last night.”
            “Ick. Sorry. Are you up for the presentation this morning or should we reschedule?”
            “No, I’ll be fine. Thanks for the coffee.”
            Grace got up. “I’ll bet Xena could scare off your worst nightmare.”
            “I’ll keep that in mind,” said Tim, smiling for the first time that day.
            The presentation went well although Grace did most of the heavy lifting. Feeling drained by the middle of the afternoon, Tim left early, picked up his sleeping pills from Target and headed home. The only fortunate result of the ongoing disputes with Elizabeth was that she moved in with her boyfriend shortly after the two split up and didn’t want the house. On the down side, the high mortgage payment for a Tudor cottage just a block from Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis was a shock to the pocketbook. Shoes off, coat on the floor, Tim took up residence on the couch in the living room with his laptop and a beer. Redditt, Boing Boing, Salon, American Architect, he clicked through his bookmarks finally stopping on one that caught his interest. The Star Tribune headline read, “Plymouth Couple Goes Missing.” The couple’s last name drew his attention. Lundgaard. It took him a moment of mental searching, but he remembered that Elizabeth’s boyfriend’s last name was Lundgaard. He scrolled down below the fold and there was a photo of Paul Lundgaard being interviewed. He called Elizabeth.
            “Is it Paul’s parents?” he asked.
            “Yes. He went over to see them this morning and they were just gone. Disappeared. The car’s there, their clothes are all there. The coffee pot was still warm.”
            “That’s all I know.”
            “I’m really sorry.”
            The strain was evident in her voice. “Thank you.”
            He stood next to the bed later than night, staring at the small white pill in his palm, silently enjoining it to work. He finally tossed it in his mouth and washed it down with water. Head on his pillow, reality melted away.
            He awoke to see silvery blades of moonlight stabbing into the room between the closed blinds. Panic shivered through him as he realized he couldn’t move. The pill had not worked. There was movement to his right and then the dark soul appeared above him, holding the knife over his face, mocking him, gaining strength from his fear. His throat grew tight. Tim tried to close his eyes, but couldn’t. It’s control clearly established, the smoky image slowly dissipated.
The alarm went off at 6:30. Groggy, sludge running through his veins, Tim pulled himself out of bed, lumbered to the kitchen and turned on the coffee maker. On his way to the shower, he glanced at himself in the large mirror over the sink and came to a stop. Looking closer, there were several red blotches and smears on his face. It was blood. He inspected himself, his nose, but found no injury to account for it. The pillow was also smeared with red streaks. Visions of his dream returned and the knife floating over his face, and the realization was terrifying. Was he still dreaming? He was starting to question reality.
            Slipping into the Saturday morning routine was slight relief. Coffee and a bagel for breakfast. After that, he pulled his laptop up onto the bed and began surfing. Almost reluctantly, he clicked on the Star Tribune site. His phone rang. It was Elizabeth and she was hysterical.
            “Oh God, Tim. Please, I need you to come over.”
            “What’s going—?“
            “Paul… he’s gone.”
            Fifteen minutes later Tim turned the corner and saw several police cruisers parked in front of the Spanish style home. He parked as close as he could and approached the house. After getting past a uniformed officer, he finally found Elizabeth in the kitchen, sobbing and frightened. She threw her arms around him and clung like a vine.
            “I can’t believe this is happening,” she cried.
            He offered a comforting touch without being affectionate. “I’m so sorry. What happened?”
            Realizing her emotions were clouding her reflexive resentment, she pulled away and sat on a stool, draping her body on the counter, sobbing as she tried to talk. “He went for his morning run, just like every day, but….” She started crying again.
            From Elizabeth and a sympathetic detective, he learned that when Paul didn’t return from his run this morning, Elizabeth walked his usual route and found blood spatters on the trail and his water bottle along a wooded path near Lake Minnetonka. The man, however, had vanished. The police were not optimistic about his fate.
An hour later, a sedated Elizabeth sleeping, Tim walked past the ambulance and police cruisers toward his car, contemplating the impossible, that there was some kind of link between his dream of the dark soul and the disappearance of Paul and his parents. It was a ridiculous notion, and one he tried to brush aside, but like a stubborn gnat, it wouldn’t let him alone. That night he took two pills before bed.
Awake, paralyzed and furious, he struggled harder than he ever had to break the binding paralysis, but it was no use. The dark soul floated at the foot of the bed, bringing the knife blade down in arching, cutting motions as if he was demonstrating something. It had no discernable face, but he knew it was taunting him, and that something very bad was about to happen. When the entity finally left, he focused every electrical impulse, every synapse, every iota of energy in him toward breaking his invisible bondage. It was in his mind, he kept telling himself. There were no real ropes tying him down, no duct tape, no glue. Then, he felt the change happen. Energy started flowing through his body like an electrical current. In a moment he was able to swing an arm, then the other, then he realized his body was free from the frozen state that had held him captive. He sat on the edge of the bed examining his hands and arms, not entirely sure he was awake, yet amazed at how good it felt to be free.
There was a thud downstairs. The dark soul? At that moment, he turned the spigot and let his anger pore out and fill his body in preparation for interacting with the being that had tormented him night after night. He reached under the bed and grabbed his metal burglar bat. The rubber handle felt good, and he rapped the business end into his palm several times. It sounded good, too, that wet slap of solid material meeting flesh he’d heard so many times in fights as a kid. Fist meeting face. He hadn’t enjoyed the acrid taste of blood in his mouth for a very long time. Another vague noise. He turned toward the door with a sense of anticipation. Now that he could move, it was time to fight back and end the nightmare.
Down the stairs he crept, carefully placing his bare feet on the edges of the steps to avoid creaking. He moved cautiously through the dark rooms on the main floor, bat poised in striking position. As he neared the threshold to the kitchen, he caught a dark blur in his peripheral vision, near the door to the basement. Of course, he thought, lure me into your darkness. Before heading down, he went to the kitchen and found the flashlight under the sink. Filled more with anticipation than fear, he opened the basement door and started down. With each step he ran the light beam around the room like a nervous security guard. At the bottom, darkness enveloped him He swung the thin white beam around, cutting through the black until it reached the far end of the basement where it illuminated glimpses of a hellish human diorama.
Four battered and beaten bodies sat slumped in lawn chairs. His flashlight panned from one pale and bloodied face to another. Paul Lundgaard, Jerry and Sharon Lundgaard, and now, Elizabeth Hathaway were positioned in a semi circle together, resembling tired campers around the evening fire. On the floor in the middle of the grisly audience was a small stone Buddha. Oily black blood pooled below their feet. The close air reeked of human waste and decomposition.
Paralyzed once again, Tim inhaled the horror before him with each gasp, unable to speak, let alone scream. The shrill cry of approaching sirens grew louder and swirled around him like a slowly contracting spider’s web. It was then that he felt a stickiness between his fingers and turned the flashlight on himself. His hands, clothes and the end of the bat were covered in a thick red coating of still drying blood. Looking behind him, the light followed a trail of glistening red footprints to the spot where he now stood. The dark soul had returned.

If you liked this story, please check out other stories I've written at They're Only Shadows.