Much Ado

I can understand the glee that Democrats feel as the Republican leadership feeds on itself, but there has never been a better time for holding our collective tongue. Many are having a field day as Republicans revolt against the sale of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. — the one that controls a number of our ports — to the United Arab Emirates. It is an emotional issue on a par with gay unions and their threat to the institution of marriage, or the one raised against Christmas by Wal-Mart greeters, and has about the same substance. The danger of terrorist infiltration would be no greater under the business leadership of a Muslim firm than it has been under the leadership of a British one. Some of the profits might go elsewhere, but we are already sending plenty of our cash to the Middle East. A little more will be of small consequence. The control over things that keep us safe remains with us.

I might be concerned if a Muslim country took over the production of canned goods, or the manufacture of breakfast cereals. If one of their Imams was in charge of the recipe for Starbucks coffee, we might be in danger, but we are making a big deal out of something that has been in development for a very long time, as part of the globalization of commerce. I'm sure that we control to a similar extent many parts of other nation's commercial ventures. A few years ago we worried that Japan might end up owning most of the good old U S of A, but then their economy collapsed. It has only partially recovered, and we no longer fear the yellow menace. There is much more to fear in the dollar amount of IOU's the Chinese government now holds for our over-spending, under-collecting government. It would be nice, now and then, to worry about things that matter.

At the risk of repeating myself, I think we could come up with a long list of problems that we should be trying to solve. The melting of the Greenland glaciers, the changes in weather patterns that are spawning multiple hurricanes, over-population, affordable health care, burgeoning individual debt, out of control housing prices, and the disappearance of the middle class are only a few of the problems facing us. Some are beyond the reach of government, while others can only be solved with governmental help. Take your pick. But, let's work on the real ones.

Luck of the Draw

The Near East is a good place to leave alone, and we are learning that lesson the hard way. The trouble with democracies and democratic elections is that they are unpredictable. If you say you want people to decide things for themselves, then you have to accept their decisions — the recent election in Palestine being a good case in point. Our reaction up till now has shown just how much we believe in democracy, and why we find Mubarak and others like him more to our liking. Though he lost ground, he still controlled the outcome of Egypt's election.

Our reaction to the Hamas victory shows how little we have learned from our experience in Iraq. Punishing a people for making a democratic decision is a good way to ensure their enmity for all time to come. You lose even if you win, and you really lose if you lose. When your only stance is that of a tough guy, you limit yourself to making victory dependent on military or economic strength. The fact that our military is stretched beyond its intended capacity hasn't yet touched home. In the long run, the use of military might causes less harm than the application of economic pressure because we can win wars. It's peace that frustrates us.

The threat to starve out the new Palestinian government economically, unless they do things our way, will probably be as successful as our attempt to starve Castro out of Cuba. In the first place, we are not their only possible source of financing. There are plenty of oil-rich Muslim countries with an interest in their success. The leaders may not like Hamas, but their citizens obviously do, since elections continue to put theocratic governments in power. If we intend to gamble at playing hardball with an elected government, we had better make sure we hold all the cards. In this case, we don't. As Kenny said, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." But, the next words in the song might be the wisest of all: "Know when to walk away and know when to run."

Free at Last

It seems the president has suddenly got religion. He is touring the nation preaching the Gospel of Alternative Energy Sources. While there is nothing unusual about a recently reformed sinner being zealous in his attack on sin, after five very long years of ignoring and deploring the urgings of conservationists, it is hard to believe that his conversion is either real or complete. His answer till now has been to drill holes in the Arctic and to offer tax incentives for the purchase of gas hogs. I would be far more inclined to accept his conversion as genuine if his budget offerings matched his words. They do not.

I think it would be wise on the part of the Democratic party to applaud this new-found commitment and to use it as an opportunity to make the budget match his fine words. The development of alternative fuels, together with tax incentives for buying energy efficient automobiles, homes and fixtures, requires the backing of real money. But, tax breaks for gas hogs also need to be replaced with penalties. Carrots and sticks are called for.

One of the few benefits of the petroleum industry's price gouging has been the acceptance, by most of us, of the increased cost of all energy. Wind, solar, hydrogen, and other alternative power sources, such as ethanol, cost more than the cheap oil we grew accustomed to — provided by our business partners in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. That difference became much smaller with the Enron mentality of our domestic refiners. Government sponsorship will be required if companies are to make the enormous investments these other sources require. Now is the time to show the president that we agree with him.

I hope this will not be another case of a fancy title and a starvation diet, because this is something we can afford to use borrowed money for. However, while we find ourselves in the process of overcoming our addiction to oil, it would also be a good time to overcome our addiction to the credit card economy — at least the credit card government. It didn't begin with Ronald Reagan, but it certainly escalated in the course of his eight years, and the four that followed. Sixteen per cent of our entire budget now goes to pay interest on the national debt, and that number is moving rapidly toward twenty. The first President Bush supported a tax increase and, though he spent months apologizing for it, it started the process that led to a balanced budget in the Clinton years. That process has been reversed in the last five, and at a rate that makes Reagan look like a piker. At least he knew how to play bluff without actually going to war.

Some members of the president's religious base have begun to read Genesis a bit more carefully and have learned that they are the earth's stewards. It would be wonderful if this president, who seems so committed to things religious, were to join them in preserving things of beauty in addition to those things merely necessary for the continuation of life as we know it. They are his only allies with no economic interest that I am aware of. If he could renounce the drill and spill philosophy that has guided him till now, he might influence those who need to hear it most, those in the oil industry. After all, they owe him.

It Was None of Your Business

Much has been said, and much more questioned, about the recent shooting in Texas quail country. Deadeye Dick and his companions were on a 50,000 acre ranch showing their macho side by shooting defenseless creatures. They showed their lack of confidence by using shotguns instead of rifles. Rifles would have made the battle more even, but it could have been disastrous in this case, so it's better they weren't really testing their skills.

There is no indication that the group had been drinking, other than the gratuitous statement by their hostess that none had taken place. If an ordinary citizen had pulled the trigger, then followed the law by reporting it immediately, there probably would have been a blood test, and that would have erased all doubt. Instead, this very private person in a very public job said nothing until most of a day later. He had his medical team administer what help they could to the victim, then took Mr.Whittington to a hospital for continuing medical service.

Once Mr. Whittington was safely ensconced in the hospital, the VP called in his other team of doctors, his spin doctors, Mary Matalin and Karl Rove. It is not known what advice they gave him, but Karl did inform the president of the shooting. The president, as is his custom, deferred to the vice president in this matter. As a result, the news staff of the local paper turned out to be the first in the media to know of the accident.

The activity was an appropriate one for the vice president, because it involved birds. He has been giving the general public a bird for the last five years. He picked himself for what is usually the number two spot when it became clear that George W was the winner of the Republican primary in 2000. Since that time, he has acted as though he had done the citizens of our fair land a favor by accepting the nomination. When there is perceived danger, it is the VP who goes to an undisclosed location. An action reserved for the most vital member of the team.

The president gave his usual eloquent endorsement of the vice president's explanation, calling it strong and powerful, and said that people were making the wrong conclusion, whatever that means. He used the same unusual powers of insight that he used on Vladimir Putin when he looked into the vice president's eyes and saw the profound effect this tragic shooting had on him.

One ironic outcome of this was to show how differently members of this administration value their own privacy as compared to the rest of us. While they are listening in on our phone conversations and checking our e-mails and library choices, they sit on a shooting involving one of their own for most of the day. Of course, we shouldn't question it. It was probably to protect us from terrorists.

The shooting was no doubt a simple accident, but the follow-up displayed a good deal about the number two man in the country and his relationship to the number one. Instead of the president being in charge, it is clear that the Veep is. As Pinnochio was to learn, a puppet does not question the puppeteer.

Party Lines

When I was a kid in the rural Central Valley of California, very few people had telephones. Those who did shared a line with several others. Each telephone was assigned an identification code consisting of a certain number of long and short rings — called longs and shorts. When you called someone on your own line, you used the handle on the side to crank out the code. The phones were ugly, wall mounted contraptions that today may be seen occasionally in antique shops. The rotary dial had not yet been invented, or at least it had not come into common usage. When you placed a call, every phone on the line rang and people would know immediately whose phone was being contacted. All you had to do to listen in was to take the receiver off the hook as quietly as possible. Those were the days of simple entertainment, and listening in was common. I suppose useful private information was gathered from time to time, but most of it was already known. J. Edgar Hoover and his G-men came along in the thirties and they could have listened in, but they were still busy fighting criminals.

The party line served several purposes, some of them constructive. If you wanted to get some piece of information out to the community, all you had to do was call someone on your line and say it out loud. The distribution system would take over from there. At times it was almost as useful as a 911 call is today.

The term "party line" means something else to most people today. The listening in has gained in popularity with Big Brother. The technological advancements in the communications industry make it possible to listen in on millions of conversations, some of them meant to remain private, most of them none of the government's business. They tell us this is done to protect us from the bad guys. But, given the character assassination skills and habits of Karl Rove & Co., I'd prefer to keep my privacy and accept the risks it entails.

Double Negatives

Remember when Bill Clinton's healthy sex drive provided titillating subject matter to discuss? Remember when all you had to do was turn on any newscast to see "the hug?" Remember when that was considered scandalous? Remember when the House of Representatives, led by that fellow Henry Hyde, with a "youthful indiscretion" of his own, impeached him for lying to save his marriage? When it turned out that Bill Clinton failed to turn down an offer few men could refuse, America was reminded of it many times a day for at least two years.

With the current administration and the legislative leadership, hardly a week goes by without a new scandal breaking in the media. Usually it involves money and/or abuse of power. Instead of holding our attention and being reminded of it on a daily basis, they have tended to cancel each other out. Each new scandal has taken the heat off the previous one. The liberal media suffers from a short attention span, or else limited interest. In fact, the enormity of the scandals has been a source of protection for the perps.

The government hired a special prosecutor in the Clinton case. He spent several years and at least fifty million dollars trying to prove something criminal. He wound up telling us something we already knew — the president had a sex drive. It is obvious that we as a nation are more interested in people's sex habits than we are in power grabs by ruthless politicians. Voyeurism sells.

By the Sea, By the Sea

Articles in both the newspapers I read each day spelled out the problems the ocean is facing from human generated pollutants. The human race has used the ocean, and lakes and waterways, as a septic tank for as long as humans have inhabited the earth. Two things, however, have turned this into a life-threatening situation. First, the Industrial Revolution led to far greater production of industrial waste. We can blame the second on the medical profession, since more babies survive and more people grow old as a result of their efforts. The combination of longevity and industrial waste has taxed to the limit the ocean's capacity to absorb our offerings. It seemed so huge and limitless that it was natural to do the things we did, out of ignorance. But, even if ignorance of the law were an excuse, we could no longer plead ignorance to the laws of nature.
 
Regardless of whether you believe that life developed because of a super power, or simply through time and chance, most agree that life came from the ocean. So, it seems only fitting that it play a role in life's end. Of course, the world won't end if the human race becomes extinct, but if we do sufficient harm before we leave, it may require a few million years for the ocean to clean itself sufficiently for other species to develop. Wouldn't it be ironic if future life forms pumped our remains out of the ground and used them to fuel their SUV's.
 
Most people agree that in order to exist we need air and water. A healthy ocean is vitally important in providing both. We also need a temperature that stays within certain parameters, and few would deny the ocean's role in regulating temperatures as well. I think the case for a healthy ocean is pretty well made without my help.
 
In his speech last Tuesday, the president spent the first half defending his war in Iraq and his patently illegal wiretapping. His defense was that both were needed for our safety. Safety, I assume, includes our continued existence as a species. His Secretary of Defense said that the war has not made us safer, so that's out the window. The Constitution takes care of the illegal wiretapping with no help needed from Mr. Rumsfeld.
 
Since war and eavesdropping do not guarantee our safety, nor guarantee our continued existence as a race, the dangers of the continuance of various nations fails to compare in importance to the dangers of polluted air and water. Since the total cost of the war in Iraq is expected to exceed two trillion — a staggering sum — it would appear obvious to me that a better use of that money, or at least a major portion of it, would be to clean up the ocean, and to end our contamination of it. The efforts to sustain a way of life are important, but not if life itself as we know it ceases.
 
Short term profit continues to be the guiding principle of the current administration. Scientific certainties have been dismissed as having insufficient study and/or proof. This has been especially true when they involve the expenditure of money to deal with them, or if they get in the way of profits for the industries the president represents. The illness of the ocean is a scientific certainty. Unlike Scarlett O'Hara, this is not something we can think about tomorrow. Tomorrow is already here.

Keeping Up Appearances

The last few days have brought to prominence some interesting contradictions. Sometimes what people do — legally — is offensive and in poor taste. The cartoons of the prophet Muhammad served no purpose that I can discern, but they would have gone largely unnoticed had they not been repeated as a news item. Stepping on things which involve great emotional attachment should be done with considerable care and concern. However, those who choose to move to democracies must accept some things that are offensive.
  
The administration has made much of the elections in Iraq and Palestine, as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as signs of the successful outcome of the war in the Middle East. The unfortunate thing about democratic processes is that they do not always produce choices to our liking. I'm not sure how any part of our government could be happy with the political success of Hamas in Palestine, or the Shia majority in Iraq. The hard line leadership of Iran came to power through an election. One point of view is, you should be careful what you wish for. Being offended does not let us off the hook. We still have to deal with the elected leaders of independent nations, or nations that want to become independent, even if their voters choose theocracies.
 
In our country, a lady wanted to express her disagreement with the president at his nationally televised address. The words on her t-shirt were accurate, and the questions they raised represented the feelings of many others. So far as anyone knows, her intent was to sit quietly in the audience with no further confrontation. She was taken out forcibly and arrested. This happened in the House of Representative of the United States of America just before a speech which dealt with our success in giving voice to the oppressed in other nations.
 
Whether she was grandstanding or simply stating her case, it would appear that she broke no laws. The president has been treated like a rock star and has been shielded from contrary opinions in all of his carefully orchestrated appearances, both on the campaign trail and in his sales pitches around the country. The fact that dissent has been silenced should be a concern to all of us. It affects both our place in the sun and our message to a world we say we want to change.
 
I was not happy about Mrs. Sheehan's appearance with president Chavez in Venezuela. It seemed in poor taste to me, and counter-productive to her anti-war stance. So far as I know, she did nothing against the law. We are still dependent on Venezuela for a lot of the petroleum we use, and in spite of Mr. Chavez's dislike of us, he is still a trading partner.
 
The war that began as a means of ridding the world of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction has morphed into a battle to democratize the Islamic nations of the Middle East. As a result, we have to be very careful of appearances. They may not understand our democracy, but they are sure to recognize our contradictions.

Repubconomics and Other Issues

Today's newspapers were just full of exciting news. The Senate, with the help of Democrats, passed a tax bill that will supposedly cut forty billion dollars from the deficit over the next ten years. It will accomplish this largely at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid recipients as well as college students. There were benefits as well, but they seemed limited to the upper end of the food chain. This was followed, or accompanied, by White House requests for eighteen billion to repair the Gulf Coast, and another one hundred twenty billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think there was another request, but it's slipped my mind. It was only for a few billion. The direct cost of the wars to ensure our freedom is approaching half-a-trillion dollars. I  hope you feel safer as a result.
 
Secretary Rumsfeld said that despite our success in fighting terrorists, they are just as strong and maybe stronger than before. They are still capable of attacking us on our own soil, and they are gaining more dangerous weapons as well as the expertise to use them. I think he misplaced his rose-colored glasses on the way to giving this speech. The irony in this confessional is that our safety is the only point on which the current administration has the confidence of more than fifty percent of the voters.  If this is the high point, I hate to consider the realities of the low points. 
 
There was a battle of words in the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Administration's use of wire taps without court approval. Not surprisingly, all the defenders were Republicans. The last word on the matter came from Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the committee chairman. He said, "I would point out that you really don't have any civil liberties if you're dead." I can only assume that this also applies to those Americans who have already given their lives to protect our liberties.  Just an afterthought: I wonder how many of these same Senators would have defended Bill Clinton had he been responsible for eavesdropping?
 
The House Republicans continued their efforts toward giving the Republican Party a facelift. They elected a new fox to guard the hen house. John Boehner of Ohio beat out Roy Blunt for Majority Leader. The picture of him standing between Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt tells part of the story. The somber expressions on the faces of the number one and number three men make you wonder if they themselves are wondering who will be next.  Representative Boehner's election shows just how hard it is to find clean skirts in Washington. His ties to the lobbyists are too long and too deep to allow him much standing as a reformer, but at least he's a Gingrich man instead of a DeLay follower. 
 
CIA Chief, Porter Goss, and National Intelligence Director, John Negroponte, bemoaned the leaks that have plagued their spy catching activities.  I didn't hear any complaints about their successes being leaked, only their illegal activities.  Breaking the law for a good cause, it seems, is in the interest of everyone, and stool pigeons deserve to be punished.  It's really hard, I suppose, knowing what's best for everyone.  Little people are so unappreciative.