by Ed Naha
"Let's not be too rough on our own ignorance. It's what makes America great!"
-- Frank Zappa.
Roaring Twenties nightclub queen Mary Louise "Texas" Guinan used to greet every new customer with a cheerful "Hello, Sucker!" Today, our political leaders think the same phrase when performing their various shell games on Americans, but they're a lot less cheerful about it.
President Bush, last week, confronting the writhing agony known as our economy, did the only thing a stand-up kinda leader could do...he blamed it all on the Democratic Congress. As Dana Milbank wrote in "The Washington Post," "He faulted lawmakers 16 times in his opening statement alone."
And you could tell Bush was serious. He wore his patented "constipated ape" expression.
Bush addressed America's financial woes in lofty, technical terms. "And so I firmly believe that, you know, if there was a magic wand to wave, I'd be waving it, of course."
He later explained: "I think that if there was a magic wand to say, 'OK, drop price,' I'd do that."
As reporters waited for Bush to switch metaphors, stick his thumb up his ass, crook his free arm skyward and warble, "I'm a little despot," he went back to his wand waving, instead.
Further clarifying his trickle-down approach to Harry Potter, he offered: "But there is no magic wand to wave right now."
Presumably, a wand will be found in the near future?
Until that time, we will be stuck with Bush's old magical meanderings. He said that the economy would be helped by making his tax cuts permanent. A lie. He said the current gas crisis would be helped by cracking open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A lie. He said that the current gas crisis would be eased by building more oil refineries. A lie. He also refused to use the word "recession," feeling that Americans don't care about labels. This is probably why he also refused to use the word "moron."
Later in the week, he declared: "My Administration has been clear and candid on the state of the economy. We saw the economic slowdown coming, we were up front about these concerns with the American people, and we've been taking decisive action." A lie.
In his radio address, Bush touted his tax rebates of $600 to $1200 as manna for the maxed-out. "Most economic experts predict that the stimulus will have a positive effect on the economy in this quarter and even a greater impact in the next. And Americans should have confidence in the long-term outlook for our economy." A lie.
Is it any wonder that, in a casual interview in-between magical spells, Bush could actually say: "Interestingly enough, it is a lot harder to have been the son of the president than to be the president. And, so, it's been a joyous experience." For whom?
Now, while Bush is as ignorant about economics as he is, uh, everything else, he does have competition for the vaunted King of Fools mantle. Here's John McCain explaining to members of construction and trade unions why migrant farm workers are hurting our economy.
"Now, my friends, I'll offer anybody here $50 an hour if you'll go pick lettuce in Yuma this season and pick for the whole season. So -- OK? Sign up. OK. You sign up. You sign up, and you'll be there for the whole season, the whole season. OK? Not just one day. Because you can't do it, my friend."
A rough translation. He's telling folks who do the most backbreaking labor imaginable that they're not up to picking lettuce...for $400 a day. Or $2,000 a week. Or $104,000 a year. Adding insult to imagery, last I heard, migrant lettuce pickers weren't making $50 an hour.
Now, it's easy to excuse McCain's economic embolisms because, basically, he's an idiot. But how do you justify Hillary Clinton's newfound foray into financial fantasyland? Answer: you can't.
Both McCain and Clinton have recently embraced a summer gas tax vacation. This piece of election year chicanery would lift the 18.4-cent Federal gas tax (24.4 cents for diesel) for summer months. McCain wouldn't bother to make up the lost money. Clinton says that the lost revenue will be replaced by windfall profit taxes imposed on oil companies...taxes Congress will never impose.
The plan would save Americans an average of $30 over the summer. It would cost the government at least $8 billion, most of which has been earmarked for keeping our infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) from total collapse. This lack of funding, in turn, would cost about 300,000 jobs. It would increase the profits of oil companies because more gas will be consumed. It doesn't guarantee lower gas prices at the pump, either. In fact, because of increased demand during the already hard-pressed summer months, it might actually send gas prices higher.
150 leading American economists have issued a bi-partisan letter trashing the idea. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association are against it. The American Trucking Association is against it. The American Society of Civil Engineers is against it.
NYT columnist Tom Friedman wrote that it's "so ridiculous...it takes your breath away. - This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks."
"Newsweek's" Jonathan Alter wrote: "It will cost the U.S. Treasury at least $8.5 billion and probably much more, according to state highway officials. For McCain that's no money at all-merely one month in Iraq. For Clinton it's money she's already spent. She has said in the past that any proceeds from a windfall profits tax would go for renewable energy. The $8.5 billion figure assumes the tax would be reapplied after Labor Day. Fat chance. The one-year costs are probably closer to $30 billion."
NYT columnist Paul Krugman noted: "the tax cut really goes to the oil companies."
NYC Mayor (and billionaire) Michael Bloomberg called it "the dumbest thing I've heard in an awful long time, from an economic point of view."
In short, it's the economic version of "Sorry you lost your job. Why not just get drunk for a week?"
So, with 99% of economists saying the plan stinks, how does Hillary Clinton respond? She goes back into rootin' tootin' mode, declaring that Congress has to go on record showing that it's either "with us or against us" and she don' need no steenkin' economists buttin' in. "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists," she declared on "This Week."
Playing the populist, she also described the gas tax vacation deriders as having elite mindsets.
While voters mull over various new and improved ways to screw themselves, Bush is quietly dismantling what's left of our government. His version of the Environmental Protection Agency has officially mutated into the Environmental Persecution Agency. (Remember after 9/11 when the New York air filled with pulverized body parts and fluids, concrete, plaster, asbestos, plastic, jet fuel, soot, rubber, steel, and feces was declared "A-OK" to breathe by the EPA just so Wall Street could re-open? That was the mutant agency's first "baby step.")
Last week, it was revealed that EPA assessments of the health dangers posed by toxic chemicals have been delayed and/or changed because non-scientists are participating in the reviewing process. The Pentagon, the Energy Department, NASA, political appointees and chemical manufacturers have participated "at almost every step in the assessment process," reported the non-partisan Government Accountability Office.
"The (EPA) scientists feel as if they have lost complete control of the process, that it's been taken over by the White House and that they're calling the shots," one anonymous scientist said.
So, remember, kids: discarded rocket fuel in your tap water doesn't cause cancer. It gives you extra "oomph!"
Meanwhile, 60% of the EPA scientists responding to a survey done by the Union of Concerned Scientists said that BushCo. was either twisting or tossing scientific findings that didn't benefit the Administration or its cronies across the board.
"Our investigation found an agency in crisis," said Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Distorting science to accommodate a narrow political agenda threatens our environment, our health and our democracy itself."
A case in point: the Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA has to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The scientific research is done. Tougher regulations are in order. The EPA, however, has sat on the documentation and has refused to either make a ruling or make the documentation public.
When California recently moved to impose stricter regulations on its own, the EPA quashed it, although its own scientists were for it. EPA chief Stephen Johnson has tossed out every excuse in the book in order to hide any of the EPA's in-house findings, from national security to the chance that documents showing scientists voting in favor of cleaner air and the EPA ignoring them would be confusing. It "could result in needless public confusion about the Administrator's decision."
No, I think most of the public would get it. The concepts of "unscrupulous whore" and "partisan hack" are pretty much part of Americana, these days.
Just last week, EPA/BushCo. forced its top environmental regulator in the Midwest to quit because she went after Dow Chemical for not cleaning up dioxin-saturated soil and sediment extending 50 miles beyond Dow's Midland, Michigan plant, contaminating both Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. Highly respected EPA employee Mary Gade said that she was stripped of her powers as a regional administrator and told to quit or be fired by June.
The EPA mumbled its usual disgruntled employee riff. The amazing thing about Gade's firing is that Dow has already taken responsibility for the toxicity. It just doesn't want to do anything about it. This site has been banging around the Superfund clean up realm for years. Back in the 1980s, the EPA fired someone in the same position for proving that Dow was responsible for the deadly dioxin in the first place.
Meanwhile, as the air heats up and the land bubbles with poison, thus ensuring greater profit in the private sector, here are a few stories that BushCo. hasn't been able to politicize into oblivion as yet.
"New Study Raises Major Questions On Biofuels" (is the use of land for biofuels worsening global warming as well as leading to a food shortage), "Pine Beetle Outbreaks Turn Forests Into Carbon Source" (dying forests will release more carbon dioxide than they absorb), "Warming Shifts Gardeners' Maps" (those growing zones that backyard gardeners use are now 20 years out of date - but they haven't been changed for political/economic reasons), "Arctic Ice Melting Faster Than Predicted," "Scientist Says New Zealand's Biggest Glacier Shrinking," "US Judge Orders May 15 Decision On Polar Bears" (BushCo. has been dodging making a decision on whether polar bears are an endangered species or not), "Major Arctic Sea Ice Melt Is Expected This Summer," and a headline that sums up the entire Bush/EPA approach to the world - "US Climate Change Plan Branded 'Neanderthal.'"
Probably the most bizarre environmental dance being done by the administration, and that's saying a lot, is Dick Cheney's fight against legislation protecting the endangered right whale. The White House has delayed rules restricting the speed of ships near American ports. Fast moving ships are creaming the whales, either killing or severely injuring them. Accordingly, Dead-Eye Dick wants to protect the ships. His staff "contends that we have no evidence that lowering the speeds of 'large ships' will actually make a difference."
As the EPA and BushCo. continue to torture the environment, the Bush Administration is furiously backpedaling from the fact that America has routinely tortured political detainees or enemy combatants or whatever we're calling people whose balls we bust these days as part of our larger "War On Terror" fandango.
As Congress continues its investigation, led by John Conyers, America's Team Torture is furiously trying to locate Bush's missing magic wand in an attempt to make the whole subject go away. Until they find it, throwing up handfuls of legal dust while inflating their cheeks and shrieking seems to be doing the trick.
Last week, the lawyer for Dick Cheney claimed that Congress lacks any authority to examine his behavior on the job. Kathryn L. Wheelbarger declared: "Congress lacks the constitutional power to regulate by a law what a Vice President communicates in the performance of the Vice President's official duties, or what a Vice President recommends that a President communicate in the President's performance of official duties, and therefore those matters are not within the Committee's power of inquiry."
A year ago, Cheney's office held onto all of its classified documents (which includes everything from memos to take-out menus) by declaring the vice-president's office a hybrid branch of government - both executive and legislative yet, somehow, neither. It's sort of like when a unicorn and a Minotaur mate. The offspring is butt ugly but, technically, doesn't exist.
Two witnesses sought by Conyers, former US attorney general John Ashcroft and former US justice department lawyer John Yoo, have already claimed that their involvement in civil lawsuits related to harsh interrogations allows them to avoid appearing before Congress to chat about torture.
Then, there are also national security concerns. Documentation can't be produced because terrorists would read them. The process of how torture was made legal can't be disclosed because terrorists would somehow learn how to avoid being caught and/or beat the system. Woo's aunt Martha has an ingrown toenail. Ashcroft is trying to get his band back together. The reasons for non-cooperation go on and on.
The Justice Department has pretty much told Congress that American intelligence (?) operatives can use whatever tactics they want if they think they're thwarting a terrorist attack.
Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, penned a letter noting: "The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act."
To cut through the crap; America doesn't torture. We prevent further terrorist attacks by NOT torturing prisoners in ways that are considered torture everywhere else. See? It makes sense.
Meanwhile, the "Best of the Gitmo Guys" kangaroo courts are revving their engines.
Former Chief prosecutor for the Gitmo tribunals, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, has thrown a spanner in the works, submitting his retirement papers after recently quitting his post because, per "The Washington Post," "of fallout from his criticism of the Guantanamo court and because of family concerns."
Davis left his gig because it had become "deeply politicized." He added that Pentagon official Williams Haynes, who took over the tribunals, told him "we can't have acquittals."
Testifying for the defense at the trial of bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan last week, Davis said that the trials were rushed and political in nature. "There was that constant theme that if we don't get this thing rolling before the election, it's going to implode," he said. "Once you get the victim families energized and the cases rolling, whoever took the White House would have difficulty stopping the process."
The Bush administration set up the much-criticized kangaroo courts commissions to try suspected terrorists outside the regular civilian and military courts, as war criminals. Even if the accused were to be acquitted at a trial, the White House system says the newly found "innocent" can be held as an "enemy combatants" as long as there's a war on terror. (That's infinity times twelve in layman's terms.)
"From the start, it's been not just the detainees but the whole system that has been on trial," said the American Civil Liberties Union's Ben Wizner, a Pentagon-approved war court observer.
With the entire system on trial, it should be noted that not too many news outlets are covering the ghastly goings-on. After all, there's Reverend Wright to discuss, again. And Hillary is out there sticking it to da oilman. And McCain is figuring out his new budget on an abacus. Now, THAT'S important stuff!
This country, at present, is so inept that it LOST money allowing the IRS to outsource collecting delinquent tax payments. Think about that. We lost money - getting people to pay us what they owed us.
Speaking of lost money, Bush wants another $70 billion to fund his war of the week club.
Frank Zappa once said of America, "The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion."
Right now, we're in the red - big time.
Two decades ago, in a lengthy interview with writer Bob Marshall, Zappa accurately summed up our current situation, both in terms of the reign of Bush and his possible successor.
"The environment that is hostile to dreamers is always the environment that is run by right-wing administrations because in order for the right-wing administration to maintain its fiction, it has to be ideologically pure and that ideology does not admit for creativity. There is nothing creative about a right-wing administration. The whole goal of it is to freeze time and to move things backward. So, obviously the people who are most at risk, whenever there is a right-wing administration sitting in place, is anybody who is an intellectual dreamer or creative person in any field. They are at risk because they pose a threat to the administration."
Yet, in 2008, some people still dare to dream.
And, in 2008, some people dream of flinging more crap further still.