Monday, August 31, 2009

Is Afghanistan War Worth Fighting?

So asks the headline of this piece from the Washington Post. A short blurb by five "experts" comprise the piece. Guess how they break out? Three to two for the war. Does this surprise you? (Not in the Post should it surprise you.) Not me. Nor do the arguments for continuing the terrible thing: US vital national security interests there, necessity to stabalize nuclear Pakistan, fight Al-Qaeda, preventing regional meltdown, prevent country from being sanctuary for terrorists again. Blah, blah. Change "Pakistan" to some other country; change Al-Qaeda to US enemy de jour, and you have the rationale for any war anywhere.

So what else is new? No matter what the country, if our national leadership determines that the country has "vital national interests" at stake, you can forget about withdrawal of US troops. And I put the question to you: can you imagine a country on the face of the globe that some president cannot construe as vital to US national interests? And can you imagine a Pentagon that would say, "No, Mr. President, we don't agree. We don't want to deploy out troops and expensive toys there." Are you kidding me?

Here's another big surprise. The new US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, says victory is achievable. "The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," McChrystal said. Now, where have we heard this before? It's evident to everybody that he's gonna ask for more troops. Nobody doubts that. August was the worst month ever for US troop deaths in Afghanistan, 47. So to solve the problem let's feed more sausage meat into the grinder.

The stone cold fact about this horrible little war that's about to become a horrible bigger war is that we don't have a chance of winning it, I don't care what some damn general says, and we don't have a discernible national interest in that god-forsaken place. All we have there is another excuse for a president to prove his manhood, that he's not soft on national security, that he has the requisite set of balls for foreign policy, and for Wall Street and the accursed defense industry to turn more filthy profit.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where Ya Been?

Hey Cindy, where ya been? Haven't seen you for a while. Glad to see that you're back doing the right thing. This is Cindy Sheehan we're talking about here, a visible and outspoken opponent of the Iraq War during the Bush presidency. Since Obama's election, she's been rather quiet. But with the president on vacation at Martha's Vineyard, and wars still raging in both Iraq and Afghanistan, she's visible again. She rightly calls a spade a spade. Though the facade has changed and Obama was elected on a platform against the wars, nothing has changed. In fact, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated," she said, pointing out the obvious: that it doesn't matter which party's in power in Washington. The policy of the country doesn't change.

And is anybody else irritated that Obama is beginning to resemble a fat cat? Vacationing at the toney environs of Cape Cod and now playing golf, the sport of fat cats. He didn't used to play golf. Meanwhile the goddamned wars drag on. And nobody really seems to care. So raise hell, Cindy! I'm with you.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


There are two kinds of people in the world, those who think rules are what should govern everything and who have inordinate respect for them. And those who think rules are negotiable in most circumstances, because circumstances change things. And the thought struck me when I thought about religious rules. All of the monotheistic religions have a bunch of rules. Why is it these religions are the ones freighted down with rules? And is it coincidental that they're the ones who seem to be the most concerned with sin, reward, and punishment? Heaven, hell, eternal reward, eternal punishment, and all the behaviors one must practice and avoid to gain one or the other. These concepts make no sense to Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus.
The baseline question I'm thinking about is what kind of religion would Christianity be if it could be separated from its rules long enough to contemplate exactly what Jesus meant? The more I think about it, the less I think he had to do with rules of any kind. .

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Socialism is Not the Problem

Bill Maher is a really funny guy. So funny sometimes that you might overlook just how smart he is. It's impossible to overlook what a committed and outspoken progressive he is. What Maher does is the best cutting edge political satire around, and he doesn't spare anyone or mince words. Take this piece, for example. How true is this:

"How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things we just didn't do for money. The United States always defined capitalism, but it didn't used to define us. But now it's becoming all that we are."
Exactly. How many times have you found yourself saying, "It's all about money"? Or some variation on the theme we all know so well.  Maher is just putting it starkly and humorously. Everything's for sale. Everything is measured by money. It's a truly vacant way to live. Contractors we pay billions to do the same thing the military used to do for itself: like cook and clean. Corporations running prisons. Corporations running health care.

Maher doesn't have much  use for Obama's health plan. Like many of us, he's disgusted with what the corporations are getting out it.

"When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. If conservatives get to call universal health care 'socialized medicine,' I get to call private health care 'soulless vampires making money off human pain.' The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism, it's capitalism.
Amen, brother.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Only Reverent Silence Suffices

War . . . it's the same everywhere and at all times. What's the difference between a British infantryman in the trenches at the Somme, a Japanese draftee in a cave on Iwo Jima or a U.S. Marine humping 70 pounds in Afghanistan? Not a thing if you're dead. 

Prelude: The Troops 
Dim, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloom
Shudders to drizzling daybreak that reveals
Disconsolate men who stamp their sodden boots
And turn dulled, sunken faces to the sky
Haggard and hopeless. They, who have beaten down
The stale despair of night, must now renew
Their desolation in the truce of dawn,
Murdering the livid hours that grope for peace.
Yet these, who cling to life with stubborn hands,
Can grin through storms of death and find a gap
In the clawed, cruel tangles of his defence.
They march from safety, and the bird-sung joy
Of grass-green thickets, to the land where all
Is ruin, and nothing blossoms but the sky
That hastens over them where they endure
Sad, smoking, flat horizons, reeking woods,
And foundered trench-lines volleying doom for doom.
O my brave brown companions, when your souls
Flock silently away, and the eyeless dead
Shame the wild beast of battle on the ridge,
Death will stand grieving in that field of war
Since your unvanquished hardihood is spent.
And through some mooned Valhalla there will pass
Battalions and battalions, scarred from hell;
The unreturning army that was youth;
The legions who have suffered and are dust.

from Counter-Attack, by Siegfried Sassoon, 1918

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Facts We Really Don't Need

Remember yo mama telling you to wear clean drawers, because "suppose you're in an accident"? Well it turns out yo mama knew whereof she spoke. Are you ready for this? Half, that's HALF the Americans who wipe their butts with paper "spend their days with 'fecal contamination'--anything from 'wasp-colored stains' to 'frank massive feces'--in their underpants," according to a piece in the end of August Newsweek. If you'll please pardon the expression, holy shit! Who would have ever thunk it? One out of every two people you see--in your office, church, or school yard--think about it. Some are toting "massive feces."  Boggles my mind this kind of stuff.

As Rachel Maddow would say, "here's another holy mackerel story in today's news." The average American uses  57 sheets of TP a day*, and this, as you might surmise, has serious environmental repercussions. If we didn't use TP at all we'd save: "15 million trees, 17.3 terrawatts of electricity, and more than 473 billion gallons of water."

And what's this all about? Article argues that it's about Americans' refusal to accept the bidet, which, like universal health care, other civilized societies use all the time. You knew it was going to come down to some silly American prejudice, didn't you? Right. No real man would use one of those things. Well, I've got news for you: lots do. I used them in Europe, and so did millions of others. What's not to like about being fresh and clean down there, dude [or dudette]? Yo mama would definitely not want you to be guilty of any kind of fecal contamination, much less the "massive" kind. Bidets are great for washing your feet in as well. Needless to say, their environmental impact is minimal. Plus, they are perfect size for a cat.

*OK, I don't know about you, but I would not go through 57 sheets of toilet paper in 5 days. Really makes me wonder about the "average" American. How in hell does a person use this much toilet paper in a day? (Of course, I have no lab data about females. They, judging by my wife, probably push the average way up. Admittedly, that's a pretty small sample.) And how do the statisticians come up with these numbers? Do they count all those loose sheets of TP you will always find in less-than-savory bathrooms? Or the bunches some halfwit has thrown in the toilet just because he could? I'm not even going to ask how they know that half of us are soiled all the time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What More Proof Do We Need?

"What more proof do we need?" shouted Caiaphas, as he rent his garments. It's what I feel like shouting when I read that the Mart of Darkness (otherwise known as Wal-mart) has finally won its years long battle with the Forces of Light and will now be able to construct one of their god-awful supercenters of God knows how many square feet on part of the Civil War Wilderness battlefield in Orange County, Virginia. What more proof do we need that this corporation is a soulless animal? What more proof do we need that most Americans are short-sighted blockheads? What more proof do we need that capitalism unrestrained by an imperative for the common good will destroy everything in its path?

The issue is reservation of several hundred acres of hallowed ground. Though not part of the protected Wilderness battlefield, the area where the Wal-Mart is going was part of the actual battlefield,  the initial blood bath between Grant and Lee in early May, 1864. Some 29,000 Americans bled into this ground. It should never be dishonored by concrete, traffic, noise, and mouth-breathing Bubbas bent on bargains. But dishonor it we will. The vote by the county's board of supervisors was overwhelming, 4-1. Tell you the truth, I've been surprised that historians and other sane people have been able to stave off this abomination for as long as they have. I know it's been several years. The worst aspect of the store's location is traffic flows. Traffic this new store will generate promises to be fiercely disruptive, especially along the Orange Turnpike, present day Route 20 which cuts straight through the preserved Wilderness land.

The arguments of over 230 historians and other preservationists against this project were unavailing, not in the face of an enemy this big. Guess what the arguments are in favor of this desecration? Ain't hard. There were three principal ones. In no particular order: money, money, and money, i.e., jobs, tax revenue, and cheap shopping. Oh, yeah. Gotta have those low, low everyday prices. Now, it's not as if Wal-Mart can't find another place to put its damn store. No, it's that these people just don't care, least of all about history. This is another of those things that convince me that we're basically a doomed people just playing out the string. Our god is Mammon,  a hateful, rapacious deity whom will sacrifice anything to.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Goons on the Loose

OK. I've been silent about this long enough. Just what in the hell is up with these morons coming to health care meetings and presidential town hall meetings packing weapons? My first impression when I saw this on TV was: what the hell are these idiots doing? What are they trying to prove? That's been over a week ago, well over a week, and I still don't get it. I have the same questions.

Let's think about this for a minute. Seriously. Just why would somebody go out in public with an assault rifle slung across his shoulder or either alternatively or additionally with a holstered weapon on their thigh? Is it to make a statement about the 2nd Amendment? Dudes, we already know the Supreme Court in its folly has blessed the notion of individual gun ownership as a constitutional right. Are you trying to scare somebody? Well, you might just be succeeding there. It causes me to reflect upon the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of similar idiots as yourselves out there, armed to the teeth. This indeed is scary. Is it to make a statement that if political decisions don't comport with your ideas,  you gonna start shooting? Well, maybe. And that would simply confirm that you need psychiatric care.

Turns out these clowns--at least the ones spotted in Arizona and New Hampshire--are members of a far-right militia called We The People. We've been down this road before. Remember the crazies in the '90s running around in cami's out in the woods? Same, same. These guys. And what are they all about? Freedom, of course. Aren't they all? We The People exists to fight a government that "continues to systematically plunder our People's wealth, ignore constitutional checks and balances and destroy the last vestiges of Freedom."

It's difficult for me to believe that people can think Obama is ignoring the Constitution after eight years of the vile little pretender formerly in the White House. But these sentiments, brothers and sisters, are what have the goons all stirred up. Makes you wonder just what degree of separation exists between them and the screechers and screamers in the town hall meetings.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

WWJD? Not What We Do, That's for Sure

I read today that the Evangelical Lutheran church (the largest in the denomiation) has relaxed its previous policy to now allow openly gay men and women serve as clergy. The resolution declared that people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships” could now be official ministers. (Celibate gays were already admitted to the ministry.) The Lutherans reached this decision after studying and pondering it for eight years. Only a few weeks ago, the Episcopalian Church in the U.S. endorsed an identical policy. Apparently the Presbyterians are leaning this direction also. But not the Methodists, who are strongly on record against this.

Naturally, the move has been roundly condemned by the conservatives in the church. Not a surprise. People have threatened to split off from the church and form their own. Not a surprise there either. Episcopalians have already done the same over the installation of an openly gay "married" bishop several months ago.

Just a couple of observations: No matter what, the Christians, supposedly followers of Jesus by any name, can always find any number of issues to squabble and fight about. But this particular issue is certainly not an issue to be splitting up churches over.* Somehow I don't see the Jesus of the gospels getting too overwrought about this issue . . . certainly not with major wars and civil wars raging all over the planet, when millions of people are starving, when unmet human needs across the globe are crying out for his attention. I seriously doubt he's going to get concerned about two people living in fidelity with each other in a committed relationship of love. And if this is the case, why should we be concerned?

*If a person is genetically hard-wired to be a homosexual, what's the issue? But then that's a whole 'nother post.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Thread of Hope?

OK. Did you find yesterday's post a bit too gloomy? Never say that I don't consider the feelings of my few but loyal readers. In the spirit of lifting the black pall of gloom over the prospects for healthcare reform, I'm willing to give equal time to something I wish I had more of around me: an optimist. The piece is by Robert Borosage and it appeared in The Huffington Post a couple of days ago. Basically what Borosage argues is that the real sticking point for the Democrats on health care is not the nut cases out in the town meetings. It's certainly not Republicans. Reminding us once again that by the numbers, the Democrats do not need GOP votes in the Senate or House, he focuses instead on what he describes as a truly attenuated minority of Democrats in the Senate, the so-called blue dogs. And despite what they say, he contends, these guys are not going to sink Obama's healthcare effort simply to make a point.
Why would a handful of Blue Dogs get in the way of a unified position? A government plan as an option isn't a difficult political vote. The hard choice is voting for any comprehensive reform -- and they will pay a much higher political price for failing to produce than for voting for a public option. The only reason to block a plan is either ideological rigidity, or the corrupting influence of insurance company contributions. In this circumstance, citizen mobilization can help educate the recalcitrant on the need to join the president and the majority of the party.
Well, before we break out the champagne over the unassailable cogency of this argument, mark "the corrupting influence of insurance company contributions" well. As well as "citizen mobilization." Moreover, there is a very strong possibility that the Democrats will not have the votes of either 91-year-old Robert Byrd (WV) or ailing Ted Kennedy (MA), old warhorses who have been too sick to be present throughout the debate till now. Which means, of course, that they will have to scrape up two Republican votes for their health care reform plan. How comfortable are you with this notion? I'm not very. In short, much as I would like to embrace it, this argument still hangs on threads.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Please Make It Stop

Oh, how I dearly wish this healthcare nightmare were over and done with. I'm sick of it. Tired of it. I wish that Obama would get his little meaningless legislation passed now and have his little signing ceremony in the Rose Garden surrounded by all the smiling tools of Pharma, insurance, and hospital companies. You know, those people whose interests are going to be protected through our "reform" of healthcare.

This whole thing is going worse than I thought possible. Worse because the president refuses to get out there and fight for something he promised us. This is the most devastating attack on Obama by a Democrat that I've yet encountered. And, sad to say, I found myself reading it and agreeing. In fact, there was nothing in this fairly lengthy piece that I can honestly say I disagree with, from "Obama is turning to be a disastrous president," to
Suffice it to say that both the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are now spending hundreds of millions of dollars running ads on television in favor of healthcare "reform". I can hardly think of a handier or more pure litmus test for determining whether this is good legislation or not. If those guys are for it, and especially if they're spending millions to make it happen, it's a very safe bet that I'm against it. And if those industries are for it, it's a very safe bet that the deal is they get rich and we get nothing. Except maybe poor. And sick.


In exchange for their political support, our 'socialist' president secretly promised the pharmaceutical and insurance industries that their costs under any new legislation would be capped at $80 and $155 billion, respectively, over ten years time. In short - nickels and dimes.
I truly, truly want to be focused on something else besides this absurd charade of reform effort, where the guy who promised us reform is curled up in bed with Republicans and the corporations. Am I to assume that Obama and all those smart people around him are suddenly going to decide they are actually going to deliver what they promised? That would get me to stop going on about this. But every day seems to bring anger and frustration by another progressive before my eyes.

Or something else, like this, that simply confirms all over for me that the American people are deluded and ignorant people. Hey I've got an idea, let's bar Republicans from the reforms. They have such a great problem with reform, screw 'em and their families too. Let's pass the law so it only applies to people who aren't Republicans. How does that sound?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gone Missing: Spine

I was all set to write a tirade about the perfidy of the Obama administration on health care reform, when the position the administration staked out over the weekend seemed to dissolve today. For those of you not paying attention, the President, his press secretary, and the secretary of health and human affairs all put out distinct signals that the administration was willing to scuttle the so-called "public option," on health care reform. Faced with an outcry from the progressive Democrats in the House, not to mention a similar howl of outrage from the progressives in the party at large, the administration beat a hasty retreat. All the signals today were that "nothing has changed," a patently false assertion. For the moment, the president and his troops can't stand the heat from their own party. Don't worry, that will change soon enough.

I still have not changed my expectations about the final outcome of this imbroglio: Obama will cave on health care reform. He will do anything to get some kind of bill passed, which means he's prepared to give up public option, no matter what he and his people are saying today. He is willing to embrace any kind of legislation he can slap the "reform" label on, including health care cooperatives, an idea that's been bruited about for months, which, I guarantee you, not one in five hundred Americans, if that many, understand. (I sure as hell don't.) Which, by the way, the Republicans will not support either. This whole thing has become a freaking nightmare.

Here's an email I sent to a friend today. This was before I learned about Obama's reversal of field on the public option. But this pretty much an accurate description of my basic sentiments, and my basic sentiments about this are not going to change. All that's not here is my utter loathing for the Republicans, every single one of them, who are going to vote their corporate masters' interests and to hell with the American people. I have not heard a single one of them condemn the outrages their crazies out in the country are doing at the town meetings.

I'm thoroughly pissed. If Obama drops the public option, I'm finished with him. The guy is a frigging trimmer, and I'm beginning to suspect a liar as well. What's being bruited about now is NOT what 71 percent of the US people want. He seems willing to do just about anything just to get a bill. It was the progressive votes that got this guy into office, and all we've gotten since he took over is the back of his hand. This country needs a third party in the worst way, but I don't think it's going to happen without millions on the streets.

What's obvious to me is that single-payer health care system is what we need, but Obama took that off the table before we even got started. He told the insurance companies and hospitals, look, if you don't tear me new asshole like you did Clinton, I'll see that single-payer doesn't get considered. So the bastards said OK, and you see what's happened. The brownshirts are out in the town meetings scuttling the whole effort.

This kind of time will not come again soon. Obama has majorities in both houses. Do you think for a second he's going to have them after the mid-terms? The Republicans are making complete hash out of this feckless, half-hearted attempt at a reform that is crying out to be made.
I'm very close to abandoning this president. Very close. He's smart, charismatic, and inspiring. All this helped get him into office. But since then he's shown his true self. He's way too enamored of the idea that you can actually work with the jackals of the Republican party. Plus he's not kicking the sorry asses of the Republicans' allies in his own party, the miserable blue dogs, who in the final analysis are the true villains of the piece. So where's the presidential spine it takes to get the job done here? Sorry, our guy's got no spine.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sssshhhhh . . . . . It's the Texas Rangers

Among all professional athletes, none are more superstitious than baseball players. (This is a good article on baseball superstitions.) And I think the same is true of baseball fans. It's certainly true of me. I have not mentioned my favorite baseball team yet this season in the blog--at least as far as I can remember. I definitely remember talking about them several times last year. But I'm reluctant to say anything about them this year lest I break the spell the team seems to be under. I.e., the Texas Rangers are one of the best teams in the American League this year. And the fact that the mainstream press is beginning to notice them makes me nervous. It could jinx us big time.

What's happened to this team this year? What's gotten into them? It's a different year, and not for reasons that most knowledgeable baseball fans would think, that the team is scoring gobs of runs. That would be the usual description of the Rangers, a team that has no trouble scoring runs. It's been true of them for years. But coupled with this ability to score was an equally predictable quality: terrible, awful pitching. And this was usually coupled with defense that seldom rose above the level of average and was frequently mediocre. This is not the recipe for a winning team. Indeed, the Rangers have had only one winning season in ten years. If the adage that better pitching is always preferable to better hitting is true--and of course it is--the 2009 Rangers are Exhibit A.

Unbelievably, for long-time Ranger fans, the pitching staff--all of it, starters, bullpen, and closers--is what is carrying the team. Ranger pitching is third best in the league. Texas has one starter (Kevin Millwood) in the top ten in ERA in the league. He and Doug Feldman both have ERAs under 4.00. The rotation that will take the team through the rest of the year has a couple of great young starters in the 4 and 5 slots: Tommy Hunter and Justin Nippert. Hunter has an ERA of 2.26 in 9 starts; Nippert has 3.52 in 6 starts. Wow. This is awesome. (And then there's Neftali Feliz.)

The Rangers just took two games out of three from the mighty Boston Red Sox to inch a half ahead in the wild card chase in the American League. Of course, I spurn the idea of the wild card on principle. I want the Rangers to win their division outright, a task proving extraordinarily difficult with the Los Angeles Angels playing lights out ever since the All-Star break. But this team can do it. I'm very quietly getting very excited.

Update 1: The Rangers blew a 5-run lead on Tuesday evening, August 18. The bullpen blew up.

Update 2: The Rangers blew a 4-run lead on Wednesday evening, August 19. Do you see why there are superstitions in baseball? I should have never made this original blog entry.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Harper Index Tidbits

Actually these little statements are much more like massive signposts or utterances from a prophet. These were taken from the September 2009 issue of Harper's Magazine.

  • Percentage change since 2002 in average premiums paid to large U.S. health-insurance companies: +87
  • Percentage Change in the profits of the top ten insurance companies: +428
  • Chances that an American bankrupted by medical bills has health insurance: 7 in 8
  • Number of states that have run out of money for unemployment insurance: 16
  • Date on which Illinois stopped paying to bury the corpses of the indigent: 7/1/2009
  • Year by which Atlanta plans to have destroyed all its public housing: 2010
  • Percentage of total U.S. home values that Americans currently own as equity: 41
  • Percentage in 1945: 84
  • Estimated value of troubled assets bought last fall by the federal government from U.S. banks, for each $1 spent: 66 cents
  • Rank of the United States among the world's most peaceful countries, according to the 2009 Global Peace Index: 83
  • Number of states in which a plurality of voters currently identify as Republican: 5
  • Chances that a U.S. conservative displays an "implicit preference" for white over black people in psychological study: 4 in 5
  • Chances that a liberal does: 3 in 4
  • Chances that an African American does: 2 in 5
Really uplifting, no?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hope Has Faded

Other people can say it with less passion, and therefore perhaps more convincingly than I. Something is terribly wrong with this administration those of us hoping for real change installed by our votes. You've read about my reservations on this administration before. But now I'm encountering more and more sentiments like these. These people aren't nearly as radical as I. These are the together Democrat types who placed an awful lot of faith in a guy who promised us that he was for us, not the special moneyed interests who had their hands around our government's throat. What they counted on and voted on, hope, has in the course of six-plus months of the Obama administration turned to resentment and anger. The bill of particulars is familiar to anybody who's been paying attention:
  • In health care reform: a sweetheart deal sealed with Big Pharm to severely limit the government's ability to negotiate for lower drug prices.
  • Appointment of dyed-in-the-wool Wall Street types to head up treasury and serve as O's chief economic advisor
  • O's caving to the Republicans on tax cuts in the $800 billion stimulus package, the same kind of tax cuts that led to the massive deficit Bush left us
  • Allowing the predatory credit card practices that the so-called "reform" bill of the industry stopped to continue for a 10-month grace period before the reforms took place, time the industry has used to engage in extraordinary gouging of millions of consumers. Allow me to quote: "Funny, I don't remember a similar grace period for homeowners who can't pay their mortgages. Couldn't we have had a homeowners' equivalent of the student loan program, through which the federal government would give homeowners no-interest loans for a couple of years to get them through the tough times so they don't lose their homes, particularly when the unemployment rate is near 10 percent because somebody else gambled with their incomes and assets, instead of giving banks zero-interest loans and allowing them to charge usurious rates on existing debt?"
  • Refusal to prosecute the perpetrators and planners of the American torture system
The list could be extended, but this is enough to raise serious questions about this administration. As the writer of this piece points out, the White House has steadfastly refused to focus the anger of millions upon millions Americans on the places it belongs: a fat cat banking system still making profits and paying huge bonuses on the backs of the taxpayers; the drug industry which has managed to negotiate itself out of any trimming of its exorbitant prices; mortgage brokers; regulators who did not regulate; the health care insurers who profit hugely by denying coverage to those who need it. And most of all to the soulless Republican party operatives who are willing to do anything, anything, to achieve their political ends. Which are twofold: to ruin Barack Obama and to advance the agenda of huge corporations, the very entities who are squeezing the life out of the rest of us. These are last bunch of bastards it makes any sense to snuggle with and play "bipartisanship" with. But these are the very people whose asses Obama seems all too willing to cover with kisses.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its nearest point. Somebody sent this to me today in email. It's too starkly beautiful not to share. I like to think that's heaven smiling down on us.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Arianna's on Top of It

I've been catching up on all the "Colbert Report's" I've not seen because of the recent trip, and tonight I watched one from a few days ago had Arianna Huffington as a guest. Now, aside from her alluring accent and looks, I have to say I pretty much agree with her whatever she says about politics. Plus, I've seen her many times on television, and I don't think I've ever seen her lose her cool. (Of course, she doesn't sit down and chat with a-holes such as Glen Beck, Bill O'Reilly, or people of that ilk.) She and I almost always agree, so is it strange that I consider her a truly sensible person of the left? Take the latest piece in the HP. She takes Obama to task--complete with numerous quotes from the campaign stump and documents--for fudging away the promises he made on health care reform. I.e., cutting a deal with loathsome Big Pharm, toeing their line on the extent of price cuts they are willing to take over the next ten years--which basically means giving up the option for negotiating drug prices for Medicare; Big Pharm denies this--plus expressing willingness to scuttle the public option on the whole plan. She points out, as I have, that to do these things is to throw away the cost savings that are so essential to making reform mean something. Apparently, she's like me: afraid that the administration is going to cave to the mindless but increasingly loud and nasty opposition. I think this is a well-placed fear.

Monday, August 10, 2009

So Many Fools . . .

I've withheld comment on the ongoing health care debate deliberately. For a couple of reasons. First, this is an ongoing story, and it's changing every day. Every day I read another piece, hear something on the radio, or see something on the TV that nuances my feelings about this whole question. I'm not even sure "nuances" is the proper word, because it suggests that there are delicacies in the discussion that have to be weighed and considered carefully.

But I ask you, how much weighing and consideration must be given to what the opponents of health care reform are saying? Take, for example, what the Alaskan bimbo, the former governor of that state Sarah Palin, wrote on the subject:
"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."
So what are we to do with this idiocy? Take it seriously? Hardly. How can you? Palin is playing on the same theme that outraged bands of citizens have been screaming at various town hall meetings: that the health care reform will ration old people out of the system when they get near the end of their lives. Some even screech that euthanasia will be mandated under the reform. To spend much of my time refuting this would be to waste my time. As one commentator has it: "Can we really live in a country populated by so many fools, people who can so readily, proudly and belligerently be made into tools of their own destruction? Can the greatest political, economic, cultural and military power on the world's stage possibly be so incredibly backward at its core?"

Yes. I'm afraid we can. I have long argued, indeed, it's become one of my principal themes that the American people are too dumb to know how they're being screwed. They are so dumb that they readily hit the streets and do the dirty work for the people who are screwing them. I'm not at all sanguine about this health care thing. Stay tuned, brothers and sisters. The current state of things will either get worse or it will get better. Either way, I don't have much hope the American people at large will benefit.

I'm really proud of myself for not going really crazy about the magnitude of the outrageous behavior we're watching every night on the tube lately. So many fools. Way too many. Way, way too many.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Insanity Anniversary

This is the mushroom cloud from the atom bomb the United States dropped on the city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, 64 years ago today. Three days earlier, the US had dropped a similar bomb on the city of Hiroshima. (Wikipedia has an excellent, informative piece here.) The combined death toll for these horrific weapons was somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000, if post-war cancers and other bomb-induced maladies are figured into the picture. Nobody really knows. The estimates are all over the place. Suffice to say, the populations of these unfortunate cities were basically wiped out, for all practical purposes.

To date these are the only nuclear weapons that have ever been detonated in a war. Most Americans have conveniently forgotten or filed away in some drawer never opened the recollection that this country is the only one to have ever employed these awful, inhuman weapons. I remember how causally Air Force guys would talk about using these accursed things on the communists. It was then and there, if not before, I concluded that this country had gone mad. Things have not improved since then.

What we're looking at here is the reason the Cold War never went hot. No one in their right mind would ever want a repeat of the destruction wrought on these two cities. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate terror weapon. That a weapon so indiscriminate in its destruction and lethality would actually be employed is simply beyond the imagination of any sane person. Thankfully, the leaders of the nations who possess these weapons have until now been sane.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tangentially Related

There was a complete mob scene today at Abbey Road in north London. It's the 40th anniversary of Abbey Road, the last album produced by what is probably the most influential, and certainly most famous, band in popular music history. I'll never forget the sinking, almost despairing feeling I had when I heard that the Beatles were breaking up as a band. This was in 1970, as I recall. It was impossible. How could this group that had brought us all through the '60s with a sense of sanity in those insane times . . . how could they be leaving us? Only six years before had they come to my attention--in 1964 when they burst into the American consciousness like an explosion in the skulls of everybody from about the age of 12 to 25. I was a junior going on senior in college in 1964, and I can remember the first Beatles album released in America, Meet the Beatles. Somebody got a copy of it, and we played the grooves off the thing in the dorm. Over and over. Everybody knew all the words. You could hear the album playing when you were walking to class or cafeteria. It was in the atmosphere, just like the band itself would be for the next several years. I loved the Beatles from that point to this point, a long, long time later. Part of the so-called British Invasion, the Beatles were better than all the rest put together. And that included some pretty good bands: The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, et al. Kids today, who swim in a sea of media, will never understand what the Beatles were back in those days. There won't ever be anything like it again. Abbey Road is my favorite Beatles album today. Ask me tomorrow and it could be any of three or four more: Rubber Soul, Help!, Sgt. Pepper, The White Album . . . Hell, they didn't make any mediocre, much less bad, albums. I think if I were in London, who knows I might have been part of the mob; I'm with them in spirit anyway.

And in keeping with one of my recurring subjects here, and not necessarily out of place at the end of a piece about the Beatles, I should note this article that points out five reasons we should be growing hemp. All of the reasons are solid and some of them pressing: better paper, fiber, fuel from hemp than what we use now, and more. The piece isn't long. Read it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Well, I'm home after another unpleasant encounter with the torture that is flying in the United States. I'm almost to the point where I'm not going to do any more flying. No matter how great the trip, and this was a really fun trip I'm just getting home from, you can bet the frigging airport/airline experience is going to screw it up. Said experience on my return from Utah was no exception. It began first thing in Salt Lake City airport when so-called Homeland Security confiscated an $18 bottle of Colorado Syrah because I had it in my carry-on luggage and it was more than 3.5 ounces. DAMN! I didn't want to forget the wine, and several days before I had put it in the carry-on bag. I had already forgotten another bottle of nice wine at my brother-in-law's house in Denver, and didn't want to repeat the same performance. In the meantime, my wife, on another airline (trust me, there's good explanation as to why this happened this way--wife on same trip, different airline) has an unopened bottle of chocolate-raspberry Pinot Noir syrup and a jar of honey confiscated by TSA for being over 3 oz. So keeping the country secure from wine, syrup, and honey cost me about $40 this trip. Little enough to pay knowing that I'm helping thwart terrorists armed with chocolate syrup and honey. And the thought of some knuckle-dragging TSA slug drinking my wine just really frosts me. (I was assured that they would "dispose of" the wine. Yeah. Right. Down their gullets is more like it.)

And then the raft of other delights: cattle car seating in the aircraft; ditto in the waiting area; the waiting itself; proving your identity several times; taking off your shoes, belt, hat, emptying your pockets; being scanned; in general being treated like you're a criminal because you have no other choice other than to subject yourself to this when you travel because this country in its great wisdom tore up the best railway system in the world fifty years ago. Unless you want to subject yourself to the joys of driving a long distance. But that's another post. Tell me I'm not pissed. Yet another delightful flying experience.

The airline industry is tottering on the brink of ruin, I'm reading. How much you wanna bet we bail them out too because they're too vital to the economy to have them fail?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Neither Rain, Nor Snow . . .

Just noticed that the US Postal Service has decided to close hundreds of post offices across the country. Reason: people aren't writing letters anymore, businesses aren't sending as many circulars, people aren't paying their bills by mail, and magazines have skinnied down so they are lighter and therefore cheaper to send. And of course, USPS is losing money. $7 billion projected for this year. And according to the GAO, they're not innovating nearly fast enough--despite the regular and, so it seems to me, more frequent increases in rates.

All perfectly understandable, except maybe the business flier part. Don't know about you, but you couldn't deduce this from what appears in my mail every day. I can honestly tell you that there are probably fewer than one in a hundred of the pieces of junk mail we get that gets read or even glanced at. Junk mail goes automatically into the recycle bin. This cannot be a unique procedure. Doesn't everybody do this? And one other thing: how much waste and environmentally destruction is represented by junk mail? To me, it's on a par with bottled water, 98 percent of packaging, and disposable anythings as symbols of our profligate late-capitalistic lifestyle. (FYI, you can get great instructions about how to reduce your own personal level of junk advertising right here. By the way, no, everybody doesn't dispose of junk mail without reading it. According the link just cited, only half of the junk mail goes in the trash unread. And are you ready for this? Amount of junk mail sent each year: 400 million tons!)

Of course people aren't writing letters anymore. They have email. Even people without computers have email. Have you checked the banks of publicly accessible computers in libraries lately? Always jammed. The days when people would sit down and actually handscribe a letter to family or friends are as gone as the dodo bird. But, boy, don't you love getting them? I think the future of Christmas cards, another huge category of mailed matter, is also grim. Everybody's noticed a drop in their numbers of cards, simultaneously with the paring down of their own Christmas mailing lists.

And skinny magazines? Like newspapers, magazines are struggling to stay alive. As advertising shrinks, so does the bulk of magazines. Pretty soon, not many of them are going to be around either.

Everything we're talking about here is emblematic of the post-modern world we now inhabit. Old ways go, new ways come. The intrepid mail-carrier in the snow, sleet, and rain going about his appointed rounds, even he won't be able to survive the way the winds are blowing now.