Bob Franken

DECOYS AND OTHER PHONIES

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

DECOYS AND OTHER PHONIES

When we constructed the interstate system, we simply bypassed much of our country’s intricate variety. Still, in spite of losing this national character, there are those who get their kicks motoring the monotonous I-ways of America. They find a comfortable routine in the coast to coast, border to border ennui of signs for toll collection, motels, chain restaurants and gas stations.
But some blotches of local personality remain, concealed in this national humdrum. For instance, one of the oddball pleasures of driving along I-95 tempts the motorist at Havre de Grace, Maryland.
At exit 89, to be precise, is a billboard for the Decoy Capital of the World. That’s right, there’s an actual museum for hunters who want to kill ducks and other birds, blow them out of the sky. That’s not my kind of thing, but my mind has wandered, curious as I’ve coped with the interstate boredom at exit 89, whether there is an actual decoy museum, or if when you get there it’s nothing but a sign, a decoy fake — a year-round April Fool’s joke.
Such is the state of the demented mind badly in need of a rest stop. (“Don’t worry, if you can hold it just a few minutes, there’s one nearby.”)
I’ve had similar tortured fantasies as I’ve meandered along the information highways of more modern times. I closely embrace a fundamental law of cyber-life: “Never believe anything you see on the internet.” That applies to social media postings that have no constraints on outright lying, along with the commercial advertising that rocks to a deceptive algorithmic tempo all its own and whispers, “You’re being duped.”
Emails are even more underhanded. How many thousands of them have you gotten, pretending to be from royalty and claiming that you personally have received a large inheritance — all you have to do is send a few hundred or few thousand dollars to get it?
Communication has been so corrupted that you can’t even trust the calls you receive from Social Security or the IRS, warning you that you’re about to be arrested unless you send gift certificates to the authorities.
Back to emails, my personal favorites are the ones making some fictitious claim. Then you receive another email, on official looking letterhead, warning you that the original was a fraud. Except that it’s a fraud too, with a link to share personal information or some other cybermarker with a certain secret Russian or Baltic hacker or phisherman lurking out there.

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THE OTHER J-C

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

THE OTHER J-C

Jim Crow is not a real person. He’s a fictional character invented by a white guy for demeaning performances in minstrel shows. But for generations of Black Americans, Jim Crow is very real and ever present in their lives.
The character somehow evolved into the title given to whites’ grudging end to slavery, or almost end to slavery. That is, if you consider an end to slavery separate accommodations — drinking fountains, restrooms, lunch counters, hotels … as if you’re dirty or less than human — separate and substandard schools, racially segregated housing and a lack of equal employment opportunity and the means to really escape economically from bondage. Check that, the real lack of a means to escape were the blockades put up to voting.
All of those denied rights were supposed to end with the abolition of slavery, but really didn’t.
Jim Crow represents the establishment of a network of laws that enforced an American system that called itself “separate but equal.” But it was shabbily unequal, put in place by political entities “elected” by only a portion of the population, the white people. If necessary, these laws were enforced by vigilantes like the hooded Ku Klux Klan, who terrorized the Black community with marauding violence, including lynching. They were followed by their more polite fellow riders along the bigoted trails, who shrouded their prejudice in legalese.
The advent of television news showed the restrictive South to citizens sheltered in the north, who had no idea how oppressive it was or didn’t care. But there were enough people of goodwill to generate political pressure that ultimately led to strong laws that were supposed to guarantee basic rights.
They were coordinated by landmark rulings from a temporarily conscientious Supreme Court. The justices gave teeth to efforts to get rid of a few of the laws that allowed blatant racial discrimination.
Gradually, reluctant racists had to give way, for a while, to integrated schools, integrated housing and integrated opportunity of all sorts. Suddenly they had to swallow hard and accept the right to mixed-race marriages and next door neighbors of color.
Except they didn’t give way. The politicians, mainly Republicans, came up with a so-called Southern strategy of appealing to white voters by promoting their continued advantage. That strategy was a creation of Richard Nixon with the enthusiastic backing of the GOP. It won over Southern voters and restored restrictive laws and that malignant resistance spread all over the United States.
Still their model is Dixie, where the former slaveholders never got over the fact that they had lost their “just cause,” the Civil War, and with it the right to treat people of color as mere animals.
They were encouraged by politicians who used slick language to camouflage their appeals to the racists — the Richard Nixons, Newt Gingriches, the Donald Trumps, all the other demagogues who fan prejudice with their rhetoric.

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GPI AND OTHER RANK RANKINGS

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

GPI AND OTHER RANK RANKINGS

It doesn’t rank as the most dangerous country in the world — that would be Afghanistan, with Syria a close second — but the United States is in pretty dismal company when it comes to the so-called Global Peace Index.
The U.S. ranks 121st out of 163 countries, just ahead of Burkina Faso. That’s according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, by the way. And also by the way, Iceland comes in at No. 1 safest.
But the U.S., with its 121st place in the Armpit Parade, is far separated from the sovereign states that normally call themselves “developed nations,” right there among those that President Trump called “sh**hole countries.”
Political instability is one reason. It didn’t used to be that way, but then Donald Trump came along. But even preceding Trump was the insane prevalence of guns within our boundaries: 300 million privately owned pistols, rifles and assault weapons. Yeah, I know, the legal ones are technically not assault rifles, but they are mini machine guns. These human killing mechanisms are readily available to the deranged, the deadly unstable people, terrorists, others with violent political agendas and those with extreme anger issues who are set off by one straw too many.
The difficulty is where we used to settle disputes with our fists or even knives, now the societal saturation of guns means that an individual or group predisposed to a massacre can, either by a suicidal attack or from a safe distance, take the lives of scores of innocents unaware they are entering a deadly battlefield.
The carnage left behind has spawned a bunch of cliches, perverse because of the regularity that we are called on to use them.
One of the worst is “thoughts and prayers,” mumbled by someone who can’t think of anything more meaningful to say.
“Commonsense gun law reform” is another equally empty one. It is usually uttered by someone who favors compromise, placing some restrictions on weaponry, which he or she knows is impossible because of our paralyzed and corrupt government and the politicians who by rote state their own platitudes, like “law-abiding citizens.” Leaders like Ted Cruz know they can whip up a fervor by equating these death machines to freedom.

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AMERICA’S SPLIT PERSONALITIES

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

AMERICA’S SPLIT PERSONALITIES

Which is it: Are the police inherently thuggish, brutish enforcers of a racist America? They have been accused of being complicit in the deaths of so many minorities, particularly from the Black community, like George Floyd. Or are they the protectors of America’s democracy, like the heroes and victims in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol?
Who are we as a country? Not what are we, but who are we? Do we bounce from festering hatred of one demographic group to another? A hatred that explodes into violence at the behest of one ignorant bigot who didn’t deserve to be in the position of the highest level of leadership — but was — and now doesn’t deserve to hold extraordinary influence — but does. Obviously, Donald Trump is that man. He is self-centered to an extreme, not even able to comprehend how the hateful words he uses, like “China flu,” can translate into discrimination against all Asians or how that discrimination might be exaggerated in the already warped mind of assailants violently aroused by centuries of discriminatory cultural fantasies.
Are we the white bigot-citizens who can’t let go of the prejudice that has dominated the entire Black experience in the United States? Our nation was put together partially by slave labor and has struggled sporadically to erase the stain that continues to influence our societal attitudes and the attitudes that poison our private thinking.
How about the rejection of immigrants or Muslims? Is xenophobia guiding us? In many cases, yes.
But what about those who are so moved by compassion that they join the demonstrations and otherwise embrace whichever demographic group is under attack? Do we open our arms? A lot of us, yes.
The point is obvious. We can neither define a “national identity,” nor determine the voter instincts in an individual state. It is such a puzzle that Wisconsin, for instance, can elect as a U.S. senator Ron Johnson, who is as obvious a bigot as there ever was one, while also choosing Tammy Baldwin, an outspoken progressive.
Johnson, of course, would deny he’s a bigot; most do. But there he was on right-wing radio — and most of it is right-wing — proudly proclaiming … well, I’ll let him express his feelings about the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol and why he “never really felt threatened”: “I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, and so I wasn’t concerned.” But then he went on: “Had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.”

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PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CHARADE

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CHARADE

It’s better than nothing, but the fact that President Joe Biden is holding his first news conference of his presidency after two months is no big deal, other than for the White House reporters who get to show off asking their adversarial questions. But more importantly, they’ll get to strut their stuff as being way high up on the journalism food chain. It’s sort of like going to the correspondents’ dinner … only better.
The truth is, this glamorous life at the top is lived in the bowels of the Executive Mansion, which is where those screams of outrage at this secular blasphemy are coming from right now, but there I’ve gone and said it.
By the rules of any self-respecting news conference (or press conference, as the print people prefer), an accredited member of the gang gets to drop his bombshell in two parts, a question and a follow up (this is flexible, but that’s the way it usually is). President Whatch-a-ma-doodle deflects the first, similarly obfuscates the second and then tries not to smirk as he moves on to someone else.
By the way, he has a sheet of everybody’s name and where he or she is seated so he can flatter you by appearing to know you. I know this because I was startled the first time the president of the United States called on me by name, when I knew full well he had no earthly idea what I was even doing there.
I should also note here that he has been fully prepped — it’s not that a reporter has to submit any lines of inquiry, it’s just that it’s usually obvious what they will be. So it becomes a test of whether President Whatch-a-ma-doodle can follow the script.
If it’s President Joe Biden, there’s a decent chance he’ll flub his lines. Every media organization will have a gaffe patrol set up, so pundits arranged in a row for their inane commentary afterward, can gloat at POTUS’ mistakes. Similarly, the entire White House staff will have a cringe patrol established, ready to fan out and explain why it was no big deal. Joe Biden, after all these years, has never gotten ad-libbing figured out.
One difference between President Biden and Donald Trump (you remember him, the predecessor?) is that Biden says stupid stuff unintentionally. Trump could also blurt out the most outrageous material out of ignorance — like asking whether COVID could be cured by injecting disinfectant into the body — or because he wanted to appeal to his cadre of bigot voters.

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