Friday, January 30, 2009

We Be Multiracial. See?

So now that we've got a black president, what do we most need to complete our transformation to a nation of total racial equality? Why an African American, Michael Steele, in charge of the Republican party, of course! (Isn't this a bit like installing a blind man as the umpire behind the plate?) As is well known, this is entirely in keeping with the Republican party's highly developed sense of identification with and empathy for America's blacks. That's why people of color voted over 98 percent for Obama in November.

What more can the Republicans do to convince us that they are a pack of hypocrites and fools? Not cast a single vote on the Obama stimulus plan in the House? They've already done that. Continue to recommend Reaganomics as the cure for all our ills. They've already done that too. Economy in the shitter? Cut taxes. Unemployment rampant? Cut taxes. Frozen credit? Cut taxes. Johnny can't read? Cut taxes.

So an African American chairman of the Republican party . . . what exactly is this supposed to mean? If it is supposed to symbolize some new direction in the Republican party, it's a sorry sham, a typical charade. These people have proven time and again, they have no shame.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

So Long, Jim

A longtime friend of mine died this morning at 5:20. You say what you can, you do what you can, and then you write a poem.

Jim’s Trip

As these things go, Jim’s trip
was not as awful
as it might have been.
Lots take longer.
Others, I’ve heard,
melted out of existence
like an Antarctica ice cliff
broken off, crashed down,
and dissipated through months
upon months of slow, sad diminishment.

It’s as if the plug pulled
out of a beach toy
and the breath of it
whooshed out in a rush,
then a sigh,
then little puffs—
not unlike the angel breaths
that set a dandelion’s tuft
on a flight to find
its appointed spot,
put down roots.

Jim has traced his circle,
closed his own circumference
now mute and publicly posted—
a bright, bare glint
on clear nights and dusky days.

Time to gather what truth there is:
however rote the shape
we all must paint,
though singular our strokes
and choice of colors,
Jim’s design is inescapable.
We can’t complete our own
without enfolding his.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Crime Cries Out for Justice

We're beginning to notice more than a few articles about people saying the criminals of the previous administration, those who suborned torture and carried it out, those who trampled sacred civil liberties of the American people underfoot, those who elevated the president to the station of Far Eastern potentate, all in the name of "protecting" the American people from terrorism, articles saying that these criminals should not be prosecuted.

Well, pardon me, but I thought if you committed crime, you got punished. Well, indeed you do. Glenn Greenwald reports today* that a homeless guy in Shreveport got 15 years in the slammer for robbing a bank of $100 and then remorsefully turning himself in to the police the next day. Federal law requires 5 years in prison for possession of 5 grams of crack. In Alabama the average term for possession--not selling--of pot is 8.4 years. It goes on and on. The US imprisons far more of its citizens than any other country on earth. One-quarter of all the people in prison in the world are behind bars in the US. It's unbelievable!

And yet we have a passel of limousine liberals like Doris Kearns Goodwin urging us to leave the flaming criminals of the Bush administration alone, people who broke more laws than Carter has liver pills. Don't give them what they deserve. Don't give them what the law requires. Give them a pass because they acted in the 9/11 frame of mind or because . Obviously conservatives and their mouthpieces in Congress are of the same opinion.

Honestly, I don't have any idea what Obama is going to do. But I fear he's going to let these highly-placed scumbags go free so as not to seem vindictive. If this happens, it will be more shameful than the original crimes themselves. And the blood of the 4,000+ Americans dead in Iraq and Afghanistan--dead in the name of "freedom" and the "American way of life"--will then be on his hands as well as those of the evil people he will allow to escape the reach of justice.

Here's Greenwald:
Under all circumstances, arguing that high political officials should be immunized from prosecution when they commit felonies such as illegal eavesdropping and torture would be both destructive and wrong [not to mention, in the case of the latter crimes, a clear violation of a treaty which the U.S. (under Ronald Reagan) signed and thereafter ratified]. But what makes it so much worse, so much more corrupted, is the fact that this "ignore-the-past-and-forget-retribution" rationale is invoked by our media elites only for a tiny, special class of people -- our political leaders -- while the exact opposite rationale ("ignore their lame excuses, lock them up and throw away the key") is applied to everyone else. That, by definition, is what a "two-tiered system of justice" means and that, more than anything else, is what characterizes (and sustains) deeply corrupt political systems. That's the two-tiered system which, for obvious reasons, our political and media elites are now vehemently arguing must be preserved.
*See, Jan 27 "The definition of a 'two-tiered justice system'"

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

(Baseball, Not Political) Hope

Here it is, pitchers and catchers have not yet reported to spring training; it's still January; today in Oklahoma there's a dusting of ice, snow, and sleet all over everything, and it's a frigid 21 degrees outside. All this, and I'm getting revved up for baseball season to begin. Why? Because for Texas Ranger fans, there's a heap of promise on the horizon. Some writers are comparing the Rangers of 2009 to the Rays of 2008, a team which went from last in its division to pennant winner in a year--with mediocre hitting but solid pitching.

Baseball America, a respected journal that pays attention to the minors and prospects in general, has ranked the Rangers' farm system tops in MLB. The Rangers are strong at every position. Keith Law, a knowledgeable observer at ESPN, concurs: "The Rangers have far and away the best farm system in the game right now, with impact prospects, lots of depth (particularly in very young pitching) and plenty of prospects close enough to the majors to help the big league club in 2009 and 2010."

This is music to the ears of any Rangers fan, mainly because we've never heard any such thing about our minor league system, ever. And it's important that people outside of the starved Ranger fan community are saying such things. Hope springs eternal for us Ranger fans, and we tend to get giddy in the spring, or even before, when the slate is still clean, and we're not yet confronting another losing season. The last time the Rangers were in the playoffs was 1999. (Where they managed to score 1 run in 27 innings against the hated Yankees.) Since then, the franchise has had one, that's right, one winning season. And that team won 89 games and still finished next-to-last in the division.

So news that there's lots of talent, especially pitching talent, in the pipeline . . . well, that's like having the genie in the bottle grant the first wish on the way to the World Series.

The Rangers have never had to worry about scoring runs. They've always been able to do that. Last season, for example, they led the American League in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, slugging, OPS, and runs per game, both at home and on the road.They were second in OBP and third in home runs and walks. They are going to field another potent lineup this year.

Only one thing mars an otherwise very rosy picture for 2009: the uniform change that will force the hitters to wear baseball history's most repulsive batting helmet ever. There's a picture of the hideous thing above. The new red jerseys are fine. Unfortunately, the helmet is going to used with both red and blue uniforms, so the team can be mocked anywhere they go. Decked out in this thing, the Rangers really do need a winning season to maintain respectability.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dark and Ominous Fog

Just as Mr. Obama has danced into the oval office, we've arrived at a moment when a lot of people have a hard time imagining the future. This includes especially the mainstream media, which has reached a state of zombification parallel to that of the banks. But even in the mighty blogosphere, with its thousands of voices unconstrained by craven advertisers or pandering managing editors, the view forward dims as a dark and ominous fog rolls over the landscape of possibilities.

This from Jim Kunstler this morning. He goes on to suggest nightmare scenarios, which, if you were so inclined, you could dismiss as the ravings of a chronic crank and pessimist. But it's hard to deny the truth of the fog he mentions or deny that history often bears out the correctness of a Cassandra's prophecies. I'm increasingly concerned that this may be one of those times. Have you noticed, if you're paying attention, that nobody in government or anywhere else apparently has any definitive idea about how to the save the country's economy from going right down the toilet into God knows where, although for sure were talking about a place that is not pleasant? The country's economy is swirling around the bowl with ever-increasing speed--major job cuts were announced by several big companies today-- and the politicians are arguing. Obama and his supporters want a big stimulus package; some Republicans want one, too, but one more to their liking, i.e., freighted with tax cuts instead of spending. Other Republicans are, in the spirit of bipartisanship, are opposing anything Obama suggests. Some commentators such as Paul Krugman worry that the stimulus package, $825 billion, is too small to accomplish its purpose, which is to jump start the economy into recovery.

My question is: who in the hell actually knows what to do? As I've noticed before, we've not been in this place before. This monumental crisis is not something entirely new. The country has certainly faced monumental crises before. Nothing in history is entirely new; history is an echo. But every situation is unique in its own way, as this present economic crisis certainly is. There's no consensus on the broad general approach--so how are we to supposed to be optimistic that the right answer is somehow going to appear magically out of all the turmoil? It won't, of course. Which means the country is in for a dark time in a rancid sewer.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rome: Reforming Backwards--As Usual

With so many other beckoning subjects available, I'm brought up short with the news that the Roman pontiff, Benedict XVI, has reinstated four bishops who had previously been excommunicated from the Catholic church. As a progressive Catholic, this sort of thing just makes me crazy. This is the last thing the Church needs, although I increasingly wonder if this is not just sort of the thing the present Catholic church welcomes. That is to say, the rightward drift of the church has carried it to the point where something like this won't upset most Catholics.

Why had the four reinstated bishops been booted out in the first place? Because they were what is known in the church as schismatics, breakaways, mavericks. These guys had all been ordained by a far-right kook bishop by the name of Marcel LeFebvre, the director of a group of a whole collection of right wing kooks called the Society of Pius X. Lefebvre and his society refused to accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, period. Basically he wanted to go back to the post-Trent church, the church shaped by a 16th century council called to oppose everything Protestant. Totally a creature of the Reformation, Trent was a reactionary council. Essentially what it did was deny the validity or even the right-to-exist of any theological position other than Rome's. LeFebvre was so far to the right that even a hidebound theological conservative the likes of Pope John Paul II could not abide him and excommunicated him and condemned his organization.

So it's acolytes of this guy LeFebvre, who went to his eternal reward in 1991, who are being admitted once more into the ranks of the Catholic clergy. One of these guys, a wing nut named Richard Williamson, recently went on record as saying that historical evidence "is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed." Say what? Yes, you heard me correctly. He's a holocaust-denier. I wonder what historial evidence this idiot has in mind. The same guy also says that 9/11 was the product of the U.S. government which needed a pretext to go to war in Afghanistan. Oh yeah, let's let this moron back in the church so he can spread his view around. And his friends, whom I would hardly expect hold views any more palatable or rational.

As you might expect, this latest bow from Rome to the so-called "traditionalists" in the Church--bring back Latin! bring back no meat on Fridays! bring back Father knows all the answers! down with religious freedom! down with ecumenical understanding of other faith expressions! down with all the Vatican II reforms that transformed the Catholic church into an organization attuned to modern life!--has considerably hampered Catholic-Jewish dialogue. And "hampered" probably putting it mildly.

Why do I care? Because I'm a Catholic who has found the Church increasingly hostile to the reforms that kept me in the Church to begin with. The present pope has given several signs that he finds the presence of these odious people in the church congenial to his own views. Most discouraging, to say the least. I have told my wife several times that this may be the church I was born into, but I doubt if will be the one I die in.

Update: There's been quite a bit of storm raised about this issue. Here's one of many.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Really Didn't Need to Know This

The headline for the piece was gripping: "Here's an inaugural fact: Porta-potties went largely unused" [Only one-quarter full and opposed to the expected one-half, for those of you who are taking notes.] Now, you tell me you wouldn't want to read this article. You're compelled to read it. You're saying to yourself: What? There were almost 2 million people standing around out there for hours and hours. What possible reason could there be for this fact about porta-potties? OMG! Could it be all these happy people acted as churlishly as Mardi Gras crowds? Not on the Mall! Not on the capitol's streets! Surely not!

So it's with some relief (heh heh) that you read of several explanations:

Here are the possibilities: The planners overestimated demand. The crowd was so dense that people couldn't get to them. The crowd chose to use Smithsonian museum restrooms, the better to escape temperatures in the 20s. Or the crowd thought ahead.

The evidence appears to support all those theories, and also to suggest a slight lack of enthusiasm.

Oh, really? Lack of enthusiasm for a porta-potty? What's wrong with these people? At least, lack of enthusiasm seems plausible, along with the other possible explanations, although I'm curious to know what "the crowd thought ahead" actually means. I don't know about you, but I don't see holding it in for hours as real alternative. What I envision, given the inventiveness of the American people, a fact the new president acknowledged in his speech, are numerous personal porta-potties carried in backpacks, satchels, and purses. I leave it to you and your inventiveness to picture how these might work.

But then you discover that in the days before the inaugural sale of Depends adult diapers went up by 20 percent. No, you say. Oh, yes, and it wasn't just an influx of old people coming the DC for the celebration. Several not-old people actually admitted that they were getting ready for the inaugural. So then you get to wondering about how many people in that crowd were actually wearing and using their own personal porta-potties. And that's the point where you realize your life was perfectly complete before you ever even heard about this.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


The new White House web site is a thing of beauty. Not like any presidential web site I've ever seen, that's for sure. I'm sure it has its critics among the geek classes--they're always bitching about something. But I bet there's a lot of regular people like me who are impressed.

I wasn't born a cynic, but my almost 50 years of observing the national government in action, have made me one. I can remember all the way back to JFK, and from that administration to the late-lamented departure of the vile little fraud who was president for the last eight years, when has the national government not lied to us? Just off the top of my noggin, I cannot recall anything Jimmy Carter lied to us about. In fact, I remember him trying to convey to us some hard truths about the consequences of our so-called "way of life," and all that got him was constant criticism. But the others? Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Gulf War, Clinton, W--a passel of lies and liars, a sea of lies, lies stretching to the horizon.

Do I dare believe that change has really come to America? That this web site is its harbinger? That transparency and accountability will actually be installed as pillars upon which the Obama administration will stand? I'm not ready to go that far yet. But obviously they have something to do with the presidential web site. And the new president's first two executive orders, promulgated on his very first full day in office, certainly give me hope. The first one has to do with the disclosure of presidential records. Unless they are covered by the usual caveats about national security or law enforcement, they're going to be public. And that covers records of previous presidents, too. Claims of executive privilege go through a vetting process described in the order. The second executive order puts the kibosh on the gravy train enjoyed by lobbyists working for the executive branch. This is a train that goes back for miles. The revolving door has been firmly nailed closed, and gifts are gone, too.

How refreshing. No more fat pigs from the executive departments with their snoots in the public trough. I've forgotten what that even looks like--the pigs not being there, that is.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


It's a New Day

I'm a professionally trained historian. I'm supposed to remain objective about things. I should be even-handed and weigh all the evidence from all points. I should not set out when writing anything historical with a conclusion already mind. But it is impossible for me to remain objective today. The sense of relief I feel with Bush out of the White House and no longer in a position to do us harm is palpable.

I said from the very beginning of Bush's first stolen term in office that he and the people around him were dangerous. And everything his administration did from the time he started till the time he finished simply underscored what an accurate prophet I was about that.

I never did mean to refer simply to the foreign entanglements that Bush was likely to get us involved with. (He certainly didn't disappoint us there, did he?) No. What I feared was what might happen to us people if we did not agree with the administration. I always fear true believers, ideologues, who by definition are correct beyond the ability of counter-argument or reason to deter. So what I thought was truly dangerous about these people was what they were likely to do to dissenters. I've seen already what a government can do with dissent.

It turns out that I was a bit paranoid about this. There weren't mass arrests or detentions. But Bush did have people snatched off the streets of the US and shipped overseas to be tortured; he did have them captured and jailed (often there to be mistreated) without formal charges and without benefit of counsel; he did wire tap the phone conversations of American citizens; he and his cronies, some of the highest officials in the government, approved the use of torture to extract information from people. Moreover, there are doubtless other crimes he and his people committed that have not come to light yet. Indeed, it may be for historians to uncover those.

The sense of relief I feel is buoyed tremendously by the kind of person Barack Obama is. Whereas George W. Bush is the spoiled son of rich father, who was given everything he ever got and who failed at every job he ever had, Obama knows about real life. Poverty is no stranger to him; his mother was one time on welfare. He knows about hard work, and he knows about the struggles ordinary people must wage. He's worked to better the lives of poor people. It's tremendously comforting to have somebody like this in the White House.

And the relief I feel about having a man who can actually think sitting in the Oval Office, a man who had Yo Yo Ma and Itzack Perlman play and Aretha Franklin sing at his inaugural . . . well, that's better than chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. That poet Elizabeth Alexander followed right after the oath of office with a fine poem . . . that was a second helping.

I have had differences with Obama's policy decisions before, and I will certainly have them again. But for today, I just want to luxuriate in the feeling of hope, joy, and pride I have about new president and yes, even our government. This is a rare thing for me. I have to confess that I had a tears a few times watching the inaugural today. It's a new day indeed when something about politics makes me cry.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dick Cheney: The Final Interview

The only truly regrettable feature about the departure of this administration is loss of the seemingly endless opportunities it afforded for comedy. We shall not see their like again any time soon. I hope not ever.

Ten No Nos

It's all but impossible for a blogger who comments on politics often to ignore the inauguration tomorrow. Commentators from all persuasions are noting the seemingly cosmic significance of the MLK holiday and inauguration day conjunction. Perhaps some larger forces are at work here, I don't know. What does seem apparent is Obama is inheriting probably the worst situation anybody elected to the office faced, with the exception of maybe Lincoln and FDR. And like them he is getting tons of advice. I want to just briefly describe the advice he received from a bevy of's regular contributors. If you want to read the piece, I think it's worthwhile, but I will save you the trouble if all you're wanting is highlights. The title of the piece is "Obama on the Precipice: the Ten Worst Things He Could Do When He Takes Over."
Here they are:
  1. Screw up the stimulus plan (Some people think the stimulus plan is doomed before it begins, so maybe this is just wishing anyway. You can find these people in profusion in the comment section to this piece.)
  2. Escalate the war in Afghanistan and continue the war in Iraq (I could not agree more, but I think he will stay in the Afghanistan quagmire and will be slow about getting us out of Iraq.)
  3. Settle for a health care plan that doesn’t include a competitive government-sponsored 'Medicare for All' program (in other words, settle for something politically pleasing to as many as possible, but NOT a single-payer health care system. And single-payer is the only sane way to go.)
  4. Fail to forcefully defend a worker's rights to join a union (I don't know much about this issue, but I know enough to favor this without reserve.)
  5. Continue the destructive, discredited, so-called War on Drugs (It's folly; it's been a colossal failure; it's imprisoned thousands upon thousands for marijuana offenses; it's hugely expensive; it's totally illogical. But it's politically impossible to kill this unless things get a lot worse than they are now. Maybe they will.)
  6. Fail to prioritize climate change and continue the fantasy about "clean coal." (I heard about the clean coal argument one day on NPR. It is indeed a fantasy being bruited about as a real solution by . . . guess who? The coal companies! If they like it, I don't. But apparently Obama likes it, too.)
  7. Fail to end torture and restore the Constitution (Torture will not continue. But I don't think the people responsible for torture are going to be punished either. Restore the Constitution--that's subject to a lot of interpretataion, isn't it?)
  8. Ignore the emerging water crisis (My God, don't we have enough crises for this guy to deal with? Yes, but this one has been gestating for some time and is just another that the Bush administration helped make worse. Now it's really bad, even in the US. I hope it's on the new administration's radar.)
  9. Continue the Bush administration's warped view of how to handle the Arab-Israeli conflict (I'm tempted to say continuing any policy from the Bush administration is wrong, but there must be some worthy policy hiding out there somewhere that W's administration is responsible for. Middle East policy sure isn't one of them.)
  10. Continue to detain non-violent immigration offenders. (Another thing I just don't know much about, but I oppose mistreating immigrants on principle.)
So let's see . . . how many of these "mistakes" is Obama going to commit? By my reckoning, at least half. What do you think?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tennessee Outrage

To the left is part of a display of would-be public art in, of all places, a neighborhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The resident of the duplex where this and a number of other exhibits appear is Ms Chaya Anavi. She maintains that she is working on an art project. The display of her art has--and I'm sure this will surprise you--upset the neighbors. The police have been called. Along with city zoning officials and city inspectors. The city council has been alerted, and a grave councilman named Jack Benson has personally inspected the site. Can we all guess what he thought of it? He found the display "frightening and grotesque," and continued that it could be "very traumatic" for young children who saw "these heads that appear to be buried bodies." Does this sound ominously to you like Chattanooga is going to find some way to make Ms Anavi take down the art? Yes, you are correct. And I quote: "Councilman Benson said the city attorney's office is researching what charges can be brought against Ms. Anavi, including a charge of littering and creating a public nuisance." You can read all about it and the corncob vibrator and find several more pictures here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wings on the Water

Some thoughts about the US Airways jet that made an emergency landing on the waters of the Hudson river day before yesterday. The media went crazy about this, and spent hours and hours dissecting the story. You would think war had been declared. The thrust of the story everywhere was the heroism of crew and the miraculous turn of fate that allowed this plane to go down with not a single life lost and hardly any injuries.

Let me make an observation about this. Before we go all too nuts about this, let's take a deep breath and acknowledge the fact that ultimately what we're celebrating is that everybody on the crew, pilot included, did their job. Did it well? Yes. Did it very well? Yes. Did something extraordinary? I don't think so, he demurred. I think all the hoopla about this is misplaced. Rachel Maddow (my new favorite openly gay, left-of-center commentator on the news) spent fully half her show Thursday evening on it. Too much. A flight attendant calming a passenger? Flight Attendant 101. Shepherding a aircraft without power to a safe landing? Pilotry 452 (upper division course). Getting people out of a disabled aircraft? SOP, practiced endlessly. Captain last to leave the ship? 4,000 year tradition.

I'm not trying to minimize the wonderful results of the crew's actions or their skills, I'm just asking what exactly would we expect the crew of a commercial airliner to do under these circumstances? Why . . . just what they did do. The jobs they've been trained to do and have been doing for (probably) all of their working lives. There was nothing miraculous about this successful ditching of an airplane.

I think something else is going on. I think what all this celebration is about is really a reflection of just how desperately people are panting, pining for something good to talk about and celebrate. It's a feel-good diversion. Right now the country is in the shitter, in a financial hole so deep the light at the top is out of sight, involved in two losing wars (one will be shed eventually, but the other stretches out to the horizon), personally assaulted by the economy--they've lost their job or worry about it, they've lost their savings or most of them, they've lost their retirement, or they're related or know somebody to whom this happened, etc., etc. There's not a sentient soul in the US who doesn't know what terrible shape we're in as a nation. (Well, maybe there are a few sentient souls . . . but not many.)

And yet another reason: in their heart of hearts people know that Barack Obama is not going to make much of a difference, i.e., things are not going to get that much better in the foreseeable future. Mere changes in policy are not going to right the ship of state right now. Mere changes of faces and yes, even parties, in Congress is not going to change the course the country is on. The events of the past few years and especially the last six months have demonstrated beyond the possibility of contradiction that the people at the top are incompetent, venal, and don't give a whit about the common people. And the people also know in their guts that matters are probably much worse than they're being told. They've been lied to for so long about virtually everything, why should they believe what the government tells them now?

Given all of this, anything that's the least bit hopeful--planes being ditched in the Hudson with no loss of life--is something to go momentarily nuts about. Kinda like Mardi Gras before Lent.

[Just as an aside, I long to be proven completely, utterly wrong about all this doom and gloom. Alas, I see no good evidence that I am wrong, and at this point I require more than the promises of politicians, more than Obama hope, to make me believe that meaningful, lasting, and substantial reform is going to happen or that the country is going to emerge from its multiple problems intact and relatively stable.]

Verse Umpteen

As announced in my previous entry, here are several more passages from the excellent "Notebook" section of the current Harper's. There's not a word of these passages that doesn't comport with what I've been saying, far less eloquently to anyone who would listen for the past several years.

The attentive reader will also note that this species of thinking, if that's what we chose to call it, is exactly what Stephen Colbert lampoons every day on "The Colbert Report." Nobody so illustrates this kind of thinking and its inherent danger than people such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and others of their ilk. These people who wield huge influence on basis of bluster and manipulation of the truth. Whose success absolutely depends on the ignorance of the audience. An audience too ignorant to understand that they're being manipulated by people whose ignorance in some ways rivals their own.

So, to continue:

The gut tells us things. It tells us what’s right and what’s wrong, who to hate and what to believe and who to vote for. Increasingly, it’s where American politics is done. . . . We know because we feel, as if truth were a matter of personal taste, or something to be divined in the human heart, like love.

I was raised to be ashamed of my ignorance, and to try to do something about it if at all possible. I carry that burden to this day, and have successfully passed it on to my children. I don’t believe I have the right to an opinion about something I know nothing about—constitutional law, for example, or sailing—a notion that puts me sadly out of step with a growing majority of my countrymen, many of whom may be unable to tell you anything at all about Islam, say, or socialism, or climate change, except that they hate it, are against it, don’t believe in it.

Quite possibly, this belief in our own opinion, regardless of the facts, may be what separates us from the nations of the world, what makes us unique in God’s eyes. The average German or Czech, though possibly no less ignorant than his American counterpart, will probably consider the possibility that someone who has spent his life studying something may have an opinion worth considering. Not the American. Although perfectly willing to recognize expertise in basketball, for example, or refrigerator repair, when it comes to the realm of ideas, all folks (and their opinions) are suddenly equal. Thus evolution is a damned lie, global warming a liberal hoax, and Republicans care about people like you.

But there’s more. Not only do we believe that opinion (our own) trumps expertise; we then go further and demand that expertise . . . those with actual knowledge supplicate themselves to the Believers, who don’t need to know. The logic here, if that’s the term, seems to rest on the a priori conviction that belief and knowledge are separate and unequal. Belief is higher, nobler; it comes from the heart; it feels like truth. There’s a kind of Biblical grandeur to it, and as God’s chosen, we have an inherent right to it. Knowledge, on the other hand, is impersonal, easily manipulated, inherently suspect. Like the facts it’s based on, it’s slippery, insubstantial—not solid like the things you believe.

The corollary to the axiom that belief beats knowledge, of course, is that ordinary folks shouldn’t value the latter too highly, and should be suspicious of those who do. Which may explain our inherent discomfort with argument. We may not know much, but at least we know what we believe. Tricky elitists, on the other hand, are always going on. Confusing things. We don’t trust them.

There’s no particular reason to believe, after all, that things will improve; that our ignorance and gullibility will miraculously abate, that the militant right and the entrenched left, both so given to caricature, will simultaneously emerge from their bunkers eager to embrace complexity, that our disdain for facts and our aversion to argument will reverse themselves. Precisely the opposite is likely.

And this is exactly what I'm afraid of. That the situation is now irreversible. I'm personally convinced that the tide of ignorance is now irresistible, that it is going to overwhelm us no matter what we do with our educational system, no matter what Obama does. And what makes this so dangerous is that people will not be equipped to resist any of the many species of evil charlatans who will certainly be vying for power. A populace armed with nothing but ignorance will fall for any kind of lie, little lies, big lies, outrageous lies. Like waterboarding somebody is not torturing them, or that torture is a legitimate interogation technique under certain circumstances. Somebody convince me that I'm wrong. Please.

Let's Have Another Verse Just Like the Other Verse

What follows are excerpts from the "Notebook" section of the latest (Feb '09) Harper's, entitled "A Quibble." Those five or six of you who are more or less regular readers will recognize a similar theme. This piece is by one of the contributing editors, Mark Slouka.

What we need to talk about, what someone needs to talk about, particularly now, is our ever-deepening ignorance (of politics, of foreign languages, of history, of science, of current affairs, of pretty much everything) and not just our ignorance but our complacency in the face of it, our growing fondness for it. A generation ago the proof of our foolishness, held up to our faces, might still have elicited some redeeming twinge of shame—no longer. Today, across vast swaths of the republic, it amuses and comforts us. We’re deeply loyal to it. Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath.

What do we care about? We care about auto racing and Jessica. We care about food, oh yes, please, very much. And money. We care about Jesus, though we’re a bit vague on his teachings. And America. We care about America. And the flag. And the troops, though we’re untroubled by the fact that the Bush administration lied us into the conflict, then spent years figuring out that armor in war might be a good idea. Did I mention money?

Here’s the mirror—look and wince. One out of every four of us believes we’ve been reincarnated; 44 percent of us believe in ghosts; 71 percent, in angels. Forty percent of us believe God created all things in their present form sometime during the last 10,000 years. Near the same number
—not coincidentally, perhaps—are functionally illiterate. Twenty percent think the sun might revolve around the earth. When one of us writes a book explaining that our offspring are bored and disruptive in class because they have an indigo “vibrational aura” that means they are a gifted race sent to this planet to change our consciousness with the help of guides from a higher world, half a million of us rush to the bookstores to lay our money down.

I'll continue with more snippets of this article tomorrow. For the nonce, chew on this stuff here. Think about it: 40 percent of the country is functionally illiterate. Doesn't that just scare the hell out of you? Four out of every ten people! Brothers and sisters: there's no hope when you're constituted like this.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Legacy Thoughts, III

If you don't have time read more than one of the hundreds of Bush legacy pieces appearing all over the blogsphere and print media, then read this one. It really tries to be fair--pointing out that some of the things that happened during this miserable administration can be seen positively--and as a historian, schooled to carefully weigh all sides of the argument or issue, this appeals.

On the other hand, if you have time to read more than one assessment of the Bush years, then I suggest you can start with this one or this one, only 157 words, to get the story from people who are also fair in the sense of calling something by its right name, no euphemisms. But my favorite is this one, a withering blast at a nincompoop who was at least two or three levels above his overall level of competence. The Peter Principle in overdrive. It's entitled "The Greatest Greatness of George W. Bush," and it ends with the stirring send off: "May you live forever, you son of a bitch." I loved it.

Fact is, if you take "objective" to mean "truthful," it's impossible to lie about this guy. He has run the country straight into the toilet in just about every single area--other than the area of earning the contempt of the world. How can you be even-handed about that? Why would you want to?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Big Four

The big four--Love, Sex, Death, and God--are really the only things worth talking about eventually when you come right down to it. I say eventually because all kinds of distractions intervene before one comes to realize that the big four are what matter. In the interim other lesser subjects--business, politics, academic subjects, sports, hobbies, and so forth--intrude. But even these subjects, if you're creative and honest in seeing it, wend their way back to one or more of the big four. Love, Sex, Death, and God: it's the stuff of all art, and therefore the stuff of everything that makes us human. Think about opera: all opera is concerned with at least three of the big four, and sometimes about God, too; someone once said that all poetry is about death. I'm not necessarily going to argue. Music is a spiritual language . . . who will say that Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven don't speak from another realm? Why do we hear these voices so clearly? And why do they so transport us?

Reason these thoughts are on my mind today is because this evening I visit again a longtime friend who is dying. He has, I'd guess, only a few more days left in this sphere of existence. And his existence at this moment is unswervingly focused, as focused as it will ever be, on Love, Death, and God. He believes in God, as do I, but this doesn't answer anything, does it? Or perhaps it answers everything. Who is to say? So proximate, Death drags with it all the questions that ultimately matter. He's been in love and married to the same woman for 43 years. How does one measure the depth and extent of the love that move her to say about her life with this dying man: "I would not change a thing."?

I think my friend is already half gone. At times it's perfectly obvious that he's not here, but elsewhere. Elsewhere, embracing his destiny. It's my privilege and a blessing to stand with him and this close to the mystery of our existence. It's my friend's final gift to me. Go in peace, Jim. I'll be along after a while.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Beastly But Beautiful

So I'm innocently surfing the Web, i.e., with no particular destination in mind--I really do have to try and curb this frivolous trolling about in electron land. It often leads to gems, but it fritters away time I should be devoting to other things, such as, working towards fulfilling one of my two stated goals* for 2009. Which are: to read at least a book a month and to get a poem published. Neither of which should be any great problem. The first goal is modest, indeed. I do that now, but by making it a stated goal, it will help me read more books and, I hope, do less frivolous trolling. Actually, I'd like to read a book a week, but I'd be happy, given all my other distractions (magazines, limited TV, the Net) and duties (yes, teaching, church, being a husband, writing assignments), to read a book every couple of weeks.

As I was saying," . . . with no particular destination in mind," I stumbled across this marvelous screed entitled "The Beast 50 Most Loathsome People of 2008." It's a feature story from what I take is the underground paper of Buffalo, NY. [Actually, it's a magazine, as I discovered.] Even if you don't agree with all of the choices--even at #50 I don't think Obama belongs--you'll love the rich, rollicking, positively evil (in a good way) metaphors that skewer so many, many deserving people. You can guess the big ones: Bush--"brutally stupid narcissist", Cheney, Palin (#1), Paulson, McCain, Limbaugh--"the father of modern stupidity", Lieberman--"a fickle, flabbery fiend reviled by both parties", Hannity--"relentlessly repugnant McCarthyite tool", John Edwards (#12). Other second tier type choices, such as Phil Gramm, David Addington, Rod Blagojevich--"some things are worse than being bald", Ted Stevens, Joe the Plumber are nice surprises that make you say, "Oh yeah, how could I forget him/her?" But there are a host more, all of them more or less (mostly more) deserving: O.J. Simpson (#42)--you have to ask yourself how this scumbag got to be so low on the list. The only possible explanation is that there were a whole bunch of more deserving scumbags--Keith Olberman, Jeremiah Wright, Antonin Scalia, the Clintons, and others.

And then there were the ones I didn't even recognize or know about, and from what's said about them, it's probably a good thing: M. Night Shyamalan, Michele Bachman, Thomas S. Monson, Mark Penn, Joe Scarborough, and more.

Other people, even Republicans, liked this stuff. The prose samples should whet your appetite. Enjoy!

*Stated before all members of the immediate family in a Christmas Eve ritual. What a surprise . . . I can't remember anyone else's goals at all, other than my wife's whose goal--to go to Austin and San Antonio was universally pooh-poohed as not worth of the title "goal."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Media: One Insulting Word

Just a thought or two about the media in our country. Media here means encompassing all print and electronic media. Challenge: describe "the US media" in a single word. Here are some suggestions: incompetent, brainless, pablum, crass, dumb, sophomoric, infuriating, pointless, worthless, empty, mush. I'm afraid I could go on. Any of these descriptions, all of them, fit. Jon Stewart knows this, and he takes the only reasonable position: he mocks the media constantly, reminding us all of what in insult to our intelligence it has become.

This line of thought is prompted by an article I read a day or so ago which begins: "The American print and TV media have never been very good. These days they are horrible."
This article could have been about any one of a hundred media-related topics, but in fact it addressed the ongoing abomination in Gaza. Specifically the propaganda machine that the media has become for the government's unflinching support of Israel. The author, Paul Craig Roberts, claims that independent reporting disappeared entirely from US media when Rupert Murdoch and a handful of other moguls concentrated control of virtually every media outlet in a handful of corporations. Right, and aided by Bill Clinton, as he points out.

The only places left to go for independent reporting in America are the blogosphere and small weekly independent newspapers, and there is hope in the foreign press of getting an intelligent take on the news. He's right. But he also claims the US public is slowly catching on to the empty shells print media has become, as witnessed by the slow deaths of newspapers across the country. Sorry, but I see this more as a reflection of feckless American society, not critical-thinking American society. That has long since died, and it's not coming back.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Legacy Thoughts, II

The Nation's blog reports that the number one question being asked on the Obama transition team's website is whether the new president will appoint a special prosecutor to probe into the matters of US government-sanctioned torture and illegal surveillance. As I contemplate the legacy being bequeathed to us by this most wretched of chief executives and his administration, surely the worst item--even worse than the senseless wars--is how this administration essentially legalized torture and domestic spying with slick, unscrupulous lawyers and constant pushing people's fear button. Justifying blatant violations of the Constitution by cloaking presidential misconduct and lawbreaking under the rubric of the powers of the commander-in-chief. I'm just now finishing a book, The Dark Side by Jane Mayer, that lays out the story of how this happened in all its disheartening detail. It is a disgusting chapter in our history, and we should be hanging our heads in shame.

But some of us aren't. Right wing nuts like Charles Krauthammer argue for exonerating everybody directly involved with torture because the country has been safe since 9/11 and "These people did what they did under orders and with patriotism." Read that again. This reasoning (politely so-called) is exactly the argument the US and the other allied powers repudiated when it was made by the Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, a repudiation which became a foundational principle in international law. Glen Greenwald in this usual incisive fashion demolishes this argument. His piece also points out that almost 100 detainees lost their lives while in US custody, and to this day over three dozen people believed held by the US have simply disappeared, their whereabouts and fates unknown. See here and here.

This is an outrage, but to tell the truth, I'm not expecting the Obama administration to prosecute anybody for these crimes. I've already seen enough of what "bi-partisanship" means to doubt that the new president will pursue justice. This little matter of torture can be swept under the rug in the glare of the economic crisis. Obama seems pitifully intent on securing the support of the Republicans. And we wouldn't want to do anything to upset them, would we?

Friday, January 9, 2009


I'm sure there are more commentators on this subject, but I'm struck by the strong case William Blum makes for our getting our butts out of Afghanistan just as soon as we possibly can. Which means now. Basically his argument is the reason we're in Afghanistan at all has to do with US economic interests, specifically in this case, oil and gas companies. What a surprise, eh? Corporate interests are why we've been intervening in the affairs of foreign countries for over 150 years.

With all the hoopla surrounding the election, the selection of the Obama cabinet, the economic catastrophe, Obama's economic plan, and so forth, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to have fallen off the radar screens. It gets to be that way with wars, doesn't it? They go on so long that they just become part of the background. Silently like termites, they eat away billions of bucks, and steadily deposit an increasing toll of the dead, wounded, and maimed on the doorsteps of moms and dads, wives and sweethearts, sons and daughters. All of those who can proudly hold up their heads and pronounce that their loved one gave his life, limb, health, sanity, psychological balance--take your pick--in the (and I love this circumlocution) "service of his (or her) country."

No, that would not be correct. Service to the country has nothing to do with it. Countries are not served by the death of soldiers. The objectives of politicians are served. The most accurate statement of the matter is: "died for whatever political objective the country's leadership thought worth spending the lives of other people's children on." But that would not get a single soul to sign up, would it? Even the most desperate. So being sacrificed permanently for transient political objectives has to be gussied up in robes such as honor, sacrifice, duty, courage, heroism, etc., etc., etc. It's all b.s. But it's b.s. that is perennially bought by the less-than-thoughtful.

And now our leaders--and Obama is in the forefront on this one, too--want to crank up the US commitment to the perpetual meat-grinder that Afghanistan has become. Not without misgivings, it's true, but he and his advisers seem to think that "solving" the situation there is going to require more troops. A recent story in the Washington Post reports that US troops there will exceed 50,000 by summer and for who knows how long.

"This is a long fight, and I think we're in it until we are successful along with the Afghan people," [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates said, adding: "I do believe there will be a requirement for sustained commitment here for some protracted period of time. How many years that is, and how many troops that is, I think nobody knows at this point."

Ain't that encouraging? Doesn't anybody see the plain truth of the matter? Like Vietnam, like Korea, like Iraq, Afghanistan is a palpable tarbaby. Smacking it upside the head with the other fist will accomplish nothing but limit our options even further to rid ourselves of this mess. But it will, of course, serve the interests of the military war machine perfectly well. It loves open-ended commitments.

Just for the record, as of today Afghanistan has cost the U.S. 628 lives and wounded 2,607. [Iraq totals are 4,222 and 30, 934.] Neither of these sets of figures counts the lives of so-called "coalition" forces.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tim Fite: A Musical Interlude

Cool song. Cool animation. What better way to interlude a few minutes? Especially with a guy you've just discovered.

And again. This time with a message.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Legacy Thoughts, I

Somebody pinch me. Can it really be we only have 13 more days to see, hear, or curse the vile little pretender in the White House? Of course not. He won't be president in less than two weeks--may the gods be praised!--but oh, we'll have to see his detested visage on occasion as well as hear him spout off some of his patented nonsense. We can hardly expect anything profound or noteworthy out of this cretin's mouth; unfortunately, we've probably not heard the last of him either. And certainly we're not done with cursing what he's done to us and cursing him for doing it. My kids and their kids are going to wear this presidency like a rancid albatross their necks for the whole of their lives.

Have we survived this idiot? Well, yes, it's only 13 more days, and we have survived the worst presidency in all of US history. But that says nothing about the quality of our survival. I would submit that we're a nation hanging on by our fingernails. If, and it's a big if, we manage to survive our current economic woes, we will have to get used to the idea that our day as the economic weather vane for the world is gone. We're a a used up debtor nation on the same level as Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s. An unmitigated disaster, if you're not aware. Military coups, the "disappeared," hyper-hyper inflation, virtual disintegration of the country's economy. Anybody who thinks this country is somehow shrouded by God from having such terrible things happen to it knows neither God nor history.

The amount of public debt we're leaving to our future generations out as far as the eye can see is so gargantuan that there really aren't any good metaphors to describe it. The projected deficit for FY 2009 is over $1 trillion . . . and that's just the first of our post-Bush deficit years. Nobody knows what any of this means. I keep coming back to the same point. Nobody knows. We've not been down this road before, and all we're counting on is what worked last time. Sometimes what we did last time does work; more often it doesn't. Nobody knows.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Eating Us Up From the Inside Out

As we continue to be regaled on all the news shows and across the Web with news of the Israeli depredations in Gaza--today Israeli mortar shells fell near a UN school killing at least 30 Palestinians, wounding many more, and staining the streets with blood--as we continue to be buffeted by this news, not to mention our own ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, let's reflect for a moment on what all this war does for American business.

Why is there any doubt, brothers and sisters, that business just loves war? Any war. Anywhere. Whenever. It's all good because it fattens the coffers of the US arms industry. You'll be pleased to know that the US once again leads the world in the sale of arms, after momentarily giving up its crown to the Russians. In 2007 it pocketed over $32 billion in worldwide sales, triple what the sales were when the vile little pretender in White House (for only another 14 days, God be praised) was installed into the presidency he had stolen in 2000. Figures are not all in for 2008, but they will include $12.5 billion in sales to Iraq alone.

Among the many other fictions that grease the American war machine, the arms trade is supposed to avoid countries guilty of gross human rights violations. Fat chance that is happening. (Hell, it that were true, US arms dealers would not be able to sell the US weaponry.) According to Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst for the Center for Defense Information (CDI), “The Bush administration has demonstrated a willingness to provide weapons and military training to weak and failing states and countries that have been repeatedly criticized by the U.S. State Department for human rights violations, lack of democracy and even support of terrorism.”

The CDI report is bad enough, but if you want more bad news, a collection of sobering facts about arms can also be found at the Global Issues website. What good can possibly be said about this wretched business? The entire trade is a "major cause for suffering." It is also "a major cause of human rights abuses."

It eats us up from the inside, like a swarm of loathsome parasites. "Some governments [ours in the US being one] spend more on military expenditure than on social development, communications infrastructure and health combined." Think anything is going to change in 2009?

Apparently, It All Adds Up

Stumbled over this interesting piece on something that concerns just about all of us. Jobs. Specifically, which are the best ones and worst ones. The study released today is from, a new job site. (It has the whole list.) It evaluates 200 professions according to five criteria inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress to determine which are the best and worst to have.

Best job on the list is mathematician; worst is lumberjack. If you're like me, both of these will surprise you. I would have have been too bent by my own tastes and prejudices in coming up with the best job to have: baseball player, chess professional, writer, musician, and of course historian, my own profession, which I have found engaging and rewarding for the most part. I immediately thought of garbageman as the worst possible job.

To my amazement, I came pretty close in both cases. Historian is actually on the list of best jobs--at #7, no less, right below computer systems analyst and right above sociologist. Garbageman is #195 on the list. Just a quick gander at the list of top jobs proves that "head work" is the best kind of job to have: economists are there, also computer programmers. astronomers, and--the ultimate head workers--philosophers.

Not many surprises on the 20 worst jobs: construction, welder, roustabout, child care worker, taxi driver. I would have thought waitress or waiter (#154) would have made the worst 20. Those people work hard and take a shitload of abuse. Tip your waitress nicely. She deserves it even if she didn't make the worst of worst list.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bullets . . . Figurative and Not

So many subjects are grabbing my attention, it's difficult to narrow down on one. So herewith a potpourri:
  • The savagery in Gaza just gets worse. Now, as has been threatened for some time, the Israeli army has invaded that forlorn land and split the area in twain. They're talking about a lengthy mission there. Hospitals in Gaza are overflowing. While protests happen across the globe against Israel, US official government reaction is apologetic for the Jewish Goliath over the Palestinian David. Is there a single Arab in the world who doesn't hate us?
  • A state election board in Minnesota will declare Al Franken the winner of the contest for that state's Senate seat. The recount proceedings have been going on since November 5. Republican incumbent Norm Coleman will challenge the certification. What's more the GOP senators say they will filibuster seating Franken. How is Obama going to be bipartisan with these people?
  • A guy in New Orleans claimed his kid was kidnapped by AK-47-wielding guys with dreads who piled out of an SUV and snatched him. What actually happened: he killed his 2 1/2-year-old son so he would not have to pay child support.
  • On any given night, 200,000 US veterans are sleeping on the streets. This is called "supporting the troops."
  • Future historians will write that America peaked in the late 1960s. Read why here. What this means is we've been in decline since then . . . wonder if this has anything to do with Republicans being in charge two-thirds of the time since then? Surely it can't have anything to do with the Pandora's box of license and irresponsibility the 1960s bequeathed to the future . . . could it?
  • The contraceptive pill is polluting the environment (this is connected with female urine, believe it or not) and making men sterile, reports the Vatican newspaper. This is why everybody immediately stops what they're doing and listens to the Vatican. Just like they used to listen to E. F. Hutton (in the days when stock brokers could hold up their heads in polite society.)
Stay tuned. All the trends illustrated above will continue into 2009.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Oops! Sorry 'bout That

Many thanks to Your Right-Hand Thief for alerting me to this news story from the heart of darkest Romania. There are medical mistakes and there are medical mistakes. I would have to adjudge cutting off a guy's penis when you're actually wielding the scalpel to correct a testicular malformation a fairly sizable mistake. It gets better. Apparently our careless cutter had been undergoing stress and lost his temper, so after he sliced off this poor guy's ding-a-ling before a "shocked nursing staff," we're told, he then "placed it on the operating table where he chopped it into small pieces before storming out of the operating room at Bucharest hospital." Talk about stress!

A court has ordered that the 36-year old victim--who will no longer be called "Woody" by his friends (actually, I just made that part up)--be paid $795,000 in compensation, which seems on the low side to me, but this is Eastern Europe, after all. But get this. Back when this happened in January of last year, the doctor's union in Romania criticized the first sum proposed: $200,000. Which raises a pertinent question. Just what value do these guys think is fair? I think a poll of 36-year-old guys in Romania, Togo, Oklahoma, or Osaka, to name just a few of the worldwide locales this poll would have the same results, would overwhelmingly value this particular appendage at a considerably higher price.

You'll find the full story even more bizarre: the doc received a one-year suspended sentence; the court said he had been "superficial" in his approach to the operation. Indeed. As for the poor amputee, well, his wife left him and he's now got a flaccid piece of arm muscle attached where Mr. Happy used to be. This attachment has only an "aesthetic" function. Right. I'm sure it elicits shouts of "Beautiful!" every time it's on display.

Amazingly, this was not the only Romanian penis story of the year! Doesn't it give you a just all over contented feeling knowing that there are people hard on (hah!) this subject all the time?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Moose-gutter Redux

Making fun of Sarah Palin is too easy. It's like breathing or finding Dave Barry funny. Nonetheless, I must share with you this little snippet I encountered a few minutes ago on my daily scan of The Huffington Post. In the course of a piece that blasts the habitual idiocy of Mark Halperin, Bob Cesca segues neatly into remarks about the stupidest political quotations of the year that didn't get the notice they deserved. I herewith present this one from the Alaskan Bimbo that you might have missed. Cesca nominates it for Most Ridiculous Political Quote of the Year. It needs no further comment. I leave it to you to contemplate the meaning of this woman running for vice president of the United States. And yes, what's below are her exact words.
Q: One of the things you talked about last night was the flexibility the vice president has--
PALIN: Yeah.

Q: --Uh. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: Uh. That thankfully our founders were wise enough to say we have this position and it's constitutional -- vice president will be able to be not only the position flexible, but it's gonna be those other duties as assigned by the president. A simple thing.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Out of Whack

The New York Yankees, a baseball team, have over the past two and half months spent $423.5 million dollars for three ballplayers: a switch-hitting first baseman, and two pitchers. It's an obscene amount of money, a sinful amount of money, a scandalous amount of money especially when hundreds of millions of "normal" people are facing hard times ahead in this brand new year, on top of seeing their savings and retirement plans crater. Nothing so illustrates the distorted sense of priorities in this country than how much it pays athletes, actors, singers, TV stars, and other entertainers. The first baseman, Mark Teixeira, who is being paid all this money is a good ballplayer, a productive hitter, and sterling fielder. But he isn't a Hall of Famer. He's being paid $22.5 million a year.* I simply cannot agree with those who argue that such ridiculous sums for ball players--ball players, for God's sake!!--are simply capitalism in action.

If this is capitalism, then something's out of whack. A recent article in The Guardian reports that the income gap between rich and poor in a number of American cities such as New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami has now reached Third World proportions. We're talking gaps as bad as they are in Nairobi and the Ivory Coast. According to a report of the International Labor Organization, the gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent in the US is worst of all the developed countries. (Full report is here.) The chasm has not been this large for 25 years.

At the end of 2005, the top 1 percent (over $364,657 earnings) in the US earned 21.2 percent of all income, according to the latest figures I could find. The top half of the population earned over 87 percent of the income. If this is capitalism in action, something is out of whack. At the end of 2004, the with four more years of the Bush tax cut for the filthy rich still to run, the top 20 percent of the population earned half the income. Guess how poorly the bottom 20 percent compared? 3.5 percent. These kinds of numbers are just criminal, yet nobody much seems to care. I'm just guessing, but when they're done calculating how things stand at the end of the year we just completed, the figures will show even more disparity.

I'm continually amazed by the quiescence of the American people in the face of such revelations. And with the widely reported fact that a huge portion of the tax burden has been shifted from the bloated rich to the strapped middle class. I don't even hear much outcry at the brazen presumption of the bank executives and Wall Street fat cats continuing to pay themselves bonuses from bailout money we taxpayers gave them. When is somebody going to get pissed off at this? When are these sleazeballs going to be prosecuted?

Happy New Year! I do hope that it will indeed be that way for you, despite indicators that the coming year promise a rough time for us in the US, and not much more promising for others across the world.

*If Teixeira puts up the same numbers next year as he did in 2008, this works out to about $39,200 per at bat, $127,119 per hit, or $750,000 per home run.