Sunday, October 30, 2005

Two from Tommy

Tom Tomorrow's latest (you might have to watch a commercial in order to get access to it) is the best concise analysis I've seen of the vital role of our supposedly independent and objective press plays in stoking the flames of war fever, and the government's use of media as a sewer pipe for its most blatant and ridiculous propaganda.

Two and a half years ago, T.T. also had the best-ever satirical take on the Neo-Con cabal's case for war with Iraq.

Peace and Freedom

In 1969, at a time quite like the present, the reigning genius of the "underground" comics movement, Robert Crumb, produced "Despair." It's an outstanding classic of the genre, intended to pummel all hope out of anyone still naive enough to have any in that dark and violent time.

I sympathized then with people tempted to despair, and I still do. We've got a million valid reasons for abandoning hope and lashing out violently against the evil people and the insane thinking that got us into this state: waging perpetual war against those countries whose people hate and oppose us, against our own people so inconsiderate as to be sunk into indecorous poverty, and even against the earth herself.

But despair produces nothing except nihilism, and what little religion I have forbids me to abandon hope. I'm not advocating naive cheerfulness or passive resignation, but the kind of tough insistence that it's only by "Keep(ing) (our) eyes on the prize," as the old civil rights slogan said, that we can salvage anything worthy out of the present situation.

The "prize," of course, is simply transforming everything we have now into its opposite: instead of war and hostility, peace and freedom; instead of class warfare, education and accommodation; instead of mindless consumption and environmental destruction, technological innovation that stresses recognition of our biological limitations; instead of incessant economic and population growth, the maintenance of sustainable levels.

Are these goals attainable? Yes, but not easily. They all depend first of all on overcoming fascism, and that's not an easy task.

Fascism, in the final analysis, is completely dependent on mass media to maintain its position. If enough people refuse to be stupefied by endless torrents of fear and hostility, such as we've seen unleashed by our corporate-owned mass media over the last three years as it acted in the service of the corporate-military state, the underpinnings of fascism collapse. Without popular support, or at least grudging submission, fascism melts like butter on a hot stove.

The other possibility is for the revolution to capture the mass media -- the ideological equivalent of a revolutionary movement getting the army to abandon the regime and come over to its side. And since the job of the media is to tell the truth, getting its guilt-ridden troops to switch sides is easier than recruiting an army to the revolution.


"Fascism" and "revolution" are emotionally-laden terms, but they needn't be, if you think about it. Leached of their emotional baggage, "revolution" simply means the replacement of one form of government with another. Sometimes, as in the present-day U.S., "counter-revolution" might be a better term: restoration of a form of government which has been usurped.

"Fascism" is a technical term which refers to a strictly modern form of rule by the combined forces of plutocracy (or wealth), government bureaucracy, and the military establishment, facilitated by a conventional religious establishment and a plutocratically-owned mass media which serve as the necessary organs of the corporo-military state's propaganda.

It's time to undertake a serious and dedicated revolution against both our fascist government and the culture of fascism which has been on the rise in this country for the last fifty years. The rules for participation are simple:

*Always tell the truth. Lies are the enemy's chief instruments of repression.

*Always remain non-violent. There is never a good enough reason to engage in violence against another human being, no matter what he's done.

*Don't despair. Nothing good can come of it.


It might be time for me to take a walk -- a walk for peace: peace outside our borders, peace inside our borders, peace along our borders, peace with the earth we live on.

I was thinking of walking from where I am now to Washington D.C. Doris Haddock did it when she was 90, but I'm probably not as tough as her.

Such a walk might begin next March. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

No Comment

From the New York Times, October 24, 2005

On Sunday, Republicans appeared to be preparing to blunt the impact of any charges. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, speaking on the NBC news program "Meet the Press," compared the leak investigation with the case of Martha Stewart and her stock sale, "where they couldn't find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn't a crime."

Ms. Hutchison said she hoped "that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars."

From a televised press conference of February 2, 1999, of a bipartisan group of senators announcing a resolution to open the Senate trial on the impeachment of President Clinton.

(S)omething needs to be said that is a clear message that our rule of law is intact and the standards for perjury and obstruction of justice are not gray. And I think it is most important that we make that statement and that it be on the record for history.

I very much worry that with the evidence that we have seen that grand juries across America are going to start asking questions about what is obstruction of justice, what is perjury. And I don’t want there to be any lessening of the standard. Because our system of criminal justice depends on people telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That is the lynch pin of our criminal justice system and I don’t want it to be faded in any way.

From the blog, today

John Hinderaker (lead writer for, yesterday:

Tomorrow may bring indictments of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby on charges that can charitably be described as trivial. Tonight, one of our readers urged us to link to President Bush's great speech to the Joint Armed Forces Officers' Wives' group rather than being distracted by the minutiae of the day. Good suggestion.

John Hinderaker, December 17, 1998:

"Like many others, we have been frustrated by the apparent inability of much of the American public to take the Clinton scandals seriously. "It's not about sex," we have patiently repeated to our benighted friends. "It's about perjury. It's about obstruction of justice. The sex is only incidental. At most it was the motive for the crimes. You wouldn't think murder was unimportant just because the motive for the murder was sex, would you?" So goes our argument."

Yellow Grass

hitching along old 99
a month short of 19

friendly old guy in a funny little car
stops, drives slow, we're in tacoma

along comes joe, says "yer in luck
i'm goin ta l a"

we cross over the line to paradise
about four i've heard about it
all my life now i'm here it's real

the grass in paradise is tall
and yellow
the youth in my brain is new
and green

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

As Simplistic as a Hazardous Condition

The Poor Man has his Golden Wingnut Awards, but winners of that dubious distinction are judged solely on the demerits of their political ineptitude.

I'm looking to confer some sort of recognition on the web's worst writing, regardless of political orientation. Let's call it the Humpty-Dumpty Medal.

Humpty-Dumpty, you may recall, was the character in Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" who told Alice, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

For a long time I didn't bother with this kind of evaluation, because I thought Pastor J. Grant Swank, who holds forth at Men's News Daily, had no competition.

And Swank is good, no doubt about it. In a recent piece about corruption in Louisiana, he asserts that "The New Orleans police office needs the spy glass closely scouring its walls."

This raises the question of why anyone would use a telescope for a job that could be done a lot more easily with a bucket of warm soapy water and a stiff-bristled brush, but I'm sure Pastor Swank, tapping the same logic my students used to plead their cases with me, knows what he meant.

However, Swank has been outdone, at least this week, by Kaye Grogan, whose snorty postings appear at Alan Keyes's blog, "RenewAmerica.US". Grogan wins this week's Humpty-Dumpty just on the strength of her latest column's saucy title: "Border control is just do it."

There are numerous juicy segments in Grogan's disjointed screed, but lengthy quotes would take the fun out of reading the entire masterpiece, and I hope everyone will.

Just in passing, though, this particular bad writer, whose political philosophy is not easy to pin down, but might be called "Soccer Mom Baroque," specializes in misplaced prepositional phrases, such as the memorable, "(President Bush) should have seen the open-door policy of our borders as a haven for the terrorists to slide into America with their suitcase bombs intact as a hazardous condition a long time ago."

Just how intact is a hazardous conditon? And is there any doubt that Kaye Grogan is the deserving winner of this first weekly Humpty-Dumpty Medal?

What He Said

A lot of good things besides maple syrup come from Vermont, politically speaking.

Senator Patrick Leahy is not a young man, and I'm uninformed about the general state of his health, but I do know that his brain, his heart, and his spine are all in great shape.

No wonder Vice-Chancellor Cheney paid him the compliment of telling him to go fuck himself.

Echo Chamber

When I was a 20-year-old kid, a college student working afternoons at a movie theatre in San Francisco's Marina District, I realized we were going to war in Vietnam.

One sleepy September p.m. in 1964, as I stood idly in the cool darkness of the theatre auditorium, the weekly Hearst Newsreel began unspooling a story from a place along Vietnam's east coast called the Gulf of Tonkin. Yes, we still had the old black-and-white movie newsreels; Hearst's was the last survivor of that now extinct species, and it died the next year. However, the media role this particular newsreel played that day -- disseminator of government war propaganda -- is alive and well in today's corporate-owned and government-approved establishment media.

"Iraq is not Vietnam," says media critic Norman Solomon, "(but) War after war, decade after decade, the US news media have continued to serve those in Washington who strive to set the national agenda for war and lay down flagstones on the path to military intervention.

"From the US media's fraudulent reporting about Gulf of Tonkin events in early August 1964 to the fraudulent reporting about supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the first years of the 21st century, the US news media have been fundamental to making war possible for the United States," Solomon charges, continuing the line of attack established in his several books on the U.S. news media, in which he frequently compares our corporate news establishment to the now-defunct Soviet dailies, Pravda and Izvestia.

That Hearst newsreel showed pictures of Soviet weapons -- automatic rifles and grenade launchers -- supposedly captured from North Vietnamese PT boats. "Evidence of aggression from the North," the narrator ominously intoned, as if he were Orson Welles performing an exorcism.

I remember thinking, "Something's not right," as I watched this weak attempt to portray North Vietnam as a threat to America's security. Those few pieces of tinny-looking Russian hardware seemed to me a very feeble menace compared with the vast might of the American war machine. But in the weeks that followed, network news and the print media pumped up the significance of the fictional "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" until the intimidated Congress passed the resolution of the same name, giving the president unilateral warmaking powers, with only two dissenting votes.

Fast forward to 2002 and 2003, and the Bush administration's need to manufacture a pretext for an invasion of Iraq, and once again the corporate media, so bitterly and frequently maligned by the right-wing noise machine, jumped into the breach to serve as the primary organ pipe for conveying the government's war fever propaganda.

"We need to confront the roles of the corporate media in helping to drag the United States into one war after another," says Norman Solomon. "In a country with significant elements of democracy, it matters what people think. The propaganda functions of media are crucial for the war makers."

"There are exceptional news reports," he concedes, adding "By definition, they're exceptions. What matters most is the routine coverage that bounces around the national echo chamber. Repetition is the essence of propaganda. And the messages of the warfare state are incessant."

"Echo chamber" is certainly the descriptor par excellence of the media's role in the run-up to Iraq. While there were some reporters like the New York Times's Judith Miller who went above and beyond what her government mentors expected of her, manufacturing tales of endless vistas of Iraqi warehouses, laboratories, and underground installations full of bacterial weapons, poison gases, and nuclear materials, most corporate media reporters simply and credulously repeated the administration's WMD claims, unedited, unexamined, and unchallenged. In doing so they acted not as journalists, but White House shils.

This opening segment that ran on CNN's "Moneyline," hosted by Lou Dobbs, on February 6, 2003 is typical of the corporate media's pre-Iraq-War reporting.

LOU DOBBS, HOST: Good evening. Tonight President Bush delivered a clear message saying, quote, "Saddam Hussein has to be stopped." The president also bluntly challenged the United Nations to take tougher action to disarm Iraq. The president's comments came as Secretary of State Colin Powell pressed the case against Iraq on Capitol Hill. Senior White House Correspondent John King joins us now from the White House -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lou, after that appearance on Capitol Hill Secretary Powell came here to the White House to brief the president on reaction to his presentation to the U.N. Security Council yesterday.

Mr. Bush then came into the Roosevelt Room here at the White House with Secretary Powell. He said there now should be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has made his choice and has actively defying the will of the United Nations Security Council. In a blunt message to the council, Mr. Bush said Saddam's made his choice. The council's turn now to make it's choice.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, the Security Council will show whether its words have any meaning. Having made its demands, the Security Council must not back down. When those demands are defied, and mocked, by a dictator.


KING: Mr. Bush said the Powell presentation should have removed any doubt that Iraq has active chemical and biological weapons programs, that it is actively conspiring to hide things from the inspectors. And Mr. Bush said that it is allowing an al Qaeda terrorist cell to operate out of Baghdad, a terrorist cell he said was responsible for the recent killing of a U.S. diplomat.

All of this begs the question, who produced this segment? CNN? Or the White House?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because both CNN and the White House serve the same corporate masters. Big corporations, many of them dependent on the business of warfare or preparation for war, own the networks and largest print media outright. They don't own the government, but have penetrated the decision-making process through bribery, which they are pleased to call "campaign contributions," and that curious process of largesse distribution known as "lobbying."

The government and the establishment media are joined at the hip, and united for the accomplishment of no honorable purpose.

"Last year, while doing research for my book 'War Made Easy,'" Norman Soloman observes, "I read the annual reports of many military contractors for the Pentagon - small, medium and large corporations. Those annual reports were clear: War is very profitable for our company. We expect more war, and that will mean a cornucopia of profits."

Now that we've come to grief in Iraq as we did in Vietnam, it's painfully obvious that the United States can no longer afford these kinds of corporate profits; the war machine's profits are killing the rest of us.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Retired U.S. Army General: Quit Iraq Now

Retired three-star General William E. Odom, who served as Director of the National Security Agency under Clinton between 1985 and 1988, has written a policy statement entitled "What's Wrong With Cutting and Running," advocating an immediate total pullout of U.S. military forces from Iraq.

Odom is currently a professor of foreign relations at Yale and a Senior Fellow of the Hudson Institute, a non-partisan think tank devoted to national and international security studies. His anti-war statement is published online at the site, "Nieman Watchdog," the blog for Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

At a time when nearly all Congressional Republicans and most Democrats are still advocating a "stay the course" policy, and even the overwhelming majority of dissenters in Congress say they favor plans involving gradual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Lieutenant-General Odom's statement is singular in its bold challenge of conventional attitudes toward the war and its relentless, uncompromising logic.

Odom lists the nine most commonly mobilized arguments and Republican talking points for maintaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq, and demolishes each of them.

For example, the war's supporters argue that were the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq now, "we would leave behind a civil war."

"Iraqis are already fighting Iraqis," Odom answers. "Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. That’s civil war. We created the civil war when we invaded; we can’t prevent a civil war by staying."

To the contention that the U.S. would lose credibility by leaving Iraq now, Odom replies, "One of the great advantages of being a hyperpower (is that) when we have made a big strategic mistake, we can reverse it. And it may even enhance our credibility. Staying there damages our credibility more than leaving."

Probably the most ubiquitous argument against an immediate U.S. withdrawal is the assertion that it "would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy."

But Odom counters that "There is no question the insurgents and other anti-American parties will take over the government once we leave. But that will happen no matter how long we stay."

Related to the last argument are the twin contentions that "Iraq would become a haven for terrorists," if the U.S. pulled out now, and "Iranian influence in Iraq would increase."

"Iraq is already a training ground for terrorists," General Odom answers. "In fact, the CIA has pointed out to the administration and congress that Iraq is spawning so many terrorists that they are returning home to many other countries to further practice their skills there.

"The quicker a new dictator wins the political power in Iraq and imposes order," Odom adds pessemistically, "the sooner the country will stop producing well-experienced terrorists."

Regarding Iran: "Iranian leaders see US policy in Iraq as being so much in Teheran's interests that they have been advising Iraqi Shiite leaders to do exactly what the Americans ask them to do. Elections will allow the Shiites to take power legally."

To the objection that if the U.S. was to withdraw, unrest would spread throughout the Middle East, Odom replies, "Already today each of (Iraq's neighbors) is deeply involved in support for or opposition to factions in the ongoing Iraqi civil war. The very act of invading Iraq almost insured that violence would involve the larger region."

To the argument that Shi'ite-Sunni clashes would worsen immediately upon a U.S. withdrawal: "The US presence is not preventing Shiite-Sunni conflict; it merely delays it."

Odom counters the commonly voiced concern that the U.S. cannot leave Iraq yet because we have not properly or completely trained and mobilized their army and police forces with blunt realism: "The insurgents are fighting very effectively without US or European military advisors to train them. Why don't the soldiers and police in the present Iraqi regime's service do their duty as well? Because they are uncertain about committing their lives to this regime. They are being asked to take a political stand, just as the insurgents are. Political consolidation, not military-technical consolidation, is the issue."

Finally, Odom saves his harshest words for a response to the criticism that opposition to the war is symptiomatic of a lack of support for the troops, or is unpatriotic.

"Most surprising to me is that no American political leader today has tried to unmask the absurdity of the administration's case that to question the strategic wisdom of the war is unpatriotic and a failure to support our troops. Most officers and probably most troops don't see it that way." Odom says.

"They are angry at the deficiencies in materiel support they get from the Department of Defense, and especially about the irresponsibly long deployments they must now endure because Mr. Rumsfeld and his staff have refused to enlarge the ground forces to provide shorter tours. In the meantime, they know that the defense budget shovels money out the door to maritime forces, SDI, etc., while refusing to increase dramatically the size of the Army."

In so many words, this retired officer who served his country with distinction is turning the accusation of non-support around, and placing the onus of unpatriotic behavior where he feels it really belongs.

Odom's policy statement is an important breakthrough on a subject that has been, up until now, loaded down with cultural taboos (is anyone willing to say, "I don't support the troops?"), sentimental baggage relating to subjects such as the flag, America's image of itself, and conventional and expected forms of patriotism, and the common, reflexive, and unthinking identification of the government as the repository of patriotic virtue. It should be read by every member of Congress, particularly before that body votes on the next Iraq War appropriation.

Thus far the only significant Congressional opposition to the war has been centered in the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, formed during the second week of June, 2005, and consisting of 41 members from both houses. Its membership includes Representative Conyers of Michigan, Representative Waters of California, and Senator Boxer of California.

Even this ostensibly anti-war group, formed to put pressure on the Bush Administration to end the war and bring the troops home, was careful to specify in its mission statement that its members are "not calling for a certain date to bring troops home."

Odom's statement calling for complete and immediate withdrawal, especially if it is followed by similar expressions of dissent from equally highly-placed and credible sources, may put more starch in the congressional caucus's demands.

Readers can access the entire text of General Odom's policy statement at Harvard's "Nieman Watchdog" website (

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pleafe Pafs the Mufhrooms

This afternoon as I was re-reading Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," I was struck by a passage which recounts the narrator's first impressions upon entering the eponymous dwelling: "the objects around me...the carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy...(and) I hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this..."

Of course, this reminded me of the carvings on my own ceilings, my own tapestry-hung drywalls (though my tapestries are not so sombre), and the armorial trophies which line the hallways of my double-wide mobile home. These things are, as the author points out, pretty old hat to most of us.

However, as I perused my bookshelves, and my eye fell upon a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, I realized there are some aspects of my genteel existence I just can't seem to get used to. I'm speaking here of certain conventions of spelling which typefied written and printed matter of the 18th century, and persisted in some places well into the middle of the 19th.

The volume in question was a lovely 1855 letterpress edition of "Reynard the Fox" by Goethe, translated into English by Thomas James Arnold, Esq., and published by Nattali and Bond, Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London. On page 85, the fox is on trial for murder, and being interrogated by the lion king, who says:

"Is't by your treatment of My Servants fhown?
Bruin, by your devices, hath been lamed;
My faithful Tybalt fo feverely maimed,
The Leech doubts if he may his health reftore--
But I will wafte My words on you no more;
Lo! your Accufers prefs on every fide;
All further fubterfuge feems now denied."

Besides the seemingly haphazard capitalization, which is applied to some nouns and not others (why "Accusers" but not "words"?), and to the possessive pronoun "My," there is the main mystery -- the "f" which replaces most, but not all s's. Where did it come from? what was its purpose? and why did it suddenly pass out of favor?

The rules for using it are usually, but not always easy to figure out. For example, why "Is't" rather than "If't"? Probably because "Is't" is considered two words rather than one, and the final "s" is never changed to "f."

But even after cracking the code, one is still left with no rhyme, reason, or rationale for this system. Apparently upper-case S's, as in "Servants," are not converted, but lower case s's at the beginning of a word are. As previously noted, a final "s" is never made into an "f," so it's "Pleafe pafs the mufhrooms," rather than "Pleafe paff the mufhrooms." This led me to wondering about the rule for double s's that occur with neither "s" at the beginning or ending of a word, until, on page 87, I read that "Sibby the Goofe, with anger hiffing, came..."

All this fpeculation caufes Me to wonder if I've not too much time on my Hands. I fhall ponder this Queftion as I pace about tonight, through my Paffageways lined with armorial Trophies.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Thanks, Frank, I Needed That

Thanks to Frank Rich of the New York Times, I won't have to write the piece I was planning entitled, "Why I Don't Give Much of a Rat's Ass About the Plame/Wilson Investigation or Who Said What to Whom When so Stop Talking About It Already," or something like that.

Rich, an awesome writer and awesomer reporter (he has a talent for stripping away irrelevancy and getting to the germ of things) has already done a better job than I could have of explaining why we needn't waste any more time reconstructing hypothetical conversations between Lewis Libby and Judy Miller. The left-leaning bloggers, most of whom I've temporarily stopped reading because of their obsession with the Plame case, are perfectly free to waste as many hours as they want bogged down in tinier and tinier increments of minutiae relating to this sleazy affair, and consequently missing the big picture out of obsessive attention to detail. Sounds like great fun, if you've nothing else to do.

But the fact is we'll never know all the tiny details of the Plame case, since neither Libby nor Miller nor Karl Rove is ever going to give a straight answer about any of this stuff.

And as Rich points out, none of this matters anyway, because Plamegate is only a minor and barely significant chapter in the epic story of the gigantic disinformation campaign mounted by the White House during the six-months runup to the Iraq invasion, to sell said invasion to the semi-literate, television addled citizens of the World's Greatest Democracy, not to mention hyping its necessity to the tweed-clad and furrow-browed sensation pedlars of the establishment media, who, incredibly and with breathtaking abdication of their responsibilities, bought it like a bunch of virgin schoolgirls.

We need know nothing more of Libby than the fact that he's Dick Cheney's water boy, whose job is to deliver the boss's sulpheric messages, and that he's a grown man who calls himself "Scooter."

The cryptic and inscrutable Ms. Miller is even less worthy of attention. A transparent media whore who gained unlimited access to the highest echelons of power by agreeing to act as the administration's sewer pipe, delivering its daily dose of overheated and underdocumented war drek to a breathless nation on the Times's front page, she'll now hopefully fade from the scene and take up a quiet life of knitting and cat husbandry, as most used-up harlots do.

Rich brings us back into focus by pointing out that the Plame incident will be remembered as a footnote to a much greater constellation of events, and that the real story is not Rove-Libby, but Bush-Cheney, and the secret deliberations of a nefarious sounding Star Chamber which bears the name of an extinct political party, called WHIG.

What was WHIG? Read Frank Rich and find out. Did Judy Miller sit in on WHIG's deliberations? She'll never tell. Maybe somebody can leak a picture.

Besides thanking Frank Rich for the re-focus, we should also show some appreciation for the on-line news organ, who somehow bypassed the legally-available channels and made it possible for us to read Rich's column without paying money to subscibe to the mercenary and totally-out-of-line Times Select service. I'm boycotting Times Select, and I hope you are too, but I must admit I miss my regular doses of Frank, Paul, Mo, and Bob.

Finally, a word of appreciation for The Poor Man (see links listing in the right column), who steered me to the Truthout piece, and without whom the world would be a drearier and less well-informed place.

Monday, October 17, 2005

War Crimes

The evil empire has struck again.

Please note that the body of the "terrorist" being lowered into its grave is about three feet long.

Somebody will pay for this.

How much longer?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Harsh Reality

Yesterday in Salamanca, Spain, Hugo Chavez, the flamboyant, intelligent, and articulate socialist dictator of Venezuela, addressed a few of the unvarnished and undeniable truths about the global energy crunch. The U.S. government and most Americans will make every attempt to deny these obvious facts anyway, probably for about as long as it takes for the American economy to begin to show signs of irrecoverable paralysis.

"We're at the doorway of a major energy crisis worldwide", Chavez said, adding "We'll have to develop other resources such as wind, solar and nuclear energy — naturally for peaceful purposes."

Noting that Venezuela is currently unable to increase it's 3.2-million-barrel daily production, Chavez maintained that "The whole world right now is producing petroleum at their maximum capacity. Prices will continue to rise, but oil is running out."

Chavez also blamed part of the recent oil price increases on "intermediaries," and, taking a swipe at his arch-enemy, the United States, on "the irrational capitalist consumerism model."

It goes almost without saying that both high and low "consumers" of news north of the Rio Grande will discredit the messenger delivering this information (socialism is prototype number 666 in the official U.S. catalogue of forms of government) in a vain and pathetic attempt to ignore the simple truths of the message.

However, if they'd like to hear the same message, delivered a little more aggressively and abrasively, this time by a red-blooded, patriotic, capitalistic American, then they owe it to themselves to read the transcript of James Kunstler's speech to the PetroCollapse New York Conference earlier this month. In fact, every American who cares about his or her own survival in the months and years to come needs to read this warning, which is actually the short form of Kunstler's book, "The Long Emergency".

Kunstler correctly identifies the crisis this country is facing as a two-headed monster. The first head -- the energy crisis itself, is by itself enough to plunge the world into chaos. The second head is the public's weak-minded, frivolous, and infantile denial of the crisis, which amplifies it and multiplies its destructive capacity.

This crisis isn't coming, it's here. We've already begun to experience the inevitable inflation of all prices that accompanies the rising cost of fuel. The question we need to ask ourselves -- that you need to ask yourself -- is, how well prepared are you to weather the storm? Considering the total absence of political leadership in this country today, it's safe to assume nobody is going to help us get through this mess.

If you live in a city, don't own a car, and live within walking distance of groceries and other necessities, you're probably in pretty good shape. If there are food shortages, of course you'll experience them along with everybody else -- there's nothing to be done. But the less dependent you are on petroleum to meet your day-to-day needs, the better off you are.

If you own a car, and need it for survival-type errands, you're vulnerable.

If you live in a suburb distant from the city, work in the city center, drive the kids to school and the various other places they have to go, and are petrodependent, you're screwed. You're going to have to find another way to live.

I noticed that in proposing a Democratic Party platform for 2006, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested one of the planks should be a goal of U.S. energy independence in ten years. It's a nice sentiment, but meaningless without the addition of some of what writing instructors call "concrete detail." We need specifics of a real, detailed energy plan, naming the tangible and attainable resources that might realistically be tapped to replace and augment petroleum.

We need to know how we're going to get there from here. Vapid generalizations and naive good intentions won't get us anywhere.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Houston, We Have a Problem

I disagree with the New York Times's David Brooks about nearly everything, but today his column was one hundred per cent on target. His evaluation of Harriet Miers should spell the death of this imposter's unbelievable pretension that she is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, but it probably won't.

Miers is, to put it as simply as possible, the most blatantly unqualified candidate for the Supreme Court ever. Lots of mediocre judges, such as Melvin Fuller, have held seats on the highest bench, but Miers doesn't even achieve mediocrity.

Not even close.

Brooks says, "Of all the words written about Harriet Miers, none are more disturbing than the ones she wrote herself.

"In the early 90's, while she was president of the Texas bar association, Miers wrote a column called 'President's Opinion' for The Texas Bar Journal. It is the largest body of public writing we have from her, and sad to say, the quality of thought and writing doesn't even rise to the level of pedestrian.

Of course, we have to make allowances for the fact that the first job of any association president is to not offend her members. Still, nothing excuses sentences like this:

More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad--based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems.

"Or this: When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved.

"Or passages like this: An organization must also implement programs to fulfill strategies established through its goals and mission. Methods for evaluation of these strategies are a necessity. With the framework of mission, goals, strategies, programs, and methods for evaluation in place, a meaningful budgeting process can begin.

"Or, finally, this: We have to understand and appreciate that achieving justice for all is in jeopardy before a call to arms to assist in obtaining support for the justice system will be effective. Achieving the necessary understanding and appreciation of why the challenge is so important, we can then turn to the task of providing the much needed support.

"I don't know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers's prose," Brooks observes. "Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided. It's not that Miers didn't attempt to tackle interesting subjects. She wrote about unequal access to the justice system, about the underrepresentation of minorities in the law and about whether pro bono work should be mandatory. But she presents no arguments or ideas, except the repetition of the bromide that bad things can be eliminated if people of good will come together to eliminate bad things. Or as she puts it, 'There is always a necessity to tend to a myriad of responsibilities on a number of cases as well as matters not directly related to the practice of law.' And that, 'Disciplining ourselves to provide the opportunity for thought and analysis has to rise again to a high priority.'

"Throw aside ideology. Surely the threshold skill required of a Supreme Court justice is the ability to write clearly and argue incisively. Miers's columns provide no evidence of that," the Times columnist concludes with what can only be described as understatement.

But let's not understate the case. Harriet Miers is, to put it bluntly, a dummy, as evidenced by her gushy adulation of Bush. She's nothing more than a hard working bureaucrat who can't think, except in cliches, and can't write, except with abstract nouns and passive verbs, which isn't really writing at all, since these kinds of empty squiggles on paper are the stuff of empty sentences which convey no ideas.

Furthermore, the Miers nomination proves that everything anybody ever said about Bush is true. He's a moron; he's incompetent; he has no understanding of the processes or purposes, much less the history and traditions, of American government. I had students in my high school civics classes who understand American government and the Constitution much better than George ever will, but of course, these are subjects that hold no interest for him.

Now that Karl and Dick are no longer around to run things, he's in charge, and it shows. This court nomination is the administration's biggest strategic blunder since the launching of the Iraq War, and that was, as Teddy Kennedy correctly called it, the worst blunder in the history of U.S. foreign relations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Invisible Elephant

The mainstream media – urban daily newspapers, network news broadcasts, and cable news outlets, have failed to report or comment on the extended and highly significant absences of Presidential Advisor Karl Rove and Vice-President Dick Cheney from the White House.

Considering that both have been key players and policy makers in the executive-oriented Bush administration since day one, this is a highly critical story. The establishment news outlets appear to be treating it like the invisible elephant in the living room no one wants to acknowledge.

At this point the story is only available on the blogs, where there is some speculation that both men may have departed the Bush administrative team for good.

Rove’s absence of the past few weeks has been mentioned a few times on the NBC Nightly News and its sibling, MSNBC. Correspondents reporting it appear to assume that it’s due to the likelihood of Rove’s soon-to-be-announced indictment in connection with the Plame affair.

Cheney has been gone since mid-summer, and only re-appeared at the White House during the second week of October, just as the president was leaving town for a photo-op tour of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.

No mainstream source I'm aware of (please correct me if I'm wrong) has mentioned Cheney’s absence at all, prompting the Philadelphia blog Attytood to declare in a headline yesterday (Oct. 11), “Fun With Dick and George: The Biggest Story of 2005 is Hiding in Plain Sight.”

“Dick Cheney and George W. Bush don’t like each other any more,” Attytood contends, and adds, “Sometime this summer the vice president all but disappeared off the face of the earth. This time not to his undisclosed location, but mainly to his retreat in Wyoming. You may recall that even when Hurricane Katrina caused the biggest crisis in Washington since the start of the invasion Cheney was not seen for days.”

However, no one knows for sure why Cheney has been gone so long.

Nora Ephron at the Huffington Post speculates that Cheney’s absence is due to his personal involvement in the Plame affair, as opposed to such involvement being limited to his aide, Lewis Libby.

The blog TalkLeft recycles some unattributed political gossip, to the effect that Cheney left because he was deeply disturbed by Bush’s habitual bumbling, such as occurred at the time Katrina hit, and is tired of bailing him out.

“But I also don't discount that Cheney may be in deep doo-doo of his own over RoveGate,” the author of TalkLeft adds.

While the reasons for this apparent shift in key personnel at the top of the Bush Administration remains unknown, it appears to have happened, quietly, almost surreptitiously, and utterly without fanfare.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Queen of Spain

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised.
--Seng-Tsan, the third Zen patriarch

It's time to stop hating George W. Bush. At this point, I'm just trying to figure out what he's up to. He seems to have gone around the bend, or into another dimension, or to have beamed himself into his own parallel universe.

Napoleon Bonaparte had fans, devotees, and true believers in his train until, in 1808, he appointed his brother Joseph King of Spain. The act was clearly an expression of the "I can do anything I want" impulse, and at that point sentiment against him pretty universally boiled over. Even his most faithful followers began to say among themselves, "We can't live with this guy any more."

Of course, it took another seven years to get rid of Bonaparte for good, from the time he deposed the Hapsburg monarch, appointed his brother to Spanish throne, invaded Spain, and launched his unsuccessful campaign against "the terrorists," i.e. the Spanish people, who for some reason opposed the liberation and democracy that only the French Republic could confer on them. After that came a series of military defeats by the forces of a by-then-unified anti-Napoleon European alliance, then exile on the Island of Elba, followed by the dictator's being smuggled back into France by dead-ender loyalists, and his final defeat at Waterloo.

At this point, nobody can live with Bush any more, whether they've followed him right up to the day he appointed Harret Miers to the Supreme Bench or hated him all along. There are still a few faithful Republican Guards trying to apologize for him, but they mostly sound like they're trying to convince themselves. Miers is so eminently unqualified for the job that her nomination has given rise to furious speculation all across the political spectrum: What's George up to, anyway? Why would he do this to us?

Are people running to Cheney and saying, in essence, "Michael, ya gotta do something about 'Fredo!"?

This much I know: crime syndicates have ways of dealing with any made man who caves in under the pressure and loses control of himself. So at this point, far from hating or fearing George, I'm a bit worried about him.

Like the Napoleonic era, this is a very exciting and momentous time in which to be alive. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Fish

I sent a message to the fish:
I told them "This is what I wish."
The little fishes of the sea,
They sent an answer back to me.
The little fishes' answer was
"We cannot do it, Sir, because --"'

`I sent to them again to say
"It will be better to obey."
The fishes answered, with a grin,
"Why, what a temper you are in!"
I told them once, I told them twice:
They would not listen to advice.

I took a kettle large and new,
Fit for the deed I had to do.
My heart went hop, my heart went thump:
I filled the kettle at the pump.
Then some one came to me and said
"The little fishes are in bed."

I said to him, I said it plain,
"Then you must wake them up again."
I said it very loud and clear:
I went and shouted in his ear.'

`But he was very stiff and proud:
He said, "You needn't shout so loud!"
And he was very proud and stiff:
He said "I'd go and wake them, if --"
I took a corkscrew from the shelf:
I went to wake them up myself.

And when I found the door was locked,
I pulled and pushed and kicked and knocked.
And when I found the door was shut,
I tried to turn the handle, but--'

--Lewis Carroll

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Seeds

Now that I have everything I ever wanted, except huge pectoral muscles, it's time to review, and consider what I did to get here, and what was given to me by some other agency, i.e. "fate," "destiny," or a higher power.

As nearly as I can figure, all I did was make a simple decision, at age 40, to go back to school and get a degree in history, then a teaching certificate. Lots of people make those kinds of snap decisions. How often do they work out?

About this often: see Mark 4:1-20. Imagine you're a seed.

A farmer went out to plant one of his fields, and he began broadcasting his seeds about onto the already-prepared earth.

Some of those seeds fell onto the road, and the birds swooped down and ate them right away. Too bad for them; they never had a chance.

Quite a number of seeds fell onto places that were insufficiently cleared, and still full of stones. They sprang up quickly, but their roots were stunted by the shallowness of the soil and the rocky ground, and when the sun came out the sprouts were scorched. They wanted to grow, but lacked the foundation. Good intentions are necessary but insufficient.

Some fell among the blackberries, where they came up, but were choked. Those seeds had too many problems and worries -- marital problems, financial problems, troubles at work -- and nobody came to help them by clearing the thorns. Every seed needs a little help sometimes.

But there were also seeds that fell on good ground, and came up, and were watered, and those seeds yielded, 30 times, 60 times, some 100 times. Those seeds passed it on.

What does it take to be one of those latter seeds? It's not a contest or a race, I can tell you that. It's a gift -- a free gift.

Sure, you have to have a plan. But the best laid plans of mice and men...

So if you're a lucky seed, count your blessings, and give thanks where it's due.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Gas Taxes

In the wake of news that California has been reaping a windfall from the gas tax in recent weeks, it's time to reconsider that tax.

It should be raised, maybe doubled.

The gas tax certainly isn't popular, especially now. Georgia temporarily repealed hers following the price spikes that accompanied Katrina. Michigan and Florida are thinking about following suit.

Let's hope Michigan and Florida "keep thinking," as James Surowiecki convincingly argues in the September 26 issue of the New Yorker (page 76).

"To begin with," Surowiecki continues, "unless cutting taxes brings Gulf Coast refineries back online, it's unlikely to have any real impact on prices. And if prices do drop, that will exacerbate the problem of supply shortages and long lines.

"What we need now -- as even President Bush, hardly a conservationist, has said -- is for people to drive less, not more. And that means paying more for gas, not less."

Even though American voters (sometimes demeaningly called "consumers") might experience elevated blood pressure hearing this kind of talk, it's hard to pick holes in Surowiecki's logic. Sooner or later, one way or the other, the U.S. is going to have to deal with the end of cheap oil (I hope everybody by this time has become a regular reader of Jim Kunstler's "Clusterfuck Nation"). The only question is whether we're going to do so in a planned, rational, creative way, or whether we're going to grope blindly into unplanned disaster.

As unpopular as gas taxes are, they're extremely low compared to what people pay in other countries. They're also fair, and collected in the most equitable possible way, according to the unanimous opinion of economists who disagree about nearly every other kind of tax. And now, they have the potential to provide revenue to strapped state economies.

Raising state gas taxes would be a win-win-win situation: it would cut down on the amount of driving people do and encourage motorists to buy smaller cars, it would provide money to the states, most of which are broke, and it would begin to effect a solution to the global warming problem.

There's a lot more to be said on this score.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hey, Hey, Wait a Minute Mr. Postman

Well, as hilzoy says, "At least she's better qualified than Michael Brown."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Why Secular Government?

At a press briefing the other day, Bush's past and present Undersecretary of Agitprop, Karen Hughes, came up with a scary answer to a reporter's question. She said in part:

I had one person at one lunch raise the issue of the President mentioning God in his speeches. And I asked whether he was aware that previous American presidents have also cited God, and that our Constitution cites “one nation under God.” He said “well, never mind” and went on to something else. So he sort of was trying to equate that with the terrorists’ (inaudible). So I explained that I didn’t really think that was something you could equate. And he sort of dropped it and moved on. He was one of the opposition leaders in Egypt.

Sadly, none present produced a copy of the Constitution with which to ask Hughes to point out the passage where that phrase occurs. The fact is, there is no mention of God anywhere in the Constitution. She was probably thinking of the Declaration of Independence, in which the deist Jefferson used the phrase, "...the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God..."

Our current rulers, like most modern Americans, simply don't understand why the founders, many of them devout and convinced Christians (and many not), were so adamantly determined that the new government remain entirely secular. The history of European religious wars has faded into antiquity and obscurity for us, but for Madison and Jefferson and Hamilton, those terrible events were recent, instructive, and not to be forgotten.

One of Hamilton's contributions to The Federalist is an analysis of the Thirty Years' War, ignited in 1619 when the Protestant ruler of Palatine, claiming his hereditary rights, attempted to grab the crown of Bohemia. It's enough to say, without getting into explanations of extinct German mini-states, or an anatomy of the Holy Roman Empire, that what followed was an orgy of destruction impressive even by modern standards.

Nearly all Europe became involved in the three-decade struggle which killed a third of the population of Germany, left that region a smoking, stinking ruin, was accompanied by widespread starvation and plague, and saw several of the major players, both Catholic and Protestant, cynically change sides during the struggle, some more than once. Calling attention to this war in The Federalist was Hamilton's way of saying, "This is what happens when you mix religion and government."

Even more pertinent to the founders' purposes was the example of the English Civil War, another seventeenth-century disaster, during which the Puritan Oliver Cromwell and his followers gained possession of the English government by armed force, then legally assassinated the king.

Cromwell's imposition of strict and austere religion on the masses he considered morally lax and secretly Catholic was bad enough, but his greatest contribution to the history of the perversion of Christianity and warping of Jesus's message was his invasions of Ireland, for purposes of what we today would call "ethnic cleansing." The term "genocide" had not been invented yet, but that's what Cromwell had in mind, along with the permanent suppression of Catholicism in the Emerald Isle, which he hoped to accomplish with his greatest stroke of genius, the founding of Northern Ireland.

With these shining examples to instruct their deliberations, the founders of the United States, including the most convinced and sincere followers of Jesus among them, were strongly convinced that no government should ever endorse or promote any religion or sectarian position, or require any sort of specific devotion of its citizens. Their sense of history was more acute than ours, and the satanic results of allowing God to sit in the councils of government much closer to their time than ours.

The ignorance of Karen Hughes, of most all the President's men and women, and of the President himself concerning these matters is serious business. We have worse problems to deal with at the moment, but religion in government could become a very critical problem when the Cheney Administration decides to make Pat Robertson Secretary of Christianity.