Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Big Guys Collide

You see the title, so take a guess. Is this entry concerned with the upcoming Super Bowl, or are we talking politics again?
OK, let's do both, though football is far more easily "tackled" because they do this every year. This time around it's the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team so well-known that it even pops up in country music songs, vs. the Arizona Cardinals, a team with a name like a spring training baseball roster, who have been both obscure and mediocre for decades. The Steelers are favored, but the Cardinals' quarterback is a guy from Cedar Rapids, so I'll root for them. I have no opinion on who will have the best TV commercial. They'll do it again next year, probably with two different teams.

Now for politics. Our new president has pressed lots of buttons during his first week in office. We shouldn't confuse activity with accomplishment, but Mr. Obama seems to be prepared against one of President Carter's faults, that of assuming that when the election's over, everyone will think the same way and line up at the White House door asking for leadership. Nope - winning only means you get to play politics at the next level, not that you'll be followed.
Let's take the example of Cabinet appointments. Most of the new Cabinet officials are now in place, with a few exceptions, the chief one being Attorney General. It's a sensitive situation for lots of reasons, including the stunning incompetence of the Bush Department of Justice. The Obama nominee is Eric Holder, a Clinton administration vet with fine qualifications.
Senate Republicans are willing to let Holder take office, but not without conditions. After all, these are men and women of principle, standing (at least until recently) on the moral high ground, arbiters of right and wrong as they see it. So, what do they ask in return for votes for Holder? What's the "line in the sand" for these Solons of the Party of Lincoln, TR and the Gipper?
Here it is. They want the Obama administration to forget they ever heard the name "Bush". Ditto the names "Cheney", "Rumsfeld", and so forth. Instead of shining the light of truth on things the Bush heavyweights may have done of questionable legality, they simply want it all to be forgotten. It's OK if History judges, because that part can't be stopped. Just as long as no one actually gets dragged into court. Lying, conspiracy, unequal justice, illegal imprisonment, torture, and intelligence cherrypicking - ALL should be forgotten in exchange for the new president's choice for Attorney General being allowed to function.
It's a cynical offer with a dark purpose. "Everyone", say the senators, "has their price. This is ours. Take it or leave it." And we can't know for some time what the Obama response is, even if Holder is confirmed, because he was elected without, it must be said, a clear mandate to prosecute Bush Administration crimes. The losers in this? Not to sound too gloomy, because I wish Obama all the success he can find, but it could be us, that is, those of us still convinced that we need a government of "laws, and not of men".

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another Disconnect

Before forgetting, I have to mention the new toy two of our grandsons got from Uncle Dane and Aunt Leah for Christmas. Imagine a fully working spider slightly bigger than a softball and operated by remote control. The thing is, the legs move in a very authentic fashion that makes it more than a little "creepy". Congrats to the engineers, whatever country they come from, who put together this fun and (slightly) scary amusement.

And from the Department of Find-A-Need-and-Fill-It, we now have a product sure to be a hit - tattoo remover creme you apply yourself. It's supposed to do the job painlessly, but completely, wiping out (literally) the name of the former girlfriend and/or other youthful mistakes. Would it be found in drug stores by the sun block? Or would it only be where one goes for "all your tattoo needs"? I'm not sure.

I suppose everyone with the least desire to saw the Inauguration. It's too important to have ignored, though no doubt lots of people did just that. I've been wondering, however, what I could possibly write about the big event that hasn't already been in print somewhere a hundred times or more.
Then I noticed something from the center of news on all things Mormon, the Deseret News. Is it hard to imagine a newspaper that prints all the usual items, but functions as a subsidiary of a church? That's what the DN is, dating back to the 1850's. They use plenty of AP material and so forth, but the DN is the original source for all things pertaining to the Church, now 13 million strong in 150 or so nations.
Two of the Church's highest officials represented The Latter Day Saints at the Inauguration. Their names aren't important, but one is, I believe, still a citizen of his native Germany and speaks english with an accent much less pronounced than either Governor Schwarzenegger or Henry Kissinger. The two men sat through the frigid ceremony and other events aimed at religious leaders, and said that they had been quite moved by the ceremony, One said that church memebers should join in praying for the success of President Obama. Of course, Church leaders are always careful in their choice of words, and everyone understood that the good wishes were expressed in the most general terms - peace on earth, a healthy economy with full employment, etc. Nothing specific was mentioned, as one might have expected, but all good will is welcome, right?
But here's the disconnect mentioned in the title. The Church also owns a Salt Lake City radio station that dates back to the industry's beginnings in the 1020's. It's pretty well known as the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's weekly broadcasts, and can sometimes be heard in an area the size of Mongolia.
This station has followed the path of other big-wattage AM radio stations, choosing to earn a profit mainly through the broadcast of college sports and...conservative talk, including the Grand Dragon of Righteous Right Wing Radio, Rush Limbausgh. We don't get the station, so I'm not sure who else gets a turn at theis station's audience, but there must be upwards of 50 hours a week or more given over to some sometimes mean-spirited material that helps the state of Utah stay solidly Republican. It goes without saying that the next nice thing said on these stations about President Obama will also be the first nice thing.
Church leaders almost never say anything partisan in regards to political issues, so who knows how they really feel about the new administration? They aren't saying, but there are plenty of others out there who would happily put the most anti-Democratic spin possible on every current event from presidential lapel pins to the breed of the Obama family dog, combining the sacred and secular in what can be frightening ways. I'm inclined to think that it's the everyday AM radio message pounded into the average Utahan that will prevail in his mind when the words of vague praise and encouagement uttered this week are long forgotten.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Before other items intrude, let's hear it for our Iowa Hawkeyes who took advantage of their opportunity in the Outback Bowl by turning the South Carolina Gamecocks into Aussie Chicken Soup. Final score, 31-10. I love it, I admit, when those Dixie boys get sent back to their fiddle fests and stock car races wearing a big "L" on their foreheads.

When the weather you're living with is pretty benign - some rain, no snow, no bitter winds, no need for multiple layers to save the skin on your face from reddening, then losing all feeling, no treacherous ice on the roads to deal with - it's sometimes easy to forget that others are dealing with precisely those things AND must pay more for the privilege of not shivering at home by using the TV as an extra heating appliance. I do recall these things along with shrieking blizzards, uncleared parking lots and the lists of school cancellations. To those tough people obliged to deal with these things I offer my moral support and good wishes. As Jimmy Carter said, "Life is unfair". Amen to that.

Last week this space was full of serious stuff. I won't risk the chance of hearing anything like "Haven't you talked about this stuff before?" Maybe next week we can parse the words of Obama's Inaugural address.
But this week we celebrate an anniversary the media has noted. Motown Records had its beginning fifty years ago. Not to seem too sentimental, but the company's beginnings really were humble. The whole operation was run from a smallish home in Detroit, with enough room left over to house founder Barry Gordy's family on the top floor. You can tour the place today in about two minutes.
True, things get started in humble ways about every minute in this country. Most die a quick, unnoticed death. A few hang on over the years to provide the means of living for one or several
families. A tiny number find a way to combine skill, talent, timing and luck to produce something which changes the world.
Is that an overstatement? I'll grant that it IS a subjective kind of statement, tough to prove with numbers alone. Motown had competitors who supplied plenty of great soul music. But Motown's goal wasn't to supply just one category of music, but in marketing their music to the whole country, hence the slogan "The music of young America" not of "ethnic" or "black" America.
Consider just a sampling of names of those who worked for this record label: Diana Ross (and, of course, the Supremes), The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gay, Smokey Robinson, the Jackson family, including Michael, Martha Reeves and so on. Even without these, there are dozens of Motown songs that have entered our brains so thoroughly that we know the words and tunes even though we couldn't guess if it was the Ronettes, the Chffons or the Marvelettes who first recoded them. The Beatles did Motown songs. So did the Rolling Stones along with other groups you might know.
Maybe someone else could have come along to give us "Dancing in the Streets" or "My Girl", but it wasn't. I guess it's not the Grand Canyon or the Mississippi River, but if we ever had a cultural export that made people around the world smile, it would include the Motown song library. My thanks to Barry, Smoky and all the others for making the world better.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Bush Bottom Ten

People today don't have much patience for long explanations of things. They like answers that are quick, easy to remember and can be recalled when it's time for the test, if there is one. This is even more true for younger people who, after all, can look up everything on Wikipedia and get some idea of what they need without actually asking anyone. I used to hear the phrase "Just the short answer, Dad!" pretty often. With that in mind, here are the ten worst things done by the Bush administration, all over now except for the final batch of pardons to the truly undeserving. They appear in ascending order.
10. The new deficit king. Republicans once had a reputation for being tight with public funds, but not this group. After inheriting a surplus from the Clinton administration, the Bush folks actually spent like there was no tomorrow even if you leave out the wars they started. Total national debt went from around $6 trillion to almost double that during the eight years. No one seems to care much unless you look deeper, which we can't from lack of space.
9. The sound of "poof" when financial assets become worthless. This sound was heard with increasing frequency when it became apparent that the strategy of deregulation hyped in the 80's and 90's didn't work any better in the new century.
8. The misuse of religious faith and people who have it as a major part of their lives. Score one for the cynics as programs set up to aid the spreading of the Word turned out to be just another way to equate "believers" with "voters".
7. The Katrina failure. TV networks somehow reached the disaster scene ahead of federal relief. When the feds did come, they had weapons drawn and bayonets fixed. Our private army (Blackwater mercenaries) took weapons from the survivors. The once largely Democratic city is now a much smaller one, with former residents scattered mostly in southern (GOP leaning) states.
6. Science itself is endangered by politicization as government-funded research goes looking for specific outcomes that support GOP-authored policy already in place. A surgeon general resigns after failing to keep research out of the political realm.
5. The Department of Justice becomes an advocate for the Bush administration. Phony claims of "voter fraud" are used to cover up the far more serious crime of election fraud from within government. Individual citizens are forced to take on both big business AND government allied as never before. The Office of Legal Counsel delivers up one opinion after another that seem to ratify the neocon "unitary executive" model of American government which supports a president with almost unlimited powers.
4. The administration decides unilaterally to bypass the FISA Act warrant-granting court in favor of blanket surveilence of electronic communications in an attempt to track down alledged terrorists. Since the operation is also secret, the government says, in effect, "Trust me. I'm doing this for your own good."
3. Bush uses "executive signing statements" which state the president's personal willingness (or lack of it) to enforce portions of laws already signed. His use of this particular ploy is far more than by all previous U. S. presidents combined.
2. The so-called, undeclared and open-ended "War on Terror" brings on a whole series of abuses which do great harm to American standing in the world. These include the imprisonment of terror suspects without charges, the reuse of torture techniques which brought the death penalty to Japanese military who had performed them on American soldiers in WW II, and the sending of prisoners to other countries with little or no scruples about torture called "extraordinary rendition".
1. After a lengthy period of "selling" the American public on the need to attack Iraq, a country which had never attacked the U.S., the administration lied us into a war with little upside, expensive and dangerous to those fighting in it, for the main purpose of bumping the president's popularity so high that all his domestic proposals would sail through a Republican-led Congress. It may go down as one of the most foolish military ventures by a great power EVER.
That concludes the list, though other failings of this administration are not hard to find. In fairness, some good things were adopted or proposed but did not pass through Congress. Still, this cascade of error and hubris leaves Bush's popularity at around 25%. If I were to add one more disaster to the list it would be the shrinking of the Republican Party from the dominant political entity in the country to a southern-based organization excluded from entire regions and left without leadership unless you count a Senator in his 70's from Arizona and a publicity-grabbing woman governor from Alaska who has shown herself unprepared for anything higher. The Party's strength now is found in people with less education.