Monday, March 31, 2008

No More KSAC

I woke up this morning and turned on 1240 AM, as I often do, to listen to Stephanie Miller. I heard the same young woman doing the news update, but something seemed different, and when she gave out the call letters of the station and they weren't KSAC, my heart sank. It rose a little when I heard a radio spot from someone running against conservative Congressman Dan Lungren. He'd been doing similar spots on KSAC. But that small relief was short-lived. After the spot, I didn't hear Stephanie Miller and her talented crew's satirical political commentary. Instead, I heard something about "praising the Lord" day and night followed by gospel music. I hoped briefly that this was some kind of premature April Fool's joke, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn't. KSAC, "Sacramento's only progressive talk radio station," had changed its call letters and adopted a full-time gospel music format.

I went online to find out what had happened. I quickly discovered a story in the Sacramento Bee explaining it. It seemed that while KSAC had plenty of listeners, it couldn't find enough commercial sponsors to keep it afloat with its liberal or progressive format. Other progressive or liberal talk radio stations in this country have apparently suffered the same fate or are on the brink of doing so.

This is too bad. Of course, I can still listen to Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Mike Malloy, and Peter B. Collins on the Internet. But this isn't nearly as convenient as being able to hear them on the radio in the house or in the car when I'm driving to and from work. I liked to switch between progressive KSAC and conservative KTKZ (1380 AM) and get the counterbalancing views of Laura Ingram, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Dennis Miller, and Hugh Hewitt But now I can hear only one political persuasion on local radio, the conservative one, and I think I and the public at large are ill-served by this.

This isn't a rant against big business or conservative talk radio. I'm just saying that it's too bad the Sacramento area lost its progressive radio voice because it couldn't find enough commercial sponsors to keep it alive. I'm wondering how hard and how skillfully the management tried. Are there really not enough progressive minded businesses around to keep progressive talk radio on the air? If there are, they need to put their dollars where their convictions are.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Economic Musings

I recently posted on former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich's take on the economic downturn. I said that I didn't know nearly as much about economics as I'd like. I'm trying to remedy this, even if my progress is slow and painful.

One thing Reich said is something I've been thinking for a long time. The Republicans are about reducing taxes on the rich ostensibly so that they'll invest more in building the economy to benefit all of us. But it has long seemed to me, as it does to Reich, that putting more money in the accounts of people who already have more money than they can reasonably spend does little to grow an economy, especially if the rest of us can't afford, as increasingly appears to be the case, to buy the products and services generated by that economy. It seems to me that we need, through higher wages and other changes, to concentrate on putting more money in the hands of everyday consumers rather than in the hands of the obscenely wealthy.

What, if anything, is wrong with my (and Reich's) thinking about this, and if nothing is wrong with it, how might we actualize it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

End of Counseling Sessions

For the past several weeks, I've been seeing, free of charge, a counselor at the place where I work. Yesterday, my birthday, was my last day. Not because I didn't want it to go longer, but because the help these counselors provide has to be short-term. But I'm grateful for the time I had with Laura, an MFC trainee. I think she is very good and has a promising career ahead of her.

I can't honestly say, at this point, the same of myself. Yet, I feel a little less hopeless--or should I say I feel more hopeful?--about my own career and broader life prospects than I did before my first weekly session with Laura eight weeks ago.

I now believe that I can build and tap into a network of resources that can truly help me over or through the inevitable rough spots. Yes, there's a lot that I haven't been doing to help myself. Nobody else can do those things for me. But there are caring and skilled people out there able and willing to help me help myself, and they don't always charge a proverbial arm-and-a-leg for it.

As I said, but which bears repeating, I'm grateful for this. I'm both glad and sad that I had to say goodbye to Laura when I did. But I'm mostly glad that I had the opportunity to say it at all.

Monday, March 24, 2008


I've long believed that I was destined--whatever that means--to die young. But today is my 55th birthday, and even if I died today or sometime before my next birthday, it would be difficult to make the argument that I died young. I'm now well into what might charitably be called "middle-age." I say "charitably," because when I look at photos of myself, I scarcely recognize the person staring back at me. What little hair he has left has turned almost entirely gray, and his face looks just plain old.

Yet, when I'm not viewing myself in photos or in the mirror, I still think of myself as young, and, in life experience, I probably am much more the young man just barely out of adolescence than I am a guy rushing headlong into senior citizen status. I guess this is one reason why I'm so deferential to other adults, especially those in positions of authority. I tend see them as my elders if not superiors even if they're decades younger than me and they're not truly "better" than me, and even if they do have better jobs and far more life experience than me in some important respects.

Yet, as backward as I might be compared to most of my fellow adults, I see that I have been through so much, learned so much, and, I would like to think, matured so much in the past decade or so or even in the past five years or so. But there is so much more to do, to learn, and to mature before I can even begin to catch up with my peers. In fact, I think it's pretty certain that I will never catch up with them. I'll always be more the insecure boy than the mature, competent, and self-assured adult. The best I can probably hope for is to become more comfortable in my own skin, warts and, all and to more fully accept my limitations while I nevertheless strive, more and better than ever, to make the most of my strengths.

In any event, I greet my 55th birthday today far more positively than a friend of mine recently received his 54th. For him, each passing birthday seems to be an ever more vivid and depressing reminder of inevitable and encroaching decay and mortality. For me, each birthday is a gift I never expected. Each birthday may be my last, and one day, perhaps today, I will celebrate my last birthday, but I will celebrate it with gratitude for all the blessings--and there have been many--I've enjoyed in my life.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What Andrew Sullivan Says He "Got Wrong About Iraq"

I've just read Andrew Sullivan's column What I Got Wrong About Iraq. In it, he invites us to understand how a self-described "proud Reaganite and Thatcherite" also "marinated in neoconservative thought for much of the 1990's" could have allowed himself to commit the "four cardinal sins" of "historical narcissism," "narrow moralism," "unconservatism," and "misreading Bush."

Says Sullivan, in conclusion:
I know our enemy is much worse. I have never doubted that. But I never believed that America would do what America has done. Never. My misjudgment at the deepest moral level of what Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were capable of - a misjudgment that violated the moral core of the enterprise - was my worst mistake. What the war has done to what is left of Iraq - the lives lost, the families destroyed, the bodies tortured, the civilization trashed - was bad enough. But what was done to America - and the meaning of America - was unforgivable. And for that I will not and should not forgive myself either.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Some Important Questions for President Bush

There are several questions I'd love for some intrepid reporter to ask President Bush at one of his press conferences. They might seem like trivial questions, but I don't think they are. These questions are:

Why, after being president of the United States for over seven years, do you still mispronounce "nuclear" by saying "nucular"? After all this time, do you still not know the proper pronunciation of this extremely important word, or do you know it but choose to go on mispronouncing it on purpose? If you still don't know how to pronounce it, why is that? If you DO know how to pronounce it but deliberately mispronounce it anyway, why do you do THAT? What do you think it says about the president of the world's military and economic superpower that he still mispronounces "nuclear" after more than seven years in office?

If a reporter from a major media source were to ask President Bush such questions, I'm quite sure it would be the last questions he or she ever asked a president or anyone else as a prominent reporter, Helen Thomas possibly excepted. But what a great way to go out in style!

I'm surprised that somebody somewhere hasn't asked President Bush these things, or, at least, that the public hasn't made a bigger deal of his persistent mispronunciation than it has. When people do talk about it, they tend to treat is as some kind of amusing joke. But is it a joking matter?

If President Bush REALLY doesn't know how to pronounce "nuclear" after all these years as president and after all the comic impressions of him mispronouncing it, what DOES this say about him? Does it say that he's stupid? Some might say so. But one can have cognitive deficits in some areas without being globally stupid. Perhaps President Bush, despite his Yale MBA, is linguistically or verbally challenged in some respects but not intellectually deficient overall. Yet, how verbally challenged would one have to be to occupy President Bush's position on the world stage and not know how to pronounce "nuclear" after all this time? It seems to me that someone THAT verbally challenged has no business being president (or possessing a Yale MBA).

However, as much as I think that George Bush has no business being president, I don't think he's THAT verbally challenged. I think that he's almost certainly aware of his mispronunciation but chooses to keep doing it anyway. Now why would he do this? I'm not a psychologist and don't even play one on this blog, but I'm nevertheless going to take the liberty of offering a layman's hypothesis of my own.

President Bush believes that being a real man means never having to admit that you're wrong. That is, admitting or doing anything to acknowledge that you're wrong is a sign of weakness, and real men aren't weak and must avoid appearing so at all costs. They "stay the course" even when they're wrong, and even when they know they're wrong, whether they're wrong in their pronunciation of "nuclear" or about our invading and staying in Iraq.

Of course, I don't think President Bush believes that our involvement with Iraq is wrong. But because he seems to believe that real men stick with what they start no matter what, he won't even allow himself to entertain for one nanosecond the possibility that our involvement in Iraq was and is a terrible mistake. Real men don't do such things, even if it maims and kills thousands and costs trillions to keep on doing what we're doing.

All I can say is that if THIS is what it means to be a real man, God help us if we have any more real men occupying the White House in these perilous times! If nothing else, it looks as though we can at least be assured that our next president will pronounce "nuclear" properly and maybe, just maybe this is a sign of better things to come.

Robert Reich's Take on the Economy

I've never understood much about economics and personal finance. I guess that puts me in the same boat would-be president John McCain recently admitted to occupying. But if McCain ends up being president and if I want to improve my chances of getting by in these economically challenging times, he I will both need to boost our EQs. Not emotional IQ, but economics IQ.

Many people say that we're already in an economic recession and could be headed toward a depression. Others disagree. I'm not sure whom to trust for the truth. I could read and listen to all sides, but how do I then decide who's right and who's wrong or what size piece everyone, as Ken Wilber maintains, has of the pie of overall truth?

What size piece does this lengthy excerpt from a Robert Reich blog column have of the pie?

American consumers are coming to the end of their ropes and don't have the buying power they need to absorb the goods and services the U.S. economy is capable of producing. This is likely to mean fewer jobs, which will force Americans to pull in their belts even tighter, leading to still fewer jobs – the classic recipe for recession. That recession may turn into a full-fledged Depression if fiscal and monetary policies can't make up for consumers' lack of buying power. And there's reason to worry they cannot because consumers are in a permanent bind. They're deep in debt, their homes are losing value, and their paychecks are shrinking.

Under these circumstances, the usual remedies won't work. Wall Street bailouts have no effect because housing prices continue to fall, and the Street is sitting on a giant pile of bad debt. Tax breaks for business won't generate more investment in factories or equipment because demand for their products what emerges from the factories is dropping. Temporary fixes like a stimulus package that give households a one-time cash infusion won't get consumers back to the malls because they know the assistance is temporary and their problems are permanent. They're likely to pocket the extra money instead of spending it. Additional Fed rate cuts might give consumers access to somewhat cheaper loans, but there's no going back to the easy money of a few years ago. Lenders and borrowers have been badly burned. The values of houses and other major assets are dropping even faster than interest rates can be lowered. Growing numbers of homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are now worth on the market.

We're reaping the whirlwind of many years during which Americans have spent beyond their means and most of the benefits of an expanding economy have gone to a relatively small group at the very top. Adjusted for inflation, the median wage is below where it was in 1999. The nation's median hourly wage is barely higher than it was 35 thirty-five years ago. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. The rich, meanwhile, can't keep the economy going on their own because they devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us: After all, they're rich, and they already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, they're more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

Some say well and good. They think our consumer society is unsustainable as it is. They argue Americans should learn to accept a lower standard of living and American business must adjust to a smaller domestic economy. This argument leaves out one salient fact: Considered as a whole, the nation has enough productive capacity to provide a higher standard of living for its citizens and also be sustainable. With the right incentives, we could dramatically reduce energy use and carbon emissions while continuing to grow at a rate that provided most people with good jobs at good wages. The problem isn't economic growth per se. It's unbalanced growth – too much consumption of goods and services that utilize too much energy and generate too much carbon into the atmosphere. Balanced growth is surely possible. But if the economy heads into a severe recession or Depression, there's almost no way to achieve more balance. Hard-pressed Americans will be unwilling to sacrifice anything.

The debate over widening economic inequality of income and wealth in America usually pits fairness against growth. Conservative supply-siders contend that the people at the top not only deserve to be richly rewarded because such rewards encourage them to invest and innovate, and thereby benefit everyone else. Liberals concede that some inequality may be necessary to encourage growth but that we have long passed the point where it is either necessary or fair. But the reality we're now facing poses a different question: Can we have any growth at all when income and wealth are so unequal that most Americans can no longer buy what they produce?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Glenn Greenwald on Spitzer Scandal

"People who work at an unpleasant job in order to support themselves, rather than because they enjoy it, are the functional equivalent of brutalized, exploited slaves and therefore should be barred by others from choosing that job -- when the job in question is prostitution, but not when it's factory work or fast food cashier or large corporate law firm associate or massage therapist or porn actor."

"Because Eliot Spitzer is a wretched hypocrite who mercilessly and cruelly prosecuted others for the very acts in which he himself engaged, and because he's so very sleazy, there's no reason to question the vast, extraordinary law enforcement resources expended -- under highly unusual circumstances -- by the Bush DOJ and FBI to investigate a crime that the Federal Government almost never prosecutes."

"Governors who hire adult prostitutes must resign immediately lest the public trust be forever sullied. Presidents who break the law by spying on Americans with no warrants, who torture people in violation of multiple treaties and statutes, who start hideously destructive wars based on false pretenses, who repeatedly proclaim the power to ignore laws, and who imprison people -- including Americans -- with no charges of any kind, should remain in office for as long as they want. Anyone who suggests otherwise is an irresponsible, shrill, partisan radical."

I obtained the three quotes above from today's Glenn Greenwald article in Salon. It's titled Misadventures in logical reasoning--and lessons learned from the Spitzer scandal. Greenwald says at the end that he has "no sympathy for Spitzer personally given how aggressively he prosecuted multiple prostitution cases and how guilty he is of rank hypocrisy and overzealous prosecutions," but he doesn't believe that this has any bearing on the points he raises in his article, including those above. I'm inclined to agree. And I would like to see the media conduct a thorough investigation of how and why the federal government became so involved in investigating Spitzer's financial transactions, for this is what apparently led to his being exposed for his involvement with prostitutes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Dilemma Over Spitzer Revelations

Governor Eliot Spitzer apparently paid money for sex with prostitutes. Why did he do that when he had to know how vulnerable this made him and his career, especially given his strong moralistic persona and all the enemies he made from his actions as former Attorney General of a big and important state?

Should Spitzer resign? Many say yes and some say no. I have a dilemma. On the one hand, I don't think there should be laws against people selling their sexual services or against people buying them, and I don't think law enforcement should be spending their time, money, and manpower investigating these "crimes" On the other hand, there are such laws, and the former Attorney General and now Governor of New York apparently broke them.

Not that my dilemmas probably make any difference to anyone but me. I guess I mention this one in the predominately philosophical context of wondering publicly how we properly assess a situation like this. What standards do we apply and what weight do conflicting standards have in determining our overall position on the matter? I also wonder about the psychology behind successful and prominent people like Spitzer (and Bernie Ward) self-destructing in this way.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Angry With Hillary

I feel disappointed that Hillary won in Texas and Ohio. In fact, I feel more than disappointed. I feel angry. Not so much that she won as how she won. Or how I think she won. Or how I think she may have won.

I think she may have won by throwing everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at Obama and hoping something would stick. It looks like a few things may have including that ridiculous 3 AM spot, the even more ridiculous assertion that she and John McCain are highly qualified to be president while Obama's only qualification is "that speech he gave in 2002." And, oh yes, Obama's only pretending to have any reservations about NAFTA.

I don't know if the last point is true, but Obama says it isn't, and I'm inclined to believe him. In fact, I'm more inclined to believe him about virtually everything than I am her. I have the feeling, justified or not, that Hillary Clinton or her people would say or do almost anything to take the office to which she seems to think she has a birthright. This reminds me of my strongest objection to many illegal immigrants. It's not so much that they're here illegally per se as that they appear to think that they're entitled to be here and to militantly thumb their noses at our immigration laws, and how dare anyone say anything against them or otherwise stand (or place a fence) in their way. Not that Hillary running for president is exactly the same. She has a legal right to run. But the fact that Bill and she seem to think that she's preordained for it turns me off.

But that's not the only thing. Aside from her attacktics, there's her voice. The more I hear that voice, with its histrionic modulations for oratorical effect, the more it grates on my nerves. I confess that I'm hard pressed to think of any female politician's voice and oratorical style that has impressed me with its gravitas. Barbara Jordan's, perhaps. But I'll use the same word that many others have to characterize Hillary's campaign voice--shrill.

What's more, I have the feeling that she's so plugged in to the political scene and so Machiavellian in her political approach that a Hillary Clinton administration would be pretty much a case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." No, I'm not saying that she'd be as bad as George Bush, and, at least, she can properly pronounce "nuclear." But I suspect that if she were president, Democrats and Republicans in Congress and in the public at large would remain just as contentiously divided as they were under Bush and that this would not be good.

Of course, I'm assuming that it would be different under Obama. I'm assuming that his inviting rhetoric about uniting across party and ideological lines and working together for the common good and the charisma he radiates when using it would be effective in a way that Hillary could never be. But perhaps I'm mistaken. The only thing I know for sure is that I would much rather hear a president Obama speech or press conference than a President Clinton one.

However, if Clinton attacks and otherwise manipulates her way into the nomination, I feel quite certain that crusty John McCain will be our next president, and we'll have at least four more years of the same old same old, including more Supreme Court justices ready to overturn Roe v Wade and continuing troop "surges" in Iraq on our way to maintaining our disastrous presence there for the next 100 years.

For as much as I dislike the Republican party and its platform, it would be all I could do to hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton, and if I feel that way, how many others who would have voted for Obama will end up either voting for McCain (or Nader) or just not bothering to vote at all?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Do YOU Want McCain Answering That Phone at 3 AM?

"I like McCain. I respect McCain. But I am a little worried by his knee-jerk response factor. I think it is a little scary. I think this guy's first reactions are not necessarily the best reactions. I believe that he acts on impulse."
--Major General Paul Eaton, a Clinton supporter

"I studied leadership for a long time during 32 years in the military. It is all about character. Who can motivate willing followers? Who has the vision? Who can inspire people? I have tremendous respect for John McCain, but I would not follow him."
--Major General Scott Gration, an Obama supporter

"One of the things the senior military would like to see when they go visit the president is a kind of consistency, a kind of reliability. [Obama is] not that up when he is up and not that down when he is down. He is kind of a steady Eddie. This is a very important feature. [On the other hand] McCain has got a reputation for being a little volatile."
--General Merrill McPeak, an Obama supporter


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Rising Above Political Cynicism

I heard a guy on talk radio recently discussing the political cynicism rampant in the media. A case in point, he said, was how George Stephanopoulos, Cokie Roberts, and George Will laughed uproariously last Sunday on This Week about a woman who said that every time she and her husband thought about going out to dinner, they contributed $80 to Barack Obama's campaign. The ABC panelists thought it was ridiculous for common folk like us to be so engaged in politics, and, argued the talk show host, this attitude poisons efforts to wrest political power away from corporations and individual fat cats and invest it in the people.

I believe that this talk radio host may have a point and that maybe, just maybe, what we should do about it is tune out the so-called "pundits" of mainstream media and refuse to let their cynicism dampen our resolve to get the candidate of our choice elected to carry out our political will.

The radio host brought up a related point in his discussion. He said that Republicans and other Obama detractors were citing the amazing degree of enthusiastic popular support going to Obama as reason to view him with suspicion and even to vote against him. Anyone THAT popular, or so the argument goes, must be some kind of dangerous demagogue (or even Anti-Christ) poised to lead us over a cliff. Hillary made a similar point last week when she mockingly spoke of perceiving Obama as a messianic figure preparing to part the clouds and invoke political miracles. In other words, even if it wasn't necessarily dangerous to get excited by Obama's candidacy, it was certainly naive to do so.

I agree that we shouldn't become so enamored with any politician's personality, oratory, or popularity that we abandon all critical perspective or reasoned analysis, but I nevertheless think that one can allow oneself to become energized by excitement and hopefulness about Obama without doing that, and I'd like to think that a good many Obama supporters, Gagdad Bob's psychodynamic and theological analysis nothwithstanding, fall into that category.