Monday, June 27, 2005

Consumption Blues

I was driving across America
When my Caddy ran out of gas,
So I walked to the nearest town,
A burg called Rich's Pass;
But the only truck stop in town
Just had diesel at high prices,
And all the town's residents
Were busy pursuing their vices,
So I hoofed over to Wendy's
(It was run by a Texan named "Philly"),
When I told him I needed gas
He said, "Have you tried the chili?"

I decided to buy a bike to pedal
My ass across the home of the brave,
But when I went to Wal-Mart
All they were selling was Chinese slaves.
A sign said "Today's special –
Two love slaves for a hundred bucks."
But I was just trying to get out of town
And I'm way too old to have two love slaves,
So I walked out to the highway
And sadly stuck out my thumb;
I said good-bye to Rich's pass,
And was ready for whatever might come.

A tribe of aging hippies
In a rusty Volkswagen bus
Rescued me from Rich's Pass;
Their leader's name was Gus.
He said "My Vee-Dub runs on pot fumes,
And avocado skins,
And we live on brown rice and tea;
That's why we're all so thin.
But we're making a movie of "Home on the Range"
Where the dragons and unicorns play,
It's shot with eyes under western skies
In our own perverted way."

So I decided to join old Gus's tribe
And took off my tubercular shoes;
I said "So-long" to Rich's Pass
And those nasty old consumption blues.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Byootiful World

By 2013 people began to take the Great Transformation for granted. The violence that had characterized the years 2007 to 2011 had subsided, and the severity of most of the problems that had plagued the changeover was lessening. These were mainly energy supply and food distribution problems, which finally seemed soluble as people began to get used to the new ways of doing things.

Gasoline was $9.47 a gallon, but the real problem was its general lack of availability. However, that didn't matter much any more, since the standard private vehicle was either a golf cart, or some kind of jury-rigged, neighborhood-engineered hybrid that ran on kerosene and electricity, or propane and electricity, or whatever.

The bulk of the electricity, which had mostly replaced the petroleum that had run the dinosaur society (as it was now called), was generated by the nuclear power plants that had popped up in every town and village of over 50 thousand people, all over the country. Their output was supplemented by the Nebraska Wind Farm, which covered the entire state, and by 2012 there was actually an electrical surplus.

Of course, the energy companies were a government enterprise by 2011. President Boxer and Congress had negotiated a final settlement with the former oil companies, which had reluctantly conceded that energy, being a national security issue, was too important to reside in private hands motivated by the prospect of personal gain. Secretary of the Interior Eastwood stepped in to help hammer out the specific terms, thus averting violence. Their surrender was inevitable anyway, after the U.S.'s humiliating loss of a third middle eastern war in 2007, this one to tiny Syria. Imports of middle eastern oil were over forever, and the plutocracy was broken.

Food distribution remained a serious difficulty, but solutions were gradually being cobbled together. Electric railroad trains had mostly replaced the fleets of diesel-burning semi-tractors that had delivered to the supermegamarkets in the old days, and even the steam locomotive had made something of a comeback. Agriculture was much more local and community-based by the last year of the first decade. Stores were smaller and more numerous, supplied by a multitude of big, muscular golf carts pulling trailers. Forty percent of the population was now engaged directly in agriculture, as opposed to less than three percent in the bad old days. People once again had enough to eat most of the time in the new decentralized, vigorously free-enterprise oriented economy, and the starvation crises of 2007-08 were safely behind us.

By the time President Kucinich took office early in 2013, Congress had extended its ban on the game of golf, widely reviled as the frivolous and wasteful leisure activity of the discredited plutocratic elite, which was one reason so many golf carts were available. In any case the golf courses had all been converted to goat, sheep, and cattle ranches, with auxiliary duck ponds and chicken runs. Feedlots and broilerhouses were no more, and the pesticide-laden poisonous vegetables of the past had been replaced almost exclusively by organically-grown produce. The use of organically-derived nicotine as an approved pesticide gave a boost to the previously moribund tobacco growing regions.

Former plutocrats still met to play golf at secret locations. They spent idle afternoons idiotically chasing a little white ball around a pasture, while sullenly plotting their return to power, and return of "justice," by which they meant their ownership of all the country's wealth as well as of its government. But such talk might as well have been an opium dream.

All in all, the American people enjoyed a higher quality of life despite a lower standard of living.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Persistence of Memory

The look and feel of early childhood memories is gauzy and unfocused, as if one was looking down at them through a couple feet of clean water. Nevertheless, those earliest recalled events, sights, sounds, and smells stay with us in a way later memories never can. They formed our first impression of the world we're in.

It's a world of pain and terror, but it's also the only place we know of where the sun shines.

My very earliest memory is of my mother holding me up to the window in one of the upstairs bedrooms of our house at 150 West Glenaven Avenue in Youngstown Ohio, so I could see the snow falling. This would have been in about 1946, and I don't think we'd been living there very long. My dad would have been just returned from Germany for a little over a year.

The snow fell clean and white, but after it had been on the ground a couple hours it looked like salt and pepper. Youngstown was a dirty, gritty industrial town with huge steel mills. Snowfalls were frequent in the winter, but sootfalls were constant, so by the time the snow formed a crust it was covered with little black specks.

One day, early in the summer of 1948, I sat alone in my back yard and watched a noisy little plane flying low in loops and circles, leaving a trail of smoke. I found my mother and told her, "There's an airplane writing something." She came out and watched as the pilot formed the words "Pepsi Cola" on the pristine blue background, then jauntily flew off. That was a now extinct form of advertising called skywriting.

Our block of Glenaven was paved with bricks, which made for a rough ride. Three times a week the milk truck bumped slowly down the street, and the milkman, dressed in white pants, white shirt, and white hat, left milk, eggs, and cottage cheese at the door. Sometimes a little Jewish man pushing a huge millstone on wooden wheels came down the sidewalk, making a strange, shrill cry. He sharpened people's knives.

There was no television. My parents and I sat at the kitchen table after dinner, listening to radio dramas on a little wooden Crosley unit. It was more fun than you might think.

The population of Youngstown was about 150 thousand then. It's about half that now. The steel mills are all closed and the city has become a doughnut, composed of a rotted out core surrounded by thriving suburbs. The average household income is 24 thousand a year, and the average home sells for 41 thousand.

When I drove to the site of my old house in 1987 there was nothing left of it but a hole in the ground. The neighborhood looked to be composed mostly of crack houses. The brick street had been paved with asphalt, and the huge maple tree that had stood in front of the house was gone. Memories persist, but my childhood world was gone.

But I'll always remember the power and awesome, sinister grandeur of the mills at night. We often drove past those black and ominous gods of industry and commerce after dark, just for something to do, and the huge smelting fires, like something out of a Hieronymous Bosch landscape, the glow of the red-hot ingots coming out of the furnace, the flash and sparks of the molten metal being poured, the shrieking and groaning protests of the machinery, will always be with me.

Grass grows and animals make their homes in the megalithic ruins of Youngstown Sheet and Tube. Industrial America is gone the way of the dodo and the Phoenician Empire. This is not the same world I was born into. Life is not all that short after all.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Psychological Warfare

The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects.
-- Emmanuel Goldstein (George Orwell)

Besides invading Iraq, the Bush administration has conspired to run a psy-ops campaign against its own people. All fascist regimes do it.

The plan is to keep Americans whipped up in a frenzy of war fever so they won't notice their pockets being picked by the regime.

In "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism," the book within a book in Orwell's "1984," the arch-enemy of Oceania, Emmanuel Goldstein, notes that "Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the going well or badly."

Sounds like a great way to keep ordinary citizens from thinking through the implications of massive tax cuts for billionaires.

Similarly, at his trial at Nuremburg, Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering testified, "All you have to do is tell them that they're being attacked, denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

It may not be working here. The most recent polls show the American public turning against the war. They may have been dumb enough to re-elect Bush (he ran virtually unopposed anyway), but they haven't yet descended to the level of social idiocy that the current regime assumed and Orwell predicted.

Friday, June 17, 2005


The inevitability of revolution is stalking the U.S. This revolution won't be the result of any political movement or ideology, but will instead be the fruit of converging economic catastrophes now gathering strength like a tsunami. It will follow economic events the same way the wheels of an oxcart follow the animals who pull it.

This is a society living on borrowed time and borrowed money, and the notes are about to fall due. As often happens, they appear to be falling due all at the same time.

Read the morning news and you can follow the trajectory of steadily rising oil prices, which dipped a bit in May before resuming their relentless climb. The age of cheap oil is over, and the result will be inflation, because increases in the price of fuel cause the cost of everything people buy to rise also. This energy crisis isn't coming; it's already here.

Just as serious is the level of personal and governmental indebtedness this country and its people have contracted. With the recent change in bankruptcy law, borrowers who have been making 30K a year and living on 50 are soon going to find themselves squarely behind an economic eight ball for life, stuck with the same level of income they were unable to live on previously, with heavy paybacks piled on top of the day-to-day burden of living. Equally critical is the looming change in the interest-only fixed-rate mortgage loans home buyers have been taking out from Ditech. Huge numbers of these are about to metamorphose into variable-rate, interest-plus-principal paybacks, and those foolish and prodigal borrowers will be swamped. Unfortunately for them, bankruptcy is no longer an option.

When people find themselves whipsawed and sandwiched by rising costs and diminished resources, or to put it bluntly, poorer than they used to be, they will no longer remain the docile herd you see now. They'll be looking to fix responsiblity, and looking for revenge.

The first revolution changed the way we do government. The next one will change the way we do business.

The authors of the Constitution wanted above all else to prevent the accumulation of too much power in too few hands. That's the sole aim of the system of checks and balances they incorporated into the founding document.

Understandably, they were unable to foresee the rise of corporate power, and the subversion of government by the oligarchy of big money, which is exactly what has happened. The United States today is not a democracy, but a plutocracy which needs to be reined in, scattered, dispersed, checked and balanced.

Thomas Jefferson, writing on revolution, observed that "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

Must be, and inevitably will be, I'd say.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Freedom Fries and Justice Sizzles

Steve the Agnostic, posting on Beliefnet's "U.S. Politics" board asks, What the hell will it take before you unwrap the flag from around your eyes long enough to admit that this administration lied repeatedly about the need for this war and any connection to the war on terrorism?

How much proof do you need?

Furthermore, How many incidents of torture in multiple locations will it take before you admit that torture was and is US policy?

Good questions, Steve.

What's it gonna take? Probably more of what we've been seeing, because what we've been seeing (Downing Street Memo, torture in the American gulag, car bombings of Iraqi civilians and homegrown security forces, U.S. service personnel killed) is finally starting to have an effect, even on some of the red-state yokels who have been cheerleading for this Iraqi debacle up until now.

Today Walter "Freedom Fries" Jones, the Republican representative from North Carolina who showed his contempt for France by courageously attacking their potatoes, introduced a bill on the floor of the House demanding that our beloved leader complete a plan for withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year, the withdrawal to begin no later than 10/06.

Of course, this proposed plan wouldn't even surface for another six months, and the withdrawal wouldn't start for another 16 months. So it's really too little, too late, but hey, it's a start. It shows that the formerly impregnable fascist war-fever monolith is starting to crack.

When you're looking for defectors, you really want people like Wally Jones, a convinced reactionary, rather than cynical and sophisticated political AC/DC's like McCain, who is always trying to have it both ways.

Anyway, this war will be completely over long before 10/06, because at some point Congress is going to pull the plug on this booger by unfunding it, and Bush and Rumsfeld will have to go fish, eat crow, and bite the big one.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Back When

I remember when this was a much different country than what it is now. It wasn't perfect, but for most Americans it was better. Of course, you have to keep in mind that the great majority of us back then were white, and things were considerably worse for people of color.

I'm talking about the decade roughly 1948-58. People argued about politics as they do now, but they didn't hate each other. My dad and most of his friends were WWII vets. Their attitude toward the war was that they had done an unpleasant job that had to be done. It was their duty, nothing more.

Mostly, they were kind of cynical about it, like Bill Mauldin's WWII cartoon dogfaces, Joe and Willie. They weren't flag wavers, and although they were basically patriotic, they didn't engage in this feverish, over the top, red-white-and-blueism you see so much of today. Those who worked for the government would always say, "The eagle shits on Friday," when payday was coming around.

They didn't subscribe to the cult of the military that characterizes our proto-fascist government today, and didn't glorify or romanticize combat. Dad kept the bronze star he'd won in Germany in a cigar box. He didn't consider himself a hero. "I'm proud to say I was a draftee," he would always announce, left-handedly implying that a person would have to be comparatively duller than the more useful tools in the shed to volunteer.

Our benign and mild president was the Republican Eisenhower, a fully convinced moderate if there ever was one. When Republican right-wingers demanded that he honor the party's traditional pledge to dismantle Social Security, Ike told them in so many words that anybody who thought Social Security was going to go away any time soon was delusional (not his exact words, but that was the message). Here was the former five-star general, supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe at the end of World War II, warning the country in his farewell address in 1960 about the growing and ominous power of the "military-industrial complex." Inevitably, no one listened.

And of course, there were frightening signs of trouble ahead. We're not talking "Happy Days" here. An embryonic fascism was growing in the bosom of the republic. Senator Joe McCarthy was grabbing the spotlight with his lists of communists who had supposedly infiltrated the State Department. The John Birch Society called for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren's impeachment and accused Eisenhower of treason.

And Americans were largely unaware that the U.S. was continuing the odious terrorist practice of making war on civilian populations, something all the combatants had done during WWII. The Nazis' opening Holland's dikes had been correctly considered a war crime. However, when the U.S. Air Force began bombing dams in North Korea a few years later, ruining the rice harvest and causing mass starvation, we were mostly unaware of it, and those who were aware didn't raise an eyebrow. It was the beginning of the pernicious type of warfare, aimed at entire populations, that has made this country the number one terrorist nation on earth over the last 40 years, and the most hated country since Nazi Germany.

But ignorance is bliss, and only an infintesimal number of us even worried about such things, especially after Eisenhower took office and quickly ended the Korean War. Peace returned to the golden land, and with it peace of mind.

My parents and their friends used to have parties on the weekends. I remember a lot of the women were drop-dead beautiful, which is what you'd expect since these were young people. They'd get a little oiled up, then the women would gather in the kitchen and talk about women stuff while the men were in the living room or out on the patio, talking politics or office politics, mostly. My dad was a newsman and so were most of his friends, along with a couple musicians and one actor I remember.

As for the ominous clouds on the horizon mentioned before, My parents and their friends hated that drunken lunatic Joe McCarthy and his communist witch hunt, but they'd talk about him in whispers, like they were afraid of him.

What they were afraid of was losing their jobs. Among those men, the thing they were proudest of was being able to hold decent jobs and support their families. Their outlook was formed by the great depression.

As those parties wound down and people began getting their coats to go home, I'd go around and drink what was left in the glasses. Then I'd go climb the apple tree in the back yard. It made me feel so good.

Even with the bomb hanging over our heads, we were better off in those days.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Genesis of the Iraq War

This is probably old information to some of you.

The roots of the Iraq War go back at least as far as Gulf War I, and maybe farther. It's not hard to prove that the reasons we are in Iraq today have very little to do with Saddam Hussein.

In 1992, when the neocon foreign affairs specialist Paul Wolfowitz, was working as an Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy in the waning days of the Bush I administratin, he supervised the drafting of a defense policy position paper. In it he outlined plans for military intervention in Iraq as an action necessary to give the United States "access to vital raw material, primarily Persian Gulf oil" and to prevent Saddam stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

The paper called for preemptive attacks if necessary, that is to say, if a coalition could not be "orchestrated." The primary goal of U.S. policy, according to Wolfowitz, should be to prevent the rise of any nation that could challenge the United States, either on a global level, or in the all-important Mideast region. This document was leaked to the New York Times. When the Times published it, the resulting controversy forced the Defense Department to rewrite parts of Wolfowitz's paper.

Wolfowitz's policy statement shows that the Bush II policy toward Iraq was fully formed in the minds of neocon analysts even before Bill Clinton took office. His proposed policies were echoed and further elaborated by a report entitled "Rebuilding America's Defenses," Published in 2000 by the influential neoconservative thinktank, Project for a New American Century. This report has become the Bush II administration's master plan for the Middle East.

It reads in part: "The U.S. has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in the Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

(Emphasis is mine -- DB)

People associated with PNAC include Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bolton. Bearing this in mind, it's not too difficult to understand why Donald Rumsfeld began calling for the bombing of Iraq on September 12, 2001, offering as justification for this seemingly nonsensical idea that "There are no good targets in Afghanistan."

A person would have to be very blind, very foolish, or very naive to accept the administration's purported reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Consider for a moment that the chief resource of our most reliable supplier of oil, Saudi Arabia, shows every sign of playing out. Ghawar, the largest field ever discovered, is still producing, but they're having to pump so much sea water into it to get the oil out that production has slowed down considerably.

There's only one country left in the world that has large reserves of oil that are, in some places, still unexploited and in others, still unevaluated.

Anybody want to take a wild guess what country that is?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

So happy Together

A just-released AP story concerns the large number of Saudi fighters now participating in the Iraq insurgency.

WASHINGTON - More foreign fighters than ever are crossing Iraq's porous borders to fight U.S. and Iraqi forces, and a growing number are from U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia, a Senate Democrat said Thursday.

"The mix is changing," said Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), citing conversations last week in Iraq with Marine and Army generals. "Now, the mix is increasingly more Islamist crossing the border ... and a lot of them are Saudis. It presents a different profile" that is harder for U.S. forces to confront.

But official U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia shows no signs of changing. That policy is best shown by this rather gay looking picture of Bush and Prince Abdullah walking together in Texas a month or so ago.

It looks to me like some layout person at the newspaper had a lot of fun putting this page together.

Kind of reminds me of that old top-40 hit, "So Happy Together."

Saudi Arabia has historically possessed the world's most extensive oil reserves, although there has been some speculation lately that the well is running dry.

Lest we forget, fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.However, when it comes to our relationship with them, oil is apparently both a lubricant and an adhesive.

If you can't beat 'em, Saddam.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Dropping Out

Looking back 40 years to 1965, I'm amazed at how much we knew then, how accurate our judgments were, and how much we forgot along the way.Lyndon Johnson was just beginning to ratchet up the insanity of the Vietnam War, and we had only a vague idea of how close that lunatic, John F Kennedy, had taken the world to obliteration. But I and most of the people I hung out with at the time had enough information to know that we couldn't possibly co-exist with the madness attempting to pass itself off as our politico-socio-economic system.

We were very sure of two things: first, that the only way to live in America was to completely drop out of American society (to the extent that that's possible), and secondly, that the political system, society, and economy in which we were living wasn't the product of any human endeavor. Rather, it was a machine, and it was out of control. It was, at bottom, a war machine.

Some went on welfare. Some became musicians or artists. Some pooled their resources and bought little plots of land, keeping goats and a few chickens, and planting vegetable and marijuana gardens. But eventually, nearly everyone forgot what we were about. People got married, had families, and needed money. Quite a few of us sold out our ideals and went to work for "the man," as we used to say. We went through the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton years convincing ourselves that life in the shadow of the Pentagon and the Chevron/Exxon/Texaco/Mobil behemoth is normal, even desirable.

Then came Bush II, Iraq, and the rising tide of American fascism, and I woke up from my 30 years' sleep. I wonder how many of my old compatriots have done the same.

A good idea, if it's based on sound reasoning and sound observation, and if it's truthful, never disappears. It might fade away for awhile, but it will eventually come back around again.If you're an American, I would strongly encourage you to drop out of this sick society, whose rulers are corporate buccaneers, whose culture is advertising jingles, and "whose fingers are ten armies," in the words of Allen Ginsburg. I'm not going to get into specifics about what dropping out consists of -- not in this post anyway.

As for revolution, there's really no need of that. Just as Nixon, the world's greatest eavesdropper, fell because he bugged himself, the current crew of gangsters, possibly the most destructive scrum of thugs the world has ever seen, is about to destroy themselves and their entire war machine as well. They're on the verge of accomplishing this by mortgaging the country to oriental, mostly Chinese bankers, and by their refusal or inability to come to grips with the great oncoming crisis of our age, the coming petroleum supply crisis.


America celebrated Memorial Day a few days ago, and the 129th anniversary of the Republic is coming up shortly. But many patriots like myself seriously doubt whether we have a republic to celebrate any more.People still ate hot dogs and potato salad on Memorial Day this year. While they drank lemonade and ate ice cream, and waved the flag, the atmosphere was more subdued than usual.

The country is bogged down in a war that even its cheerleaders in the administration know is going very, very badly. Some have taken to comparing it to Vietnam, and while that's not a precise comparison, it does call to mind Karl Marx's admonition that "History happens twice: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." I can't imagine a bigger farce than the notion that we're going to turn Iraq into a USA clone, or a paradigm of representative democracy and free-market capitalism. That kind of unthinking is pathetic.

We now live in a faux republic which has instituted torture as official policy, while at the same time denying that it's policy, or that it happens.We still have a semi-independent judiciary and a semi-free press, although both are constantly threatened in the crudest possible way by dwarves like Scott McClellan and Tom DeLay. We're not a fascist dictatorship quite yet, but we're working on it.

As the Fourth of July approaches, I'm reminded of Edward Gibbon's description of the Roman Secular Games -- a huge bash thrown by the emperor Philip the Arab on the occasion of Rome's thousandth birthday. These games were meant to celebrate the eternal glory of the Eternal City, but many realized that the animating genius and raw strength of the Empire had fled, and that only an empty shell was left.

Gibbon says, The limits of the Roman empire still extended from the Western Ocean to the Tigris, and from Mount Atlas to the Rhine and the Danube. To the undiscerning eye of the vulgar, Philip appeared a monarch no less powerful than Hadrian or Augustus had formerly been. The form was still the same, but the animating health and vigor were fled.

That's the U.S.A. on the approach of 7/4/05 -- a hollow shell of its former self.Just wait until the housing bubble pops and the world's biggest energy consumer realizes that the cheap gas is gone forever. This country is in for a harsh test of its character, and it's going to be found wanting.