Being Conservative

Yesterday's conversation with my neighbor really stuck with me. In fact, I think I dreamed of what my responses should have been all night. The comment that in regard to a national health care system, "We need to go slow. To make sure we get the best outcome for everyone," stuck with me the strongest.

I'm reading a David Halberstam book, Teammates, about Ted Williams and his friends in the last days of Williams' life. In that book, Halberstam spends a little time explaining one of baseball's most controversial moments; the last game of the 1946 World Series. In the 9th inning, the game was tied and Boston's excellent centerfielder, Dominic DiMaggio, was injured and out of the lineup. A journeyman, Leon Culbertson, was in his place. Enos Slaughter, one of the game's most dangerous baserunners was on first and Harry Walker, a scatter hitter, was at bat. "Country" Slaughter had decided that he was going to go all the way on anything Walker hit out of the infield, particularly if that hit went into centerfield. Walker put the ball right where Slaughter wanted it.

Here's what Bobby Doer said about the play," It was brutal--as bad a field as I've ever played on. So bumpy and rough. Dom (DiMaggio) was accustomed to it by then, and not afraid of it. But Leon was very tentative with it. Dominic played balls aggressively; Leon played this one conservatively."

That's my definition of "conservative," too. My experience with taking the conservative route always ends in losing, too. Shakespeare's Falstaff used a less common term when he said, "The better part of valor is discretion." Playing the ball "conservatively," avoiding battle with "discretion," running away in outright cowardice, it's all the same.

The United States Congress has been talking about a single-payer national healthcare reform since Harry Truman's administration. Nixon side-tracked that movement by handing the keys to the nation's medical system to the worst of all possible "solutions"; HMO's. At that point in history, even conservatives realized that our national system was "in crisis." The conservative "fix" during the 1990's was to defeat, again, the Clinton's national healthcare system and to allow dope companies to market directly to consumers, which ballooned drug use and cost. So, "taking it slow and carefully" means wasting trillions of dollars and sixty years to get to . . . what? An opportunity to "break Obama," according to hillbilly senator, Jim DeMint? Another opportunity to pork-barrell more profits for insurance companies, dope dealers, and the rest of the crowd who prey on America's sinking national health crisis?

We are a conservative nation.

All this reminds me of the conversion to the metric system that every industrial expert describes as one of the most critical competitiveness disadvantages our country faces. We are, for practical purposes, the last nation in the industrialized world to give a damn about the length of the king's foot and a base-12 measurement system and the rest of the archaic "standards" that make up the English/SAE measurement system. Thomas Jefferson was the first American President to recommend that we convert to a decimal/metric system and in 1792, the United States was the first nation to adopt a decimal currency system. The metric system was made "legal for trade" in 1866. In 1971, the infamous Report to the Congress: A Metric America, A Decision Whose Time Has Come was delivered to Congress and that study recommended the country fully convert to the metric system in 10 years. A decade later, the Great Communicator Ronny Reagan, disbanded the U.S. Metric Board and declared the movement "dead." In 1988, Congress converted the federal government to the metric system and industry has been "electively" moving to the metric system since the 1970s. However, complete conversion to the metric system is nowhere in sight.

Apparently, our overwhelmingly conservative elected representatives will not be satisfied until the United States has the worst national health system in the world. In 2000, we were somewhere between 37th and 39th, falling below the high standards of the United Arab Emirates, Chile, Columbia, and Oman. In 2000, we were still healthier than Cuba, Slovenia, and Croatia, but just barely.

I am still working on generating a similar comparison for the 2006 data. They seem to have been effectively attacked on the 2000 position, from U.S. conservatives, that they are avoiding such a clear ranking of nations. Battling data is an easy win for conservative "think tanks" (the ultimate oxymoron), since US citizens are doing as well with math and science as is our healthcare system (28th of 40 industrialized nations in mathematics scores). If history is a guide, moving to a rational national healthcare system is at least 200 years in the future. If we can't manage something as rational and simple as changing to the international measurement system, something as emotionally charged, financially motivated, and easily misled as a healthcare system is impossible.

If I'm right, it's just more evidence that the United States is a radically conservative nation. If you don't understand my meaning, let me be clear: the country is cowardly, mentally disabled, and lacking in necessary survival skills.


Who Do You Trust?

"You can't trust politicians, they're all liars and crooks," my neighbor said, as a final nail in the coffin he'd built for national health insurance and taxes on the wealthy.

He's normally a fairly reasonable guy, but we had a few hot flashes during the last election cycle when he decorated his lawn with McCain/Palin and Norm Coleman posters. My Obama and Franken posters, apparently, caused a little conflict in his home life and he pulled the Coleman posters down almost immediately and the McCain posters slowly vanished over the next week or two. I think his wife is less strident about her Republican commitment.

Listening to him chant "we need to do this slowly and carefully" so that the politicians he distrusts so much can "get the best result for everybody," I realized that there are people, with normal-sized brains, who still listen to Faux News and yak-radio. Somehow, I'd hoped that all that crap had vanished into blurbs specially produced for Jon Stewart's monologue. Who knew that Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and whatshisname O'Reilly still had an audience? I'm not kidding, I had foolishly assumed that the only listeners left to the crazy right were safely occupied by the unemployment line. Unfortunately, not so.

Here's a question for you, if one believes that all politicians are "liars and crooks," what makes so many of the middle class gravitate to the collection of "liars and crooks" with the worst record for insight, foresight, corruption, or any other important characteristic of leadership or accurate information? If you look at the record the Faux News and yak-radio crowd has generated in the last two decades, it's hard to find a single important issue where they have been right.

They totally missed their Crazyland guesses on how the Afghanistan/Iraq invasions would work out; in the sort and long term. They lied (or were "wrong") about the Bush Administration's abuse of the Constitution and the laws of the country. Remember Willy O'Reilly's "You can't produce one person who's been tortured by the United States" statement? How about Tony Snow's 2003 Faux News moronic claim, "Tommy Franks and the coalition forces have demonstrated the old axiom that boldness on the battlefield produces swift and relatively bloodless victory. The three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics' complaints." Yep, we all know that war's been over for six years, right? Google "iraq invasion 2003 quotes" or just check out this page (http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2842) to see how far off the conservative news goofballs were on that issue.

Their proclamations on the state of the economy have been consistently out of focus with reality. I clearly remember the wingnuts' babble about our strong economy based on "the growth in homeownership and consumer spending linked to accumulated home equity." Yeah, everybody knows that an economy based on unrealistic inflated property prices and massive borrowing on imaginary "equity" is the core of a sound economic system. The logical extension of that thinking would be to borrow money against purchased groceries under the assumption that the crap digested groceries "produces" would be worth more than the food input.

The Republican/Faux News' blind loyalty to the idle rich and corporate socialism seems to be more deluded by the moment. Soon, we're going to hear Billy O'Reilly rant how Paris Hilton is going to take her fortune and inventive spirit to the Caymans and that great loss will be the downfall of the United States. Explain to me where the idle rich are going to go where they will be safe, marginally taxed, entertained, and properly honored. Not to mention the fact that most of their assets are tied up in US real estate, corporate investments, and state and federal bonds. How, exactly, do they move all of that to tiny islands in the Caribbean? I suppose they could move to the places where they've shipped middle class jobs: China, South Korea, and India. Sure they can. They'll be safe and loved in Communist China where the slightest dissent will get the most powerful people in the country a trip to a tiny cell and the opportunity to make toys for rich children in the US. I can see Paris and our overpaid, under-talented corporate execs going for that, can't you? No? Me either. The only place in the world where rich people are protected from the working class, have unlimited access to entertainment and power, and can freely wallow in their excesses is the United States. A change in the tax code is not going to change that.

So, what makes working class people gravitate to the sources that are consistently wrong? I can't figure it out any more than I can figure out why urban residents listen to country music or why rich white kids listen to rap. I'm not kidding, this is an aspect of human nature that totally baffles me. I imagine there are components of racism, suceptability to fear-mongering, the herd mentality, and psychological manipulation that contribute to this, but I'm still surprised that it works after decades of failure, corruption, incompetence, and outright foolishness.


Quittin' While the Quittin' Is Good

Sarah Palin quit her Alaska governor's job today. Apparently, half of the country still loves her for her inabilities, flightiness, cowardice, ignorance, and general incompetence. You have to wonder about a country that idolizes someone who has failed every step of the way through her life, but that's the same country that elected "W" who had a similar life record.

The AP report on today's resignation included the information that Palin was leaving under the cloud of "ethics probes, mounting legal bills and dwindling popularity." However, that writer reminded us that "Palin may host a radio or TV show, or launch a lucrative speaking career." Yeah, that's what we need in the midst of a depression; another simple-minded, superstitious, wingnut "author" and talking head.

In quitting 17 months before the end of her first term, Palin finished off most her Alaska support (although there are still 40 percent of that goofy crowd who still "approve" of her performance). It's always worth remembering that Americans are the most short-term memory population in human history and Palin could yet return to her past summer's 60% favorable rating.

One of the idol-worshiping Alaska crowd, Wilson Villanueva, was quoted as having said, "She's not a quitter; she's a fighter. She wants to fight for the Alaskan people and for the greater good nationally."


Palin burned up her parents' and taxpayers' money taking six years and five colleges to earn a BA in Communications, a degree slightly more demanding than Phys Ed. She didn't like journalism, barely able to cope with the low-level sports crap she wrote about, so she turned herself into a "hockey mom."

She didn't care much for the full-time mom thing, so while cranking out five brats, she ran for the highly demanding job of city council member and, later, Mayor of Wasilla, AK. She ended both jobs prematurely, quitting as it were. Wasilla has a population of 9,000 people and puts so little faith in the job of mayor that the town has a city manager to handle all of the actual tasks of running the city. The mayor has the following job description:
  1. Preside at council meetings. The mayor may take part in the discussion of matters before the council, but may not vote, except that the mayor may vote in the case of a tie;
  2. Act as ceremonial head of the city;
That's it. All those claims of management experience were about self-management, since the mayor of Wasilla has no authority, no practical function, and nobody wanted a particular mayor, Palin, to have the keys to her own office. I'd say "community organizers" all over the nation have more practical experience than Wasilla's mayor. She couldn't manager to keep her fingers out of the cash drawer in that job, either. She quit that job after unsuccessfully campaigning Lt. Governor from the Mayor's Office and getting caught using city funds for her state campaign. During her VP campaign, she was asked if she had done the same thing that she'd accused Randy Ruedrich of having done. She said, "Yeah, what I did was wrong.'"

From there, Palin moved on to the Alaska governor's office. 18 months from the end of her first term, she quits because, in her own words, because she is "doing what’s best for Alaska." Her biggest whine was that the Alaskan people questioned her ethics, decisions, and sources of income. While she once campaigned telling the people of Alaska to "hold me accountable," when they did that she stonewalled investigations (When she was the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Chairwoman, she quit because, "I'm forced to withhold information from Alaskans, and that goes against what I believe in as a public servant."), whined often and publicly that she was being picked on (after accusing Hillary Clinton of "whining" about her press coverage.), and now she's running away. Running a state overfloowing with cash from its natural resources and managing a population a fraction of the size of a decent Midwestern city proved too much for Sarah's talents. The poor babe couldn't keep her hands out of the state's till and her cronism got the best of a state known for legendary cronism. Wow, that's sad even by the low standards of Republican candidates!

As one conservative squawking head put it, "Sarah Palin is no quitter. That's why she's quitting."

Advertising age has speculated on her future exit from the media in this article: Inside the Collapse. I vote with them. No matter what Palin does, she'll screw it up, cover herself in "family values," and run away dragging the approval of the low brow wingnuts with her. Everything you need to know about Sarah Palin's fans is properly described in the movie, Stupidity.


Flying Lame

Up to 2002, I spent a lot of my life in commercial airlines, flying for business and, rarely, flying for pleasure. Over the last 40 years, I've watched air travel evolve from a somewhat inconvenient experience into what is now a downright miserable exercise in customer-hostile service. I admit that I have flown business class or first class fewer than a dozen times out of the hundreds of flights I've suffered. It's possible that the folks who cough up $1,000 to fly from Minneapolis to Chicago are treated better than the rest of us. It's even likely. It's also possible that the reason coach-class travelers are treated like passengers in steerage on the Titanic is because the airlines don't make any money from us and would just as soon we didn't fly at all. If that is the case, I should be making them happy. I'd much rather drive 2,000 miles round-trip, take the train or even the bus, than put up with the vagaries of air travel and the discomfort of airports. Hell, I'd rather pay a taxi driver to pick up friends and relatives at the airport than go myself. Airports are so badly designed, overpriced, and security is so erratic and hostile that walking into a dark alley with a pocket full of cash feels safer than the airport experience.

The demise of the passenger train system in the US and the decay of airlines is returning the country to a time when moving away from home meant never seeing your home and family again. When a family member moves outside of practical driving distance, many families lose physical contact and resort to the age-old written communication tactic; although that is now instant via email, Twitter, and cell phone texting. Of course, cross-country telephone communication has been with us since the turn of the last century. Nothing beats eye-to-eye, though and that is something that the death of air travel will cost all of us.

In a recent airport experience, I was amazed at how incompetently airlines are handling the downturn in their business. American Airlines, for example, has lost the ability to accurately predict when a plane might land at a given airport. In the case of the flight I was trying to track, their telephone system decided to skip the Minneapolis/St. Paul portion of a flight and jump directly to predicting when that plane might land in Ontario, Canada. The flight had been moved from a 10:45AM Sunday arrival to an eventual 1:45AM Monday landing over more than a dozen steps and an equal number of plane transfers, so it's sort of understandable that the airline might lose track of what plane is going where. It might be understandable, but the passenger we picked up had suffered 16 hours of airport misery and had walked a considerable percentage of the total travel distance running from plane-to-plane without ever leaving the Dallas airport. Not once had an American Airlines employee offered sympathy, useful guidance, or tried to assist this 88-year-old traveler. In fact, without the generous aid of two fellow travelers, he might not have made the trip at all. The airline's employees were as useless as a Republican Peace Corps volunteer.

While we waited to learn where and when we should meet our traveler-in-misery, I watched a dozen passengers stacked up at the misnamed "help desk" baggage claim. I watched them for an hour and a half. The line didn't move. No one received any sort of assistance. The two giggling AA uniformed women behind the counter appeared to be engaged in conversation and were actively ignoring the customers in line. One-by-one, the passengers simply gave up and wandered off without their luggage.

In the meantime, the airline's computer system jumped from predicting (incorrectly) the arrival time of the remaining evening's flights to the mid-morning flights, leaving us to wonder if our flight would be arriving at all. That's when a call to the American Airline's computer system informed me that our anticipated flight would be arriving in Ontario in three hours.

I've been to our airport about a half-dozen times this year. The place is a ghost town. Two years ago, there were still a substantial number of pleasure travelers flying out of Minneapolis. Eight years ago, the place was booming. The differences are purely numeric and economic, though. Good times or bad, the airlines optimize the misery of their customers. You'd think when passengers are squeezing their dollars for maximum benefit, a luxury like air travel would try to provide added value, better service, and actively court customers. Airlines don't bother worrying about the middleman. Their existence relies on corporate welfare federal dollars. When the economy tanks, people stop flying, and executive bonuses are in jeopardy, the airlines go crying to Washington, begging for welfare and management assistance. Like finance and the military-industrial complex, airlines can't exist without taxpayer aid. Their management systems are incompetent. Their business model is non-functional. Their product may be obsolete.

Exceptions, like Southwest, seem to do well regardless of economic conditions and some of us limit the places we travel to the places those companies service. Obviously, the country needs to let the incompetent companies fail, including the manufacturers of the airplanes and the rest of the support industry for this out-of-date transportation system. It is impossible to justify the massive energy waste air travel represents and, clearly, airlines can not support themselves with the product they sell. Flight was an interesting engineering challenge and a lot has been learned from the experiment, but when commercial airlines become a luxury that only the rich can afford and they can only afford it with assistance from every other taxpayer, it's time to give it up. If the competently managed companies, like Southwest, can find a niche that doesn't require regular injections of corporate welfare, that would be wonderful. The overwhelming majority of airline management couldn't turn a profit under any conditions. They should be allowed to fail--and their management should exit without publicly financed golden parachutes--and the country needs to move on to transportation systems that work under 21st Century energy constraints.


Circular Logic

The crazy right wingnuts (Yes, I am comfortable with the redundancy of that phrase.) are trying to pull off a logical fallacy on par with the argument that caused God to vanish in Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

"Now it is such a bizarrely impossible coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful [as the Bable fish] could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the nonexistence of God. The argument goes something like this:
"'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
"'But,' said Man, 'the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'
"'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn't though of that' and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic."

The equally loony wingnut argument begins with the idea that the far right and the far left are so corrupt, despotic, and anti-democratic that they are the same; an arc that meets in the end and, therefore, is a circle without ends. Since the circle is continuous, there is no need for both the right and the left to be involved and, hence, all corrupt, despotic, and anti-democratic regimes are of the same ilk. If they are the same, they might as well all be called "socialist" or "far left," leaving the far right innocent of ever engaging in such immoral acts.

Part of the "logic" involved in this manipulation abuses the fact that the official name of the German Nazi Party was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (abbreviated NSDAP), before that the Workers' Party, and is commonly known in English as the Nazi Party. While the Nazi's were fond of gibbering about the failures of capitalism, they were allied with all of the elements of Germany's far right; including most of the nation's religions institutions. Much of the socialist reputation of the Nazi's came from their penchant for confiscating substantial property from wealthy Jewish business men and transferring it to their own followers. The Nazi's did, however, have a strong "small business" following among Germans.

This is a short distance from the equally crazy religious fanatics' claim that the worst human rights' abuses in human history are connected to atheist regimes; Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. The first two are most likely accurate, but Hitler was far from atheist and much of his staff and most of Germany were religious, superstitious, and appeared to believe the most dangerous of human fallacies; that the gods were on their side.

In 1998, Jesse Ventura launched the American Reform Party into national prominence as a candidate for Minnesota's Govenor. It took exactly one election cycle, 2 years, before the religious right took over the party and crazy Texan Ross Perot jealously took back the reins of the party for his own purposes. Their Party chairman, Russell Verney, demanded (as Perot's spokesman) that Ventura resign from the party. Two years after that, one of the nuttiest wingnuts ever, Pat Buchanan, and his collection of religious whackos took over the party and Ventura left. Now, based on the party name and Ventura's candidacy, it would be possible to imply that Buchanan's wingnuts represented the original ideals of the American Reform Party, but that would require disrespect for and ignorance of reality.

Likewise, pretending that Hitler and his henchmen could even spell "Karl Marx," let alone imagining that they made an attempt to act as communists or socialists or human beings is an act of self-delusion. One of the greatest skills of the right wing is their ability to sell bags of crap to folks suffering from overflowing toilets. Call it "spin," "propaganda," "marketing," or "advertising," but whatever you call it you'll need to have a limited knowledge of history, an easily distorted grasp of reality, and some sort of vested interest in the underlying purpose of their story to be taken in this easily. The big pitches of the last 30 years has been family values, abortion, and a completely dishonest faith in capitalism. Characters who have the most to gain from exactly the thing they claim to dislike the most, creeping socialism, pretend to be advocates for "the free market": the military-industrial complex, the energy industry, finance, and medicine, just to name a few dependent-on-government-handouts usual suspects.

The right's claim to a chunk of taxpayer income is always based on public ignorance, fear-mongering, and corporate conspiracy (the activity that antitrust legislation once attempted to regulate). The right's claim to be the protectors of capitalism is as believable as Dick Cheney's patriotism.


Picking the Good Guys

I'm spending part of my summer reading a collection of history books that I've put off due to their size and time commitment. It's almost impossible to find a decent book about any complex period in history that weighs in at less than 750 pages. For me, that means at least two almost complete days spend reading. The older I get, the more work reading becomes as my eyes are slowly turning into semi-functional organs. I suspect that one reason people become more conservative as they age is they are less able to comfortably take in information the only way humans produce complex stories and data, the written word. Once you shift your input source from books to the Internet or, much worse, television, you are reduced to baby-talk and executive summaries of complex issues that can not be summarized.

The more American history I read, the more confused I get. We Americans have an almost infallible ability to pick the losing side in practically any international situation. In every instance, we arm our choice with overwhelming strength and watch them fritter their advantage away in corruption and cowardice. From Teddy Roosevelt to G.W. Bush, our Presidents have consistently picked the losing side. How is that possible?

At first, I suspected that it was poor military advice and our usual pitiful language skills that drove us to the weakest link. But the more I read about our history in places like the Philippines, China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, the more I am convinced that is not the problem. At some point before each conflict, we've supplied both sides of every one of those places with American military and economic advisers who provided insightful, intelligent, and predictive advice that could have saved the nation decades of trouble, trillions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of American lives. Every time, that advice was either ignored or suppressed. Why?

After wrapping up my third such book this week, I asked this question to my wife, "Why are we so attracted to the losing side?" Her answers were almost identical to what I'd considered over most of my life: our leaders are corrupt, special interests are in charge of our foreign policy, our military is incompetent, and the usual suspects that always appear at the beginning, middle, and end of every one of our foreign adventures. It's probably true that every one of those factors are involved in our national inability to pick a winning side, but in reading these history journals I don't see any of them as a unifying cause. For a country that firmly believes, and has for at least 150 years, that gods are on our side we seem to be on the bad side of whatever gods are in charge.

And that, I believe, is the problem. No, I don't think the gods are lined up against us. Yes, I do think that gods are at the root of our national loser complex. Going back over the history I've just read, it's obvious that we are picking the side that most accepts Christianity over its own traditional religion. If we can't find a serious leader who will adopt our national superstition, we'll pick someone at random, prop them up in power, and pretend that we're defending a Christian nation.

Holy crap! [And I mean that literally.] We're risking the lives of our children and our national security over superstition; disregarding common sense, solid information, history, and sound military advice. Often, as best typified by MacArthur (Korea) and Rumsfeld (Iraq), we've put complete nutjobs in charge because rational men would not make the "right" decision based on those religious goals. Every time you look into the domestic argument, especially the congressional argument, over any of these conflicts you find yourself surrounded by religious justifications for the craziest decisions. Roosevelt's "white man's burden" to Bush's "crusade," one after another, these pitifully bad decisions were done under the cloud of religious justification.

While I still believe that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," I suspect a similar relationship exists between politics and religion. Any time, anyone tries to justify anything based on any religious "principle," we should all assume that person is trying to drive the national family vehicle over a cliff. Superstition and politics, clearly, do not mix well.


Defining Treason

Back in the late 40's well into the late 50's, a collection of characters mostly from the Republican Party decided to define "treason" in their own terms. Many of these good ole' boys were often characterized as "the senators from Taiwan" or by some equally obvious terms that defined their true sponsors. Some congressmen like Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin, Styles Bridges of New Hampshire, Missouri's James Kem, and Nebraska's Kenneth Wherry barely seemed to realize that they had been elected by US citizens and were not personal representatives and lobbyists of Chiang Kai-shek and his band of corrupt gold diggers. The similarity between the China Lobby of the 1940's and 50's and today's Israel Lobby is beyond striking.

The Chinese Nationalists were particularly effective at handing out favors, money (syphoned from US taxpayer funds sent to prop up that pitiful "resistance"), and all sorts of under-the-table benefits to those who would chant their party line in Washington. The rightwing press (the overwhelming majority of the press) was equally over-the-wall about Chinese affairs. Publishers like Henry Luce of Time were children of that period's evangelism and believed that their lives would have been in vain if China were allowed to fall to communism. On one hand, Nationalist China was being represented by our own corrupt, bought-and-paid-for elected officials and on the other China's propaganda was marketed by the major newspapers and magazines. That, however, was never considered "treason."

Every on-site military advisor in China knew that Chiang (the "generalissimo") was incompetent, cowardly, and corrupt. One US general after another was sent to China to prop up Chang's conscripted and kidnapped military and found it to be so useless that the effort was a career killer, even for the best and most competent of our military leadership. Part of the reason that MacArthur managed to stay on top of the military dogpile in the Far East was that he was the most remote of leaders, hiding out in Japan and only sticking his toe into China and Korea for photo-ops. He managed to mismanage every step of China and Korea while shifting the blame for his failures to subordinates, mostly, through his political links to the Republican China delegation. To Republicans, that wasn't even considered incompetence, let alone treason.

There is a question whether "history repeats itself" or "history precedes itself." Humans make the same mistakes so often, misjudge current events so predictably, and follow the wrong leaders so consistently that it almost makes one fatalistic. The marching morons line up so quickly behind "conservative" goofballs that you'd have to suspect there is a human herding instinct that resembles a similar characteristic of lemmings.

Reading the history of our involvement in the Philippines at the turn of the last century, China in the 1920's, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq is almost boring in its repetition. First, there is a business interest to protect, often not even a US business interest, followed by war drum beaters from the so-called "conservative" crowd. Often reluctantly, the military is drawn into what is typically a civil war and our side is picked by whatever special interest has the ear and its hand in the pocketbook of, usually, the Republican Party. Often "our side" was either our opponent or a non-involved party in whatever major issue began the civil war. Once we're tangled in the invasion, the "conservatives" fake positive reports of how well our "allies" are doing. The allies, of course, are packing their pockets with US funding instead of spending it on the actual war. Every major reporting agency is in the pocket of the powers that be because that is the easiest, most profitable position. Eventually, the other side begins to completely overwhelm our "good guys" and occasional reports of corruption, incompetence, and cowardice begins to filter into the media reports. Those reporters are always criticised as "traitors" and accused of "aiding the enemy" by the representatives of foreign governments in Washington. Finally, the house of cards falls, we're routed from the battlefield, the folks in power come up with some fake settlement that allows them to save face, and everyone who was right at the beginning of the catastrophe is banished from public view, labelled "traitor," and the people who were most wrong are promoted to the next level of incompetence.

The occasional rare story that doesn't resemble this sequence of events, like the UN action in Bosnia, is often heavily discredited because there wasn't enough corruption and profit-taking from the event. You'd think that would raise some sort of red flag in the public consciousness, but the real lesson to take from that is that "public consciousness" is an oxymoron. The one thing that we appear to learn from history is how to make money from repeating it.


Who Wants A Canadian Healthcare System?

On a motorcycle mail list, no less, a rider commented on the free Canadian medical care he got for his non-injuries in Saskatchewan with the following score card:

  1. Emergency Room visits: one (Regional Health Centre in Yorkton, SK)
  2. Elapsed time from arrival at hospital to first being seen by physician: 93 minutes
  3. Number of words in physician's first sentence directed at me: one (whereisyoupain?)
  4. X-Rays received: 3
  5. Broken bones found in X-Rays: zero
  6. CT Scans received: two
  7. Damaged organs found in CT scans : zero
  8. Number of times I subsequently wished the US had a "single payer" healthcare system "just like Canada": zero
So, I asked what experience he'd had in US emergency clinics and what it cost to have all that care for what a guy with two testicles would have just shaken off and ridden away from. ("Just curious, what was your out-of-pocket cost for Canada's medical care? Sounds like they went out of their way for what was probably obviously a non-emergency injury. ")

Instead of an answer, I got the following response:

"I've looked through my constitution and no where do I see that this country is obligated to give me free medical care."


"Sounds like you should move to Canada!I don't know one Canadian friend who likes their system better than ours....they pay far more in taxes (at least so far) than we do and their care is not as good.But before you get rid of our system please go live under the system you think you like better.....see how it works for you.....and then if you like it....just stay there ;)I have insurance and you don't....no reason for me to also have to start paying for you to have insurance...to solve the problem you need to find a way to get insurance..your problem, not mine....so you solve it and don't toss it onto my shoulders....I am far too busy working to pay for schools and illegetimate kids and kids with worthless parents and a bunch of other societal ills that really should not be my problem either.....so I don't need your problems added to that....just fix it for yourself and leave me (and the rest of us) out of your troubles." [his punctuation, spelling, and syntax]

This reminds me of my brief experience with Libertarians in the late 1970's. I went to a party meeting with a friend who had been invited by another friend. The first thing I noticed was that about half of the Libertarians were still wearing their USPS uniforms. The more I listened to them talk, the more obvious it was that a majority of Libertarians at that meeting were public employees of some sort. It resembled a "think green" protest where every participant drove himself to the event in a Hummer.

In my experience, an overwhelming number of people who say "I see no reason for me to also have to start paying for you to have insurance" [lots of words for a tiny statement] are folks whose insurance I've been paying for most of my 50 years in the work force: retired and current military; local, state, and federal politicians and bureaucrats; corporate welfare receipents (medical industry, military-industrial industry, oil and highway construction corporations, and the cast of deadbeats who lobby government); the finance industry; practically every business that imports or exports products and jobs) and most of academia from K-12 through Harvard.

It would be interesting to live in a country where none of us had to pay for anything we disagreed with. For example, I'd like to keep my money as far from anything military as possible. Those douchebags couldn't protect the country from a pack of boys with box knives or a truck load of fertilizer. I'm tired of paying to protect Little Dick Cheney's oil investments. I don't need pavement for any vehicle I care about, so I don't want my money wasted on highways or city streets. Dirt was good enough for the first 50,000 years of human civilization. It's good enough today, especially since I like dirt bikes. I absolutely don't want my money handed over to banks, GM, or people who don't pay their morgages. The War on Drugs (and all other victimless crimes) is a waste of my money and I'd like to see police forces cut back to 1960-levels. Don't waste any of my money on cops who spend their days eating donuts and worrying about kids smoking joints.

I could go on.

On top of all that, there are a ton of things government isn't doing that I'd like to pay to have them do. Top of the list is corporate monitoring and white collar crime. All that money that's being dumped into diddly crap police and federal regulators pretending to be doing ought to be poured into clamping down on corporate polluters, stock manipulators, employee abuse, and executive scams. Hell, I'd trade the entire military for a functioning national white collar police force.

For the record, every Canadian I know and have talked to is proud of their medical care system. Obviously, like every human endevour, it's a ways from perfect, but people get care when they need it. Any rational system will prioritize medical care and that's a huge fear in the US. Currently, if you have the money you can blow it all on hopeless procedures that contribute nothing to extending or improving your life. Tax money should not be wasted that way.

Here is a terrific article (Travel By Car: Minnesota's Big Public Subsidy) that describes one of the many places where we are all asked to pay for the convenience, luxury, and profit of a significant minority. The gas tax doesn't even come close to paying for the cost of highways.


Literacy in the AP and Minnesota's Senators

This just in from the AP:

"Democrat Al Franken is due in Washington this week to be sworn in on Tuesday. The seat he'll fill has been vacant for six months while Franken and Republican Norm Coleman dueled over a close November election.

"Franken joins Democrat Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota's Senate delegation. His win puts Minnesota in a unique category. The state now has more former living senators than any other."

I would think that older states would have more "former living senators" than a relatively young state like Minnesota. "Former living" does mean dead, doesn't it?

Most likely, the geniuses at AP meant "living former senators" and that group is pretty representative of the erratic nature of the Midwest's politics:

Anderson, Wendell R. (D-MN)
Dayton, Mark (D-MN)
Mondale, Walter (D-MN)
Boschwitz, Rudy (R-MN)
Durenberger, Dave (R-MN)
Grams, Rod (R-MN)
Barkley, Dean (I-MN)
Coleman, Norm (R-MN)

That list swings from radical, religious right-wingnut talkshow babblers, Rod Grams, to the posterboy for "liberal" by today's goofy standards, Walter Mondale. There are some middle-grounders in that list, but they are old school politicians with the traditional Minnesota long lifespan. Boschwitz is 79, Durenberger is 75, and Mondale is 81. Rod Grams is 61 going on 200. Grams is still pissed off about the American Revolution and thinks the king deserved more respect.

Of course, many lists don't include Dean Barkley, since he served a two-month appointment by Jesse Ventura after the death of Paul Wellstone (2002-2003) and barely warmed his office chair before being replaced by one-term Republican Norm Coleman.

Coleman now has the distinction of having been beaten in major state elections by a professional wrestler with one-term small town mayor experience and a professional comedian with no political experience. It appears that almost anyone running against Coleman has a pretty good chance of winning, as long as that opponent isn't a professional politician and the election isn't rigged. Coleman's two political "wins" came against established Democratic opponents, although his 2002 win (by 61,000 votes out of 2 million) was during the period when US elections were symbolic and democracy was put on hold while Bush, Cheney, and Rove packed their pockets with taxpayer money and threw out the Constitution in favor of the corporatocracy. Coleman "beat" Walter Mondale after the state's favorite candidate, Paul Wellstone, died in an airplane crash in northern Minnesota. More than a few Minnesotans suspect that Coleman, Rove, and Bush had some hand in Wellstone's death.

Before the Senate election, Coleman had come in third behind Jesse Ventura and Democrat Skip Humphrey. In normal times, that would be enough to finish a politician's career, but with the help of the RNC, Karl Rove, and the nationwide election fraud of the first decade in this century, Coleman made a "comeback." The price for his resurrection was Coleman's slavish obedience to the Rove and Bush agenda. Franken played against that record as a big part of his campaign advertising.

In Minnesota, like most states, Republicans are reeling from their hard-earned reputations for general purpose incompetnence and wide-ranging corruption and non-existent moral values. The current govenor, Pawlenty, has decided not to run for re-election, since he would probably be beaten by a stand-up comedian or a pro football player or a tasefully dressed transvestite if one chose to run. Pawlenty has so linked himself to Rove's "no new taxes on the rich" principles that practically everyone who can manage basic mathematics wants to see the bastard tossed to the wolves. So, he's campaigning nationally in the hopes that Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold, in the great tradition of corrupt corporations changing their names to protect the guilty) will return American elections to the low standards of 2000 and 2004. At worst, Pawlenty will run for President. Next worst, he'll be a Republican candidate for Senate.


The Greatest Generation

My parent's generation is being called "The Greatest Generation (TGG)," also known as the G.I. Generation. To be honest, most of the honors being bestowed on that generation comes from themselves. A MSM hack, Tom Brokow, is printing money catering to the egos and self-delusions of the generation born around 1910-30. His credibility is, at best, suspect. Brokow, having been born in 1940, is probably jealous because he's a member of the in-between generation -- the coolest of which were Beatniks and dullest and more numerous became IBM executives and MSM talking heads-- that is neither Boomer or TGG.

Members of the TGG would include famous characters like Joe McCarthy, John Wayne, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, Billy Graham, Walter Cronkite, Howard Zinn, and Johnny Carson. TGG World Leaders would be from the terms of US Presidents Ike Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronny Reagan, and George Bush I.

Having offered a respectable portion of the best and most courageous of their generation to fight on all sides of WWiI, TGG made some awful sacrifices. The US members of TGG take a lot of credit for having been on "the right side" of a "good war." If being on the right side makes for greatness, their German and Japanese peers must be "the worst generation." Using that weird criteria for greatness, the Boomer Generation and the X-Gen'ers rank pretty low, having failed miserably at their "bad wars." It should be noted that all of those "bad wars" were initiated by TGG members, except for the most recent Iraq screw up which was handed down to a loser Boomer by his TGG father and a bunch of Nixon political failures.

To their credit, it would be worth noting that 1960's Boomers stopped an illegal, immoral war begun by TGG'ers. TGG voted to continue fighting in Vietnam, long after the terrible cost to both the US reputation and economy and the incredible Vietnamese cost were obvious to their children. The social, economic, and personal cost of opposing that TGG war has never been considered by the MSM hacks (particularly, that suck-up Brokow) and I don't believe Vietnam or Joe McCarthy appears to be costing the TGG'ers much credibility. The proud direct descendants of TGG among my own and my children's generations are characters like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, and the Republican working class and the cast and crowd of conservative spokespersons. If those folks impress you, I can understand why you would call the G.I. Generation "TGG." You are clearly often asking yourself, "What would TGG do?" And answering that question with their usual behavior.

On a recent trip to North Dakota's historic monuments and museums, I came upon a diary of a young U.S. Army calvary private and, later, I found myself among the gravestones of boys who had died "in the service of their country" in that lonely, disconnected place. There were more than 200 graves in that yard, many marked with fake headboards that were inscribed with the entry made in the fort's log that recorded the fatality number, victim's name, office, date of death, and cause of death. The real headstones were small rocks with a number carved into the face. Almost 100 years ago, the "important" bodies were moved to a military graveyard when the fort was decommissioned. Everyone else stayed comfortable in their eternity on that North Dakota hillside. Obviously, most of the causes of death are no different in Iraq today than they were in North Dakota 120 years ago. The causes of the causes aren't much different, either.

In 1870, a collection of ruling class assholes wanted to have the taxpayer pay for a corporately-owned railroad that ran coast-to-coast. First, the people who lived in the way of that railroad had to be disposed of, so young men were recruited to "serve their country" in outposts like Fort Ransom, Fort Lewis and Clark, and others all over the west. It was an overwhelming invading force and the locals (Native Americans) were forced into living lives underground as "terrorists" opposing the invaders with their primitive tactics and ineffective weapons for decades. The "good guys" won, because history tells us the good guys always win, having absolute control of the recording of history. The bad guys vanished into reservations, the nation's manufacturing and construction work force, and to inner cities.

Outside of the odd designation of the "good war," the overwhelming numbers of generations in US history have been bad generations involved in bad wars. Almost without skip, each generation creates a greed-inspired war for which young men and innocents will fight and die. The size and the good or badness of the war seems to me to be insignificant. It appears to me that to be among the class of generations that can be called "great," a generation either has to have skipped the cycle of sending children to war altogether or to have gone to war and done everything possible to keep the next generation from dying the same pointless way.

Brokow's TGG doesn't fill that bill at all, having fought a war and having sent its children to several even dumber wars. There are certainly many truly great people in TGG: men who wouldn't fight and went to jail for their beliefs; parents who fought against having their children sent off to wars; men who once fought and later refused to believe politicians and profiteers who argued that wars are "easy." These great people spoke the truth regardless of how unpopular it was at the time. Every generation has members of that caliber. The real mark of a generation, though, is how its majority acts and speaks.

Nixon's "Silent Majority" was composed of TGG. TGG spawned and empowered Joe McCarthy and Nixon and Ronny Reagan. TGG spent more of its life in power in fear, rather than acting from courage. Sure, they'd suffered the most recent depression and one of the world's most vicious wars, but many of TGG were so timid that they consistently gravitated to conservative, dangerous white men. I fail to see the greatness in that attitude.

All of the poor qualities endemic to Boomers were first seen in TGG. TGG was the first US generation to be overwhelming unconcerned that their children would live less safe, less healthy, and less secure lives than previous generations. TGG burned up resources as if tomorrow was unlikely. TGG went through the world's supply of everything from good farming land to oil with abandon and disregard. They passed that attribute on to their offspring who most admire that careless past (see Dick Cheney and others above). TGG shipped jobs and industries overseas so that they wouldn't have to bother learning difficult concepts such as leadership and creativity. TGG tossed off every useful activity the government and academia could be involved in to create the largest, most expensive, most dangerous military and military-industrial complex in the history of the world. They vote regularly and they voted conservatively.
If the G.I. Generation is great by any standard, they are great spenders of wealth and resources. A man who makes his living selling toothpaste and snake oil may see that as greatness, but I am less convinced. I don't think much of Tom Brokow and I'm disappointed in The Greatest Generation. They haven't left us much to work with and they have left a horde of messes for future generations to clean up.