Wednesday, April 30, 2008
McCain and Clinton are both calling for a suspension of the 18.4 cent federal excise tax on gasoline. Why? Because it will show that they "feel our pain" and are not "out of touch" with real people.
That's not leading, that's pandering. We are in such trouble, digging a deeper and deeper hole, and all these two can suggest is to keep digging. Maybe there's something we can do for truckers in the short run, but the sooner the rest of us start cutting back on gasoline consumption, the better. But, as we all know, that's not going to happen until it's too late. We're doomed.
Friedman was good on this today. Krugman, too (last night).
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Well, I have to say I'm not optimistic about Obama's chances of getting the nomination from here on out. His polls are dropping in North Carolina and Indiana, and his own former minister put the knife in yesterday. It would be amazing if Obama could turn this to his own good. The remaining voters and undeclared superdelegates will definitely be spooked.
So it looks like we'll have a brawl of a campaign in the fall.
I guess reconciliation will have to wait until the baby boomers have passed from the scene.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Al Gore is an optimist. But really, when you look at the level of political discourse in this country (flag pins!), how can you believe we're ever going to have what it takes to avoid disaster?
Anyway, here's an Al must-see. This is his most recent update to "An Inconvenient Truth." While you're there, you might want to look at some of the other speakers that are offered. It's an opportunity to hear some of the brightest, most interesting thinkers -- for free!
Saturday, April 26, 2008
As the sidebar indicates, I'm a daily reader of the Huffington Post. I would say it's a guilty pleasure, but it's not really a pleasure. I find myself wincing repeatedly at all the celebrity worship that goes on there. I understand that Arianna Huffington is above all else a celebrity, and this is a world she thinks is important, but it makes it harder to find things worth reading there (and there often are).
Arianna is an intelligent woman, but I wonder if she doesn't value her celebrity more than her intelligence. Case in point is this interview with John Stossel on ABC's 20/20.
Stossel is a well-established jerk who has been a libertarian water boy for years. She should have known she could not go on his show as a "celebrity" and come off looking intelligent. True to form, Stossel pulls out two charts -- one on the earnings of "poor people" and one on employee accidents before and after OSHA, which are supposed to prove that "ending welfare as we know it" was good and OSHA is bad, and Arianna is supposed to respond to them. This is tailor-made for television, because there's no chance to actually study the charts and see what the definitions and assumptions are. Stossel has a chart, so it must be true. And Arianna responds to them as though she accepts the definitions and assumptions, even though she doesn't know what they are.
So, of course, Arianna comes off looking bad.
Now, this was predictable. This is Stossel's mode of operation.
Which leads me to wonder what she was thinking when she agreed to go on that show. And what means more to her: intelligence or celebrity?
Update: The fact that the Huffington Post is pumping the video of the appearance so heavily suggests there's nobody there with the courage to tell her how bad she looks.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Now that I'm safely past it, it's time to rethink the draft [self-aware irony intended].
One reason we ended the draft was because having a large standing army made it too easy to see military action as the only answer to international problems. If you've got a hammer, every problem is a nail.
But now we see there's a downside to this. I'm sure many people pointed it out even 30 years ago. By maintaining an all-volunteer military, the burden of taking military action is concentrated on a small number of people. These people, and their families, live in military enclaves (bases or towns around military bases) and tend to be invisible to the wider public. So they can be abused repeatedly without political consequences. The rest of us just don't notice, so long as we can run our SUVs.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I've been working one morning a week at the local food pantry. It operates out of the basement of a Methodist Church in the neighborhood. I spend about 4 hours there, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., or later.
There are seven or eight different jobs you can do there, and when I first started volunteering, I was mostly put on the box brigade. For 4 hours, I cut up food boxes as they were emptied, and stuffed the cut up pieces into another box. When the box is full, it's carried away and another box is begun. Eventually the boxes full of boxes are taken to a recycling point, or just carried out to the trash. It's not exciting work, but it's steady, and it's gratifying to stay caught up.
For the past few weeks I've been rotated around to other jobs. The layout of the pantry is like this: every family unit that comes in the door gets a number, so there's somebody who passes out numbers. I actually did that the first week I volunteered, because they weren't sure I was able to count and wanted to see me in action.
When the person's number is called, they have a sit-down interview with one of two ladies who check their ID, look them up in the card file, and make sure they haven't been at the food pantry before in that calendar month. The ladies fill out a small slip of paper that contains information about the number of people in the family unit, how many children, whether they have cooking facilities, whether they're homeless, etc. It's all material to how much and what kind of food they should be given. The annotation "No Pork" means the family is Muslim. That slip of paper is passed on to the caller.
The food is packed into plastic grocery bags at several work stations behind the caller, and the caller lets each workstation know how many people and how many children are in the next unit to be packed. There is a unit that packs only U.S. Government donated food. There is a unit that packs cereal, spaghettios, canned vegetables, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish, and whatever other types of "non-perishable" packaged food we have. There's a unit (sometimes it's so big that it's two units) that packs fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meat, cheese, eggs, and other produce that is donated by local stores (close to expiration date) or purchased from the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Finally, there's a work station that bags junk food. This is candy that didn't sell and is near its expiration date, or test marketed candy that didn't sell. It's also bottles of "energy drink" (water, sugar, caffeine, artificial flavoring) that didn't sell. People are hungry, so we give them energy drinks. But hey, it's donated by the same people who donate eggplant, tangerines, eggs, and apples, so we say "thank you" and pass them out to the folks.
Lately I've been assigned to the caller job. It's not too far removed from what I did when I started my career with SSA 30-odd years ago. A lot of one-on-one contact with the clients, and it can be funny, heartwarming, depressing, or exasperating, depending on the person you've got in front of you. This week a woman about 40 years old whispered to me, "I'm so nervous. This is the first time I've been here." I'm glad she came.
We have a "remainders" bin on the table I call from, and each person gets to select one additional item from the bin. It's usually full of things like cans of beans, and obscure things that were donated by people who were cleaning their kitchen cabinets. There was a can of artichoke hearts in there this week that I finally talked somebody into taking (to keep from slipping it into my own pocket). Nobody knows about artichoke hearts. I told the lady they went good in a salad.
But the best one this week was a non-English-speaking lady who pulled out a boxed tube of hemorrhoid cream. She made an up-and-down tooth brushing motion with her hand. I shook my head and pointed at my butt. She put it back.
One more thing: people sometimes lean close and ask if we have any toilet paper to pass out. If we don't, they're happy to have paper towels. Suellen and I have made it our mission to make sure there's always a roll of toilet paper for anyone who asks for it.
Quite apropos of my post below, McCain is trying to distance himself from Bush, which is no surprise to anybody. Another reason, in case we needed one, to make sure that the word "failure" is always preceded by the word "Republican", not by "Bush".
I think the strongest weapon Democrats have in their arsenal is the fact that the Republicans have failed so miserably.
Iraq: Republican failure.
Afghanistan: Republican failure.
Osama bin Laden: Republican failure.
Taking care of men and women in uniform: Republican failure.
Katrina: Republican failure.
International relations: Republican failure.
Energy policy: Republican failure.
Global warming: Republican failure.
Clean government: Republican failure.
Efficient government: Republican failure.
Apolitical bureaucracy: Republican failure.
Torture: Republican failure.
Respecting the Constitution: Republican failure.
Uniting the country: Republican failure.
Everywhere you look: Republican failure.
It really does go on and on. It's so obvious, even Republicans see it! It is no wonder they are having trouble finding people willing to run for office at the state level. These are all clubs Republicans should expect to be battered with.
I support Obama for many reasons but have a concern: if he is the nominee, these clubs will be left on our shoulders. Being reasonable and respectful of people who disagree with him is intrinsic to who he is and the campaign and country he wants to run.
I fear that -- as a result -- we will not be as effective as we could be in building strong Democratic majorities in Congress. It's probably better for the country if Democrats don't run an angry campaign, but it's better for the country if we throw out as many Republicans as we can, too! And face it, the Republicans are not going to change; their campaign will be an in-the-gutter, Willie Horton type. Oh, McCain will try to hold himself above it all, and tut-tut the slime merchants, but somehow they'll just do it anyway. [Update: whaddaya know?]
If Hillary is the nominee, I have no doubt she will be using the clubs of Republican failure every day of the campaign. It's intrinsic to who she is and the campaign and administration she wants to run. The campaign part of that appeals to me on a very elemental level.
So do we substitute "Bush" for "Republican," let Republicans think we still respect them, and allow them the fiction that Bush isn't the natural result of their "values", or do we let them have it? It's a problem.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
"Today should be a national holiday – we have been nothing if not Fools, these last few decades, burning our wealth into thin air so as not to have to drive more fuel efficient vehicles. The impact on our economy and prosperity – and national security – has been colossal. The national palm should strike the national forehead with force enough to jar Mt. Rushmore."