Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TEXAS - February 21, 2008

I can hardly contain my dismay at hearing that Hillary now reposes her presidential hopes in the people of TX. It is a fitting sequel to her adoption late last year by Rupert Murdoch, the Hearst of the 21st Century. It is not quite like seeking campaign funding from Ossama Bin Liden, but it is hard to see how one can do such a thing without coming away with the taint appropriate to the chosen supporter. It is about 175 years since TX entered our national history as a consequence of an unjust war and an especially brutal eradication of the rights and claims of the indigenous people and the previous settlers. Since that time, and especially since the Civil War, TX has stood for the utmost in brutality, injustice, greed and predation. Just to look at W is to see that State’s vices spelled out in caricature: ignorance, laziness, stupidity and general inhumanity. No other State seems so in love with killing, whether settling arguments with sixguns or executing everyone who is so unfortunate as to require justice, or even due process, at the hands of its police and its courts. It represents the worst of what civilized people everywhere turn away from when looking a the U S these days. Of course, there are also fine people in TX. The names of Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, and Bill Malone spring to mind, and there are no doubt hundreds of others among the millions who live there, but somehow the vicious animals in human form seem to shape the State to their brutal image. And to top it all off, it is the home of the most predatory force in the U S, the oil industry, which holds us all in thrall. It doesn’t actually mean that Hillary must be like them, but as they are famous for noting, “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” What will she tell them to win their votes? How she worked for race equality and compassion for the poor and the weak? Not in TX, I believe. That is not the world that many Texans believe in. And what about OH, the home of the Diebold election-stealing machine and the heirs of the Taft tradition? What will she offer them that will win their indifferent little hearts? Not the imprimatur of Dennis Kucinich, I would think.

Friday, February 15, 2008

ELECTRIC CARS - February 14, 2008

Like Madison, London has a problem with the quality of the air, due in part to automotive pollution. Only London has it worse. In fact, London has worse air than any other city in W EU. But unlike Madison, London is not sitting on its hands waiting for a solution to be given it by the national government or a charitable benefactor, or to fall from the heavens. They are planning for it and are prepared to pay for it, within reason. So when the Socialist mayor of London decided that the only thing that could relieve the congestion there was a daily fee of £5 (now £8) to drive in the center of the city in the middle of the day, he also exempted low-pollution cars like the Toyota Prius from the fee. And now large trucks that have not been certified for low pollution must pay £200/day to enter the city. The commercial interests howled, but the additional fees go not into the city’s pocket but pay the cost of a huge expansion of bus service, including an expanded system of bus lanes. Now they have come up with another move to lower the pollution even further. They want to encourage people to drive electric cars, not just hybrids. Instead of waiting for it just to happen, they are moving proactively. They are starting to provide free parking for electric cars, and even free electricity, thus doubling the range of the battery-driven vehicles. And in response, the city is beginning to blossom with very small cars with essentially zero pollution. If Madison were able to follow a proactive philosophy, a portion of our cars would run without pollution and at very small cost per mile, even if the parking and electricity were not free. But adding a certain number of free parking spaces with free recharging could start the ball rolling. Of course, nothing like this happens unless it is promoted by professional lobbyists, and even then hardly ever. We can make our town into a more comfortable and greener place if someone could be found who could profit from the example of London, which is actually a poorer city per capita than Madison and less friendly to social engineering on this scale. Let’s learn from others and do well for ourselves.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

HUMAN RIGHTS - February 7, 2008

The accomplishments of the American Experiment are fading everywhere in the world. Not only in the US, but in every country where it has been taken up as a model. Even the Brits, who live with the illusion that we got it from them, are eroding the belief that a rigid adherence to a principled code of governmental restraint is less costly in human values than the temptation to yield to the exigencies of the moment, notably in the seductive search for absolute security. It is traditional in US to quote B. Franklin as the author of the adage that those who are willing to abandon the strictures of Liberty in the pursuit of security are unlikely to achieve much of either. I had always heard it attributed to Tom Paine. But the doctrine was always credited to the French Enlightenment in my high school, where Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and others were the thinkers cited. In the days of the Cold War, Stalin’s USSR always attempted to excuse their police state by pointing to the assault on their attempt at Socialism by the powerful capitalist countries in the West but we, living on the supposed doctrine of rigid adherence to Liberty at whatever risk, scorned their alibis. But today the Cheney administration makes the same false claim for its new police state, and there is no longer an iconic libertarian state anywhere in the world to shame others into following the Torch of the Enlightenment. In Parliament this week, the mob spirit that lurks in the shadows of every constitutional government has risen to say that the interchange between citizens and their elected representatives should no longer carry a shield against police surveillance, even secret bugging. In this situation, the smarmy advocates of the police state use the supposed sanctity of the supposedly privileged relationship to tempt their quarries into behaving like free men & women instead of hiding their opinions from the thought police. They thus make the Constitution a bait for the unwary, a means of depriving them of the caution they should always exercise when they are under the gaze of the unprincipled, whether the agents of the Tsar, the special branch or W’s CIA.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

DEMOCRATS - January 31, 2008

There is a peculiar symmetry between certain aspects of the Democratic and Cheney parties. The GOP is supported by many people who wish that there were laws constraining things like abortion, same-sex marriage, & fornication, while allowing the quiet establishment of the forms of worship they themselves favour. GOP are said to retain the allegiance of these voters by displaying their own fealty to the same views, even while doing almost 0 to promote those ends. At least that is the burden of books like What’s the Matter with Kansas? On the other side of the aisle sit the Democrats, who allege they are deeply concerned with the welfare of US working people, but who do nothing, even when they are in the majority, to restore the protections of the New Deal. All that seems to be required in wooing their votes is a few words addressed to the generalized support for these principles. This last week the crisis in the economy moved the Congress to try to energize the market for consumer goods by putting $150 b or so into the hands of the working poor, people who would pretty certainly spend it about a fast as it came in. But W said that he wanted a big slice of it for corporations, & almost none for people who are poor enough not to pay income taxes. And so the Democrats, who are satisfied to take half a loaf or even less, caved in again and did as W said. They are very good at that, having had lots of practice. But at root perhaps is the fact that the divorce between the Democrats and the working class engineered by over 70 years of propaganda in the kept press of the plutocrats has borne fruit, so that even the unions, who are ostensibly the voice of that class, do not receive the support of that party, except lip service. And they do not even seem to mind, rather like the conservatives of Kansas on the other side. And they whimper and advertise their supposed discontent, but they also are supported by the plutocrats and don’t really mind. So a lot of the relief for the slow consumer market will go not to those who would spend it, but to people who already have more money than they can spend to buy true satisfaction.

WORKERS - January 24, 2008

While watching some of the Democratic candidates for president in the past few weeks, I took note of some of the good works they had been attributing to themselves and, I must admit, being a bit impressed by some of them. Hillary was proud of the time she had expended on civil rights, gender rights and human rights but I noticed, as before, no real attention to the rights of American workers as such. Obama had given attention to the needs of those workers who were desperately poor, but nothing noteworthy about the average workers, those in the middle of the wage scale, at about $12 - $20 an hour. As with Hillary, these workers were not poor enough, it seems, to have gained his pity, and thus were ignored. Indeed, except for Kucinich and Edwards, none of the candidates seem to have shown any concern for average working people, though all the GOP, and even some Democrats, showed interest in the needs of American corporations, banks, and the needs of the owners of our economy. And it occurred to me that was just fine with those owners and their friends and sponsors in the media, who largely find lordly concern with the crippled and discriminated tolerable and even commendable, so long as it is purchased by a stringent ignoring of the needs of those workers, once thought prosperous, who flourished in the age when the unions were still paying attention to the needs of the working class generally. So Hillary and Obama and all the GOP pass muster with Rupert Murdoch and those like him, while they pay no heed to the likes of Kucinich and Edwards, who do not worship at the altar of economics according to the U. of Chicago. And where are the workers themselves in all of this? It appears that they are too wrapped up in the horse-race aspects of the election, or even in the entertaining parts of the lives of the Packers and the Badgers, to pay attention to their own needs and those of their families. And their unions are too busy playing the game of politics and the strategies of power to have any time or effort left to protect the workers, their families, or their economic welfare.

TRIBAL LOYALTY - January 3, 2008

It is surprising how weak a reed similarity of principles or individual benefit is compared with the desire of people to “vote for someone who looks like me”. We see it today e.g. in Kenya, where being a Kikuyu counts for more that policy or performance in the votes of the largest tribe, that of the incumbent, against the Luo, the 2nd largest, and that of the challenger. And even so, it appears clear that the ballots have been tampered with. Perhaps we are seeing a repeat of the theft in Mexico, where the incumbent party went to bed on the last election day having lost and awoke the next morning to declare that they had won & would brook no recount. It seems that we now have the same scenario in Kenya. In Zimbabwe, the burden of the struggle against the white Smith regime in S Rhodesia was carried by Joshua Nkomo but when election time came his tribe was smaller than that of Mugabe, so Mugabe became president & has used every police state tactic he knows to remain in power. In UK, some people with weak links to the Labour Party voted for Margaret Thatcher, enchanted by the thought of a woman as Prime Minister. They learned to their cost that they should have looked more at the shape of her beliefs and less at the shape of her skin. So it was not only of the people whom some consider to be less evolved in their political thinking that people vote their identities instead of their principles or their interests. The British and Americans think of themselves as the most enlightened of peoples in political matters, & yet there are those who will vote for the candidate who looks like them rather than their needs or the needs of the Republic. There are, among the Democratic candidates, those who would give us an eight year repeat of LBJ’s struggle to redeem the Vietnam war with victory, and then not have the gonads to pull out when that was necessary. Be careful of the basis of your vote; it might not turn out to be what you had expected.