Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Creeping Fascism

Be honest now. Your country is literally a wreck, the incumbent regime is all but invisible outside the capital and has plenty of corruption problems to boot. The local thug squad (which the US Armed Forces was unable to eradicate) has threatened your life just for voting. Are you sure that under these conditions you'd be willing to travel to the polls to cast a vote that might not make any difference anyway? It could be worse than being an Afghan these days, but I don't see how it could be much worse.

Here's a "good news" problem most of us will never face. Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who set two world records in the World Championships just concluded has been awarded a section of the old Berlin Wall by the event's German hosts weighing almost three tons. The wall slab is already painted with Bolt's image on one side. But how do you get it safely back to Jamaica? I hope they can get it done without charging Bolt the extra air fare for checked luggage. Yikes!

For those who wish they had paid a little more attention in comparative government class, fascism is an economic/political system which closely allies the state and private industry in the services of totalitarian government from the right. In theory, it's the opposite of Comminism, which is supposed to put the workers in charge. But in practice, life is very un-fun under either system.
When fascists try to gain power, it is always through thugs and violence, frequently with those who are officially charged with maintaining order simply looking the other way. Everyone remembers the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era, but those don't fit this model because they opposed rather than promoted war, and the protesters almost always were on the receiving end of the violence. Sure it was disruptive, and often just wrong, but nowhere near fascism.
But this year's political rough stuff comes, I believe, from a very different place. It's not young, unarmed people leading the way. These folks are deeply angry, though it's hard to say just why, since most of them have health insurance under favorable terms. They flaunt their arms, when local laws allow their display, and racism is at their gatherings, often just below the surface. It's not by accident that these folks are almost totally white, members of a Party that has shrunk in influence and now without a leader willing to tell them to put their guns away and join in reasonable discussion.
The leaders, such as they are, are media vampires joined at the hip to private companies, their advertisers. There are the gun guys, still screaming that the 2nd Amendment is somehow under threat and those whose anti-government views connect back to various bigotries which never quite disappeared. They are not too interested in the next election, because their cynicism now leads to distrusting anyone in office. They're willing to shout down a member of Congress or display things that would ordinarily offend most people. They have confused things they can legally do without thinking if it should be done. The old GOP are silent, hoping to benefit where democracy's normal workings would favor the majority Democrats.
These are, I believe, scary people. They don't realize that it's silly to refer to the president as a racist, as Glenn Beck did recently. They scream that they will boycott the products of the companies which have withdrawn as Beck sponsors on FOX NEWS. They're pretty fuzzy on the meaning of fascism, but they are, I fear, taking us that way.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Good News!

For no special reason, we just concluded a week with lots of visitors, just about all of them extended family. I counted up the total and got to 15 people. We didn't bunk them all overnight, thank heaven. When we get that many, it's time to pitch the tent in the garage.
I think there's a connection here to our meteorological friend, the seasonal fog. It works like this: we start every day with fog, which, I hasten to add, is not so thick or so low as to keep one from driving safely. The fog blocks our enemy, the sun, until it gently lifts in late morning. It's just over 60 degrees by noon, with light breezes that make it perfect to play tennis. The highs are generally short of 70 degrees, and we're all feeling great except for those poor folks with lousy circulation, who must still wear all kinds of protective winter gear.

About 15 months ago in this space (5/08) I told the story of little JR, the kid for whom I served as Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). The good news is that he's been adopted by a family he's been with for just over a year. Raising him might not be a walk in the park, but it won't be boring, either. The new family has even agreed to keep me around as a kind of honorary uncle, a title I'm completely thrilled with.
The family had a challenge not encountered by most. For reasons I never asked, the parents had different last names. Add a son with yet another name and things could get confusing. Thus opened the issue - should we call ourselves something completely different and let future geneologists deal with it? And while we're at it, is there anything about "Kevin", "Sarah" and "Jason" that made them insufferable as well?
I wasn't in on the discussion, but according to Kevin, our boy Jason, who'll turn 10 next month, had some ideas. First off, he thought it would be cool to take on a new first name - "Snake". The new parents passed their first test by gently declining this request. Next item of business - new last name. Jason had a suggestion here, too - "Fite". Gosh knows kids today get hung with all sorts of creative names, but the local schools won't have a "Snake Fite" on their hands come fall. Somehow the new family settled on "Emmanuel" for a last name. I think they did fine. It doesn't sound ethnic (like "Shapiro", "Del Vecchio", or "Kuzhnetsov"), isn't hard to spell and places the family in the top fifth of the alphabet. It has a nice beat and you can dance to it, I mean, hooray for Kevin, Sarah and Jason Christopher Ryan Emmanuel!

Monday, August 10, 2009


I confess to having almost no aptitude for business. Sometimes I will read a book on the subject, particularly if it includes both the story of a company's success AND failure. Recently I read "The Toughest Guys on the Street", by Kate Kelley, the story of the rise and lightning-quick fall of Bear Stearns, the investment banking firm which had employed 14,000 people. The firm's eventual buyer, J.P. Morgan Chase, made the deal for a price less than the value of Bear Stearns' New York City home office building alone. It's a sobering reminder that under certain circumstances, even brains, experience and a long reputation may not be enough to survive.

Richard Nixon has been gone for awhile now. I don't want to sound like one of those old guys droning on about things "back in the day", but I thought of him when I realized that yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of his resigning as president. It had to happen, but it was sad nonetheless.
I confess to a long fascination with Nixon. He was smart, complex, even Shakesperian in how he went about acquiring and using power. By nature he should have never been in politics because he had no particular taste for people. Think of it - a man who became president even though he was an introvert. His dealings with Congress, the Cabinet and even his own White House staff were limited as much as possible - because he preferred his own company.
His strengths were big. He saw the world as a whole, something few have ever been able to do. He was a master at defining the message to his advantage, and in using flawed people to serve him because he knew their strengths. He wanted the success of the United States, in every way, and loved having all the wheels, levers and buttons of our complex national government withing his reach.
His weaknesses were also big. His humble background always seemed to haunt him, leaving him prone to bitterness even as the leader of the Free World. He had almost no use for advice from subordinates (which, of course, meant everyone) and took all opposition very personally. Finally, he came to equate the nation's goals with his own, leading him to subordinate the Constitution he was sworn to uphold.
I believe all Americans should know the story of Watergate, but it's long and complicated, so that just won't happen until the study of History becomes more than a poorly taught string of cliches. When the Bush presidency is written about, the comparisons will be to the dark days of Nixon. I'm not sure which will get top rank for destructiveness to the nation, but I think it will be close contest.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Please excuse me if you caught this story from Yahoo. Last week a bank teller in Seattle was somehow not impressed with a would-be robber standing before him, demanding he fill a large book bag with cash. He threw down the bag, lunged for the crook and demanded to see a weapon. His bluff called, the robber wannabe headed straight for the door and started running, with the teller in pursuit. Several blocks later, the teller brought down the perp (as we hipsters like to call them) and held him until police arrived.
Two days later, the teller was fired for not following company procedure in such incidents. A company spokesperson became mute when asked about it, but the teller was pretty understanding. His instincts just took over, he said, and he understood management's decision. He even described himself as an "adrenaline junkie" and admitted to chasing shoplifters when he worked in retail stores.
I once worked at a bank. It might be overstating it to say the job was boring as Hell, but not by much! This poor guy deserves another chance. Let's hope his next gig is doing repo work, bounty hunting or collecting poisonous snakes. Too bad wing walking seems to have disappeared as a career option. Perhaps the bank could give him a recommendation.

For a long time it seemed that if any dictator on earth had things pretty well sewn up, it would be either Cuba's Castro or Ferdinand Marcos from the Phillipines. Marcos and his family seemed to have a hook in just about everything that happened in the country, and his anti-Communist credentials were good enough to keep the Reagan administration from interfering
But even dictators have opposition, and so it was that "Ninoy" Aqino arrived at the Manilla airport to begin an anti-Marcos movement in 1983. Marcos was one step ahead of his adversary and had him shot dead within a minute of getting off the plane.
That would have ended the threat to Marcos, but he didn't figure on Aqino's wife, Corazon, who had never done anything political even though her family was well-known. What followed took about three years to complete, but Aqino shocked the world by leading a non-violent movement that ousted the Marcos family and resulted in her taking over as head of state.
Cori was more successful as a candidate than as an actual manager, but the country has managed to keep a narrow grip on democracy ever since those days. Her story represents the rare circumstance of someone prominent taking a stance not only risky to her career, but to her life as well. This exercise in courage would compare, I would say, to the American Founding Fathers who put their lives on the line for their new country and did so against long odds. She had no army except for supporters known as "People's Power", tired of being on the wrong side or right and wrong, but that turned out to be enough.
Mrs. Aqino gets a mention here because he passed away last week at age 76. Her passing was noted by thousands as love for her filled the streets of Manilla.