Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opinions Galore

Last week I sent a letter saying that I had “no opinion” on what should be done regarding Libya. Since then I’ve made a couple of abbreviated attempts at a follow up without anything to show for it. I do want to correct my choice of words. Opinions are something which I have in abundance. What’s still missing on this subject is a conclusion.

My opinions fall into two broad conflicting categories. One is that Libya is in serious need of regime change and that since  major members of the international community, including the United States, have made a commitment, we are obligated to honor it. But I’m also of the opinion that we don’t know what we’re getting into. If the help we have given is insufficient, what should we do next? It’s nice to have the approval of the U.N. and Arab League. But who is contributing the weaponry, personnel and money?  

Like Nixon’s decision to send the needed armaments to Israel in the Yom Kippur War, Obama’s was made with precious little time to spare. It’s my judgment that he made the right decision. The consequences of both action and inaction were and are full of uncertainties. One certainty is that inaction would have led to imminent massive carnage involving thousands of Libyan civilians. I see Obama’s choice as a humanitarian act with which a majority of Americans would agree if they had no axe to grind.

There’s no shortage of commentary on this subject which, given what little is now known, consists of educated guesses. I imagine this might be a time when Barack Obama wishes he wasn’t president. What we need now is not a statesman but an oracle and the only one I can think of is that fellow at Fox with the blackboards.




Thursday, March 24, 2011

Libya The Tatooed Lady

A friend, and correspondent, is challenging my opinion on the Libya situation, which I find strange because at this time I have none. I’m privy to the same information as most people. But when it comes to how we should have responded in this situation, I simply don’t know.

As a card carrying Democrat I could simply accept my party’s line, except that there isn’t any. There is no Republican position either. Both John Kerry and John McCain favor action with McCain a bit stronger in criticizing the president for not acting sooner. Congressional members of both parties are complaining, saying that Obama is violating the Constitution by bypassing Congress. Whether we should be involved at all also seems to be an issue that crosses party lines. I’ve yet to hear anyone question the apparent assumption that the “Colonel” is a bad guy and should be removed, although I suspect that there are those who do and are remaining tactfully silent. The “right way” probably is the lesser of evils, but please don’t ask me what that is.

I agree with just about everything said by all sides which means that I also have to disagree with parts of all of everything. However I do hold one strong unequivocal conviction. Any nation using an alphabet different from ours should have the courtesy to tell us how we should spell its leader’s name spelled in our alphabet, no multiple choice! Is it Qaddafi or Gaddifi?  How are things going these days in Irag? In Ira Gershwin’s words “let’s call the whole thing off.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pure and Simple

OK, our elected representatives in Congress seem to have agreed, for the time being, that fiscal discipline, rather than investment in the future, is the way out of our current financial dilemma. This can be done by increasing income or reducing expenses and here is where disagreement begins. Democrats generally favor the former by taxing the top income of the top income earners and eliminating certain corporate deductions. Republicans, to whom raising taxes is an obscenity, are for cutting expenses by overall fiscal austerity.  

Increasing the rate on upper income would be raising taxes, pure and simple. But if we lower benefits from entitlements, paid for by a mandated portion of taxpayer money, are we then reducing expenses? Well yes, but not pure and simple. Raising deductibles on medical benefits requires the beneficiaries to pay more out of their pockets for the same benefits, without a corresponding decrease in taxes. If bank balances were the only guide, this would be a tax increase pure and simple. Changes in entitlements affect poorer Americans. We know how both parties differ here.

The most unwarranted benefit cuts now being considered are for Social Security. For anyone who doesn’t know, this agency is in surplus, and figures to be until 2057. That’s forty six years during which the government can make money from it as it now operates. But it can make even more by cutting benefits. We should consider that taxpayer money has been in effect seized through payroll deductions for specific promised benefits. I suppose the case could be made that since the contributions weren’t voluntary the promised rewards aren’t binding. This argument is seriously weakened by the fact that this commitment has been honored by the government for nearly a century. 

For years Democrats have been accused by Republicans of “redistributing wealth” and engaging in “class warfare.” The Bush tax cuts, so dear to Republican hearts, have redistributed more wealth than anything since the Clinton tax increases, so this one might be a wash. But not class warfare. A glance at the GOP budgetary proposals invites several metaphors, my choice being “the best defense is a good offense.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Playing With Fire

An airline attendant once told me that my flight was canceled because of mechanical failure, which she referred to as an “act of God.” I saw it entirely as an act of man, possibly the Wright brothers. What is happening in Japan now is a consequence of both. “Untouched by Human Hands” works for the earthquakes and tsunamis, but not for damage from a nuclear reactor which is strictly man-made. 

We have experienced and survived all kinds of disasters. Among toxic contaminants floating around, radioactive material may have the longest shelf live. Thirty thousand years is what I’ve heard. I won’t argue the numerals. Just the combination of the words “thousand” and “years” in this context does it for me.
Consequently potential damage from radiation has a cumulative effect during its considerable lifetime. The ever increasing quantity of nuclear residue, which is still radioactive, must be stored safely. A Three Mile Island here, a Chernobyl there, it all adds up and before we know it things can get serious. The volume of cubic feet of the earth’s atmosphere is finite. The radioactive material at risk of being released will continue to increase as long as we continue to produce it.    

It’s delusional, dishonest or both to claim that what is happening today cannot happen again. At this moment there are nuclear facilities in America in areas which two weeks ago were probably considered as vulnerable to earthquakes as northeastern Japan, the most vulnerable being at Indian Point a short distance from New York City. The 9.0 earthquake in Japan was exceptionally severe. But is there reason to believe that during the life expectancy of radioactive material now being produced there won’t be another like it? 

An immediate closing of all nuclear facilities is not a feasible option and green energy is too distant to be of short term help. But we have no excuse to not follow the lead of other industrialized nations by working full throttle in this direction ASAP. Those who are fighting this progress by financing the status quo aren’t at all delusional. They know that it’s younger people and their world that will suffer.. What ethical or moral right do we have to make decisions that adversely affect our descendants generations removed? The importance of news about Libya is dwarfed by events now taking place in Japan. We are dealing directly with the timing of the endangerment and extinction of an entire species, mankind.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wolverine Blues

I’m still confused about the spelling of skullduggery. My computer’s spell check and its dictionary seem to disagree. For me this remains one of life’s mysteries so I’ll move on to another subject, the State of Michigan. Its EFM (Emergency Fund Management) laws have now passed both Houses of the legislature, with a few differences to be reconciled before the final bill is signed into law by newly elected Governor Snyder. Both give the state control over financially distressed cities. The Senate bill, the lesser of two evils, would limit appointed overseers to individuals, excluding groups such as corporations. 

In either case the bill would allow the governor to declare a fiscal emergency in any city he decides is in need of this remedy and appoint a manager of his choosing.  This is about more than unions, which the new manager could dissolve along with related salaries and benefits.  Forget about even the mayor. It’s about the entire municipal government, school board, city council, police department, you name it. Current officials, those being dismissed, would be barred from running for office for ten years. A Democratic sponsored amendment to limit the manager’s salary to that of the governor was defeated. The new manager could sell city assets, presumably to whomever and at whatever prices he chooses. Think about that one for a minute. A split second should suffice. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Well one thing wrong is all those smudges with Tea Party fingerprints. For anybody with a short memory these people are against “government,” but apparently not state government. I’ve lived in the same town for 43 years and, as I see it, my local government leaves something to be desired. But I wouldn’t want any governor of my state, one of whom was elected three times before doing prison time, to have complete control of the entire city, particularly its assets.

For a state such as Michigan to make such an abrupt change in its manner of governance would be suspect, except that we don’t suspect, we know! It’s an inappropriate partisan reaction to hard times, not as much by those who are suffering from them, as from those who aren’t, but fear that they may have to help those who are. The people shoving us in this direction remind me of pre-schoolers who have struggled through the veggies and are clamoring for dessert. 

Friday, March 11, 2011


Things were going badly for us lefty TV news junkies, having heard about Charlie Sheen for what seemed an eternity. But Wednesday, March 9 showed how good we’d been having it. First we learned that the head of NPR had to resign because of a sting operation by the same lowlife who scammed ACORN. But the real killer was the news from Wisconsin.

In a recent letter I said that Governor Scott Walker seemed to be “a bumbler.” If so he has some smart people pulling his strings. That rope a dope business about a compromise wasn’t conceived by a bumbler. Much of our outrage concerns the chicanery used to get the union busting bill through the State Senate. But in fairness it can be, and undoubtedly is being argued that the will of the Senate was being short circuited by 14 Democrats leaving the state. What bothers, actually frightens me, is not as much violation of parliamentary propriety, as the precision with which the rights of a class of Americans are being eviscerated. 

Since Watergate I’ve felt that skulduggery was a skill for which Republicans had a particular talent. Nixon was a pioneer, but only an amateur. Rather than using a well oiled organization as his successors did, he ran a “mom and pop” operation without mom. From Reagan on it’s been state of the arts. His mentors in this field discovered plausible deniability which was used to insure his and Papa Bush’s tenures.

The current crowd has planned this attack carefully. None of the newly elected governors now trying to kill labor mentioned such a plan during their campaigns. The precision of the timing leaves no question that this is a conspiracy. Wisconsin is only one of the states in their sights and in some the plans go well beyond union busting. Michigan’s new governor is pushing a law that would allow that state to take over financially troubled cities to be managed by whomever it chooses, including corporations. Imagine coming home from a long vacation and learn that you now live in Citi City.

A distinct majority of public opinion views all this unfavorably. But I wonder if we have enough democracy left for it to matter, or if we ever did. Would Nixon have had to resign if Limbaugh and the Fox army had been on the scene with the exposure they enjoy today? There are two aspects to democracy, political and economic. It was the former that did in Nixon, but there is no precedent for the latter. Nothing close to Koch Brothers money was riding on his presidency.

Most past crises were at the time considered “the worst in our history” because we’d managed to survive all the others. We’ll be lucky if in several years we can look at this one with the same detachment. I may have “misunderestimated” Governor Walker. But I stand by my conclusion that these people are playing for keeps.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I’m confused. Newt Gingrich said recently that Barack Obama was influenced by “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior.” Now correct me if I’ve got this wrong. Gingrich apparently doesn’t approve of either the president or “anti-colonial behavior.” If he’s anti-anti colonial behavior that means he favors it, two negatives being a positive. So Gingrich is apparently in favor of colonialism, something to which less forthright people might be reluctant to admit.  

Another prominent Republican, Mike Huckabee, went after you know which half the president’s ancestry by saying “he probably grew up thinking that the British were a bunch of imperialists.” This may be an implied rhetorical criticism of imperialism. But selecting what was once an empire on which “the sun never sets” confuses his argument to where it could be taken as a not too subtle endorsement.

Imperialism and colonialism, close to synonymous, seem to be making a comeback in right wing circles. These are just two examples. This shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s hard to cultivate national Islamophobia when Muslims, along with other people of color, are historically known as victims rather than conquerors in this sort of activity.

Rewriting history can only be done in the short run, a job at which today’s Republicans have demonstrated an aptitude. To help them I suggest using a subliminal approach by promoting a revival of vintage movies from the same winery as “lives of a Bengal Lancer.” In this particular film the protagonists are British imperialist/colonialists Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone. (has Gary ever played a bad guy) The main antagonist is Douglas Dumbrille, recognizable as the heavy in several Marx Brothers films, wearing dark makeup to look Indian. It doesn’t matter that the enemy losers, who happen to be particularly inept at hand to hand combat against our heroes, are Hindus rather than Muslims. They have dark skin like our president and clearly are not “us.”

This kind of chauvinism knows no international boundaries. It can happen here. In “Geronimo” the “good guys,” whose ancestors had been victims of British colonialism a century earlier, were doing the same to Native Americans out west. I just Googled the famous chief and found out that he operated in what is now New Mexico. This is a pity because I had the perfect ending if his battles had been fought in Arizona.

Now I’m really confused!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

All The Marbles

It may be news to people who get their information from Fox. A man posing as one of the Koch brothers was able to engage in and record a twenty minute telephone conversation with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The recording, available on the internet, didn’t produce a proverbial smoking gun. But in the exchange, during which the Governor did almost all the talking, there is no mention of the financial crisis that, we’ve been told, required such severe legislation.

A major part of what the governor volunteered concerned that progress of what seems like a conspiracy among some newly elected Republican governors to effectively kill organized labor. The controversy in Wisconsin doesn’t involve remuneration to which the union had already conceded to the state’s demands. It deals with a proposed law that would severely restrict and virtually eliminate public employees’ right to organize in their mutual interest.

The commentary I’ve heard suggests that Republicans have bitten off more than they can chew and that this plan is working against them. I agree. Polls are showing a nearly two to one disapproval. I suspect that many people like me may not be overly fond of unions, but recognize the need for the right of workers to organize as at least a necessary evil in a nation that thinks of itself as a democracy. The president’s relative silence on this matter, while not exactly inspiring, is politically prudent. Governor Walker is doing just fine on his own and doesn’t need help.

The Citizens United decision extended First Amendment free speech rights to corporate advertising financed by anonymous benefactors who may not even be citizens. The Amendment guarantees this right to all Americans including union members.  It also guarantees “the right of the people to peaceably assemble” in the same context and even the same sentence as freedom of speech. When people assemble it’s often for the purpose of pursing common interests. Rumor has it that this sort of thing happens in corporate boardrooms.

The Republican Party has given us Joe McCarthy, Watergate, Iran Contra and assaults on the Constitution by George W. Bush and friends. Democrats have not been without major transgressions. But theirs have tended to be less partisan while Republicans play for keeps.