Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Genie in the Bottled Water

I know that this has probably been done to death by so many cultural commentators and comedians, but that has never stopped me before. And besides, I'm not ranting about low IQ's in high places for once.

I was running the other day and I ran past a car that had its hatchback open. I saw a gigantic shrink-wrapped box of plastic bottled water. I couldn't catch the brand - did I say I was running fast? :-) but I was struck at the effort that would be required to lift that much water from the car to the house. The owner was probably inside getting a fork lift or something. I didn't look up and to see a crane either. But anyway, that wasn't what I ruminated about on the rest of my run.

Someone who gets that much bottled water may have a lot of reasons for it and some of my suppositions may be off base. They always are and that doesn't stop me in the least. But it struck me that the compulsion of buying copious amounts of bottled water can be a political act like home schooling or living in a gated community. These acts can signify the removal from participation in the commonweal. No longer do they depend on transactions and interactions in the public sphere such as government, schools, utilities, law enforcement but they depend more on things that are directly accountable by writing a check.

The purchaser of bottled water can be saying "I don't trust the public water I get from my tap". And there may be good reasons for that - I'm not saying that their aren't. Rather my point is more that in the past, this mistrust would have been felt in political terms rather than commercial terms. Homeowners would have demanded and got action from their city, county and state governments for clean water. Now there has been a paradigm shift. Our governments (for all the cries of "regulation") are not depended upon or called upon as much as the public finds ways to buy what they need. Don't depend on the water - buy it bottled. Don't depend on local police - live in a gated community. Don't trust public schools - home school or religious school.

All of these situations are transactions that used to be between the citizen and their community as a whole. Grass roots efforts and using messy democracy through local institutions for clean water and air, good schools and safe neighborhoods are not seen as viable by the bottled water, religious schools and home schoolers and gated communitarians. Their money is being used for transactions between a corporate entity that they trust and themselves. They feel that through the forces of capitalism or religion they can get directly what they couldn't accomplish through democracy or activism. Furthermore, these transactions are benefitting the corporations/churches who provide the service and the people who use the service. Who they are not benefitting are the people who not using those services.

In other words, when solutions to better our society are done through democratic, grass roots, activist methods, everyone in the community can benefit. If we improve the water for a city - everyone in the city benefits. However, if I only improve the water for my household by buying slats of Dasani, that only improves Coca-Cola's bottom line and only my household. Similarly for home schooling and gated communities, the economy used to fund these are limited to those directly involved in the transactions and not the commonweal.

This argument is similar to the ones I've always had about buying local rather than Walmart. Funding an economy where the local, main street hardware store owner can pocket the profits and pay a living wage and benefits for his local employees is preferable to the big box store where the profits go to Bentonville, Arkansas and the money that does stay in town is for non living wages and no benefits. The commonweal I believe is not improved by Walmart as they suck money out of communities. The analogy I think of for this is water drainage. The main street of little mom and pop stores or local chains providing goods and services that feed money and good will back into the community can be thought of as wetlands. The rain comes down from the sky and gets trapped and recycled by the wetlands, encouraging a vibrant, healthy environment. Think of the rain as the money being spent by a communities citizens. Now think of the rain falling on the square mile of a Walmart parking lot. This rain never gets into the depths of the land, but rather runs off in big sewer pipes to the river or lake - bypassing the local environment. And oh, the destruction of the real wetlands contributes to the pollution of the public water that drives some people to drink bottled water.

So the genie in the water bottle is one I want to keep in there.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Symbolism

Associated DePress: Washington D.C.

In a long expected move today, President George Bush has accepted the resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell. In filling the symbolic post of Ambassador to the World, the Administration will deploy two money saving but effective symbols. To diplomatic functions, official state visits and other venues where the Secretary of State represents the U.S., the administration will deploy a six foot latex hand. Dignitaries from other countries or organizations will be invited to "talk to the hand" in five minute intervals. The dignitaries must not talk to any adults in the room that are going about on official White House business or looting, and will be expected to donate to the Republican National Party in lieu of economic sanctions, invasion or puerile public mockery by the President.

In cabinet meetings, the chair of the Secretary of State will be occupied alternately by a brass spittoon or by the President's highly tooled cowboy boots.

These highly symbolic provisions may only be a stopgap measure however. White House sources indicate that independent Republicans such as Senators John McCain or Arlen Specter are being considered for the highly demeaning and soul destroying post.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Free Speech vs. Tanks. Who wins?

Has anyone been to an anti-war protest lately? Grannies, parents with strollers, people who are like you and like me. Normal people who don't want war. There are freaks who still think they are in a Vietnam protest and try to make something happen and while news reports ALWAYS emphasize these yahoos, they are in the extreme minority and frankly are an embarrassment.

The other salient fact about these anti-war protest are the incredible amount of firepower the federal and municipal authorities bring in. Helicopters, masses of riot gear clad policemen, national guard (well those who aren't in Iraq) etc. I don't know who these people think are going to show up, but I don't think a missile-launcher has ever been brought to an anti-war demonstration by a protester. I think it might be "intimidation". Like maybe the people should be scared or something and not choose to exercise their first amendment rights.

Well, the powers that be and won't ever not be, decided to up the ante yesterday. They brought a tank into a demonstration yesterday. Yes, that's right a tank. Video and pictures are in the links I've provided here and here.

The Bush Administration: The "British" of the 21st Century. Who will be the Minutemen?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

We're Not Afraid

One last thought on the election result that I haven't seen or heard mentioned anywhere. In the last 4 years I can think of 6 places in the US that have had direct Al Qaeda infiltration, New York and Washington D.C. on 9/11, Minnesota was where Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested and where he was living, Washington was where Ahmed Ressam was caught on his way to bomb Los Angeles in California and Illinois was where Jose Padilla was arrested.

The other common denominator with all those places is that they all voted for Kerry. Obviously the people in New York, Washington D.C., Washington State, California, Minnesota and Illinois are not so deathly afraid of Al Qaeda that they had to vote for Bush. So we are left with this paradox. These states are not cowed by Al Qaeda even though they have direct experience with their evil, and were in favor of Kerry in large part due to his fiscal policies that will directly help the red stater middle class, while the red states for Bush have not and most likely will not ever have Al Qaeda action, voted for "security" from Al Qaeda that would benefit the blue states while having their economic future dismantled by the Bush feudal bulldozer. Hmmmm.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Scandal Scorecard

Salon has an article today on how Bush's administration will somehow have some sort of scandal that will dwarf Watergate. Well, we've already had them. It ain't gonna happen - this administration has got the mandate to lie, cheat, steal and kill, there won't be anything that will bring them down.

Just to amuse myself, I decided to rank the presidential scandals on their moral depravity and how people got hurt by them and how our democratic institutions or standing in the world got hurt by them (an "A" being the actions of Beelzebub, and "F" being lying about doing your homework).

Let's begin with the one that everyone knows about as the par exemplar of presidential scandal: Watergate, specifically ordering the break-in and the coverup.

Watergate Moral Depravity: C-, the act was actually kind of minor, along with the coverup.
Watergate People and Property Damage: F
Watergate Institutional Damage: B+, mainly for the mistaken "Lost innocence" notion

Harding's Teapot Dome Moral Depravity: B
Harding's Teapot Dome People and Property Damage: D
Harding's Teapot Dome Institutional Damage: B+ (Really, Really corrupt cabinet officers)

Reagan's Iran-Contra Moral Depravity: C - mainly because the corruption was so prevalent in the administration - it was a massive operation. But this is balanced with the fact that it was done for wrong-headed, idealistic reasons than for personal gain or real evil.
Reagan's Iran-Contra People and Property Damage: Not much directly, but since it was aiding very bad people in Iran and Nicaragua, I'll give it a C.
Reagan's Iran-Contra Institutional Damage: A- for the fact that the corruption was institutional throughout.

Bill Clinton's Women and Whitewater Moral Depravity: D, mainly for the perjury, but who cares where his dick went.
Bill Clinton's Women and Whitewater People and Property Damage: D, given that Monica got the better of the deal, Paula Jones was not a victim in any sense and I believe Bill lost money on Whitewater.
Bill Clinton's Women and Whitewater Institutional Damage: C, mainly for the ludicrous impeachment proceedings.

Now Let's see what has happened in the last four years shall we?

Bush's Abu Ghraib: Moral Depravity: A, I would say that torture in the very place that Saddam tortured people is pretty depraved.
Bush's Abu Ghraib People and Property Damage: A, hmmm...torture? vs. Monica Lewinsky?
Bush's Abu Ghraib Institutional Damage: A, let's demonstrate to the world that the US can no longer be depended on to be ethical in anything we do.

Bush's Lies for Waging War on Iraq Moral Depravity: B, okay, one or two lies is expected for a President, but at last count having 23 primary reasons, much of them lies, is careless.
Bush's Lies for Waging War on Iraq People and Property Damage: A+, 100,000 dead Iraqis, 1000 dead soldiers and untold billions of dollars.
Bush's Lies for Waging War on Iraq People Institutional Damage: A+, for creating generations of hatred and distrust amongst our former allies and our enemies.

Bush's Outing Valerie Plame to punish Ambassador Wilson Moral Depravity: B,
Bush's Outing Valerie Plame to punish Ambassador Wilson People and Property Damage: D-, no damage yet, but just because Ms. Plame isn't dead yet is hardly an excuse...
Bush's Outing Valerie Plame to punish Ambassador Wilson Institutional Damage: B+, because of the presidential policy of punishing dissent by organized threats that endanger lives and livelihoods. I mean, Nixon had his enemies list, but he didn't actually attempt to kill them....

So, by my reckoning, in the past four years we've had three scandals off the top of my head that no-one will be indicted for, where no-one will be convicted and no-one will even be held responsible for. And they match up very well with scandals of previous administrations.

What do we have to learn from this? Well, Nixon and presumably Harding if he would have lived, were brought down by the scandals. Clinton, Reagan and Bush have weathered theirs just nicely. What is the common denominator? For Clinton, Reagan and Bush, the majority of the people did not believe that the man as President was a fundamentally wrong man even though in Reagan's and Bush's case much more than Clinton's they were. As long as you've got the people's opinion of your character in your pocket, you might as well be untouchable. Nixon and Harding definitely did not. Bush does and so the moral depravity will continue and I don't think he's even worried about covering it up anymore - I think he stopped two years ago about seriously covering it up, especially after 9/11 saved his presidency. He's got the perfect "Get out of Jail free card".

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

A Couple of Things on this Black Day

One poll said that 22% of the voters (the highest) made their decisions based on morality. Based on numerous anecdotes of his life before the presidency and his mocking of the woman he was about to execute, and his mocking of everybody in general, Bush does not have much of a moral life. Lies, greed, and destruction of civil society are not the hallmark of a moral man.

Another thing, hopefully the Democratic party will drop any pretensions of trying to argue their positions with logic, facts and the wellbeing of their fellow people. This country is made out of sheep. Frightened little lambs that can hold only one little thought in their head. The Republicans know how to plant that little thought. The Democratic party will have to learn how to speak sheep if they want any chance of bringing sanity and morality back to our country.