Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

* 105 American soldiers killed in Iraq during October - 13 American soldiers killed so far in November

The way things are going in this country these days sometimes makes me feel as if I have slipped behind the looking glass where black is white and up is down. It reminds me of that commercial where the guy is talking to his psychiatrist about a dream and how much it disturbed him and the psychiatrist responds in a foreign language. I listen to the Bush administration and its spokepeople and echo the psychiatric patient when he says in utter confusion, "what?"

One hundred and five of our service people killed in Iraq in October and our esteemed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, says that what keeps him "up at night" is the ability of our enemies to "manipulate the media." Really? That's what disturbs his sleep? Tens of thousands of our soldiers in harm's way, in danger of being killed or injured, and it is the way the media reports it that obsesses Rummy? I mean, how many ways are there to report the deaths of over 100 Americans? They are either dead or they aren't. There is no way to "spin" that terrible fact to make it sound not so bad.

Mr Rumsfeld said that we should "back off" and "relax". I guess he thinks some of us are just making too much about the war and the resulting casualties. We need to just go shopping or something and quit worrying our heads about it - just trust our leaders to handle it. Well, I was against the war from the beginning but if they had handled it with even a minimum level of competence, critics like me would have been silenced by now.

Evidently, our president agrees with Mr. Rumsfeld because Bush says he believes Rummy is "doing a fantastic job in Iraq, a statement from so deep in denial that it literally takes my breath away.

And speaking of "black is white", Vice-President Cheney also engaged in a bit of double-speak that left people scratching their heads. In an interview on a radio show, the host asked him, "would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Cheney allowed as to how "it is a no brainer for me."

I expect everyone on both sides of the torture argument knew that Cheney was talking about water-boarding but when it was reported that way, the administration and their supporters went nuts and acted as if Cheney had been violated. Words were put in Cheney's mouth, they declared. Tony Snow said Cheney was not referring to waterboarding and would never have made a misstatement of that kind. When asked what else "a dunking" could possibly mean, he declined to answer as did Cheney himself.

Now people can argue whether water-boarding is acceptable under extreme circumstances (although all civilized nations, including until recently the United States, calls waterboarding torture), but let's not play silly little words games. The radio host meant waterboarding; the Vice-president meant waterboarding. Talk about your media enthusiastically engaging in their own manipulation......

And talk of manipulative media brings us to Rush Limbaugh. I have hated Rush Limbaugh since early in the Clinton administration when he said about Chelsea Clinton, who was 12 at the time, that the White House didn't need to get a dog because they had Chelsea. I have hated him since he said all druggies should get the maximum penalty because addiction was no excuse, until it turned out he was a addicted to drugs himself and then he expected special treatment because after all, he is Rush. I have hated him for lies and cruelties too numerous to mention so his willingness to mock a man suffering from a horrifying terminal illness like Parkinson's really didn't surprise me. It just made me detest him that much more. Rush is mean and not even mean with a scalpel-sharp wit, which I can sometimes chuckle over even when I disagree, but mean in a thuggish, blunt instrument way.

What has always surprised me most about the Rush phenomena is how many people, even people I respect, have happily referred to themselves as "dittoheads", as Rush's devotees are called. To me, Dittohead connotes someone either unable or unwilling to think for themselves. The last thing in the world I'd want to be considered is a Dittohead of anyone, even someone I admire.

And now, the latest administration amazement is how they posted the means and methods of making a nuclear weapon on the freakin' internet! Oh, they didn't know they were doing it, of course. How is came about is that we "liberated" a kazillion pages of documents when we entered Iraq - documents, but no weapons of mass destruction. Republicans were anxious to prove that Saddam had WMD and they believed there might be proof of it in these documents but the problem was, they were in Arabic. We have about three people who can read Arabic in our military and foreign services because we fired the rest of them for being gay. So they came up with the bright idea of just posting them all on the internet in the hope that whoever was out there might translate them and let the administration know if there was any truly juicy stuff in there. And, guess what? There was - there were actual instructions on how to make a nuclear weapon (dating back to before the first gulf war). So who do you suppose might have read those Arabic documents posted on an official US government website? Probably not you or me. I can't read Arabic and even if I could, I probably wouldn't be sufficiently motivated to comb through a gargantuan mountain of material. But how about Arabic jihadists? Do you think they might possibly be interested enough to employ readers to see what all was there? Now the government has discovered its mistake and deleted it, years too late. We have no idea who might have gained this knowledge in the meantime but whoever it was, chances are good it wasn't friends of ours.

And these are the people who are out there, one day before an election, oh-so-earnestly telling us we must vote for them because only they can be trusted to keep us safe.

And who knows what will happen tomorrow, election day, because from behind the looking glass up is down and black is white.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Awful Responsibility

When the kids moved to an apartment in Louisville, they brought over their prized Hibiscus, which is five feet tall and nine feet around. It was no problem in the summer, as it sat outside soaking up the benefits of sun and natural rainfall. I watered it with the hose a few times during dry spells and other than that, I more or less ignored it.

Then there was a frost warning and I figured I'd better get the indoor plants back inside the house. We already have a monster Schefflera which has sentimental value for Mom because Becky Waggoner got it for her when my Grandma died many years ago. It was pretty as a youngster and even into middle age, but it is now a senior citizen Schefflera and has, I'm sorry to say, become ugly and angry with age. It now weighs approximately the same as a Volkswagen but is more awkward to carry. It despises being the house and fights me every step of the way, even though I'm risking slipped disks to save its life.

From almost the minute it comes through the door, it starts to shed its leaves. In fact, shed is not precisely the right term. It actually seems to fling its leaves in all directions out of temper at being confined to the too-small space between the piano, the dining room table and the desk. Schefflera leaves cover the carpet surrounding the pot, as well as the piano keys and the dining room chairs and I've even found a leaf in my coffee cup, something that seems nearly impossible considering where the Schefflera is in relation to the location of my cup - but, obviously, a pissed-off plant is capable of more deviousness that I had previously given it credit for. (I've heard that Schefflera leaves are poisonous but I don't know if it's true).

Every winter is a race between the end of the season and the demise of the Schefflera. By February, a grossly twisted nest of bare branches rise from the pot, desperately seeking fresh air and sunlight. It could be used on the set of a documentary illustrating what the world would look like after a nuclear holocaust. It could star in a Stephen King novel. Trust me, it does nothing to enhance the ambiance of my dining room, not that ambiance is necessarily one of my strong points anyway, but what little I manage is cancelled out by the Schefflera.

Every year, Mom hopes for it to live while I secretly wish for it to die so I never have to lug the nasty thing back and forth again.

Our other enormous plant is the Rubber Tree. I have to give the Rubber Tree credit. It is the most patient of plants. You can put it pretty much anywhere and if it doesn't thrive, it will at least hold its own. Now and then, one large leaf will turn brown and float to the floor but mostly, it simply endures. It is like the good-natured little kid who uncomplainingly reconciles himself to the backseat of the car because his demanding older sister, the Schefflera, always insists in the place of honor in the front. It isn't fair, but there you have it. None of us want to confront the "throwing herself on the floor until she turns blue" tantrum of the Schefflera if she has to spend the winter in the dim spot beside the fire place. If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, then the Rubber Tree will prevail in another time and place.

So that brings us to the newest addition to the family - the Hibiscus. We finally decided the only spot we had for the Hibiscus was in the middle room at the top of the stairs. This room is narrow and the Hibiscus is fat so that it sticks out far into the available floor space. When you go upstairs, instead of simply turning when you reach the top as you used to be able to do, you now have to keep walking straight until you almost hit the wall, then make a sharp right turn, bumping your shin on the bookcase, before making another 45 degree turn to the left to avoid cramming your toe into the rocking chair. Only then have you circumnavigated the Hibiscus' space so you can go on about your business to enter either of the bedrooms.

You may remember when I wrote about the truck, that once something has belonged to John, if he then gives it to you, it comes with strings attached. He never wholly gives up his ownership rights. And it is so with the Hibiscus. It was his and Lisa's Hibiscus. I never wanted it but now he has taken the position that he was being generous to pass this treasure on to me. He checks on it when he comes to the house to make sure that I conform to the rigid requirements necessary for the Hibiscus to prosper.

One day, he came downstairs in a snit. Had I not noticed all the yellow leaves on the Hibiscus? Did I just plan on ignoring it, letting his and Lisa's prized, exotic plant die? How could I be so uncaring, so inconsiderate, so, so, cruel!

"Huh," said I, taken aback at the strength of his passion for this plant, (he who, so far as I know, never exhibited the slightest concern for any plant ever before). Truthfully, I had watered it a couple times but mostly, when I go upstairs, it is dark. The health of the Hibiscus simply didn't rank as high on my priority list as it clearly did on his.

Then he told me that he and Lisa had some problems with the Hibiscus themselves and they had experimented with various aspects of sun and water and discovered that optimum conditions to keep it in peak shape included precisely 32 ounces of water per day!

I stared at him in disbelief. I cannot even conceive of a plant whose demands must be met on a daily basis. I'm lucky if I remember to go to Reynolds Oil when I still have a 16th of a gallon of gas left in the car. I'm lucky if I remember to take my blood pressure pills at least every other day. I'm lucky if I pay my bills on time and make it to my dental appointments when they're scheduled. And now I'm expected to be responsible the daily care of a Hibiscus?

Mom, ever the peacemaker, promised John that each and every day, she would carry a 32-ounce pitcher of water up to the Hibiscus. Of course, that laid a guilt trip on me because Mom doesn't bound upstairs as easily as she used to so then I had to backtrack and say that I would do it after all.

So now, here I am, burdened by the weighty responsibilities of the Schefflera and the Hibiscus and even the Rubber Tree, made paranoid by yellow leaves and falling leaves, religiously measuring out water in a measuring cup, praying for an early Spring.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Positive Plans?

*75 soldiers killed in Iraq so far this month

Aside from Iraq, here is what the Democrats have said their priorities would be if they win a majority in Congress next month: raise the minimum wage, allow the government to negotiate directly with the drug companies to lower presciption prices for seniors, repeal corporate incentives to move jobs overseas, make college tuition tax deductible, implement all recommendations of the 911 Commission. I don't know what's not to like about any of those issues.

The minimum wage hasn't been increased since 1996 but the Congresspeople evidently believe that the cost of living has, indeed, gone up because they've raised their own pay six times since then.

The Republicans who wrote the Prescription Drug bill deliberately included a provision that the government not be allowed to negotiate with the drug companies to keep prices down. Please tell me how that could possibly be a benefit for anyone but the drug companies themselves (and, of course, the senators and representatives who get big donations from them in return)?

Anyone who doesn't believe that what is happening to our jobs is a national shame just can't be paying attention. It started with our industrial base and no one much seemed to care about a bunch of factory workers who, common wisdom said, had priced themselves out of the market by fighting for a living wage and decent benefits. By God, if those people had only had been willing to work for a buck two ninety eight like the Mexicans, Chinese, Bengladeshis, etc. etc., those good jobs would still be right here in America. But, you know, I've not noticed that the CEO's have been willing to do "givebacks" in order to keep their companies solvent. In fact, their pay just keeps going up and up and up. Now, outsourcing has moved on to white and pink collar positions and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. We can't stop all out-sourcing but we certainly shouldn't be rewarding companies for doing it.

The Bush administration hypes education as the answer to the above but first, it is unrealistic to think that everyone in America is going on to college. It simply isn't going to happen for various reasons - lack of money, lack of will, lack of intelligence. And, second, even if it did, then what? Would we simply have college graduates working at McDonalds and Walmart? Those jobs would still have to be filled even if 99 percent of Americans had college degrees. So the idea of universal higher education as the solution to the problem is a silly one. But many of those who do manage to go to college, graduate with huge student loans to pay for, loans that it will take much of their working life to pay off. If we want more people to achieve higher education, then we should come up with a way to assist them in not racking up tens of thousands of dollars of debt as a result.

And, lastly, implement all of the 911 Commission's recommendations to make the country more secure. Five plus years after 9/11, we still do not check most plane cargos; we check less than 10 percent of shipping containers coming into the country; we have not secured our chemical companies or nuclear facilities. And to top all that off, we haven't even secured our borders. I suppose that if illegal aliens can cross the border in huge numbers month after month, then it probably wouldn't be all that difficult for terrorists to do the same.

The recent crash of a small plane into a high-rise apartment building in Manhattan is a case in point as far as our continued lack of security. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we were told it wasn't a terrorist attack but what if it had been piloted by a terrorist instead of a baseball player? Presumably, it could have happened just the same. What if the plane had contained explosives? Would it have brought down the building and everyone in it? How safe does that make you feel?

But, you know, for myself, I'm not especially worried about being attacked by terrorists. I might be somewhat more concerned if I lived in the heart of Manhattan or in Washington, D.C., but here in Wabash I think I'm way more susceptible to any number of every day catastrophes than becoming a victim of terrorism, things like cancer or an automobile crash or my house catching fire or being bitten by brown recluse spider or eating spinach contaminated by E Coli or.....

I think fear of terrorism has made America a country of cowards. We seem to be willing to simply hand over our American ideals out of our abject fear. We don't have to worry about terrorists taking away our freedom, our civil rights, our honor, our constitution, hell, we're just willing to trash them on our own. Habeas Corpus, who needs it? Just because it has been the backbone of civilized jurisprudence for centuries.....Those quaint little Geneva Conventions (which were written primarily by us)? We can't afford them anymore. We must be able to torture 'cause we're scared. Three co-equal branches of government? Nah, these fearful times demand an authoritarian president in which we are willing to endow far more dominance than the Founding Fathers ever could have conceived of - or would ever have been willing to agree to. Our government having to get warrants to spy on our phone calls and our personal information? Don't you know, silly limitations like warrants are an old-fashioned notion in today's terrified-by-terrorism world.

And as for Iraq, I can't say much more than I've already said in these posts. I thought it was a mistake from the start and every month that passes only convinces me that a) it was a tragic decision to make and b) once we made it, we did everything wrong to even have a prayer of a positive outcome. I think, at this point, there is nothing to do but get out and let the chips fall where they may. A poster asked if the Democrats had a "positive" plan for Iraq. Short answer: no, they don't. No one has a positive plan for Iraq and asking the Democrats for one is like setting your house on fire and once it is fully engulfed, asking your neighbor what his positive plan is for saving your home.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Same bunch, same result

No wonder I have such a sense of deja vu. The most disturbing revelation in Bob Woodward's book, State of Denial, is that the Bush administration is in regular contact with Henry Kissinger. According to Woodward, Old Henry consults with Cheney frequently. Its like the song, "The Boy are Back in Town". Turns out it is the same old crowd that brought us Vietnam. They have been nursing a malignant tumor of resentment all these years in the belief that the only thing wrong with Vietnam was that America lost its will and gave up.

My God, for those of you not old enough to remember, we gave them 10 years and over 50,000 lives! And it is not like we were right on the verge of winning in Vietnam when the people finally called a halt. We were losing, just as we are losing in Iraq now. If anything, we stuck with our leaders way longer than we should have. And it was bi-partisan. We hung in with Democrat presidents and Republican presidents and when neither of them could show us progress, but only body bags, we finally said, "no more."

But now Kissinger, Cheney, Rumsfield, et al. are back. Via the ever-manipulatable George Bush, they finally got their opportunity for a re-do. We are fighting in Iraq but we are supposed to be proving a point about Vietnam. This has been a right-wing mantra about Vietnam for as long as I can remember. If only the American people had been willing to tolerate a few more thousand dead soldiers, a few more sieges of carpet-bombing, a few more sorties into Cambodia and Laos, a few more canisters of burning death called napalm, a few more forests defoliated by Agent Orange, we would have won in Vietnam. If only the American people hadn't turned gutless and lost their stomach for the war.

I truly cannot believe my country has bought into this same disastrous policy brought to us compliments of the same egotistical power-mongers that did it to us before. You would have thought handing over one generation of young Americans to use as pawns in their murderous theories of geo-political chess would have been enough. But no, now they ask for the sons and daughters of those earlier soldiers and obediently, we order our children off to war. A war which we are now losing, just as we lost the one before.

Lost, not because our military wasn't up to the task, but that what was asked of them was not possible, because their leaders weren't up to their task. They weren't then and they aren't now. Thank God, they are all old now - Cheney and Kissinger and Rumsfield - too old to ever do it again. I'm sure they'll totter off to the Rest Home for the Extremely Well-Off still crying that the American people just don't have the fortitude to win a war. They will never admit they screwed up - twice.

And the worst thing about all this is that George W. Bush had a whole other group of wise old men he could have called on, one of them being his father. As well as Jim Baker and Bret Scowcroft and others who would have saved him from himself. But he wanted to prove that he could do it better than Daddy so he brought back the Nixon cabal and here we are again.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Fanciful Fall Festival

Autumn is a glorious pageant with all the royal families in attendance. In anticipation, we watch them arrive from across the far hills. Here comes the Maple Court, with the dashing young prince in his robe of blazing gold, surrounded by all his courtiers. And the Queen of Sweet Gum bedecked in eye-catching scarlet. And the venerable old Oak King, not so flamboyant as the rest, but even more impressive in somber bronze. And the Japanese Princess, shimmering in burgundy. And all the lesser nobility - the Duke of Walnut and Countess Cottonwood and Baron Beech. And here come the representatives from the Kingdoms of Fruit - Sir Peach, Lady Cherry, Lord Apple and Squire Pear.

And let us not forget the powerful Houses of Evergreen, a plain and somewhat stubborn folk who eschew formal clothing for the autumn party, preferring to remain in their everyday garments of green. Still, when the other glorious raiment has faded and been cast to the ground to be swept up with the trash, the Evergreens will still be proudly wrapping their heavy green cloaks around themselves against the wintry storms.

And paying service to the royals are all their attendants. Vast military-straight ranks of butternut-uniformed corn soldiers and lovely butter and copper and dusty rose Chrysanthemum courtesans and crimson sumac outriders. Spread across fields and along roadsides are the ivory filigree blooms of Queen Anne's lace and elegant drifts of Goldenrod and the fluffy purple blossoms of the evil terrorist, Thistle and vines of wine ivy twining through the trees.

There are the final harvests - heaped up piles of fat red tomatoes and yellow squash and orange pumpkins and bushel baskets of red and green apples and ears of speckled Indian corn. There are the good kitchen smells of baking - pumpkin pie and apple dumplings and zuchinni bread - fall food fit to celebrate a festival for kings and queens.

Too soon the autumn get-together is over. The Royals have bowed and smiled to their admirers, some of whom travel long distances just to see them, but now they, along with all their retainers, have packed up and gone. No more golds and scarlets and coppers. Only the leftovers from their party remain - a stray gilt leaf, clinging hopelessly to its twig when all the others have given up. A pumpkin rotting in the field. A Mum blossom turning brown.

It is left to the scouring storms of winter to move in and clean up after them.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

What is a Liberal?

In a recent comment to one of my blog entries, a reader told me that my "liberalism" shone through my print, as if I was trying to hide this aspect of my political bent but he'd (I'm assuming a he although perhaps that's not right) caught me out and revealed me for what I really am.

But I've never tried to hide the fact of my liberal leanings. When I worked for the Sheriff's Department, I was often teased by mostly conservative cops as their "token liberal". In fact, I'd probably describe myself more as a progressive than a liberal but I won't dispute the liberal label.

Liberal politicians brought the American people such modern innovations as the 40-hour work week, holiday pay, sick leave, social security, Medicare, laws against child labor, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, collective bargaining, WIC, Head Start, housing subsidies for people too poor to afford a place to live and on and on. In this day, even old-time Republican politicians would be considered liberal. Teddy Roosevelt started the National Park Service, Richard Nixon created OSHA, George Bush Sr. gave us wetlands legislation.

If you hate all these things, then you truly are a modern ultra-conservative. If you hate all these things, then no doubt should you get laid off, you won't even apply to collect unemployment. If you hate all these things, you'll probably refuse to accept any over time pay if you work over 40 hours a week. If you hate all these things, mostly likely you wish you could send your kids to work down in the coal mine on their tenth birthday. You probably won't want to visit Yellowstone or Yosemite. I expect you'll only take your social security until your original contributions are paid back to you (which will be in the first few years) - but maybe not, since you probably figure the government cheated you out of all the interest you'd have collected if you'd been allowed to invest it for yourself - because we all know, don't we, that had you been left to your own devices, you'd have saved every penny of this money toward your retirement in some high-yield plan (and if anyone was stupid enough to not save or to invest in some company, like say, Enron) and lost it, then they deserve what they get and let them hie themselves off to the Poor Farm. If you hate all these things, you probably think they should dismantle the dust collectors in your factory because you're willing to take your chances with the good intentions of the corporate owners. If you hate all these things and your mother gets Alzheimers (or any other physical or mental disability), you're probably going to keep her home and pay for all her medications and take care of herself, because you certainly won't want the government to get its hands on her via Medicare.

If you are an ultra-conservative, you probably want to outlaw Roe v. Wade, which I can understand, even though I disagree with you, but you probably also want to do away with any assistance for the mothers and the babies that are born as a result. Let those Moms get out and work and pay for their own housing, transportation, child care, medical care and food. Because as an ultra-conservative, I'm sure you hate the "welfare state".

If you're an ultra-conservative, you are probably conflicted about states' rights (which used to be one of your principles) as in yes, you think states' should call their own shots when it comes to affirmative action but no, the feds should move in if states approve such travesties as medical marijuana or assisted suicide. You are all for states' rights if they legislate a ban on anything that smacks as rights for gays but totally against states' rights if they approve civil unions or gay marriage. So, it sort of comes down to whether a state agrees with you positions as to whether you believe they should have the right of self-determination, doesn't it?

If you are an ultra-conservative, then you probably thinking torturing people is fine and dandy, even before we determine whether the person to be tortured is innocent or guilty. No one that I've seen, not in person or on Fox, as ever explained how they reconcile their Christianity with their approval of torture. I am truly curious about how they think a conversation with Jesus on this subject would go.

So, yes, I'm a liberal, all right. And I consider being called Liberal, not a mark of shame, but a badge of honor.