Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tea Farty Is a BLAST!

The latest website to mock the Teabaggers’ HOT AIR, complete with orifice-appropriate sound effects is very, very funny … Here ‘tis “retweeting the Tea Party’s hot air.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Rivalries, Cultural Diversity, and USA v. England, a World Cup Match With a New Complexion

Black. Paint it black. Black as night, black as coal. Black as oil.

This will not be the first time that politics has intruded upon the world’s most popular game in the world’s largest sports stage: the World Cup. Over the decades, the clash between the four great European powers –- Britain, France, Italy, and Germany –- has had an undercurrent of political and historical enmity, most of it bellicose. With the EU’s formation and globalization of football at the club level, historical rivalries have waned. At least that’s the idea behind the Euro, unless you talk to some old-timers wearing the Croix de Guerre or the DFC.

In South America, football rivalries are no less nationalistic, but with the sport as a symbol of one country’s cultural superiority over another. Mostly, it’s just a way to knock the big guy down a peg or two. Actually, it’s pretty one-sided, with the Bolivarian (Spanish-speaking) countries ganging up in their obsessive fan hatred of Brasil. (Don’t get me wrong, outside of football, the people are as friendly and cordial as can be.)

The biggest rivalry in South America is between Brasil and Argentina. It’s so fiercely competitive that after a century of confrontation on the football pitch and hundreds of games played, the number of victories and defeats among the two great continental rivals is practically even, perhaps with a slight edge to Brasil. Amazing. Just the other day at his South Africa presser, asked about the excessive smiles among his teammates, the great Argentine field general Juan Sebastián Verón mocked Brasil:
“If it’s about smiles, I don’t know that we’d go well but I think Brasil would be champions every year. (Ed – but Verón, the Cup only happens every four years!) It’s good coexistence, it’s good to be well. But once we’re on the field, we’ve got to play ball. We don’t do the samba on the field, otherwise the yellow jerseys would win every time.”
Brasilians are used to the razzing, and don’t really mind it or get angry. When los hermanos Argentinos start trash talking, Brasilians will hold up five fingers on one hand and two on the other. That’s the number of World Cups won by Brasil (five, most by any country) and Argentina (two). Brasil is the only country to win outside its own continental region; in fact Brasil has won in every regional group: the Americas, Europe, and Asia. If Brasil wins the 2010 Cup in South Africa, it will be the one nation to have won in every continent on planet Earth. Not too shabby, and definitely something to shoot for. (The Cup won’t return to Africa for at least another generation.)

Maybe Verón is frustrated because it seems to come too easy for Brasil. That’s just a surface impression, though. Brasil’s got game, lots of it, derived from its cultural African roots, born in thousands of playgrounds for poor kids who learn early in life to be creative and surmount the most difficult obstacles and conditions. They play on dirt and sandy beaches, they play on grass and hard courts. They play with makeshift balls stuffed with rags and old socks, and sometimes goal posts marked by T-shirts. They dream of defending the scarlet and black colors of Flamengo, the world’s most popular football club. And sometimes the lucky few, like American kids playing hoops on inner city courts, they make it to the Big Show.

Brasil and Argentina are two great football traditions. Brasil plays attacking football, with joy and finesse and improvisational art that brings a smile to people’s faces. Because of it Brasil has reached the pinnacle of the sport, but also has had its share of bitter defeats. 1950. 1982. Maybe it’s that devil-may-care attitude Verón touched on, the total joy of playing the game for its own sake. Take that away and Brasil is not Brasil.

Besides, what’s wrong with lots of smiles and samba? Hell, we could all use a smile these days. Argentina has a potent World Cup squad and the world’s best player in Lionel Messi. This might be their year. Or maybe the two great South American rivals will clash in the final. In which case all bets are off.

Despite its high crime rate driven by pockets of poverty, Rio de Janeiro was recently voted the world’s friendliest city. Actually, friendliness is a distinction, a saving grace, Brasilians share with Americans. Both countries are steeped in a democratic spirit that doesn’t exist in Old World democracies with royal traditions and history.

That’s part of it. The other part is the great cultural diversity in both countries, truly a source of strength, not something to be feared. A friend once told me that if anyone looked closely at the children of immigrants in America, they’d realize how silly the alarmist anti-immigrant xenophobia coursing through the body politic is. In less than a generation, no matter how they look, these children of immigrants are totally Americanized. (If there is a silver lining to such extreme attitudes, it’s that it’s not a new phenomenon in American history and politics. In the 1850s and 1860s the “Tea Party” of that turbulent era were the “Know-Nothings” whose major plank was anti-immigrant xenophobia against, at that time, the immigration of large numbers of Irish and German Catholics to this country.)

Brasil is the multicultural colossus of South America, the dominant economic power, more racially and ethnically diverse than its neighbors to the west. Brasil has a distinctly spiced culture that is less Eurocentric than African, in the arts, music, food, all of the good things in life. The European contribution, in large part, has been the white colonial social oligarchy. In South America, cultural contributions must always be viewed through the prism of colonial rule.

Even in North America, where the United States broke free of its colonial shackles in the latter half of the 18th century, asserting its hemispheric supremacy, white Europeans who clamor for their “country back” are really pining for an Old World across the pond that no longer exists. Not after the devastation and redrawn maps of Europe wrought by two world wars. If they took the time to visit New Orleans, the part of our country currently under assault by British oil barons and oligarchs, if they stayed long enough to absorb some of the culture, get a taste of creole food, listen to the lilting sounds of Zydeco in the back roads where country folks speak a form of French, maybe then they’d understand. Maybe then they’d not feel so threatened.

Because tomorrow the United States of America meets England on a green football pitch in South Africa, before thousands of fans. And because tomorrow the United States team will be, for a brief moment in time –- 90 minutes, not counting halftime and injury time --- the most popular World Cup side in the world. Not universally popular, to be sure, but silently and volubly cheered by millions (perhaps billions) of people who love this planet of ours and quietly cry for the wanton destruction a greedy British corporation has inflicted on our shores, on all of us.

It’s nothing personal. It’s not even about the United States, whose popularity waxes and wanes with the venality of its government. It’s not even about the British, a faded shadow of the days when the “sun never set” on its Empire, although Africans have suffered more, and more recently, under the yoke of European colonialism than most oppressed peoples. It is about the power of transnational corporations. America’s hands aren’t clean, but the American people do not deserve to be ravaged by the criminal deregulation of the Bush-Cheney regime.

The United States will take the field as a decided underdog against the mighty British squad. It’s almost like the 1950 World Cup in Brasil all over again. Well, almost. In what has become World Cup lore, a motley crew of working class immigrants recruited from the Italian-American Hill neighborhood of Saint Louis, MO and Irish-Americans from the Corky Row district of Fall River, MA, represented the United States and beat England -- against all odds -- in the game of their lives. To this day, that 1-0 U.S. victory is considered one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

Sixty years later Team USA has plenty of world-class talent, with players toughened in the best professional leagues of Europe. They may not be as star-studded as the British Team, but neither is Team USA in the least outclassed. And tomorrow they’ll be riding the positive energy of millions of football fans who love life on this planet and mourn BP’s eco-genocide of the Gulf of Mexico.
Paint it black. No colors anymore, I want them to turn black.
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away.
Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts.
It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black.
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted black.
No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue.
I could not foresee this thing happening to you.
If I look hard enough into the setting sun.
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes.
I wanna see it painted, painted black.
Black as night, black as coal.
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky.
Painted, painted, painted black …
Black as OIL.


All the world’s a stage, said Shakespeare. Not everyone likes football, or cares who wins or loses in the World Cup. But everyone should celebrate and embrace it as a venue that brings together the rich diversity of the world’s cultures around a beautiful game, in peace and joy and the rich pageant of life.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Chicago Blackhawks Hoist Stanley Cup: Congratulations!

It's been a looong time coming ... so goes the song; not since 1961 have the Blackhawks won Hockey's most coveted trophy. It was a great championship run for Chicago, an intense and competitive series. The Stanley Cup is in good hands. Well done, lads.

Blanche Lincoln's Survival: A Harbinger of the One-Party State?

Hardball’s Chris Matthews truculently declared it a “crushing defeat” for progressives. In an election fraught with Southern-style electioneering dirty tricks, corporate Democrat Blanche Lincoln edged Lt. Governor Bill Halter in Arkansas’s Democratic Senate primary. The party establishment pulled out all the stops to defeat the labor unions in that right-to-work Wal-Mart state.

While the obtuse generational observers were still caught up in the narrow and distorted right-left analysis rather than insider (corporate) vs. outsider (middle class, anti-Wall Street, change voters), the most telling aspect of this race is that the Democratic Party was indistinguishable from the corporate enemies of the people in its unbridled support for Senator Lincoln.

The Big Dog showed he still has political juice left, President Obama made targeted robo-calls, and the proverbial White House “anonymous source” hid behind Lincoln’s skirt to knife Labor in the back. Consider the irony. The Democratic establishment and the White House aligned themselves with the pro-corporate, pro-Republican Chamber of Commerce and the so-called Americans for Job Security –- to beat back Labor and the progressive netroots movement that got President Obama elected.

The Chamber is well-known for its malignant role as a clearinghouse that siphons Big Business money to its clients in the House and Senate, e.g., Senators Lincoln and Landrieu, among many others, including just about every Republican. The AJS is a special interest business group that aired a reprehensible racist ad against Halter. AJS takes the same reactionary anti-regulation positions that resulted in the Gulf oil disaster, hammering talking points that include right wing-pregnant buzzwords: out of control legal system; duplicative and excessive regulations; government control; frivolous lawsuits.

Remarking on the influence of corporate money awash at all levels of government, particularly in the Senate and House, the Nation’s Chris Hayes (the anti-Matthews in terms of political prescience) said corporations have purchased a virtual rule by oligarchy in both chambers, particularly the Senate, which is dysfunctional. The difference in the extent to which each party is beholden to the corporations can be measured only incrementally.

In yet another silly commentary, to which he didn’t seem to devote much thought, Matthews lamented the optical illusion of a bipartisan fracture in the vacuum of 2010, as if it’s 1959 all over again and the GOP has statesmen of the caliber of a Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, Everett Dirksen, and even Barry Goldwater. His argument:
“So ask why they can‘t get anything done in Washington? Start here. If you can‘t meet and talk, how are you going to find common ground? If you don‘t get the common ground, how are you going to run the country? You want one party rule? Like they have in some developing countries? That‘s what you want? Some party-central committee running the country? Go for it. You‘ll be back begging for a two-party competition so fast it will make your head spin.”
Um Chris, it seems as if that train has already left the station. Take a closer look at the Lincoln election. Review her voting record and her alliances with corporatist Republicans. See what they say and do on behalf of corporations in defiance of the expressed wishes of their constituents. Lincoln had to be rescued big-time by her party establishment against the onslaught of $5, $10, and $30 progressives along with shrinking but reenergized labor unions.

So an anonymous White House hack was resentful that we didn’t genuflect and save our money for their hand-picked candidates? Excuse me, but fuck him. This fight isn’t about “ideological purity.” Far from it. No constituencies, left or right and up or down, have been more pragmatic than the unions and progressive netroots. It’s in the nature of progressives. We’re willing to take the half-loaf, if it moves the ball forward.

But in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster and the SCOTUS Citizens United decision slashing limits on corporate campaign contributions, we’ll be damned if we allow our country to truly descend into one-party rule. This is about ethics in government, and political parties standing for more than shameless corporate shilling.

George Washington lost most of his battles to the British Tories –- the BP/Tony Haywards of the Revolutionary Era –- but won the war and the Revolution. That’s how progressives and Labor view this war against the reactionary right wing politics of corporatism. This was a shot across the Democratic Party establishment’s bow. Consider themselves warned.

In a classic example of political projection, Senator Lincoln declared “loud and clear that the vote of this senator is not for sale.” Well, it all depends which side of the fence Blanche Lincoln is on. Perhaps if she becomes a lame duck in November she’ll be free to vote her conscience. If she digs down far enough.

Monday, June 07, 2010

DAY 49 - Outside the Box Solutions to Oil Disaster Cleanup: BP, Government MIA

Rachel Maddow was on site in Louisiana Friday night, reporting on the utter devastation visited by BP on American shores and territorial waters. Rachel’s closing commentary was the best part of her hour, although there was a surreal quality to some of the cheerfulness. Rachel took unnecessary risks to bring us the “Bird Island” story, with good historical context about the buildup of the island and consequent revival of its pelican population, which is now being destroyed by BP’s eco-genocide. It could have been done remotely without any of the wooziness and “drunk” sensation Rachel reported after so many hours out in the middle of that muck. Prolonged ingestion of airborne chemicals; not a good thing.

Rachel’s no Larry King, nor Richard Engel, much less the corporate PBS Newshour. The Admiral Thad Allen interview was just okay. It could have been less deferential. As much as the Admiral’s spit-and-polish demeanor inspires confidence in a by-the-book chain of command style that allocates resources and manages the crisis response efficiently, there is a lingering unease that the government’s response is still slow to get out of the box. By the time anyone in government gets around to addressing some of the proposed alternative solutions they might not even get to first without being called out. That’s the public perception. Admiral Allen said today, without specifying, that other technological responses to the BP Gulf oil catastrophe are being evaluated.

How long will it take? This is day 49! Perception is reality and, from the public’s perspective, all that can be done to address this crisis is not being done. This disaster is one of those that you throw everything you’ve got at it. And Mr. President, sorry, but the public doesn’t really care if you have a Nobel laureate on your team. As a matter of fact, in reading your history, you’ll know that too many eggheads without a scientist in the mold of a Robert Oppenheimer who speaks their language and pushes them will devolve into endless theoretical “evaluations” that preclude action and urgency.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu (the Nobel laureate) has not stepped up as the Oppenheimer of the BP disaster response. Admiral Allen’s “in situ” techno-speak is getting real old real fast. The public wants a scientist who’s in charge of the technological and scientific aspects of the crisis and can address, with authority, the multiple out-of-the-box alternatives to this disaster, including bioremediation. Where is our Robert Oppenheimer, Mr. President? Even assuming that some alternatives might turn out to be duds, there’s unlimited imperiled coastline where they can be tested and evaluated under real, not laboratory, conditions. The following are just a few of the alternative solutions to the cleanup that have so far disappeared down the BP/government rabbit hole:
  • Bioremediation –- why is the U.S. government response seemingly neglecting this option/solution? The science is solid, and LSU’s “Resources - Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill” website lists several faculty professors on hand and on-call, for the government or the media, as bioremediation experts (follow link for contact info -- In response to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, members of the media may be interested in contacting some of LSU’s research experts for comment or analysis. If you would like assistance finding an expert to speak with, please contact Ashley K Berthelot in the LSU Office of Communications & University Relations.):
    -Qianxin Lin: Associate Professor, Oceanography and Coastal Sciences. Areas of Expertise: rates and effects of oil spills in coastal marshes; bioremediation, phytoremediation, in-situ burning and restoration of oil spill-impacted coastal marshes; effects and efficacy of oil dispersants.

    -Irving A. Mendelssohn: Professor, Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, School of the Coast and Environment. Areas of Expertise: wetland and barrier island ecology, plant ecology and stress eco-physiology, oil spill impacts and remediation in wetlands. Mendelssohn has assessed impacts of oil spills on wetlands in the U.S. and Canada and has conducted research on factors controlling oil spill impact to wetland vegetation and methods for remediating oiled wetlands, including in-situ burning, phytoremediation and bioremediation.

    -Ralph Portier: Professor, Environmental Sciences, School of the Coast and Environment. Areas of Expertise: Aquatic and marine toxicology; bioremediation; oil spills (including Valdez); protocol for assessing bioremediation techniques; wastewater bioremediation.

  • Another solution proposed by private sector entrepreneurs involves freezing the oil muck as it washes ashore. This demonstration was made for CNN and, apparently, for BP as well, whose standard response is “we’ll get back to you … but don’t count on it.”