Hootin’ ’bout Putin: Free Speech and Lazy Talk

This Loyal Opposition?

Vladimir Putin counts on American democracy, where a number of political activists are free to criticize an administration, and government of the people, in order to forward personal and partisan political gain – people willing to distort, obstruct, and undermine government in an attempt to reduce options and take over said government for their own ends.

There are conservatives, many conservatives, who clearly admire Putin’s brash and braggadocious ways. Like Senator Mitch McConnell’s infamous 2010 declaration, or confession, that his primary task, and that of his party, was to oppose Obama in every way, Putin has done us a favor by revealing, speaking, and acting out his real purpose and demonstrating the ramifications for the world. [1]

But let’s speak frankly, with all the loose, or fawning, references, even in The New York Times, that Putin, and his military apparatus, has been skillful in aggression and annexation, Putin is still patently a dim bulb needlessly sucking sustenance from Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. [2] [3] He is so transparent and heavy handed, buffoonery and thuggery permeate his every gesture. As was the case with Hitler (and Stalin along with him) who wrote the book on brazen and deadly national acquisitiveness, Putin’s plays are indicative of something deeply troubling about his compatriots – the Russian people. It cannot be just one man and a handful of associates who are responsible: it is the entire populous and body politic. All Americans were responsible for Iraq, not just Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. And Americans had to try to repair their mistake with “blood and treasure” (the phrase newfangled interventionists are fond of intoning).

In his book Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger asserts that Russia is inherently expansionistic. [4] Let’s face it, America is too, but nowadays we cloak it in less tone-deaf and more business-friendly and culturally hip ways that have the advantage of seeming to serve enlightened self-interest as well.

In the spitting match of high-profile media chatterers, there are liberals, moderates, and centrists on one end and the friends of Russian waywardness on the other. Where do conservatives fall on the spectrum? I fear that, as usual, they fall off the map of relevance, expanding not our options and their minds, but their mouths, spewing money into politics, courtesy of the Supreme Court, and fabricating idiotic comparisons of Americans to Hitler. All the while they actually undermine, if not mortally wound, the middle-American side of the equation along with the hopes of millions.

I am not discussing whether the comments of Bob Corker, say, are right or wrong, but it is the lax-mouthed drawl and hacking hyperbole of what is said and when and in which forum, while representing a high position of national authority, that is the big problem. [5] One might say, and does say, similar things as a private individual around the dining table with family and friends, but even average people know not to put themselves on TV with such outlandish views, meant to wound rather than heal. Do we expect that people around the world are able to parse the avalanche of slurs in American public speech for truth any better than the 20 to 40 percent of fringe American voters and media instigators? I don’t think they can distinguish the nuance in lazy speech because the most educated and authoritative and privileged among us do not evince such disciplined capability when talking to the public.

America cannot meddle everywhere at once – nor should it. We all have, or had, friends and family members who routinely rush into the business of others with consistently poor outcomes. There is a comparison here with what we expect of ourselves internationally. Syria is a tangled mess, and we can do much more harm than good by reacting rashly without information, allies, and a long view.

Apparently, everyone wants to be perceived as having the dogged persistence, prescience, fame, and luck of Winston Churchill. John McCain and Lindsay Graham are two hawkish hyenas (a lazy slur) who clearly enjoy show biz. If one barks at the woods long enough, something unpleasant is bound to emerge. Problem is that perpetual barking is wrong 99% of the time. And these two senators are arguably among the most reasonable and well-intentioned opponents of whatever is happening in foreign affairs while they are not in charge.

Even the usually thoughtful and careful David Brooks gets ginned up by the rhetoric on occasion and whines about – “manhood”? [6] But at least he is not a high-powered elected official – and he rarely indulges his inner stand-up comic. Still he should weigh his words and not be swept up in the torrent of torment and self-loathing that represents itself as conservative today.

Obama has delivered on many big ideas that are good for prosperity and peace. One of those ideas is knowing how not to say stupid stuff. His, and our, government hunted down Osama and no one leaked that his administration was up to something until the deed was done. For one, I respect deliberate, stealthy effectiveness of action and restrained speech over the constant cackle of barnyard hens, Chicken Littles, and cartoonish roosters with Southern accents.


1. Senator Mitch McConnell in the National Journal on November 4, 2010: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
2. Michael Wines’ article “Putin’s sure Hand Abroad Belies Problems at Home” in The New York Times on May 28,2003.
3. Michael R. Gordon’s article “Russia Displays a New Military Prowess in Ukraine’s East” in The New York Times on April 21,2014.
4. Henry Kissinger in Diplomacy (p. 25): “Analysts frequently explain Russian expansionism as stemming from a sense of insecurity. But Russian writers have far more often justified Russia’s outward thrust as a messianic vocation. Russia on the march rarely showed a sense of limits; thwarted, it tended to withdraw into sullen resentment. For most of its history, Russia has been a cause looking for opportunity.”
5. Senator Bob Corker on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 22,2014: “I hate to say such a crass thing on Easter Sunday morning … The wisest thing that Assad did really was to kill 1,200 people with chemical weapons.” Yes, crass, but he said it on TV anyway.
6. David Brooks of The New York Times on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 22,2014: “Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a – I’ll say it crudely – but a manhood problem in the Middle East.” Yes, crude, but he said it on TV anyway.

The Unadorables

Why would anyone in his right mind address the topic of religious malfeasance? To my mind, only a man in his right mind would – and should – address the issue. Why should anyone turn aside when the cloak of religion is blatantly employed to corrupt American politics and international affairs and undermine the welfare of the general public? Religious entities are fighting tooth and nail to impede social improvement, eagerly denying that there is an objective social entity (except, perhaps, for family and church) or improvement (other than in areas of personal gain and righteous feeling), recklessly violating an explicit compact with the nation.

Religious entities chose to aggressively enter politics, a grave error that noted spiritual leaders have lamented, warning of dire consequences for the principal purpose of religious exercise. One would assume that glorification of a deity would be the first objective of the enterprise, and one would hope that the betterment of congregants, and the population of the nation and the world at large, would be close in priority.

Yet, religious entities, perhaps only a boisterous minority, have become the last refuge of scoundrels. A Dickensian deep, dark depravity runs amok and unchallenged in religious leadership that perverts its calling. Entities that follow such leadership deserve to be stripped forthwith of all claimed exceptions and exemptions, as they have not only lost respect for, but all connection with, public decency, justice, fairness, right, blessedness, and reason. I humbly offer as evidence the religious group that harassed the funeral services of veterans. A few cynical religious consultants even conduct back-channel dealings with foreign powers of distinctly shady standards and practices to bring them to play in America’s work at home and abroad.

What say beings left to the mercy of such charlatans? Though many mute and oppressed inhabitants of earth are unwilling or unable to speak for themselves, weary ethical beings of gentle, clear logic, based on objectively verified and probable fact, say, “Time is up!”

First-hand, I have witnessed the effects on elders in Tennessee of a religious house that defaulted on its covenant with members of good standing and long service. Second-hand, I have discovered how a changeling reverend used and abused his old congregation – how a predator sapped the good will and wealth of men and women into their old age and returned nothing to them in terms of comfort or guidance in their years of frailty and infirmity.

As a people, as an ethical social church, we should ferret out these miscreants, drain the venom, defang the viciousness, and terminate their benefit of the privileges rightly afforded to houses of worship and social service whose leaders aim to respectfully contribute as a part of the general social body of the nation. As for respectables who claim that local individuals, families, organizations, institutions, and governments do good work more effectively than national government, they owe it to put up and do what they claim rather than expend all effort to block the progress of all other remedies.

Let there be no more inattentive overlooking and polite dismissals of religious malfeasance from this day forward. A rapacious politicized pastor is to God what a tiny, blank sticky note is to literature and history. The influence of these scam artists taints lives around the world: they worsen lives suffering under the thumbs of their villainous allies in countries such as Russia and Uganda. And the intent of this mischief has no relationship to the work of God and critical bearing on the undoing of it. These missionaries of doom turn logic and language upside down in extremes that would make Orwell blush in unholy familiarity. When those under the banner of religion choose to rant, plot, and meddle in every public forum – act to undermine our Constitution, our just policies, the integrity and vitality of our planet – religion forfeits its special place and protections and calls upon itself scrutiny, censure, and even taxation. Abhorrent are despoilers of good works and honest reputations. Fie on them and their minions – and may God save their followers and us all from their depredations and their devious and dangerous ways.

Gray Claws

No thing reveals the fate of a nation more than the plight of its old. In America, at the dawn of the 21st century, people who sought expansion of personal horizons and independence are suddenly finding themselves confined and utterly dependent.

Doubling the trouble is the tendency of the utterly feeble to rely on the decrepit twin highwaymen of our political system – to wit, the Republican Party and its bastard sibling, the Tea Party – to cling to privilege and to restore a lost golden age that never was. This is not to say that the Democratic Party lacks its own deficiencies. But at least the Democratic Party contains the diversity of microbes necessary to digest change and excrete failure through the natural family processes of internal bickering, back-stabbing, inheritance hunting, and deathbed watching.

Through all the bitterness over the Affordable Care Act, I was guilty of not being sufficiently livid at the obstructionists who spent untold effort trying to prevent, overturn, repeal, slander, and otherwise block implementation of health reform. That is until I witnessed first-hand the desperation of the old and uninsured who need good information and more rational and fair health insurance coverage. To the dimwits who fought the Affordable Care Act tooth and nail with every underhanded deceit known to man, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for calling it Obamacare. You have insured that one of the most significant advancements in health services in this country will be forever linked with the president whom you refused to give a chance and the Democratic Party, which sacrificed much to hold the tiller firmly during a gale of lies, whining, privilege-seeking, and self-indulgence. May you not suffer in your old age as you would have others suffer.

The old – and that bracket includes baby boomers – don’t have much to fall back on in terms of the children next in line: many of our children are lost in cyberspace and consumed by their own selfish concerns and presumptions of superiority. And, too, progeny in every developed country are but one Internet or electrical-grid failure away from complete helplessness themselves.

It is assumed by those who wish it so that the old will whimper, rollover, and die. An alternative plan on the political right and left is for the old to claw back in elder rage and irrationality that further dooms the long view and the arduous climb out of the hole we have dug for ourselves.

There is another way, as usual. The old can accept their duty to mentor and pass the baton responsibly to another generation. They might delay retirement but be ready to step aside and let jobs go to the young who need to start their overdue careers. They might vote and speak as if they acquired common sense over their many years of prosperous existence. The young can accept greater responsibility and maintain sensible engagement in politics and the lives of the old.

Never has it been so apparent how maturing Americans have inched themselves, and our society, out on a flimsy limb far away from practical community. It is not the fault of this generation of elderly or the past one. It is not the fault of evolving youth culture, either. That is except where the habits and culture of each generation have fused seamlessly and energetically with the unbridled consumerism of the past century and a half and neglected the future.

The most giving and creative society can indeed simultaneously be the most selfish and shortsighted. Too tired to try, the old fall back on bitching and recliners. Though high time for generational change, few new friends of mankind stand out: no figure, no group, no ideology, no method leaps to mind to make our evolutionary path easier or surer.

One cannot hear the sounds of the environment with embedded ear buds. One cannot see one’s surroundings in the illumination of a hand-held device. One cannot connect when constantly plugged in and tuned out. Neither can the old hear, see, or connect from the cave of their dens, strangers to the Internet, immobile, and steeped in denial until it is too late.

No external solutions exist, only the basic everyday ones. The momentum is with each household and tribe pursuing its daily survival. That is how we have gotten by for centuries. That is how we will rise or fail together – one by one.

Precipitously, our old fall off the playing field. Nothing changes – except that the wisdom of the ages is diminished in a steady dribble. Forgetting is what we do best. It is what we do worst. The brittle gray claws of the old crumble and break. And the spaces left when they decamp are beyond filling.

Riding the Tempest

Phases of Astonishment: Chapter 3

What species is it? I am not smart enough to classify this piece. It certainly is dissimilar to most of my so-called stories. And just as surely, it is unlikely to appeal to the tastes of many readers. Yet, I send a notice of its existence to you – if only to let you know that I still wrestle with this puzzle, wading the swamp of memory to find ties in what remains. Despite questions about this short ramble, it is, nonetheless, a part of the larger story and should not necessarily be excluded because it is less appealing or less narrative. It is, for better or worse, mostly true – even if brimming over a bit. A long, more typical two-part story, relating to Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey, in the vein of the excursion to Rome, is in the works, needing only repeated proofreading and pruning without the meddlesome interference of better judgment.

Read it here.