Category Archives: Politics

Clay Bennett Cartoons

In these times of turbulence, I think we need something to make us laugh. I think Clay Bennett’s cartoons for the Chattanooga Times Free Press are hilarious.

On a more sober note, as Americans start to vote for their next government, the presidential campaign is getting bitter. The McCain camp is blaming the organizing group ACORN for everything from originating the current financial crisis to destroying the fabric of democracy. This wouldn’t be because of their highly successful drive to register new voters, by any chance?

Governor Palin meanwhile refers to Senator Obama as “elitist.” Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like a new word for “uppity?” Just asking.

Feeling the love in Iran

A bit behind the times, as I no longer read the San Francisco Chronicle on a daily basis. But I thought this letter to the editor worth sharing:

Feeling the love in Iran

Editor – I have just returned from a tour of Iran, and l want to share my wonderful experience about this country and its people.

I have never seen such kindness, friendliness and spontaneity from women, men and children alike. One morning I decided to skip one of the scheduled tours and visit the Ebrat Museum by myself. I found myself alone in an auditorium with about 50 Persians watching a film. They all smiled at me and later on a Persian guide started explaining the exhibits in Farsi. At this point, a young man approached me and in basic English asked me if I understood Farsi. When I said I didn’t, he insisted in translating every word from the guide – this tour took two hours! On another occasion, a lady approached us and gave a member of our group a ring, as a token of friendship. They constantly welcomed us to their country.

I have traveled all over the world and have never seen such hospitality. I hope that by sharing this experience I can encourage more people, especially Americans, to visit Iran, not only to meet its wonderful people but also to learn about their rich culture and history. I encourage people to disregard the negative comments which spread unnecessary fear and prevent tourism into that country, which is much needed.

SYLVIA VAN SACKER

Walnut Creek

Coffee, Computers, and Clear Skies

Spasso’s

Most weekday mornings I tuck my laptop under my arm and head across the street to Spasso’s Coffee Shop. They serve prize-winning, organic, shade-grown, fair-traded coffee and a wide assortment of fresh pastries. They also provide free broadband Internet access.

Most mornings, I seem to be the odd one out with my IBM machine. MacBooks generally dominate, plus a smattering of aging Dell and HP computers. More recently, I have spotted an occasional customer surfing on their iPhone. This morning, however, there were three other ThinkPad laptops beside my own.

Now, mine is unusual in that I have a high definition screen (1400 × 1050). It is great for photos, but text would normally be very tiny. To compensate, I have installed “large fonts” on mine— a common setting for these screens. My neighbor, I noticed, has his PC set to the tiny text size, so I asked him if he knew about “large fonts.” He replied that he did, but “had no difficulty reading the small text” and preferred to get more information on the screen thereby. At that point he donned his headphones, and buried himself in his virtual world.

For the next hour, I noticed with some amusement the frequency with which he put his nose near the screen. Ah, vanity!

Spring Feverish

We seem to be over the winter storms— for the moment, at least. With the exception of five glorious days, beginning on my mid-January birthday, this year has been cold, wet, and windy. I guess this is not unusual, but after months of mild weather, one forgets the chill.

Comparing this year’s heating bills with last year’s, the daily average is about the same. So it can’t be as bad as I think.

Anyway, Californians headed for the polls in record numbers Tuesday for the most expensive presidential run in history. The so-called “primaries” is an arcane system of voting that few people understand. Designed to select a presidential candidate by popular vote prior to the general election in November, each state sets its own rules. As you can see from this year’s personality contest, the states where voting occurs earliest set the stage for later ballots, with many contenders dropping out along the way. The result is a chaotic mess.

Meanwhile, Common Cause reports :

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia will vote in another critical set of presidential primaries. In a report issued recently by Common Cause and the Verified Voting Foundation, all three states were rated “high risk” for having election results affected by electronic voting machine malfunction or tampering.

Meanwhile, spending on media advertising this election year is expected to be anywhere from $3 to $5 billion dollars. The airwaves are considered to be publicly owned, yet private corporations are making a bundle from providing the public information that they ought to do as a duty. While a lot of this money is raised from the public, under recent “campaign finance reform” candidates can opt out of public financing to accept huge corporate bribes. Even the “public” money may come from corporate sources. While such sources are supposedly anonymous, I imagine it would not be difficult for contributors to identify themselves to the recipient. As a result, and despite the “reforms”, Americans still have the best politicians that money can buy.

Meanwhile, spring flowers and blossoms are out, there is warmth in the sun’s rays, and I am heading for the nearby hills. This is one very beautiful spot to live.

Undoing Bush

The June edition of Harper’s Magazine arrived a few days ago. Already, it’s looking a bit dog-eared.

Harper’s has been published for a long time. Since June, 1850 in fact. It is a wonderfully eclectic magazine of fine writing, arts reviews, poems, quotations, politics, and recent findings in science. I really look forward to reading each issue, and the latest does not disappoint.

The cover article for June is titled “Undoing Bush – How to repair eight years of sabotage, bungling, and neglect.” Eleven journalists and thinkers survey the damage, and try to find a way forward. The introduction begins:

George W. Bush has done more to transform the nation than any American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Indeed, he may well be the perfect anti-Roosevelt. He has taken a prosperous nation and mired it in war, replaced our national composure with terror, and left behind him a legacy of damage so profound that repairing it will likely be the work of generations.

Here are some short excerpts from each of the contributors:

The Constitution by David Cole

For a short parlor game, challenge your friends to name a constitutional right that Bush has not sought to undermine. After the right to bear arms and the guarantee against the quartering of soldiers, the game will be over. Those who prefer a longer game can reverse the exercise, but be prepared for an extended and dispiriting evening.

The Courts by Dahlia Lithwick

A 2006 study by People for the American Way found Bush-appointed judges spearheading efforts to limit the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, restrict the application of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and limit access to the courts for wronged plaintiffs… And a 2006 study by Robert Carp at the University of Houston found that Bush-appointed judges were even less sympathetic in civil rights cases than judges appointed by Ronald Reagan and Bush the elder.

Civil Service by Ken Silverstein

The number of presidential appointees.. has grown from roughly 600 during the Kennedy Administration to 3,000 today—even as the overall size of the civil service has remained roughly the same… Where the Bush Administration has undeniably broken new ground is in its insistence that ideological purity and devotion to the president himself serve as a litmus test for appointees, and the rigor with which it has chosen and vetted candidates on only these grounds.

The Environment by Bill McKibben

One of the best things about the departure of the Bush Administration will be the end of headache-creating cognitive dissonance. It has taken over institutions ostensibly devoted to defending the natural world—the Departments of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the COuncil on Environmental Quality—and turned them into organizations devoted to environmental degradation.

Science by Chris Mooney

[U]nder the Bush Administration we have seen scientists suppressed, scientific reports forcefully edited or censored, scientific advisory committees politically tilted, and widespread distortion and misrepresentation of scientific knowledge. The resulting “war on science” has delivered a severe blow to morale at the taxpayer-funded government agencies whose job it is to use such knowledge to serve and protect us.

The Economy by Dean Baker

Two economic calamities have occurred on George W. Bush’s watch… [The trade deficit] in 2006 grew to more than $760 billion, or nearly 6 percent of GDP. This, in turn, has been the major factor contributing to the loss since 2001 of 3 million manufacturing jobs, or more than a sixth of the entire sector.

The other economic disaster under Bush has been the unchecked growth of the housing bubble… By 2006, prices were 73 percent higher than their pre-bubble values, for a total of more than $8 billion in unsustainable wealth.

The Marketplace of Ideas by Jack Hitt

The Bush strategy basically takes any argument that does not comport with the forward momentum of the Bush agenda and, by means of numerous tactics, seeks to tamp down, crush, sideline, segregate, circumscribe, cordon off, isolate, maroon, raze, shunt aside, eschew, or quarantine that idea.

Intelligence by James Bamford

By far the most significant intelligence error of the Bush Administration has been the decision, contrary to established American policy and common sense, to treat terrorism not as a crime, to be solved by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but as an existential military threat, to be confronted with tanks and Marines.

The Miltary by Edward N. Luttwak

It has always been the case that failed wars damage armies and sometimes breaks them. So it is with Iraq, unless remedies intervene soon enough. The Washington Post reported this March that “senior U.S. military and government officials” fear “it will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from what some officials have called a ‘death spiral,’ in which the ever more rapid pace of war-zone rotations has consumed 40 percent of their total gear, wearied troops, and left no time to train to fight anything other than the insurgencies now at hand.”

Diplomacy bu Anne-Marie Slaughter

The paradox of American foreign policy today is that the United States, though more powerful than ever, has rarely been so lost in the world and never more reviled. Majorities of Turks, Moroccans, Jordanians, and Pakistanis believe the entire U.S. campaign against Islamic terrorism is in fact meant to secure oil or even to achieve world domination. Further, majorities in all those countries, as well as France, Germany, and Russia, say that the Iraq war has made them less confident that the United States wants to promote liberty or democracy abroad.

The National Character by Earl Shorris

Speaking of the fear that emerged in the wake of September 11, 2001, Shorris writes:

It is not power but fear that corrupts—if not absolutely then deeply, beyond the barrier of reason. The wound of fear has produced six of the worst years in American history, worse even than the Civil War, for there is no Abraham Lincoln to guide the moral character of the country, nor is there a foreseeable end to this war: we can no longer be certain even of its geographical or political limits. We are a fearful nation now, led by fearful people. That is the problem we must try to resolve.

There are eleven articles in total. All contributors suggest some kind of remedial action—none thinks it will be easy.

Begone, Blair

Blair’s legacy is not the one of sweetness and light his departure speech would have us believe. For the Brits, “it’s the rich wot gets the gravy, and the poor wot gets the blame.” While some in Britain prospered, a recent U.N. survey on child welfare shows Britain and the U.S. ranked at the bottom among 21 of the wealthiest countries.

Internationally, he was the driving force behind the Israel-Palestine “road map,” but that rapidly became a dead letter when Blair backed the Sharon-Bush agreement that Israel retain major West Bank settlements. Then there was his wholehearted backing of the Iraq invasion, just part of his catastrophic stance on the Middle East, for which he will probably be most remembered.

He would probably prefer to be remembered as the leader who oversaw the end of the very long conflict in Northern Ireland. But Blair is no peacenik. Robert Fisk refers to Blair as “a vicious little man.” In his article for Saturday’s Independent, Fisk says:

Yes, I must acknowledge Northern Ireland. If only Blair had kept to this achievement. If only he had accepted that his role was to end 800 years of the Anglo-Irish conflict. But no. He wanted to be our Saviour – and he allowed George Bush to do such things as Oliver Cromwell would find quite normal. Torture. Murder. Rape.

Well, now he is finally going. It looks like his replacement will be Gordon Brown. May the saints preserve us!

Helena Cobban wastes few words in dismissing this horrid man. She posted this Tony Blair Haiku on her “Just World News” web site a few days ago:

Blair. What can we say?
Dulce et decorum est
NOT TO GO TO WAR.

The reference is to Wilfred Owen’s First World War poem.