Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tear dots

Having long been an observer of politics, it has occurred to me over the years that the things that make liberals cry are not necessarily the things that make conservatives cry. This observation was validated recently when Rep. John Boehner, R-OH, made an appearance on 60 Minutes. The soon-to-be Speaker of the House, with his wife by his side, choked up when talking about the American Dream and how he hopes he can use his new-found power to make it accessible to more Americans. He reacted in a similar fashion when appearing before reporters shortly after the magnitude of the Republican victory became clear.

This reaction is certainly understandable, given Speaker-elect Boehner's humble background (one of 12 children whose parents owed a neighborhood bar in southern Ohio). It is probably true that a rise from such humble beginnings to being third-in-line for the top office in the land could only happen in a handful countries in the world. If I were in his shoes, I would probably cry, too.

Lots of people cry when reminded of their childhood or early adulthood. The feelings come up at weddings, funerals, and reunions. My uncle, who witnessed the horrific reality of the German concentration camps, never failed to attend his Army unit's reunion. (He could still don his uniform even into his 70's.) Even speaking of it would cause him to tear up. Some people weep upon hearing The Star-Spangled Banner or Pledge of Allegiance. The sight of a flag-draped coffin is heart-breaking for many. It apparently caused enough concern for the George W. Bush administration that they forbid pictures to be taken of them.

These are things that stir emotion in most of us, regardless of our political philosophy. They touch our patriotism and/or sense of nostalgia in a very meaningful way. They relate to God, country, and family--the very foundation of conservative religious values.

I didn't notice many moist eyes, however, in the early 1980's, when President Reagan was ignoring the new plague that was devastating thousands of American families. I don't see many tears being shed by conservatives for the miners who suffer from atrocious working conditions; or the folks who, as recently as last year, could not get health insurance because they suffered from poor health; or the people who, through no fault of their own, have been out of work for six months or longer; or the gay men and women willing to give their lives for our country by serving in the military who are at risk of being discharged; or the women for whom an unwanted pregnancy means physical, emotional, or financial ruin; or the workers who lose their jobs to sweat shops overseas; or home owners thrown out of their houses because they lost their jobs through the machinations of Wall Street billionaires.

What good is love of country if you hate so many of its people? It's easy to get sentimental over an ideal, a concept, a document like the Constitution. What's hard is to really care about human beings--imperfect, untidy, sometimes smelly or selfish or intimidatingly needy--people. To care about them is to realize that the work isn't done when the tears dry up. And this is why liberals are different from conservatives.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The 'science is bunk' dot

In a news analysis story in the Denver Post yesterday titled, "On climate, the ignored elephant", Charles J. Hanley of the Associated Press makes poignantly clear that delegates to the two-week-long climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, were constantly looking over their shoulders at an invisible "elephant in the room", careful not to agree to anything that would actually require the U.S., along with other major polluters, to reduce their output of poisonous carbon dioxide. Although careful not to be too specific, delegates insinuated that the biggest obstacle to making real strides toward confronting "one of the greatest challenges of our time" was none other than "the impending Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives". Euphemisms included "governments deadlocked because of ideological divisions" and the "backward politics" of an unnamed developed country.

This item leads to connecting a dot to a David Brooks column titled, "Social science palooza", from The New York Times, December 6, 2010. In it, Mr. Brooks refers to this item from Kevin Lewis, who covers social sciences for The Boston Globe and National Affairs:

Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs, the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counter-evidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.

When I read this, I was reminded of something I read few years ago in Drew Westen's brilliant book,
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. In it, he tells of studies done in measuring the brain waves of college students during the presidential campaign of 2004 when presented with videos of their favorite candidate making statements, followed by other videos presenting evidence which contravened those statements.

When Kerry supporters were shown evidence challenging their beliefs, the part of their brains that indicates an effort to reconcile what they had just seen with their preconceptions became more active. In other words, there was at least a brief period of confusion and reassessment. Though they may not have ultimately changed their minds about Kerry, they had learned something or, at least, had been given "food for thought".

However, when Bush supporters were placed in a similar position regarding their previous beliefs about their candidate, the area of their brains which produces the fight or flight stimulus was almost immediately active, suggesting that, as in the study mentioned above, their reaction was to argue even more forcefully for their preconceived notions of truth.

This explains, perfectly, why Republicans can insist that global warming is "the worst hoax ever foisted upon the American people" despite over-whelming evidence to the contrary.

It explains why Republican hooligans from the Bush campaign could be sent to Dade County, Florida, to harass and intimidate the poll workers trying to sort out the hanging chad mess in 2000 and appear to be so utterly self-righteous that it reminded me of the mobs that used to string up prisoners locked up but "at risk of escaping justice" in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

It explains why Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina could shout out "You lie!" to President Obama in the middle of the State of the Union address (and be financially rewarded for it by his constituents)...and how a sitting Supreme Court justice could sit in the front row and visibly and plainly mouth the words, "That's not true," when the President said that the decision in Citizens United would lead to a massive increase in spending and influence by corporations in upcoming elections--something that we now know is a fact.

It explains why Republicans can be handed a sheet of talking points and told how to vote on a bill before Congress and they will follow it, without a word of question or complaint.

This is what happens when one's politics is based upon religion or beliefs inculcated in young children by their parents without any basis in truth but rather an unquestioning obeisance or respect for the "teller of truths". It is what happens when a person's ego has been so bruised that they dare not admit the possibility of error. It is what happens when self-worth is married to Eternal and Unchanging Truth. It is what happens when conservatism becomes preserving the status quo at whatever cost. It is what happens when one believes that all goodness came into being two thousand or two hundred years ago and nothing good has happened since. It is what happens when cynicism about humanity replaces the belief in one's own capacity to discern the truth.

The regulatory dot

Today's Progress Report, from the Center for American Progress, makes clear the difference between the two major parties as to whom governmental regulations are meant to serve. No, not, as those foolish Democrats seem to believe, the people, as in "of the people, by the people, and for the people", but the banks and Wall Street, as in "of the banks, by the banks, and for the banks". That's right. According to Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the newly elected chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, "In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks". This will certainly come as welcome news to all the Tea Partiers out there in Wonderland who blame borrowers for ripping off unsuspecting bankers and naive Wall Street accountants.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Let's re-name the G.O.P.

I think it's time that we discarded the elephant as the mascot of the Republican Party. After all, the elephant is monogamous, big on family, and wise. Plus, it is becoming an endangered species. None of these attributes apply to the modern Republican Party. The only similarity between Republicans and elephants is that both travel in herds and leave a mess in their wake.

I propose, as modestly as I possibly can, that the new generic mascot of the GOP become the Fat Cat (think of Garfield). Instead of being the Grand Ole Party, the modern Republican Party would be known as Grandiose Obsequious Powerbrokers.

Case-in-Point # 1: With Americans suffering from the least cost-effective health care in the Western World, the Republicans lined up last year like, well, elephants, trunk-to-tail, behind the rogue bull known as the health care industry--immune to the suffering of people whose bellies were bloated, not from too many cocktails and calories, but from organ failure.

Case-in-point # 2: Blocked tax relief for 98% of Americans unless millionaires and billionaires got the biggest tax breaks of all.

Case-in-point # 3: Blocked medical aide for 9/11 rescuers and other victims because "it wasn't paid for". If it weren't for their implacable resistance to comprehensive health care reform, beginning in 1993, such ad hoc aid wouldn't be necessary.

Enough examples for now. I will post others as they make the news in coming weeks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Jerk of the Month, John Tyner

Every once in a great while, there emerges in the pubic consciousness [pun intended], an individual who is so obnoxious that the situation calls for instantaneous revulsion, on a personal level. Such a person is John Tyner, the young man from San Diego who told a Transportation Security Agent who was about to pat him down, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." It is reported that John was on his way to South Dakota so that he could shoot lots of little holes in some pheasant. Apparently, the season was getting short and he didn't have time for national security considerations. Instead, he first refused to submit to a body scan and, then, in a brazen flaunting of law and the safety of his fellow travelers, threatened the security person with retribution if he (the patter is, by law, of the same gender as the patty [pun intended]) should dare to place his rubber-gloved-hand anywhere near his "junk".

I was not familiar with the word "junk" as a slang term for genitalia. I can't imagine any self-respecting man employing the term in a public setting. Having done so, I can only conclude that Mr. Tyner is straight, thinks sex is dirty, or was molested by a man in his younger days. Still, nothing justifies his current status as a folk hero among similarly jaundiced frequent flyers. Only in America, would spoiled youths create such a self-important stink over a momentary encounter with what many gay men would consider a cheap thrill. Get over it, people. Not everything is about you!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Which political party is more interested in winning than governing?

A brand-new poll by USA TODAY/Gallup tells us all we really need to know about the difference between Republicans and Democrats. In the lead article from USA Today for Tuesday, November 9, 2010, Susan Page summarized the results thus:

Democratic voters want to sit down and work things out. Republicans are ready to rumble.

Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to say it's more important for political leaders to stick to their beliefs even if little gets done. Forty-one percent of Republicans put themselves at four or five on a scale in which five is the most unyielding. Only 18% of Democrats feel that way.

Democrats are almost twice as likely as Republicans to say it's more important for political leaders to compromise in order to get things done. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats rate themselves at one or two on the five-point scale compared with 31% of Republicans.

Interestingly, 49% of independents, upon whom Republicans relied upon for their sweeping victory last Tuesday, say it's more important to get things done, against only 24% who want leaders to stick to their beliefs.

Thus, it would appear that the country is destined to experience a repeat of the same obstructionism on the part of Republicans from the 112th Congress that we saw with the 111th, with the added dimension of a more powerful--and even more effective--Republican influence in the House. It's as if the boy who refuses to eat his vegetables is now planning the family meals.

The Republicans are saying that their first priority when the "Lame Duck Session" begins in ten day or so is to renew all of the 2001 tax cuts indefinitely, despite their persistent insistence during the election cycle on reducing the massive federal deficit. On the other hand, some Republicans are threatening to vote against increasing the deficit ceiling, which could result in a shut-down of the entire federal governmental apparatus.

Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Forget about it. Ratifying the Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty? Am I nuts? Further stimulus spending to head off a double-dip recession? Who am I kidding? Putting a price on the CO2 that is over-heating the planet? What's the rush?

According to this same USA Today/Gallup poll, when asked "Do you think President Obama will make a sincere effort to work with Republicans in Congress to find solutions that are acceptable to both parties?", 64% said "yes"; when asked if Republicans in Congress would do the same, only 43% said "yes; when asked if Democrats in Congress would do the same, 51% said "yes". Unless the Democrats are willing to meet the Republicans on their own terms on every issue, deadlock seems almost certain. Nevertheless, 57% of Americans say that, as a result of the recent elections, they are more upbeat about what will happen over the next two years. Which proves either that a dollop of optimism is added to every bottle of water or voters are more naive that even I thought. No wonder the gaming industry is doing so well.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Which political party is comprised of the true "activists"?, Part I

In a most-welcome announcement, hundreds of climate scientists have decided to set aside their past policy of disengagement from the world of politics and confront head-on congressional conservatives who deny both the existence and principle cause of global warming. Republican Congressmen Darrell Issa, Joe Barton, and F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., all expected to be assuming the chairmanships of key committees on January 2, 2011, have pledged to investigate the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions and the so-called Climategate scandal involving the hacking and release of thousands of emails between leading British climate scientists. (Multiple independent investigations subsequently cleared the scientists of any wrong-doing and validated their research.) I would hope that they would be attempting to find who was behind the illegal invasion of privacy but I doubt that is going to happen.

James M. Taylor, senior fellow and specialist in global warming at the conservative Heartland Institute in Chicago, was quoted by Neela Banerjee, Tribune Co. Washington Bureau, as saying, "The budget is spiraling out of control while government is handing out billions of dollars in grants to climate scientists, many of whom are unabashed activists". (For conservatives true concern for budget deficits, see my preceding blog post.) First, research grants are in no way "handouts". Ask any PhD. Second, according to Wikipedia, an "activist" is "one who is politically active in the role of a citizen". Therefore, a scientist who renders an opinion based upon his or her research cannot be an "activist". Nor could Mr. Taylor, for that matter. The difference is that Mr. Taylor's statement, which cannot be based upon peer-reviewed scientific research, is, therefore, opinion. (I realize that anyone who places science on a higher level than ideology-tested opinion is likely to be accused of being an elitist. I'm willing to take that chance.) Mr. Taylor's job as a think-tank mouthpiece doesn't make him a mere citizen; nor does it make him an expert. He is paid to find arguments which justify the pre-determined biases of his employers. He seems to fulfill that role very well.

Which political party is the true "big spender"?, Part I

House Republican leaders, such as Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, took a strong stand yesterday against allowing the Bush tax cuts from 2001 to expire for those individuals making more than $200,000 a year for individuals or $250,000 for couples. (The tax cuts are due to expire at the end of this year--10 years after passage--because they were not "paid for" through countervailing budget measures.)

President Obama is a strong advocate for renewing the tax cuts only for those making less than those amounts. Should the Republicans get their way, the federal deficit would increase by $700,000,000,000 more over the next 10 years than with Obama's proposal. Since tax cuts have the exact same effect on the federal deficit as spending--without the concomitant widely-dispersed benefits--it is plain to see that the Republicans are the real big spenders. Boy, won't the Tea Partiers be pissed when they realize this!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Announcing my own Tea Party Points to Ponder

[Preface: Over the coming days up to the November 2nd election, I will be posing a series of questions designed to help members of the Tea Party movement dispel some of the fog in their own minds as to which political party actually serves their interests. It is clear to me that they are allowing their emotions to get the best of their powers of reason. For example, they rail against growth in government at a time when corporate power--over which they have zero influence--is at a zenith and has nearly resulted in a second Great Depression. They decry high taxes when taxes are lower than they have been in decades and our nation's infrastructure is crumbling. They bemoan government regulation of business at a time when lack of effective regulation has led to worldwide economic meltdown and environmental disasters of heretofore unseen magnitude. They whine about loss of freedom due to so-called socialistic Democratic policies as massive numbers of Americans have more free time than ever because of their lack of employment due to Republican policies for which they wax nostalgic.]

One of two things is happening--1) either they are simply in need of some lens cleaner so that they can see the world--as it really is--clearly or 2) they have lost touch with reality and need to be placed in some type of managed care facility. As a writer, I need something to do, so I will assume that the correct remedy is alternative # 1 and offer some Points for Tea Partiers to Ponder before they burst a blood vessel:

Case in Point # 1: Assuming you--the Tea Partier--agree that we live in a capitalist society and that "private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit in a market, and prices and wages are elements of capitalism" [from the Wikipedia definition of "capitalism"] and assuming that you agree that there is a role for government in capitalist societies in the areas of consumer protection and fair and open competition, the question arises, "As a consumer, who is in the better position to look out for your interests: A corporation, whose principle stakeholders are the shareholders and employees, or the government, whose principle stakeholder--outside of corporate lobbyists--is the voter?"

If you answered "corporations", then you might want to ignore news stories about product recalls, ponzi schemes, sticking accelerators, oil spills, and corporate malfeasance; trust your soul to Wall Street and keep voting for Republicans.

But if you answered "government", then I have to ask, "What the heck are you thinking when you're out there supporting people like Palin, O'Connell, Joe Miller, and Angle?" Are you saying that you support these champions of laissez-faire economics as a shareholder or employee? If not, then who else do you expect to fight for your rights as a consumer/private citizen, if not your government? Or, has your conservative ideology become the enemy of your personal well-being? If so, then at least have the intellectual honesty to say so and stop hiding behind your irrational and irresponsible anger. For from such comes anarchy or, worse, totalitarianism.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

From dots to dashes (of the highway paint line type)

About a month ago, while in the throes of hypertension-reduction therapy with a new doctor (without much success at the time), I decided that, more than medications, a change in lifestyle was called for. I notified those friends and acquaintances to whom I had been forwarding up to a dozen emails per week concerning the political "outrages" of the day that I was out of the calamity clearinghouse business. I suspended the once monthly political forums I was facilitating at my Unitarian Universalist Church. I stopped watching The Rachel Maddow Show as if it were a religion. I unsubscribed from three dozen or more listserves. Finally, I vowed to distance myself from involvement in politics or debates about the rightness or wrongness of any side of the debate on political issues, except on occasion with my closest friends. Like water off a duck's back--and unlike oil off a brown pelican's--I will keep abreast of developments while never allowing it to get on my chest.

This new policy has already paid dividends. Since I began to put it into practice, my average blood pressure (diastolic) has dropped 20 points. I have much more time to pursue other interests, including long-distance calls to relatives, reading books, and planning vacations. The last undertaking is the reason for the title of this post. Relieved of the self-imposed duty to connect seemingly randomly-dispersed "dots" of truth, I can now spend my retirement life finding ways to enjoy the world as it is...or, at least, my little corner of it. In July, we will be undertaking a 4000-mile journey via Ford Focus to visit friends in Nanaimo, BC, CA, taking in half-a-dozen national parks along the way to and fro. In October, we will drive to Detroit to attend my first-born child's wedding and visit old friends there. As our Focus gets nearly 40 mpg on the open road, my conscience allows us to do this while feeling free of guilt for sins against the planet.

Socrates made a perhaps fatal point of decrying the usefulness of democracy as a form of governance, questioning whether an electorate ignorant of science, geography, other cultures, and the workings of government could possibly make better decisions than a Senate comprised of the intellectually elite. Having followed the recent meteoric rise of Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers, I must finally acquiesce to his wisdom. Having seen one of two major political parties adopt as its primary strategy not finding solutions to the existential problems that face us today but rather snuffing out the life of any ideas whose execution would not directly accrue to the advancement of their ideology, I am beginning to seriously doubt whether the U.S. is capable of saving ourselves, let alone bringing enlightenment to those far-flung corners of the world where the peddlers of ignorance, prejudice, poverty, and dogmatism find voice.

So, I will not turn my back on social justice, ecological sanity, and all the causes that I have championed for decades. However, I will turn my face more to welcoming the beauty and grace of this planet and its inhabitants while it, they, and I last. I can do this knowing that others--many of them so young--have already picked up the torch and are carrying it more faithfully than I ever did. I no longer feel responsible for curing the world's ills. What a relief! I have already seen many turnings toward the light, just in the last couple of years. If we don't turn back, there is still some room for optimism. I just won't have "my hand on the till", as if I ever did. To all of you still fighting the good fight, I say, "more power to you and Godspeed".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Porsches, not politics

I have always had a thing for people who drive expensive German sedans or sports cars. Call it resentment, call it envy, whatever. Like all status symbols, such indulgences are typically a way for the owner to set him/herself off from the humdrum crowd.

Anyway, last Saturday, Laurin and I were visiting a friend who lives in a high-rise senior community. We parked our car--a 2009 Ford Focus--on the street in front of the building. As I was getting out of the car, a man drove by in one of those "classic" Porsche Carrera's with the "whale tail". He turned into the circle driveway in front of the same building we were headed for. As he coasted through the drive, he blipped his throttle a couple of times with the clutch in, no doubt hoping to attract attention to his ineluctable good taste and high fortune. (Perhaps, he was simply trying to keep his race-tuned engine from getting loaded up with carbon?)

As we walked up to the entrance, I glanced over at the driver--a silver-haired white male in his 60's or so--hoping not to attract his attention so as to give him the satisfaction of feeling that he had scored another jealous conquest.

Inside, we stepped up to the desk to sign in. As I leaned over the guest book to ask the receptionist a question, I felt a hand against my right flank pushing me aside. Who should it be but the creep in the Carrera. Now, I'm normally pretty restrained when dealing with people in general. But that morning, I was feeling a little edgy. I turned and said to him something like, "So it's the guy in the Porsche who obviously feels like the ordinary rules of life don't apply to him!"

To my utter amazement, he reacted with a degree of grace and aplomb that still stuns me. He smilingly replied to the effect that "Yeah, I'm like one of those alluded to in the joke about Porsches and porcupines." I knew what he meant. One of my favorite jokes--although when told to me concerned BMWs, not Porsche's--goes like this:

Q: What's the difference between a BMW/Porsche and a porcupine?

A: The porcupine has its pricks on the outside.

He had totally let the scirocco out of my sails. All I could think to say was, "When I heard it, it was about BMWs." Lame.

Lesson-learned: You can never judge a boob by his blips.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A personal message

For years, I have been struggling with hypertension. Up until a few months ago, it has been under control with medication. Something in my anatomy, my psychology, or my karma has been altered, however, and now I find myself in the position of having to take six different medications daily and my blood pressure is only at acceptable levels half the time. My husband, Laurin, has been urging me to put politics aside completely, as he knows how I tend to get worked up over world events. Even knowing the strong role that stress can play in one's state of health, I poo-pooed the notion that only by making a lifestyle change, outside of diet, could I expect to get well.

Yesterday, I learned that a cousin of mine had a second heart attack at the age of 58. He's recovering. Last week, I found out that a young man in his mid-30's whom I knew back in Detroit died suddenly of a heart attack. I like my life in Denver. I love my friends and my husband and I want to be around until I'm as old as he is (84). I don't know what else to do. So, I'm going to unsubscribe from Alternet, ProgressNow, RePower America, and all the other purely political websites that now fatten my in-basket day-in and day-out. I am going to delete messages from political candidates and stop watching MSNBC. (Coincidentally, both Bill Moyers' Journal and NOW are going off the air at the end of April. Perhaps PBS was trying to make my decision easier?)

Many of my devoted readers--you both know who you are--will be sad to learn that this also means that I will no longer be facilitating the DisabusedUUs political forum. I will miss our lively discussions but will still see you on Sunday mornings. I would love to hear your thoughts on this posting (and any of my earlier missives), should you care to post a comment.

I have no idea whether I will be able to successfully transition into this new way of being in the world. I have been a political junkie since high school. It is in my blood--and that's the problem. Of course, I will continue to participate in the system by voting (Democratic) until I am too weak to lick a stamp. But my personal health must be my highest priority. (If political invigoration doesn't arise from self-interest, where else? But persisting in the face of a life-threatening illness would be pure foolishness.)

I intend to spend my new-found time relearning to cook, exercising, and watching all those wonderful TV sitcoms that I missed while attending rallies. I will also be traveling the country by auto, taking in the beauty of nature and visiting friends and family, with Laurin at my side. I will always care about my countrymen and women and their part in building a more peaceful and greener world. But I am passing the torch with no regret to very capable younger generations...and those seniors who are healthier than myself. Carpe diem!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Tea Party for Liberals?

Yesterday's Denver Post contained this headline on page 6A: "Liberals work to start 3rd party". A group of liberals in North Carolina, frustrated by three Democratic congressmen who voted against health care reform, is gathering signatures to put a third party, North Carolina First, on the ballot for the November mid-term election. Notwithstanding the fact that, if successful, the result of their effort could well mean that the defeat of the three conservative Democrats would accrue to the benefit of the Republican alternatives, these would-be Tea Partiers of the Left say they do not care; they are made as hell and aren't going to take it anymore.

Such self-defeating foolishness reminds me of the central character in the book and movie, Into the Woods, Christopher McCandless (portrayed in the film by Emile Hirsch). Finding himself completely alienated by the superficiality and materialism of his upper middle-class parents, this college star athlete and scholar gives his entire life savings to charity, abandons his old clunker of a car in the desert, and hitchhikes his way to Alaska, where he plans to live in the wilderness where he can eat what the animals eat and live a life of purity and aestheticism, next to nature and all its beauty and what-you-see-is-what-you-get honesty. Availing himself of the kindness of strangers along the way--average folk for whom he seems to have little patience or time--and an old, decrepit school bus formerly used as a base camp for a group of hunters, Chris at last finds his nirvana, surrounded by mountains, streams, and tundra.

I won't give away the ending--this truly is a movie worth seeing, as was the book a fantastic read (or, so I'm told). Let me just say that the life the self-righteous isn't always as gratifying as it's cracked-up to be. You may feel that you are teaching the world and all the bastards in it a huge lesson and that may feel very comforting, for a little while. But the law of politics, like the law of the jungle, is that you either eat or get eaten. And you never--EVER--eat your own.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Don't grasp, don't swish

"I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of [Don't Ask, Don't Tell] on a force that's fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for 8-1/2 years. We just don't know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness." Thus spoke Gen. George Casey, Jr., Army Chief of Staff, while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

What Gen. Casey fails to mention is that his "force" includes men and women who happen to be gay or lesbian. They, too, have been risking life and limb on behalf of the security of our nation. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying before the same committee on February 2nd, said, "I have served with homosexuals since 1968. Everybody in the military has, and we understand that." Truth be told, "homosexuals" have been fighting America's battles since the Revolutionary War. They weren't knows as "homosexuals" then, because humanity didn't have the understanding of primate sexuality to thus label them. Nevertheless, they were there, taking the same risks and paying the same price as anyone else. There was no law like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 1776. Not when "coming out" at that time might well mean a bullet in your head--not from a Redcoat but from a fellow Patriot.

Similarly, there were gay soldiers at the Alamo, at Bull Run and San Juan Hill, in the fields at3 Flanders, on the beaches of Normandy and Incheon, and at Hue. They fought and died not because they were gay soldiers but because they were there to do a job. The germane difference for them was that they did so while being forced to conform to a heterosexual culture that was as alien to them as the Viet Cong with whom they were locked in a life-and-death struggle. As the 21st Century approached, some of these gay men and women may have found the confidence to reveal their sexual orientation to their comrades on the battlefield...and lived. Life went on, the effectiveness of our fighting forces was not compromised, and morale did not suffer.

So, my question for Gen. Casey would be, "How, exactly, would our military effectiveness and readiness be compromised if our fighting men and women who are gay--and are right now every day doing their job effectively and on command--were simply allowed to talk about their loved one in the same chummy and casual manner as the person sleeping in the next bedroll or eating rations on the adjacent rock?" Unless you assume that the person on the receiving end of that information is a homophobe, incapable of doing his or her duty after knowing that an individual with whom they have almost literally walked through the gates of hell is gay, I can think of no reason at all. And, even if your dark suspicions should turn out to be justified, it seems to me that the only acceptable remedy would be to discharge the straight soldier who is terrified that that gay soldier might give them a wolf whistle, a pinch on the behind, or a wiggle of their booty. If they can't deal with that, how much less will they be stalwart when faced with an adversary that would love nothing better than to see them blown to little bits?

Monday, February 8, 2010

How to Get Our Democracy Back [linked]

This piece by Lawrence Lessig from The Nation gets to the root problem--the last and most elusive dot in the matrix--without a remedy for which we as a free and democratic nation are doomed. I couldn't possibly have said it better if I tried for a year.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Dots, You Say?

My blog is titled 'What Dots?' for a simple reason--failure to do so can be extremely inefficient, in terms of time, lives, and money. Wars have been fought for the lack of looking at the big picture--seven generations down the road, in Native American tradition--usually due to the perceived need to save face or preserve individual or national power.

A case in point is the inaptly-named "War on Terror".

I'm not going to enumerate the cost of this war in terms of time, tragedy, or treasure. We're all quite familiar with those details, even if not personally stricken by the physical or emotional pain. What strikes me is the deliberate--it can only be intentional and strategic--failure on the part of our national leadership over the past eight years to acknowledge that our foreign policy actions have real consequences.

The latest and, perhaps, most graphic evidence for this proposition came yesterday, when it became known that Osama bin Laden had released an audio tape addressed to President Obama on which bin Laden said, "America will never dream of security unless we will have it in reality in Palestine. God willing, our raids on you will continue as long as your support to the Israelis will continue."

How did the administration respond to this statement? According to the story from the New York Times [linked above], David Axelrod, White House senior advisor, appearing on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, said, "that whatever the source [there is some question as to the identity of the voice on the tape-ed.], the message 'contains the same hollow justification for the mass slaughter of innocents'".

Hollow justification? For the mass rage felt by the Muslim world at the "mass slaughter" of Palestinians in Gaza during the Israeli offensive of December and January a year ago?

It seems that the U.S. is joined to Israel at the head. Neither of us can survive without the other. Israel is free to do whatever they deem necessary--out of a raging paranoia festering since the Holocaust--for the preservation of their security and restoration of their "God-given" territory--no matter how heinous, and we, as Americans, must not only provide the materiel but also the moral support.

Also in yesterday's news was a story about Israel's reaffirming its claim to land also claimed by Palestinians. In it, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quoted as saying, "Our message is clear: We are planting [trees--a symbolic act of ownership] here [in the West Bank], we will stay here, we will build here. This place will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel for eternity".

I wonder if the Prime Minister would be so brazenly defiant if he did not know that the U.S. would use its full might to back him up, no matter how many American lives were thereby put at risk? I wonder if an American president would dare to admit to the American people that the real reason we have expended so many thousands of lives and a trillion dollars on two wars on the other side of the world is not to make us secure from terrorism (the acts of terrorism on U.S. soil would stop the day that we suspended our financial aid to Israel) but to pimp for Zionist fanatics?

Axelrod's statement was a cover-up. It was a likely successful ploy to preempt the connection in the American mind of the dots that link Israel with al-Qaeda. Until that line is drawn, we in the U.S. will have to put up with living in constant fear and state of alertness. Our soldiers will continue to die in the Middle East. Our deficit will continue to rise until our economy collapses. Unfortunately, we've never been good at looking at our own motives in relation to the motives of others.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Liberal Response to Justice Kennedy's Folly

All may not be lost. As Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said last night on the Rachel Maddow Show, [at approx. 8:00 min.] Congress has the constitutional power to regulate corporations as legal creations of the state. (Unlike people, corporations are not "natural-born" citizens, but must be chartered by a state of the union and are, thus, subject to regulation. This fact, obviously, was not pressing on the minds of Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito when they arrived at their decision in this case.)

Although he wasn't specific last night as to possible remedies, I have a few of my own. One would be for Congress to pass a constitutional amendment kicking corporations out of the human race and send it on to the states for ratification. (Several NGOs are currently working on petitions to Congress to do just this.) Another would be for Congress to limit a corporation's expenditures in support of any one candidate in an election cycle to the same amount of money per employee that an individual could contribute to that or any other candidate. The last would be to pass an updated version of the Fairness Doctrine, stating that any media organization--print, TV, or radio--must devote the same amount of "air time" to each of the opposing candidates from the two major political parties, within reason. This would stop the fat cat corporations from buying up ALL the available advertising time during prime time, which they could easily do, otherwise.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is Massachusetts Mad?

So, the good voters of Massachusetts--arguably the "bluest" in the country--have decided to send to the U.S. Senate as their representative a man "who has said he supports waterboarding as an interrogation technique, opposes a federal cap-and-trade program to cut carbon emissions and opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants unless they leave the country". This surprising development, according to common wisdom, "represented an unexpected reproach to President Barack Obama after his first year in office", as well as "independents[' anxiety] about the economy and [concern] about the direction taken by Democrats." [Ibid.] According to one lifelong Massachusetts Democrat who cast her first vote for a Republican in this election, "I think if Massachusetts puts Brown in, it's a message of 'That's enough.' Let's stop the giveaways and let's get jobs going." [Ibid.]

Interestingly, on that very same day, "the Dow Jones industrial average rose 116 points, and analysts attributed the increase to hopes the election would make it harder for Obama to make his changes to health care. That eased investor concerns that profits at companies such as insurers and drugmakers would suffer." [Ibid.]

Let me see if I've got this right. The voters who pulled the lever for Brown were so disgusted with how the Democrats have played favorites with Wall Street bankers, insurance company CEOs, and big pharma that they called for the change that they could REALLY believe in--more profits for Wall Street bankers, insurance company CEOs, and big pharma. Hmmmm. There must be some subtle innuendo here that I'm missing. [Readers: if you would care to clue me in, I would welcome it, because right now I'm about to declare myself a complete dunce when it comes to social psychology.]

It seems to me that there are only a few explanations for this phenomenon:

1) The voters are bonkers;
2) The voters are so blazing mad that they are like the father who's pissed off at the wife or kids and, finding that they aren't available, kicks the dog;
3) That the voters don't have much time for politics, so they only know what they see on TV between segments of American Idol (whereby they thought that Senator-elect Brown's daughter, Ayla, a former American Idol contestant, was cute); or
4) Like Frankenstein's monster, they can only repeat by rote, "Democrats bad; Republicans good".

I don't truly believe that Massachusetts' voters (or any other voters) are stupid, crazy, mad dogs, or monsters. They are, however, as I've said here before, dumbed-down, distracted, delusional, and in denial.

  • Dumbed-down because their parents were too distracted or delusional to stress the value of discipline and a good education; and because our school systems are underfunded and unreformed, its teachers overburdened, and its administrators intimidated by a system that favors parents/taxpayers over public servants.
  • Distracted because of a corporatocracy that plies them with endless branding, commercialism, and mind-numbing forms of "entertainment" that fill their precious and few free hours with so-called 'reality shows' and sports.
  • Delusional to believe that all democracy requires is to "throw the bums out" in a recessional election year and maintain the status quo in seemingly prosperous times, no matter how inept or dishonest are those in power.
  • In denial of the fact that, in a democracy, you tend to get the public servants you deserve; if you're not keeping up with developments because you're dumbed-down, distracted, and delusional, you're going to make a lot of mistakes in your choices.
So, I would maintain that, no, Massachusetts is not "mad", only maddening. To vote against a candidate because he or she may have offended one of your sports heroes (Curt Schilling, former Boston Red Sox pitcher) by saying that he was a "Yankees fan"--as some reportedly did--is to treat American governance like a petty disagreement between two sixth graders. Politics should not be a spectator sport. In fact, it's a lot more like choosing a life partner--one that you're about to share with 300 million others who are counting on your good judgment. You have to give it at least as much attention as bingo, beer, or baseball.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

I thought you might use some advice from someone who is neither a right-wing-nut nor a true-believer in your status as a knight-in-shining-armor who was going to make every boo-boo on our nation's psyche heal within the very first year of your term of office. Oh, yes, I willingly voted for you and cried when I watched you and your beautiful family stand before a crowd of a hundred thousand in Grant Park in Chicago that night to declare victory. I did not work for nor donate to your campaign because it became evident to me early on that, while you were not prone to sudden outbursts of emotion while over-amplified (as another promising candidate did not so long ago), neither were you the type to rock the boat by making the kind of drastic turnaround that the country so desperately needed. Now that your public approval rating has slipped into George W. Bush territory, I thought you might be looking beyond the usual advisory insiders for some clues as to how to get back in the good graces of Mr. and Ms. America.

First, Mr. President, short of a personality transplant, you need to ditch the entire Mr. Cool routine, assuming that you can still muster up true-blue, honest-to-God feelings and a congruent affect to go with it. (Your predecessor had an embarrassing tendency to display facial expressions one would more expect to see on a preschooler while delivering the most sobering news.) When everything you say emanates from a visage that never changes, you are sending the message that either everything matters equally or nothing matters at all. "Is he lying or telling the truth? What does he really care about? Does he know that I exist?"

Second, Mr. President, and concurrently with the above, you need to talk less like a contracts lawyer and more like a trial lawyer. Talk like your audience is a jury in a murder trial and not the judge sitting on the bench. (Note: this is not "talking-down", it is "talking to.") People want to hear words that stir their hearts and imaginations. They do not want you to "win them over". Most voters in the middle, independent, or undecided columns do not really know how they feel about the complex issues that you deal with day-in and day-out. What they want to hear from you is that you have a sincere conviction as to the right course and are willing to explain to them why in your gut you know you are right.

Last night, my husband and I attended a concert by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. On the program were two highly contrasting works: Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs and Peter Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. One hundred and thirty-five years separated the creation of these two works about romantic love. The first was receiving it's premier performance by the CSO. The latter can only be described as a workhouse, it has been performed so often. The first had Spanish lyrics, the English translation of which was written in the program, sung by a very talented mezzo-soprano. Lieberson had written his piece out of love for his wife, herself a first-rate mezzo-soprano, who he knew was dying of breast cancer. She lived long enough to sing his work at its world premier.

Lieberson's musical setting of five poems, written by Chilean Pablo Neruda in the late 1950's, might have been as stirring as Tchaikovsky's earlier fantasy on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, given its context within Lieberson's life. Both stories involve incipient love needlessly and far too early lost. Yet, the audience's reaction to the two pieces was starkly contrasted. Lieberson's music was like Obama's speeches--fresh, sonorous, and melodious, in a 21st century kind of way. When it finished, the audience applauded politely, some even stood. There was no doubt that the rendition they had heard was exemplary. But the music and poetry plucked the strings of the mind more than the heart.

Tchaikovsky, on the other hand, cares little for plucking strings that aren't connected to emotions, as I'm sure you are aware, Mr. President. His Romeo and Juliet Fantasy, with its love theme that has been on every best-love-songs-of-all-time album since the days of wax cylinders, blasts out "try to top this, Mantovani" from every measure. Predictably, when it ended, the crowd "went wild", standing, clapping, and hooting en masse.

Why the difference? Was it purely a matter of familiarity? Doesn't familiarity breed contempt? I think the answer holds a secret to your success, Mr. President. Here it is: whether listening to you or a symphony orchestra, people want to be reminded what it is they care about. What they care about isn't mind games, elegance, or eloquence. It's about heart-to-heart human connection. What they care about is knowing that the person or persons they are listening to care about those things too. This is especially true of their president. They don't care how many times they've heard it said (played) by someone else; they want to hear it from you. You are America's lover. When we are hurting, we need to know that you feel our pain. (Clinton said it but didn't prove it.) Not only feel our pain but will continue to feel it until its gone.

Great conductors make you believe that the music comes from inside them. If the "Great Health Care Symphony" is programmed, they don't hand the baton over to the Principle Guest Conductor or the Principle Pops Conductor. Great trial lawyers take classes in acting, just as some football players take ballet. It's time to get a little theatrical, Mr. President. The jury is still in the box and they're getting restless.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Compassionate Conservative Unmasked

It's time we held a moment of silence for the mythological "compassionate conservative". Only a moment, because the corpse has long-since ossified. It doesn't even stink anymore.

Perhaps George W. Bush was the last conservative to dabble in compassion. He played it up pretty large in the 2000 campaign, before he became America's "Great Protector". The cornerstone of this era was No Child Left Behind, perhaps the most compassionate title ever inscribe upon the title page of a piece of legislation; enough so, to rope Sen. Ted Kennedy in, anyway.

That done, Bush's reputation as a compassionate conservative was secured and he could turn his attention to abstaining from nation-building. Other conservatives could feel free to return to their first love, bloating the Defense budget with new weapons systems and fighting multiple wars against people obviously not suited for displays of compassion.

Of course, ever since President Reagan's era, the standard mantra of their party was "low taxes, small government, and individual liberty". Sounds pretty appealing to many people. Just keep the government off my back and I'll do just fine. Problem is, it's not easy to constantly battle against higher taxes while still maintaining the infrastructure that keeps commerce flowing, neighborhoods safe, and the workforce well-educated with a growing and aging population and the tendency of things to wear out.

Conservatives don't seem to grasp the concept of wear out. They never stay in one house or drive one car long enough to have to maintain them. As George Lakoff inveighs, when their children reach the age of majority, they're expected to be fully independent and never trouble their parents for anything again. The same goes for roads and bridges. The neglect of our interstate highway and electrical distribution system during the Reagan Era led to the current crumbling crisis. Now, of course, conservatives' cash cow, business, is starting to complain loudly about the condition of the roads. It's taking workers too long to get to the job. Sometimes, they have blowouts from potholes. Call it "concrete compassion".

When it comes to compassion for real flesh-and-blood people, however, the conservatives' empathy seems to be in rather short supply. In quiet, private moments they may say a little prayer for those in need but don't bother asking them to pony up. That would be too much of an infringement upon their personal liberty.

Two recent examples come almost as emotional aftershocks of the terrible tragedy in Haiti. The first came from none other than a man who, if not the prophet of parsimony, is certainly the creative force behind the college of conservative orthodoxy, Regent University, alma mater of the man who has just been elected Virginia's new governor, Bob McDonnell. His name is Pat Robertson. Here's what Rev. Robertson had to say about the misfortunes that have befallen Haiti in recent years:

“They (Haitians) were under the heel of the French…and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you’…and so, the devil said ‘Okay, it’s a deal’ and kicked the French out....They need to have…a great turning to God.”

I guess, for conservatives like Robertson, compassion is caring enough to send the very best wishes for a spiritual revival, led, no doubt, by "the Man" himself.

Then, there was this gem from the most-influential conservative in the U.S., Rush Limbaugh:

“We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax.”

Limbaugh was upset that President Obama--a moderate and, thus, not of the belief that government is not the solution but rather the problem--was so quick to send aid to those people, of whatever nationality, who might have had the bad taste to get themselves buried under tons of wrecked buildings. No doubt, it was a fiscal conservative who wrote the building code that saved all the tax dollars that can now be used for reconstruction.

So, the next time you hear a conservative effuse the standard talking points of "low taxes, small government, and individual liberty", remember that policies just like those produce the offspring of societal decline and death. Offspring that can only be aborted by politicians who understand history, think outside their own skin, and give a hoot for the other--politicians who don't just pay lip service to Jesus but actually try to live as he did.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Brief acknowledgement

I would like to thank my friend, Gerry Todd, for the following string of modifiers of the American electorate, as used in the previous post: dumbed-down, delusional, distracted, and in denial. I couldn't have said it better. Perhaps soon, I'll explain why I think these descriptors are apt.

Shooting the messenger in 2010

It's widely acknowledged that the Recession That Was Almost a Second Great Depression started in December of 2007. That was fully one year before George W. Bush left office. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, commonly referred to as the "bailout" of the U.S. financial system, was proposed by Henry Paulson, Treasury Secretary under President Bush. President Bush signed it into law within hours of its bipartisan enactment by Congress in October of 2008.

The Great Recession in which we are currently mired was a byproduct of the economic policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations. [Note: At least, during the Clinton years, jobs were created by the millions. During Bush II's two terms, 90% fewer jobs were created than under Clinton. Not only were there few new jobs under eight years of a Republican administration, but real median income was 0.6 percent lower in 2007 than it was at the end of the Clinton era.]

Within a month of taking office, President Obama signed into law a $787 billion economic stimulus bill intended primarily to put Americans back to work. Since then, he has signed a bill to rescue General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy and get car and truck assembly lines cranked up again. This administration's policies have headed-off what was likely a second Great Depression and stemmed even worse unemployment among state workers, including teachers.

I know that folks who are about to lose their homes to foreclosure, who are without a job and unable to find one, who can't get a loan to start a small business, or whose unemployment benefits are about to run out, have little patience for a recovery that is still in its early stages. What I can't understand is why they would want to punish the party in power in favor of a party that has never in its modern history done them any favors.

Most pundits are predicting a possible Republican blowout come November's elections. This, despite the fact a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that the Tea Party is favored by more Americans than either the Democratic or Republican Parties, by 41 to 35 to 28% favorable, respectively. Almost surreal, isn't it? Of course, the Tea Party, which doesn't even have a leader that 99% of Americans could name (although Sarah Palin is apparently trying to plant its brand squarely on her forehead), is more closely associated with the Republican Party than the Dems. Since it's unlikely that the Tea Party will be able to have more than a few candidates' names on ballots by November, we must assume that its loyalists will pull the Republican lever on November 2nd. Assuming that all of them--conservatives and independents--do that, we might expect the current out party to receive almost 70% of the vote.

Not at all likely. But 60% of the vote might well be within reach, which would almost surely put Republicans near or at a majority in the U.S. House and guarantee them the ability to stop any piece of liberal legislation in its tracks in the Senate. The result would be two years of stalemate in Washington. Is stalemate what the voters really want? Economically speaking, stalemate is what we effectively got during the Bush II years in office. No new jobs, no income growth, no progress on climate change or health care (oh, yes, I forgot the donut hole), more speculation on Wall Street, more governmental incompetence, and more--yes, more--debt.

I know that the electorate is dumbed-down, distracted, delusional, and in denial, but, surely, they can't be this stupid!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Keeping one step ahead of airplane terrorists

Today's Denver Post quotes President Obama as saying during his report-out on airline bomb-plot security yesterday, "There is, of course, no foolproof solution. We have to stay one step ahead of a nimble adversary." The article states that one of the president's recommendations is to "[i]ncrease the use of explosive detection technology, including imaging technology, at airports."

Here's a thought:

We know that, while the new "whole body imaging" technology might reveal explosives hidden in a person's clothing, including shoes and underwear, it is not capable of revealing explosives hidden under the skin. How long will it be before al Qaeda operatives, who have little to be squeamish about, realize that explosives hidden inside their bodies cannot be detected? For example, in incision could be made in the abdomen and the explosives neatly tucked inside. The chemical that ignites the explosive could then be injected through the skin once on board the airplane. (If oxygen is required for ignition, a tube that protrudes through the skin might suffice. The tube would also facilitate ignition.)

Since current technologies offer no defense against this scenario, I would propose that all passengers be subjected to a full strip search before boarding. This would reveal any recent scars and apparatus that might fit the above description. I realize that this would be likely to reduce the number of people interested in flying. However, this would be a boon for the environment. Oh, and it would also create new jobs. Not many proposals can be said to reduce the risk of terrorism, save the planet, and help end the recession at the same time. I would promote the program through the slogan, "Shy? Don't fly."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My letter to USA Today

Here's the text of a letter to the editor that I sent today. It was in response to their editorial in yesterday's edition and its published response from Newt Gingrich--

In his Opposing View on the subject of whether partisanship in public debate is getting out of hand, former House Speaker and current senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Newt Gingrich, states that "when something threatens the life of the country, it would be suicidal not to speak up." He adds, "If we do not recognize we are at war [on terror] and behave effectively against enemies who want to kill us, we are going to lose a lot of American lives. Warning that change is needed to save American lives and secure America from enemies is not partisanship. It is citizenship at its most profound."

For most of my sixty-three years, it has been standard practice to protest against the waging of wars considered to be immoral in their very conception. At the same time, it was considered impolitic, if not treasonous, to directly criticize our Commander-in-Chief, not for the immorality of the cause to which he committed our fighting forces, but for an imagined lack of care for the safety of Americans in how he waged it. Surely, there is no valid argument that President Obama has been "ineffective" in his efforts to defend the people of the United States from terrorism, especially in contrast to the previous administration, whose incomprehensible attempt to rout phantom terrorists from Iraq resulted in the introduction of Al Queda to that country. To imply otherwise is to give aid and comfort to an enemy that has not a single moral leg to stand on. That is not citizenship, profound or otherwise; it is dangerously partisan demagoguery.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The true cost of capitalism

Subtitle: Capitalism for dummies

For those of us who were not economics majors--or didn't get a college degree--I am going to attempt to make the case for why capitalism and democracy do not play well together. The underlying theme will be that capitalism is based upon the notion of the "shining individual upon a hill" or, to put it a little more succinctly, man-as-god. [Note: nothing that I say here is meant to imply that it is not possible, even likely, that there will be women-as-gods, too.]

Here is the hypothesis behind my little theory: If a society is based upon the ideas 1) that individuals should be empowered to achieve the maximum they can achieve in terms of the accumulation of wealth, as long as it is done within the law; 2) that those laws should be structured to encourage the accumulation of individual wealth even at the risk of doing injury to others (as long as that injury is byproduct and not the objective); and 3) that the political system is engineered to tip the balance of power in favor of the wealthy (and the corporations they control), then it follows that all societal costs incidental to the accumulation of wealth, whether financial or health-related, will fall upon the broader society.

This little theory of mine, while certainly not new or unique, may, nonetheless, come as a somewhat shocking realization to some, including me. Furthermore, it tends to make finding solutions to crises more problematic. For example, we know that global climate change is an imminent and existential threat to human existence. Yet, capitalistic societies seem completely incapable of focusing on the issue with enough resolve to take the steps likely to slow down the inevitable march to oblivion. Why is that?

I'll tell you. All you have to do is look at the state of the two political parties in the U.S. today. The Republican Party has become the State Apologist for the New American Oligarchy. They are buried so deep in the pockets of the fat cats that they cannot see daylight. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is divided between the faction that still cares about the well-being of common folk and the faction that is politically aligned with Democrats--for pragmatic reasons--but ideologically aligned with Republicans. Nowhere to be found is a party which not only cares, first and foremost, about the 95% of Americans who control but 50% of the nation's wealth but also is in a position to challenge the power elite.

Since the other capitalist countries around the world are looking to the U.S. for leadership on global climate change, nothing truly revolutionary is going to happen unless we show the way.

Here are a couple of examples from yesterday's news of why I am not optimistic that we ever will--

A) The Washington Post, in a story by Lyndsey Layton, informs us that our own Environmental Protection Agency has, for 33 years, kept the names and physical properties of approximately 16,000 chemicals in commercial use secret, both from the public and the federal government, under a little-known federal law designed to protect trade secrets.

B) The Denver Post, as reported by Margaret Jackson, states that redevelopment of an area of the city includes land once owned by a chemical company"which salvaged uranium from defective fuel rods." It seems the company closed in 1982,"leaving the site contaminated with radioactivity. The site was cleaned up under the federal Superfund program in 2006."

So, let's analyze this in context. Chemical companies' profits are enhanced by federal government policies that protect their trade secrets, even at the risk that those same chemicals may be ingested, inhaled, or otherwise absorbed into the bodies of the very same people--of which, by which, and for which, our government was established--and any toxic messes they should negligently leave behind will be cleaned up at the expense of those same people. At least, we're not being forced to do the actual labor, in which case, we would literally be the indentured servants of industry.

This madness must stop! Our system of financial accounting must, in the future, internalize the costs to society of commercial/industrial enterprise. Only then will the true value of a green economy become evident and a fair trade-off with the chemical and oil industry be made.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

It's time to prepare for the decline and fall of America

You know that times are bad when even landfill owners are complaining about the drop-off in the amount of refuse produced by Americans. I see this as a good sign, however. Not only good, but both inevitable and soon to become something akin to the sea change from high tide to low.

The United States of America has--for 170 years since the time of Alexis de Tocqueville--been the world's favorite son. The Dutch Empire lasted for about 150 years and the Second British Empire for about 130. Both owed their decline in major part to the obsolescence of their power generation systems--for the Dutch, it was their hydrology and for the British their coal-fired industrial revolution. When their source of power diminished, either through inefficiency or resource depletion, their empire withered and died.

The U.S. is faced with exactly the same circumstance today. Geopolitics has driven American foreign policy since the end of the Civil War and the concomitant rapid growth of industrialization in this country. We are a leviathan empire whose culture, machinery, and arsenal are slickened with oil. With the arrival of peak oil production already upon us, the end is in sight for U.S. supremacy over world commerce and economic growth.

China has outmaneuvered us in buying up the rights to the rare earth metals that are needed for the production of computers, cell phones, and hybrid electric car batteries. Unwilling to sell the U.S. the raw materials, China will only allow us to purchase the end products. Thus, we will continue to be in debt to them for the foreseeable future.

I expect to be blogging on this subject much more in coming days. Climate change, peak oil, overpopulation, and America's public debt are the issues that will result in our continuing decline in status as a world power. They are really the only issues that matter. They are the issues that most threaten an oligarchy such as the U.S. That is why they are below the radar screen--made in China--of the mainstream media, the president, and the Congress. I will be the ant knocking on the door of the drawbridge, trying to wake the sleeping giant.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010s: Decade of grief or glory?

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."--Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.

It seems to this mediocre blogger that the United States of America is tottering on a brink no less daunting than that so eloquently elicited by President Lincoln on the bloody hills of Gettysburg, PA, on that day almost 140 years ago when he spoke the lines quoted above. Today, it is not bombs and bullets that threaten the cause for which patriotism summons our devotion. The question we as Americans are root-bound to answer is whether we shall allow incivility and indecency in public affairs to drive a stake through the heart of a dream that has tickled the fancies of millions of freedom-loving people the world over for 225 years.

The notion that it is the rightful duty of any political party to design its entire strategy not on a platform of ideas but on a political pogrom against a duly-elected president and the opposition party, so as to render ineffective any attempts to rectify the abuses and deficiencies of the status quo, and thereby be once again elevated into a position of power based not on merit but on being the last party standing would surely set the nation on a course of destruction from which we would never recover. It is a strategy based on the kind of hooliganism that shut down the counting of votes in Florida in 2000 and led to the elevation of a president not by voters but by a narrow majority of jaundiced jurists.

Democracy can not withstand such an onslaught. Those of us who believed President Reagan when he called American a "shining city on a hill" and recognized that what makes a city shiny is not its neon lights--or else, Las Vegas would be the true "All-American City"--but the glow that arises from the decency of its people must now take up that "great task remaining before us" with which Lincoln entrusted us and demand that mutual respect and statesmanship be the mantra of all elected officials from this day forward, else we shall surely "perish from the earth".