Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fox guarding the hen house, example #4,786

Veteran Rail and Industrial Executive Alexander Kummant Appointed Amtrak President and CEO

It can't be a good thing to have a former Union Pacific VP running Amtrak. That's like letting Halliburton run the Pentagon or the oil industry run the White House! Oh wait, they already do...

It will be a great day when the US gets serious about bike-friendly passenger rail.

National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP)
Train Riders Association of California (TRAC)

We understand what really matters

I had so very, very much hoped that our decade-long NATIONAL NIGHTMARE would finally, finally end--then suddenly all the charges were dropped in the JonBenet Ramsey case. Will our torment never end?!?

The death of any child is certainly tragic. But I've had a hard time understanding why the death of this child was so, so much more important than the deaths of thousands of kids killed by traffic in the US, or by Hurricane Katrina, or by US bombs dropped in Iraq and Lebanon, or whatever. The real tragedy is that our media won't ask questions like: "Why hasn't George Bush been impeached?" But they can tell us EVERYTHING about this child beauty contest winner.

Some commentators suggest that Americans are simply shallow, stupid, uncaring; and the media just gives us what we want. Others suggest that the media makes us shallow, stupid, and uncaring with their reporting on trivial issues instead of substantial examinations of politics, society, and culture.

I prefer to think that Americans are indeed smart. We understand that the US isn't a democracy (remember Florida 2000? Supreme Court? Huh?) Our opinion--informed or otherwise--simply doesn't matter to the direction of national policy. Polls consistently show Americans favor an end to the occupation of Iraq, favor more spending on helping poor people, favor more spending for education, oppose increases in defense spending, and so on. And these opinions simply don't matter and aren't represented in our government.

This is one of the central theses of Noam Chomsky's new book, Failed States. The US is a failed state. It's not a democracy. So, really, why should people pay attention to national policy. Better to pay attention to tabloids. What's Mel Gibson up to these days, anyway?

The inertia ends, the car departs

My wife and I are losing 3,500 pounds of unnecessary weight! Take that Jenny Craig! We're finally--finally--selling our litely used Honda Civic

We've been considering this a long time. The payments stopped ages ago, not much expense beyond insurance, gas, oil changes, and minimal maintenance. But some major repairs loom on the near horizon (timing belt, clutch, etc.), and we use it so rarely that it isn't worth the investment.

In the city, owning a car is really much more of a nuisance than a convenience. Without the car, we will continue to walk and bike for most trips, use transit for other trips, take Amtrak or Caltrain to most near out-of-town destinations, we can rent cars for other weekend excursions, use cabs to get Muki to vet, and maybe join a car sharing organization--there are not one, but three (!) here in San Francisco: Zipcar, Flexcar, and City Car Share.

Mostly we were inspired by the new book, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life by Chris Balish. I'm actually quoted in Chapter Five. This was the final straw: How could we really "walk the talk?" So we're going from "car-lite" to "car-free". Balish has been making the talk show rounds and other book promo stuff. Check it out: NPR, KNBC-TV 4 Los Angeles, and KQED-FM "Forum".

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Imperialism is barbarism

This week Common Dreams posted a curious essay by Richard K. Betts, "How Superpowers Become Impotent." (Originally published in the Los Angeles Times.) Betts, director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, essentially suggests how imperialist powers should behave in conflicts: massive power in war, massive aid in occupation. This was a puzzling piece to see on a progressive site like Common Dreams. Most curious was this paragraph:

"Short of barbarism, there are only two ways to reduce guerrilla ranks faster than new recruits refill them. One is to rely on special forces such as Green Berets...The other is to saturate a country with regular troops standing on every street corner."

Only two ways? Helllloooo?!? How about acknowledging that imperialism is barbarism and abandon the pursuit of global hegemony? Iraq is clearly a quagmire. Many supporters of the American imperial project are having second thoughts. These shouldn't be granted legitimacy by anti-imperialists and progressives.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What exactly is the "War on Terror"?

I really wish progressive commentators would stop using the term "War on Terror." Let's call it what it is, a "War on the Poor."

What exactly is the "War on Terror," or its popular acronym, GWOT? Most sane people outside the Oval Office understand that "terror" is a tactic generally employed by groups too poor to acquire F-16 fighter jets, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, or M1 Abrams battle tanks. As the cliché goes: "War is the terror of the rich, and terror is the war of the poor."

In other words, those who resort to "terror" are people so impecunious and immiserated and hopeless that they take up whatever weapons are available to challenge their perceived oppressors. (Kind of like colonial Americans fighting the British.) They're bitter and angry and ripe for rebellion. Often, sadly, the only leadership available to these wannabe anti-imperialists isn't a secular left-wing opposition, but a kooky reactionary religious opposition. Hizbollah isn't popular because of its fundamentalist ideology, but because it is a credible resistance movement.

Instead of scolding Bush for neglecting or mismanaging the "war on terror," it would be helpful if progressives would call for a "campaign against poverty." A vigorous global anti-poverty effort would do more to assure security and well-being than an endless assault on poor people around the world, especially those misfortunate enough to reside in nations with abundant energy resources and abundant religious extremists.

A serious campaign against poverty is long overdue, domestically (remember New Orleans, anyone?) and internationally. This is the biggest crime of the Bush regime. They have no strategy for fighting poverty, other than massive tax cuts for the most affluent, aggressive globalization, and a relentless military effort to control strategic resources. When pressed (rarely) on the poverty issue, Bush and company suggest their extensive efforts on behalf of the wealthiest will produce "jobs."

The so-called "War on Terror" is merely an intensification of the war on the poor. And, as we see in Iraq and Lebanon, the "War on Terror" is producing even greater poverty, guaranteeing future recruits for terrorist groups.

It's way past time for progressives to expose the War on Terror for what it really is: a war on poor people.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stop Israeli thuggery...

In response to a TrueMajority e-activism campaign to support a ceasefire in the Middle East, I wrote to my useless Congressperson Nancy Pelosi. I dunno what good it might do, considering how firmly Zionist the U.S. government is. Disappointed by the weak message TrueMajority provides, here's the letter I wrote, (which barely begins to express my disgust, I'd have needed a ton of profanity):

Representative Boxer:

I'm disgusted by Israel's massive attack against the people of Lebanon, simply because they prefer not to negotiate with Hezbollah on prisoner exchange and other issues. The resort to force, rather than negotiation, sets a dangerous precedent.

I'm further disgusted by the U.S. government's unconditional support for Israeli thuggery. I urge you to demand an immediate ceasefire, and begin an investigation of our continued economic and military support for the State of Israel.

Just what are American taxpayers getting for their significant support to Israel, a bully nation with a long history of assaulting neighboring nations. Just what is our unconditional support yielding, besides the enmity of the entire Muslim world and most of the rest of the planet's peoples.

Please step up and join the efforts to push for a quick end of the killing of children and civilians on all sides. Thank you for your consideration.

TAKE ACTION: http://action.truemajority.org/campaign/middleeastceasefire