Wednesday, February 25, 2009

As Mardi Gras Beads Turn to Ashes...

Race to Judgment

A judge is stopped for drunken driving and uses “racial slurs” while arguing with police officers. Yeah... so typical of those backward, racist, redneck judges that still contaminate courtrooms throughout the South. Only problem is, this happened in Hartford, Connecticut, and the judge is a black female. Which raises some interesting questions. One, it's apparently no longer the case that “racial slurs” are, by definition, something only white people can use against blacks. Can you imagine a black female judge getting anything but a free pass – in Connecticut in particular – on something like this a few years ago? And another thing – what precisely were the “racial slurs” in question? I offhand can't think of any slang word for “white person” that is anywhere near as insulting as the “N word”. I mean, if some black guy called me “honky” or “rabbit” or “whitey” I'd be more amused than anything else. "Sticks and stones", etc. Or maybe the cops were Hispanic, in which case are we really talking about race here, or ethnicity? The government has been equivocal on this issue for many years now, but the usual answer is to classify people as “white, Hispanic” vs. “white, non-Hispanic”, so that makes everyone happy – or miserable, as the case may be. I've also seen government forms that offer the option of identifying oneself as “black, Hispanic” or “black, non-Hispanic” -- I guess to accommodate Cubans and Brazilians and suchlike. I imagine that any day now we'll see forms with the options “black, white” and “black, non-white” -- to accommodate the new-found new category that Obama represents. In any case, this is what it's like when our society “moves beyond race”.

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

It seems that new uniforms issued to TSA officers are causing “rashes and other irritations”, including “runny or bloody noses, lightheadednes, red eyes, and swollen and cracked lips". The culprit? Formaldehyde – just like those trailers the government provided the Katrina refugees. Aside from the question of, why can't the government quit poisoning people, now we know why some of those TSA people tend to get a bit crabby at times.

Did You Ever Hear That Coffin Sound

A little-noted news item may reflect a subtle change in the government's narrative concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon has been ordered, by Secretary Gates, to “review its ban against news media photos of the flag-draped coffins of military dead returning from combat overseas”. This story recalled, to me, what was referred to, during the Vietnam war, as the “Dover effect” -- named after Dover Air Force Base, the place where all military dead are returned to the U.S. During that war, the media kept up a relentless drumbeat of stories and pictures of the scores of dead being processed through Dover on a daily basis – and this was considered, by some, an important motivator in the anti-war campaign. The Bush administration, apparently learning from that experience, “allowed no media photos of the flag-draped coffins”; in other words, they were in denial and expected everyone else to be in denial as well. At least Obama & Co. are more willing to accept the visible consequences of our overseas follies – perhaps also hoping to encourage a grass-roots movement against the two wars so that if we ever do leave, and those places plunge into more chaos than they're in already, it will be attributed to “popular demand” and not just a policy change.

Golf in the Hole

You know things are tough when some of the major corporate sponsors of golf tournaments start to drop out. This is significant not just because it reflects (alleged) austerity drives on the part of big business but because of golf's iconic status as the game of big business itself – of its “movers and shakers”. The well-manicured private golf course has, for many decades now, been the equivalent of the corporate boardroom and executive suite, where the titans of industry can take each other's measure and make deals with no one around to overhear (except maybe for a caddy who doesn't understand what's being discussed anyway). It's also the place where informal meetings can be arranged, let's say between government officials and business men, or between government officials and lobbyists, without attracting the wrong kind of attention – because, after all, it's only a friendly game. I would be willing to bet that a good many of the run-ups to the current economic crisis were greased, if not finalized, on golf courses. What would American business be without golf, after all? They can't all learn to play tennis, and handball is hopelessly out of style. Polo, the recreational activity of the super-rich, takes too much preparation, as does fox hunting. And you have to go way out in the sticks, unlike golf, which can be played right in the middle of most large urban areas. Yes, this is truly an ominous trend – although I suppose they'll always have skiing and yachting... or, for those who need “deep cover”, bowling.

No More Gnomes of Zurich

And speaking of iconic upper-crust accommodations, the pressure is mounting on UBS, one of the larger Swiss banks, to “out” all the rich Americans who deposited money there in order to avoid the predations of the IRS. Leona Helmsley was right when she said, “We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” But gosh, if a Swiss bank – the ultimate “tax shelter” for the elite – can be opened to the light of day, what's left? Where else are they supposed to go? I guess they could just wait until Bernie Madoff is back in business...

Idle Hands

And speaking of Big Bernie, here's a new mystery. He apparently had nearly 200 employees. And yet, according to investigators, he never bought or sold a single share of stock on behalf of his clients. So... what did all those people do all day? Play “Tetris”? I mean, really... and even if he did have some help in pursuing his Ponzi scheme, how many other people would it have taken? Surely nowhere near 200. So again I ask, what were those people doing, or what did they _think_ they were doing? Were they just paid to sit around and look busy? In which case, I see a future for them with the federal government.

Pay for Play

I love this. Objections have been raised to limiting bonuses for business executives whose firms receive bailout money because it could “hurt performance”. Um... compared to what? The “performance” they've already done, which has turned their firms into financial basket cases begging for taxpayer money?

Just Back Out the Door With Guns Blazing

The American military is “testing” possible exit routes from Iraq in the unlikely event of a significant drawdown. Has anyone thought of going out the same way we went in? Does anyone even remember how we got there... or why? It's always amazing how willfully thick-headed the military gets the minute the mission changes from something they want to do to something they don't want to do. There's also been a lot of mumbling about how long it's going to take. Well, again, how long did it take to get _into_ that shithole? A matter of weeks, as I recall. Can't we make the same time by just turning around and marching, riding, flying, sailing in the other direction? But apparently, to hear the Army tell about it, every road into Iraq was one-way.

Stan the Man

On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan has handed the U.S. military its walking papers, and expects us to be out of there within 180 days. That's the word from Bishkek, which I always thought referred to cubed beef on a skewer, but no, it's the country's capital. And by sheer coincidence, the cancellation of our accord with Kyrgyzstan happened the same day they received a $2 billion aid package from Russia. Can you say “sphere of influence”, class? Can you say “Son of the Soviet Union”? It's starting to look like the new teams will have many of the same personnel as the old Cold War teams. Will someone please notify the Army, so they can revive the Fulda Gap scenario? Oh – I forgot – they never actually gave it up.

Limited Access to Brains

You just can't win with these state officials. For years now, they've been trying to engineer people out of their cars and into public transportation, with taxes on gasoline, sales taxes on cars, ever-increasing tolls on the Turnpike, subsidies for public transportation, and all sorts of propaganda. None of these measures seemed to avail, but guess what, the economy has, and businesses aren't shipping as many goods, and people have finally cut back on their travel, including their use of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. But guess what. Now they're bellyaching because of the resulting “decline in revenue”. You might almost think that this would be an opportunity to take another look at all the idiotic items in the state budget – but no, it's a lot easier to blame Turnpike users (or ex-users).

Depends on What the Word “Rights” Means

Headline: “Human rights can wait, Clinton says.” This is re: the perennial question of pressuring China to cut back on “human rights violations” in exchange for stuff like most favored nation trading status and other goodies. Well, heaven knows, the Chinese are in the economic driver's seat these days, so there isn't much left we can “pressure” them about. They even landed the Olympics! So Hillary's statement could be taken as a case of “realpolitik”. But one has to recall the “special relationship” between the Chinese government and the Clinton administration... and how much concern the Clintons have ever had for human rights in _this_ country. I imagine she feels right at home over there, and that the chances of her ever making a serious play for human rights in China are nigh unto nil.

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