Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Answer to Bush's Hot Air on Global Warming: A Gas Guzzler Tax

President Bush announced today that he would like to set up a series of meetings with 15 nations which produce most of the world's pollutants which cause global warming. The meetings would take place over the course of about 18 months. The intent: to come up with a system to replace the Kyoto Protocol by 2012, the year that long-standing precedent expires. You can read about Mr. Bush's remarks at the New York Times here and at CNN here. He said the meetings would create a "transparent system" so each country could track and be held accountable for its progress.

The timing of Mr. Bush's announcement is clear. He will attend the G8 Summit meeting next week and say that the U.S. will not accept any reductions in greenhouse gases and the various pollutants which cause global warming. He is not willing to cooperate when other countries set the agenda, make deadlines or otherwise reprimand the U.S. And he clearly wants the burden for real action and revolutionary change to be off the shoulders of his administration and off the backs of American corporations -- and out of the headlines as far as he can see.

So the president supports hot air instead. If he were serious, he would create an understandable and fair Gas Guzzler Tax and call it that, straight up and get ready. The special tax, paid annually at registration, would be on vehicles which get less than (I suggest) 33 MPG, perhaps tiered into three fees, those which get fewer than, say, 19 MPG being taxed substantially, those which get 19-25 MPG subject to a moderate tax, and those which get 26-32 MPG a token Gas Guzzler Tax. Vehicles which get better than 33 MPG and more would not be subject to the special Gas Guzzler Tax. The EPA would be required to revamp the quality and real-world accuracy of its MPG ratings, which of course, would all of a sudden be held up to some fierce scrutiny, but so it goes, get ready, here we go, brave new world.

And Mr. Bush would being the ground work for this tax this summer, even while gas prices seem high, to begin January 1st, 2008. That way, he could avoid an unpopular and "regressive" gasoline tax and immediately shift the sale of private vehicles sold in this country to much higher MPG models. Low income people could be given tax breaks or incentives to choose higher MPG cars as well, and there are lots of cheap used cars out there that get 26 MPG or better.

Otherwise, it's just years of talks and more hot air, when in the meantime, there are so many COOL things we could DO.

Monday, May 28, 2007

On Honor Guards This Memorial Day

It's just struck me, in looking at photographs of military honor guards, that these guys are just so... unnatural. There's President Bush laying a wreath, calling the freshest dead "a new generation of American heroes." There's an old, shaky WWII vet giving a shaky speech from a shaky piece of paper, a long life worn on his shrinking shoulders, the nostalgia and sadness of hindsight in his weary and uncertain voice. There's the eternal flame. There are the rigid rows of white gravestones. There are the fly overs, the parades with squinting parents and squirming kids. And then there are these guys, these adults who have chosen, in their teens and twenties and thirties, to turn themselves into these heavily starched and pressed, white gloved automatons, the sturdy, straight-razor clean-shaven and resolute brutes, hiding behind glamorous formalities, stiff as bricks.

We are, of course, drawn to their stiffness, even at times mesmerized by it. These officers, these "gentlemen" are photogenic. They add such structure and sheen to the front being put on the news. They put the more distracted and vastly less formal people around them in sharp relief, so there is a tension and a drama there we find rather captivating. But natural, no, very unnatural, just another way we can see, graphically, that the military, because of their abstract senses of heroism and honor and duty and discipline, want to be removed from us, us civilians.

The military world wants honor to be more about death than life, more about the armed forces than the arms of love. They want to be better, to serve a higher and more abstract calling than civility, so duped are they by God and bloody country and sticking with their buddies and their men, with all of their buffed and shined stiffness there to shed any doubt, any fear, any ambiguity to those rote and almost remote sense of duty and discipline and heroism and honor, which they want -- need -- to uphold, even to keep to themselves, as the price they get paid to go do the dirty work of being highly trained, highly skilled, highly honed and chiseled and championed professionals at containing and killing. The irony is that the honor guards represent the opposite of what the armed forces are all about.

"The Force," for short. The armed forces. Armed force.

I cannot say that these honor guards are guarding our honor, as civilians. Our honor seems to be up to each of us, and so they seem to be guarding their own brand of honor. And in times of an unjust war and such shame, they may be guarding that honor alone, believing in their minds and in their hearts that might really does make right.

Now tell me again about honor.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dems Floundering, Fatherless

Mr. Bush has done it again. The President's blunt simplicity, his crusading stubbornness and his consistent causticity have got the Democrats cowering and splintering and, confronted with the klieg lights, merely knocking the tires of the administration's old jalopy. No peeks under the hood, much less an engine overhaul. Last night's vote to further fund the war in Iraq, without a timetable for withdrawal and without any clear alternatives to the president's bilious escalation, leaves the party floundering.

The Democrats, plain and simple, need a father figure.

Maybe they could rent out Fred Thompson for the role. He's a decent enough actor, and he'd get the job done.

In an article for the NY Times Select titled "The New Silent Majority," Mark Buchanan talks about the psychological phenomenon called "pluralistic ignorance," which is a fancy way of say most people would rather crawl under a rock (Iraq?) than be the first to raise their hand to ask a "dumb" question -- or to say that something they've just heard doesn't match the facts or maybe even make sense. The "silent majority" would rather duck for cover or hide in the herd than stand out like a sore something-er-other.

As most people get their news from the major outlets, these distortions, however they occur, whether intentionally or through some more innocuous process of filtering, almost certainly translate into a strongly distorted image in peoples' minds of what most people across the country think. They contribute to making mainstream Americans feel as if they're probably not mainstream, which in turn may make them less likely to voice their opinions.

One of the most common examples of pluralistic ignorance, of course, takes place in the classroom, where a teacher has just finished a dull and completely incomprehensible lecture, and asks if there are any questions. No hands go up, as everyone feels like the lone fool, even though no student actually understood a single word. It takes guts, of course, to admit total ignorance when you might just be the only one.

Buchanan says this sort of mentality is why the strident squeaky wheels are getting the grease, why the garishly inane, the pompous plutocrats and the puffed up hucksters are getting loads of airtime and giving us a warped sense of what's up -- and running the show. The majority's inclination is to follow and get out of the way. This is how the inaccurate, sloppy and melodramatic media are getting away with slander -- and why Bush is so consistently able to keep getting what he wants, even, most of the time, without vetoes. Buchanan is only wrong in suggesting that this "new silent majority" is new. It's nothing new. As Abraham Lincoln said, "you can fool most of the people most of the time." Most of the people -- a majority -- are never activists, much less articulate or loud or well-connected rabble-rousers. Michael Moore, for example, might be notorious and even persuasive, but he is certainly of the minority and in the minority, no matter how much it seems he is earnestly FOR the majority. The majority are rarely in it for much of anything beyond their own poorly informed desires. As Thomas Franks has said, most people often don't act in their own best interests. Franks famously asked, "What is the matter with Kansas?" What, we might ask, is the matter with democracy in America? What's the matter with the media? What's the matter with us?

The same thing that is the matter with the Democrats.

The Dems are so enamored with with their politically correct and (generally) polite herd and with the propaganda of "supporting the troops" that they remain relatively disjointed and deferential to the Bully Pulpit. The party of diversity just can't get it together to block the blank checks for a war that has become a shame to a majority of Americans. A majority who, in anonymous polls, say they oppose this or that or who want change, but who are not themselves members of the select (self-selected) minority who agitate for change, who call out loud for a better nation. Lost in the flock, we all need a competent herder to help us along. Better yet, a benevolent and loving father figure to show us the way.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Secular Monk in America

A few days ago, I googled the phrase "secular monks in America" and found a post at the blog Not Native Fruit, which you can read here, from June 2005 which touches on what I'm after. I left a comment at the post to sort of mark my passing, but as with most things monk, it was a rather quiet passing. Maybe a few ripples, but I am not making waves these days, much less leaving a frothing wake.

For some years, rather inadvertently, I've been taking on aspects of a sort of secular monk. No, I don't chant, and I don't wear a robe, and believe you me, the celibacy is not intentional -- just sorta worked out that way. Been a while since I've enjoyed some worldly pleasures... but back to the upside of monkdom....

Regular readers of ABN know I'm not much for the "god" part. Hence the "secular" part. And not being a prayerful sort of monk but, as my google search suggested, an "American" sort of monk. Indeed, the phrase "secular monk" has been used in many places, so maybe it's not the oxymoron some might at first believe. The artist Marcel Duchamp was called a secular monk, and one biographer called the playwright Samuel Beckett a secular monk. The label has also been applied to wide swaths of reclusive readers, intellectual hermits and gentle ne're-do-wells, writers, poets, pacifists, philosophers and scientists.

I'm not eating rat meat and rice. I've not gotten rid of everything I own. I haven't moved into any sort of commune or monastery or retreat as such. It's just that I have retreated, some. But as I eat out less, I eat much more simply. My menu is spartan, but I think admirably so. It's all part of treading lightly. Rarely meat at home, not even sandwiches. For protein, tuna, beans and cottage cheese. Then again, there is rice.

As for clothes, every time I get something new, I get ride of a pile of old things, and the new things are always solids, no patterns, and usually black pants and shirts that are either, white, black, gray or (as with the Amish) a bold and beautiful medium blue some would call French blue and others would call cobalt.

(You can see the "American" aspect of my monkdom going on here: style along with some substance, and I do offer some substance. But then monks have always been into style, even if that style meant some sort of earthen colored robe and sandals, sans underwear. Btw, I like boxer briefs myself, snug on the leg, and I hear that's the style most popular with the ladies, too.)

As I say, it's been rather inadvertent, slowly (and not always consistently) shifting priorities, not the swinging of a pendulum but just some nudging in a direction I've been considering for decades. It's interesting to me that I can be rather reclusive and yet gregarious when out, about as friendly as ever, gracious and polite -- since these are signs of grace and humility for which monks I suppose are known.

Secular monks, I would say, strangely enough, do not have a higher calling than to society itself. They may commune with nature, but it is to bring nature back to the society at large. They may go off to read or think or walk long distances or not do the busy work others use to break the surface tension, but they do their own things to make contributions. Even their own lives, however alone at times, are things they would like to share with others, as a peace offering that is not part of the razzmatazz. I would like to think that we secular monks are individual centers of both calm and dynamism, woe and wonder, spirit and substance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Just a Reminder: Gasoline is not a public service

First, we want cheap gasoline. Then we want clean gasoline. Then we want people (other people?) to stop using so much gasoline. Then we want incentives to slow the use of gasoline. Then we even think tax increases or price increases would cut demand and help turn down the heat on the planet. Then we want to be sure that if gas is going to cost more that the increases come from us (people power) or government (political power) and not from the greedy owners of the oil companies (capitalist American power). Somehow make US rich, not THEM. Give it back to US. Let US reap the rewards of our own addictions.... Huh?

Let's remind ourselves of one thing: gasoline is not a public service. You might be addicted to it, but it is not owed to you. No one owes you any oil or gasoline. There is no public oil company in the United States. And the government is just hanging on for the ride. They're not in control of those big oil companies. They're not even in control of any little oil companies. All they've got is a few hundred million barrels of the stuff stored somewhere, maybe, on a good day.

So if you want oil and gas revenues to serve the people, meaning all of the people, make the oil companies subservient to the state. In other words, damn it, nationalize the oil companies.

It doesn't seem to me that you can have it both ways. You can't have all this rampant capitalism and mercurial "market forces" AND think that these companies are doing all of this work FOR YOU.

Big oil, little oil, they do it for themselves, for them and their kin, their stockholders, and it's all legal. Okay, most of it, most of it is legal. That is the system you got.

If you want the vagaries of "supply and demand," you got it. Oil is the world's biggest and baddest soap opera. Is that any way to run a planet? As it is, we're running the planet you know where -- into the ground. Why do people pay $100 for jeans and $40,000 for cars? Because they are willing to pay $100 for jeans and $40,000 for cars. They're addicted to those things, or they see the value in those things.

Well, just because it has been so cheap (even compared to those old biblical staples, bread and bottled water), and just because it has been sold (prices boldly displayed) and a million street corners in this world, doesn't mean that a gallon of gas is any different. It's still just a private product offered for sale, priced at what the market will bear. So pony up, and line their pockets, drastically reduce your need for the stuff. And take the oil out of the hands of the capitalists, all of them, not just the really ambitious ones who are filthy rich, but all of them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's Al Gore Week!

Al Gore was a candidate before his time. Twice.

First, he ran for president as a 39 year old, in 1988. He might have looked better in that tank than Michael Dukakis did, but Gore was not the right guy to follow the Gipper. No matter how much he was "raised for it," a fresh-faced kid from Tennessee just couldn't follow that vaguely god-like and (seemingly) good-natured grandfather from California. However disconnected, give us another gramps from another big state. So we got Texan Bush the First.

Then Gore ran again, thinking he could do what Bush the First had done -- follow the coattails of a popular president from Veep to the White House. But Clinton single-handedly crippled Gore's edge. It was Clinton who really riled up Ralph Nader enough to run and, in the end, shoot his poisoned dart into Gore's Achilles heal.

Now, it's Gore Week, Spring 2007 Assault on Reason Edition, following closely on the Summer 2006 Inconvenient Truth Edition. Now Gore is hitting the kind of stride and star power that does make a candidate golden. The Academy Award doesn't hurt. The globally fired up rock concerts called "Live Earth," coming up July 7, certainly don't hurt. Best of all: the rumors that Gore is likely to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for popularizing the plight of the planet.

And so this week Gore is making a media blitz to promote his new book, The Assault on Reason, which comes out today. In just the next three days, he'll be appearing on Larry King, David Letterman, Charlie Rose, Today, and probably Good Morning, America and a slew of other TV and radio spots. He'll also be signing books at a half dozen venues from NY to LA where advanced tickets, priced at about $40 (including the book), are sold out already.

So Fred Thompson can take a deep breath and sit back in his easy chair and be the Tennessee bench-sitter for a week. Maybe a few days of nobody asking Mr. Law & Order if he's going to run. It's back to Al, not so fresh-faced this time around, being asked if he'll run again -- and even, I am sure, TOLD to run again. He'll smile, wisk a signature onto your book, and not-so-subtle gestures amongst a slew of handlers will... keep the line moving.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Carter V. Bush

Jimmy Carter is saying about the Bush administration what many presidential historians and indeed millions of people across America and around the world are saying. Surely, Mr. Carter does not make "reckless" or "irrelevant" statements. He has always been a politician precise and careful in his speech.

Mr. Carter doesn't criticize flippantly. Meanwhile, it seems the best the White House can do is try to deflect this pointed criticism with as much flimsy flippancy as it can muster. Mr. Carter is concerned for this nation's good will and ill will at home and abroad. On the other hand, Mr. Bush has taken a devil-may-care attitude. Who seems the better statesman? Who better represents the wise course? Carter's criticism may seem harsh, but he remains by far the wiser and more careful of the two. He makes Bush look like a punk gunslinger, a spoiled silver-spoon brat, a smarmy-mouthed kid who should have gone home long ago.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell's R.I.P. (Reputation in Perspective)

From a small church in Virginia, in 1956, he invented televangelism.

From the resounding strife of the 1960s, he revved up the "born again Christian" wing of the Christian party.

From an ever expanding pulpit, as founder of Liberty Bible College and founder, in 1979, of Moral Majority, he helped turn the nation against a softer Southerner to get Ronald Reagan elected.

"He was a champion of the fundamental values that we hold dear," said fellow Virginia evangelist Pat Robertson.

We could say that Jerry Falwell did all of this of his own accord, but no, from his humble beginnings on, the audience made the man. He wielded righteousness like a sword, and the crowd loved it. He put righteousness back in the Right Wing and gained a flock of millions. At times of natural disaster and terrorist attack, he said some gruesomely divisive things, nasty things, hateful things, and got good ratings.

Jerry Falwell was a huckster, and more than that, a crusader -- and a plunderer. How very Christian (Old Testament) of him, and how very un-Christian (New Testament) of him. But then so many of the Christians in his audience weren't very Christian, either, not in the New Testament ways. They're Old Testament people.

Now we're left with one less big, charging, roaring leader of the Old. Perhaps a renaissance of the New. Perhaps some, tired of bile and bitterness, will turn away from the hucksters and practice a more prudent, more patient and peaceful path.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Little Treatise on Tough Love

I'm not sure exactly what tough love is or how it works. To me, it sounds like a euphemism for just saying "no" or "enough" or, at last, often after the fact, establishing a clear boundary. When a higher form of love, not soft but wise and forthright, would have established the boundary in advance of a transgression. Isn't it sort of a psychobabbly way of saying, "I'm fed up" or even "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore"?

Most of what I hear offered and/or defended as "tough love" isn't about love much at all but about being blunt about how so-and-so seems, to the person resorting to "tough love," to mismanage their lives, or worse, seems to have made a mess of it. It's true that sometimes others' messes do step on our toes, but shit happens, messes happen. This is some of the "flow" that we are supposed to be going with when we go with the flow.

It's not that we have to see each incident coming, much less all the accidents waiting to happen, but if we go into every day and every relationship, ever situation reminding ourselves that life is not clean and neat, and it's good to wear protective footwear. I find the use of tough love to be reactionary, not pro-active. At some point practical, perhaps, but not loving.

TLC. Even the sound of those initials sound soothing to us. TLC, tender loving care. But what about this other sort of TL to which so many are prone, especially the parents threatening their young children. TL, tough love. What would the C stand for in Tough Love C? I say Command. Tough Loving Command.

"You mind me!"

"I said 'NOW'"

"You will not..."

"Don't you dare!"

Even the more innocuous but authoritative and demeaning, "Now here's what you should do..."

Therapists and constructive friends know to put many of their thoughts and especially their proposals and advice in the form of a question. Be as tough as you feel is reasonably as long as it's in the form of a question.

"So, what do you think about...?"

"What if you...?"

"What are your choices?"

And the even more neutral, "Hmmm, well, what do you think?"

Yep, we'd get a gold star for being that diplomatic, that nurturing. Meanwhile, too many of us take our bully jabs down the narrow aisles of targeted china shops.

I want to break the words "tough" and "love" apart. Love has a lot more to do with tenderness than it does toughness. Love is about nurturing, and to nurture is pro-active much more than it is reactionary, about being good ourselves, up front, first.

Love is not authoritative. Love asks. Love is always broad. It is not particular. Love is always grand. It is not petty.

Maybe, with friends, bosses, employees, servants and strangers, the bigger adventure is to become pro-active. To be pro-active, leading with clarity and by example, brings the Golden Rule into action: dealing with ourselves and our own boundaries and needs for improvement before setting our sights on others, as we would have them do for themselves before they do unto us.

So I think I'll ask myself how would I most like to become pro-active this week.

It seems to me, a very good and healthy question for all.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

2009 Prius Goes 100 MPGreen

If you haven't heard it anywhere else, then you heard it here first: Your car is probably already a bit past its prime, and I don't just mean that frayed upholstery, that cracked dash, those door dings, not to mention those Burger King wrappers and Starbucks cups stuffed under the seats. You're probably driving OLD technology. Yikes. But get this, members of the 20,000-Plus Club: with the introduction of the 2009 Prius, your old conveyance (even your vintage Prius) will be a DINOSAUR.

How about 100 MPG?

That's right, 100 MPG for a major production car. Welcome to the 3rd generation Prius, coming not so many months from now to a showroom near you, this close on the heels of the 3rd generation Civic hybrid, which with its redesigned 2006 power plant, now tops the Prius in aftermarket consumer tests by 5 MPG on average (51 for the Civic vs. 46 for the Prius).

Already "the world's greenest car company," Honda is in the mix to achieve 100 MPG as well, with an innovative 2008 Fit hybrid that will be way up there in efficiency. In Japan, Honda leads the way with its very popular (there) Insight, which already gets well above 70 MPG. But except for the Miata, roadsters have just never been very popular in the U.S. So Honda will outfit the four-door Fit with a new generation of hybrid technology that is much lighter, smaller AND more profitable for the company, good news since the incentives increase for maker and consumer. The Fit is cutting edge in that its hybrid system is tiny and so less burdensome to the constraints of compact cars, a distinct improvement over Honda's and Toyota's currently "underpowered," battery-heavy, shrunken trunk hybrid technology.

Honda's hybrid Fit unveiling apparently hit Toyota hard, as the Big T wants to keep its aura as the hybrid leader alive and well in the U.S. -- and its juggernaut of record profits soaring. Though Honda was first to market a hybrid, The Prius became the segment leader in 2003.

The second-generation Prius outsells Honda's Civic hybrid by more than three-to-one (2006 sales: 107,000 Prius, 32,000 Civic hybrids). Toyota seems to be correct in insisting that most hybrid car buyers want their cars to look distinctive and to be status (and political) symbols, while Honda says that its own studies show that more Honda buyers prefer a car which does not flag the driver as making a statement on the road. Thus the Civic hybrid, except for distinctive wheels and a subtly placed "hybrid" badge, looks the same as its regular Civic sedan.

Well, as you know, the 2008s are already coming out. So 2009 is not very far away, and this is the hundred mile hurdle that will REALLY change the landscape in car buying, especially if gasoline stays above $3.00 a gallon for many months to come.

There is a $25 million prize for the first production car to get 100 MPG as well. But the accomplishment itself will be worth HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS to the winning brand. And it'll be worth BILLIONS to the well-being of the struggling automobile industry and TRILLIONS to the struggling health of the planet.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

To Live and Die in LA

This just in from a friend of a friend in LA:

new record of heat today. even the coast-line was 90 degrees. fire season is june 1st. and we are in it a month already, because of only 17th % of regular rainfall. rattle-snake season is 2 - 3 months early. pollen is super early, and very heavy. gasoline hit over $ 4.00 in L A today for super premium. L A police are rather proficient in gestapo tactics. just a little out of kilter in crowd control during may day rally. otherwise all fine and normal. john.

----- End forwarded message -----

Kind of reminds me of the Talking Heads' prescient song, "Life During Wartime."

Monday, May 07, 2007

Uh Oh: Price of Gas May Go Down

It's all the rage: the new record high for gasoline prices, now hovering around $3.07 a gallon. But the really bad news is that the price of gas might go down.

Damn, that's the last thing we need. If we've got cheap gas, we'll keep sucking the stuff up like there's no tomorrow. But there IS a tomorrow.

And this Bad Gas Gluttony could come back to haunt us the day after tomorrow. Actually, of course, it has already come back to haunt us, that is, if you have cancer, asthma, injuries from a wreck in heavy traffic or due to speeding. Let's see how many jump in their big iron sleds to go for a loaf of bread, much less SPEED, when gas is going for what it's really worth, say about $10 a gallon.

Wouldn't it be COOL (and you can see how appropriate that word now is) if we paid a lot less in other taxes but more gas tax? Keep corporate profits down and gas taxes high. It's a good investment in our future, otherwise known as LIFE ON EARTH.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Fred Thompson Thinks He's Ronald Reagan

Fred Thompson's got that good, Southern Comfort voice and that authoritative yet "I'm on your team" grandfather thing going on, courtesy of all his low key legal-eagle one-liners on "Law & Order." Mr. 'Watch Your Backside And Get It Done.' Mr. Bottom Line in the Back Room.

Okay, so Mr. Thompson is a former senator (he got Al Gore's seat), and yes, his Washington chops go as far back as Watergate, which was a TV set of another sort. That brand of southern charm and TV-diety charisma and that VOICE do, in this culture, make for a viable candidate. But a really good candidate?

Leave it to the Republicans to figure that out. By themselves, if you please.

But the guy ain't no Ronald Reagan. Reagan had gone full tilt toward the presidency for over a decade before he finally unpacked his bags. Thompson is figuring less is more?

Maybe if you're a Reagan wannabee but NOT Reagan, okay, maybe that is the best tactic. Seem Southern and Royal, Mr. TV AND above the fray. But still, I'd have to say to Mr. Thompson:

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, no friend of mine, but you, sir, are no Ronald Reagan.

Your telephonic voice may lure millions, but then millions more may ask, what sort of candidacy is this? What sort of country is this?

We would prefer a rumbling radio voice to substance? Often it would seem so, though this, I venture, is not the way to strengthen, much less save, our fragile democracy "of the people, by the people, for the people.

There is reason to suspect, but dear readers, let's hope the U.S. hasn't become a tele-ocracy, "of the TV, by the TV, for the TV."