Chicago: Are Crushing Taxes Rahm’s Way of Crushing the Unions?

The city of Chicago is in the midst of a financial crisis. Or is it? The official record indicates that the city faces a budget shortfall of $137.6 million. This deficit was left after borrowing $2…

Source: Chicago: Are Crushing Taxes Rahm’s Way of Crushing the Unions?


Can We Stop the Shootings if We Don’t Understand the Shooters?

The number of shootings and killings by gunfire in Chicago has reached a level not seen for two decades.  The latest high profile killing has brought this sad fact to the nation’s attention again. …

Source: Can We Stop the Shootings if We Don’t Understand the Shooters?

Preparing To Face Trump, Whither Hillary?

Hillary Clinton’s selection as the Democratic candidate for President is approaching certainty, as is the selection of Donald Trump to become the Republican candidate.  How she chooses to position herself on the ideological spectrum during the campaign will strongly influence America’s political climate during her probable presidency.

At the convention, Ms. Clinton will become the de facto leader of the Democratic Party. She and her allies will take the lead in shaping the party platform and policy priorities. The party platform will also be shaped by negotiations between the “Hillary” and “Bernie” factions of the party. But the several factors will give the “Hillary” faction an advantage: a significant majority of the delegates (at present 1709 to 1447 pledged delegates and 515 to 41 superdelegates with the possibility of that lead increasing); the support of the Democratic Party apparatus for Clinton; and, the effect on the electorate of the Trump candidacy.

The “Trump effect” frames the choice between the expected “tacking toward the center” that characterized Bill Clinton’s campaign – and is presumed to be Hillary Clinton’s preference – and the “push to the left” attributed to the influence of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. How Clinton navigates her alternatives will determine how she will be perceived by the voters in general – particularly independents – and by the “Bernie” supporters within the party.

Trump’s candidacy can encourage Clinton to take the position that appears to be more comfortable for her – in the moderate center of the political spectrum, moving incrementally toward the achievement of “progressive” change, careful not to offend powerful political and corporate interests, and encouraging the loyalty of unions and “minorities” without significantly threatening the power structure.

This option is available to her because of Trump’s extremism, which will allow her to campaign from the middle, arguing that she represents the “real America,” and making her a more comfortable choice for moderate and independent voters. She would also be able to quiet potential “leftist” dissent among Democrats by pointing to the grim alternative – Trump.

On the other hand, if she sincerely adopts some of Sen. Sanders’ policy priorities, she can position herself to the left of center, still able to define herself as the alternative to Trump’s extremism and lack of knowledge and judgment. She would be able to portray herself as the not only the continuation of President Obama’s agenda, but its expansion and fulfillment, while pointing to Trump and the Republicans as the real extremists.

I believe that the remaining primary elections will play a large part in determining the position that Ms. Clinton will take. If Sen. Sanders is able to obtain a significant share of the pledged delegates, and if his supporters exercise enough restraint to keep from alienating the rest of the Democrats, she will be forced to negotiate in earnest and make concessions that will move the party platform leftward.

However, if she achieves commanding victories, holds the loyalty of the superdelegates, and –especially –  if the Sanders’ supporters position themselves as sore losers, she will be free to continue to campaign and govern in the mode of her husband (and to a large degree President Obama) and – in the words of the song by Cream – “support the left while leaning to the right.”*


*Cream, “Politician,” Wheels of Fire (1968)

Why They Continue to Use the Term “ISIS” Political Correctness meets Foreign Policy, Money, and the Military

I continue to be annoyed by the use of the acronym ISIS in US media and political circles to describe the self-styled Islamic State organization that is currently at war in Syria and Iraq. I have previously stated the reasons for my objections to this term. But lately my attention has shifted to the reasons for the choice of politicians and, especially, media (across the political and ideological spectrum) to employ this designation.

A Difficult Mouthful?

I have to dismiss the idea that translating the name of the group from Arabic into English is too difficult. It’s already being done, just to relieve the monotony of repeating “ISIS” too often in the same story or when paraphrasing a statement by an official or a report in another media source.

The group calls itself al-Dawlah al-ʾIslāmiyah (Islamic State). But it has also called itself al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām (the Islamic State of Iraq and [greater] Syria). That’s a bit of a mouthful, but Arabic speakers generally use the acronym Daesh. (Acronyms aren’t new; they are a Semitic invention, dating back to Roman times, if not earlier.) I don’t believe that al-Dawlah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, or simply al-Dawlah is too tricky a tongue-twister for our politicians and journalists. After all, they’re able to pronounce the names of other terrorist organizations: Al-Quaeda (although there is some uncertainty as to whether it’s pronounced “Kay-da” or “Cai-da”); Al-Shabaab, the group fighting to control Somalia and other areas of eastern Africa; and, Boko Haram, the group that’s proving that Nigeria’s huge army is only good for terrorizing its unarmed civilian population.

The Acronym Problem

Furthermore, as the distinction between “ISIS” and “Daesh” indicates, an acronym that makes some sense in translation can make little or no sense in its original language. Let me offer an (admittedly made-up) example.

Suppose there was in Toulouse, France, an organization whose name in French was Archiv francais de Toulouse des Societés Secrètes Anciennes. In French, it might be abbreviated using the acronym AFTSSA, omitting the words meaning “of.” Our English translation would probably be “French Archive of Toulouse of Ancient Secret Societies.” Our unfortunate English anonym might well end up as FATASS.  How interesting it might be if scholarly papers throughout the English-speaking world were to make frequent reference to a French institution for esoteric scholarship known as FATASS. This, of course, would be the English version of the organization and its acronym. Other languages would have their own translations, hopefully with less scandalous acronyms.

Simple Terms for Simple Minds

That said, I think that there are other reasons why “ISIS” became the term of choice. They have to do in part with the simplicity of a somewhat familiar term. But more important is the intersection of diplomacy, international finance, and what some would call “political correctness (PC).”

ISIS falls off the tongue easily. The four letters look strong in print (and menacing if they represent an adversary whom we should fear). In the back of our minds we remember “Mighty Isis,” the DC comics and ‘70s TV heroine. More recently the name was attached to the secret spy agency on the animated series Archer (although the agency went out of business in response to negative publicity). And once adopted by the political classes, the name became the common term to refer to the Islamic State.

Political Correctness?

However, it has consistently been the policy of President Obama and his administration to use the term ISIL (“Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), pronounced the way it spells. This habit has persisted despite the use of the term ISIS by almost everyone outside of the administration. We should add that while the President refers when necessary to “ISIL” he never refers to the “Islamic State” or “Islamic State Group” or “Islamic State Organization.” Why?

He has been criticized mercilessly by conservative foes (and by some “liberals” as well), both in and out of government, for never using the term “Islamic terrorism” or even “jihadism.” Perhaps it reflects the President’s earnest desire to avoid a general condemnation of Islam and Muslims. After all, he is the only American President to have lived part of his life in a predominantly Muslim country. Or it may be as some critics, like Bill Maher, complain, an example of “liberals” bending over backward to be PC, avoiding the fact that most of the armed warfare directed largely against civilians on behalf of an ideology is being carried out by people claiming that their actions are guided by Islam.

And Then There’s International Politics

It is well worth mentioning, also, that the US shares many economic and military interests with Islamic countries, including those led by repressive regimes whose religious ideologies coincide closely with those of the jihadis. For example, Saudi Arabia is enmeshed with the US in a relationship that blends oil and weapons in pursuit of mutual stability. The US has military assets in many countries with large Muslim populations in the Middle East and Africa. It must tread softly in its comments about the Islamist character of the forces against whom it and its nominal allies are in conflict.

All this said, the US Administration, including the military, will continue to talk around the issue of Islamic militancy while the media and politicians – conservative and faux liberal – will continue to use the designation ISIS because its value as an emotional stimulus outweighs any benefit that might derive from using a more descriptively accurate term.

Getting up-to-date with TV: Between the Cracks

After I posted my last blog about TV shows, I realized that I forgot two of the shows I watched and one that escaped me (pun) altogether.

The X-Files (Fox).  The six-episode return of the superseries was interesting, if not gripping.  Mulder and Scully are older and changed, as might be expected. Called back to active duty, they investigate a conspiracy alleged by a TV show host with a penchant for conspiracy theories. The most interesting element of the show is the new characters: the “journalist” and a pair of FBI agents who are younger versions of Mulder and Scully. And the “cigarette smoking man” is back, still perpetrating evil. The reality of space aliens is explored and connected to (of course) government misdeeds. I think the show will return, but whether with Scully and Mulder or with the new young agents is not certain.

Angie Tribeca (TBS).  This is a full-on satire of TV cop shows, calling up every cliché from every possible show. The series debuted with a weekend-long marathon featuring an old style telethon setup – cast members doing live interviews and taking calls from viewers. Rashida Jones heads a cast that includes Hayes MacArthur, and Deon Cole.  Steve Carell and Nancy Walls Carell created the series and contributed to the writing. The show is funny, with the sight gags reminiscent of shows like The Carol Burnett Show “back in the day.”

Underground (WGN) is one show that I missed altogether.  It’s a series about the Underground Railroad and the attempt of a group of black slaves to escape to freedom. It hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity and I don’t know how good it is. The early episodes aren’t available on demand so I have to find a way to catch up.

Is 2016 the New 1968?

Do you remember, your President Nixon?
Do you remember, the bills you have to pay?
Or even yesterday?

-David Bowie, “Young Americans”

Every day is Throwback Thursday. I remember 1968. The struggle. Fighting in the streets. Bricks and bottles, billy clubs and tear gas. Victory! Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t run for a second term. We wanted another Kennedy. We got Richard Nixon.

You have to hand it to the Republicans. They’re like a virus that mutates into an antibiotic resistant strain. They’re a mold infestation that won’t stop until it blooms out from under whatever wash and paint job you put over it. They never give up.

And you have to hand it to the Democrats. When the GOP releases a mouse of intimidation – a fake scandal here, a candidate with human flaws there, a doctored video that purports to catch progressives being as evil as Republicans –  they jump onto the nearest chair, covering their eyes and screaming. And they promise they’ll never do it again if the mean old elephant will just chase the mouse away. (Don’t they know that the elephant breeds mice?)

Haven’t the Dems noticed that the only people left under the big tent are those who are too tired or too comfortable to leave? It’s not that the Democratic coalition has broken up. The career politicians are still inside the tent pretending that any one is listening to them. But the ordinary folks have begun to wander around the countryside, trying to find out “where’s mine?” They’ve figured out that the only payoffs have been to the billionaire banksters. The other groups patronized in the Second Inaugural have little to show except the right to marry (but no protection against employment and housing discrimination), a stay of deportations (except that the courts put a hold on it), and continued disproportionately high Black unemployment and social isolation, and pious words but little action in the face of the slaughter of Black people by White police officers and Black gang members.

And the young adults who worked their hearts out – twice – to elect the “transformational” president only to receive a pat on the head and “we’ll call you when we need you” have flocked to the campaign of Bernie Sanders.

I remember 1968. We took it to the streets and brought down Babylon. Inside our bubble we had killed the king and railed at all his servants. In our fantasy we had brought down a president and we were going to end a war, destroy racism, and smash capitalism like a piñata, out of which endless bounty would tumble. Instead we got Nixon. And war. And tough on crime. And Attica. And Pinochet. And Watergate. And four Supreme Court justices.

Now we have Hillary Clinton, stumbling on the way to her coronation. The substance of her campaign has been overshadowed by her blundering efforts to play cute with technology. Benghazi? We don’t need no stinkin’ Benghazi. We got emails! She had a server in the upstairs bathroom? Wait…we’ve got the last of the emails…no! – wait…

And while the Congressional Black Caucus is snoozing inside the tent, #BlackLivesMatter is telling the Democratic National Committee to kiss their ass. You don’t get our votes and our support and give us nothing. We don’t need you to tell us how to organize; you need to listen to us for once.   When I was their age we told the Democratic Party to kiss our ass, too. But we voted. And we still got Nixon.

We had McGovern. Now we have Bernie. The Republican lie machine turned decorated veteran John Kerry into a duty-shirking braggart. And Max Cleland, who gave his body for his government in Viet Nam, was painted as something less than a true patriot. What will they do to Bernie?

But I’m not scared. Yet. Hillary can still recover and rally those Americans who are still in their right minds. Maybe Bernie Sanders can ignite a nation-wide fervor in those who are tired of being on the losing end and understand who put them there. I’m just not counting on it.

Maybe it’s what happens when you get old. But if I have to choose between 1968 and 1992, I’ll choose the latter, Sister Souljah, NAFTA, welfare “reform,” Telecommunications Act of 1996, and all. To paraphrase the first President Clinton, “It’s the Supreme Court, stupid!”

Corporate America Discovers Donald Trump

I watch with amused surprised as one commercial interest after another disconnects from Donald Trump like a virus-infected thumb drive in the wake of his slanderous statements about Mexico and Mexicans. So far we’ve got Univision, NBC, Macy’s/Target, The Ricky Martin Foundation (a supporter of a golf tournament held at a Trump-owned facility), and 5 Rabbit Brewery (a Trump supplier). Officials of the Mexico Miss Universe Pageant and Hispanic media personalities are part of a growing boycott of the pageant.

I am pleased with the corporate response to Trump’s racism. And I am almost certainly the only person who sees irony in Corporate America’s sudden discovery of Trump’s racist behavior and their willingness to punish him for it. The motives of these corporate leaders must certainly be based on an abhorrence of prejudice and a striving for equality. Dollars and marketing data surely have nothing to do with their actions.

However, I continue to agree with myself as I stated in a post two years ago (

 “Never mind that Donald Trump conducted a long-running racist campaign of slander against the first Black president of the US. His “Apprentice” show went ahead as planned, with Black celebrity has-beens and never-weres climbing over each other to kiss his gold-plated behind while he sent investigators to Hawaii to prove that President Obama wasn’t born in the USA.”

But, as with most things, it takes a lot to wake up Corporate America’s slumbering conscience. I guess it’s the financial equivalent of “no harm – no foul.”