Friday, July 30, 2010

War Party

In a 1964 recorded phone conversation Lyndon Johnson tells Richard Russell, his mentor in national politics, that he would like to abandon Vietnam. But he repeats his decision to escalate because he feels the Republicans would damage him politically if he didn’t. No I’m not suggesting that Republicans bear primary responsibility for a war that is now widely considered a mistake. We’ve been told where the buck stops. I mention the incident as part of a pattern of which it may have been the beginning.

Every Democratic President since LBJ has been hounded and forced to “compromise” with considerable success by strident opposition that could hardly be called “loyal,” perhaps none more than the current White House occupant. The firing of Shirley Sherrod is the most recent evidence of this pattern. Obama had to have approved it, although I doubt he anticipated the disrespectful manner in which it was done.  Whatever his personal feelings, he was reacting to the sounds of the footsteps from the racist right. I believe similar fear from opposition hawks, rather than personal conviction, was the basis of his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Intimidation by the political right has also been effective in Congress. Some Democrats who voted for the Iraq war resolution may have believed the “intelligence” presented by the Bush administration. In my opinion most were influenced by the fact that Republicans scheduled the vote two months before the 2002 elections while the country was still fired up by 9/11. The point can be made that every war from Vietnam until today has at least been stoked, if not initiated, by Republicans. Difference of opinion on military matters in general has broken consistently along party lines, if Congressional votes and polls are any indication.

The familiar GOP battle cry, “they all do it” doesn’t fit every situation. Roughing up and intimidating virgin presidents from the other party is a field of particular Republican expertise. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan or either of the Bushes receiving the treatment Obama is now getting? The civility once pervading politics has become a relic. Somebody should inform the Democrats.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Racism du Jour

There’s general agreement on the facts in Shirley Sherrod’s being fired by the Agriculture Department. Most of the commentary, which has come from the left, draws two conclusions; that foul play was used in editing the recording of Ms Sherrod’s speech and that the initial response by the administration and NAACP was craven. I agree with both. The intent of the caper was proving that anti white racism also exists among blacks. This is one of the few things on which I agree with these folks. So what else is new?

I find the following anecdote relevant. In 1994 six of us white males were customers on a charter fishing boat the day the O.J. Simpson acquittal was announced on our radio. The news was followed by a continuous stream of “nigger” jokes. Fishing was slow so the jokes continued to the point where I felt the need to interrupt. I mentioned that I was a jazz musician, that many of my heroes and friends were black and that I’d appreciate changing the subject. I was accommodated in my request. But not before receiving a “fuck you” from a man who later became solicitous to the point that I’m sure he was trying to make up for his incivility. Another later quietly told me that he understood and agreed with me.

How can anyone believe that there isn’t a black counterpart to this sort of interchange and why does the right feel the need to prove there is? Considering the physical response to the Rodney King verdict we can be sure there were some very unkind things said about us whites, or ”ofays” as we were called us in the old days. That’s pig Latin for foe. Not having been privy to any of these sessions, I’m curious what their current equivalent of the n word is. “This redneck (or cracker) says to the other….?”

Racism is with us, has been with us and will be for some time to come. On one hand it can be argued that more than two centuries of slavery and Jim Crow can’t be dismissed. On the other, most of today’s black Americans experienced neither, many have received some extra tax dollars and are at times beneficiaries of a modicum of preference in college admission and modest paying jobs. On balance it’s my opinion that, all things being equal, an American being born white still has been dealt a better hand.  

Prejudice is part of human nature and most of us are subjected to it in varying degrees. In a civil society it’s imperative to keep it within limits of respectability. Public figures exceeding these limits are not hard to identify. Picking Shirley Sherrod as one of them must have been a case of mistaken identity.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dirty Pool

Since Tuesday night the Shirley Sharrod case has dominated the news. The best that can be said is that it temporarily replaced the Gulf of Mexico. The bulk of the spin since has dealt with the spineless response by the Department of Agriculture, presumably with presidential knowledge hence approval, and the NAACP. I couldn’t agree more!

But this obscures what I consider a much larger point. Three minutes of Ms Sherrod’s forty minute speech were presented as in keeping with the entire speech when the exact opposite was the case. What happened is not being argued. What is questionable is why we are now fixated on the left’s cowardly response rather than the right’s gross defamation that led to it? Foul play by the right seems to get more cavalier public response than anything coming from the left.  Dan Rather’s career with CBS was ended because of his misplaced trust in a source of information that might have been accurate, but not properly documented. Those advocates who spoke on Fox “News” must have at least suspected that the allegation with which they made their case was an out and out lie. But there they were the next day, right back at their desks criticizing the Agriculture Department and NAACP for having believed that lie a day earlier.

My hope is that when the smoke clears this affair will be publicly and broadly perceived as a morality play, or literally, an immorality play. I don’t see this as beneficial to the political right, but rather a case of bad strategic timing. This technique was used to good effect in putting Acorn out of business. In doing so it served the right’s interest by destroying a major force in organizing opposition voting. But I fail to see the wisdom of this caper, with little to gain and much to lose by painting a clear picture of how these people operate.

One lesson history should have taught them. It’s better not to engage in this sort of dirty pool unless you’re certain you can destroy all the evidence that can be used against you. Richard Nixon would probably agree.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Potential Litigation

My apologies to the people in the vicinity of Bhopal, India on midnight Dec. 2, l984 for referring to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as potentially the worst man-made disaster in history. Damages from this year’s incident are still growing. But they’ve got a long way to go to catch up with those from the Union Carbide gas release in Bhopal. The lives lost there were five times those of 9/11 and the number of disabled over thirty eight thousand.  The negligence leading to this incident is of the same nature as that alleged of BP. Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, whose retraction of his initial apology was prompt as the apology itself, is unlikely to visit India any time soon. There’s a warrant out for his arrest.

This and the Gulf oil spill are similar in the sense that they were both man-made. Where they differ is that in Bhopal the victims were from what was then a third world nation and the potential legal defendant a corporation from the world’s super power. No contest! Today the potential plaintiffs are citizens of that super power and the defendant a “foreign corporation” in a nation where the term is a bit redundant. This is truer of really big corporations particularly those that produce oil.

Granted, the damages in the BP case are hard to assess. It may be difficult and not necessarily fair, but there have been cases where a finite value has been placed on human lives.  Most of the damages from the Gulf spill, apart from those to wildlife, are directed at property and the livelihoods dependant on it.  The direct losses to a lifetime Gulf commercial fisherman and a seasonal waitress in an area restaurant may be quite different. However the litigation is resolved I see no way the potential plaintiffs, who may number in the millions, can be adequately or accurately compensated for damage that is incalculable.

The arguments by those sympathetic to BP’s position, we already know this includes much if not all of the Republican Party, should be familiar by now. “A lot of the claims are demonstrably fraudulent.” “They’re asking outlandish compensation.” “The claimant is an imposter” There will be instances where these sorts of allegations are true. During Katrina we were reminded often by right wingers of the looting in New Orleans, as though that somehow diminished the damage to the overwhelming majority of law abiding citizens.

Whatever the truth of allegations over BP’s creation of this mess, their behavior in its aftermath doesn’t inspire confidence. Of the $20 billion pledged to be put in escrow only $207 million, about one percent, has been paid. I’ve been trying to say this in more delicate words, but there doesn’t seem to be any better way. Not only for the financial distress to those in the area, but for the harm to the planet, BP should be made to pay through the nose!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Beg to Differ

I can’t stand it! I know it isn’t fashionable to speak ill of the recently deceased. But enough praise has just been heaped on the former owner of the New York Yankees that in my opinion undeserved is a gross understatement. I have no reservations speaking my mind about a man who I feel has figuratively defecated on the national pastime and my favorite spectator sport.

News in the year I first started following baseball began with Lou Gehrig’s tragic enforced retirement. Joe DiMaggio was in ascendance. Ted Williams, who was later to dominate much of the game’s news, was in his rookie season. During my teens names of established stars like Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg, along with newcomers like Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson were all the talk. Until the l970’s and free agency the headlines were about the players and an occasional manager. Owners were relatively publicly obscure figures with the exception of Branch Rickey who merited the attention for obvious reasons.

For over thirty years I admit to having such disdain for the man that I have refrained from speaking his name, using his title in its stead. I’ve forgotten many of the details. But there was a time when I could have written a short book about his sins against the sport from which he has taken so much. They cover a variety of misdeeds, the most egregious involving bullying people in his employ, players and occasionally managers. He was in the habit of bragging about his relatively few good decisions, which had been traditionally made by managers and general managers, and ignoring the many bad ones. For those who boast of his team’s success, in spite of my love of the game it’s the only sport I know of in which the phrase “small market team” is part of the vernacular. It might also be mentioned that in this decade the team’s only championship has come after he stepped down, suggesting that his presence has detracted from the production of those whose services he has purchased. The man’s narcissism was such that he would surely have been peeved had he known about sharing the obituary ceremonies at the Stadium with the team’s announcer Bob Shepherd.   

The following is a letter I wrote to the New Haven Register during the 2007 post season. In it I broke the habit of not mentioning his name because “principal owner of the New York Yankees” is a bit cumbersome.


Most people who know that George Steinbrenner is the owner of the New York Yankees probably cannot name the owner of any other baseball team or, for that matter, the second baseman for the Yankees, Robinson Cano. News of Joe Torre’s termination, which contained almost as much mention of Steinbrenner as it did of Torre, was made during the league championship series, the semi finals of baseball’s championship, from which the Yankees had just been eliminated and from which the news was a major distraction. Couldn’t the announcement have waited a week or ten days till the season had ended?

Baseball fans should be worried, or at least bothered, by a team owner becoming better known than all his competitors, almost all the players and even competing for publicity with the game itself. An exception might have been Branch Rickey. But he was famous for what he had done for baseball; think Jackie Robinson. Steinbrenner’s fame comes from what he has been doing to the game.

Addendum; News of the hiring of a new manager was announced days later during the final game of that year’s World Series.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Taking Our Country Back

Watching a tea party rally on TV, I was struck by the words on a sign which I’d seen on previous occasions. They read “let’s take Our Country Back.” If subject to scrutiny this statement implies more than the obvious. Of course as citizens they have every right to think of America as “their” country. On the other hand those of us who disagree with nearly everything these people advocate are also citizens and consider this our country without having to proclaim it so.

By what measure do they consider this their country and not ours? Surely it isn’t the colonial garb worn at these spectacles. It is quite impressive compared to the civvies the rest of us wear and could have a side benefit in providing work as extras for period piece movies. Come to think of it one of their Senatorial candidates is in perfect sync with the Founding Fathers who wrote into our Constitution that people of unfashionable pigmentation don’t have the same rights as the rest of us.

By definition taking something back means having once owned it. I find it hard to believe that any political group should or can “own” America, depending on its position on matters like health care coverage or, dare I say it, gun control. If such ownership does exist we could claim it was taken from our side in 2000 by one vote, the vote of any of five Supreme Court Justices, take your pick. By this standard we took it back fair and square two years ago by a relatively impressive margin of ten million votes.

For the eight “out” years many of us were disconsolate about the direction in which our country was headed. But it can be said that we showed a lot more class than they are now by refraining from the choreographed tantrums that are sullying our TV screens.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stop Thief!

In the face of incontrovertible evidence, the “drill at any cost” advocates are determined as ever to continue their course. This evidence is growing daily and we may soon have to accept the folly of deep water oil drilling in particular and, eventually, of our dependence on fossil fuels in general. In each case the sooner the better!

One of the main arguments for continuing as we are is that oil production puts a lot of people to work. The same can be said of growing tobacco. Granted, petroleum is in broader demand than nicotine. On the other hand nearly everyone is a potential victim of careless oil drilling while nicotine generally affects those who started as volunteers.

The situation is being made worse by those responsible for it. While their misdeeds in causing it are now only allegations, their stupidity in dealing with the aftermath is there for all to see. BP’s low balling of the spill’s discharge is understandable. But at 1000 barrels a day compared to the currently estimated 60,000? Did they think we’d never notice the discrepancy? Spraying oil with chemical dispersants may make it less visible. But it’s no secret that this will not make it go away, only harder to recover.

Beyond this stupidity is a horrendously unconscionable act committed in broad daylight. That is BP’s prohibiting its workers at the cleanup site from wearing anything resembling a gas mask. The motive is clear. It’s bad for the old image, particularly with corporate liability involved. How do they know that breathing oil is safe? For people who have yet to learn to deal with something as vital to their field of purported expertise as a deep water oil spill, they seem to have great confidence in their knowledge of medicine.

Should they be wrong their liability, already immense, would grow astronomically. Perhaps they have reason not to care. Barring the remote possibility of criminal charges against top brass, the worst that can happen to BP is bankruptcy, corporate bankruptcy. The people responsible for causing this mess and exacerbating its effects will still be doing quite nicely thank you. This too should frighten us! 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Keeping Up With the Jones Act

This is not an opinion piece, but a matter of setting the record straight. “Just the facts ma’am” Obama’s critics are claiming that by not waiving restrictions on foreign maritime assistance in the Gulf oil spill he, in concert with organized labor, is impeding the Gulf “cleanup,” if you can call it that. Damn, an opinion already! Ok, back to facts.

The pertinent information has already become available to the public. But for those who aren’t up to date on this subject at issue is the Jones Act, passed in 1920 with the support of organized labor. It prohibited foreign flagged vessels or those with foreign crews from port to port deliveries and other services in American waters. This act was waived by Bush after Katrina to allow non Americans to help in the affected area. Obama has been criticized by the usual suspects for not doing the same, allegedly to help his labor constituency.

The simple and obvious fallacy in this claim is that U.S. waters extend three miles from shore and Deepwater Horizon is at fifty two, so the activity in question is not is not within the jurisdiction of the Jones Act. Because there is no need for waivers, as there was after Katrina where the work was being done on U.S soil, none have been requested.

At last count there were fifteen ships, more according to another report, working in the cleanup. Booms from several countries, Norway, Brazil and Mexico come to mind, are being deployed.

With this sort of misinformation in the air, proper assessment of our response to this disaster requires the perception to separate the wheat from the chaff. No problem with this one. It’s pure unadulterated chaff !

Monday, July 5, 2010

No News Is Bad News

The time has come when I can no longer watch TV coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill. The mute button helps. But there are still those dying birds, animals and reptiles on video. Not that this matter doesn’t interest me, quite the opposite. There’s nothing in the news that concerns me more.  It’s that the situation doesn’t change from day to day, other than varying guesses over how much oil is going into the Gulf. This is a case where no news is bad news.

The public and media have yet to realize the gravity of the situation. Calling it “the worst oil related disaster in American history” while quite true is a major understatement.  On maps we see a dark glop in the northern Gulf of Mexico. But that glop isn’t going to stay there and most Americans will eventually feel the effects, even if the leak is stopped tomorrow.  A major portion of the breeding grounds for species of world fish, tuna for one, has already been destroyed. Until it is stopped the flow will continue and the size of the spill will increase unabated. If the relief wells don’t do the job will the spill continue until the well goes dry?     

As threats to mankind go the Cuban Missile Crisis had always seemed the greatest in my lifetime.  Disaster was averted then because Kennedy, Khrushchev and the people they represented were not suicidal. In this case only one of the adversaries is human and capable of things like reason and emotion. “Mother nature” is only a figure of speech.

If there is an effective response to this monumental disaster it has yet to reach anyone in a position to act on it, so for practical purposes there is none. Having no remedy for an accident this serious that has already taken place, it is unthinkable that we continue a practice that we have been demonstrably unable to make perfect. Even if a satisfactory response to this situation is developed, what of something unanticipated?

It’s na├»ve to expect the “drill baby drill” people to admit being wrong. It’s against their nature. Many of them, particularly those who spend money supporting this point of view, do pretty well for themselves by means of this willful ignorance. For whatever reason there have always been and always will be people oblivious in the face of such convincing evidence. What frightens me is the possibility, if not the likelihood, that they will continue to prevail.