Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Afghanistan--Write the Poems Now, Please

I try not to have memory flashes of helicopters being dumped into the waters off of Viet Nam when I read stories like the following. I also blot out those pictures of Soviet tanks, battle scarred and worse for wear, winding their way down dusty roads, past burnt out shells of their comrades tanks, as they left Afghanistan exactly twenty years ago. And even farther back in time, no pictures, but we do have Rudyard Kipling’s chilling end stanza of a poem about the Brits 19th century attempt to bolster their empire in Afghanistan:

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!

Our empire in Afghanistan may be played down and described as being only virtual. Our military stance may be sold on the basis of “first line defense against terrorism,” whatever that means. The time line for this continuing disaster may even be called temporary, though this is term of plastic meaninglessness. Whatever and however, the costs are hard and real, in blood and treasure.

The Bush gang covered this with manufactured fear and flag waving; the Obama gang should shove our noses deep into the reality of Afghanistan so we can decide if we really want to live with the odor of it indefinitely.

NYT February 26, 2009
Afghan Buildup Includes Billions for Equipment

WASHINGTON — As part of its buildup in Afghanistan, the Pentagon plans to deploy billions of dollars in heavily armored vehicles, spy planes, jammers and even experimental ground-penetrating radars to defend troops from roadside bombs that are proving increasingly lethal. . . .

Overall, there are 38,000 American troops in Afghanistan today; half are in the NATO security and assistance force along with 32,000 allied troops, and half are under United States command carrying out counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and training missions.

I.E.D.s are intended to do more than kill troops on the battlefield, General Metz said. “The enemy knows this is a strategic weapon to influence public opinion back in the U.S., to influence positively his recruiting, and to show people that central government in Kabul has less control,” he said.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Limbaugh and Gang Set to Bury "Joe the Shovel"

Jobs will be created by the Obama stimulus, long ignored building and maintenance will be carried out on the nations’s infrastructure, a start will be made on turning the sorry state of our schools in the right direction, and more and more Americans will smile on President Obama and frown on the obstructionists in Congress.

What course is open to the mangled and marginalized shockcasters on the right?

Next week, next month, soon, Fox News, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and the rest of the wired haters on the right will report on the stimulus with outrage. The veins will be sticking out on their necks and their words will be chocked with anger, as if lobster from the great state of Snowe and Collins, was sticking in their craws.

With frenzied fury--fingers pointing, lips curling-- they will place the needle on the disk and bellow: Wake up America!-- the Obama stimulus is riddled with theft, corruption, graft, condom peddling and worse.

Of course the peddlers of hyperbole will find some poor schmo in Grand Rapids or El Centro who took a shiny new shovel home with him rather than using it to stick into the hard ground on a “shovel ready” stimulus project. O'Reilly will throw around “tip of the iceberg” scare rhetoric. Limbaugh will add another counterfeit bead to his “I told you so” self-righteous bling, an adornment conveniently missing all of the “I was wrong” baubles he's thrown the public’s way for years.

Stimulus problems? We’ll see some. But what these right wing guardians of the purse chose not to see or report through all the tragic years of the Iraq war is the colossal waste and crime described in this story of graft in Iraq. The entire, not a tip, of this filthy iceberg remains clearly in view.

But don’t expect to hear anything about the colossal waste of the Iraq war from Limbaugh and his ilk. From them it will be, “Let’s not play the blame game with Iraq and the past. We caught “Joe the Shovel” out in Pocatello. Right now. This is on your watch Barack Hussein Obama.”

Right wing zealots, Bush tail-enders, Ron Paul converts, Kondratieff wave wierdos, Austrian School hardliners, and Wall Street plunder boys will fill web sites and oped pages with such minutia. All attempting to turn a shovel into a bulldozer in people’s minds.

None of this will take with the American people desperately in need of economic relief “right now.” Unfortunately, it will divert attention from the cost of two wars still being fought and paid for and long ago revealed to be what they never were.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

"We Can't Quite Believe It" --Well, try looking around.

Rupert Murdock’s Wall Street Journal [editorial board?] runs down the Obama stimulus program and has this to say: Go here for full article

We've looked it over, and even we can't quite believe it.
They are of one mind that the Obama “stimulus” does not create jobs or stimulate the economy to any great degree. Here, specifically is what they “can’t quite believe.”

There's $1 billion for Amtrak, the federal railroad that hasn't turned a profit in 40 years;
I guess straightening tracks and upgrading safety technology on Amtrak is supposed to happen without any workers performing these tasks. And no profit, the only engine that should ever be considered in moving this country. So why would this country need a railroad transportation network?

$2 billion for child-care subsidies;
Early childhood experiences are a key to success in later life, whether that “success” be measured by educational outcomes, good health, family stability or income earned in a lifetime. As with Amtrak, child-care does not turn a “profit” in the usual sense of the term. But money for more and better staffed, fairly paid, child-care workers is well spent–in the short as well as long term.

$50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts;
Ah. A favorite of mine. Call it my very own “pet” project. The truth is that we as a nation care and feed our pets, the four-legged kind, much better than we do our artists and the arts. And arts are good business. Cities thrive and grow with the arts. This $50 million is such a pittance in the face of the needs of the art community, in comparison with what democratic developed nations around the world spend on the arts, that one wonders if the WSJ critics presented this objection with a straight face. By the way, $50 million out of an $819 billion stimulus adds up to a munificent total of 6/1000s of 1% of the stimulus package.$400 million for global-warming research and another $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects.
Oh, right, no jobs or profits or infra-structure benefits here. Do these people who regularly lambaste us with the “entrepreneurial spirit” club have no imagination at all?

There's even $650 million on top of the billions already doled out to pay for digital TV conversion coupons.
Though this is another Bush administration incompetence type fiasco, in the spirit of bipartisanship I say drop this program and shift the $650 million into the NEA and NEH.

Another "stimulus" secret is that some $252 billion is for income-transfer payments -- that is, not investments that arguably help everyone, but cash or benefits to individuals for doing nothing at all.
Leaving aside the spurious "secret" charge (only these guys broke the code?!) , now we get to the heart of the matter. The undeserving poor (which increasingly includes large swaths of the middle-class) who, in the eyes of the WSJ editors, sit around and collect entitlements while the rest of us do the work of America. And some of these working Americans just collected $18 billion in bonuses for their vital contribution in the building of America's financial system.

Herbert Hoover fed starving Europeans after World War I. Starving Americans? Not so much. He wrote a book in 1922, American Individualism, which characterized the spirit that made the USA a nation not be sullied by government handouts. It would kill the “individualism” so unique in the American people. But people living in the real world recognize that starvation--for food and health care and shelter--is a great equalizer. This starvation demeans and cripples all regardless of which flag you wear in your lapel. Individualism is crushed by joblessness, poverty and the lack of health care and educational opportunity.

All of the following programs, which the WSJ “can’t quite believe,” recognize these facts about the corroding influence economic distress has on human beings, their families, their individuality.

There's $81 billion for Medicaid,

$36 billion for expanded unemployment benefits,

$20 billion for food stamps,

$83 billion for the earned income credit for people who don't pay income tax.
So we get to the WSJ bottom line, which really isn’t a line at all but an ideological box. They simply choose to live in this box as they shut out the rest of the world.

While some of that may be justified to help poorer Americans ride out the recession, they aren't job creators.
Congress and the American people will decide if this is the case. The Obama stimulus is a close relative to the Three Rs of FDR’s New Deal-–Relief, Recovery and Reform. As we slip ever deeper into the Bush Depression we desperately need all three.

Look around this town, this state, this country. Unlike the Wall Street Journal editors, you can believe in this needed stimulus program because, as Bush use to say, you can feel it in your gut. Of course, he was talking about war and you're just feeling hungry.