Apr 26, 2007

A few more turnings

What is that faint aroma in the wind? Ah yes, Karl Rove just passed by. Tom Delay, disgraced and out of office, tries to regain his reputation as the Exterminator again and suggests that the Democratic leadership is close to treasonous. Dick Cheney, Eminence grise of the administration, accuses Harry Reid of flip-flopping on the funding of Iraq. Candidate Giuliani is trying to scare the electorate into believing that a Democratic Presidency in 2008 will lead to another terrorist attack, as if the debacle and terrorist-encouraging actions and inactions of this current administration really kept terrorists from planning. That's right, it's the Democrats that are giving terrorists reasons to attack us. And George Bush, President of the United States, shows innocently and with no awareness of the irony on late night TV that he is acting as the puppet master to the Prime Minister of Iraq, giving al-Maliki what? a B minus? He also thinks that Alberto Gonzales is doing . . .. well, a heckuva job. (http://www.charlierose.com/home).

The historian Robert Dallek just published a book on Nixon and Kissinger, and he recalls similar talk from those two about impending victory and South Vietnam needing to provide security for its people, all the while knowing that the war was lost. Yet they slogged on , much to the pain of thousands of American and Vietnamese families. The president should be talking about how we will pay reparations to the Iraqis, or perhaps how we should be taking care of the largest number of refugees in the Middle East since the nakbar, according to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). Or perhaps he should be asking Nouri al-Maliki in his daily tlephone conversations why the Iraqi government is failing to give the UN accurate figures on the number of deaths in the country. That government is slowly dissolving, by some accounts; wait until they start debating or start trying to jam through the Parliament the privatization bill for oil.)

So for a remedy, read Senator George McGovern's op-ed riposte, in the Los Angeles Times, to Richard Cheney's ignorant statements about McGovern's platform during the 1972 political campaign.
Print it out, keep it in your purse or wallet and read it every once in a while. And don't forget that April 28 is Impeachment Day. (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-mcgovern24apr24,0,4084076.story.)

Word is that Monica Goodling, White House liaison to the Justice Department, who intends to take advantage of the Fifth Amendment, is now going to be subpoenaed to testify under oath, but with immunity. Apparently only the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against extending immunity. Keep this one in your daily radar.

Perhaps the ship of state is slowing down. Now to turn it around.

Apr 22, 2007

Capitalism in Action: Things that really annoy me (#1 in a series)

This what I mean by a turning: it's the stuff that drops on the floor, the ephemeral junk that we all have to deal with and sweep aside if we want to get on with our lives and keep sane. But it sure does feel good to chop this dross up and see it fly in the air.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

For months Verizon has been soliciting me to go on an automated bill pay. So I Read the fine print in the agreement on the back of the bill:
"By signing below, you authorize Verizon Wireless to electronically debit your bank account each month for the total balance due on your account. The check you send will be used to set up Automatic Payment. You will be notified each month of the date and amount of the debit 10 days in advance of the payment. I understand and accept these terms. This agreement does not alter the terms of your existing Customer Agreement. I agree that Verizon Wireless is not liable for erroneous bill statements or incorrect debits to my account. To withdraw your authorization you must call Verizon Wireless. Check with your bank for any charges. "

First of all, they don't make sentence sense when they alternate between addressing the "you " and then abruptly switching to "I." That really irritates me.

Second, this online service is a way of saving them postage and printing and paper costs. Do you see an offer to knock the cost of that off your bill every month? Oh, my god, just think of the paperwork and accounting expense they would have to bear! Poor Verizon. Offer a discount? In a pig's eye. I know, I save the price of a stamp. But what do I lose in return?

In true contemporary capitalistic style, they want us, the consumer, to continue to bear their costs and, further, to do the work. It also makes sure that they control the timing of the withdrawal. This way they never have to wait for the check in the mail, the delay of payment because we get temporarily strapped for cash (Anyone who has worked in a big company knows that those companies can be notorious for delaying payments just a bit or even worse if they want to make some more interest on their money--abusing the float, I used to call it; an old boss used to call it smart money management, right?) The difference is, they actually make money on their money.

(You now have your finger on the pulse of greed. Look at your watch. The heart beats very steadily, no flutter, no hypertension here.)

We poor
gullibles with bank accounts know we don't make a chewed up penny from our banks.

Don't get me started on banks. Go see Catherine Austin
Fitts in the margin to the right.

Well, of course Verizon will tell us how much the debit will be ten days before. Do they say they will send a bill in detail via email so we can check for accuracy? No, again, we have to do the digging to even see if the bill is accurate. We have to go online and spend our few
Internet connection pennies to see their work. You gonna do that every month?

Which is why the final screwing comes in that sentence, "I agree that Verizon Wireless is not liable for erroneous bill statements or incorrect debits to my account." The final touch to this sucker play. So say they do make an error--even an honest error. They already have your money. Do you think they will give it back to you readily now that it's officially and electronically become
"their money"? One of the few economic levers we as consumers have is to call a company and say "you made a mistake, you bastids, and I'm not going to pay you until you correct it."

Now, I look at this agreement and read it carefully and see that if they really wrote clearly it would be too bald an expression of what they are inveigling you into. (Here's another reward from my English Literature education: the word "inveigle" is related to the French adjective for "blind"; "
une aveugle" is a blind person. Next time your kids ask you whey they have to take English, refer them to this post.) You gotta watch these sunsabitches every moment. Don't you doubt for one second that some ex-English major corporate attorney put that agreement together.

So here's the point of this old English composition teacher's exercise in correct and logical writing. If you want the paragraph to make real sense, you write it like this:
By signing below, you authorize Verizon Wireless to electronically debit your bank account each month for the total balance due on your account. The check you send will be used to set up Automatic Payment. You will be notified each month of the date and amount of the debit 10 days in advance of the payment. This agreement does not alter the terms of your existing Customer Agreement. To withdraw your authorization you must call Verizon Wireless.

I will check with my bank for any charges.
I agree that Verizon Wireless is not liable for erroneous bill statements or incorrect debits to my account.
I understand and accept these terms.
You gonna sign off on this? No American with an ounce of sense would do anything but say "Verizon, take this offer and put it where the sun don't shine."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So that's a turning. It felt good to throw it off and cut down to the bone of the matter.

Apr 21, 2007

It Feels Like . . . Watergate

For the past few days I have been following first the testimony of Attorney General Gonzalez, then some of the commentary. The man is a weasel, and you have been hearing it in his voice in all of his testimony, as far back as his confirmation hearings. Leave it to Greg Palast to start working out the real political reasons (of a Rove-ian nature) for the firing of Bud Cummins in Arkansas, and his replacement by a Republican National Committee guerrilla named Tim Griffin. Gonzalez' testimony and public writings, and Justice Department staff emails had suggested that this change was a matter of high political concern. I haven't felt as interested in this stuff since Senator Sam Ervin shuffled along in the Senate and Judge Sirica handed down his decisions.

You have to be a real political junkie to dig into this, but if you are, it all begins to make sense.
So read Palast's piece. He is fearless and has been one of the best journalists on voting rights issues since the 2000 debacle in FL.

Apr 18, 2007

Meanwhile, back at our killing fields . . .

One of the reasons I check into Professor Juan Cole’s site, Informed Comment, almost daily is his realistic and direct talk. He can lose his temper sometimes, which is appealing, in its own way. He’s been condemned and mocked by the people on the right side of the political spectrum for a good while and unfairly has been branded an anti-Semite by the likes of Alan Dershowitz, David Horowitz, Michael Ledeen, and others—kind of a badge of honor these days—but he certainly has the expertise and the scholarship to know what he is talking about when it comes to the Middle East.

Today has produced headlines about the demented killings on Monday at Virginia Tech and those bombs in Baghdad today that killed 183 people, the bloodiest day since the troop escalation at the beginning of February (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070418/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_17).

Juan Cole, on Tuesday, was to the point:

I keep hearing from US politicians and the US mass media that the "situation is improving" in Iraq. The profound sorrow and alarm produced in the American public by the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech should give us a baseline for what the Iraqis are actually living through. They have two Virginia Tech-style attacks every single day. . . . most Iraqis killed violently, perhaps 500 a day throughout the country if you count criminal and tribal violence, are just shot down. Shot down, like the college students and professors at Blacksburg. We Americans can so easily, with a shudder, imagine the college student trying to barricade himself behind a door against the armed madman without. But can we put ourselves in the place of Iraqi students?

I can remember a memorable comparison he made over two and a half years ago to what comparable violence would be in the United States, and if you have enough imagination to bear it, read his comparison and extrapolate it for the time since it was first written: (http://www.juancole.com/2004/09/if-america-were-iraq-what-would-it-be.html). Bush and Cheney and the architects of war say they are religious men. I suspect their God may find it hard to forgive them for what they have wrought.

As always, there is a clarity and simplicity to Professor Cole's entries that helps us shed light on the human condition. All of us should continue to focus on the human cost of the war since all of us bear responsibility for the actions of our country, whether we voted for these madmen or not.

Take that shame, and make sure that we do all we can to throw the bums out every chance we get: cheer them on as they grill Gonzales tomorrow; write your congress critters to support Kucinich when he introduces a motion to impeach Cheney this week; Californians, hold Pelosi's feet to the fire of your anger as she buckles under again and again to AIPAC pressures; Obama partisans, chew your chicken-livered man out for his cowardice under pressure from AIPAC and shame him back into his original and correct stance on the Palestinian question; Edwards supporters, educate the man to understand that it's not only the American Middle class who is getting the short end of the American stick; and Clinton adherents, wake up and reject her--she's just Dubya and McCain light. Better her husband back in office than her.

Demonstrate, march, put signs on your lawns, put the facts in front of your right-leaning friends, honk when you see the right bumper stickers, support dissidence. Write, draw, speak, criticize, act up, and stop the madness as best you can.

Apr 15, 2007

Welcome back, Thone! Where you been?

It’s been a while since I started this machine up and I must say that the recovery has taken and is taking much longer than I expected. I have been preoccupied with a number of things and have let the regular duties imposed by this blog slip by–health, wealth, stealth and the St. Patty’s Day party and sheer cussed inertia are the causes, but what the heck. I am back on track and looking to get this thing to the point where I get on and write at least once a week.

But I am on my way today, Sunday, April 15, and have been working all morning and listening to my answer to the Sunday morning talk shows (and going to church, for that matter): Ian Masters on KPFK for two hours from 11 AM (PDT). The first hour is called “Background Briefing,” the second, “Live from the Left Coast.” I have been listening every Sunday for the past three years to Masters, and though his manner can be most irritating at times--(he is especially prone to long rambling “questions” beginning with “But, . . .” that stutter through what he knows about a situation, only to end with “So, Ali Alawi, what’s your take on that?”)–much like this sentence, I am afraid, but there is no doubt that he has the most interesting guests and commentators of any current affairs program–bar none–on the radio today.

The most inneresting interview this day was with Ali Alawi, the former Defense Minister of Iraq and author of the recent book, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace. The interview with him is a great update on the Iraq situation. Most surprising is his contrarian opinion that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country may not necessarily lead to “absolute chaos.” Bot Repububs and Demoscats are too thoughtlessly parroting the chaos prediction these days. I myself figure it can’t get much worse than it is already. The chaos is really to be found in this country if we completely withdraw. Listen to the broadcast. It should be available as a podcast by Wednesday at the following site:
http://www.ianmasters.org/left_coast.html. Alawi was also interviewed on Charlie Rose’s Show on Wednesday, April 11, but I missed it. You can catch that interview at http://www.charlierose.com. Between them both you will get a good feel for Iraq. I can’t wait for his book to arrive.

Thanksgott for the internet and a good internet voice stream, not to mention podcasts if you miss a show. The current electronic blizzard and kerfuffle is really the most exhilarating situation I have ever been in. Ever. I love it. You can literally find anything you want on the Internet. (Remember 3 x 5 file cards in your library carrell? Boy, have we come a long way!) One of the gifts that any retirees should treat themselves to is a laptop computer with high speed internet connections and a quick course in how to go on line and find things.

Or how about this one from an email service I signed up for: one of the best recent essays on the energy crisis, because it puts the ethanol issues into perspective and shows you how the whole thing is really a boondoggle for big farm and food processing companies. (Hiss next time you hear the name Archer Daniels Midland on PBS or NPR). The piece is written by a bright guy named Byron W. King, who lives in Pittsburgh and writes for a site called Whiskey and Gunpowder–yeah, I know, but check out the whole piece at at:

The ideas that caught my eyes especially were toward the end of the piece when King points out (you can follow his math with your own calculator) that the best ethanol production, even after all the plants currently a-building go on line, would be 718,000 barrels a day or about 3.5% of daily oil consumption:

What appears at first to be an impressive number in terms of energy supply (11 billion gallons per year) is actually relatively small. In fact, it is almost in the "rounding error" of the nation's daily liquid fuel consumption of about 21 million barrels of oil per day. Quite frankly, the U.S. could "save" more than 3.5% of its daily oil use if the nation's carmakers built, marketed, and sold smaller cars, and if the nation's drivers collectively bought them. Or we could see much the same result if drivers collectively slowed down and drove their big vehicles at 60 miles per hour, or if more freight went via railroad, instead of truck over the highways. And would it be too much to ask the soccer moms and hockey dads of the country to consolidate their trips so as not to waste gas? Or what if more people decided to take a bus or light rail to work every now and then? And wrap your brain around this, for comparison: The amount of grain that is required to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol, one time, could otherwise feed one person for a year.

So will the U.S. really wind up running its motorized culture on corn-based ethanol? According to Cornell researcher David Pimental, if the entire U.S. grain crop were converted to ethanol, it would satisfy about 15% of U.S. automotive fuel needs. The answer is no.

Read the whole piece. I guarantee you will know what you are talking about when you next talk to your neighbor about how ethanol is going to save this country. Like most Americans, trendiness is everything, and no one really looks the stuff up. A shower is calling me since I missed the big rainstorm last night. That’s it for now from the workshop.