Archive for June 2011

Delusional – Afghanistan

Here is a story headline in the NYT this morning:  Attack at Kabul Hotel Deflates Security Hopes in Afghanistan.  Really?  You had security hopes?  This is no different than Vietnam in that the government cannot and never will stand on its own two feet.  In a Daily Beast article this morning by Peter Beinart,  Kabus Bombing’s Political Fallout, he quoted a local car dealer, Nazir Amini, caught in Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel bombing as saying, “If they give the security responsibilities to the current government at 10:00 a.m., the government will collapse around 12 noon. They cannot live without foreigners.”

But I think what is more honest and direct were his indictments of President Obama and our government’s failure to face the reality of Afghanistan.  And here the parallels with Vietnam are so true:

“…Obama did imply that his administration’s surge has so weakened the Taliban that they’ll trade their weapons for negotiations and eventually join the current government, thus allowing the U.S. to leave an Afghanistan headed towards peace. That’s what Mr. Amini was disputing. There’s an honest way to advocate for withdrawal from Afghanistan and a dishonest way. The dishonest way is to suggest that we’ll leave behind a government that can secure the country and a political process than can end the war. The honest way is to acknowledge that the Afghanistan we leave behind will be a chaotic, ugly place where the Taliban rules large swaths of the country, and much of what we have built may be washed away.”

We can never win there and it really does not make any difference.  It is the lesson we should have learned from Vietnam, but we did not and our hubris will continue the suffering and emptying of our treasury because we can’t face reality.

 

Who Said It Best Today: The St. Louis Post Dispath

I heard this on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, but, I just had to read it for myself.  We need a strong and vibrant two party system, but right now the Republicans have gone off the deep end, in an attempt to sully President Obama and maybe destroy the country.  But I will let a newspaper from Middle America tell it best (Eight myths to chill an old school Republican’s soul):

“It’s sad to see what has happened to the Party of Lincoln, and for that matter, the party of lesser mortals like George H.W. Bush of Texas, Bob Dole of Kansas and Jack Danforth of Missouri. No one ever would mistake them for liberals, but they were statesmen who put country before party.

Today we have the spectacle of smart, patriotic men and women putting their brains and integrity on ice to please a party dominated by anti-intellectual social Darwinists and the plutocrats who finance and mislead them.

Consider the mythology that makes up GOP orthodoxy today. Imagine the contortions that cramp the brains and souls of men and women of intelligence and compassion who seek state and national office under the Republican banner.

• They must believe, despite the evidence of the 2008 financial collapse, that unregulated — or at most, lightly regulated — financial markets are good for America and the world.

• They must believe in the brilliantly cast conceit known as the “pro-growth agenda,” in which economic growth can be attained only by reducing corporate and individual tax rates, especially among the investor class, and by freeing business from environmental rules that have cleaned up America’s air and water and labor regulations that helped create America’s middle class.

• Though rising health care costs are pillaging the economy, and even though health care in America is now a matter of what you can afford, Republican candidates for office must deny that health care is a basic right and resist a real attempt to change and improve the system.

• GOP candidates must scoff at scientific consensus about global warming. Blame it on human activity? Bad. Cite Noah’s Ark as evidence? Good. They must express at least some doubt about the science of evolution.

• They must insist, statistics and evidence to the contrary, that most of the nation’s energy needs can be met safely with more domestic oil drilling, “clean-coal” technology and greater reliance on perfectly safe nuclear power plants.

• They must believe that all 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States can be rounded up, detained, tried, repatriated and kept from returning at a reasonable cost.

• Even though there are more than four unemployed persons for every available job, GOP candidates should at least hint that unemployment benefits keep people from seeking jobs.

• They must believe that the Founding Fathers wanted to guarantee individuals the absolute right to own high-capacity, rapid-fire weapons that did not exist in the late 18th century.

By no means is this list complete. It almost makes you feel sorry for the people who pretend to believe this stuff. Almost.”

It is beyond my imagination that we also have candidates that the media think are “serious” who do really believe this stuff.  We have lost our collective brains.  How have we fallen so far?

Who Said It Best Today: Al Gore

Al Gore wrote an essay in Rolling Stone’s Magazine about global warming and why we are still ignoring it (Climate of Denial).  For those of us that still have functioning brain cells, a lot of this is familiar territory.  But he had some wonderful analogies in his piece that are worth sharing.  On the failure of our media he hit the nail on the head:

“Admittedly, the contest over global warming is a challenge for the referee because it’s a tag-team match, a real free-for-all. In one corner of the ring are Science and Reason. In the other corner: Poisonous Polluters and Right-wing Ideologues.

The referee — in this analogy, the news media — seems confused about whether he is in the news business or the entertainment business. Is he responsible for ensuring a fair match? Or is he part of the show, selling tickets and building the audience? The referee certainly seems distracted: by Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, the latest reality show — the list of serial obsessions is too long to enumerate here.

But whatever the cause, the referee appears not to notice that the Polluters and Ideologues are trampling all over the “rules” of democratic discourse. They are financing pseudoscientists whose job is to manufacture doubt about what is true and what is false; buying elected officials wholesale with bribes that the politicians themselves have made “legal” and can now be made in secret; spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on misleading advertisements in the mass media; hiring four anti-climate lobbyists for every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives”

Nothing new here as he points out the activity of tobacco lobbyists pushing their drug and death by undermining science and reason back when the FDA linked tobacco and cancer.  But my favorite was a quote about how propaganda, which is what goes on in our news media these days, has become a tool for power:

“After World War II, a philosopher studying the impact of organized propaganda on the quality of democratic debate wrote, “The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false.””

We now live in a world where an opinion poll tells us what is true and our media couches everything with, there are dissenting opinions so as not to alienate conservative viewers, even though those dissenters are wing nuts.  Science is just another opinion to them to be decided by an opinion poll. And then the final nail in our coffin is that people like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are considered serious contenders  for the Presidency by our media when almost everything they say can be shown to be factually incorrect.  I have no idea where we are headed, but it is not good.

Thanks Alice, or I would have missed this entirely.

More of Our Debauchary

In the McClatchy News tonight was this:  “Obama Officials Call for Passage of  the Dream Act: Passing the DREAM Act could be one answer to America’s need to fill high-skill jobs and keep the U.S. military at full strength, Obama administration officials said Tuesday.”

So there you have it.  People think it is a good idea to pass the Dream Act if those foreign devils will just fight our wars for us because we can’t be bothered.  We can’t just look the voters in the eye and say our present policy of punishing the families of illegal immigrants is just plain wrong.  We have to offer the voters another free ride (like belief in flow down) so they will do the right thing.

And, why can’t we fill high skilled jobs? Could it be because we are firing teachers, making advanced education out of economic reach, and growing the size of classrooms because we can’t be bothered to pay for what it takes to provide a first class school system? I think I am going to go throw up.  I really am ashamed to be an American.

Who Said it Best Today: A Federal Analyst

In another indication of how muddled our thinking has become and why we are where we are today, in a very good news story in the business section of the NYT there was an article about why the natural gas boom in the United States may be being over hyped (Behind the Veneer, Doubt on the Future of Natural Gas):

“Some of the e-mails suggest frustrations among the staff members in their attempt to push for a more accurate discussion of shale gas. One federal analyst, describing an Energy Information Administration publication on shale gas, complained that the administration shared the industry’s optimism. “It seems that science is pointing in one direction and industry PR is pointing in another,” wrote the analyst about shale gas drilling in an e-mail. “We still have to present the middle, even if the middle neglects to point out the strengths of scientific evidence over PR.””

Like the fools we call our media, the people in charge think that balanced is halfway between both positions.  It is why we are an ignorant nation today.  There is a real difference between scientific evidence and opinion, but this is lost on most Americans nowadays.  Bring on the Republicans and more of this nonsense.  I see where Michele, never saw a fact she couldn’t ignore or reinvent, Bachmann is now in the presidential race.  How far we have fallen is a direct reflection of the number of people who think she is a fine candidate.

Dumb and Dumber

We are the country of nitwits.  When I was down in San Diego I needed a good sun hat so I got a Tilley TH4 Hemp hat.  I just love it.  With the hat came a card that pointed out some of the benefits of hemp:

  • It is the world’s strongest natural fiber and is naturally resistant to UV light, mold and mildew,  salt water, and breathes better than cotton
  • Unique among textile plants, hemp does not require herbicides, pesticides of fungicides, truly an environmentally friendly crop
  • It looks and feels great and can be textured in many different forms

But the country of nitwits outlaws its growth here.  The United States Government does not distinguish between marijuana and the non-psychoactive Cannabis Industrialis used for industrial and commercial purposes.  We are so afraid of drugs and the war on drugs has addled our brains.  So we buy it primarily from China.  God we are smart.  This from the purported leader of the world.  We are also delusional about who and what we are.

Update: The Failure of Leadership

In my post last Saturday, The Failure of Leadership, I tried to make the point that we don’t have leadership anymore, just pandering to what they think the most people want, not what they need. In the New York Times this morning was an op-ed about why President Obama cannot get off the fence about gay marriage. It shows that he is a crafty politician who sucks as a leader. Winning may not be everything and maybe what you stand for may be more important than how many marbles you end up with. Gay Marriage – Where’s Mr. Obama?

Remembering History

You know everything we need to know about the way forward is lodged in our past.  The problem with that basic truth is that for most of us, we either don’t know our history, or have reinvented it to define us in a better light.  Let’s face it, America can’t even remember the 1980’s.  The image and memories of most people about Ronald Reagan are just factually wrong.  He grew government, created (with his tax cut) the biggest deficit of that time, and then he consistently raised taxes after that.  And when he raised taxes, our economy did fine.

But that is just one example of many.  As we watch Republicans and some Democrats trash bargaining rights of unions, we seem to have forgotten how we got a self-sustaining middle class that was and is the basis of our economy.  We totally ignore the history of the robber barons and the way they enslaved the worker, and yet we are heading down that same road.  We certainly have forgotten how we finally got out of the Depression.  It was massive deficit spending that fueled the machinery of World War II.  We seem to be the nation of amnesiacs.  We have a whole culture that is now trying to reinvent what happened to fit their political philosophy and we do it at our own peril.

What really got me thinking about this was watching the HBO special, “Thurgood” with Laurence Fishburne.  This, of course, was the dramatization of Thurgood Marshals rise to the Supreme Court.  Our history of racial discrimination is just disgusting.  Listening to some of the arguments in the Supreme Court for the separate but equal status quo was most distressing.  The evil of it all, justified by “good” people, is just beyond comprehension.  It is a part of our history we should never forget, nor let the South rewrite it as some philosophical difference of opinion on state’s rights.  The rights of gays and lesbians is the same fight all over again.  Soon it will be the rights of the common working man and woman if things continue on their present path.

The injustices that were done with the best of intentions is the real lesson here.  And like the other history mentioned above, there are lessons about how we justify evil with the best of intentions.  But if the Texas school book debacle is any lesson, then the lesson is we reinvent history as quickly as we can to forget the lessons of history that ought to be seared into our souls.  We are truly destined to repeat history as our own times so forcefully are demonstrating.

I guess what really makes this so evident is the Sarah Palins and Michele Backmanns of the world.  They have their facts about 90% wrong.  They reinvent and reinterpret history to suit their political philosophy, and they are woefully ignorant of history.  You know that liberal intellectual view of the world, that gets in the way of small town values and folksy wisdom that ignores the lessons of history.  We have a  whole segment of our population that wallows in their arrogance and ignorance of the lessons of history.  And we do this while our country slowly sinks in the sunset, while those who think they have a fix on our future haven’t a clue about our past.

Sadly Shakespeare (literature) and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (history), are being pushed out of the classroom for more pragmatic things that can be used in the market place.  Doubly sad is that great literature and history are where the real wisdom is, and our hope for the future.  Soon, for a few, they will be able earn great piles of money, but they will also find that their life is surrounded by things they could buy but just doesn’t satisfy them.  The great lessons of literature and history will be discovered too late by old people who have wasted their lives chasing false gods, money and simplicity of thought.

For me great beauty in life is in its complexity, not in its simplification.  It is in a fine wine, a love, appreciation, and empathy for the human condition, and Pavoratti singing Nessun dorma.  There is a connection to it all.  We learn about our fellow man through great literature and history. Our own experiences are way too parochial.   We develop our palate when we learn to really stop and smell the coffee, to really listen, hear, and taste.  Then the beauty of a great wine unfolds it complexity to us.  We appreciate the great arts by exposure to them.  They expand our horizons and make us realize that there are so many shades of grey.   Sadly all of that is being lost.  Complexity is the spice of life, not the bane.  This is the lesson of history and we are ignoring it.

The Failure of Leadership

Let’s face it.  America is floundering.  Saturday on CNN I listened to David Gergen. discuss the fact that people want Medicare and Social Security, but they have also been sold on the fact that they don’t need to pay taxes.  The reality is we lack leadership that will tells us what we need to do, only what we want to do.  That is the reality of why we are floundering.

This came to mind as I was reading an op-ed in the New York Times about our misguided corn policies (The Great Corn Con by Stephen Rattner).  Yes, Virginia, sometimes big government does really stupid things and this from a very liberal Progressive.  In this case it is the impact of the government ethanol subsidy for corn.  Forty percent of our corn production now goes to ethanol with marginal if no help to our energy problems and the federal government pays roughly $6 billion a year to subsidize the production of ethanol.  This on top of the world food shortage. So there is a real political pressure to pander to those who are profiting from this government program even though it really is not good for us.  Here is how Stephen Rattner framed it:

To some, the contours of the ethanol story may be familiar. Almost since Iowa — our biggest corn-producing state — grabbed the lead position in the presidential sweepstakes four decades ago, support for the biofuel has been nearly a prerequisite for politicians seeking the presidency.

Those hopefuls have seen no need for a foolish consistency. John McCain and John Kerry were against ethanol subsidies, then as candidates were for them. Having lost the presidency, Mr. McCain is now against them again. Al Gore was for ethanol before he was against it. This time, one hopeful is experimenting with counter-programming: as governor of corn-producing Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty pushed for subsidies before he embraced a “straight talk” strategy.”

And there it is.  Our leaders are not leaders, but panderers to whatever will get them elected.  It is not enough to be for something that you feel is right and will get the country moving again.  What is important in the world of political success is to be for something the public wants, damn if it is bad for them.  It is all about getting the office, not about what is good for America.  Sadly after a while they start to believe their own BS.

Here is the real problem:  There is no counter argument, the seed that might germinate a new idea.  Prime example is how the Republicans have used the deficit as a tool to decimate government.  People understand debt so they start to focus on it.  But private debt and government debt are two very different things.  But that is an argument for another day.  The point is that the Democrats bought into Republican framing with statements like, “We all know we need to cut spending”.  That is what the polls tell them people want so that is their new position.  President Obama led the way.  Now we are looking at a double dip recession/depression and there is no counter argument that says, “Hey wait a minute!  Maybe the real issue is jobs and revenue and if we could get the economy going and give people real jobs, this deficit thing maybe isn’t such a big problem”.

That would take political courage and we have none today.  Just politicians scheming about how to better appeal to their base and get re-elected in 2012.  That is why you still hear Democrats talking about being reasonable and bipartisan when it doesn’t exist on the other side.  They read the polls that tell them people want cooperation so they talk the cooperation nonsense while the Republicans run over them with a bulldozer.  Oh how I miss Franklin Roosevelt’s  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Maybe that kind of political courage doesn’t exist anymore.  Maybe we won’t either if things keep going the way we are going.  But they are giving us what we asked for.

UPDATE:  In the New York Times was an op-ed about why President Obama cannot get off the fence about gay marriage.  It shows that he is a crafty politician who sucks as a leader.  Winning may not be everything and maybe what you stand for may be more important than how many marbles you end up with.  Gay Marriage – Where’s Mr. Obama?

 

Sanity

Once in a while there is some good news and New York brought it to us last night as they made gay and lesbians full citizens of our country.  California take note of how far you have fallen.  You let the state get hijacked by religious radicals, Mormons, and conservative Republicans and our policy on equal rights for these citizens sits in the same backwater as our tax policies.  Congratulations New York for showing the rest of us the way.  Shame on you California.  You have fallen so far as you let conservatives guide our ship.

Now it is on to death with dignity, a woman’s choice, eliminating the war on drugs, and a few other no-brainers and we liberals might show the conservatives how to get government out of our lives in places  where they really have no business being there.