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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 15 January 2004

Topic: Oddities

A day without political news and observations is like a day without...

Yep, enough said here recently. Today is a day without politics. Why?

Two observations:
Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
-John Kenneth Galbraith

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
- G.K. Chesterton
And as the famous Frenchman said of us in the middle of the eighteenth century:
Each person behaves as though he is a stranger to the destiny of all the others.... As for his transactions with his follow citizens, he may mix among them, but does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone. And if on these terms there remains in his mind a sense of family, there no longer remains a sense of society.
Alex de Tocqueville in Democracy in America.
Yeah, well, so it goes.

Then there is this. Karl Rove, perhaps the most powerful man in the world, as he leads George Bush to do what he thinks George Bush should do, dropped out of the University of Utah after two years to devote his life to conservative Republican politics. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard after two years to devote himself to... something or other. Most CEO's - the folks who run America's corporations - are college dropouts or never even went. So there's this:
Intelligence appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without education. Education appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without the use of his intelligence.
A. E. Wiggen

And then there is the press, and all the media that keeps us informed.
If you're not careful the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.
Malcolm X

Journalism consists largely in saying "Lord Jones died" to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.
G. K. Chesterton
Ah, too cynical.

These are for fun.
We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know.
W.H. Auden

I went to a restaurant that serves "breakfast at any time" so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.
Steven Wright

Posted by Alan at 21:48 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 January 2004 21:50 PST home

Wednesday, 14 January 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Presidential Hopefuls - The Winnowing Fan

This coming Monday in Iowa they'll have those caucuses and the nomination for which of the nine Democrats gets to run against Bush will be up for grabs. I won't count the tenth nominal Democrat with ambitions - Lyndon LaRouche - as I've commented here on him. Not a player.

All the candidates have their strengths and weaknesses. But it seems now that, realistically, it will come down to Howard Dean or Wesley Clark. I really like that Edwards fellow, and Kucinich holds positions with which I do agree, and Sharpton is a good man. But matters are coming to a head. And it looks like Carol Moseley Braun will drop out and endorse Dean.

Dean has his fine endorsements - Gore, Harkin, Bradley and probably Jimmy Carter this week. Mainstream guys now behind Dean. Michael Moore of the "angry left" - from Bowling for Columbine to Stupid White Men - has endorsed Clark. What's with that?

This is probably a matter of character. Or of perceived character.

As a disclaimer, in June of 1990 I found myself at West Point, attending the graduation of my nephew Brian, and was surrounded by honorable young folks in uniform, excruciatingly polite and formal, but seriously idealistic. They took that "duty, honor, country" stuff seriously. And they were impressive. Good young men and women out to do their best for us all. Some of the best people our country has.

Maybe I'm not a good lefty - I'm a sucker for decency and honor. And I saw that.

And this is, I suspect, what people see in Clark, or hope to see.

And I suspect people find those traits, decency and honor, absent in George Bush.

Here's how one fellow sums it up.

See Karl Rove's Nightmare
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Thursday, January 15, 2004; Page A21
Of all the other Democratic presidential contenders, only John Kerry has the military credentials to challenge Bush. But being a wounded and decorated Vietnam vet is not the same as being both that and a retired four-star general. Anyway, Kerry is easily caricatured as a Massachusetts liberal.

Not so Clark. He is a "duty, honor, country" guy - the West Point mantra he recites constantly. His themes are patriotism and leadership, and his credentials are unimpeachable. He was wounded in Vietnam. He rose to command NATO and made war in the Balkans. Four invisible stars glitter from his shoulders.

Wes Clark does not like what George Bush has done with Wes Clark's Army. Make no mistake: It's his Army. He can hardly go a sentence without mentioning the military - and how, in his mind, Bush has abused it. He sent it to war precipitously and then used its men and women as "props," he says. Clark's sincerity on this point is patent. In a conversation on his campaign plane, he suddenly turned intense, a kind of growling, low-grade rage that lifted my nose from my note-taking. His Army has been abused.
Yes, there is something to this, and it has to do with honor, and loyalty to your fellows.

Cohen then makes an odd comparison to the former war prisoner and decorated flier:
In a way, Clark is this season's John McCain. ... His themes are similar, too, but where McCain ran to the left of Bush, Clark runs to the right of the Democratic field. That assessment has nothing to do with his actual positions, some of which are downright liberal - he has no problem with civil unions or marriage for gays, for instance - but rather with his military record and his Southern roots.
Ah yes, a new definition of the political right. Here right means something about doing the right thing.

So, does Clark have a chance? Maybe. Maybe not.
But Clark has a way to go. When he talks about patriotism, leadership, the military and his own remarkable life, he can be moving and persuasive. But when he gets into domestic programs, you hear a "voice mail" recitation - no passion, little inflection and often a comparison to some military program, as if the Army is just civilian life with worse food. He lacks the politician's ability to morph with his audience.

Still, the Clark I saw in New Hampshire and Texas has come a long way from the Clark I saw months ago. At the earlier event, people fell asleep. No more. On his campaign plane, he seemed relaxed -- and so, importantly, did his staff. I could dig up only one story about him losing his temper, but it was not recent and not important. You and I should be as disciplined.
Yes, and he doesn't bad-mouth his fellow Democrats. He's got better things to do. Fix things.

Cohen ends with this image:
At the fundraiser here, Clark stood before a huge American flag like George C. Scott in "Patton." And when he talked about Bush and the war in Iraq, it was not as some Democrat who could be caricatured as a peacenik, but as a warrior who felt that the president had fought the wrong war at the wrong time - and then pranced all over a flight deck reserved for Clark's genuine heroes, "the men and women who serve."

Karl Rove, call your office.
Yep, this could get real interesting.

Bush shouldn't have gone AWOL back in those Vietnam days.

The general should ask about that: "Soldier, where were you?"


About the title? Think Homer. This from the Odyssey when Odysseus visits the underworld - the oar with which you row is really a winnowing fan:
'Anon came the soul of Theban Teiresias, with a golden sceptre in his hand, and he knew me and spake unto me: "Son of Laertes, of the seed of Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, what seekest thou NOW, wretched man, wherefore hast thou left the sunlight and come hither to behold the dead and a land desolate of joy? Nay, hold off from the ditch and draw back thy sharp sword, that I may drink of the blood and tell thee sooth."

'So spake he and I put up my silver-studded sword into the sheath, and when he had drunk the dark blood, even then did the noble seer speak unto me, saying: "Thou art asking of thy sweet returning, great Odysseus, but that will the god make hard for thee; for methinks thou shalt not pass unheeded by the Shaker of the Earth, who hath laid up wrath in his heart against thee, for rage at the blinding of his dear son. Yet even so, through many troubles, ye may come home, if thou wilt restrain thy spirit and the spirit of thy men so soon as thou shalt bring thy well-wrought ship nigh to the isle Thrinacia, fleeing the sea of violet blue, when ye find the herds of Helios grazing and his brave flocks, of Helios who overseeth all and overheareth all things. If thou doest these no hurt, being heedful of thy return, so may ye yet reach Ithaca, albeit in evil case. But if thou hurtest them, I foreshow ruin for thy ship and for thy men, and even though thou shalt thyself escape, late shalt thou return in evil plight, with the loss of all thy company, on board the ship of strangers, and thou shalt find sorrows in thy house, even proud men that devour thy living, while they woo thy godlike wife and offer the gifts of wooing. Yet I tell thee, on thy coming thou shalt avenge their violence. But when thou hast slain the wooers in thy halls, whether by guile, or openly with the edge of the sword, thereafter go thy way, taking with thee a shapen oar, till thou shalt come to such men as know not the sea, neither eat meat savoured with salt; yea, nor have they knowledge of ships of purple cheek, nor shapen oars which serve for wings to ships. And I will give thee a most manifest token, which cannot escape thee. In the day when another wayfarer shall meet thee and say that thou hast a winnowing fan on thy stout shoulder, even then make fast thy shapen oar in the earth and do goodly sacrifice to the lord Poseidon, even with a ram and a bull and a boar, the mate of swine, and depart for home and offer holy hecatombs to the deathless gods that keep the wide heaven, to each in order due. And from the sea shall thine own death come, the gentlest death that may be, which shall end thee foredone with smooth old age, and the folk shall dwell happily around thee. This that I say is sooth."
As seers go, Teiresias, can be a windbag. But winnowing fan is used to seperate the wheat from the chaff.

Posted by Alan at 22:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 January 2004 08:25 PST home

Topic: Oddities

Just browsing today...

The Americans who are the most efficient people on earth... have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on a conversation without giving a moment's reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication.
- Somerset Maugham

In America there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. This is what makes America what it is.
- Gertrude Stein

There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.
- Mark Twain

Posted by Alan at 11:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 13 January 2004

Topic: The Economy

More on class warfare:
Work is for losers. Portfolios are for winners - real men.
FDR was the worst, and most insidiously evil president in history.
No, I'm not making up this stuff.

In my recent posts here on the issue of the economy and job loss I was edging toward some sort of unified theory about capitalism and work. Sort of.

Friday, 9 January 2004, at the end of The Brave New World, I said, with some bitterness, "Best to own a business - be a capitalist - and not to work for one."

Well, here is someone as bitter, who draws the same conclusions.

See Good for Investors, Bad for the Rest

Harold Meyerson, The Washington Post, Wednesday, January 14, 2004; Page A19

Meyerson opens with this:
If you work for a living in George W. Bush's America, you're a sap.

Take a quick look, or a long one, at the tax code as Bush has altered it during his three years as president, and you're compelled to conclude that work has become a distinctly inferior kind of income acquisition in the eyes of the law. Bush tax policy rewards investment and inheritance. Relying on work for your income, by contrast, turns you into a second-class citizen.

In his first round of tax cuts in 2001, Bush got Congress to phase out the estate tax by 2010. Last year, with Republicans in control on Capitol Hill, he reduced the top tax rate on dividends from 39.6 percent to 15 percent, and brought the capital gains tax rate down from 20 percent to 15 percent as well.

This year, his new budget proposes that families be allowed to shield as much as $30,000 yearly on their investment income, which will abolish all remaining taxes on such income. Meanwhile, the income tax cuts to most middle-class families don't exceed a couple of hundred dollars, and payroll taxes for employees remain untouched. In part, this devaluing of work is simply an expression of Bush family values. As Kevin Phillips points out in his new biography of the Bush dynasty, the Bushes don't do anything so vulgar as going into professions. Rather, the clan lives by its connections. For George W. and his brothers, work has meant riffling through Pappy's Rolodex. Theirs is the cronyest form of capitalism.

But a broader theory is at work here, too. It says that investment, rather than labor, powers economic growth, so rewarding investment is merely the most direct way to help the economy.
I'm so glad it's just not me.

It seems the current theory, or the theory of the current administration, is that Clark and the Democrats have it all wrong. Tax breaks for ordinary working folks who might actually spend the money and fire up the economy won't do the economy any good.

You have to get business, particularly large corporations, and the wealthy, feeling good and optimistic. That's where the growth begins.

Meyerson's take on that?
A lovely theory, but if anyone thinks the Bush tax cuts have spurred economic growth, I have a low-tax investment in a bridge to Brooklyn. To be sure, investment income and corporate profits are high. But just 278,000 new jobs have been generated since June, which means the recovery is about 7.5 million jobs shy of the norm for post-World War II recoveries. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers had predicted job growth of 510,000 from the 2003 tax cuts, plus another 1,335,000 new jobs, during the second half of last year.
This seems to be the worst unemployment situation since 1944-45, when WWII was running down. The very worst by far.

Yeah, well, but corporate profits are way up. What about that? Doesn't that matter?

Well, what about that? One doesn't get warm optimistic fuzzies about that when you cannot find work. And a lot of people cannot.

But corporations are making tons of money.

Ah yes, but I was writing specifically about outsourcing and jobs disappearing because of that. How does outsourcing and tax policy fit in here?

Here's how Meyerson sees that:
Outsourcing has turned the phrase "investment-led growth" into the grimmest of oxymorons. It means that Bush's tax policy subsidizes job growth in India and China rather than the United States. And in failing to create more employment here at home, the tax cuts have also helped depress wages. Real wages in the United States actually fell 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.
And he says this of the response of those who would run against Bush:
To all this, the Democratic presidential candidates have proposed a reversal of the Bush tax priorities. John Edwards is the most explicit, calling for an increase in taxes on most forms of investment income while lowering the taxes on employment. Wesley Clark has proposed eliminating income taxes for more than half the households in the United States, and Howard Dean is reportedly mulling over a plan to cut payroll taxes.

All that is good in itself, but doesn't really grapple with the conundrum of job creation in a globalized economy.
So what does?

Meyerson argues for something like FDR-style public works projects. Public investment. Remember the WPA and NRA (not the National rifle Association - think the 1930s and dams and roads and things).

Ah yes, but I have been on the receiving end of many a lecture from my conservative friend on how FDR was by far the worst president in American history, responsible for destroying the American character. How? He made people lose their self-reliance and sense of personal responsibility, turning them into infantile whiners, people who saw themselves as victims, who felt is was their right to have some "mommy government" intervene and make things all better, when they should have changed their attitudes and taken responsibility for themselves - and acted like adults, not self-righteous children. FDR created a nation of dependent whiners.

And it's not just my conservative friend. Perhaps later I'll review the three or four books published in the last eighteen months that make that argument.

Is all this class warfare? You bet.

Posted by Alan at 22:35 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: World View

Another recommendation...

Over at MetropoleParis Ric Erickson has some comments on Starbucks opening their first caf? (using the term loosely) in Paris. Check it out.

And he always has good photos, and some odd ones, like these.


My comments on the Paris Starbucks opening are here, and here.

And if you like Ric's site, do support it with a donation of course.

Posted by Alan at 21:31 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 13 January 2004 21:50 PST home

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