Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hey, Pat, did you actually go and grow a pair?

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Well, well, well... what is going to become of all this?

Senator Patrick Leahy (VT-D), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee ruled today that certain high-ranking aides (and former aides) cannot claim executive privilege to avoid testifying before the Senate about the US attorney firings that occurred in late 2006. You remember? The big dust-up that exposed former US Attorney General Al Gonzales as the wormy, sycophantic incompetent that he is?

The way I see it, this was a brilliant move by Leahy. Up until now, Leahy and other Democratic Senators (Chuck Schumer from New York, for example) have been firing questions at the White House that were aimed at determining whether or not Junior Bush was involved in the attorney firings, or whether it was an underling, like former adviser Karl Rove, former legal counsel Harriet Myers, or perhaps Gonzales on his own. The Judiciary Committee has gone so far as to issue subpoenas to Rove, Myers, and White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten.

The White House has insisted that Bush himself was not involved and has refused the subpoenas, citing executive privilege. The administration has offered an inadequate compromise: Rove, Myers, Bolten and others would testify privately to the Senate, but not under oath, and without a recorded transcript. (Don't you find that insulting?)

In a truly Machiavellian maneuver, today, Leahy accepted the assertion that Bush was not involved and then ruled that, since Bush was not involved, the subpoenaed White House big wigs could not therefore claim executive priviledge.

The White House response was so lame that it seems they were caught flat-footed. White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino said she was "baffled" by the ruling. "If [Senator Leahy] is now saying that the president wasn't aware of it, as we have said from the beginning, then I don't understand why he continues to have this rope-a-dope that's not going to go anywhere," she said. Hmm....that sounds kinda shaky to me.

There are a couple possible outcomes to this development. Leahy has a number of options:
  1. It could go nowhere. Leahy may be pawing the ground and making a lot of noise in order to get the White House to come up with some acceptable compromise wherein everyone involved can save face. (Don't ask me what that might be, but they're all experts at that kind of thing.) There is certainly reason to believe that might be what he wants. The prognosticating beltway gurus, even the Republicans, are all expecting a Democratic landslide in the '08 elections, and that is incentive (from Leahy's perspective) not to rock the boat too much. (I offer as Exhibit A, Reid's and Pelosi's sickening lack of spine regarding war funding).
  2. Leahy could actually press the issue by referring the subpoenas to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they would be considered and then be voted on for referral to the entire Senate. Since Democrats hold the majority, we can assume that such a referral would pass. This would be a Big DealTM. The entire Senate would then vote on whether or not to hold Rove, Bolten, Myers and others in contempt of congress, which is a felony. And, you know, I may be a star-eyed dreamer, but I think Leahy might just go ahead and do it.
Consider what Leahy's Republican counterpart, Senator Arlen Spectre (PA) said today, regarding the subpoenas: "It's a bad idea to have subpoenas issued and then not to act on them. If you cry wolf, you ought to follow up." That's right, Arlen. If you let them ignore you now, they will ignore you whenever they please.

Further, one has to imagine that Leahy and Specter, to say nothing of their fellow senators, have egos that are vast enough to stretch from purple mountain's majesty all the way across the fruited plain. It must gall them that a creature like Junior Bush, whom I'm convinced they must view as a cretin and a ne'er-do-well, does not afford them the respect they feel they are due.

Well, I'm popping up some virtual microwave popcorn before I watch this play out. Somebody is going to get embarrassed and exposed. Somebody who richly deserves it. It might be Junior, it might be Rove, or it might be Leahy. There's no way to know. But keep your fingers crossed. There's always a chance...there's always a chance.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Norovirus at Edgefield Pub

Edgefield McMenamins: Better bring a bucket...
I don't suppose I ever was much of a fan of McMenamin's Brewery. The beer is inconsistent, sometimes good, sometimes passable, but often wretched. And the food is poor.

Well, my ill disposition toward McMenamin's has been thoroughly cemented now, punctuated by a nasty illness I contracted from partaking of its cuisine at the Edgefield Pub.

My employer scheduled an off-site meeting at Edgefield for the dates of November 12 through November 14th. Coworkers arrived from various points around the globe, including India, Egypt, and the United Kingdom in order to participate. During this event, we held seminars and creative sessions to determine how to enhance our profession as writers. Many of us stayed at the Edgefield and we all partook of the cuisine throughout the three days.

Well, the night of Wednesday, November 14th, I was home, seated at my computer when, out of the blue, I thought "I think I'm going to be sick." Guess what? I was right. That night was a hellish eternity of nausea, chills, and diarrhea. I called in sick to work on the morning of the 15th and spent the entire day miserably trying to retain fluids. When I returned to work, still shaky, on the 16th, I learned that as many as 16 other people were experiencing the same symptoms. One person was even hospitalized.

Suspicion immediately fell upon the Edgefield kitchen, but the issue remained in doubt until I saw this in yesterday's Oregonian:
Luncheon attendees suffer viral outbreak
The Multnomah County Health Department has traced an outbreak of illness suffered by more than two dozen people to a virus that was apparently spread at a luncheon sponsored by the Port of Portland at a Troutdale restaurant, a department official said Monday.

Hai Ta, clinical nursing supervisor in the Multnomah County Disease Control Office, said about 30 people became ill after the Nov. 14 luncheon at McMenamins Edgefield. She said the victims suffered vomiting and diarrhea for a day or two and that all have recovered.

The cause was a Norwalk-like virus, a common virus that is most prevalent during cold, winter weather, Hai Ta said. She said the virus is most often spread by an infected food handler and that one restaurant employee suffered similar symptoms two days before the lunch.
Well, that pretty much settles it, in my mind. If you are not familiar with the Norovirus, you can read up on it here. This virus is the one that occasionally makes headlines with the outbreaks that occur on cruise ships. I can tell you that it is something you will want to avoid. And, for me, that means avoiding Edgefield and other McMenamins pubs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dick Cheney and Phineas Gage

What d'ya know? It turns out that Dick Cheney, the anti-charismatic, misshapen puppet master behind Junior Bush, actually has a heart.

The punditry was all abuzz yesterday with news about Cheney's unexpected, urgent visit to George Washington University Hospital, where he received an electrical shock to restore his heartbeat to a normal rhythm. Apparently, the condition is not life-threatening in immediate terms, but can cause blood clots over an extended period, which clots can then lodge themselves in the brain, causing stroke.

Cheney has a long history of heart problems, having suffered four heart attacks in his lifetime. He had a pacemaker installed in 2001 to correct an irregular heartbeat and, from then until now, has seemed in good health (publicly, at least).

But Cheney has displayed some very --er-- strange behavior over the last few years, ce n'est pas?

While it is certainly not a perfect parallel, consider the case of one Phineas Gage. Gage was a railroad worker in the 19th century, who suffered a traumatic injury to his brain. An explosion caused a railroad spike to be driven through his skull. According to reports from the time, before his injury, Gage was a hard-working, responsible fellow. But after the injury, his personality was radically altered. He became impulsive, irreverent, and "impatient of restraint or advice" when it conflicted with his desires. The speculation was that the iron spike destroyed some part of Gage's brain that kept in check his impulses and outrageous behavior.

Well, Dick Cheney hasn't had an iron spike driven through his skull. At least, of which I am aware. But, could it be that, perhaps, one of his heart attacks denied blood to some part of his brain, and killed his capacity for empathy? There is little doubt in my mind that the man lacks some fundamental ability that most of us have, wherein we are able to imagine the suffering of others. But it wasn't always that way with him.

A few quotations from Cheney's associates lend credence to my suggestion:
  • "I consider Cheney a good friend. I've known him for 30 years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore." Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor for President George H. W. Bush

  • "...I did see him as secretary of defense and now as vice president. I can tell you that 9/11 made him a paranoid, to the extent where I'm not sure his exercise of power carries with it reason." Lawrence Wilkerson, retired Army colonel, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
Well, the human brain remains largely a mystery, even with today's breakthroughs in understanding human anatomy. The only way to really understand a creature like Dick Cheney is to view the world from his perspective. Personally, I doubt my capacity to survive such a horrifying and twisted experience. (This, from a former acid head!) But I am convinced that the man is mad; a twisted monster warped by his own physical frailty and his sense of entitlement. Can such a creature experience joy, I wonder? Or even some modicum of tranquility?

Perhaps secretly, Cheney resents that modern medicine allows him to continue. Perhaps he secretly hopes for an end to his tormented existence.

Whatever, Dick! I can't bring myself to hope for your death; I don't need that kind of bad karma. But, by the same token, I can't work up much sympathy for you as you plod along your gloomy path to the grave.

Harsh? Maybe. But it's from the heart, Dick. I can assure you of that.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The "genius" of capitalism

In our society of 30 second advertisements and flashy packaging, of consumerism and status symbols, the myth of the merits of capitalism is largely accepted as truth. Basically, the myth boils down to something like this: If one works hard, and provides a superior product/service at a reasonable price, the laws of the marketplace (sometimes referred to as Adam Smith's invisible hand) dictate that one will be successful, that one will be financially rewarded. There need be no concern for the common good, or for society at large; such altruistic fruits will come about naturally via one's efforts on behalf of one's self. Or, to quote Adam Smith directly:
...every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. --The Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is frequently and reverently referenced by conservative luminaries who justify regressive and unfair tax policies, foreign wars, and any number of practices that, on their face, are detrimental to the common good.

(Check out these examples: Gerald Segal says East Asians need tough love. The Sword of Gideon assures us that, by helping the poor, we only perpetuate their misery. The Heritage Foundation, back in December 2003, urged Junior Bush to show some tough love at the Americas summit, lest Latin American governments fall into the trap of insisting on control of their own natural resources.)

There have been any number of authors and philosophers since Smith who have taken his message and distorted it to more completely fit their respective agendas. It is an indication of how completely conservatism has dominated the political and economic discourse in this country that the farce of an inherently good "marketplace" governed by the laws of capitalism is accepted as truth.

Sometimes this faith is taken to comical levels: I was at a poker game once, where we called out to the local Pizza Hut in the wee hours of the morning. Well, an hour passed and the pizza had not yet arrived. One of the conservative light bulbs at the game got on the phone to complain and demand that, when the pizza arrived, it be submitted gratis. It was all I could do to not burst into uproarious laughter as I listened to his half of the conversation:

"No, you don't understand. I like Pizza Hut pizza. I want to continue to order it. But if you can't accomodate me, I won't come back. You'll lose a customer."

I could imagine a teenager, at a part-time job that he despised, on the other end of the line listening to this harangue (delivered in a reasoned and logical tone) and coming to the realization that people really are as stupid as he had hitherto suspected.

Or, at a professional event recently, I became involved in a political discussion (surprise, surprise) with some coworkers. When I mentioned that the CEO pay-to-minimum wage ratio has soared over the last 40 years, one of my coworkers shot back: "But a CEO deserves that extra money. He carries so much more responsibility than the line worker."

If only this were true. CEOs get rewarded regardless of the performance of the stocks for which they are ostensibly responsible, regardless of the financial health of their organizations, in short, regardless of the degree to which they succeed. Read Ralph Nader's recent article on the matter here.

The myth of benevolent capitalism has even penetrated the realm of spirituality. For example, consider the hypocrisy of today's Christian mega-churches.

The point I'm trying to make, I guess, is that the first step in recovering from the regressive and brutal miasma of unbridled greed, is to expose the myth of capitalism. It is a monumental task. It will surely take a long time. But the ancient wisdom of China reminds us: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Merci, mon Dieu...

With apologies to Eugene at the Pudgy Indian, I want to write today about things for which I am thankful. Regardless of the repugnant intentions of that bunch of hideous prudes that took advantage of the mercy and compassion of the Native Americans that saved them from starvation, I believe it is good to have a day to express gratitude. So, let's co-opt their genocide day, and make it our own: a day when we can say "thanks" to the Great Whatever for all of the blessings that have been bestowed upon each of us.

So here is my (cliché, perhaps, and trite) list of things for which I am thankful:
  1. Maty gets home tonight! My wife has been in Burkina Faso since late September, and I haven't seen her since I left there in the third week of October. The house is clean, I'm buying fresh flowers to put on the dining room table, and I'm picking her up from the airport at 10:45 pm.

  2. Scottie McClellan grew a conscience. Yesterday, it came to light that the forth-coming memoirs of Scottie (the Duck) McClellan, former press secretary in the Bush administration, reveal that Junior Bush himself was involvedin the coverup that followed the leaking of Valerie Plame's name. We already knew that Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and Dick Cheney were directly involved. But now, in addition to pathetic Andrew Card, Scottie fingers Junior. I hope Special Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is paying attention.

  3. Senator Gordon Smith is polling at around 33% approval. That's a bad number for an incumbent before the campaign has even started. Well, Senator, respectfully, when you shake hands with the devil, you usually end up with jizz on your hand.

  4. Portland, Oregon is still the best place in the world to live.
And, of course, I'm most grateful for my family and friends, and for all of you, who read this blog now and then. Happy holidays to all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Por favor, abrazarlos

Cada día, ellos vienen: los pobres trabajadores de las tierras a la sud. Buscan el trabajo, un método de sostener sus familias, una vida mejor, habiendo oído de la promesa del país que se llama, inexactamente, America. Traen todos sus temores y sus esperanzas, sus espaldas fuertes y sus éticas buenas del trabajo.

¿Y qué encuentran cuando llegan?

Bien, ellos encuentran una gente dividida y llenada de temor por la futura. Los EEUU están en conflicto sobre el asunto de inmigración. Por un lado, hay muchos norteamericanos con corazones buenos que quieren dar la bienvenidalos. Y hay un reconocimiento que la migración es inevitable. Pero, por el otro lado, las fuerzas del racismo y el fanatismo son fuertes con algunos porciónes de la población, alimentado por demagogos poder-hambrientos. Cínicamente, estos mismos hipócritas que ceban los fuegos del racismo, trabajan en secreto para mantener indocumentados en las sombras, donde ellos pueden ser explotados para la obra barata.

El asunto sube en la mente del público. Pero no hay una solución aparente.

Bien, la solución sencilla que ocurre a mi es esta: abrazalos. Dé la bienvenidalos. Ayúdelos organizan. Intégrelos. Ofrezca amistad a ellos.

Quizàs, soy sencillo. Pero, la migración de una gente no puede ser parada. Y esta es la tierra de promesa. Somos una gente buena. No debemos permitir los mentes pequeños nos dar miedo. Somos mejor que esa; somos mejor que los racistas.

Como he dicho por muchos años: un mundo, una gente.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Here comes Condi...

Take heart, everybody! Junior Bush's Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, is setting out to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with her Ferragamo shoes and Gucci handbag. "I'll try it my way," she says. But, according to Newsweek, Condi doesn't like to talk about herself. "I'm not nearly that self-reflective," she says, demurely.

No, of course you're not, Condi. You're just an everyday hero, aren't you? But, what the heck? I'm sure you won't mind if the rest of us do a little talking.

Well, all, here's my own opinion: in an administration that is rife with liars and incompetents, Condi Rice stands out as perhaps the most singularly incompetent senior official throughout this nightmare. And when you consider that she's facing such contenders as Karen Hughes and Junior himself, that is quite an accomplishment.

Rice was a professor of Russian politics at Stanford University when she signed on as a foreign policy advisor for the Bush campaign in 2000. Her forte was allegedly Kremlin politics, which should have provided a hint as to the direction that the Bush gang was planning to take should they be able to seize power. After all, the Soviet Union was long dead, and a Kremlinologist would seem to be a relic. But an expert at promoting Cold War paranoia and misinformation? Well, that might be useful.

In the early months of the Bush administration, Condi, now with the shiny title of National Security Advisor, spent her time ignoring CIA security briefings about a pending terrorist attack on the United States, and whispering sweet nothings into Junior's ear.

Then came 9-11, which the administration must have viewed as a godsend. For years, prominent neo-conservatives had been advocating the invasion of Iraq and an aggressive foreign policy based on militarism. The problem was that they couldn't sell the public. After 9-11, a confused and frightened public was looking for leadership, and had yet to comprehend the ilk of the people that ran the executive branch of government. It was just a matter of putting the propaganda to work.

Condi, no doubt eager to be of service, jumped with both feet into the disinformation campaign.

In 2002, Vice-President Cheney asserted that the United States had "irrefutable evidence" of Iraq's (fictional) nuclear weapons program in the form of thousands of aluminum tubes they had intercepted on the way to Iraq. Condi backed him up on CNN on September 8, stating "[The tubes were] only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," and that "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Leaving aside the gratuitous fear-mongering, the statement about the aluminum tubes has since been proven a deliberate lie. According to the New York Times, from October 3, 2004:
But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.
Condi was also involved in the "yellowcake uranium" lie all the way up to her pilate-toned hips. Recall that Junior, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, said "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Those infamous 16 words, remember? Condi is said to have been an advocate for including those words in the speech. The documents upon which the statement was based, were later revealed as blatant forgeries, which may explain why the administration refused to show them to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Later, on July 11 of the same year, Condi defended her decision to include the statement, saying, "Had I known that there was a forged document here, would I put this in the State of the Union? No." But Stephen Hadley, Rice's deputy revealed later that two CIA memos (one of which was sent to Condi herself) called the accuracy of the intelligence into doubt. (Condi doesn't remember reading it, according to the National Security Counsel's spokesman.)

There are many other lies that we could discuss (here's a good link), but why belabor the point?

Condi may not be a very good liar (after all, guys like Ari Fleischer don't come along every day), but she is willing to lie. Junior, never one to forget a favor (unless it is convenient to do so) has rewarded her with a seat in the Secretary of State's office. (I bet she has the furniture tastefully upholstered.)

In fact, Condi's willingness to say whatever they want her to say, to subjugate her own integrity and (one would hope) self-respect in order to advance, has even earned her a whisper or two as a possible GOP presidential candidate. "She's terrific," Laura Bush gushed.

As she leads our diplomatic corps toward ruin, let's hope that her incompetence will become so apparent that she'll have to return to Stanford, there to be sneered at by her compatriots.

Condi came at the recommendation of former Secretary of State (under Ronald Reagan) George Schultz and it seems that her two major qualifications were these:
  • She could be manipulated
  • She was a sycophant who could coddle a failed and inferior man into actually believing in himself
Well, using this criteria, of course, Condi has been an unqualified success.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bobbie!

Bobbie and her young son

Today is my mom's birthday. She is 66 years old.

Roberta Carol Metzger was born on November 16, 1941, just 3 weeks before the day of "infamy" that marked the entry of the United States into World War II. She was born in Forest Grove, Oregon, a second generation Oregonian of good English-German stock.

She and her family lived in various places in Oregon, eventually settling in Salem, where she went to Leslie Junior High and South Salem High School. She graduated with honors and received an academic scholarship to Oregon State College.

Soon after leaving home for college she met and married a young man from Fresno, California, Ross Cariaga, with whom she would have 3 children. The young family lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon upon Ross's graduation from college. But it was an unhappy marriage, and after 10 years, it dissolved.

Bobbie then returned to Salem with her 3 children. With the help of her parents, Bob and Gertrude Metzger, she raised the kids and went to school at Oregon College of Education in Monmouth, Oregon, where she earned her teaching degree with honors in 1976.

She then moved her family to Redmond, Oregon where she had received her first teaching assignment. Eventually, her beau, Doug Batey proposed marriage, and Doug and Bobbie were wed in 1977.

Bob, Gertrude, Bobbie and Doug

From there, Bobbie and Doug moved to Tacoma, Washington, where Doug worked for Nalley Corporation and Bobbie went back to work as a teacher. Together, they moved to the bedroom community of Gig Harbor where they have been ever since.

Doug and Bobbie have finished their professional careers and are enjoying retirement now. They travel a lot, adore their two dogs, Henry and Junior, and are surrounded by loving family, and especially their grandson, Torin.

Doug and Bobbie: taking in the world, together
So, here's wishing Bobbie a happy birthday, and many more to come.

I love you, Mom.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Video faves...

Friday fun. Videos of some of my favorite bands.

Jethro Tull: Thick As A Brick

This video is from the Too Old To Rock 'n Roll era, just before Ian Anderson restructured the band. This incarnation, with Martin Barre (of course), John Evan, John Glascock, David Palmer, and Barriemore Barlow is one of my favorites. One of the many faces of Jethro Tull.

This is the old Yes, with Steve Howe, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White, and Rick Wakeman. To me, this will always be the true Yes line up.

CSNY: Down by the River

From the bygone flower power era. I love to watch Stephen Stills and Neil Young trade guitar licks. Although their relationship has been rocky, they obviously loved to play together. (David Crosby looks like he is really high, doesn't he?)

Joni Mitchell: Cactus Tree

This is Joni before she hit it big. Cactus Tree is a song that so many men can relate to, when they think about that woman each of them has in his past; the woman that he wanted so bad he could taste it, but that just wasn't ready.

Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey

I was in San Sebastian, Spain, back in 1999, with an Australian named Jay, whom I'd befriended on the train up from Barcelona. We were hanging out in an Irish pub (hanging out in an Irish pub, in Spain, how's that for irony?) getting drunk and listening to Van Morrison's Hymns to the Silence. I said "Van's the Man!"

"Van is the Man," said Jay. "He's never let me down."

We kicked a few back in Van's honor.

Bob Dylan: Isis

One of Bob's stranger incarnations. What's with the white face? Isis tells a great story in the signature Bob Dylan way: he sketches the story out and allows you, the listener to fill in the details...

The Beatles: Hey Jude

The Fab Four. There will never be another band like the Beatles.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Gaze upon me, young man! Gaze upon my might;
And through me test the sinew of your limbs;
My stony pate you aim to reach, your glory to attain,
Before the light within your eyes bedims;

It seems the world is at your feet, but still there is my crown,
Which goads you on to measure out your will
But sun-bleached bones adorn my flanks, the host has come before
Though eons pass, there's no man's topped me still;

In the morning the light is white and bright
And the hard crust of old snow resists our boots
And tries to hold us up, but then breaks, like vanquished enemies;

We are so strong, so strong, not wrong
And every face smiles an appeal for something we give easily
And feel silly for being asked;

And now I find, I am refined, and not purblind
Every door falls down at the merest touch
Just as all fell before Alexander's open visage

There is none can stand before the truth of virtue

Come then, young man, come up and climb, the sun is riding high;
And truly it has not beheld your like;
As mighty Zeus who came before, a new age you have wrought
True virtue's flames shall all the world ignite!

In the day, heavy arms, spent charms, some harms
We measure our progress and allow a moment of incomplete triumph
All our works spread before us, as the nymphs before Narcissus;

But those at our feet we've had, so sad, not bad;
The apex is still above us, but a moment to rest
Just a moment to enjoy this harvest only partially reaped

There are powers in this world, we are but one

Alas, alas, you once-young man, my flanks are hard and steep
And climbing, you have come upon the truth
There is no crown above the clouds, no vista on the world
Alas the faded sanctity of youth!

In the evening the light is gray, this day's endplay,
Our feet are leaden in the snow, soggy with the thaw,
And complain as if our noble cause were a betrayal;

We see it now, I'll allow, somehow;
But blame us not for succumbing to the siren's song
Sung so sweetly, so sweetly, to the tune of strength and innocence and love

There is none can stand before the virtue of truth

Come then, old man, come rest your bones, the sun is sinking low;
And truly it has not beheld your like;
Though every man has come before, and every man will yet
True virtue's flames shall still the world ignite!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Cheap cigarettes and a Win for Tom McCall

Well, progressives, we went 1 for 2.

Measure 50

First, the bad news: Measure 50, which would have imposed an 85 cent tax on a pack of cigarettes to finance a health insurance program for Oregon's children, was defeated. The measure was drowned in a sea of big tobacco money ($12 million).
Light up, kids! Big Tobacco is keepin' 'em cheap.
The lesson here is this: the "no new taxes" mantra of groups like FreedomWorks that front for corporate and billionaire interests has yet to be exposed as the ruse it is. Although the tax that would have been imposed by Measure 50 was certainly regressive, it set a dangerous precedent (from a billionaire's perspective): if people start to imagine that tax dollars can provide good things for the citizenry, things like children's health care, who knows where that line of thinking might end? An estate tax? A capital gains tax?

I view the defeat of Measure 50 as residual malaise from the regressive policies that "movement conservatives" have successfully masked over that past 20 years. As progressives, we won't just wake up one morning and find that all the evil schemes of the greedy corporate interests have been exposed.

We'll just have to keep working. The public appetite for national health care is growing. And, at the very least, we can make it expensive for corporations to peddle their lies.

Measure 49

Now, the good news. Measure 49 passed with 61% of the vote. Measure 49 reverses most of the worst effects of the shameful Measure 37, from 2004. Measure 37, the "property rights" measure, was a sham perpetuated by developers and timber interests. These monied interests claimed that Oregon's land use policies harmed land owners by constraining their ability to develop property.

Fortunately, the truth will out, and these same interests could not restrain their greed after Measure 37 passed.

Shortly after the disastrous (on so many different levels) election of 2004, landowners filed some 7500 development claims for strip malls, hotels, and gated subdivisions on Oregon's farmlands and forests.

As voters became aware of the unbridled avarice that was actually behind the Measure 37 scam, they rejected it.

The passage of Measure 49 means that, while rural property owners will have the ability to build individual homes, corporate interests and greedy land developers will be unable to construct their monstrous subdivisions.

It's as if Oregonians took to heart the lament of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi":

They paved paradise, put up a parking lot,
With a big hotel, a boutique, and a swingin' hot spot;
Don't it always seem to go
hat you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?
Be still, my heart!
Be sure that the greedy developers will be back with some new scheme to get their hands on our beautiful homeland. But I'm hopeful that people are starting to wake up and see that corporations and the ultra-rich really do not share their interests.

For now, and for some time to come, land use planning is safe. Somewhere, Oregon's revered governor, Tom McCall, who once said he loved Oregon more than his own life, must be smiling.

This one's for you, Governor.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Riding the Tiger" in Pakistan

Hold on to your hats, folks. Events in Pakistan are accelerating at a frightening pace, hurling us all straight toward the gaping maw of a world war that could make the horrors of World War II seem like a sunny picnic in Tivoli Gardens.

Pervez Musharraf: The man of the hour
On November 3, Pakistan strongman and Bush ally Pervez Musharraf suspended that country's constitution, arrested Ifitkhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and shut down all television stations not run by the state. In a statement straight out of Bizzaro World, Musharraf cited the need to "preserve the democratic transition" as his justification.

Already, civil unrest, in response to Musharraf's heavy hand, has led to violence and hundreds of arrests. And the fragmented opposition to Musharraf is starting to coalesce. Chaudhry, who somehow gained access to a cell phone while in custody, called for massive demonstrations. And former Prime Minister, and recent political exile Benazir Bhutto (currently under house arrest) vowed to join the protests herself, with all of her supporters.

The wild card in the whole mess is the Pakistani military. In the past, they have been loyal to Musharraf. He has delivered for them in the form of American dollars which the Bush administration has forked over in the name of "fighting terrorism." But, on the other hand, Musharraf humiliated the military by forcing them into a fight for which they were not trained or prepared in northwest Pakistan as an offensive against al Qaeda. That foray ended in a humiliating concession, and undoubtedly hurt Musharraf's standing with the military.

The most frightening aspect of these developments is this: the United States has almost no leverage in affecting the outcome of this crisis. Poor, overwhelmed and underwhelming Condoleeza Rice has been desperately trying to prevent a Turkish invasion of Iraq, and, even though experts have seen this crisis coming for months (according to the Brookings Institute's Stephen Cohen), she seemed to be caught flat-footed. Rice has tut-tutted at Musharraf's strong arm tactics, saying she is "disappointed," but there are really no options available. American diplomatic capital in the region has already been exhausted trying to manage the disaster in Iraq, prop up the Karzai regime in Afghanistan, and pressure Iran on the nuclear power issue. In fact, Musharraf has been probably the most reliable ally up to this point.

Quoting Mr. Cohen from a discussion with PBS' Margaret Warner:
Well, we're riding a tiger, and we're trying to tell the tiger, "Go this direction and that direction," not much leverage. In a sense, we can throw a piece of meat here or there, but that tiger is going to go whichever way it wants, and the tiger is going to pursue its own interest. I don't think we have much leverage. We can play around with the aid. We can offer, perhaps, more economic and educational aid. We can make some of the military conditional. I think we should do that. That would be trying to influence Musharraf around the margins, but basically we're stuck with him, and he's stuck with us.
It would be unfair to saddle the Bush administration with all of the responsibility for our impotence. Although Bush exacerbated the situation with his cowboy foreign policy, US policy toward Pakistan has long been neglected for the sake of convenience. Let's face it: America loves a strongman (as long as he is our strongman). But now, we are faced with a hair-raising crisis that has huge implications for us as a nation, and the most we can do is protest lamely and keep our fingers crossed.

One can only imagine that India's military is on high alert at this very moment. After all, India and Pakistan have fought 3 wars in the last 60 years and both countries have nuclear weapons.

Iran, of course, will be watching the situation with interest and concern; an unstable Pakistan on Iran's eastern frontier could not be viewed as a positive development, but the shift of international focus, away from Iran, could provide her with certain opportunities.

This is also true for Turkey, which is still mulling its Iraqi incursion.

Hapless Hamid Karzai, forgotten in the imbroglio, can only sit in his office in Kabul and hope for the best.

And then, there is China, that shares a ~300 mile border with Pakistan. China has probably the least at stake, and the most to gain. Pakistan holds China's ancient rival, India, in check, and continues to be a diplomatic liability to the United States. And Chinese leverage in the crisis is substantial, being a nominal ally of Pakistan.

Make no mistake: this is a full-blown global crisis. A few miscalculations or misinterpretations could lead to any number of horrifying events.

Here's a random doomsday scenario: Musharraf forsakes restraint completely and starts shooting people down in the streets. This leads to rogue elements of the Pakistani military declaring for the opposition, which in turn leads to a civil war between forces loyal to Musharraf and "constitutional" forces. India seizes the opportunity, and invades the Pakistani held portions of Kashmir. Turkey takes advantage of the chaos and rolls into Kurdish Iraq. Iran suddenly invades southern Iraq to "reunite" the Shiites of Basra with their Persian brethren. The Taliban strikes at Kabul and executes Karzai and his cabinet. China warns off India and mobilizes on its Indian border. Isreal strikes at Syria. Condi Rice bursts into tears on Meet the Press, and US troops hunker down around the Green Zone in Bagdad.

Guess what, everybody? It's World War III!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Portland: la ciudad idílica

Parque Laurelhurst
Hoy, tengo poco inspiración para escribir. Entonces, escribiré un poco de mi hogar: Portland, Oregon.

He vivido aquí por casi 20 años, y ahora yo puedo llamarla el hogar. En ese tiempo yo he desarrollado un amor para la gente, el terreno, el clima (si, incluyendo la lluvia), y para la ciudad la misma.
Arquitectura hermosa
Para el tiempo que es, Portland es un secreto. Muchas personas se imaginan que llueve aquí diario. Bien, llueve mucho, ciertamente, especialmente en el invierno. Los cielos son gríses de noviembre por marzo. Pero hay una recompensa... el verde.

El campus de la universidad de Portland State
He viajado a muchos lugares en el mundo, y he mirado muchas vistas hermosas. Pero, siempre anticipo el regreso al hogar.

La ciudad abajo del cielo grís
Pero el factor más beneficioso de Portland es la gente que vive aquí: progresivo, inteligente, independiente, tolerante.

La gente de Portland rechazan la guerra

Fiesta en el barrio de Hawthorne

Mercado del sábado

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Friday, November 02, 2007

October Light

It is very cold this morning. My windshield was a Picasso-like mosaic of frost that expressed the exhausted, lonely horror I've endured for the last six years. Horror. Horror at the lack of empathy, the soul-deadening numbness of apathy and indifference, that has allowed corrupted and flawed human beings like George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney to ascend from the cess pool that spawns such creatures, that lends them a default legitimacy.

The fall colors are beautiful. At my workplace, pin leaf maples shed leaves the color of young pumpkins or dying embers. The world seems tired. And I'm tired: tired of being the lunatic standing on the corner with the tin foil hat. For six years, I raged and railed against the Bush administration, alienating friends and coworkers and causing members of my own family to question my stability, confounded by the thick attitudes of people that simply would not listen. I make no claims to my own virtue; I know my own sins and short-comings better than any other save God. But I never believed them; I never believed the neo-conservative propaganda machine, never for one second imagined that they were motivated by any love of country or mankind. That, at least, I can carry with me.

When it is cold like this, when your breath forms plumes of mist in the clear light of an October morning, you know that winter is coming. The trees will sleep soon. And so, now that those same people that frowned while I raved and raged are clear-eyed and awake, I find myself wanting to sleep, to curl up under a blanket, and forsake consciousness while the whole mess gets worked out.

It's bonfire season. Now that the public writ large is finally aware of the scam that has been played on them, and now that it is angry, a bonfire has been lit. I like to imagine that I helped start it, in my own small way. But we need a cleansing bonfire in this country, not a quaint little fire that you warm your hands by while you bemoan the cold. We need a raging conflagration that burns so hot that you can't stand close to it for more than a few minutes at a time.

So, I guess I won't be hibernating this winter, and not for some time to come. Instead, I'll do what I can to help collect the firewood.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Mukasey nomination: How far have we fallen?

The Bush administration's nomination and support of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General of the United States stands as testimony to the moral decay that it has wrought upon this country and its people.

Fresh on the heels of a disgraced and unqualified hack, Attorney General-designate Mukasey was offered as the man to address the widely acknowledged disrepair into which the Justice Department has fallen. Mukasey, unlike his predecessor, has a national identity independent of Junior Bush. Mukasey presided over terrorism cases involving Jose Padilla and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the "Blind Sheikh"). He even came recommended by Democratic Senator from New York, Charles Schumer, who is certainly no friend to the Bush administration.

It was widely expected that Mukasey would be confirmed when he went before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week for his confirmation hearings. But when he got there, he ran into some trouble. The ruckus stemmed around Mukasey's hedging a question regarding the legality of an "enhanced" interrogation technique, known as "water boarding." Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked Mukasey if water boarding is constitutional. Mukasey's non-answer raised eyebrows. Here's the video:

The tragedy here is twofold.

First, Mukasey, who has a respectable record and is not known as a partisan, is sullied by his inability to answer the question posed by Senator Whitehouse. Be assured that his testimony was scrubbed by the White House and that he chose his words very carefully. He could not answer the question directly, because his answer could place members of the Bush administration in legal jeopardy if he were to be confirmed. After all, one musn't forget the memo, written by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stating that torture "may be justified." And we can be sure that there is more, hidden behind ruses like "Executive Privilege" and "Classified Information" that is even more damning and explicit regarding this administration's liberal (no pun intended) view about the rights of the accused. No, Mukasey's integrity is nothing when weighed against the need to protect Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Junior Bush.

Mukasey is not sure if this is torture
The second piece of the tragedy is more vast: the image of the United States is sullied by the legal parsing around the word "torture." If we, as a nation, cannot categorically state that we do not torture, that we condemn such practices, in effect, we are saying that we find these techniques acceptable. It goes beyond water boarding. The Bush administration has also allowed for "detainees" (itself a term used to keep prisoners in a state of legal limbo) to be extradicted to countries where it is known that torture is used in interrogations (the so-called "extraordinary renditions"). The United States can hardly be said to denounce torture when it engages in such behavior. And what happens when some poor American is captured in Iraq or Afghanistan and subjected to torture? What will the Bush administration say then?

Voices in the wilderness

Senator Whitehouse, thankfully, represents those Americans who reject the Dark Ages policies of "advanced interrogation techniques and extradordinary rendition. In a speech during the hearings he said: "Will we join that gloomy historical line leading from the Inquisition, through the prisons of tyrant regimes, through gulags and dark cells, and through Saddam Hussein's torture chambers? Will that be the path we choose?"

In this age of moral decay and cynicism-posing-as-patriotism I'm afraid I can't answer that question with any degree of confidence. The stink of the Bush administration fouls everything around us.