Wednesday, December 30, 2009

(click on image to enlarge)
A Couple of Car Rentals
I had occasion to rent two cars in recent weeks. The first was a one-hour Zipcar to run an errand while my old Passat was in the shop. The second was a ten-minute van rental. The Zipcar cost $8 for the hour. The van was a little higher. It came to $943, which is $5,658 on an hourly basis or $135,792 for a full 24 hour day rate.
Of course, the van was chauffered and had the word Ambulance written backwards on its front end. It transported me nine-tenths of a mile from my health plan to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where the driver and the other EMT on board checked me in and then joshed a bit with their colleagues in the lobby of the ER before heading off to their next run.
I’m sure the owners of the ambulance outfit can cite the enormous expense of running such an operation and would claim only modest, if any, profit. Hell, they might even be right--but I doubt it.
There are lots of things that separate our health care system from those of real first world countries. The most glaring are the numbers: they’re way out in the exosphere. Near a grand for a shorty ambulance ride! Drugs at $200 that cost $20 in Canada! Surgeries for a few thousand in Europe that are billed here at tens and even hundreds of thousands! U.S. health insurance execs with ‘compensation packages’ soaring into the hundreds of millions! Multi-billion dollar annual profits by the major health care players!
None of this will change when Obama’s health care bill goes into effect. The preposturous numbers will rise to humongous numbers, and then to whatever superlative comes above that. Indeed, the bill was written to insure that progression.
These, of course, are bubble prices, with no relation to reality. But there is no bubble in health care. Never was and never will be. Demand to stay alive and well is constant. Given that reality, the rules of the free market dictate that those who can keep us keeping on on this side of the River Styx can charge whatever the demand for survival will bear.
It’s openly admitted that 45,000 Americans cross that stream every year because they didn’t have the money to stay alive. If four or five of them had been killed by terrorists, we’d spend billions bombing bedouins into oblivion. But to croak from being broke, who cares?
Such deaths hardly exist in the real first world. There people are terrorized by socialistic governments that never send them stupendous bills for hospital stays, but instead pay for everyone’s good health by way of their own taxes. There a jiffy ambulance run priced at a grand would meet gasps of disbelief followed by sighs of relief that they don’t live in such a sick, money-grubbing madhouse.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

News Items You Might Have Missed

Bankers’ Acceptances
A cozen of prominent money center bankers visited with President Obama on Dec. 14 to check on how well he’s been representing their interests in Washington. Three of the top execs, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, John Mack of Morgan Stanley, and Richard Parsons of Citigroup, missed the meeting, saying that the fog of war delayed their flights. President Obama apologized for the Washington climate and assured them that the checks were in the mail.

Drone Off
Endorsing Predator air strikes on Pakistan in a Dec. 8 editorial, the New York Times advised that they be carried out with “no publicity” since they are “hugely unpopular” with the locals. Pakistanis are objecting to what they claim are unsightly “We’re Coming to Kill You” billboards that CIA-contracted ad agencies have plastered along Waziristan goat tracks. The media campaign is expected to be suspended at the completion of the mass distribution of the “You Die” potholders that have become ubiquitous in Baluchi kitchens.

Winning Prize Lost
Accepting his Nobel peace prize, President Obama eloquently reserved his right to make war. Meanwhile, it was announced that he didn’t make the running for the Clausewitz prize, awarded to those who win wars. Sam Sun Tzu, a spokesperson for the Clausewitz committee, said that the U.S. quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan made Obama’s defense of war equivalent to the Chicago Cubs declaring their right to win pennants.

Ingrate Expectations
A member of the Honduran military junta that seized power from the elected government last summer criticized President Obama for failing to publicly endorse the coup. “All we got from the White House was a wink, a nod and tech support," complained Col. Torturo Suplicio. “Hillary and her people were a lot more forthcoming. You would think that Obama would let us crash a state dinner for crushing the threat of constitutional social democracy in our part of the world. Some people are just ingrates.”

Fee Market Advances
The financial industry, celebrating its total 24/7 access to the U.S. Treasury, is getting spiffed for another gold-plated gala. With the expected passage of “health care reform,” Americans are taking a giant step towards a Fee Market society in which they will be obliged to pre-pay a financial company to obtain medical services--and eventually to go to a supermarket, gas up the car or take in a movie. As with health care, these companies will provide no useful service, but simply collect these fees to fuel obscene compensation packages for their executives. Americans have voiced a preference for Fee Markets over socialistic systems in which people pay for goods and services directly or through their taxes without incurring separate fees.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Media for Morons

Stupid Sells
Even in such hard times that the 7-11 is looking like a luxury boutique to the ever growing minions of misery, we abide a politics that limit us to a minimum of ideas and even fewer solutions.
It’s worse than that. How many countries do you know of where stupidos form an influential, if not thoughtful, constituency? This week, the Washington Post allowed Sarah Palin, who promises to get back to us on all matters of substance, to weigh in on the Copenhagen confab. “My daddy told me about that snuff,” she reputedly said. “I hope they have enough spitoons.”
Meanwhile, NPR, America’s topical anesthetic, dispatched anchor Robert Siegel to share some warm and fuzzies with Texas teabaggers. Siegal, who reserves his snide asides for those challenging conventional wisdom, was all empathy when it came to the blitherings of these yahoos, who are to conservatism as Groucho is to Marxism.
If you have some memory cells left, you’ll recall that last summer the vidiot box was awash for days with images of these irate and inane rubes besieging pols at town meetings with mispelled banners and malapropic maledictions. Siegel may be short those cells. Instead of remembering those images, he pretended some vague and distant negative characterization of the teabaggers. Catch this exchange with Lorie Medina, a leader of the group :
SIEGEL: One association that your detractors from afar have with the Tea Parties is rowdiness. It's being willing to shout down other people.
Ms. MEDINA : Yes, definitely, definitely anger. I think some people were scared. They're scared about where the country is going, and so I think it was a lot of emotions that erupted this last summer. And I think if the politicians think that that was the end of it, I think they've got another thing coming.
SIEGEL: Is Barack Obama a lightning rod for all this? I mean, does he infuriate the people who...?
Ms. MEDINA: Yes.
SIEGEL: Yes. Why? What it is about him that annoys people so much?
Ms. MEDINA: You know, it's like I wake up every morning, and there's something new on the news that's upsetting that I read about that he does. I mean, if you said, Lorie, list for me everything that he has done that has upset you since he's become president, I don't think there's any way I could list it all. There's so much. You know, the fact that he apologizes for our country every time he goes overseas. I don't know that I've ever heard him say anything good about America. If you look at the way he speaks, the way you - he talks about our country, if you look at the programs and the things he tries to put into place, it really appears that he does not love our country like most Americans do and like past presidents do.”
Now, let’s review. NPR’s All Things Considered put its senior anchor and presumably a sound tech on a plane to Texas, paid their expenses, plus those for editing the recordings, and then inflicted the drivel they gathered on its millions of listeners. The money media get away with this by claiming that their job is not to ignore idiocy and look for truth but simply to report the news. Of course, they decide what the news is. Or rather, those decisions are made to please the same corporate sponsors who coincidentally write off the permanently lunching teabaggers as a public relations expense.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Been There, Bombed That

Keeping Score On Our Wars
once worked with a woman who showed up late every morning with a different excuse. She finally got canned after telling the boss that her hair hadn’t dried yet.
I was reminded of her while listening to Obama the other night giving us yet another excuse for a bigger and better war in Afghanistan. Such speeches are always the same except for the name of the nation in which we have decided to kill people and break and take their stuff. Since my childhood, and excluding World War II, the list has included the Philippines, Greece, Korea, China, Lebanon, Angola, Congo, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Mozambique, Guyana, Panama, Grenada, Serbia, Somalia, Venezuela, etc.
To be fair, some of those were only air strikes, raids or government overthrows rather than full-bore invasions. If you go back in history to the days when we grabbed off a big hunk of Mexico, invaded Canada thrice, stole Spain's empire, nabbed Hawaii, had our Marines collecting on sovereign loans for our bankers, and our war fleets opening new markets in Asia, you can add a couple of dozen more. And if you tote up our global military interventions over the 233 years of our history, we make the Romans, whose empire lasted 500 years, look like homebodies.
Washington’s excuses for all these armed excursions are inevitably implausible since they're cover stories. Our empire makes war for imperial reasons, then pretends in public that its motives are defensive and/or idealistic . Like my colleague’s excuses, those motives keep changing. There’s been Manifest Destiny, the white man’s burden, christianizing the heathen, teaching the wogs a lesson, war to end war, antifascism, anticommunism, restoring order, nation-building, combating drugs, and lately antiterrorism.
If tardiness was the common thread in my co-worker’s dismissal, greed is the glue that holds our wars together. No matter the reason we’re fighting this time, a few of us are making money on war all the time. So steadily profitable has war become that conservative commentator John McClaughlin says that we have entered upon “an orthodoxy of continuous war.”
Interestingly, if you read through Obama’s speech, he doesn’t give much indication of what victory might look like. At best, there’s hope that the Taliban can be routed and that the thieves market in downtown Kabul can maintain the pretense that it’s a national government. There’s also the usual blather about throttling al Qaeda. This reminds me of the joke about the fellow who comes to see Jerry Lewis claiming that he’s found the cure for muscular dystrophy. “Are you absolutely sure?” asks Jerry. “Absolutely!” replies the visitor. Jerry then produces a gun and shoots the guy dead.
More interesting than Obama’s war speech this week was the release of a Senate Report affirming that the Bush administration let bin Laden and and his cohorts escape from Tora Bora. Why not? There would have been no reason to continue their war if if there was no more al Qaeda!
Such revelations are barely news anymore. The imperial impulse has implanted itself so deeply in our souls by now that we assume that the other 95 percent of the world is there for us to buy off, borrow from, or bomb, as we see fit. Like political campaigns that grew from an election season cottage industry to a non-stop billion dollar business, so our wars are becoming just another permanent economic sector, like sneaker retailing. Wars are good business, as we used to say in Vietnam days. Invest your kid!

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Decade End Review

Checking Out Our Big Ideas
Our leaders have come up with some big ideas in recent years. Virtually all have been bought by ordinary Americans, and many are still being paid for in one way or another. Nearing the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I thought it a good time to review some of these brainstorms.

FREE TRADE was the idea that we would be able to buy tons of cheap Chinese stuff at Walmart if we merely gave up our good-paying manufacturing jobs and went into hellacious hock to foreigners. It has worked out perfectly--for the Chinese!

DEREGULATION was the idea that if you let greedheads run our financial system without rules and regs, it would not only make everyone rich but automatically correct itself if, by any chance, something went wrong. Though the system then drowned in a cesspool of corruption, that seems no reason to sour on the basic premise of capitalism that the worst people for the worst motives will somehow work for the benefit of us all.

COUNTERINSURGENCY is not what happened at the mall on Black Friday, but is rather a euphemism for conquest. Its main idea is that, using translators, we can get perfect strangers in distant countries to help us kill their own people and run their countries for them. The idea has a spotty record, with its worse recent showing in Vietnam. Two things in its favor are that Americans, particularly SimCity players, love to organize other people’s places, and that since it’s being done overseas and thus out of mind, counterinsurgency offers fabulous opportunities to steal both from foreigners and from our government.

is the idea that if you oblige people by law to buy inadequate insurance from financial companies who make their money by denying health care, they will not only be healthier but somehow save money. This is considered superior to socialistic foreign systems where people go to doctors and hospitals when they get sick.

GREEN is the most dazzling sales tool since the first marketer figured out that you could get people to spend money simply by using the word Save in ads. Just call them Green and you can sell white elephants, red tag items, and blue light specials.

is finally acceptable after centuries on religion’s moral shit list. The Bible dumps on it bigtime, and in 1179 Pope Alex III and his cardinals decreed that it be punished by excommunication. No matter, usury now comes with every credit card in your pocket and personal loan you make. Organized religion, obsessed with matters sexual, seems to have taken a vow of silence on this particular sin. Banks are charging such ridiculous interest rates that loansharks are biting themselves. It won’t be long before Shylock’s House of Vig opens a branch on your block.

FULL SPECTRUM DOMINANCE is an old idea in a new kevlar helmet. Schemes to take over the world were once evils ascribed to the Soviet communist empire and villains in James Bond movies. Now they’re the official mission impossible of the American empire. This bit of Pentagonese means what it says--that the U.S. and its ‘interests’ should dominate the whole world, including the oceans and the skies, not to mention the oil fields. The other 95 percent of humanity hates FSD, but Americans are either ignorant or approving of it. One of the great questions for history is why the American people, who know nothing and care less about the world, are so willing to empty their wallets and volunteer the lives of their kids to boss it around?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The South Side Comes to South America

Hyde Park in Honduras
I had started to think of Barack Obama as a one-term president. Then a particular quality he's lately displayed gave me the idea that he’ll find a way to win a second one. Probably it’s the Chicago politician in him, but Obama seems to have a warm spot for rigged elections. He just signed off on one in Afghanistan as crooked as Beelzebub’s tail. To top that, he’s okayed a forthcoming vote in Honduras in which I’m sure the late Mayor Richard Daley, and maybe even Benito Mussolini, will cast their ballots.
As I write this, Hillary is in Kabul rubbing kaftans with war lords and heroin traders at President Hamid Karzai’s inaugural. No doubt she’ll use the occasion to tell them to clean up their acts. And no doubt her message will be laughed off as equivalent to the Corleones preaching probity to the Sopranos.
Meanwhile, in Tegucigalpa, the Obamists have heartened the putchists by agreeing to recognize as legitimate the forthcoming November 29 presidential election that the rest of the world dismisses as farce.
If you recall, last summer the Honduran military, a cadet of the Pentagon, busted into President Zelaya’s residence, put guns on him and shipped him off to exile in his pyjamas. The junta appointed a new President named Micheletti whose “every proposal was written or approved by the American” at his side, according to the NY Times. That chaperone would be Bennet Ratcliff, a Clinton operative. Meanwhile, Lanny Davis, personal attorney to the Clintons and a Dem power player, showed up as the junta’s mouthpiece in Washington.
Reaction begets action. Hondurans have taken to the streets in defense of the democracy they voted for rather than the fascism imposed by the generals, the business elite, and their U.S. sponsors. For this, they’re being gunned down, beaten, tortured, disappeared, and arrested by the thousands. Media daring to defend legitimacy are likewise being stomped and silenced.
George Orwell observed that “the nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” Accordingly, the U.S. media has all but ignored Honduras, or otherwise lied about it. They blame the legitimate president for the coup, saying he was too leftist, too Chavista, and too interested in succeeding himself (that last an outright whopper). His terrible crime is asking what kind of government the Hondurans want. That’s not in the program, according to U.S. ambassador Hugo Llorens, who frankly stated that “we can’t have a constitution that allows the ‘people’ to be involved in government.”
Latins are livid with rage and loathing. They fought for decades to write finis to the regimes of colonels and death squads, with their CIA and Mossad handlers smiling in the shadows. To think that Barack Obama, of all Americans, is trying to bring them back is all the proof they need that the gringos remain incorrigible imperialists, who, in the words of Bolivar known to every Latino, will forever plague the continent in the name of freedom. The countries of Latin America have agreed unanimously to not recognize the Honduran coup or the election the golpistas are concocting to provide themselves with a democratic fig leaf. The European Union is likewise unanimously appalled. Both the EU and the Latins agreed to cut trade with and aid to Honduras.
That leaves Washington all by its lonesome. There’s a price for it. With Honduras declared a pariah and trade with and aid from the rest of the world sharply reduced, American taxpayers will be the ones keeping Honduras afloat. Among the things we’ll be paying for is the repression needed to beat down the majority of the population favoring real democracy. Once again, my government is busy killing and torturing people who have ideas like mine.
Obama’s counterattack in Honduras is obviously aimed at the outbreak of independence and democracy south of the border. It’s of a piece with his dispatch of warships to prowl Latin waters, his addition to U.S. bases in Colombia, and his spooks' continued coup plottings elsewhere (one was just broken up in Paraguay). A restoration of “full spectrum dominance” of the resource rich continent remains U.S. policy. It's now more vigorously pushed by Obama than it ever was by Bush. It will fail, but it will make another big mess in the world.
Since we’re not permitted the option of peace, I’d rather see the U.S. at endless war with the obscurantist medieval cousins of Palin, Beck and company in Afghanistan and Pakistan than raining down death and dictatorship on Latin America’s fresh-minded and hopeful democratic project.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It Worked So Well The Last Time

Crusade of the Crazies
Good sense is good sense, but stupidity is infinite in its variety. As soon as you think a thing could not be dumber, you discover something else more idiotic.
My vote for inanity of the week goes to the yahoos using the Fort Hood shooting to dump on the Dems. Their demented diegesis is to declare holy war on Islam and then brand Obama and his like cowards and traitors for not joining their cuckoo crusade. How’s that for a plan?
They’ve begun by massing on their talk show circuit armed with readings of Allah’s admonitions to slay all infidels but violate only their non-porcine livestock. These Koranic quotes prove, the righties say, that we must eradicate the minions of Mecca before they put us all to the scimitar and rebuild the caliphate on the mountain of our bones.
The last time such trash talk got out of hand was in 1295, when Pope Urban II called upon wander- and loot-lusting Christians to quit their castles and cots and march off to Antioch and Jerusalem to “destroy that vile race [the Seljuk Turks] from the lands of our friends.” They say the blood from the battles rose as high as a horse’s flanks, while the rapine and pillage stood unequaled until the era of Goldman Sachs.
The Crusades waxed and waned for two centuries before Saint Petering out. The outcome? Eight hundred years later, Muslims number a quarter of humanity, while in Christendom the great cathedrals see more tourists than worshipers.
What’s both fascinating and frightening is not just that our conservative cohort is happy to provoke mischief far beyond its capacity to comprehend or control (such as calling for a war with one and half billion Muslims who have nuclear weapons at their disposal in Pakistan), but that our body politic nevertheless insists on indulging these idiots.
As I’ve noted before, we live in a land where you can get as ridiculously right wing as your paranoia will permit and still be considered a solid citizen. But try to inch to the left of, say, Barney “the banker’s buddy” Frank and you will quickly be Howard Deaned into supplication.
By the bye, I hear that Lou Dobbs has quit CNN to don Peter the Hermit’s rags and lead Rush’s rabble east to glory.

Did You Know?
We’re a free country--but we imprison more people than any other country.
We’re a peaceful country--but we have fought more wars in more places than any other country.
We’re a democratic country--but we limit ourselves to the narrowest range of political options available to democracies.
We're a free enterprise country--but our economy is characterized by oligopolies.
We’re a rich country--but we're the greatest debtors in the history of the universe.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Salang, It's Been Good to Know You

Click on picture to enlarge
Karman and companions. Salang Tunnel, Afghanistan, 1972.
Then the world's highest tunnel at 10,000 feet.

The Bull From Kabul
Uncle Sap just paid God only knows how many millions for a presidential election in Afghanistan. This was an exercise in stupidity equivalent to peddling veggie burgers at the cattlemen’s convention.
All sentient observers agreed that the balloting ranked with the Balloon Boy scam in utter inane fraudulence. Admitting that the election was “messy,” President Obama nevertheless congratulated his satrap, Hamid “the Haberdasher” Karzai, the evident author of the fraud, on his singular victory (singular because Abdullah ditto, the only other viable candidate, quit from the stench).
But it was not all Allah Be Praised. Pres. Obama also admonished the natty Karzai to crack down on crime and corruption. This was equivalent to telling Jeffrey Dahmer that he could still invite young men to dinner parties, but should try to prepare vegetarian dishes.
It was also a case of glass White House hypocrisy. The pelf extorted by the war and dope lords of Afghanistan (including, it is bruited, Karzai’s brother) amounts to the drip from a leaky bucket compared to the tsunami of swag cascading into the hoards of crooked U.S. contractors. For example, have you heard that our military in Afghanistan is paying $400 a gallon for gas?
As I’ve earlier blogged, I don’t get our involvement in Afghanistan. The Al Qaeda excuse is ridiculous--like fire bombing the zoo to kill a rogue elephant. The big geopolitical rationales, such as securing pipeline routes, encircling the Russ, Han and Persians, shoring up the Pakis, and generally manifesting our full spectrum dominance, are beyond the means of our debilitated forces and denuded treasury. And the claim that we want to redeem Afghan womanhood would sound more plausible were we not so lovey-dovey with the equally medieval and misogynistic Saudis.
Afghanistan is obviously a fabulous venue through which those contractors can plunder and pillage our treasury. But so would a number of more hospitable lands in temperate climes where we could more comfortably rape the cattle and run off the women.
What I do know is that Afghanistan will be the ruin of Obama. If he goes in heavy, he’ll lose heavy. If he goes in light, the generals and their congressional claque will have him for lunch.
How do I know? I was in Afghanistan for a worried week back in October 1972 (see picture above). By today’s standards, in which making up shit is given equal weight to scholarship, that makes me almost, sort of, maybe, possibly an expert.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Alternative Isn't Pretty

Peace With Persia

Iran has legitimate aspirations that need to be respected--
but those legitimate aspirations do not include control over
the oil that the United States and other industrial countries need.
--Henry Kissinger, Washington Post. 9/16/07

Iranians regularly attend mosque where they proclaim “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Their president regularly claims that the Jewish holocaust never happened and that Israel must be erased from the map as were the USSR and the Union of South Africa. On the other side, many Israelis are actually hubristic enough to believe that 70 million Iranians are eager to nuke Israel and thereby commit mass suicide and destroy their 5,000-year-old civilization for the 30 minutes of schadenfreude they might relish before retaliatory Israeli and U.S. nukes lift them to paradise.
Meanwhile, Israel regularly threatens to bomb Iran if it gets near getting the bomb. The White House regularly warns Iran with war if it keeps developing the bomb. And U.S. intelligence keeps repeating that Iran gave up its bomb program in 2003.
Ah, that we were merely talking about threats. A couple of years back, Bush got congress to vote $400 million to effect regime change in Iran. That means overthrowing their elected government by outside force, a longtime but spotty specialty of ours. The recent suicide bombings of high-ranking Revolutionary Guards officers in the disputatious Baluchistan border region of Iran by a faction that Seymour Hersch of The New Yorker and Brian Ross of ABC News have named as CIA assets seem to indicate that Obama is still spending that appropriation.
This admix of provocation and posturing has been going on for 30 years. I’d be happy to see it continue for another 30 or 50 or 100 years if it meant avoiding a big and brutal war.
Iran is governed by a nasty right-wing theocracy of the sort that Christian yahoos dream of establishing here. It treats its own people stupidly and brutally. Given all that, it’s an anarchist hippie love commune compared to our kissyface ally, the medieval hell hole of Saudi Arabia. What’s more, Iran is one of the more peaceful nations on earth. The present regime hasn’t attacked another country in its three decades in power. Indeed, Iran, nee Persia, has not attacked anyone in 250 years. For most of that time it has been on the receiving end of imperial aggression, having most recently been invaded in 1980 by Saddam’s Iraq in cahoots with Reagan’s America.
True, the Iranians sponsor various armed factions in their neck of the woods. But who doesn’t? Israeli rented satraps ran a rump state in Lebanon for 22 years. Our Pentagon contractors wallow in pig heaven from profitably arming every every macher and mullah from Haifa to the Himalayas
Iran could end this standoff tomorrow. It has only to announce that it’s giving away its oil to Exxon and Chevron, its security services to Israel, and its military to Pentagon contractors to rebuild and rearm it with zillions of dollars worth of American weapons. Media bad-mouthing of Iran would end as abruptly and totally as it did when Nixon showed up in Red China, which up until that day had been portrayed as the most evil regime in the history of the universe.
The cuter Ayatollahs would show up on Comedy Central, Leno and The View. Ahmadinejad would start dating Britney Spears. Nobody in America would henceforth give a hoot about whether Iran really had nukes. The poor devils the ayatollahs tortured and killed would be depicted as troublemakers deserving their fate.
The crisis would also end if Washington and Wall Street accepted the reality that after 30 years Iran was not about to surrender its oil to Henry Kissinger’s clients and revert to an obedient component of the empire. But though Obama talks about talking to Tehran, he, like Bush, apparently thinks he can still threaten and terrorize the Iranians as well. Not likely.
There’s a new line-up of forces in the world that can’t be stopped by Predator drones or clones of Teddy Roosevelt. The U.S. is insolvent and energy short. Iran and its proleptic partners, China, Russia and Venezuela, are rich in both real and black gold. Washington can’t even handle 14th century Afghanistan let alone an energy and economic alliance of that proportion. I hope Obama gets around to figuring out that it’s time to make peace with the Persians. Otherwise, he could easily get us into something we really hate and fear: a fair fight.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Volcker Too Dem for Dems

Why Republicans Have More Fun
If you’ve noticed, Republicans allow themselves a lot more space for self-expression than do Democrats. Reps can fly as far right as their dark fantasies will carry them. So, their cohorts are dense with yahoos bent on refighting the Northern War of Aggression, rewriting the Bible to make it more business friendly, reviving slavery, removing fluoride from school books, and issuing Glocks to all newborns.
They can candidly champion Vlad the Impaler because the extreme right, for all of its wackiness, is business friendly. Indeed, their lumpen legions have traditionally provided cheerleaders and strikebreakers for our corporate sector. Thus our body politic accepts them and our media heed them no matter what nonsense they spew.
By contrast, the Democrats are intensely uptight. The uttermost sin in their ranks is any expression of leftism beyond what it takes to persuade voters that Dems are slightly more progressive than Reps. To put personalities on that policy, Pelosi is presentable but Kucinich is poison. Naderism, or anything to its port side, is the ultimate evil.
The obvious reason is that leftism, as opposed to centrism and rightism, challenges corporate rule. And by leftism, I don’t mean Lenin, Mao, Che and bloody revolution. We’ve moved so far to the right in recent decades that even the business as usual we used to practice is now seen as subversive.
Consider the case of Paul Volcker. A literal and figurative Wall Street giant at 6’8”, Volcker spent a lifetime serving the Rockefeller interests and presiding over the Federal Reserve under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Not exactly a pink resume.
President Obama named Volcker as a top adviser on the economy. The problem is that the advice that Volcker is giving the prez is considered a pinch too old-style Democratic for the Obamacrats. Volcker, like FDR, wants to cut the wild bulls of Wall Street down to size by re-restricting banks to banking and brokerages to brokering. It was under such a regime that we enjoyed 60 years of a thriving industrial economy and few financial follies.
The banks are there to serve the public,” Mr. Volcker says, “and that is what they should concentrate on. These other activities [i.e., trading trash paper and extreme leveraging] create conflicts of interest. They create risks, and if you try to control the risks with supervision, that just creates friction and difficulties, and ultimately fails.”
For its part, the Obama administration prefers to “let the giants survive, but...regulate them extensively.” Its desultory efforts in that direction are said to be “languishing” in Congress while the monster money houses commit usury as usual and lobby against any reform at all.
When Obama named him to the newly created post of chairman of The President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB), Volcker got an office in Washington. The Times says he “rarely if ever” uses it lately, preferring to remain in New York. Published reports have it that “his influence in the administration is fading.” Volcker’s days in Obamaland appear numbered. You can bank on it--at your nearest Goldman Sachs branch.
(All quotes taken from linked article)

Friday, October 16, 2009

In Our Future

Bubbles and Bombs
There are two lame ass apologias for Obama’s miserable record so far. One is that he’s only been in office nine months. The second, supposedly passed on to a journalist by a White House aide, is that “governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult."
The first implies that Obama has been busy cleaning up Bush’s messes and applying fresh policies whose benefits are yet to be felt. The second implies that political division is slowing his efforts. Both excuses conveniently ignore the reality that Obama had done some awful things over these last nine months. Two of them, that will effect us for decades to come, stand out. The first is that he’s signed off on the completion of Wall Street’s takeover of Washington. If you accept the notion that money rules, our government is now run by the bubble manufacturers Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citi Group and their confreres.
The federal outgo for bailouts and war spending are roughly equal to the income from taxes. That means that everything else that Uncle Sam does is financed by borrowing. That borrowing is brokered through the very same financial houses receiving bailouts. In other words, Goldman Sachs et al get money from us for free and then lend it back to us at interest--on their own terms and to the tune of trillions.
Barack Obama received more campaign money from Goldman than any candidate ever. A revealing AP story tells us that the telephone traffic between treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and the top guys at Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and Citi is all but adolescent in its frequency. Geithner is obviously checking with the people really in charge.
The other travesty is that Obama has apparently acquiesced to what conservative bloviator John McLoughlin calls “an orthodoxy of continuous war.” His Pentagon (or is it the Pentagon’s Obama?) is busy opening new military/corporate subsidiaries around the planet. These bases from the Amazon Basin to central Asia are to be garrisoned by both troops and private contractors. In the early days of our empire, it was the military that cleared the way for business, as in 1852 when Admiral Perry’s warships shelled Tokyo to encourage the Japanese to open their economy to U.S. investors. Today, the two are indistinguishable.
There’s more bad news from the Obama administration, such as its decision to reaffirm the Patriot Act and continue Bush’s attacks on civil liberties. But let’s leave it for now.
On July 19, 2008, I posted a blog called Two Scenarios. The first posited that Obama would sincerely attempt to deliver the change he promised. The second worried that he would be yet another servant of business as usual. It looks like we’ve come up snake eyes.

Friday, October 9, 2009


A Not So Noble Nobel
I heard this morning that Barack Obama will have to take time out from strategizing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, supervising the Pentagon’s new Africa Command, propping up a murderous military coup in Honduras, reviving the Fourth Fleet to police a peaceful (until now) Latin America, opening a new string of bases in Colombia, calling air strikes and commando raids from the Horn of Africa to the Philippines, and helping America to sell more weapons to more countries than the whole rest of the world combined, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
I guess the next thing is to give Colonel Sanders the Lifetime Vegetarian award.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kitchen Magic

The Indispensable Ingredient
I know you expect political rants from me, but sometimes weighty affairs just have to wait.* As some of you know, I’m an ardent fan of cooking shows and devour the Wednesday NY Times Dining Section as if it were a well-seasoned meatloaf. Therefore, I thought I might try my hand at gourmet glamour blogging by exploring trendy and exciting new ways to celebrate a commonplace item available in every kitchen. Who knows, this effort may grow into the next Larousse or Joy of Cooking. One can hope. So, anyway, here are some tips on using this all but magic ingredient.
To start off, it’s amazingly versatile, a complement to any meal and a must for many. Cooks everywhere, be they range royalty or tyro toast burners, can’t praise it enough. And it’s at the heart of myriad ethnic cuisines. Enough build-up. I’m talking about water, the new star of the kitchen!
You can use it not only to boil an egg, but also to clean up your pan and plate afterwards. It’s excellent for washing salads, fruits and even snap peas. Try it hot with Nesquick and enjoy a nice cup of near cocoa.
My grandmother, Matija, who was an ethnic crone, liked to cook fish in it. She would buy baccala (salt cod), and put it in a pot of water with garlic, onion, potato, olive oil and other ingredients. Then she would heat it slowly on a stove. After several hours, it was ready to eat. I recall as a youngster that it stunk up the house for days. I used to lock myself in the bathroom to get away from the smell. By the way, our bathroom had water available from several faucets. There was even a flush bowl of water that the dog used to drink from.
Many claim medicinal or even magical qualities for water. In the hills of Bosnia, not far from the alleged Catholic shrine of Medjugorje, there’s a stream that flows with what the locals call muska voda, or men’s water. It is said to instill male virility. The peasants learned this generations ago when the spaghetti they were boiling stood straight up in the pot.
One of my favorite uses for water is to freeze it into small cubes and then put them in a glass and pour whisky over them. This can be done year round, but tastes cooler on a hot summer day. On the other end of the thermometer, consider that hot water does wonders for JELL-O powder.
The French think it sinful to mix water with wine. In the Adriatic region, by contrast, there’s a summer custom of adding a bit of water, either in its liquid or solid form, to wine, creating a drink they call bevanda that a self-respecting Frenchie would quickly expectorate. Chaque pays à son guise.
However you want to use it, you’ll be happy to know that water is widely available (except in desert or drought areas) and relatively inexpensive. Many stores sell it in glass or plastic bottles. Both domestic and foreign bottled waters are popular with folks on the run, who carry them on their persons in little holsters designed for the purpose. Automobiles often have cup holders that can be used for water as well as gin and tonic.
Additionally, just about everybody has access to water right in their home, rental apartment, condo, coop or even vacation cabin. This water flows from faucets, typically located in kitchens and bathrooms. That makes it extra handy for cooking and washing. This may not be the case in poor countries.
For a wonderful assortment of recipes, I recommend “Cooking With Water” by Hy Drater, published by River Books and available at Amazon.
A word of caution: Though water is generally safe, it should be used judiciously. Too much and you’ll drown; too little and you’ll die of thirst.
Stay wet until next time, when The Karman Turn takes a gourmet gander at the longtime love-hate relationship between salt and pepper.
*Credit for that line goes to the writers of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mullahs and Morons

Even Our Wars Are Dumbed Down
Remember the Cold War? It was about the future. It was about which modern system of organizing society, capitalism or communism, would win the world. You could read a library full of books by deep thinkers arguing for one side or the other. It was a scary and repressive time, but also an intellectually stimulating one.
Our latest epic conflict with the Islamic equivalent of our holy rollers is all about the past and not nearly so edifying. The other side relies on just one book, the Koran, which one is supposed to peruse only in the original Arabic. Our side reads Tweets.
Their side is characterized by semi-literate theocrats who’ve beamed up from the seventh century to sow stupidity and slay infidels. Our side stands for a decadent empirium that calls itself the greatest when it means the greediest. For all their detestation of each other, both are compatibly reactionary. They clash mainly on eating pork rinds.
The great declaration of this conflict was My Pet Goat, read by George W. Bush as the World Trade Center and Pentagon burned. It was his equivalent of Pope Urban II’s marching orders to the soldiers of Christ back in 1095 “to let the deeds of your ancestors like Charlemagne and his son Louis move you to destroy the kingdoms of the pagans and extend the territory of the Holy Church.”
Our invasion of Iraq and investment of Iran were perfectly understandable. Their peoples resembled, at least to us, the presumed authors of the 9/11 atrocity. What's more, their pagan kingdoms were ripe for conquest and conversion. We wanted their oil and we wanted to use them as bases to dominate the region. We still do.
Afghanistan, however, I just don't get. Bombing its rubble into dust? Killing the survivors of countless massacres? Nation building by way of Predator missiles? For what? Afghanistan is not a state but a congerie of feudal clans who have mastered just enough western technology to fight off the infidelic present. Even if the Taliban harbored Al Qaeda, invading Afghanistan to get at them made as much sense as assaulting Italy to shut down the Sopranos.
After eight years of fighting off the world's most powerful military, the Taliban's elusive Mullah Omar says his side is just getting warmed up. “We would like to point out,” he offered in recent days, “that we fought against the British for 80 years from 1839 to 1919 before defeating them and gaining our independence."
Meanwhile, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, worries that we are losing the battle of ideas in Afghanistan to people who had their last fresh thought fourteen hundred years ago. What an insult to our country!
Back in the Cold War, the righties were glomming onto Burke, Kirk, Hayek and Rand, while the lefties were devouring Marx, Marcuse, Mills and Sartre. There were study circles, teach-ins, free universities, alternate schools. Everyone was an ideologue or an analyst. Brains rather than boobs were on display on campuses. Not any more.
Today our politics are populated by Palinites who don’t know an ideology from an ice cream cone. They say there are also intelligent progressives out there somewhere. If they got involved they could outsmart the cretinous righties at every turn and restore the country to membership in western civilization. One wonders why they’re not marching on Washington, crowding the yahoos out of the town hall meetings, and massively mocking the pols and the media like a million Michael Moores and Bill Mahers? Let’s go, folks!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When Government Is Gone

What If It's Privatna Enterprise?
y morning blat tells me that Mikhail Prokhorov, one of the richest and tallest men in Russia, is dickering to buy the New Jersey Nets. Nintendo and one of its Japanese execs already own the Seattle Mariners, and the Chinese have a chunk of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rich Russkies are the new Steinbrenners of British soccer.
So what does this have to do with the yahoos who’ve taken to the streets to slag Obama and big government as the mother of all their miseries?
The basic notion of American conservatism is that private does just about everything better, and certainly more profitably, than public. America won’t become a truly free and prosperous nation, intones hard right strategist Grover Norquist, until we shrink government to the size of a baby and drown it in the bath tub.
Being a proudly provincial and putatively patriotic bunch, the righties assume that when this happy day arrives, the private interests that subsume the public weal will be flying the stars and stripes over their corporate HQs and speaking English in their boardrooms. That's not necessarily so.
Like the town meeting harpy who told the tv that she didn’t want socialism “like in Russia” only 20 years after that country had turned capitalist, the American right has apparently missed globalization and the vast run-up in foreign debt that feeds this current economic mess. No doubt they’ve been in church rehearsing for the rapture.
Forbes tells me that foreign corporate investment in the U.S. jumped 88 percent between 2005 and 2007 and now totals well over $200 billion. And that’s a mere tear drop in that bath tub compared to the Treasury and corporate paper held by folks whose passports Rush Limbaugh would have trouble reading.
Wouldn’t it be fun if the right wingers got their wish so that the government disappeared and they woke up one morning to find Russian, Saudi, Chinese, Iraqi and, ugh, even French corporate honchos running the show instead of the Old Glory waving and hot dog eating politicos who now populate the Potomac?
Such a takeover is not likely soon. There’s still plenty of juice in American capitalism, even if it’s leaking out at a ferocious rate. And even if foreign economic dominance did transpire, the nominally nationalist knuckleheads of the right would quickly adjust.
We learned that a couple of decades back when Japanese automakers began opening assembly plants in Dear Old Dixie. One would have assumed that the region’s reputation for conservatism, racism and rebelliousness promised trouble for companies owned by the progeny of those who sucker punched us at Pearl Harbor and were depicted all through World War II in viciously racist propaganda.
But no. Toyota, Honda and Nissan managers praised their southern workers as among the most docile and obedient in their multinational operations. Though paid far below what UAW workers get, they’ve yet to say yes to union, let alone to strike. They’re happy with whatever papa san doles out.
Southerners know how to save their race baits and rebel yells for the weekends. Weekdays, they're pleased to perform for anyone who pays them regardless of provenance or pigmentation. Like other Americans, they supplicate in the presence of spondulicks. So I wouldn’t sweat the transformation of the Nets into the Nyets. The fans will just shout Da! instead of Rah!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hassles and Missiles

Taking the Public Private
The health care hassle is the latest and biggest example of the unthinking caps we have pulled down over our brows, reducing our reasoning resources to the range of rodents.
Even the pundits who do our political parsing for us are impressed by the depths of the shallowness to which they have mis-educated us. There are countless petty stupidities out there, but one big one stands out for its prodigious and apparently permanent power.
It is that we have agreed as a nation that, in the sacred name of free enterprise, we will not do anything for the public unless its main beneficiaries are private. Or to put it another way, we will not do anything for the public, except to hope, as Kenneth Galbraith so pungently put it, that some of the oats we feed to the horses will fall to the road for the sparrows. Thus we have transmogrified our proud eagle into a cash cow.
We now fight our wars with mercenary contractors. They don’t take orders from our military and are markedly free to rip us off, screw everything up, and make more enemies than they kill. And so we gag at the case of the fabulously freaky private U.S. embassy guards acting as if every night in Kabul was Halloween on Castro Street. Our government, in this case Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, says we have to bend over and bear it because private companies providing such services are rare, if not unique. Remember when manly Marines protected our diplomats?
Despite our faith in God, we have nevertheless turned medicine into mammon even though Jesus never demanded a co-pay for His healing. Where once our health care provided succor, it now fleeces the suckers. Attempts to transform it into a public service as in every other first world country are denounced as devilish.
All those democratic and prosperous nations also provide their citizens with free education through college on the notion that public investment in smarts is smart. Meanwhile we have turned higher ed into humongous debt, graduating armies of beholden BA’s. I don’t see us bragging to the world about the fact that the average American 25-year-old college grad is up to his or her mortarboard in loans that will take years to pay down.
In Europe you can get from anywhere to everywhere on fast, frequent and reasonable public transportation. Here we once sentimentalized big country and small towns as the soul of America. Now we’re happy to let our rurals rot in isolation, watching their main streets blow away because it’s not profitable to serve them with privately run trains, planes, trucks and buses any more.
I could go on and on with similar examples of the collapse of the commons and the rise of the corporate. We are nine-tenths of the way to a society in which public discourse will be reduced to the question, “cash or credit?” Look forward to the day not far away when your house is burning, the kids are screaming, and you’re in telephone hell trying to give your Mastercard number to “Firefighters Are Us, Inc.”

Barack Goes Un-Ballistic
Zeus only knows how many zillions of our tax tributes have already been spent on the European Space Defense, whose abortion was announced today by the Obama Administration.
If you paid attention, you’ll know that the ESD was supposed to be an array of radars and missiles placed by the Pentagon in Poland and the Czech Republic to protect against Iranian rocket raids on northern Europe, particularly Scotland, Ireland and Iceland.
Why we should pay for such idiotic schemes was never noted. Likewise ignored was why Iran, which hasn’t attacked anyone in 250 years, would want to zap those countries. Of course, those things don't have to be explained or justified in our body politic. Our defense contractors have long since indoctrinated us into the illogic that our designated enemies are bound to commit evil everywhere and under every circumstance, thus necessitating our “full spectrum” response everywhere and anytime--regardless, of course, of the cost-plus cost. It’s the same as the burglar alarm sales rep insisting that you buy one for every closet, cupboard and cranny to ensure “total security.”
To be sure, those in the know knew that the ESD was really aimed at bullying the Russkies, who saw those missiles as more of a threat to St. Petersburg than a deterrent to Persia, while at the same time greasing the Poles, cashing the Czechs, and engorging Lockheed and its like.
So, Obama has put the ESD out of its misery. Maybe he even got some concession from Moscow for his troubles. No doubt, the good folks in Donegal and Reykjavik will resume shivvering in their splendid sweaters from renewed Iran-o-phobia.
As I read the early indications, the right people are rollicking and the wrong ones are roiling at the decision. So I guess our smart president has done something smart for a change. He says he favors an alternate Euro defense against the peaceable Persians using smaller missiles. Let’s hope that's just balderdash to hush up the losers. I give him a thumbs up, finally.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cowardice Confirmed

What a Pill
The blog just below this one was written before the speech last night in which Pres. Obama backed off his “public option” since it faced opposition by Republicans with whom he wished to demonstrate his high-minded bipartisanship and maybe even get them to go along with his bigger and badder war in Afghanistan. His surrender statement said: “The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.” And though he said health care was a vital public issue, he didn't call for public support to get it done. Rather, he said compromise with the Republicans, who abhor him and regard any reform as "socialism," was the way to go. Having watched and then read the speech, I see no reason to change a word of what I had written earlier.

From the Chronicles of Cowardice

Glenn Beck 1
Barack Obama 0

Whereas Harry Truman would have no doubt treated the guy to a hearty “give ‘em hell” and a celebratory tumbler of bourbon, Barack Obama fired White House aide Van Jones for insulting Republicans, and, in particular, annoying Glenn Beck. Or to put it another way, Glenn Beck, of all people, became a presidential personnel manager.
By showing Mr. Jones the back door, Obama was sending two signals. The first underlined that Obama is a typical Dem, growling at anything to his left and groveling at anything to his right. It was a warm-up for his forthcoming congressional battle with the Reps over health care. Who wants to bet that the Dems won’t start with compromise and, at the merest hint of opposition, move swiftly to capitulation?
The second was that we no longer have to take Obama seriously. Given our fatuous politics, there comes a time when every president is recast as a fool and gentle parody becomes grisly put-down. Given their awful personalities, Nixon and Bush II got the raspberry almost from the git-go. It has taken Obama, a cooler type, six months to don the clown costume.
There’s an old bromide that says never wrestle with a pig because you only get dirty and the pig enjoys it. Even worse is the pig winning. The Elmer Fudd-faced Glenn Beck was already a farce on his way to becoming a freak. He had dumbly accused our half-white president of hating whites, for which he lost dozens of sponsors. He had begun inspecting old paintings for pinko propaganda. He found subversive depictions of carpenters using hammers and farmers wielding sickles. He sobbed a lot on his show, leading to bets on when he would move on to public pants wetting. And he went on the wacko warpath against the "Bolshevik," "Marxist, "anarchist," "fascist," anti-Christ Van Jones, who was spreading the stigmata of socialism to all and sundry from his White House cubby hole of communism. Surely, Beck was nearing the Joe Pyne-Morton Downey, Jr., moment of self-destruction.
By firing Van Jones in the middle of the night for calling Republicans “assholes,” Barack Obama not only saved Beck from himself, but made him an even bigger star on the right--someone who could bully the leader of the free world. Not even the mighty Limbaugh had such a scalp on his belt. No wonder Obama’s crestfallen aides on the Sunday talk shows looked like they had just been convicted of wimpery with intent to cringe.
Contrast this exercise in pusillanimity to the incident a few years back when Vice President Dick Cheney told Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont to “go fuck himself.” As far as I know, the Reps all had a good laugh while the Democrat Leahy more than likely seriously considered the suggestion.
It looks like despite all the fertilizer that gets spread in Washington, there will never be enough to help Obama and the Dems to grow a pair.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Confronting the Terrace Menace

Cafe Socializing: New York City above. Split, Croatia, below.
Note the difference.

Cafes Harbor Socialization Threat
The Congregational church cater-corner from our house in West Tisbury specializes in ice cream and strawberry socials. Surely, those are not the socializations stirring a storm this summer. The coalition of the ignorant and inane appear instead to have their pitchforks out for European socializing. You can’t surf past Fox News or saunter in the environs of a town hall meeting without hearing some yahoo warn that American politicians are secret agents of Euro socializing and that they plan to infect us with it.
What exactly is this menace? I decided to look into it--at some risk, I may add, to my waist line. Early in the summer I surveilled subversive socialization sites along the Adriatic. This is my report:
Euro socializing consists in the main of sitting in cafes and not worrying about doctor bills, college tuition or scuffling for silver in your golden years. Instead, you schmooze with your friends about soccer, sex and the stupidity of Americans. As in: “Juventus looks great this season, Monique has a new boy friend, and I get a kick out of those dumb Americans paying through the nose so that their doctors can sail their gaudy yachts to Frejus and rent villas in Poggibonsi. Tee hee.”
Europeans are able to accomplish all of this socializing because they have vastly more outdoor tables and chairs under awnings and umbrellas than Americans do. In other words, there’s a cafe gap. Unlike the notorious missile gap from the 60’s, when American worried that they didn’t have enough rockets to blow up the world as many times as they wanted to, the cafe gap is real. And it’s not just patio furniture. Europe has an overwhelming lead in high-tech, multi-spigot expresso machines with awesome latte steaming capabilities.
Crewing these marvels are not just all-thumbs nerd grad students, but professional baristas versed in every trick in the book from infusions to spremutas. They’ve got your pastis coolly clouding on a coaster while their American counterparts are still asking, ‘”like what kind of drink is that, dude?”
It gets scarier. While America’s few socializing spots are relegated to malls or old neighbs turned trendy, the Euro ones have Roman ruins, castles, medieval plazas, and perfect seascapes providing the eye candy.
Can America breach the cafe curtain and deal with the terrace threat? It’s going to be hard. Socialization is anathema in many parts of our country. And cafe crawling is regarded by many as a waste of time more properly spent studying bankruptcy law or mortgage refinancing.
There may be hope. I was having a drink the other night with a right wing friend. As usual, he was damning government as the mother of all evil and private property as the father of all virtue. I was allowing that across the ocean in Christendom, government was regarded more as a comfortably off uncle who’s around to pick up the bills when mom gets sick or Hans heads off to college. He fumed that the welfare state was abomination. Then he thought a minute, perhaps recalling his last toke in Amsterdam or the taste of tomatoes in Taormina, and a small smile broke over his face as he offered, “Yeah, but I have to admit, those Euros know how to live.”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Law Limiting Third Parties Thrown Out

Greens Get a Break
Democrats, as I’ve long noted, are just one party away from believing in a one party system. Certainly, no one has worked harder to eliminate third parties from the ballot. The Dems have successfully used courts and legislatures in virtually every state to throttle Greens and other practicioners of small d democracy.
Well, they finally lost one. A federal judge in Hartford ruled last Friday that the state’s recently enacted campaign financing law “imposes an unconstitutional discriminatory burden on minor party candidates’ exercise of fundamental rights for no compelling reason?”
If there are five people making political speeches in the park, and the government gives two of them megaphones, that unfairly drowns out the others, said U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill.
Mike DeRosa, co-chair of the Connecticut Green Party, a plaintiff along with the Libertarian Party, said the law was aimed at leaving no Democrat or Republican behind. He welcomed its repeal. So do I.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fact (1) and Fiction(2)

1. I Should Have Gone to Vegas


The Sarasota Memorial Physician Group SMPG Hospitalist/Geriatrics has been dunning me for two years for $168 for performing the above whatever it was. Apparently, that particular charge got eaten by the dog in the paperwork purgatory that characterizes our health care system. It is currently “undergoing review” and will likely go on to “appeal.”
A nice woman in claims guided me through this and a thick list of other charges resulting from my overnight at Sarasota Memorial Hospital after experiencing chest pain in a movie theater. No angiogram was performed and tests were limited to x-ray, EKG and blood work. The bills, I was told, totaled between four and five grand--enough to rent the best hotel suite in Vegas with complimentary champagne and blond. Happily, my discomfort was not as serious as it felt. Also on the bright side was a heart pill recommended to me by one of the Florida docs that has all but eliminated my bouts of chest pain since then. But still, five grand!
Specialite Cardiaque
Those two words, handwritten on a bill, were sufficient to cover the totality of the room charge, meals, medications, angiogram, x-ray and other tests performed on me several years earlier at the Hopital Cochin in Paris. On leaving the hospital after a 24 hour stay also occasioned by chest pain, the cashier stamped it paid and returned it to me along with my credit card chit. In Yankee dollars, the charge was $1,323. Had I been a citizen of France, my taxes would have paid for that hospital stay just as our taxes in America pay to protect Iceland from an attack by Persian missiles.
I related the French experience in an earlier blog and even wrote a contemporary op-ed about it in the Hartford Courant headlined, “Getting Sick in a Healthy Country." I revisit it because I keep hearing morons moan that we can’t afford a government health plan. They’re oblivious to the fact that government plans, including our own Medicare/Medicaid, are far simpler, more efficient and cheaper than our idiotically complex corporate pay-or-die system. Such people don’t deserve health care. They deserve to be locked in a room with nothing but a manual of medical insurance codes to keep them company.

2. A Parable
Mom, I’m out of my asthma medicine.
Sorry, honey, but we can't afford to pay for more?
Dad’s got money.
Not for that. He’s got to pay for that expensive new hunting rifle and his trip to the Sierras.
Why does he keep going out there?
To protect us from the mountain lions, honey.
But there are no mountain lions in Cleveland.
Yes, honey, but dad says that if we don’t stop them in California they could come to Ohio and bite us. Remember how one bit dad?
But that was in California, and he was trying to take a cub from the lion’s den.
Yes, but don’t you remember that an alley cat bit little Jimmy down the block and he died from an infection?
But that was a Cleveland tabby cat, not a California mountain lion.
Dad says they’re all the same family. We can’t trust any of them, even the baby kittens.
Does dad have to to rent a Porsche SUV and stay in that super-expensive hunting lodge?
Of course, honey, you wouldn’t want him to skimp on our protection.
Did he have to buy that $10,000 rifle with all the fancy scroll work and engraving on it?
Yes, honey, that’s to produce shock and awe among the mountain lions and make them easier to hunt.
Hack. Hack. Mom, I think I’m having an asthma attack.
Just say a prayer and breathe as best as you can, honey.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Seventy! I Can't Believe It

Happy Birthday to Me
I was born in St. Clare’s Hospital in Hell’s Kitchen on the west side of Manhattan on August 21,1939. It was a hot, back-to-work monday. Europe was a week away from war. On that sunday some poor devil named Frank Goesch died when a tree branch fell on the open top of the Fifth Avenue bus he was riding in. He was going as I was coming.
The snapshot above is dad and me on the roof circa 1940. I wonder what happened to that snazzy carriage?
I’ve seen amazing changes over my life. We used to have a phone that had to be plugged in all the time. Now I have a small one that I plug in only to charge the battery. And my car has an automatic transmission, meaning no clutch pedal. Society is also very different. Girls are a lot easier--or so younger men tell me. You can’t get Trommer’s Beer anymore. The Dodgers left town in 1957.
When I was born, the prevailing pols were:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the U.S.
Herbert Lehman, governor of New York
Robert F. Wagner, senior senator from New York
Fiorello La Guardia, mayor of New York City
f those guys were around and trying today what they did 70 years ago, they would be slagged as whacko socialists or even Canadians. They initiated things like Social Security, minimum wages, the right to join unions, unemployment insurance, and public housing. Roosevelt’s “stimulus” packages gave us countless bridges, highways, rural electrification, flood control and irrigation projects, and the Astoria pool, where we used to dunk girls and snap towels at each other all summer long. Good thing we already have those assets, because they would never pass nowadays.
When I was 12, President Harry Truman, another weird lefty, was ticked because Americans were paying as much as $12 a day for hospital rooms. He called for the equivalent of a single payer health system, such as most Dems disavow 60 years later as being too radical. Truman failed, beaten by the same corporate crowd now making countless billions a year off $1,000 a day hospital rooms and health insurance so expensive it makes you sick.
We had an empire even then, but at least presidents gave us reasons for going to war. Obama is plunging us into Pakistan, a nation of 170 million people who are said to be particularly anti-American (i.e., disobedient), without even bothering to shill it. Our wars don’t need rationales anymore; just no-bid contracts.
I brood on such things because I was a red diaper baby. My parents were part of the radical upsurge in the 30’s and paid for it big time in the 50’s (but that’s a story too complicated to tell here). I lived in a world of pinko political palaver and picket line protest. It primed me for the 60’s, when America--or at least me--enjoyed its last radical upsurge.
Back then, folks called me an extremist because I wanted to change the world. Now, when I’m willing to settle for the norms of the People’s Republic of Eisenhower, they still call me an extremist. The country keeps moving to the right faster than I can adjust to it. It won’t be long before they’re branding Ronald Reagan a red.
Seventy years on, there are lots of great gizmos in the world. I love the jets that let me depart Bradley in the morning and gobble swell seafood at Swan’s in San Fran at lunch. I love the computer that gives me access to almost everything I want to know and just about everyone I want to trade info, ideas and jokes with. I like not having to shift gears in traffic.
On the down side is that my compatriots have become stupider and ever more self-destructive. Older generations have been saying that about younger ones since Socrates. Obvioulsy, they weren’t always right because, despite plagues, pestilences, wars and Rush Limbaugh, civilization has advanced.
But we seem to be in a regressive phase. We Americans locked onto the notion that money cures everything. That as opposed to the French view that a month's paid vacation at the seashore and good food work even better. The pelf panacea was arguable when we actually had moolah but it’s moronic now that we’re in hock. Lately, we’re trying to see if debt solves everything, but that’s an even dumber idea.
Being a lefty in a righty culture is a downer. My government disappears people of my ilk in countries in which it has "vital interests." Let's hope they don't get interested in my vitals. The worst is that we lefties seem to have lost the optimism that made the 60’s a gas. History helps me stay sane. If you keep track of it, it reminds you that despite the fact there’s nothing new under the sun, the world somehow gets better--if you’ve got a couple of centuries to spare.
On the sunny side, I’ve got a great family, a fascinating world to wander, and a good health plan. What's more, my finances are as un-American as my politics: I don’t owe a dime to anyone. I guess I’ll try to hang around as long as I can. Atheists like me don’t have much choice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Don't Be Disillusioned

A Solution For the Dems' Quandary

Our two parties have different political styles. The

Reps start with combat and advance to conquest.
The Dems start with compromise and retreat to capitulation.

The worst thing to happen to the Democratic Party was to win the presidency, house and senate with big majorities. It's stripped them as naked as a Perdue chicken.
When they were out of power or had minimal majorities, the Dems could claim that they really wanted to do good things for ordinary Americans but couldn’t because they didn't have the votes. Alas, all they could do was reluctantly tag along while the Reps did good things for rich Americans.
Now, with Obama’s crumble on health care, his war-mongering and his reiteration of the Bush-Cheney brand of human rights, everyone can plainly see that he and the Dems are full of it. There’s no one they can blame stuff on but themselves. But of course, they’re not going to do that. The iron law of politics is that when you screw up, you blame everyone else and create distractions.
If the Obama-Dem nose dive continues, don’t be surprised to see war clouds gathering, either in the already well-bombed Middle East or in pristine Latin America, where Caracas, La Paz and Quito offer juicy targets. What red-blooded Dem or Rep wouldn’t salivate at the chance to pop the disobedient Hugo Chavez, grab all that oil, and, for a change, trash a country where beer and babes abound? We’d forget about health care and recession in a Manhattan minute.
If Dems don’t want to die of disillusionment, I recommend they vote Rep the next time around. With the GOP back in power, the Dems could go back to lying about how they’re really for the little guy but don’t have the juice to do anything but grovel before the likes of Chuck (“Am I dead yet?) Grassley and John (How’s my tan?) Boehner.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Angst of the Anglos

No, You Can’t Have Your Country Back
From the days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony until the post World War II era, these United States were ruled and largely owned by white Protestant males. The advertising of their accomplishments is ubiquitous and needs no further celebration here. Far less bruited is that they made a series of historically disastrous decisions, the results of which their crestfallen progeny cannot bear.
They imported millions of Africans to toil as slave labor. They brought in tens of millions from other lands to keep down the price of wage labor. They grabbed a great chunk of Mexico and became the overseers of Latin America. They created a global empire whose upkeep and expansion requires not only constant wars but the inhaust of millions of the empire’s subjects. And, in the modern era, they were among those chiefly responsible for shifting our economy from production to peculation, erasing millions of jobs and plunging the nation into insolvency.
Taken together, these historic decisions turned Anglo-Saxon Protestants into a fading and falling minority in the country they once regarded as theirs alone. Because of the actions of the leaders they had freely chosen, they found themselves on the outside looking in at an increasingly diverse and money-centered America where globalism rather than patriotism is the password and where, unimaginably, the dread sin of miscegenation is rewarded by the accession of Barack Obama to the White House.
These ‘real Americans’ see themselves retreating while those with darker skins and funny foreign names are advancing. They are made heartsick and apoplectic at the sight of former thralls in positions of power, hometown storefronts with unreadable signs and alien wares, and a mass culture that mocks their piety and provincialism.
It matters not that their forebears had devised and that they had acceded in their own downfall. Even if it's self-induced, the pain is unbearable. To relieve it, WASPs have become the base of the fundamentalist right, joining together to demand that their country be taken back from the blacks, beaners, ragheads and liberals and returned to them.
But no matter how many town meetings they bust up, how many guns they store up, how many Palins they put up, they’re pissing in the wind. Even the completion of the corporate fascism whose interest they serve would not make their noxious nostalgia real nor restore their
superiority. Too much has changed.
No puede ser hecho.