Thursday, February 26, 2009

TWIT-ter: Walk Among the Distracted

Tweet. Tweet.

Everyday I walk among the distracted. Everyone seems to do little more than look down at their hand held devices and type with their thumbs? It's bad enough when students sit in class and send text messages and every moment is susceptible to someone yelling into a cell phone, but when sitting senators have to twitter during an address to the nation, all perspective has been lost.

It doesn't matter what they were tweeting about, whether it's the nasty comments or sports updates. It's the very fact that people can no longer pay attention without engaging in mindless distraction. Formerly, people walking down the street talking to themselves startled those they encountered. Today, no one notices. Everyone is walking down the street talking to the bug in their ear. Instead of a sign of mental instability, its a sign of having things to do.

The height of our technology has been given over to mindless gadgets of distraction. If we spent as much effort on developing green energy and infrastructure, maybe the planet wouldn't be melting and the country falling apart. Instead, senators send each other messages during a speech by the president.

It is just this attention to irrelevancy at the expense of what is important that has led to the sorry state in which we find ourselves. People seem to have lost the ability to be in the moment. It has become a near certainty that attempts to set meetings and appointments will be met with statements to email or text. At the end of any event, as soon as its over, almost everyone whips out a cell phone and begins to call someone. At many events, people miss what is going on so they can call friends to tell them where they are or send grainy photos taken with their cell phone/camera/pda/computer/calculator and more. No trip to the grocery store is complete without witnessing a fellow shopper call someone and ask "What're you doing?"

Beyond the gadgets are the so-called social networking sites, where people can pretend to be connected, but in reality can completely ignore each other. Updates on who's connected to whom, quickly become just more junk to delete. Once connected on a social network site there's no need to speak anymore. Why speak when you can tweet?

Tweet, tweet, go the twits.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nationalize Now!

Subsidizing the rich seems to be the American way. Having endured a massive transfer of wealth to the rich from the poor over the past 30 years, as one "pro-business," administration after another invented new and creative ways to enrich the wealthy while damning the poor as lazy, undeserving welfare cheats. Tax cuts for the wealthy burdened the nation with a ballooning debt as government services were cut. We're now told that we must prop up the banks or we'll all be in trouble.

Guess What?


Wealth disparity between the rich and poor has reached epic proportions. A mortgage and financial crisis has been created by greedy and unethical people, most of whom were rich to begin with. We're all being told that things are going to get worse, for everyone. Everyone, that is, but the wealthy.

The banks must be bailed out, we have been told, or all hell will break loose. Really? What will happen? Already broke people with no source of credit will continue to be broke with no source of credit. The unemployment rate will rise? Where was the concern with unemployment when transnational corporations were relocating their operations to third world nations in order to marginally improve the bottom line? I believe that was considered "good for business."

The stock market is floundering, hitting a twelve year low yesterday, largely on fears of bank nationalization. The rationale is that nationalization of banks would hurt stockholders. Yes, those who own the banks must be protected. Some of these folks must be down to their last billion. Who can live on a paltry half-million dollars a year? What to do, what to do?

Propping up insolvent banks, while insuring they remain in private hands, is what Paul Krugman recently referred to as "lemon socialism." Lemon, as in we all get squeezed and left with nothing but a sour taste in our mouths. In essence, the private sector gets the profits, and the public gets the debt. Instead of "lemon socialism," it seems it should be called "demon socialism," the wealthy get all the money and the rest of us can go to hell.

The current bank bailout is NOT socialism. Let us quit calling it that. This is welfare for the wealthy. It's amazing how all these capitalist demand that the people support their thievery. So afraid that a temporary nationalization will hurt their stock values. The longer we persist in pumping money into insolvent banks is just adding to our collective misery.

I have an alternative. True socialism. Nationalize insolvent banks. Permanently. I like that idea. We the people, owning banks, rather than them owning us.

It's time for a change, all right. Time to stop being suckers.

Barack Botches Bagram

You either stand for human rights or you don't. After initially appearing to be on course to repair the damaged reputation of the United States as regards human rights, the Obama Administration has now blown it. Instead of following up on positive actions such as closing Guantanamo, the Department of Justice has ruled that human rights protections need not be extended to the 600 or so prisoners held in Bagram, Afghanistan.

Using rationales that are as pitiful as any offered by the Bush Administration, such as "it's a war zone," and "ongoing conflict," this sad ruling continues to perpetuate the active disregard for human rights that has damaged this country's international reputation. And for what purpose? Do we really believe that granting basic human rights to religious fanatics will damage our nation? Obama must realize that he was elected in part because people were fed up with just this sort of behavior committed in our name.

We are better than this, at least, we once were. Once a proud country that stood for human rights everywhere, we have become a fearful nation, afraid to live up to our own values.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

17,000 More?

On Tuesday it was announced that 17,000 more troops have been authorized for the Afghan war. According to PBS News, the total number of troops in country will total 55,000 by the end of the summer. Why not a million?

It is time to recognize the Afghan war for the absolute folly that it is. A landlocked country approximately the size of Texas, surrounded by neighbors hostile to the U.S., it is a logistical nightmare as regards supply lines. With mountains rising to greater than 24,000 feet in some parts of the country and deserts in other parts, the terrain is at best foreboding. With a population of around 33 million, (eight million more than Iraq), and a fractured political state, the country is a disaster waiting to happen (see Tuesday's posting, "Whistling Past the Graveyard").

The Soviets, in their miserable debacle there, threw everything they had at the Afghans. Maintaining a force of over 100,000 for most of their occupation, they were not only driven from the country, they were driven out of existence. Is that our goal as well? If not, what exactly is our goal?

The rationale for the Afghan war seems to have been obviated. Al-Qaeda, our initial rationale for invasion, can no longer be considered a reason to maintain this war. The Taliban seems to be gaining strength but show little involvement with al-Qaeda, which seems to have spread beyond the borders of the nation and possibly relocated its base to Pakistan. In any event, it is almost assuredly the case that those responsible for 9/11 have either gone or regrouped elsewhere.

Why then are we continuing, and increasing, our troop presence in Afghanistan? Do we really believe that 55, 000 troops will do the job? As I said earlier, what about a million troops? In a land where it is not even possible to define victory, when will enough be enough? Who would need to surrender before we could claim victory?

The mission is unclear. The opponent is elusive. The only thing clear is what happens to those who choose to fight in this place.

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Whistling Past the Graveyard (of Empires)

Afghanistan: where empires go to die. Ask the Soviets, ask the Brits, ask the Moghuls, ask Alexander the Great. All paid a price here that contributed, if not caused, their demise (see note below). Even Genghis Khan, who came as close to conquering the place as anyone, paid a heavy price.

George Bush we expected to be ignorant of history, but Obama seems to have missed this lesson as well. Today we begin sending more troops to Afghanistan in an effort to, well, it's not altogether clear what this is an effort to do. What are we trying to accomplish? Stabilization, nation building, or one long, slow bleed?

History shows that Afghanistan is an untenable proposition for invaders. As Ronald Dumbsfeld so correctly pointed out, there are no military targets there. Every victory is temporary. A largely ungovernable region, more defined by where the neighboring countries have decided to quit trying, the organization of society is along lines of fractionated tribalism and warlord feudalism.

Obama's commitment to a new effort in Afghanistan seems misplaced. Pledging to follow through with withdrawal in Iraq, continuation here appears calculated to thwart charges that he is militarily naive. But it is just the thought that Afghanistan is winnable that is the exemplar of naivete.

There is nothing to win. Even if we completely took over the country and sent in a million troops, the minute we leave everything reverts to the 13th century. A permanent occupation on the scale required is simply impossible to sustain. When it comes to Afghanistan it is time to be intelligent. Cut our loses and spend those weapons dollars on our own country, not on the futile effort to maintain an empire.

The Empire is done. It died in Afghanistan.

NOTE: For an excellent brief history on this topic, please read Milton Bearden's article in Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2001, "Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires."

The Deep End of the Ocean

The Associated Press has reported that on February 6, two nuclear submarines collided in the Atlantic Ocean. The French sub, Le Triomphant, and the English sub, HMS vanguard, hit each other despite the fact that both were equipped with sonar.

News sources conflict as to whether the subs simply had their sonar turned off or whether the anti-sonar cloaking devices worked so well that neither had detected the other. Either way, the incident should send alarms throughout the world.

What the hell are we doing with nuclear weapons on submarines anyway? The Cold War rationale for having nukes on the move all over the world would have seemed to have collapsed long ago. Nuclear submarines should be recognized for what they are: toys for grown-up boys who've spent their whole life playing army. The sheer recklessness of such actions should be self-obvious. It's time for a re-release of Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove."

There seems to be some solace taken that the subs collided in "deep waters" (as if somehow the whole ocean is not connected) and there was "no leakage of nuclear material" (this time). What has to happen before we realize the Russian roulette we are playing with nuclear weapons?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What Obama Didn't Say

Last night, February 9, 2009, Barack Obama held a press conference in the East Room of the White House that was remarkable. What he said was interesting enough, but it was what he did not say that was even more noteworthy.

The whole event, which lasted one hour, was a welcome change from the past eight years. Speaking in complete sentences and actually answering questions, rather than blithering platitudes such as "Freedom's on the march," Obama gave thoughtful, coherent answers that were direct and complete. Spending seven minutes answering one question demonstrated that a different approach is being taken with the media. He even called on Helen Thomas.

Speaking of Helen Thomas, this is where what Obama didn't say comes into the picture. In general, the press conference was marked by a forthright approach that did not try to sugar coat things. Using phrases such as "permanent recession," he did not avoid the dire circumstances of the moment. However, it was with a question by Helen Thomas, the maven of the White House press corps who Bush avoided out of fear, that Obama appeared to dissimulate. Thomas asked a multi-part question related to the Middle East and at the end inquired as to whether "any nation" in the Middle East had nuclear weapons. Obama answered the bulk of the question and ignored the final part about nukes. Throughout the evening he routinely answered a number of multi-part questions, taking his time to address each sub-question. But with the question by Thomas, he avoided the question even when she persisted with a follow-up.

In not answering that one question, Obama slipped. His only alternative, I believe, was to lie. By not categorically denying that there were nations in the Middle East that had nuclear weapons, he appeared to reveal there are. Who could it be? Technologically, there are only two nations in the region that seem anywhere near capable: Iran and Israel. It is unlikely that Iran has developed nuclear weapons because the moment they do they will almost assuredly tell the world. Israel, on the other hand, has long been rumored to have this capacity. Obama seemingly verified this.

There was one other question that was more notable for what he did not say than what he did say in response. In reference to a question concerning trying members of the Bush Administration for crimes, in which he was asked if he would guarantee no prosecutions for them, Obama gave a very interesting response. He did not categorically state that there would be no prosecutions. He talked about following evidence and the rule of law. He seemed to imply that if Congress or the Justice Department were to proceed with investigations and prosecutions, he would not interfere. He added his usual line about moving forward instead of backwards. However, he preceded this statement with the phrase, "... in general, ...". The "in general," bit of this phrase is the crucial part. Linguistically he is stating that he agrees with what follows the "in general," but that he excepts what preceded it. In effect, he is prepared to let prosecutions proceed.

I willingly admit that I may be reading too much into what he did not say. However, Obama appears to choose, and use, his words very carefully. To the other questions he gave precise, in depth answers. Only in these two questions did he avoid a direct answer. In this sense, what he did not say was far more noteworthy than what he did say.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cheney Howls Again: Werewolf of Wyoming, Pt. 2

Dick Cheney, in an undisclosed orbit somewhere above Earth, signaled from his DeathStar today. Seeking to rewrite history, he attempts to justify Guantanamo, torture and domestic spying. Claiming that these actions were necessary to prevent another terrorist attack, Cheney conveniently overlooks the damage these acts have done to the U.S. Moreover, Cheney's comments are an obvious effort to clear his name by betting on the inevitable.

Cheney, in an interview with, predicts another terrorist attack if Obama shows respect for human dignity and international law. What Cheney realizes, of course, is that it is inevitable that there will be another terrorist attack, no matter what is done. It is statistically only a matter of time. Perhaps there already have been attacks, but with the secrecy of the Bush-Cheney (mis)Administration, how would we know?

By predicting attack, Cheney has set up a perfect, "I told you so," scenario. If it happens, then he will claim to be vindicated, if it doesn't, then he'll claim it's only a matter of time (which, again, I agree that it is).

When it happens, it won't be because the U.S. has suddenly restored the rule of law. It will be because for seven years, Cheney and his puppet Bush stirred up a hornet's nest. Their actions at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, etc. coupled with their pig-headed arrogance, ("Bring it On") bred more and more enemies. Rather than solving anything by their misguided maneuvers, they made the situation worse.

Secretly, Cheney is afraid that there won't be another attack, that Obama might not blow it. Why? Because if that happens, it will be irrefutable proof that all of the war crimes committed by the Werewolf of Wyoming and the village idiot of Crawford, Texas were for nothing. Already indefensible, their only rationale for these actions has been to claim necessity.

These efforts at spin are ultimately are about Cheney's awareness that he knowingly and deliberately committed war crimes. Seeking to justify his actions as necessary is but one smoke screen. In another act, his minions have engaged in a whisper campaign that Obama might still allow renditions and torture under the right circumstances. This is an overt attempt to muddy the debate by claiming that Obama will continue something he has said will stop. The underlying implication is that this somehow justifies the abuse.

Cheney is howling all these lines about necessity and continuity to hide one incontrovertible fact: He authorized, plotted and committed war crimes. His defense is that he had to do it. He wasn't just following orders, he was giving them. He was seeking the final solution to terrorism. Atrocities can not be rationalized.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


There is near consensus (or as close as it gets), that a massive investment in infrastructure is a necessary and vital component of the stimulus plan. Infrastructure investment, and upgrades thereof, are desperately needed throughout the nation. From bridges, to power grids, to public transportation, we have a nation that is falling apart at its seems. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), estimates that it will take $2.2 trillion over the next five years to bring us up to grade. How many more bridges need to collapse, or levees break, before we begin to repair the foundations of the country? Investment in our infrastructure is an absolute necessity, no matter the economic situation.

The economic crisis, which requires an infusion of government funding to keep the economy afloat, seems to be a ready made solution to the infrastructure crisis that we have been ignoring. In addition, it is generally agreed that infrastructure development gives us the biggest "bang-for-the-buck" as any type of government spending. Could there be a more obvious course of action?

Then why is so little being allocated for infrastructure development? Paul Krugman, economist and Nobel laureate, has stated on a number of occasions that the biggest problem is to find enough "shovel ready" projects to spend the money fast enough. His fellow columnist, Bob Herbert, pointed out this morning in his column "Risking the Future," that there are more than enough projects that should have already been done to use all the money in the stimulus. The crisis has met the opportunity. The answer: INFRASTRUCTURE, INFRASTRUCTURE, INFRASTRUCTURE.

Why then, we must ask, is the stimulus package taking so long? Time is of the essence. Start fixing all the substandard bridges, repair and upgrade our power and water delivery systems, begin putting solar panels on private residences and public buildings, and all the other things that haven't been done as conservatives attempted to "starve the beast", and we'll be able to spend all the money Paul Krugman could want.

We know what to do. We have to do it anyway. So why aren't we doing it? Are our political leaders this inept? Or is it just grandstanding for the constituents? Rome is burning and a chorus of violins continue to play.

Bipartisan Ignorance

Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently had the opportunity to engage in a bit of bipartisanship. Rising to the occasion, they both proudly displayed their ignorance and demonstrated the lack of foresight that has contributed to the economic meltdown.

Appearing on "Face the Nation," with host Bob Schieffer, McConnell was first up and, as expected, continued his repetition of the failed mantra of the GOP: tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. As I said, to be expected. It was in his effort to throw stones at other parts of the stimulus plan that he demonstrated his woeful ignorance. Using the tactic often employed by politicians when attacking large, multifaceted legislation, McConnell tried to provide an example of spending that he thought would appear ridiculous. He chose to mock and lambaste a program dedicated to providing insurance to those who raise honeybees.

Later, Schumer, in a separate segment, jumped on the bandwagon by essentially dismissing the program in a manner that suggested that this was obvious waste. Particularly egregious was Schumer's reaction because it was clear, in context, that he had no idea what the program was about. He chose to join the ridicule because he thought it was politically expedient that he agree there was waste in the bill.

The program the two mocked is a trust fund that provides emergency relief to qualified producers of various livestock, farm-raised fish and honeybees. In case McConnell and Schumer haven't heard, honeybees are essential to the production of food. They are only important to people who like to eat. When the honeybees die, so will we.

Over the past decade or so, the bee population of the United States, and many other countries, has been devastated. An enormous percentage (some estimates approach ninety percent) of the wild bee population has died out, and those hives maintained by commercial and hobbyists beekeepers have been under assault from various diseases such as tracheal mites and Colony Collapse Disorder. Honeybees, which pollinate between one-third and one-half of all food crops, are in desperate straits.

From an economic point of view, the keeping of bees is becoming inviable. Without insurance to provide assistance with catastrophic loss, there will be fewer and fewer people able or willing to take on the extremely important job of beekeeping. The inclusion of assistance for beekeepers is as crucial as any single item in the stimulus package.

It is just such thoughtless dismissal of important infrastructure (yes, infrastructure. Honeybees are the underlying support for almost all agriculture) that causes one to pause and question the judgment of our leaders. Bipartisanship is wonderful. Too bad it was wasted in a woeful display of ignorance.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer