The Bogus Economist
Vol. 2 No. 52 Dec. 8, 2006
The Bogus Economist
Last week, I pigged out on a hamburger with all the trimmings, including Freedom Fries. Do you remember Freedom Fries? About when Mr. Bush was starting his quest to bring American democracy to Iraq, the French started acting picky by saying we should give diplomacy more of a chance in order to find out whether Saddam actually had weapons of mass destruction and whether he actually was playing footsie with Osama bin Laden. What nerve!! What Gaulle!! The Right, outraged by the French, promptly declared war on their potatoes. Strangely, we don't hear very much about Freedom Fries any more, mostly because the arguments used by the French three years ago against the war are now being heard from almost everybody except the folks who started it. One of these, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the only one of the superhawks who served a full tour of (peacetime) military duty, is now history. He's also the guy who called the French “Old Europe.”
After the election, Republicans looked around for some reason aside from their trigger-happy tendencies for what President Bush called “a thumping.” Some of the far right pundits, like the dean of American Conservatives, Richard Viguerie and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman blamed the losses on the Bush Administration's abandonment of true conservative principles. Viguerie cited horrific deficits, immoral tax breaks, incompetent nation-building and gratuitous attacks on states’ rights. He sounded like a rabid Democrat. My question to these gentlemen, unlike to rabid Democrats, is “Why haven’t I heard from you for the past six years?”
November 7 showed the mood of the electorate and it wasn’t happy. People were sick and tired of attack ads, They were also weary of having to wear either a white hat or a black one. People like to be individuals, not labels. Are you a stay-the courser or a cut-an-runner? Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Are you an evolutionist or a creationist? Are you pro-tax or anti-tax? Are you a Red or a Blue? Are you one of “them” or one of “us?”
Ever since this column started in 2002, I've been annoyed about getting labels pinned on me or, for that matter, being pinned on other people. If I call Bill O'Reilly an idiot, I don't need to call him a Conservative. To help clarify things for those who want to pin a label on the Bogus Economist, I offer my credentials:
I want us out of Iraq. We made a huge mistake – one that has so far cost us almost three thousand American lives and untold thousands of Iraqi ones – and we should admit it. Let's listen to what Iran and Syria have to say and, if an agreement can be hammered out, withdraw under the auspices of the United Nations, the group we snubbed when this all started. Since it was the West that created many of the countries in the Middle East to suit their particular commercial needs, I feel it’s fair for the West to help the people involved re-divide the land to suit themselves, not us.
I do not favor abortion on demand for all, but if we’re going to insist that a woman has an unwanted baby, then it seems fair to pay for that baby’s education, health care and nurture. If we aren’t willing to insure a child will receive all the rights of citizenship after it’s born, we shouldn’t spend so much time arguing what rights it has from the git-go.
I feel that if morals should be taught in the home rather than the school, then religion should be, too. Separation of church and state means just that.
Automatic weapons should be banned. Anyone who goes hunting with an Uzi is certifiable. Countless rabbits and deer would agree with me.
I think attacking taxes, per se, is just plain idiotic. Taxing for what you want is just another name for paying for it. The alternative is going into hock. I favor a system where people who make lots of money pay extra for the increased amount they’d lose if the state and federal governments weren’t there to help protect it. If not for the army, navy, air force, national guard, etc., their fortunes wouldn’t last twenty minutes. Make taxes like insurance - the more you’ve got to lose, the more you have to fork over.
I am a Blue. Except when I have really bad indigestion, when part of me turns green.
I am one of “us.” That means I’m an American citizen who thinks he’s smart enough not to accept the carloads of political horse puckey shoveled my way by “them.”
In my kind of country, I put out my argument and the other guy puts out his. People then choose which one they like. People who disagree with me are not necessarily traitors, communists, terrorists or loonies. If I lose the argument, it’s my job to either accept the will of the majority and work to change it - or go to a place where there’s a system of “Either you’re with us or against us” and hitch myself to the winning side. I feel we’ve had six years of this and I don’t like it.
Pass the fries.
The Bogus Economist (c) 2006
Vol. 2 No. 44 Sept 1, 2006
The Bogus Economist
Christmas is coming.
I know this is so because I saw it on a sign while driving home from Portland with Sheila, my wife, and 13 year-old grandson Aaron (Casey). I began foaming at the mouth over professional Christmas-mongers, but Sheila correctly pointed out that Christmas was, in fact, coming and it could be truthfully said 364 days a year. Casey expanded the discussion by saying even on Christmas Day, the next Christmas was coming, so there was no limit to how many days the statement was true.
I figured this meant some clown could have been putting up signs like this every day since Emperor Constantine pushed the Council of Nicea in 325 AD to decide Jesus’ birthday happened to coincide with the winter solstice, the births of the Lydian sun-god Attis and the Persian sun-god Mithras plus the Roman celebration of Saturnalia.. Whatever. From then on, Christmas was arriving 24/7.
So what else was on the sign? I flashed on the black letters - "The new cell phones are here!" Aha! I get it. I was supposed to think about Christmas so I’d be in a better mood to buy a new cell phone! How clever! I immediately began contemplating cell phones. It was the least I could do. When I got home, I found this in my in-box:
"If you've waited to get a RAZR, now's the best time to pick one up loaded with enhanced capabilities. Drive where you want with VZ NavigatorSM. It provides audible, turn-by-turn directions using GPS technology; find gas stations, restaurants, ATMs and more. Listen to what you want with V CAST Music. Transform your wireless phone into a portable music player by ripping music from your CD collection and transferring it to your phone from your PC. You can also expand your collection by purchasing new songs or albums from the Verizon Wireless music catalog via your phone or a PC. That's life with no maps and all music."
Is that all? After all the years cell phones have been around, the most they can give me is music, e-mail, pictures and "turn-by-turn" directions? What about other necessities like built-in nail clippers, nose-hair trimmers, toothpicks and tweezers - like they have on Swiss knives? There are lots more things they could put on cell phones to make them the universal appliance we consumers want. Examples popped into my mind.
Think of a cell phone with a fold-out digital thermometer you can stick in your ear. What an improvement in location over the old-fashioned thermometers of my youth! Imagine a cell phone with a built-in unit to you a massage while delivering your message. If the phone had a tiny television set built-in, you could watch all the accidents on the freeway and even be in one yourself. With a USB interface and a couple of speakers, you could play your girl a serenade. Sax and violins could be a part of your phone as well as a part of your life. The possibilities are endless.
The question that continued to nag at me about the sign, however, was what possible connection the new advances in cell phone technology could have with the birth of Jesus. Did it mean that, come December, we’d see ads featuring the three Wise Men, ears glued to the latest offerings from Verizon or Cingular, getting turn-by-turn directions to the stable while they listened to the latest V CAST Christmas carols? What’s happening here?
The answer lies in the very reason the phones themselves have advanced so much and so quickly. There’s no limit to how many gimmicks the wireless phone companies will pile on the instruments as long as people can be convinced to pay for them. By the same reasoning, there’s no limit on how many gimmicks will be used to convince people to pay for all the added gimmicks. This is the foundation of our economy and of our culture. It’s a gimmicocracy. The object is to make you dissatisfied with what you have so that you’ll buy more. Even the RAZR is old hat now that the "Chocolate" has come out. When you finally buy everything you have room for, you have a garage sale to make room so you can buy more. Stop buying and the whole economy shuts down. Right after September 11, President Bush said, "They (Al Qaeda) want us to stop flying and they want us to stop buying. But this great nation will not be intimidated by the evildoers." We’ll show ‘em, Mr. President! Whip out the credit card!
Christmas signs are going up earlier and earlier. Seeing reindeer and bunting around Halloween isn’t unusual. What I saw coming in from Portland may be the beginning of a new trend where Santa Claus ads begin right after New Year’s Day or, better, just stay up all year ‘round.
Yes, Christmas is coming. The Harvard professor-turned-songwriter Tom Lehrer said it best:
"On Christmas Day you can't get sore, your fellow man you must adore. There's time to rob him all the more - the other three hundred and sixty-four."
Or, as Casey pointed out, three hundred and sixty-five. Or every day since the Council of Nicea.
The Bogus Economist ©2006
Vol.2 No. 41 July 21, 2006
The Bogus Economist
The $640 Billion Question
"We will never give in and we will never accept anything less than complete victory."
These are the words of the President of the United States in a speech on July 4th to a military audience at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. We’ve heard similar words from Vice-Presidnet Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and almost everyone else in the Administration trying to explain their operating philosophy in the War on Terror. They are important words. They’re so important, they should be debated.
I doubt there’s anyone in the country who likes to lose anything except a toothache or sore feet. The idea of winning is a part of what we are. This is why it seems peculiar, in the three years we’ve been fighting in Iraq and the five years we’ve been involved in the War on Terror, there haven’t been many reporters asking Mr. Bush what I consider to be the war’s $640,000,000,000 question:
How do we know when we win?
This isn't a stupid question. People are talking about the cost of this struggle winding up at more than a trillion dollars, enough to rebuild our entire educational and health systems. We have lost in excess of 2,500 Americans in combat with thousands more injured. The United States is in an increasingly dangerous position in the world. President Bush has told us many times we’re at war. Surely it's not too much to ask how we'll know when it’s over.
I asked Senator Ron Wyden about this earlier in the month and he said he didn’t think the question would resonate with voters. Senator Wyden knows a lot more than I do about things like this, but I still disagree..
Naturally, I don't expect Al Qaeda to show up for a surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship or have Osama bin Laden apologize on Al Jazeera TV, but certainly we are entitled to some measure of progress.. Does anybody have a scorecard? How many points did we get for capturing Saddam? What about killing al-Zarqawi? Without intending disrespect, isn’t there a way we can find out for sure how this deadly game is going? It’s hard to know the score when the coaches keep hiding the goal posts.
Not having a definition of victory is a real handicap. If we’re winning, why did a recent poll of terrorism experts by the Foreign Policy Institute show almost 85% of them saying we’re not? One expert said Iraq was providing global terrorists with a "recruiting bonanza, a valuable training ground and a strategic beachead at the crossroads of the oil-rich Persian Gulf and Turkey." This doesn’t sound like "winning." An army colonel recently exclaimed in frustration, "For every (terrorist) I kill, I create ten more!" That doesn’t sound like "winning," either.
Fighting a war against ideas is like shoveling fog. In the dark days of Vietnam, we fought a war in Southeast Asia, based on lies, to fight the idea of Communism - although nobody fully explained exactly what that idea was. That war cost over 50,000 American lives and ripped our country apart. Today, most of us can’t describe what communism is, except to relate it to dictatorship, which is a different animal.
Now we’re fighting a war based, at the least, on "misinformation" to fight the idea of terrorism. Killing a terrorist is a lot easier than killing the ideas that make him one. Terrorists think killing - and dying - for their ideas is something to look forward to. We don’t understand this kind of reasoning. Pouring billions of dollars and thousands of lives into a battle against an idea we don’t understand doesn’t seem to make much sense. It seems the colonel is right - in a culture of tit-for-tat, one killing means more killings. This isn’t a matter of who’s right - only who’s left. Even if Iraq’s democracy holds, there’s every indication that acts of terrorism will continue between opposing religious factions. The fight between Sunni and Shia has been going on since 656 A.D. and all the American troops we can send over there probably won’t be able to stop it.
Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty and, as far as I know, nobody ever officially said it was over, although we don’t hear much about it any more. I suppose you can win a War on Poverty by wiping out hunger or want, but does anybody - even in his wildest dreams - think we’re going to wipe out every last fanatic who can learn how to make a bomb?
I don’t know if there’s still a way to stop this thing. It’s always easier to start a war than finish it. If we can get out, though, I’d like to see us use the dollars and resources we’re using in Iraq to declare a war right here at home - a war for common sense. That would mean getting honest answers up front instead of endless explanations later. It would be a worthwhile war to fight.
We should never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory.
The Bogus Economist © 2006
Vol. 2 No. 40 July 7, 2006
The Bogus Economist
No Party Time
I've mentioned (several times) the fact I was, at one time, young. I have not mentioned nearly as many times the equally relevant facts I was dumb and broke. As proof of the former, I was at the time a smoker. This led to my annoying and persistent habit of mooching (or "bumming") cigarettes from friends and strangers alike. It was on one of these occasions that I learned a valuable lesson in life. I had approached a likely-looking victim in a bar and asked, "Got a cigarette?" He replied, "Yes."
And walked off.
After a minute of stunned silence, I realized the brilliance of his answer. He did not put me down. He told the truth. It didn't cost him a cigarette. It was a stroke of genius. I stored this in my limited memory and the very next day, a guy came up to me and asked if I knew what time it was. I looked at my watch, said, "yes" and walked off.
The lesson is still relevant. One of the great things about registering as an Independent is having the perfect answer when somebody asks if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Just say, "No."
Being out of the crossfire of the two-party paintball game, one can enjoy the real advantages of independence, primary among these being the ability to recognize the inmates without feeling guilty because you’re part of the asylum.
Just last week, I got a touching letter from Senator John Edwards beginning "Dear Richard," imploring me to "restore our country’s moral leadership in the world" by sending money to the Democratic Party. O.K., John, how about some details? I know how bad George Bush’s presidency is, but exactly how do I get a better one? Are you going to stop the campaign gravy train? Which tax loopholes do you intend to close? What sacrifices are you going to ask from us? Which ones are you going to make? Will you have the innards to challenge some of your big party contributors? Talk to me, John.
As an Independent I can say, "We've got the best government big money can buy and both parties have their heads so deep in the trough, they won't vote for anything that might cost them a buck or a vote." Try that at a Republican or Democratic convention. Speaking of these, I recall when a political convention was a way to compare candidates’ views and wtch the democratic process working to select the best face to put on the posters. Now, it’s a canned, pre-packaged three-day festival of cliches that gives advertisers lots of chances to sell beer, deoderant and anti-gas remedies.
The unsettling feeling that the country is being governed by bozos comes less from the bozos than from the system that produces them - a system that forces candidates to toe the party line, punishes those who dare to think for themselves and consistently puts party ahead of both real patriotism and real people. Such a system attracts bozos like honey attracts ants. Exceptions are rarities. I can think of only about five. When the American people say they hate politics, I think what they mean is they hate political partisanship. Politics is the art of compromise and what’s screwing up politics right now are the Republicans and Democrats.
So what lesson can we all learn from a once young, broke, dumb, smoking Bogus Economist? How about this: suppose Oregonians switched from major parties to Independent until there were more of them than either Reds or Blues? Suppose that happened all over America? Would the political party hacks have the same power? I think not. Why should people commit themselves to a party agenda when the party should be committing itself to theirs? I’m told the Independent vote is important to both parties. O.K., everybody, here I am. Convince me.
Once we get rid of the dinosaurs, we have the opportunity to begin a series of honest debates on virtually every subject under the sun. All of us would have to take responsibility to acquaint ourselves with the would-be candidates and the issues. That’s what newspapers, magazines, podcasts and blogs are for. If this takes too much effort, then we deserve what we’ve got. We’ve tried letting the parties set our priorities. It doesn’t work..
Of course, the idea of shredding our traditional political system sounds revolutionary, so let's consider what we might lose. Well, we might stop hearing name-calling instead of intelligent discussion, spend fewer hours listening to volcanic eruptions from bloated talk-show hosts, not have to see perfectly good ideas disappear because the "other party" came up with them and finally, maybe, have personal principle rather than partisan politics serve as platforms for those running for office. The Jack Abramoff /Tom DeLay School of Government depends on the continued rivalry between obsolete political parties. So why not junk them?
It’s pretty easy to become an Independent.. All you may lose is your vote in the party primaries - and what good has that done you lately? It’s time to declare freedom from the power of the Pachyderm or the dictatorship of the Donkey. Celebrate your independence.
Just don’t have a party.
The Bogus Economist © 2006
Vol. 2 No. 39 June 23, 2006
The Bogus Economist
If I had known this column was going to be so hard to write, I would have picked something simpler – like particle physics.
On the eve of the Glorious Fourth, I had thought it would be a great idea to write a column on patriotism. After all, this was the day our forefathers decided it was time to tell the government we were mad as hell and weren't going to take it anymore. What better topic for a late June column than patriotism? I sharpened my word processor. I typed "The Bogus Economist." Then "Patriotism." Start simple: what is it?
That’s when I first became aware the column was going to take time. The first ten people I asked gave me ten different definitions. One acquaintance declared patriotism was following the leadership of our President, no matter what. Another said patriotism was questioning and challenging the government and trying to change what’s wrong. A third felt it was the feeling you got when the Flag went by or when you heard "God Bless America." Funk and Wagnalls dictionary defined it as "devotion to one's country."
I was all ready to go with this combination of views when I heard Vice-Pesident Cheney say people who leaked the story about tapping people's phones without warrants were not only unpatriotic – they were helping the enemy. In a speech to well-heeled California Republicans the end of May, he said the country had become a safer and stronger place thanks to President Bush's "sound decisions" over the last five years. He called the administration's warrantless wiretapping program "absolutely vital in saving American lives." Also lending aid and comfort to terrorists, Mr. Cheney added, were those advocating withdrawal from Iraq. Such people were "counseling the very kind of retreat that Osama bin Laden has been predicting and counting on."
Well, that put a different light on it. If letting the American people know their phones were being tapped or wanting to bring our troops home was unpatriotic, then the whole definition of patriotism was up for grabs..
What started out as a column turned into a self-examination. My patriotism was under question. There was no doubt I don’t support Mr. Bush’s War on Privacy - oops, I mean Terror. I complained just as loudly during the organized snooping of the Nixon Administration in the name of fighting communism. Back then, "communists" had a funny way of turning into anybody who opposed Nixon. Would "terrorists" become anybody who opposed Mr. Bush - or Mr. Cheney?
Real terrorists may be crazy, but they’re not stupid. Collecting twenty million phone records of average Americans in order to catch terrrorists, I thought, seemed a little silly since they probably started figuring ways around this years ago. Sure, they want to kill us. They’re terrorists, for heaven’s sake! Sure, they’re dangerous! But eventually, I could see the government checking every citizen’s laundry basket for possible possession of head scarves and I don’t think giving anybody that much power is a good idea.
So the Bogus Economist put himself on trial. "Is this sad excuse for a columnist guilty or not guilty of un-patriotism?"
The prosecution opened with a bang. "There are people out there who want to do us great harm. Anything we tell them about how we're working helps them plan their actions so they can hurt us more. So, anything the government does to limit what they know is protecting the country and therefore worthy of support by all patriotic Americans."
The defense responded smartly. "Anything that keeps the terrorists from knowing what the government is doing keeps the rest of us from knowing, too. An ignorant population is a danger to our democracy. If we hadn't found out what the government was up to in 1776, we'd be having tea and crumpets and watching cricket. Was Paul Revere a patriot or a fink?"
What it boiled down to, I finally figured, was whether or not I trust my government. If I do, then I'll gladly consent to anything they say will make me safer. But I don't. This is the same bunch that started a war to destroy WMDs that didn't exist, break up an alliance between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden that never happened and preside over a whole culture of corpo-governmental thievery. Now they're asking me to think if I surrender a certain part of my privacy, this will keep some fanatical loony from blowing himself up in a crowd. I don't think it's unpatriotic to doubt this. I found myself Not Guilty.
So what about patriotism, especially the feeling I have when the Flag goes by? What I feel is a mixture of tears of emotion for those who have fought to defend what it stands for and tears of regret for what it is being made to represent to so much of the world. Patriotism, I conclude, is loving what your country should be, not where it's going at a particular time. When it’s on the wrong path, I feel it's just as patriotic, but not as easy, to say "God help America" as it is to say "God bless America." I seem to be saying it more often lately.
That's why this column was so hard to write.
The Bogus Economist © 2006
Vol. 2 No. 37 May 26, 2006
The Bogus Economist
As far as I'm concerned, there are only three kinds of dogs. Never mind the American Kennel Club which claims there are over 400 breeds organized into seven groups plus an unimaginable number of combinations and permutations. I claim there are only three and that's the way it is: there are dogs that go Yip, dogs that go Arf and dogs that go Woof. Period. To satisfy the purists, I admit there is one breed, the Basenji, which does not bark, but if it did, it would go Arf.
Each of the three major categories has its champions. Yippies claim their dogs are cute, easily transported and are ideal for small homes and apartments. Arf owners boast the largest variety in shapes and colors and Woofers point to the safety factor that comes with a pet which, in some cases, can stand on its hind legs and look you in the eye. All agree that dogs are loyal, intelligent and infinitely preferable to cats, which are selfish, perfidious and seldom do tricks. When a cat plays dead, for instance, it usually stays that way. Also, cats do not catch frisbees in mid-air or point out locations of game birds. In addition, dog owners add snidely, dogs do not generally get stuck in trees.
There are puzzlements about dogs, though, especially concerning dogs that go Yip. Years ago, my grandmother owned a toy Manchester named Little Bit, which was about the size of a well-developed rat. My wife and I had two Great Danes. Siboney, the smaller, weighed about 135 pounds while Brandybuck tipped the scales around 160. Both dogs lived in mortal terror of Little Bit. I have seen them get up from comfortable places by the fire and head for the kitchen when Little Bit pattered into the room. Either could have used Little Bit as a toothpick, but for some reason decided not to. Strength of will, perhaps.
Arfs are totally unpredictable. My daughter's Arf, Keesha, is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever scratched behind the ears. Other Arfs wait patiently for a chance to bite your arm off. Most dogs that atempt to tear the tires off cars are Arfs. Smaller Arfs prefer bicycles.
With Yips, you always have to watch your ankles. Many of them have an inferiority complex masked by aggression. Little Bit, I feel, would have had no hesitation attacking King Kong. The idea of consequences seldom occurs to Yips. When a Yip has something to say, it can generally say it for hours. Anyone who has stayed in a motel next door to a Yip can testify to this.
Woofs, although capable of great bodily harm, seldom live up to their often fearsome appearances. Both our Danes were gentle giants. Their menace was a potential one. Visiting insurance salesmen kept looking at them and thinking, "Would it be OK if I got up or would they decide it was dinner time?" That said, however, when sufficiently provoked, Woofs are not good to have on the other side of an argument.
At the risk of seeming disrespectful, politicians can fall into the same three categories as dogs. In previous columns, I have compared Secretary of State Don Rumsfeld to a Basset hound and Senator Joe Lieberman to a Cocker spaniel. Both are Arfs. Dick Cheney and Tom Delay are Yips. So is Howard Dean. Former Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan is a Woof. The woofness of his successor, Ben Bernanke, is still to be determined. Most potential presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice, are Yips or Arfs except John McCain and Barack Obama, who are Woofs.
President Bush is a Yip.
Every member of Congress could be classified if it weren't for the constant growling and snapping going on while Members fight for the bones provided by various interest groups. Getting in the middle of fighting like this can be dangerous. Sometimes, Representatives and Senators have been seen foaming at the mouth during debates, which can either be a sign of rabies or a common congressional sickness, pigoutitis, caught by spending too much time around pork barrels.
It's interesting to muse, though, about the kind of dog/person America needs. He or she should have, ideally, the dignity of a Woof, the versatility of an Arf and the fearlessness of a Yip. We could call this mixture a Yoorf. Among Yoorf rules, we find gems like:
· Never let your bark be worse than your bite. Lead by example.
· There's always more than one way to skin a cat. Take your time.Think.
· Don't be a dog in the manger. Listen to others. Admit mistakes.
· Let sleeping dogs lie – if things ain't broke, don't fix 'em.
For the rest of us, now that we've chosen up sides for 2006, it might be a good plan to keep a tight leash on capaign rhetoric. The winners’ job is to put the country ahead of personal gain and the welfare of every American ahead of political advantage. Our job is to demand they keep their heads out of the dog dish and spend more time guarding the house. If we don’t think they will, general elections are a great time to clean up the kennel.
The Bogus Economist © 2006