Monday, April 28, 2008

What a Surprise! Reprise.

An informal survey of 109 American historians has a great preponderance of them saying that Bush, the vile little fraud in the White House, is the worst president this country ever had. I certainly would have said so had anyone asked. My poor family has been subjected to my tirades against this moron for years now. It's nice to know that I have company among my professional colleagues. To me it's a no-brainer.

I have no doubt that a larger sample would not change the outcome of this poll in the slightest. The harm George W. Bush has done to our country will not be rectified in my lifetime, if ever. And I truly fear what he has wrought for my children and my grandchildren.

As far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don't know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach."— George W. Bush, Fox News Sunday, Feb10, 2008
A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that the share of the American public that approves of President George W. Bush has dropped to a new low of 28 percent.
An unscientific poll of professional historians completed the same week produced results far worse for a president clinging to the hope that history will someday take a kinder view of his presidency than does contemporary public opinion.

In an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.

Asked to rank the presidency of George W. Bush in comparison to those of the other 41 American presidents, more than 61 percent of the historians concluded that the current presidency is the worst in the nation's history. Another 35 percent of the historians surveyed rated the Bush presidency in the 31st to 41st category, while only four of the 109 respondents ranked the current presidency as even among the top two-thirds of American administrations.

At least two of those who ranked the current president in the 31-41 ranking made it clear that they placed him next-to-last, with only James Buchanan, in their view, being worse. "He is easily one of the 10-worst of all time and—if the magnitude of the challenges and opportunities matter—then probably in the bottom five, alongside Buchanan, Johnson, Fillmore, and Pierce," wrote another historian.
The reason for the hesitancy some historians had in categorizing the Bush presidency as the worst ever, which led them to place it instead in the "nearly the worst" group, was well expressed by another historian who said, "It is a bit too early to judge whether Bush's presidency is the worst ever, though it certainly has a shot to take the title. Without a doubt, it is among the worst."
In a similar survey of historians I conducted for HNN four years ago, Mr. Bush had fared somewhat better, with 19 percent rating his presidency a success and 81 percent classifying it as a failure. More striking is the dramatic increase in the percentage of historians who rate the Bush presidency the worst ever. In 2004, only 11.6 percent of the respondents rated Bush's presidency last. That conclusion is now reached by nearly six times as large a fraction of historians.
There are at least two obvious criticisms of such a survey. It is in no sense a scientific sample of historians. The participants are self-selected, although participation was open to all historians. Among those who responded are several of the nation's most respected historians, including Pulitzer and Bancroft Prize winners.
The second criticism that is often raised of historians making such assessments of a current president is that it is far too early. We do not yet know how the things that Mr. Bush has done will work out in the future. As the only respondent who classified the current presidency among the ten best noted, "Any judgment of his 'success' or lack thereof is premature in that the ultimate effects of his policies are not yet known." True enough. But this historian went on to make his current evaluation, giving Bush "high marks for courage in his willingness to attack intractable problems in the Near East and to touch the Social Security 'Third Rail.' "

Historians are in a better position than others to make judgments about how a current president's policies and actions compare with those of his predecessors. Those judgments are always subject to change in light of future developments. But that is no reason not to make them now.
The comments that many of the respondents included with their evaluations provide a clear sense of the reasons behind the overwhelming consensus that George W. Bush's presidency is among the worst in American history.
"No individual president can compare to the second Bush," wrote one. "Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world's goodwill. In short, no other president's faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large."
"With his unprovoked and disastrous war of aggression in Iraq and his monstrous deficits, Bush has set this country on a course that will take decades to correct," said another historian. "When future historians look back to identify the moment at which the United States began to lose its position of world leadership, they will point—rightly—to the Bush presidency. Thanks to his policies, it is now easy to see America losing out to its competitors in any number of area: China is rapidly becoming the manufacturing powerhouse of the next century, India the high tech and services leader, and Europe the region with the best quality of life."
One historian indicated that his reason for rating Bush as worst is that the current president combines traits of some of his failed predecessors: "the paranoia of Nixon, the ethics of Harding and the good sense of Herbert Hoover. . . . . God willing, this will go down as the nadir of American politics." Another classified Bush as "an ideologue who got the nation into a totally unnecessary war, and has broken the Constitution more often than even Nixon. He is not a conservative, nor a Christian, just an immoral man . . . ." Still another remarked that Bush's "denial of any personal responsibility can only be described as silly."
"It would be difficult to identify a President who, facing major international and domestic crises, has failed in both as clearly as President Bush," concluded one respondent. "His domestic policies," another noted, "have had the cumulative effect of shoring up a semi-permanent aristocracy of capital that dwarfs the aristocracy of land against which the founding fathers rebelled; of encouraging a mindless retreat from science and rationalism; and of crippling the nation's economic base."
"George Bush has combined mediocrity with malevolent policies and has thus seriously damaged the welfare and standing of the United States," wrote one of the historians, echoing the assessments of many of his professional colleagues. "Bush does only two things well," said one of the most distinguished historians. "He knows how to make the very rich very much richer, and he has an amazing talent for f**king up everything else he even approaches. His administration has been the most reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, mendacious, arrogant, self-righteous, incompetent, and deeply corrupt one in all of American history."
Four years ago I rated George W. Bush's presidency as the second worst, a bit above that of James Buchanan. Now, however, like so many other professional historians, I see the administration of the second Bush as clearly the worst in our history. My reasons are similar to those cited by other historians: In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States enjoyed enormous support around the world. President Bush squandered that goodwill by taking the country into an unnecessary war of choice and misleading the American people to gain support for that war. And he failed utterly to have a plan to deal with Iraq after the invasion. He further undermined the international reputation of the United States by justifying torture.
Mr. Bush inherited a sizable budget surplus and a thriving economy. By pushing through huge tax cuts for the rich while increasing federal spending at a rapid rate, Bush transformed the surplus into a massive deficit. The tax cuts and other policies accelerated the concentration of wealth and income among the very richest Americans. These policies combined with unwavering opposition to necessary government regulations have produced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Then there is the incredible shrinking dollar, the appointment of incompetent cronies, the totally inexcusable failure to react properly to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, the blatant disregard for the Constitution—and on and on.
Like a majority of other historians who participated in this poll, my conclusion is that the preponderance of the evidence now indicates that, while this nation has had at least its share of failed presidencies, no previous presidency was as large a failure in so many areas as the current one.

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's Official: The Season is Over

OK, it's time to say this, although it's only April 25--real early April 25--and the season is just barely over 20 games in. The Texas Rangers, my Texas Rangers, are a frigging disaster of a franchise. I am declaring the season officially over for 2008, and I will start praying now for 2009. At this point in the season, they have lost over twice as many games as they've won. Has there been a worse aggregation of ball players in one place at one time? Oh, of course, there have been many worse, but I was not a fan of those teams. I've been suffering with the Rangers ever since 1984. During that time, they have made the playoffs only three times, and they were defeated in the first round three times. Out of the 10 playoff games they have played, the managed to win exactly one. Since 2000, this team has finished last in their division five times and next-to-last the other three times. In the entire history of the franchise, going back to 1961, the Rangers have been able to win over 90 games in a season exactly twice. Here's the whole dismal history.

What brought me to this conclusion about this year? Even if the past were not an indication, last night's game was enough. How about a 19-6 drubbing by what was the worst team in the American League until Texas came to town, Detroit? Lovely. How about some highlights: Texas has a 5-0 lead after an inning and a half. They blow that entire lead in the bottom of the second. They are down a run by the end of the third. In the sixth, they give up 11 runs! I'm told by a Tiger fan that only once before in their history has Detroit scored more runs in an inning. And just for good measure, Texas pitching in the 7th, in this case, Joaquin Benoit, walks four guys in the inning, and walks in a run. Detroit has scored in just about every way conceivable at this point, including an error with the sacks full and a hit batsman with the sacks full.

I've just checked to see how the boys did tonight. Guess what? They lost again. So Detroit has swept the series, and Texas is 7-16. They've lost 7 in a row and 8 of the last 10.

I understand Nolan Ryan, president of the Rangers, doesn't like the idea of pitch counts for his pitchers. Few starters are allowed more than about 110 pitches a game these days--about enough for 6 innings. And of course I agree with the Express; pitch counts have not lessened injuries, which is what they are supposed to be doing . . . but first, I'd like to see a few pitchers on this miserable staff be able to last as long as 100 pitches. Then we can talk about leaving them in beyond that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

King David Gets a New Palace

Trading his sumptuously safe digs in Baghdad for simply sumptuous ones at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, our current fair-haired military chieftain in Iraq, General David Patraeus, draped in the laurels of the so-called "success" of his "surge" strategy, has been rewarded for his obeisance to his master, the vile little fraud in the White House, and promoted to command of US Central Command. Why, what a surprise . . . the former CENTCOM commander, Admiral William J. Fallon cut loose (well, not technically--he resigned, but everybody knows he didn't do this because he loved his job and got along great with the boss) because he was insufficiently heedful of the military's prime directive at every level: kiss the ass of the ass on top of you. So now he's being replaced by a guy who has that maxim on his mirror.

Fallon saw Petraeus for exactly what he is--"an ass-kissing little chicken shit"--and he told him so to his face during a meeting in Iraq. I guess the admiral just didn't get it. This is what one has to do with this president and his administration. This is the only kind of guy they want on the team.

Plums go to the ones who play the game; principles are for fools.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Agribusiness Guys

Saw a short film last evening entitled "Global Banquet" about the harm being done by corporate agriculture. Among other things: impoverishing people in the Third World who used to be subsistence farmers at the least in two ways: 1) forcing them to produce market commodities rather than common food crops, and 2) victimizing them via free trade agreements made over their heads which allow cheaper seeds and crops into their local markets; driving small farmers out of business in the U.S.; inflicting harm on the environment (not interested in long-term productivity for the land but only short-term profit); introducing as yet unknown dangers to human life and the environment by genetic engineering (a long and scary list). It's clear after seeing this why the World Trade Organization is opposed with such vehemence--it's not about trade so much as making sure governments do not impede the free operation of multi-national corporations across the world.

All of this fits right in with a poem I wrote recently.

Agribusiness Guys

It’s not a chicken and egg question for these guys.
If you could find a fresh egg at market,
or under a chicken, they own it—the egg and the chicken.
And the tractor outside, fences, farmhouse, and barn.
They own ninety percent of the land in this county
and the next,
twenty percent of GDP, one in four American workers,
plus a wholesale contingent
of senators, legislators, judges, and governors.

They advertise on TV, these agribusiness guys,
They tell us about their sunny technology, concern for the earth,
their devotion to the family farmer.
They like Republicans,
adore crop subsidies,
and they go bat-shit nuts over ethanol.
These Archer Daniel Midlands glad-handers,
these ConAgra and Tyson smiley faces
with their high-and-tight haircuts and all-round
good looks,
tromping through state fair hay in their all-
American way,
just like proud Papa with his blue-ribbon goat,
and the bubbly matron with the ample bosom
and prize-winning muffins,
and the kid at North Dakota State,
whom they also own.

These guys own things
the way a spider does
when a fat fly hits the web.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I Knew It!

Even in humdrum nonpolitical decisions, liberals and conservatives literally think differently, researchers show.
Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.
Well, it's almost like . . . duh! You don't need to tell me my brain works differently from a guy's like John McCain or George Bush or my late father's or most of siblings or most of the denizens of the state of Oklahoma. I always thought the essence of liberal thinking was an openness to change, and that at its roots, conservatism was resistant to it. Now we find out that, by golly, liberals can deal with ambiguity and "conflict"--which I take to mean along the whole intellectual spectrum--much easier than their conservative counterparts.

Although the experiment strikes me as almost primitive in its simplicity, the results, I have to confess, please me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Does It Get Any Worse?

Today is Sunday, the first day of the week, and the only day of the week that I get The Daily Oklahoman, the worst newspaper in America. Don't look for any world or national news in this rag. It devotes only a single page of it during the week--since returning to the state year ago, I cannot recall a single day that had any national or world news on the front page--an avalanche on Sunday--2 pages. Jim Lange, the editorial cartoonist, is a simple-minded moron whose work rarely rises above the 2nd grade level. He can be counted on the faithfully depict the politics of this rag, which, naturally, are to the right of Genghis Kahn. This 1999 piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, which singled out The Oklahoman as the worst paper in the country, may be out of date in some particulars, but the thrust of the article is still correct. I've decided I'm done with this piece of shit. I cannot imagine what possessed me to subscribe to it (and I'm talking about just the Sunday edition) in the first place. But having only recently returned to the state, I entertained the fantasy that perhaps the paper had changed. Well, it does appear I was right. It got worse.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Oh, Do I Feel Secure

I read in the latest number of The National Catholic Reporter (a more complete story on line at Counterpunch) that the Department of Homeland Security agents at Chicago's O'Hare Airport--our safety from dangerous agents of the worldwide terrorist plot always uppermost in their minds--refused entry to Mr. Damien Moran on April 7 and sent him back to Poland from whence he had come. It appears that Mr. Moran's dangerous to all of us because he conducted a peace protest in Dublin in 2003 in which a US war plane parked in the airport there was damaged. Brought to trial for this, he and four others were acquitted on charges that arose from the protest. (Moran's account of the O'Hare incident is here.) Moran was on his way to visit his brother in Virginia and then on to Nebraska to speak at a conference sponsored by the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. (This is another group of dangerous radicals who have a problem with Stratcom, the arm of the US military that exists soley to deliver nuclear weapons on the heads of whatever the enemy de jour is "in case deterrence fails." This is a truly dangerous organization with worldwide tentacles and terrifying powers, but that's another whole entry. )

All I really want to say here is that I feel so much safer now that an advocate for peace has been removed from our midst. The American people have no frigging clue of what's going on in their name and what it's costing. This sort of thing is commonplace. God help us all.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Is There No End to this Abuse of Power?

Listening to a podcast of the terrific radio show from Chicago Public Radio, "This American Life" hosted by Ira Glass is always interesting. And sometimes, like today, it's likely to make me angry. Like today. The overall subject of the show was "The Audacity of Government." I just had time to listen to the first half before my walk was up, but long enough for me to hear yet another tale of how dangerous the present administration is. It has already asserted and assumed more power in the executive branch than anyone could have dreamed possible. What we don't know are all the ways it has done so that we will never hear about.

Here's the gist of the story. Since 1908, a hundred years ago, a treaty between the US and Canada has prevented anyone on either side of the border from building or placing anything within ten feet of the border. This treaty is overseen by a two-person International Boundary Commission, one American, one Canadian. A lady in Washington State, unaware of this prohibition, built a 4-foot high concrete fence 85 feet long within the prohibited area. The Border Commission, which makes no exceptions, ordered her to take it down. But no sooner does this happen, when the American commissioner gets a call from the Justice Department saying they have jurisdiction and the fence stays. Long story short: the commissioner refuses to go along with this and is fired and another commissioner appointed by Justice. First commissioner (ironically, a Bush supporter in two elections) refuses to resign or be fired. Now two commissions exist. Great confusion ensues.

Bottom line is this: the commission existed for the very reason it got torpedoed: to prevent a president or other politicians from deciding such matters arbitrarily. This, in short, was simply another in a long sequence of power grabs by the Bush White House. And it sets a terrible precedent. If the president can unilaterally decide that a treaty provisions do not apply to the United States, what in the world can happen if some lunatic is ever in office and decides to pull US out of NATO or something like that?

Nobody in congress, that lily-livered bunch of pussies, made a move to stop Bush from this outrage. Nor any in his long litany of outrages. This is just one I haven't heard about. I'll bet there are lots and lots of others.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Language Lament, #542

During the course of his amusing observations on the appearance of the dynamic Crocker-Petraeus duo last week, Dick Cavett spun the following wonderful observation:

What would the general be forced to say if it weren’t for the icky, precious-sounding “challenge” that he leans so heavily on? That politically correct term, which was created so that folks who are legally blind, deaf, clumsy, crippled, impotent, tremor-ridden, stupid, addicted or villainously ugly are really none of those unhappy things at all. They are merely challenged. (Are these euphemisms supposed to make them feel better?)
Well, I'll drink to that. As if a host of other language idiots were not enough, we couldn't live, think, or speak correctly till we were saved by the guardians of other people's feelings from offending anyone in any manner at any time. It's high time somebody said this. Bravo, Dick! (Yes, I know he's not the first--hardly!--to protest this ridiculous phenomenon, which unfortunately does not appear to be going away anytime soon, but it's great to see it in the New York Times.)

Indeed, after spending my entire career trapped in the Dept of Defense (not by choice, certainly, and certainly not in uniform) being daily assaulted by hideous and indefensible crimes committed on our language, I know exactly what he talking about. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you, it was painful at times for me to endure. Death by PowerPoint and death by illiteracy: that was my work life for over 30 years.

For any lovers of English, you owe to yourself to read this entire piece. It also relates a marvelous Mort Sahl observation about the gaudy display of ribbons and awards that bedeck our fearless warriors when they're in their finest plumage. Really funny.

Oh, and one other thing. Yet another resoundingly accurate description of the vile little fraud in the White House: "tinpot Genghis Kahn of Crawford, Texas." Bravo!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

This Kinda Rubs Me Raw

Is anybody else bothered by the very notion of eating contests? I read today that the so-called "world champion" eater of raw oysters downed 35 dozen of those suckers in eight minutes. The person who finished second ate 31.5 dozen. Brothers and sisters, that's almost 800 oysters right there, and there were several other people in this contest one guy who had to quit after eating 14 dozen oysters because he barfed. It's probably safe to say that these "contestants" consumed 2,500 to 3,000 oysters. To me there's something just obscene about "Major League Eating," a regular circuit that features contests that pit people eating hot dogs, corn, pizza, even asparagus, for God's sake. Only a place like the U.S. could be so crass in the face of starvation and malnutrition in many parts of the world. (Every 3.6 seconds somebody in the world dies of hunger.) Not to mention the one in every ten people who go to bed hungry in the U.S. every night. How many hungry people would 3,000 oysters feed?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gas Game

My wife thinks I'm nuts, but I don't fill the tank up anymore when I go to my 7-Eleven pump. I'll put $20 or $25 in there and that's all. Somehow gives me the illusion that I'm not really spending the horrendous sums I am for gas. Filling up my Nissan Altima runs me more than $50 a tank. I don't want to see this all going into the tank at once. So I play this little gas game. This is outrageous, but life in the US is a ripoff. The oil companies are just one of the many bloodsuckers out there.

Nonetheless I stumbled across this site on one of my most favorite of all portal pages, Refdesk, a place I simply couldn't do without. Seems that of all the states in the US, Oklahoma is one with the lowest prices on gas statewide. The state with the cheapest gas overall--Missouri, of all places. The California, in almost the whole state, except a county or two near L.A., gas costs more than $3.67 a gallon. My God, when the rest of us are paying $4 a gallon what are those poor souls going to be paying?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Round Two

General "Yowsa, boss" Petraeus made the rounds of congressional committees again today spouting the same fictions as yesterday about the situation in Iraq. I'm not the only one who thinks Petraeus is just a mouthpiece for the wretch in the White House. So does Robert Scheer in a piece in today's Huffington Post. Here's just a taste of what he had to say:

The name "General Betray Us" that got raked over the coals for in September is not so far off the mark. "By undercutting the widespread support for getting out of Iraq, Petraeus did indeed betray the American public, siding with an enormously unpopular president who wants to stay the course in Iraq for personal and political reasons that run contrary to genuine national security interests. Once again, the president is passing the buck to the uniformed military to justify continuing a ludicrous imperial adventure, and the good general has dutifully performed."

Scheer's upcoming book, The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America is due out in June. Sounds like a must-read.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Here's a Big Surprise

Stop the presses! Alert the town criers! General Petraeus doesn't want any more troops withdrawn from Iraq. Suspend the drawdown, he says, because of the recent spate of murderous violence in Iraq. What he doesn't say is when withdrawals will recommence. Don't be holding your breath on that one, at least as long as the vile little fraud is still in the White House. Whoever occupies the White House in January is going to find as many U.S. troops there then as there are now.

Withdrawing too many troops too fast could "jeopardize the progress of the past year," he says. Oh, please. What progress are we talking about here? Have American troops stopped dying? Have Iraqi civilians stopped dying? Have any of the over 2 million Iraqi refugees driven out of their country by Bush's war returned? Is the entire region less volatile? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I want some of what you're smoking.

The fact is, Petraeus--a man who has been celebrated from one end of the country to the other as some sort of towering titan of strategy, for what exact reason I cannot discern--is just a ribbon-bedecked shill for administration policy, which is to prolong this colossal catastrophe indefinitely and call it progress. Petraeus's strategic genius was to greatly reduce the number of missions where U.S. troops were likely to be harmed. Guess what? Casualties decrease. (Duh.) Progress!

Alas, in the wake of the violence of the last two months, this whole strategy--which, it will be recalled, was initiated to buy time for the puppet and corrupt Iraq government to make political progress (ha, ha!)--has come unraveled. Hence today's news.

But not to worry, Petraeus says they will reevaluate resuming the withdrawal in 45 days. But after cutting through all this atrocious Pentagon speak, it doesn't sound to me like there's any great rush to get our guys out of Iraq.
At the end of that period, we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and, over time, determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Stand Up and Salute: OK, Now You Can Listen

Last evening, I attended a performance by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, a wonderful bill including the Beethoven Sixth, DeBussy's Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun, and Mendelssohn's First Piano Concerto. Our seats weren't spectacular, mezzanine, 2d level on the bass side of the orchestra, but no matter: the music was grand.

Here's my beef. Beginning of the evening: Maestro Joel Levine, stalks onto the stage to hearty applause, smiles, immediately lifts his baton and the orchestra launches into . . . the national anthem! Oh, good grief. Do we really have to have this "I Am Patriotic and I'll Prove It . . . Watch Me Stand Up with All the Other Parrots and Sing" before a
classical music concert? I object! What's the point of this ritual at such a place? Must we constantly go through these motions to stir the "patriotic" heart stings before any public event? [I also object to the U.S. flag up on the same stage--this is an orchestra, not a band in the Macy's parade, but that's another subject.]

The reason I'm concerned about this kind of thing is I think it betokens a truly narrow mind set and an infantile kind of nationalism (er . . . maybe not, is there any other kind?) that has to constantly be reminding itself of how wonderful we are--when in fact, if there's anything that's plain to me, especially over the course of the last eight years, is that we ain't all that wonderful at all. I don't recall the NY Philharmonic doing this on PBS, or the Met, or any of the other US orchestras I've seen . . . I had never seen any such thing any life.

But according to my companions at the concert, longtime Okies, it's "always" been done. They weren't too concerned, and they were bemused at my outrage.
Part of what fuels my outrage is that others aren't outraged by these kinds of things. Why must we constantly be spouting the national anthem at public events? Does it make us more American? Does it make us love the country more? Or does it serve some inchoate urging of our animal nature that responds to the promptings of the reptilian tribal id? The anthem doesn't belong at anything but parades and perhaps celebrations of national holidays such as the 4th of July. It doesn't belong at sporting events, concerts, graduations, or any of the other myriad places it appears in all of its unsingable glory. I will forbear for the moment launching into our equally objectionable practice of flying the flag over every damn thing: churches, used car lots, burger joints, furniture stores, private dwellings! The only other country I can think of with a blizzard of flags everywhere--have you checked many of the backdrops for the presidential candidates?--is Nazi Germany. Now, maybe there are other countries where the citizenry feels compelled to advertise their patriotic nationalism with flag displays everywhere, but I'm not aware of any. (I roamed all over Europe when we lived there, and I can't recall seeing many national flags at all, anywhere.) If you are, let me know and I'll pen a suitably humble apology.

Looks like I couldn't help myself. I wasn't able to forbear completely.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Pentagon Pissing Away Money: Business as Usual

The British web site Ekklesia, self-described as "a think-tank that promotes transformative theological ideas in public life" ran a piece a couple of days ago about gross waste in the Pentagon. This is a phenomenon that never stops . . . like a clock ticking or waves hitting the beach. In fact, wasting huge amounts of money, gargantuan amounts, is the only mission that place can be counted on to perform to perfection every time.

Here's the depressing gist of it:
The Bush administration is writing blank checks for weapons systems that are hundreds of billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule while cutting funds that help real people at home and abroad, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) said yesterday.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released this week found that the US has spent $295 billion more than budgeted on 95 weapons systems, bringing the total price of the systems to $1.6 trillion.

I have to confess that these numbers are so huge that it's impossible to form any coherent notion of what exactly we're talking about here. The only way to deal with such monumental sums is to show pictures. That's what our friends, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)--the guys who brought this to our attention--try to do. By telling us what $295 billion would buy. Suffice it to say, this wastage in the Pentagon would buy one hell of a lot of good things for poor people: child health care for years, food stamps and housing vouchers for years, home heating for years. With billions left over to fund other parts of the government that get stiffed so the upper brass in the Pentagon can dole out billions to their buddies, the defense contractors, for instruments of death and destruction. Would somebody tell me what's wrong with this picture?

A Moment for What's Important

Funny, but when I first thought about blogging many moons ago, I used to worry about finding something to write about every day. That's why I was reluctant about getting into this. Silly, silly me. I'm never going to run out of stuff to write about. The world's too messed up, the fools too ubiquitous, the greed too rampant, and the meanness and hate too prevalent to ever run out of grist for this mill. And this is before you start considering all the good stuff: innumerable good, kind, and generous people; the awesome power of our creativity, both collective and individual; baseball, wine, and laughter. And little kids.

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon with my granddaughter dying Easter eggs. Yeah, yeah, I know we're a little off schedule. But that didn't bother her in the least. Just being in a five-year-old's world--even if I find it hard to stay there long (my dear wife is much better at it than I)--is tonic. She was so thoroughly into the moment. Not worried about where the American economy is going or the hideous war in Iraq or the clown at the head of our affairs of state. Just whether the egg was going to be pretty. Reminds me of what's important. Don't know about you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

We've Been Oiled

"Our earnings, although high in absolute terms, need to be viewed in the context of the scale and cyclical, long-term nature of our industry as well as the huge investment requirements," said J.S. Simon, senior vice president of Exxon Mobil Corp., which made a record $40 billion last year.

"We depend on high earnings during the up cycle to sustain ... investment over the long term, including the down cycles," he continued."

What blatant rubbish! Can you believe these guys? The Exxon poobah wasn't the only oily fat cat telling the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming yesterday that they're really just po' boys tryin' to make a livin'. Four other oil company executives were also on hand to echo Exxon. And furthermore, "
they know record fuel prices are hurting people, but . . . it's not their fault and their huge profits are in line with other industries." This kind of b.s. just makes me nuts. For starters, these guys who are paid obscene amounts of money don't have a clue how people are hurt by their gouging. They inhabit universes far away from the one the rest of us live in.

It's not their fault? Well, who in hell sets the price of gasoline? Peter Rabbit?

And their profits are in line with what other industries? Exxon made $40 billion profit last year. These numbers are stratospheric. Nobody is close to making this kind of profit . . . except maybe the other oil companies.

Bear in mind that the oil companies, thanks to the national so-called energy policy (which they designed themselves, don't forget) receive billions of dollars in subsidies from these same strapped motorists whose pain they feel. And of course it would never do to give back $1.8 billion a year of these subsidies for the next 10 years (as suggested by Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass)) because that "
would dampen investment and could lead to even higher prices."

This is the same line of manure we've been hearing from the global fat cats for years. First the obligatory bow to the god Market--we can't have dampened investment, can we? The god would not be happy. Then the blatant appeal to people's fear for their property (indirect in this case, i.e., if I have to pay even more for gas, I won't be able to consume like I'm consuming now), tactics that never fail with the American people, who have long since given up their outrage about anything that big business and its puppy dog in the White House do to them.