Happy Presidents Day!

The dapper Chester A. Arthur

A select memorial

George Washington, Father of the nation: Had teeth extracted from one of his slaves and replanted in his own mouth.

Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence: Owned over 600 slaves and sired children upon his teenage slave, Salley Hemmings.  Their children grew up as his slaves, some of them working as domestic servants in his house.  He was also an early architect of America’s ethnic cleansing of Native people from east of the Mississippi.

James Madison, Principle Author of the Constitution: Owned over 100 slaves and did not think free black people could integrate into American society.  He promoted their repatriation to Africa, and once served as president of the American Colonization Society, which founded the African colony of Liberia as a destination for former slaves

James Monroe: Owned about 75 slaves and also championed repatriation to Africa.  Liberia’s capital (Monrovia) is still named for him.

John Quincy Adams: Faced down accusations of wearing silk panties; was the first president to regularly wear long pants instead of knickers. Continue reading Happy Presidents Day!

‘Tis the Season of Stale Bread and Sad Circuses

Every time of year is ripe for bread and circuses in America.  There is nary a day when you can’t eat cheap fast food and indulge in aimless distractions. There are all the holidays, like Christmas, Memorial Day, and Labor Day, which used to mean something but now are little more than convenient excuses for shopping sprees and drunkenness.  There’s the endless streams of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon to complement the more traditional time wasters of cable TV and the broadcast networks.  There’s the Friday happy hours capping off a miserable week of work with shallow social relationships, cheap booze, and finger food.  And of course there’s always your phone.  Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, WhatsApp, QQ, all those photos you took, all those photos people are sending you, GIFs galore, and tic-toc, tic-toc, text, text, text.

It never ends.

And perhaps it never did.  Perhaps it’s simply that society is wealthier than it’s ever been before, leaving people with more leisure time, cheap food, and expendable income than prior generations could have imagined.  Perhaps our ancestors pined for the chance to wile away their lives but simply lacked the time and resources to do so. Perhaps they were too busy laboring in factories and on farms, trudging and hustling, to become so thoroughly absorbed in nothingness as we do today. If our great-great grandparents could see us now, maybe they’d scold us for paying insufficient attention to the republic’s affairs, or spending too much time on food and drink and idle entertainment, but not enough time in the House of the Lord, improving our souls and making amends for our sins.

Or maybe they’d just be jealous.  Maybe whatever criticisms they lobbed at us would be born of anxiety and envy, designed to hide the sad yearning within them, the hopeless desire that they too could have so easily filled their bellies and wasted their lives. Continue reading ‘Tis the Season of Stale Bread and Sad Circuses

Two Greatest Assets

“….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” -Donald Trump via Twitter (January 6, 2018)

Oh, that was good.  But here’s the thing.  What exactly are his two greatest assets? Or yours? Or mine?

Trump’s tweet is funny/horrifying not only because it’s the exact opposite of correct, but because he has failed spectacularly at the most timeless and profound of human pursuits: to know oneself.

Socrates admonished us that the unexamined life is not worth living.  But the world’s most powerful man seems to live in open mockery of the ancient Greek.  To gaze upon him is to be cast in the dark shimmer of a soul so thoroughly incapable of introspection that when Trump is on his deathbed, his “Rosebud” moment will be pronounced in tones of “Everyone says I’m the best,” or “No one dies like I do,” or “Bring me a diet Coke.”

Thus, as if by sit-com writing formula, Trump’s cavalier effort to engage the greatest of challenges was doomed to a banana peel slip up far more jaw dropping and painful than anything ever filmed by Buster Keaton or The Three Stooges.  Give him the setup (“What are your two greatest assets?”), and he can’t help but write the punch line.

For many of us, however, the grand quest for introspection is more tragedy than comedy, a tortured, unfinished novel rather than a furious tweet, the cruel taunting of unanswered questions as opposed to firm, imperial pronouncements from the White House bedroom as the Gorilla Channel booms in the background.

We are all quick to judge Donald Trump then, in part, because it seems so easy; his character is so achingly shallow.  But also because it is always far safer to judge others.

To judge oneself is to play Russian Roulette with your spiritual essence.  Because for every laudable attribute there is a bullet or two of dark secrets, disappointing shortcomings, and crippling fears. Continue reading Two Greatest Assets

All the Way to Memphis

Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest

In a majority black Southern city such as Memphis, statues celebrating Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate General/KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest are an affront.

Wait, let me correct that.

In any place on the planet, where decent people of any color recognize that Davis led a bloody insurrection to preserve slavery and Forrest led troops in that insurrection and then founded the Ku Klux Klan after losing, public statues celebrating them and other terrorists are an affront.

Naturally, most people in Memphis would like to see these statues removed from their public spaces because the monuments are not only profoundly dishonorable, but were also erected during the heyday of Jim Crow segregation as a pointed warning to African Americans to remain subservient.

But there’s a problem.  The Tennessee state government denied Memphis permission to remove these and other Confederate statues.

Now what in tarnation is going on here?  Why is a big, bad state government hundreds of miles away ordering a city to keep statues in a local park?  Not only is that petty beyond conceit, but it also makes you wonder whatever happened to all that Republican bluster and balllyhoo in favor of small government and against intrusive big government that interferes with local people deciding how to govern themselves.

How did we get to this? Continue reading All the Way to Memphis

Pooping on the Doug Jones Parade

Last night’s victory by Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in the race to fill Jeff Sessions’ U.S. Senate seat from Alabama is a good thing because, if nothing else, it means the child molester did not win.  But beyond that, I believe it matters little.

For starters, it means nothing for the upcoming tax legislation vote, which is on thin ice in the Senate because hellacious scumbag supreme, Mitch McConnell, is already up to his old tricks, saying he won’t seat Jones until after the tax vote.  It’s like the Supreme Court all over again!

In the long term, this brings the Dems to a 49-50 razor thin minority in the Senate.  And that sounds good, like John Rambo about to pop out of the water with his machine gun.  But as Republicans get all tie breakers (VP Pence casts deciding votes), the Dems are still two shy.  Meanwhile, the upcoming midterms, now less than a year away, feature Democrats having to defend several red states in Senate elections.  Check out this map of which states have a senate race in 2018.

Continue reading Pooping on the Doug Jones Parade

Monday Hot Takes!

*Omg, so excited about Prince Harry announcing he’s getting hitched to the absolutely fabulous Meghan Markle. Way to go, royal family!

*The Trump presidency continues shifting Foucaultian microtechnologies of power, including the reinforcement of select biopower apparatuses around immigration and race but, despite this, has thoroughly betrayed earlier promises to disrupt capitalism!

*Yes, it is a major bummer that the Magnificent Markle won’t be going by the title “Princess Meghan” (Is it because they think she’s black?), thereby ruining the theme of many a birthday party.  But at least the Windsor Castle clan can finally begin weeding out the hemophilia and polydactylism.

*The funny man from frigid Minnesota is in some serious hot water.  And we’re not talking about Lou Grant!  Serial molester/groper/tongue-down-your-mouther/sleep-therapist-from-Hell Al Franken resigned from the Senate last week after a cohort of his peers pressured him to step down.  Sadly, frothing, myopic Dems who value scoring political points and cocktail party Suart Smalley impersonations more than challenging America’s ingrained misogyny could not be consoled by the great equalizer: A Democratic Democratic governor is appointing Franken’s replacement, and a new election is nearly a year, so there’s plenty of time to install and establish a new incumbent in Minnesota, which hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office in over a decade.  No matter . . . the party’s Kardashian wing values appearances over everything else, and is working fervently to remind each and every last American that so long as Franken didn’t rape and murder toddler cancer patients, he’s way, way better than Roy Moore!

*Hot Hollywood Rumor: Quentin Tarrantino is pitching an R-rated Start Trek film to franchise impresario J.J. Abrams, who’s excited about the idea, according to early reports.  Continue reading Monday Hot Takes!

Be Thankful for These Women

It takes a lot of courage to come forward.  More courage, quite frankly, than most people have.  You need to be more courageous than me, maybe than you too.

First, you have to have the courage to let other people know.  This is much more difficult than you might imagine.  The prospect of family, friends, and co-workers knowing you were assaulted or harassed is intimidating.  These are very deep and intimate details of your life, the kind you normally would never share with most folks.  But coming forward means many people will find out what you’d rather they didn’t know.  And if your accusations are against a famous man, then just about everyone will know, right up to the stranger  who recognizes you while walking down the street and mutters something to his or her friend.

You also need to the courage to deal with the deniers.  The asshole you accuse?  Yeah, good chance he (most likely a “he”) will deny it.  And he’ll also have his defenders (not necessarily a “he”).  These may be individual defenders, such as his family, friends, and co-workers.  They may also be institutional, like a private arbitrator picked by your boss, who’s handling this because of the contract you unwittingly signed or couldn’t afford not to sign.  Or the legal system that features a defense team hell bent on publicly destroying your name and character by informally putting you, the victim, on trial.

And then, finally, you’ll need the courage to deal with some of your so-called allies and supporters. Continue reading Be Thankful for These Women

Louis CK and Roy Moore Walk into a Bar

At first glance, the disparity is stark.  Over the past two months, a litany of powerful men have been accused of sexual assault. Yet reactions from their supporters have been very different.

By and large, Progressives, Liberals, and Leftists have staunchly condemned all sexual predation, including predators with whom they are likelier to stand politically, such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and most recently Louis CK.  Meanwhile, many Republicans have not only defended, but even embraced men who brag about being sexual predators (Donald Trump) or face very serious and well investigated accusations of criminal sexual behavior (Roy Moore).

It’s tempting to point out that the GOP has not simply lost the moral high ground, but has impatiently discarded it.  It’s tempting to proclaim that Progressives, Liberals, and Leftists have remained true to their values in a way that many Conservatives seem unwilling or perhaps even unable to do.  It’s tempting to say that Democrats do not tolerate sexual predators, either within their own ranks or without, while Republicans have pioneered new heights in hypocrisy by readily condemning sexual predators outside their ranks, yet making every conceivable excuse for sexual predators within their ranks, right up to equating the sexual molestation of children with the parenting of Jesus Christ.

It is very tempting indeed. But yet, I wonder. Continue reading Louis CK and Roy Moore Walk into a Bar

In Memoriam: Dennis Banks

Former American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Dennis Banks died Sunday night at the age of 80.

My doctoral dissertation (University of Nebraska, 2000) and first book (Texas Tech Press, 2007) dealt with AIM, particularly their controversial political work and on Pine Ridge Reservation (SD) during the 1970s.

AIM was a very important but also highly flawed organization.  Some of their problems were not their fault, as they suffered extreme government persecution and repression, especially in the form of illegal FBI counterintelligence programs.  But sometimes they they made their own mess by not particularly caring who got burnt by their scorched earth rhetoric, or harmed by their often disorganized protests.

In a 2005 review of Dennis Banks’ memoir, I wrote the following:

There is also the brash rhetorical style and techniques that are emblematic of the speeches and writings of many AIM members.  It was shocking and original in the 1970s, and still has the power to move, but three decades later it at times seems tired.

Yes, by then the times had passed Banks by in some ways.  Nonetheless, it was and still is astonishing to consider how far he had come to co-found AIM during the late 1960s in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then become a prominent national figure. Continue reading In Memoriam: Dennis Banks

Return of the Criminal Presidency

We are perhaps on the verge of witnessing, for the third time in 100 years, a U.S. presidency so corrupt that multiple high ranking members will be imprisoned.

In early 1919, former president Teddy Roosevelt was the early favorite to re-assume the Republican Party’s mantle for the 1920 election.  However, he died unexpectedly shortly before the campaign season began, and a crowded field of contenders soon emerged.

Warren G. Harding initially had little hope of winning, and entered the race mostly to bolster his control of Ohio politics; he was one of the state’s two U.S. senators and held sway over much of its corrupt machine.  But when party leaders could not agree on any of the front runners, the convention deadlocked.  They soon settled on Harding, in part because he was from a crucial swing state, and in part because he was relatively unknown and hadn’t offended many delegates.

The compromise candidate from Ohio went on to win a resounding victory, setting what was then a record by taking 61% of the popular vote.

Harding was generally well liked during his time in office as society settled down from the tumultuous effects of World War I and its immediate aftermath. It didn’t hurt that the economy also began to hum.  But he would serve just 2½ years, dying of a heart attack while visiting San Francisco in 1923.

At first, Harding’s premature death increased his already widespread popularity.  It was only after his passing that the litany corruption attached to his administration would become a salacious public debacle.

It turned out that family man Harding had kept at least two mistresses, including one who claimed he fathered her child.  But it was the criminal antics of his administration that would eventually lead Historians to rank Harding as one of the worst presidents ever.

The name that still rings a bell among some Americans who learned about it in high school is the Teapot Dome Scandal.  Interior Secretary Albert Fall took bribes totaling $400,000 (nearly $6 million in today’s money) from oil executives in return for awarding them leases to drill on public land in Wyoming and California.  Fall was convicted, fined, and became the first U.S. presidential cabinet member to do time; he was sentenced to a year, and served 9 months. Continue reading Return of the Criminal Presidency