Saturday, March 22, 2008

Getting it Down in Black and White

The reaction to Barack Obama’s speech about race last Tuesday has been generally favorable, with comments ranging from “a milestone in American political rhetoric,” to “a brilliant fraud.” I’ll leave the high-flying rhetoric and minute parsing to those who get paid (too much) to do it. All I know for sure is that Obama’s speech took me from the status of Supporter to Believer.

The comments about his white grandmother reeled me in. I’m from Western Pennsylvania, the area in the political headlights as being key to the now-crucial Pennsylvania primary. I know people like his grandmother well. I grew up with them. I’m related to them. I’ve made comments similar, if not identical, to those he heard his grandmother make. I know what he’s talking about, and it’s about time someone addressed it.

There are racial grievances, real and imagined, on both sides. Actually, more than both, as Hispanics and Asians now have to be included in the discussion much more than forty years ago. The crux of racial intolerance in America will always be black and white, as was ensured by the codification of slavery in the Constitution.

The point I heard Obama make is, no matter who holds the grievance, or whether it’s real or imagined, it doesn’t help. Creating scapegoats gives an excuse not to do anything to help yourself, because it won’t matter. Either The Man won’t give you a break, or some nigger took your job. Wash your hands of it, feel sorry for yourself, it’s not your fault.

Maybe it’s not your fault, but it’s in your best interest for it to get better, and it won’t ever get better without the cooperation of the group you feel is oppressing you. It’s not that The Man took your job, or the black guy got it instead of you. The problem is that the job went elsewhere when some big company cited “best interests of the stockholders.” The stock and profit boom that fed the myth of the Bush expansion was built by removing jobs from the very people the boom depended on to buy the products to sustain the boom. The side effects of this government subsidized Ponzi scheme are now being felt in a very real way.

What made Obama’s speech special was not whether he’s right or wrong; it’s the courage and leadership he showed in taking an uncomfortable and unfortunate situation by the horns and calling it for what it was, without pointing fingers.

White guilt has nothing to do with embracing Obama’a speech. Slavery is a blot on this country’s soul that can never be erased. That being said, no one reading this had anything to do with it—or with Jim Crow—therefore we share no responsibility or guilt. That doesn’t mean we don’t live with the consequences every day. Sooner or later we have to deal with them as a nation. Barack Obama is uniquely suited to start that discussion.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Iraq and Roll Politics

Before I had a blog, I used to torment personal friends only with my rants. Most of them are, thankfully, lost to history. In cleaning off my hard drive in preparation of getting a new computer, I found this one, originally written March 15, 2003, just a few days before shock and awe.

Okay, so the email petition against the war was a fake. Big deal. The point is still well taken.

The Bush Administration has not made the case for doing whatever the hell it wants to do. Colin Powell’s evidence was not a smoking gun, it wasn’t even a sputtering candle. The follow-up evidence of the medical attention provided to what’s-his-name isn’t worth talking about, either. Seems Iraq got rid of him as quickly as practically possible.

Sure, Saddam Hussein is the worst thing to happen to the world since reality television. The Bushies’ argument for his removal, once you wade through the raisons du jour, seems to be that Iraq is a rogue state who can’t be trusted to live respectably in the community of nations.

They’re right. He can’t. Unfortunately, Bush has squandered so much hard earned American prestige that we may be destined to be the losers here, whether Saddam survives or not.

This Administration has pulled us out of the Kyoto Greenhouse Accords. We refuse to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, lest any American’s be tried as war criminals. (I wonder what the reaction would be from Don Rumsfeld is another country had done that.) We have made mention more than once that we are willing to use nuclear weapons in Iraq.

A few weeks ago Rumsfeld went to Congress to ask that the Missile Defense System, better and more appropriately known as “Star Wars,” be excluded from operational testing before being deployed. He says we need it right now. The fact that there hasn’t been a single successful test doesn’t enter into the equation.

John Ashcroft makes daily forays into new and creative interpretations of the Constitution. The Orwellian-named Patriot Act essentially makes possession of a library card probable cause for a warrant. There is now a database to determine your “threat level” as an airline passenger. A red listing will deny you access to your plane, whether it’s accurate or not. Even the current poodle Congress finally has its hackles up at the proposed Defense Department database to track and cross-reference every financial transaction we make.

Are these the acts of an administration reacting to an overwhelming electoral mandate? Hardly. Let’s think back a couple of years. The votes finally got counted and Bush won, but more people voted for Gore. The fairness of the victory is not in dispute here, just the size of the mandate.

We said we didn’t need the UN, which we probably don’t, then went in for a resolution, anyway. We said we didn’t need another resolution, but we’re still fooling around getting one, unless it’s one of those days where we don’t think we have the votes. All compromises not suggested by us are deemed to be non-starters.

The rhetoric coming from our side has been so harsh as to alienate many of our regular supporters. (Screw the French, no one cares what they think. They have been irrelevant for many years and are just now figuring it out.) We have no place left to negotiate to. Over 150,000 troops can’t be kept in the field indefinitely. They either have to come home or get to work soon, and there’s no way they can come home now without Bush getting more egg on his face than Bill Clinton when they found Monica’s dress.

What has us in this situation? Reduced to its simplest form, it’s because George W. Bush thinks he is God’s instrument on Earth. His fundamentalist Christian beliefs have given him the moral certainty that he is right and anyone who opposes him is wrong. That explains much of what passes for diplomatic communication coming from Washington these days: You’re either for us, or against us. Anyone who disagrees must be wrong, and is therefore either the enemy, or sleeping with him.

I’m no bible scholar, but I don’t remember hearing a lot of that kind of attitude attributed to the man from whom Christianity has taken its name. It sounds a whole lot more like what we would hear from our current sworn enemies, where everything is in absolutes and annihilation of the infidels is the only recourse.

The Bush Administration has told us that the removal of Saddam Hussein will take care of everything from terrorism to Mid East peace to the common cold. Running amuck like a longshoreman on a three-day drunk will remove Saddam, but it is more likely to create more terrorists of those currently on the fence than it is to lessen the danger.

Then again, no matter what is said, lessening the danger isn’t the primary objective here anymore. All that’s matters now is that Bush is Right. And he is. God is on our side.

I hope God remembers that when we’re through there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Economics 102

Let’s get this straight: Business, as a class of American society, wants the government to allow the free market to operate. True capitalism is messy, they say, but it works in the end. People will lose their jobs and houses, college educations may have to be skipped, retirements gutted by lost pensions, but the general trend will always be upward if business is left alone to let things shake themselves out. The better and stronger ideas will, eventually, overcome the lesser and weaker.

Until it’s them with their tit in the wringer.

Now we can see what it means for the government to keep its hands off business. It means business is free to do what it wants, take what it wants at whatever expense to the general welfare, then run to the same government it vilifies when its unsustainable greed comes around to treat them as it treated all the others who constituted collateral damage when times were “good.”

It is said the institutional investors can’t afford to lose too much of their investment in Bear Stearns. The stock’s fifty-two week high was $159.36; the buyout is for $2. The stock lost 99% of its value, and we’re going worry that California’s pension fund will go broke over the last one percent?

We can’t afford the ripple effects on the rest of the economy? How about the people who have already lost everything? What are we to tell them? I’ve said before, people who got into mortgages they couldn’t pay don’t deserve much sympathy. How much do the people who wrote them deserve, or, more to the point with Bear Stearns, how much sympathy is due those who based their securities packages on mortgages they never bothered to verify were liquid?

The stockholders – and taxpayers, for that matter – should have recourse to sue the hell out of the Bear Stearns managers responsible for this. They’ve banked their hundred million dollar packages and bonuses. They’ll get by if they’re fired. Still advocate reduced tax rates for fund managers? Why? They appear to have no risk. Take any chances – Bear Stearns’ culture demanded it – and walk away with however much you can carry before the music stops, in case you’re the guy without a chair.

September 11. Iraq. Katrina. Now this. Will January 20, 2009 for Chrissakes hurry up so there will be something left to hand over to the next guy?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Economics 101

It is often said the Republican Party is the party of business. That the economy does better when Republican administrations allow it to operate unfettered by oppressive regulation and allow the natural order of business to balance things out on its own.

If that’s true, how come Republicans seem to own the franchise on financial collapse?

1929 stock market crash, leading to the Great Depression – Herbert Hoover, President.

1981-1982 liberalization of saving and loan regulations leads to S&L crisis – Ronald Reagan, President.

“Black Monday” stock market crash, October 19, 1987 – Ronald Reagan, President.

Subprime lending crisis – George W. Bush, President.

Is it true that Republicans have a better understanding of economics, or that they can’t tell the difference between sound policy and unsustainable greed?

The MBAs can leave now.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

An Open Letter to Giant Food LLC

March 8, 2008

Giant Food LLC
Consumer Affairs Department
8301 Professional Place
Suite 115
Landover MD 20785

Dear Sir or Madam:

I have been a regular Giant shopper since moving to the Washington area in late 1996. I have always thought Giant’s selection, store layout, and prices were the best value of any local supermarket. My recent experiences at your Laurel Store (0340) have forced me to re-assess my opinion.

The selection, layout, and prices are still the best around. The produce section, in particular, stands out. The produce manager is routinely there when I shop on Saturday mornings, and she is always cheerful, helpful, and willing to go out of her way to find what I need, even if it’s not in the produce section. That is true of most of the employees I have encountered.

Having found everything I need, and judiciously used my Bonus Card, whatever goodwill has accrued during my visit is erased when it comes time to check out. For months now, the number of full-service checkout lines has been woefully inadequate to accommodate the customer volume. The situation became so bad I shopped at Shoppers Food Warehouse for a few weeks before returning to the store I knew best.

My first week back at Giant 0340 found seven carts, all but a couple filled above the rim, lined up to use the sole open checkout lane. I complained to a manager, who apologized. Last week was marginally better, but I didn’t have time to speak to anyone.

This week was the final straw. Nine-fifteen on a Saturday morning, and not one full service checkout lane was operating. I got into the lengthy Express lane and asked the first employee I saw to get me a manager. I noticed as I was checking out that one of my items did not capture my bonus card savings, and the checker could not find it in this week’s flyer.

A manager finally arrived, the same gentleman I spoke with a few weeks ago. I pointed out the situation to him, and noted the cashier now working a full-service lane had only appeared in the past minute. He walked over to see to something and I went back into the store to verify I had been correct about the Bonus Card question. I found the tag on the shelf, but noted in the fine print the offer had expired on March 5.

Catching up with the manager, I asked about the Bonus Card tag, as the checkout lane question was now moot. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Since we don’t seem to be able to get enough checkers, can we at least keep outdated sale notices off the shelves. (Handing him the shelf tag.) I paid an extra buck-sixty apiece for these because the old tag was there.

Giant Manager: Did they give it to you for free?

Me: The tag’s outdated. The price she charged was correct.

Giant Manager: Go back through the line if the tag’s wrong. You can get it for free.

Me (pointing): That line? That’s what started this whole thing.

Giant Manager: (No response)

Me: Tell you what. You keep the tag and my three-twenty, and I won’t shop here any more.

Giant Manager: Okay.

So I won’t. A customer of over eleven years’ standing gone, because Giant 0340 can’t be bothered to take my money in a timely manner, and, apparently, doesn’t care if I shop elsewhere. I pass a Shoppers Food Warehouse and a Safeway to get to Giant 0340. It used to be worth it. No more.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Interesting Statistic

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found people who consider themselves liberals read more books than conservatives. You know why?

Because they can.

Catch 23

Read Jonathan Turley's column in today's Los Angeles Times.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Psychiatrists would do well to investigate a strange malady best described as Americanitis. It resembles bipolar disorder in many ways, with traces of messianic complex. It appears to occur uniquely in North Americans living in the United States.

Where else can you find people who spend so much time railing against government intervention in their lives, such as taxes, mileage standards for automobiles, affordable health care, keeping guns out of the hands of those likely to use them to harm others, to name a few. All of these are said to be improper uses of governmental authority, as the government cannot be trusted to keep the people’s best interests and privacy in mind.

Yet these same people have no trouble allowing that same government to listen to their phone calls, open their emails, and keep them under increasing photographic and video surveillance everywhere they go.

Maybe Americanitis isn’t quite the right term. Paranoia Republicania has a nice ring to it, and hits closer to the mark.

A Press Release From The Home Office

The Home Office is pleased to announce the publication of the short story, “Green Gables,” in the February/March issue of ThugLit magazine. Click here and scroll down to Issue 24 to read it.

Many thanks to Big Daddy Thug and Lady Detroit (Todd Robinson and Allison Glasgow) for their support, and for suggesting a key edit.