Saturday, November 29, 2008

Killing for a bargain

In what ought to go down as one of the most disgusting events of 2008, shoppers massed outside a Long Isalnd, NY Walmart yesterday morning and trampled store employees (killing one) on their way into the store for the early bargains.

According to this article from Msnbc.COM,
Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

Police are trying to ID the proximately guilty parties by viewing store security tapes, but may not be able to ever figure out exactly who trampled whom. So they may all get off scott free.

Worse, our culture of unlimited self-gratification, made even more urgent by our patriotic necessity to consume for the good of the state, will also be getting off scott free this year as every year.

If none of the people involved in this atrocity is arrested, it would at least be poetic justice for all of them to be required to join the Rev. Billy's Church of Stop Shopping.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Capitalism's dirty little secret

In a blog of today's date on MSN Money entitled Why a bailout won't save Detroit, Anthony Mirhaydari addresses the issue of market saturation vis the US auto industry. He points out that
"The United States now has 981 cars for every 1,000 people of driving age compared to 613 in the United Kingdom and just 24 in China. As a result, no amount of government aid will stop the factory closures and layoffs. "

It seems to me that this is the problem with capitalism in general -- it's based on the premise of unlimited demand, and unlimited natural resources, without which, companies can't survive. And it's especially a problem for enormous, capital-intensive businesses that need a constant supply of new business just to pay the upkeep on their physical plant.

We, the people (referred to as "consumers" by economists and marketing people) exist, as far as capitalism is concerned, to consume the output of these huge enterprises. Rather than making products as a response to demand, these businesses make the products first and it then becomes our patriotic duty as citizens to consume those products. This cart-before-the-horse situation can only be maintained through a combination of manipulating people's desires and extending them credit to finance the purchase of products they can't afford (and often don't need).

Hence, the annual media hand-wringing about the Christmas retail season and whether "consumers" will do their duty and buy lots of stuff no one needs in order to keep the economy on track.

The current economic slowdown (train wreck might be more accurate) seems to demonstrate that, without constant maintenance of the demand stimulation machinery in conjunction with an endless supply of cheap credit, people stop being "consumers" and revert to a state of just buying what they need. Needless to say, this is a terrible problem for the captains of industry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bailing out the behemoths

As someone who has been driving small, fuel-efficient foreign cars since the late 60s, I don't have much respect for the people at the top of the US auto industry. People who as recently as last year were lobbying against fuel economy standards that my '68 Saab and '63 VW had already achieved. People who once stated that "Americans will never drive front wheel drive cars." People who built big fat gas guzzlers and assured us all that "that's what America wants" while at least 5 Asian car makers got rich making small and efficient cars for the same market.

Until proven with solid numbers, I flatly refuse to believe the received wisdom of the US auto trade press that American car companies can't compete because US labor costs are so much higher than they are everywhere else. This is pretty hard to swallow -- first, because, for at least a decade, Japan and Europe have had higher standards of living than the USA. Second, because the US has one of the least effective union movements in the world. And third, because the Japanese at least seem to be able to make excellent automobiles either in Japan or here in the USA and they seem to be able to make money at it.

The undending nonsense that issues from mouthpieces for the big-3 (as they have been called, but maybe not much longer) does not lend credence to their claims that the economy -- and not their management -- are responsible for their plight. For instance, recently, during a PBS interview, a GM spokesperson said they hadn't invested in hybrids because they didn't feel it would have been a good business decision. The PBS interviwer pointed out that Toyota was "eating your lunch" with their Prius hybrid, an observation that provoked only a sullen expression from the spokesperson.

I think Michael Moore's excellent film, Roger and ME, captured the arrogance that underlies decision-making at GM, if not at other US auto makers.

However -- and this is a big however -- the big three are a major source of employment for Americans and of tax revenue for entire regions of the country. Punishing those people for the sins of corporate automotive leaders is unfair and economically worse than unwise.

Certainly if giving money with no strings attached to the likes of CitiGroup is OK as government policy, then it ought to be OK to give it to the arguably more strategic auto industry.

It is not clear whether bankruptcy and reorganization mightn't be a better option for the big three than a simple taxpayer handout, but, if the handout were actually given with appropriate controls -- unlike what is being done with Wall Street -- there might be some possibility of a salubrious outcome.

Moe, Larry, and Curly

Each time I read, hear, or watch a news item on the economy, I expect to see the Three Stooges giving a press conference. Actually, that's really an insult to the holy three, who, I'm sure, would be a welcome change in this climate of venality and stupidity rewarded with taxpayer cash.

Our illustrious Treasury Secretary (late of Goldman Sachs, where he lobbied for some of the things that have helped to sink the economy) told Congress that, unless they passed a Wall Street bailout plan tout de suite, the economy would implode. And, just to ensure the speedy passage of said plan, there could be no time to put rules, regulations, preconditions on how the bailout money was to be used.

Within a couple of weeks, I read a story in The Financial Times about how CitiGroup wasn't sure how they were going to use the $25B they had just received from the American taxpayer. They might want to use it to fund a buyout of another bank. Huh??!! I asked out loud as I heaved the paper across the room. Can they do that? And why doesn't the Financial Times article say anything about how bizarre it is? I thought the money was supposed to re-capitalize their lending operations so that more money would be available in the economy for borrowers? Foolishly, I had assumed that Congress had at least insisted on this as a condition of the bailout. Wrong!!!

A few days ago, leading bankers were called to a Senate committee to discuss this very issue. However, all they got was a polite request to behave themselves. And, in response, they got statements from bankers like "we have no intention at this time of using the funds for any other purpose."

It should be obvious -- but apparently is not -- that the public shouldn't be asking these guys to behave; that's what got us into this mess in the first place: the assumption that big, pwerful men at the helms of big, powerful corporations would behave in the public interest if left entirely to themselves. The public should be telling these smug, rich, self-indulgent, cold-blooded SOBs what will be done to them if they don't behave.

Apprently, though, that's not to happen. Amazingly, despite the clear fact that lack of government oversight has allowed these overpaid CEOs to run amuck for years, now unprecedented amounts of taxpayer money are being handed over them with no strings attached.


This is the ultimate test of the will of the people versus the will of big business: if, after demonstrating just how ruthless they are, if, after going on a binge of reckless "investing" that has led to the meltdown in the world economy, if, after showing how unrepentant they are, these guys are allowed to continue with business as usual, then we are all in big trouble. If we the people are too cowed to fight back against corporate greed, then we are well on our way to becoming Argentina or some such 3rd world paradise.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I quit! Nyeh nyeh!!!

I recently received an email which was a fantasy on President Bush writing a kiss-off letter to America. The core concept of this missive was that we Americans have been very unfair to Mr. Bush and that he has done an exemplary job while putting up with totally unjustified attacks from those goddamn libruls.

My own version of such a letter might be something like this:
Dear America:

I quit! No, not to avoid impeachment; it's defintely too late for that now. And anyhow, that industrial shredder van that's been parked at the vice president's house for the past 4 years has chopped up the paper trail that they'd need to make a decent case for impeachment. Not that there would be one of course.

No, I quit because I'm sick of being reviled and made fun of.

Take the Iraq war for instance: the idea that I would lie to start a war -- why that's totally erogenous. Let me tell you how the Iraq War idea came about. When my dad was president during Gulf War I, Paul Wolfowitz came to him with a proposal to finish off Saddam Hussein while we were in the neighborhood (so to speak). Dad threw this idea in the waste basket, but, fortunately, I was standing behind the door in the Oval office, and, when Dad went off to take a leak, I grabbed Wolfowitz's proposal from the trash and held on to it.

When I became president, I hired Wolfowitz because I really liked his idea of pre-emptive war; just think if you could invade everyone who was going to do harm to our great USA before they could get a chance to do it! What a great idea!

So, some of us folks in my administration (smart people like Don Rumsfeld, Richard Pearl) were trying to figure out how and when we could take Saddam out before he could attack us. Then, when Saddam told Osama ben Laden to attack the World Trade Center, it seemed like high time to get the bastard.

So where's the lie? Maybe Saddam didn't attack the World Trade Center personally, but we know he was on the phone to Osama ben Laden all the time telling him what to do. And, with thousands of weapons of mass destruction just waiting to be used against Amerika, it was only a metter of time before something worse happened.

And the economy - I'm realy sick of the whining libruls claiming I broke the economy. I just did what any red-blooded American conservative would have done: I complained loudly about the tax-and-spend libruls, then ran up the largest budget deficit in American history. Well, I mean, whose fault is that really? We had to go to war to protect precious American freedom, which we wouldn't have had to do if Bill Clinton had shown some balls and really taken out Osama bin Laden like I did.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear Sen. McCain

There will be plenty of monday morning quarterbacking about why you lost, but I doubt it will be as insightful as my own in-depth analysis. I say that only because of the low level of received wisdom already spewed out from the media on this subject and, frankly also because of the media-reinforced idea that the entire significance of Sen. Obama's win is that he is African-American -- as though a monkey had learned to speak, a notion reinforced by your own carefully-worded concession speech.

A few years ago, I thought you were a decent guy -- for a Republican: you had made some pointed remarks about the religious right, you were pro-stem-cell research, you would at least admit that the Iraq war was incompetently managed (if not the more significant fact that it was unjustified)

Once you decided to run for President, however, you seemed to abandon your maverick credentials as you began an uninterrupted campaign to appeal to the worst elements of your party.

For me, you committed four big offenses during your campaign:

1. First, you made a pilgrimage to the high priests of religious intolerance, hoping to add their endorsement to your coffer of support. Unlike Obama, who seemed able to appeal to Christians without having to drag a fetus into every conversation, you went whole hog for the support of people who think evolution is a hoax, gay people should be burned at the stake, and that God blesses America and curses other countries we don't agree with.

2. Second, you assserted that, in spite of 30 years of conservative economics in control of public policy, we needed MORE of same in order to restore the economy to health. It's your bad luck that the economy happened to be imploding during the campaign -- as a clear result of deregulation feeding corporate greed -- but, hey, as Joe the Plumber would undoubtedly say, "shit happens!"

3. You chose Sarah Palin as your running mate. While Barack Obama chose a seasoned, intelligent, less liberal senator as his running mate -- sending a signal of his intent to move toward the middle -- you chose someone inexperienced, more conservative than you are, with a voice like a rusty gate hinge -- sending a signal that you wanted to pander to the right wing of your party rather than move toward the center.

4. Last -- and definitely not least -- you ran the most negative campaign I've ever witnessed. This is not just my opinion; you even alienated members of your own party and Republican political operatives, who thought your unrelenting (and mostly grossly exaggerated) attacks on Obama were a tactical mistake, if not a downright insult to the political process. And, even when you seemed to be toning down the nasty rhetoric, your running mate seemed all too eager to ramp it up.

This is one of the most pusszling things about your campaign, considering that you were the recipient of the same kind of treatment from the Karl Rove machine in 2000 and were angered, hurt, and repelled by it. Apprently, based on the current campaign, only because you hadn't thought of it first.

Last, you lost because Sen. Obama was clearly superior -- not because he was African-American -- but because he is intelligent, disciplined, charismatic, knowledgeable and, perhaps, most important, was willing to "stick to his guns" about what he thinks is right and not simply pander to the worst fears, worst tendencies, and worst people of his base.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Real Meaning of Christianity

I received an email today -- one of those that's been around the world several times, passed on by the well-intentioned for the edification of others of their ilk, but occasionally received by someone like me.

It contained photos of various presidents with the question, asked by a hypothetical mother, "Why did my son have to die in..." (supply the president and country of your favorite war.)

It ends with the following
'Heavenly Father .. why did my Son have to die on a cross outside of Jerusalem ?'

The answer is always the same... 'So that others may live and dwell in peace, happiness, and freedom.'

This was emailed to me with no author. I thought the magnitude and the simplicity were awesome.

If you are not willing to stand BEHIND our troops,
Please, please feel free to stand in front of them....

I'm really grateful to the person who passed this on to me; being only a Christmas and Easter Christian myself (and half a Jew to boot) I can always stand to have my religious knowledge updated.

I had been operating under the false impression that Jesus said "blessed are the peace-makers" but, thanks to this email, I now know he actually said "blessed are the warmongers" and it was simply mis-translated. After all, from Aramaic to Hebrew to Greek to Latin to Olde Englishe to Middle English to Modern English, he might have been giving a recipe for blintzes for all we know!

Clearly, modern American Christians know a lot more about what Jesus and the heavenly father have in mind than I do. For instance, it would never occur to me to say "God Bless America." Perhaps this comes from the Jewish side of my personality; in the Jewish faith, one doesn't petition God for new blessings so much as thank God for blessings already received.

In other words, Jews don't generally view God as a wish-granting ATM, but I'm beginning to think they are just behind the times. After all, when you live in a Christian country (as we have been told this is) and it is obvious that Christians have a direct line to the Almighty, what's wrong with using that special relationship to get a little something extra for the country we love?

And, when you understand that, although God is infinite and eternal, he has a special place in his heart for this one country that has existed for, what, 230 years, it only makes sense to claim him for ourselves and to hell with the rest of the world. Nya nya, God likes us best.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cuban Missile Crisis Redux

Just read that the Russians are planning Naval exercises with Venezuela in the Caribbean later this year, in what seems to me to be a predictable response to US meddling in Eastern Europe.

This is reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which at the time was presented here at home as Soviet aggression in Cuba, but which was actually a reaction to US placement of missiles in Turkey. What finally ended the crisis was not, as popularly thought, simply the threat of nuclear war ("Kruschev blinked") but was rather a quiet agreement for us to remove our missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Russians removing theirs in Cuba.

I can predict that we will read a slew of self-righteous articles in the right-wing press about the Russian insult to the USA (how dare they meddle in our hemisphere!) along with ominous threats from the Bush administration. And, of course, a supporting chorus will be provided by FOX News and other organs of the national stupidity. No doubt, Mssrs. O'Reilly and Limbaugh will demand that we nuke Moscow or something equally helpful.

Kennedy was a hawk, but not as stupid a hawk as Bush is. If Bush were Kennedy, we might see a gradual reversal of our policy of courting the Georgians and the Poles and trying to put missile technology on Russia's border. But, since Bush is Bush, we're more likely to see Ms. Rice sent on a a so-called goodwill tour of other countries on Russia's borders to let them know of our committment to "freedom and democracy," while getting them to sign onto missile (defense) systems for their own countries.

It seems that, in the last few months of his lame-duck presidency, Bush wants to add to his legacy of pissing off the middle east and our former allies in western europe, by bringing back the cold (and maybe not so cold) war as well.

Friday, September 5, 2008

It's all over for the special interests

Oh really? I think McCain must mean grassroots groups like MoveOn or People for the American Way, since he likes to bash those sorts of pesky libruls.

As for the special interests that have been in charge of the country for decades, those are his buddies -- I can hardly imagine he is going to repudiate them. And how could he, running, as he does, under the banner of the party that owes everything to the rich and powerful? And why is he complaining about special interests anyhow? After all, in the past 28 years Republicans have controlled Congress, the Presidency, or both quite a bit of the time. Is he dissatisfied with the job they did? Then why not run as an independant or a Democrat or a socialist (haha)? You certianly can't repudiate the direct consequences of Republican leadership while running as a Republican.

Oh, but, here in America, where politics are entertainment, you can do just that. You can espouse the principles of the Republican party, while pretending to condemn all the problems that lead from the application of those principles.

What does this say for the claim that "it's all over for the special interests"? As my mother would say, it's just a lot of hot air.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Beating the Repubs at their own game

My friend Michael sent me a link to an article about why Sarah Palin shouldn't be under-estimated. The aritcle discusses George Lakoff's assessment of Republican strategy. My reading of his argument is that , while the Democrats may have a better grasp of reality, the Republicans are able to connect to the hearts and minds of voters.

I think it's a brilliant analysis, but with fatally flawed conclusion, it seems to me. Having correctly I think diagnosed that the campaign is not about reality but rather about symbolism, he then posits what is essentially a reality-based response, which is encapsulated in his sentence --

Democrats, in addition, need to call an extremist an extremist: to shine a light on the shared anti-democratic ideology of McCain and Palin, the same ideology shared by Bush and Cheney.

But that sort of reality-based, truth-invested approach is what he says doesn't work --- and it clearly doesn't where the populace is asleep in a shared dream of Reagan's hometown Amerika.

I don't think people like Lakoff or people like us can really accept what is necessary to nullify the Repubs -- and that is to be as dirty, unprincipled, dishonest, manipulative, sleazy, and generally uncaring about anything but winning as they are. And I don't advocate it either, because I think if you decide you can borrow the Devil as a kind of hired thug -- just for a short while -- the next thing you know you are the Devil.

What I realized last night -- just from hearing second-hand about the Repub convention -- I couldn't bear to watch it -- is that Amerikan conservatism, especially since Reagan, makes me feel ambivalent about the right of free speech and makes me empathize with how authoritarian governments can get themselves into the no-win battle of suppressing dissidents, sending them off to gulags, confiscating their writings, etc. What we have in the Repubs is what the Russkies used to call reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries. I can't help feeling from time to time that a Jacobin-style purge would be a good thing. Much as I know it's wrong (do I?) there would be something at least temporarily satisfying about sending them all to the guillotine. But, then, of course, see my comment about the Devil above.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

All pandering, all the time

There's plenty of equine excrement flowing from the propaganda organs of both parties as the 2008 election grinds along. But honestly, what emanates from the Republicans seems to be nothing but pandering. There's not an original idea nor anything that smells like risk-taking (if you don't count McCain's choice for VP, which seems rather risky to me) in their various pronouncements.

Their ideas on foreign policy?
The war in Iraq was a good idea. We need more foreign policy based on waving the national dick in the air.

Their ideas on the economy?
* Americans are taxed too much. Even though, since 1980, American economic policy has been in the hands of neocon economists and the politicians who venerate them. Taxes on the rich have gone down steadily in that time and the economy has gotten weaker and weaker as our national debt has gotten larger and larger. Yet the Republicans still think taxes should be lower.

Their ideas on energy policy?
* Have a gas tax holiday. Even though this would encourage consumption and not make much difference to real people. And, even if it did, how come the public has to take a hit by losing gas tax revenue while the oil companies continue to rake in record profits? Instead of an 18c/gal gas tax holiday, why not an 18c/gal oil company discount? Why is big oil's "right" to make record profits protected by plundering the American people's tax revenue stream? After all, if lowering the cost of gasoline is such good policy, then let the oil companies chip in something, too.

* Drill for more oil in the few places we haven't raped and pillaged yet. Scientists and resource economists have been warning for decades that -- wonder of wonders -- petroleum is not an unlimted resource. Yet Republicans have blocked every effort at conservation or alternative energy development. Now that the stark reality of what should have been obvious for years is smacking them in the ballot box, their brilliant new idea is to drill for more and more of what we will have less and less of as time goes on.

* Improve automobile efficiency. A good idea finally - why then have Republicans blocked every effort over the past 50 years to force Detroit to build more efficient cars? Only when we are in the middle of a crisis do they grudgingly admit that maybe we might be able to have a fleet average mileage above 25 mpg. And, were the price of oil to drop suddenly, they would be back leading the fight against conservation and efficiency.

* Subsidize fuel-efficient cars with tax credits. A good idea, but one that has already been in place for several years.

* Build more nuclear power plants. I'm personally not averse to this, but the Republicans blithely refuse to acknowledge that there might be any risks or problems to solve (such as waste disposal) in doing this.

Their ideas on the unravelling of the American family?

* More religion, less abortion

What is worse than the low-brow, grinding stupidity of their ideas is the sanctimonious manner in which they are presented; any questioning is greeted with "You don't you care about the American family?!"

Do Republicans have their fingers crossed behind their backs when they say these things? Are they so cynical that they know it's all nonesense, but it's what's needed to motivate their voters? Or are they so stupid as to truly believe that ideas which have proven resoundingly to be bad public policy in the past are great ideas now?

I don't know which is worse -- the notion that the Republican party has been hijacked by cynical sleazebags or simply that they are well-meaning idiots.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Confederate Flag is not the Canadian Flag

An AP story of 8/13/08 details the efforts by Tennessee teen Tommy Defoe to be allowed to wear his confederate belt buckle and other confederate memorabilia to school, which would be currently a violuation of the school's written dress code. Naturally, the plaintiff alleges that it is a straightforward matter of freedom of speech. According to the AP article,

"DeFoe's lawsuit questions why other symbols aren't banned, including the Mexican flag, the Canadian flag, political campaign buttons and images of Martin Luther King Jr."

This is the sort of sophistry that, it seems to me, is an insult to freedom of speech and its preservation. In what context is there any reasonable juxtaposition of the Confederate and the Canadian or Mexican flags? Does the plaintiff really want to contend that the Confederate flag was just the flag of a country and not, in fact, the symbol of an arrogance and a way of life that arguably have left a legacy of poisonous relations between blacks and whites in this country to this day?

And the comparison to images of Dr. King?! Dr. King stood for non-violent resistance to racism, for the right to peaceful assembly to redress grievances, for the individual rights of the disenfranchised. Can anyone with a functioning conscience dare to stand up and say "the Confederacy and Dr. King -- it's really the same thing"?

A part of me agrees with what the hate speech apologists say: freedom of speech is freedom of speech; you can't pick and choose. And yet is there not a type of symbol and a kind of speech that is so dedicated purely to hate that we as a society can and should ban its use? Nazism and the Swastika come immediately to mind: both are banned in Germany. Does anyone doubt that freedom of expression is alive and well in Germany? Is the quality of German life diminished by the ban of something that seems to most of us to be emblematic of pure hatred?

Similarly, does the Conferderate flag not represent a most shameful past -- a time when white human beings could and did own black human beings and a time, after the emancipation proclamation, when white human beings could and did terrorize black human beings (activities which continue today in some parts of the south, no doubt by people who would love to see the Conferederate flag on every belt buckle in America)? And, more to the point, does it not represent racism today?

Perhaps that is the crux of the matter: both the Swastika and the Conferederate flag are of more than just historical significance; they both represent unfinished business in our societies: just as there are neo-nazis today who venerate and would like to see the return of nazi policies, there are confederacy worshippers here and now who yearn for the good ole days of the old south, when whites were in charge and darkies knew their place.

This is why it seems to me that these symbols belong in history books and museums, but not as part of anyone's personal adornment, nor flying above anyone's statehouse. In books and museums, they can enlighten and inform us about some of our less savory past, a past which deserves not to be swept under the rug, but not to be celebrated either. On someone's belt buckle -- or on a T-shirt or an armband, or a poster, or as graffitti -- the symbol is not "educational;" rather it is a proclamation of intent to keep alive the evil of racism and race hatred.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Punishing the Russians

The suggestion this week, after Russia's thuggish smackdown of the Republic of Georgia, that "we" (meaning the other imperialist powers, incl the USA and Britain) should punish the Russians is laughable.

First, from a practical standpoint, just what does Bush, Brown, et al think they can do that is meaningful, short of starting WWIII?

More to the point, especially as regards the USA and Great Britain, is the lack of moral authority we have to condemn anyone these days. Is Russia's behavior more thuggish than that of our ally Israel when she bombed the crap out of Lebanon over the kidnapping of a soldier? Is Russia more of a scoflaw than the USA, which started a war in Iraq over nothing, resulting in the deaths of of least 10s of thousands of Iraquis?

At least the Russians can claim a couple of facts (whether these facts are justifications is a matter of opinion): first, Georgia was part of the Russian/Soviet empire for 2 centuries. Second, Georgia is on Russia's doorstep and in a very critical and strategic location, made more so by US military presence in the region and by our inflammatory invitiation for Georgia to join NATO. Last (although this is as yet unproven) Georgia started it by invading South Ossetia.

What amazes me is how rank-and-file Americans can work themselves into a righteous frenzy over Russia's bad behavior, while ignoring our own indiscretions as well as the larger context of our involvement in their back yard. Why is our imperialism OK, but theirs isn't? If you are an imperialist, stepping on other people is part of your job description. If you want to condemn imperialism, you need to quit your job as the world's chief imperialist first.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

How Free-market capitalists clean up their disaster

In a Washington Post article of today's date entitled Credit crisis triggers unprecedented response, the paper discusses the supposed conflict that free-market capitalists such as Treasury Secy Paulson are feeling as they are "forced" by circumstances to take "unprecedented" action to shore up the ailing credit system.

But the article misses the point entirely, as do the free-market capitalists who got us into this mess in the first place. What Secy. Paulson and Ben Bernake are doing to "fix" the crisis is simply strong-arming the taxpayer into underwriting all the bad debt floating around the economy so that the large, sleazy institutions whose rapacious lending practices caused the problems will be protected from the conequences of their actions.

Nowhere in the article nor in the actions and speeches of the people involved do we hear plans to seriously re-regulate and/or enforce regulation of the institutions and the practices that have arguably led to the great depression of 2008, 2009, 2010, who knows how long!

The approach by the Fed and Treasury is completely consistent with the behavior of free-market capitalism: de-regulate everything so that cowboy capitalists can get rich and then, when the imbalances that result are too large to ignore, get the poor taxpayer -- the majority of whom are middle class and who, I point out, have already suffered financially from the scams of these cowboys -- to pay the bill.

It would be hilarious if it weren't so sad.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why I hate American fundamentalism

It seems to me that true religious belief derives from a sense that there may be something greater than oneself. This can manifest while you are sitting quietly in a beautiful church or a beautiful hill of flowers in the Vermont countryside. Or by contemplating the utter wierdness of quantum physics. Or the miracle of DNA. Or when you visit an art museum or hear a Bach fugue or a late Beethoven quartet. Or visit the Alhambra, where you will see beauty so exquisite as to be almost unbearable. Or a million other experiences that lead to that most personal of moments, a sense -- however brief -- of the divine.

On the other hand, fundamentalism - at least the American, protestant version -- seems to be almost completely disconnected from this sense of wonder, beauty, and joy and to be more of a thought-control movement with a rigid moralistic agenda, enforced by flogging a literal reading of the New Testament (or sometimes the Old Testament if it serves their needs). No beauty, no joy, no kindness, no tolerance -- just rules of behavior, which even the leaders of these fundamentalist movements seem unable to follow, if the number of scandals plaguing the highest levels of the fundy leadership is anything to go by.

From their suburban-looking houses of worship, which often seem more like malls than churches, to their saccharine nouveau-Christian elevator music, there is little or no beauty. Do they forsake stained glass and Bach cantatas because of alack of funds? Or do they fundamentally distrust beauty and feel that their buildings and their music should serve only the utilitiarian purpose of selling Jesus as personal savior? (Or could they simply be so suburbanized in their basic asthetics as to be unaware of an unmoved by beauty?)

Fundy's have replaced real religious contemplation by the blind worship of Jesus Christ superstar as the path to personal salvation, a notion so patronizing, so "look at how much better I am than you" as to be more related to the reason people stand in line for the latest Apple iPhone than to anything reognizable as spiritualty.

And then there is their attitude toward science: while it seems to me that science leads one closer to the divine -- and, historically, science has often been the province of priests -- American fundy's are fiercely anti-science, many of them denying the reality of natural selection, for example. Though their Bible tells them that God created us in his image, apparently he did so with the caveat that we are not supposed to use our brains.

Non of which would matter - everyone can go to hell in his own way - if it weren't for the fact that these fundamentalist organizations -- of which there are now thousands -- enjoy non-profit IRS status and 1st amendment protection -- the same as real religions -- and use these public benefits to amass large amounts of tax-free money, which they use to support political causes directly inimical to civil rights and social justice.

From their attempts to pollute public discourse about the teaching of science in schools to their unrelenting campaigns against civil rights for gay people, to their so-called "pro-life" stance(which has condemned at least tens of thousands of children to lives of poverty and ignorance), to their obstructionism with respect to stem-cell research (thereby blocking research into life-saving treatments for horrible diseases), fundys are hiding behind freedom of religion to prosecute an agenda that has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with intolerance.

Were we as a nation to amend the Consitiution, I would strongly suggest we need a freedom from religion amendment to protect us from the small-minded bigotry which is the big business of fundamentalism.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Race problem

We have a "big race problem" in this country, evidenced not least by the fact that the mainstream media keeps flogging Obama's nomination as a big deal because he is black, rather than because he is liberal, in fact only the 2nd liberal (if you count Bill Clinton) to have a good shot at the White House in what has been more than 28 years of Republican-dominated government.

Of course, we can't get too excited about Obama as an agent of change -- after all, to become an American presidential candidate, you have to drink the KoolAid; our only hope is that he didn't drink too much or that maybe, like Clinton, he didn't swallow (or was that Monica?) Clearly, we are not going to have a revolution in which big business is sent packing, people like Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh are hanged in the public square and government of the people, by the people, and for the people comes to stay. Still, there are better presidentiual administrations and there are worse ones, Reagan's and both Bush's being arguably the worst in the history of the republic.

With luck, Obama may get to raise taxes on the rich and preside over the winding down of the war in Iraq and at least a reduction in the dominance of insurance companies in healthcare. Maybe he can keep big oil from further trashing Alaska and make some headway on global warming legislation.

He will be trying to do these things against the counterpull of a government bureaucracy weakened by years of cronyism and a Congress corrupted by money, by an economy left in tatters by Bush, by worsening global warming, by the changing demographics of our population, and by the constant yammering of the agents of evil clamoring for more of what Bush and Reagan have brought us.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

America is Karazy!

I had the epiphany today that the USA is crazy. And I mean this in more than just the flippant way we might say of someone "oh, he's crazy!" I mean that the USA (collectively anyhow) acts like a person living in what psychiatrists call a "delusional system."

We are now in what seems like the 10,000th month of the 2008 presidential campaign and nearly drowning intellectually in the cesspool of idea diahrea that issues from the cloaca of our national media. From the fatuous to the unfounded to the unfair to the irrelevant, nothing seems too idiotic to be reported, analyzed, dissected, and rebroadcast endlessly as regards the campaign. Like voices inside the head of a delusional person, the irrationality of this 24-hr barrage of idiocy threatens to overwhelm the saner part of the collective American consciousness and lead us as a nation dangerously closer and closer to a self-destructive act.

The media has turned its attention to discrediting Barack Obama. He's either not experienced enough or he's too liberal, or he has embarrassing associations with those who speak unpleasant truths about the land of the free and the home of the brave. There's more than an undercurrent of racism about this -- fear of black men, fear of the black community and what it might do if one of its own is president. But the mechanism is the same as with every other candidate the media decide to trash: sow doubts about experience, about competency, about moral fibre, about associations with people we're not supposed to approve of (eg Rev. Wright)

After the presidencies of Reagan and Bush II, it seems a bit late to make experience and competence a litmus test for the presidency. And on what basis could such a test be issued? Experience? Regan and Bush were former governors. Obama is a Senator, arguably a position even closer to the presidency. Competency? At one point, the Reagan White House was using an astrologer to decide who got to see the Presdent that day. And Bush II, an alcoholic whose poor use of the English language is, so far as I know, unique in presidential history, has "managed" the country into a war and what looks very much like the great depression of the 21st century.

Moral fibre? Let's see, our current president lied to start a war that serves no purpose and which has not only killed 100s of thousands, but may bankrupt our country for a generation to come. What defect in Obama's character can possbly compare to the things Bush has done?

Bad associations? Now we're getting closer to the nub of what is really scaring the media about Obama: the fear that he may actually represent one or more constituencies for change. Change of the kind that could threaten the elites who have managed to brainwash many Americans into thinking that lowering taxes on the rich is good for the poor, that attacking Iraq will make us stronger, that letting scoundrels plunder the economy is protection of "choice."

Unfortunately, while Obama is certainly to be preferred to McCain or Clinton, he is not Robin Hood and his election is unlikely to bring more than marginal change for the better. This fact alone should tell us that the firestorm of controversy over his candidacy is just more mental noise inside the collective head of our seriouslyh mentally ill country.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic

It's funny how, each time there's a national crisis, the Bush admin invents a new bureaucracy and/or consolidates old departments, but nothing useful ever gets done. As with new plans to re-organize the finacial regulatory bureaucracy. The problem isn't that there aren't the right federal agencies. The problem is that, thanks to the efforts of the relentless right-wing propaganda machine, there is a national attitude against regulating the rich and greedy (not to be redundant). The current financial mess could have been avoided by exercising prudent regulatory and legislative control using existing government structures. It does not require a new federal bureacucracy to:

* repeal the tax change that allows people to sell their primary residence tax free every two years, a change which helped fuel the real estate boom that is now going bust. Retain the change that allows a one-time tax-free sale for retirement-age homeowenrs.

* reinstate higher tax rates for the rich, who now pay only a tiny amount of their income in taxes

* reinstate higher short-term capital gains rates, thereby discouraging stock market gamblers and encouraging long-term investors

* conbsider repealing the mortgage tax deduction and replacing it with a housing allowance deduction that would apply to renters and home owners equally.

* repeal rules allowing brokerage houses to act as banks

* establish national standards for licensing of mortgage lenders and brokers

* outlaw mortgage advertising that only shows monthly payments based on a ridiculously low teaser rate. This sleazy practice is still going on -- as I write this, there are thousands of ads on the internet claiming to provide mortgages for unbelievably low rates. Why are these ads still allowed to exist after all the damage they have caused already?

* outlaw preditory practices by credit card companies, including zero-percent teaser rates designed to get you to transfer balances which then cause all new charges to be subject to a much higher finance rate until the zero balance is paid off

* re-establish consumer protection from usurious credit card rates

* appoint a new FCC chairman who will stop selling out the public's interests to the highest bidder, ie stop allowing media conglomerates, which then dominate public discourse with conservaive propaganda

* pass strict campaign financing laws, completely outlawing contributions to political campaigns by anyone except indivudal human beings. No organizational contributions. Period.

Well, that would be a start anyhow!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

America - Love it or leave it

The front window of my employer's shop sports a large banner with some sort of avian device and the slogan "America - love it or leave it." As my partner and I are both conspicuously under-employed and, since upstate, NY has an unemployment rate somewhat above the ever-climbing national average, I must needs grit my teeth, grin and bear it each day as I pass this low-brow piece of political philosophy on my way into or out of the office.

Something about the design of the banner reminds me uncomfortably of early Nazi displays. As I am ignorant of art and its styles, I can't put my finger on what it is, but , in the same way that one can immediately recognize early Soviet poster art (which I adore actually) the love-it-or-leave-it banner seems connected to early (and sinister) Nazi stuff.

My first day of work was quite uncomfortable, because I wondered whether I'd be able to keep my mouth shut if my new boss exhorted me with what I imagined might be a litany of the superiorities of the Bush administration, the Iraq war, corporate control of the media, and how we live in the best of all possible worlds. This never materialized, thank heaven and my co-workers seem not to take the boss' (and his wife's) politcal views seriously. Not that the views aren't serious, but rather that no one in his right mind would waste a thought on such nonsense.

Still, eight months later, I continue to notice the banner every work day and to wonder if social progress is just an illusion, ie that things never really get any better -- at least not for long. As with a house that's just been lovingly restored, one is forced to confront the reality that it could become totally dilapidated again, given time and circumstances.

The reversal of social progress that began in earnest under the Reagan adminsitration shows no sign of having run its course today. And, as with a house whose dilapidations have gone too far to be repairable, perhaps American society has reached the point of no return.

And, at least with houses, people generally agree that a renovated house is better than a ruined one. I'm not at all sure that the American national attitude parallels this belief.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Candidates - how about laying off each other and talking about the issues instead

Here's a quick piece of advice for all the candidates in the 2008 US presidential race: Stop talking about each other and start talking about the issues. I realize this advice is not novel, but it doesn't seem to be getting followed by most of the candidates either, especially McCain and Clinton.

I think it is fair to say that, even the dumbest members of the American electorate (all 239 million, 789 thousand, 499 of them) would rather hear talk of substance from the candidates than the continuous niggling, nitpicking, and criticism of each other that seems to be dominating their speeches.

If the mechanics of such a procedural change are eluding the candidates, let me cover how to go about it in a few easy points:

1. If the media ask for your reaction to what so-and-so has just said about you, simply answer something like "I'm sorry he/she feels that way. Now let's talk about the economy..." Don't allow yourself to be baited.

2. Do not yourself criticise other candidates. Period. When your mouth is open in public, what needs to be coming out of it is substance about the issues and what you as president would do.

3. If the media keep pressing for you to join in a pointless personality contest, state that you refuse to do so and, if they will not let you discuss the issues, then terminate the conversation.

4. Refuse to go on TV or radio interview shows where you cannot speak about issues. If you must go on, for example, Bill O'Reilly's show, threaten to get up and walk out the minute he either talks over you or tries to get you into a fight over what someone has said about you.

If you follow this scheme, we the people might actually learn something about your suitability for the presidency.