Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just Say No to Jessie Jackson

Poor Jessie Jackson—the civil rights activist everybody loves to hate! Every time he opens his mouth these days, his foot lands in it.

First, at a TV taping he’s overheard on an open microphone using the “N” word in referring to Senator Barack Obama. Mr. Jackson expresses disagreement with Mr. Obama’s strong criticism of paternal irresponsibility in the African American community. For a one-time presidential candidate himself, the slur is especially unsettling.

The Obama camp swiftly distances Mr. Jackson—even further, which probably didn’t sit well with the aging activist. He made a public apology for his inappropriate remarks but the tone was a little like Hillary’s conceding the nomination—not all that convincing.

Lately, he’s sprouting Obama foreign policy on the Middle East without any sort of authorization from the campaign. Naturally, any less than lauding mention of Israel and you are in big trouble when it gets out. So what does Jackson tell a conference on Middle East affairs? Under an Obama’s Administration Israel's favored nations status would no longer be so secure a given.

Naturally a rightwing columnist from Rupert Murdoch’s New York rag is among the conferencees at which Jackson pontificates at length on Obama foreign policy initiatives as it he were an advisor or a member of Obama’s inner-circle, which the Obama camp is swift to deny.

Mr. Jackson is savvy enough to know that he would be upsetting two camps with those remarks: the Israelis and the Obama campaign but he obviously didn’t care. He could not spend another moment in the odious exile his earlier remarks had cast him.

He didn’t like feeling impotent in such a dynamic political season, and maybe feeling slight pangs of resentment over Obama’s resounding success as his own try to win the White House came to mind. While Jackson’s run was more pie in the sky than any thing, Mr. Obama is making serious inroads and short of some major catastrophe, he may very well be the first non-white American president. A reality that so many black Americans never thought they would live to see.

Of course, it is with good reason that Mr. Jackson might take exception to Mr. Obama’s charges about the growing number of black men fathering children out of wedlock and taking no responsibility for them. It may have hit a little too close to home. Rev. Jackson’s fall from grace a few years ago centered around fathering a child with a female staffer.

Jackson’s relations with the Jewish community has always been on shaky ground. His infamous Hymietown comment about New York City took years to repair and is still alive in many memories. His unauthorized Obama comments served only to increase suspicions about Obama’s commitment to Israeli interests.

One fear expressed by undecideds and Republicans is that Mr. Jackson would play a prominent role in an Obama Administration. To date there is no clear reason to believe that when just the opposite seems more likely.

Oddly enough, Jackson and John McCann share similarities: two mature warriors looking for a last hurrah and finding it hard to accept the fact that the time has passed.

Since his 1960’s debut, Jackson always comes-off as something of an opportunist. Who could argue that as MLK’s fortunes took a fatal turn, Jackson improved decidedly? He stepped into the media glare an eyewitness to the King assassination at the Lorraine motel in Memphis.

Soon his Afro hairstyling and dashiki attire became a media icon. His comments are often incendiary as he ratchets up the civil rights rhetoric a notch or two. Even Operation PUSH, the organization, which forms his political base, has had its own media embarrassments from time to time.

Now his own son, an Illinois Congressman, has had to repudiate some of his father’s less than diplomatic outbursts. For Jessie Jackson it must be hard being pushed out of the loop and accepting the role of senior eminence, expected to stay above the fray. Let’s hope he can curb grabs for attention, at least until the election is over.

Anything that can be used to humiliate Barack Obama is immediately amplified all out of proportion. But its politics as usual, and by now Mr. Jackson should be a champ at the game.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Great Gasoline Hoax of the 2008 Election

Has any one else noticed that as Barack Obama’s numbers go up, the price of gas is coming down? Could there be a connection? Or is it just a coincidence?

According to the US Government travel office statistics, as quoted by Reuters, gas demand is declining because Americans are driving less. Driving less? Are you driving less? I’m not. Take one look at the traffic-choked arteries of any major city and it seems nobody else is either.

True, escalating gas prices reduced summer vacation travel to some extent but it seems with the costly add-ons and personal inconvenience of air travel more people are opting to drive reasonably long distances rather than fly anyway. Amtrak fares are no bargain and the bus lines have initiated security measures comparable to the airlines. Still it didn’t prevent an irritated whacko from knifing to death a fellow bus passenger in Canada not too long ago.

I don’t know what part of the country they did their study but here in the Northeast-New York area when the price started going up last spring I saw little reduction of cars on the interstates, highways and city roads I use especially in so-called off-peak hours when I do most of my driving. Sometimes I saw definite increase.

I automatically question any research that comes from the oil lobby—I mean, the Bush Administration. One knows how short on truth and expansive with facts their interpretations run. “Global warning is over-rated” and “The economy is doing fine” are two recent claims that come immediately to mind.

Here are two unscientific studies from my own driving experience.

Three years ago, I started driving to Central New York on a regular basis to work on a project. I’d try to leave Manhattan mid-afternoon Thursday or before 11 AM Friday at the latest and return Monday mid-afternoon or Tuesday morning, figuring I was avoiding the up-Friday-night-back-Sunday-night weekend crowd. During the fall and winter months, I kept the same routine, sometimes skipping a weekend and staying an extra day the following. For two years the traffic—and gas prices—except for the hurricane Katrina interlude--remained about the same--manageable.

Late morning-early afternoon along 87 North, barreling tractor trucks were plentiful compared to the number of passenger cars whisking past. Rarely delays, except for occasional roadwork or rubbernecking at an accident across the median. Connecting to 90W outside Albany, the 50-mile stretch to my final destination was practically emissions-free anytime I used it a little before the Albany-area rush hour. It was so lonely at times in the middle of the day I wondered if NY State taxpayers were getting their money’s worth.

Then last spring the roads suddenly got busier. As the price of gas started rising precipitously I started to see a lot more cars on the 87N heading to Albany. Some of them were other weekenders getting an early start. Yet, there was a noticeable blip in motorists, especially along the 90 corridor. Traffic seemed to have doubled over the previous year but still relatively easy traveling.

Another thing that nobody is talking about is the fact that we are driving a lot faster on these roads, which increases consumption. The posted 65mph speed limit is pretty much ignored, and enforcement seems to target real excessive speeders: drivers doing 85mph or better. Cruising along conservatively between 75 and 80mph seems not to draw flashing lights and a costly fine.

What is even more amazing is the number of gas guzzling SUVs that fly past my economical Honda Civic chugging along a little above 70mph when I’m feeling thrifty and just below 80 when I’m not. Even at those speeds, driving in the changing lane cars come up behind me fast and speed past as soon as I get out of the way. None appears worried about increases at the pump. Drive 65mph and you feel you are practically standing still.

My second case study is driving in the city.

My mother lives in downtown Brooklyn and when I go over during the week I try to leave the latest around 1 PM. Any later and I run into backups on the FDR Drive approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. Depending on the purpose of my visit, I either stay a couple of hours and on my way before 4 PM or wait until after 7 PM to head back to Manhattan to avoid the daily traffic jam that overwhelms my mother’s Fort Greene neighborhood.

Usually the three arteries of traffic feeding the Brooklyn Bridge are running smoothly though the BQE often has backups pushing drivers into neighborhood streets to use other approaches. Usually the bridge is slow going until reaching the ramp onto the northbound lanes of FDR Drive. Inevitably, cars approaching the bridge in the southbound lanes are backed up, sometimes as far back as the exit for the Williamsburg Bridge.

In the past few months, it’s gotten worst. I have to leave earlier, and be on my way back into the city by 3 PM or so if I want to avoid slowdowns and congestion at key interchanges. I hate to imagine what the scene will be like when Ratner builds his basketball stadium and apartment towers over the Atlantic track yards.

I’m not seeing less cars on the road but more. Friends I speak to in LA say the same. So, where exactly is it are folks driving less--or slower? Why is the price dropping? Especially if only weeks ago there were refinery closings in the Gulf due to hurricanes and severe shortages reported in the Southeast? Isn’t that when the prices usually goes up?

Apparently, the source for the government study is an industry friendly marketing company. I’ve heard some mumbo-jumbo about how speculators are playing with oil futures now that practically everything else on Wall Street is going south and that's causing prices to fall. On that I don’t feel able to comment. (One knowledgeable friend assures me this is the case but as you can see I have my own empirical testimony.) All things being equal I think, if anything, the oil companies encourages whatever works to their benefit.

One thing is certain: the apparent election of Barack Obama is going to be apocalyptic. His middle class-centric policies scare the corporate giants. The cozy relationship the oil lobby enjoys with Congress and especially the two oilmen in the White House is moving to a new era. Because if Mr. Obama gets the job, big business knows, it will be no longer business as usual.

Could the sudden price drops mean the energy industry is bending over to grease the chances of an oil-friendly Westerner’s grab for the Oval Office? If consumers can still be lulled into believing that low gas prices are coming back because of market forces, I have a bridge I want to sell. (Ouch!)

I'm going to need more than a Bush Administration press release to believe otherwise.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Me Thinks McCain Protests Too Much

What makes John McCain’s negative outbursts against his opponent Barack Obama so disgusting is the naked ambition so crudely on display. Sadly he comes off as someone desperate to put one more professional feather in his cap, to crown his long and some say distinguished military and political careers, by attaining the pinnacle of American success, the US presidency. It is a sense of entitlement that high achievers take for granted. Yet as evidenced by his increasingly erratic campaign behavior questions of his suitability for the job are raised, especially along side the near unflappable and (dare I say) elegant Mr. Obama.

McCain takes little pain to disguise contempt for his opponent, a man he clearly deems unworthy to contend with for the highest office in the land--no matter what he says to the contrary, his body language says it all. He seems intent on advancing his fortunes by exaggerated charges over Obama's early associations and inneundo about some secret anti-American agenda. Though both senators earn a certain respect for their achievement, Mr. McCain felt comfortable enough at one point during their second nationally televised sparing match to refer dismissively to Mr. Obama as “That one!” Not unlike the Kentucky politician who publicly chastised Mr. Obama as 'That boy".

Also jarring during the town hall Q&A was Mr. McCain’s nervous pacing even as Mr. Obama took his turn presenting carefully measured answers and rebuttals to moderator Tom Brokaw’s entreaties. There was something decidedly petulant and deliberately distracting in McCain's behavior.

Pulling Sara Palin out of a hat—or is ‘kennel’ a more appropriate metaphor?-- will no doubt go down as one the of the century’s neatest political sleights of hand. Over night her surprise selection energized the Republican base and the added sex appeal was like a hit of Viagra for a near moribund party. Her immediate and overwhelming acceptance though there was little known about her was a sure indication of the Republicans’ state of desperation.

A political noviceand relatively inexperienced governor representing one of the nation's smallest constituencies is being positioned to potentally succeed the country’s top executive, if god forbid something awful happened, was especially startling given McCain’s shaky health issues. Not to be insensitive, cancer survivors to a large statistical extent relapse. At age 72, there are myriad medical concern for an elder statesman given the stressful campaign schedule and his apoplexy temperament. There was probably good reason McCain let selected reporters scan his health records under stringent conditions.

What this election really comes down to for Republicans is the overriding yet muffled fear that having a Democrat in the White House presents the very real possibility of incriminating revelations coming to light about what sort of a criminal enterprise was conducted during the eight-year Bush term. The list of indictable crimes from illegal wiretapping of citizens, politically-motivated removal of federal attorneys, torture and detention without due process of ‘enemy combatants’ at Guantanamo, and the real cost in tax dollars of the Administrations many blunders and missteps, only skims the tip of the iceberg.

No doubt, revelations about how the nation’s business and the wars were conducted under Bush 43 will be overwhelming and provide the kind of media sensation that capture’s the nation’s collective appetite for revenge. No longer immune from the justice system are we to have high profile prosecutions and lengthy sentences doled out to disgraced powerbrokers—Gonzales, Card, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, et al? Can Bush pardon himself--and them-- before leaving office? I wouldn’t put it past Cheney to have already explored such a maneuver since he will no doubt need one as well. However, if McCain manages to pulls off the election, the crooks can rest easy.

Yet John McCain’s miscalculations and Barack Obama’s magnificently executed game plan should make it abundantly clean who is better able to deal with the crushing economic mess plunging the nation and our trading partners into despair and a possible second Depression. It doesn’t take much to recognize what a competent operation Mr. Obama has put together. The organization appears to run consistently cool and efficient. As a Harvard trained lawyer who was at the top of his class Mr. Obama shrewdly augments ‘book learning’ and practice with natural leadership assets. The potential good that his Presidency might bring to the country—the world even-- is tremendously inspiring.

Prior to recent revelation about his character, I personally had neutral feelings about John McCain. He survived horrific imprisonment and still managed to distinguish himself with a long second career of political service in both Houses of Congress. He and his beer heiress spouse Cindy even adopted a child of color. But in an earlier skirmish between McCain and Obama long before the latter was in the running, I wrote an email criticizing McCain for his behavior. He responded by snail mail with what looks like a letter he personally dictated and signed. Clearly, he was sensitive enough to the implications of racism and disrespect I brought up to respond with a congenial defense of his intent. As Obama climbs in the polls, McCain becomes more dangerous and pernicious. Winning at all costs seems to have become his mantra.

At the same there is no missing the irony of a former POW, who may or may not have sold his country upriver in captivity, trying to succeed an administration with an egregious record of abuse and torture of such captives held at the Gauntanamo gulag, tactics Bushies defend as necessary for speeding up intel. McCain taking office might be a kind of poetic justice.

Perhaps the passage of years and wider achievements have not completely deadened Mr. McCain's POW experience. Recently, he inadvertently referred to a crowd of supporter as “fellow prisoners” when he meant ‘citizens’. I don’t believe the ramifications of the slip have been adequately explored given the plausibility of such popular fiction as the Manchurian Candidate.

I would hate to think that Mr. McCain was experiencing some kind of brainwash-induced flashback, one the Viet Cong meticulously programmed during all those years of imprisonment and interrogation at the so-called 'Hanoi Hilton' prison. This dark area of McCann's resume demands closer scrutiny, by pundits and POW experts alike.

We live in times when anything is possible.