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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The President is Talking about the Wrong Crisis

Gasoline has reached $3 a gallon on the West Coast—about ten years behind European prices. Is $3 a gallon high enough a price for consumers to figure into their new car buying equation? Is $3 a gallon enough for Americans to realize that there is an actual finite supply of oil on this planet and that as supplies dwindle the price will increase drastically to economy-wrecking highs? Is $3 a gallon high enough for our government to begin to think about a strategic approach to consumption or will we continue to throw ourselves into the abyss?

I’m no oil industry analyst but I can do simple arithmetic. I understand that three bucks is a buck more than the two bucks we paid last summer for a gallon of gas. Will we pay four bucks next summer? How soon will it be before we start paying five? Do I hear six?

Perhaps we need to face a crisis in this country to wake us up from our neo-con fantasy we have been hearing for the past ten years. The voices of the far right screamed that 9/11 was a crisis for this nation. We were commanded to be afraid. We were told that war was the only way to insure our survival as a nation. It is pathetic even to think about the staggering amount of money we have since spent on “security.” Do I also need to mention that over 1,500 American soldiers have died on our quest for security? How secure is a nation that is experiencing annual 50% fuel hikes?

$3 a gallon represents an almost 50% increase in gasoline prices over the past year. Think of that increase as a tax, an extremely regressive tax. Most of Bush’s tax cuts were for the very wealthiest tier of the American economy. This new gas tax represents a higher percentage of your income the less you make.

About the only energy idea that Bush has brought to the table in his presidency is that we should drill for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. Most experts agree that this will only yield about 3% of national needs and it won’t be flowing for over a decade. This is like having Bush invite us to an expensive restaurant and when the bill arrives he only forks up a few bucks towards the tip.

Our president has been on a tireless whistle stop tour of the country warning us about the coming crisis in social security. If only our energy problems were as simple to fix as social security. A very modest tax increase would be enough to insure the safety of the social security program as we know it, one of the greatest entitlement programs this country has ever implemented. Social Security has insured a dignified retirement for over two generations of American workers. Most economists don’t believe the program is in crisis.

What if we were told that our social security taxes would increase 50% in a single year as did our gas prices? Why isn’t our president touring the country warning us of the existing energy crisis? I think a one year, 50% increase in fuel prices is a crisis. If asked, the president would probably say that is the way the free market cookie crumbles. Nothing we can do about it.

Social Security isn’t in bad shape. Even if we do raise taxes the program is extremely efficient to administer (less than 1% of its revenue is used for administration). Everything that is paid out goes directly to Americans. Most recipients spend all of their social security income which channels it directly back into the economy. Where is all of that $3 a gallon going? I’m thinking a lot is going towards private jets for Saudi princes.

Once again liberals in America have let the extreme right corporate wing dictate what is being discussed in the political arena. If our energy policy in this country were as functional as our social security system we’d be in pretty good shape. We aren’t in good shape.

From the comments:

Fellow Seattleite, I know you well and like your brightly lit site that expounds the native party line so well.

I'd be interested to know why 9/11 was not a fearsome event for you? Just one of those things. One of those things right wing fanatics love to trump up in order to instill fear in the voting population. You, of course, can handle any numbe of 9/11s, you can handle one per week and still not feel threatened - oh, I forgot, because the real enemy is Bush.

From your photos you look young and buffed. Why not cut all the Seattle bullshit and join the marines and go to Iraq?
Cheers, Seattle cub.

-- das
-- # Apr 23 2005, 08:25 pm

I don't think Bush is the enemy.

The enemy is the arrogance and faux patriotism with which people like you, members of the Pope Bush and his neocon cult, carries itself.

"The Left" is not some grand anti-American conspiracy or even a remotely organized opposition to anything except ignorance and the tyranny of the mob that promotes such virulent nationalism and mob-rule populism like the Bush cult.

The question isn't who the hell are we, the question is, who the hell are you to sneer and deride criticism so flippantly--any criticism that is anything remotely antithetical to your cult’s party line--and expect to be taken seriously?

Not once in your comments above did you even try to address the substance of Leftie's essay, but instead attacked him with knee-jerk ad hominems (none of which are even close to the truth) and condescension in a manner I find repugnant and childish.

What kind of dialogue (if you even want one) do you expect to open by using such vitriol and almost abusive language except to bully the opposition?

Wow. That makes your ilk such "great" debaters of American democratic ideals, the central one being the idea that the primacy of one faction or ideology over the other is destructive and anti-democratic. I don't think "The Left" as you call it even has a grand ethos or ideology except to protect the rights of the minority from the mob.

And if this left-wing guiding ethos is somehow repugnant to you, why bother calling yourself an American? Obviously you don't understand our principles of tolerence, compromise, and egalitarianism.

I don't hate Bush or Republicans or conservatives, nor are they my enemy. Their ideas and attitudes, however, are certainly not appealing to me.

Oh, and I served in the Army for eight years and agree 100% with Leftie's sentiment. What does that make me, a traitor? YOUR enemy?

Spare us all the arrogance of such misguided patriotism and ideology, pal.

-- mat
-- # Apr 23 2005, 10:01 pm

Well, now that we've blown the powder off each other's noses we can have something like a conversation.

Christ, I love your idealism that sees conservative thought as fanatical or extreme; it is cuddly and downright loveable. It sure isn't dangerous or risky - to call Bush Pope and his supporters cultists; it is just so doggone charming - I mean your verbal radicalism is all taking place in a vacuume - what is not permitted you in America? Do something really risky. Protest to the extent that it costs you something; then I will listen and not just smile my superior smile at the cookie cutter Seattle-shaped smile button that seems to epitomise your thinking.

I am sorry, not quite sure which writer I am addressing, but, I do celebrate and honor your military service much much more than your posted thoughts which I hope, as aforesaid, break out a bit from the Seattle mold.
Cheerio. Das.

-- das
-- # Apr 24 2005, 01:46 am

Well, now that we've blown the powder off each other's noses we can have something like a conversation.

I don't think so. Your first comment was so impolite and filled with arrogant bluster, what's the point? You're not the type to listen. You probably love the sound of your own voice too much for that. You have all the answers and your cause is so pure, you don't even think we--liberal leftie traitors we are--have anything to add to your already closed world and mind.

Christ, I love your idealism that sees conservative thought as fanatical or extreme...

No, I see neoconservatism (conservatism's angry and vicious grandchild) as promoting a dangerous sort of nationalism and populism that does harm to our republic. I see a bunch of neoconservative punks screaming for war but who fail to serve their cause with nothing more than a raised fist and empty words. I see a right-wing, Chicken Little hysteria over 9/11 that greatly exceeds the real threats we face. You have a better chance of dying in a car accident than in a terrorist attack, so are you waging war on automobiles too? I read a couple of your blog entries, and you DO seem to use the paranoia and Armageddon hysteria of religious cults. "A large Dark Bird sails over the earth and his name is Nihilism." Or this gem: "Meantime the bird circles the globe and we expect him to alight here or there any day now." Hooo doggies, hide the sharp knives at your house, please, das.

Do something really risky. Protest to the extent that it costs you something...

No offense, Mr. Superior American, but I did do something risky for my idealism, I joined the US Army when I was 19 and served until I was 27. Me, a liberal then as now, sacrificing 8 years of freedom to serve my country and democracy and all it stands for. That's pretty risky, don't you think? What have YOU done? Why not dazzle us with your tales of national service to the "cause." Or are you another justification by faith "patriot" who thinks, "Well, national service is voluntary, and well, your life had other priorities." Or am I wrong?

I do celebrate and honor your military service much more than your posted thoughts...

I am not asking you to honor or celebrate anything. Do you think I hold my breath awaiting praise from narrow-minded, know-it-all blowhards like you? I served my country for me, not you, nor anyone else.

Please go crawl back into your bomb shelter under your house and await Armageddon while the rest of us enjoy this beautiful world. I am not afraid and I pity anyone who lives with such fear and pessimism.

-- mat
-- # Apr 25 2005, 12:31 am


From a look at your blog I can see that you keep busy defending America from the All Dark Meat Chicken of Nihilism and crack-pot nobodies like Ward Churchill. Now you have taken it upon yourself to venture out and focus your scathing vituperation on lowly draft-dodging “Seattleites” (an odd pejorative) like yours truly here at leftbanker.

You must know something the members of the 9/11 commission didn’t when you skipped from a reference to that terrorist attack to exhorting me to join the Marines and go fight in Iraq. Perhaps you feel that you serve your country better not by enlisting yourself, but by urging others to fight. By the way, I’ve already done my military service. What was your unit?


-- Management
-- # Apr 25 2005, 01:53 am

I've got site feed problems here and I can't post. Smoke if you got'em.

-- leftbanker
-- # Apr 29 2005, 08:36 pm

I am an Army Recruiter. Why don't you leave me your phone number and I will arrange for you to process for the Army. I can arrange for you to be in a front line unit and you can go help your brothers in arms in Iraq, a war you are so quick to defend. It's your move: patriot or chickenhawk.

-- Mike
-- # Apr 30 2005, 12:00 am

Just walk everywhere like I do. 450 miles so far!!!

-- Catch-23
-- # May 06 2005, 01:34 am

Monday, April 18, 2005

Close to Home

I can often go a week or more without venturing more than about ten blocks from my apartment. I write this in a coffee shop three blocks from home. I come here on Saturdays because where I usually go is closed on weekends. The faces here are all familiar. I recognize most of the staff and many of the patrons who inhabit my neighborhood. Most people find Seattle, and my area in particular, a nice place to live and stay here. I have now lived in Seattle longer than I have lived anywhere in my adult life.

It is raining today so I’ll go to my gym after this to ride the stationary bike and read a magazine or two. My gym is two blocks from where I now sit. From there I’ll backtrack a few blocks to the grocery store—I have my choice of three all within a block of each other. Perhaps on the way to get groceries I’ll stop in the used bookstore and look around for nothing in particular. My reading habit seems to be lacking a theme lately. Maybe I’ll look through the travel section near the front door. I’m overdue for a vacation but sometimes a day off seems like a vacation if I pry myself away from my usual haunts.

Sometimes it takes entertaining an out-of-town visitor to get me to venture outside of my immediate downtown neighborhood. If you are only spending a few days in Seattle you could do a lot worse than spend your time walking around where I live. What the area lacks in charm it more than makes up for in utility and convenience. So after showing my latest guest the nickel tour of the city we settled into my normal routine. I can’t say whether or not my friend is as lazy and as stuck in a rut as I, but it wasn’t my idea to go to my favorite pub three or four times during a three day visit. The pub is two blocks from my door so it’s definitely the easiest of easy dining alternatives.

I noticed in today’s newspaper that gasoline prices have topped $3 a gallon out here on the West Coast. With the way I live I really couldn’t care less if gas topped $10 a gallon. Even if I had to pay as much for gasoline as I do for locally-brewed beer, it wouldn’t factor much into my monthly budget. Sometimes my monthly expenditure on gas is zero. I wish that I could say that about locally-brewed beer. I hate to keep harping on this idea of proximity but one of the beers that I drink is brewed about 15 blocks from my apartment. As with many other aspects of my life, I drink locally. There may be a brewery closer to home but I really like this exotic ale from across the Ballard Bridge.

When I do get around to fishing out my passport and stuffing some clothes into my backpack I’ll probably go some place in Europe that doesn’t look too different from where I live now. Once I’m there I’ll try to act like I live there. I’ll frequent a favorite cafĂ© near my hotel. Even when I travel I like to stay close to home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Target Audience: Who reads Leftbanker?

In order to peddle my writing I need to understand what sort of reader would be interested in Leftbanker humor. I have enlisted the services of a market research firm to analyze my work and help me to evaluate a strategy for selling a collection of Leftbanker essays. Market research has become a very exacting science which employs experts in the field of psychology. After a close examination of my essays the market research company came up with the following evaluation of people who would likely find this web site amusing.

You are likely to find Leftbanker entertaining if:

1) You lost a beloved childhood pet in a lawnmower accident (Which was entirely your fault so you buried the carcass and said Arty the hamster ran away).

2) Same as #1 except replace ‘pet’ with ‘one’ or ‘both parents’ or 'favorite Pope.'

3) In the wake of a terrible natural disaster you secretly cheer that it will be a record-setting tragedy. In this you have a lot in common with TV news people.

4) Just in case you ever have to face a firing squad, you have taken the trouble to type out a four course, last meal menu.

5) When you were in third grade you said to yourself, “If I make this basket I’ll be a good Catholic and go to church every week, and if I miss I won’t,” and then you had the character and guts to stick with your promise when you threw up an air ball.

6) You aren’t bothered in the least that your entire decision about the afterlife was based on a shot well beyond the three point line you took when you were eight years old.

7) “Well-adjusted” has never been an adjective used to describe you, although “never been convicted of a felony” gets thrown around a lot.

8) I’m not going to sugar-coat this: You drink too goddamned much (Don’t worry about this, you are a member of the least exclusive club that I know about).

9) You were under the mistaken impression that the author of Leftbanker was a hot, young coed. It’s time to pull your pants up and move on.

10) Perhaps the internet is so completely inundated by porn that the latest craze is jerking off to the inarticulate rants of middle aged men.

10) #10 was really just an addendum to #9 and I really wanted ten of these, so how about this for a possible reason why someone would read Leftbanker: Perhaps you are just a compulsive reader like I am and you read the recipes on the back of soup cans when you get bored. When you are out of soup you read Leftbanker.

Let me know if the experts missed anything.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Rise of the 21rst Century Medievalists

Anyone following American politics has witnessed the rise of the neo-medievalists over about the past 15 years. It hasn’t been a slow rise; it has been more like an avalanche that continues to grow in scope and intensity with every pundit who jumps on board, with every nonsense news story that is hyped to death, and with every corporate victory over the rights of citizens. The monolithic and unchallenged power of the church and aristocracy in medieval times has been replaced in our own era by corporate giants who dictate their own brand of pro-business theocracy to the faithful.

If it weren’t so frightening it would be funny to think that many in America think that we have a liberal media. The forces of medievalism have done such a great job of dissembling that they have convinced their flock that the media they control is somehow liberal. They point to something as inconsequential as a single story of questionable veracity by Dan Rather as an example of the horrors being wrought by the liberal media. This is in an era when an entire news network is dedicated to fabricating a conservative fantasy.

Two recent items in the news clearly illustrate the widening gap between those who wish to forge ahead into the new millennium and those caught in the grip of the medieval world. For weeks Americans have been told by the media that we should care about a severely brain-damaged woman clinging to life by a feeding tube. The media doesn’t remind us that we live amongst 44 million Americans with little access to health care, that we have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the western world. For the medievalists, life is more of a concept than an actual entity. A fetus or a comatose victim should be valued over a child born into poverty or 100,000 victims of genocide in Africa. Concepts can be served with slogans. Trite phrases like “culture of life” and “pro-life” are enough to convince the religionists that their side has the moral high ground. Reducing infant mortality requires action, and action requires tax dollars. Taxes are bad for business, slogans are cheap.

Americans have also been told by the TV news media that we should all care about the Pope. Everything about this man, and the “infallible” position he held, rests firmly in the medieval world, even the stupid clothes that he wore. The Catholic Church hasn’t even come around to accepting the humanizing aspects of the Renaissance, let alone anything to do with the Age of Enlightenment. Catholics didn’t like Galileo, and Voltaire scared the living shit out of them. The Church has fought bitterly against most scientific discoveries—sometimes for centuries. Catholics certainly aren’t alone among the religious in their opposition to science. It is hard to blame people for opposing a field of study that every day uncovers evidence proving that their beliefs are nothing more than fairy tales.

Our own president refuses to admit that he accepts the concept of evolution. He doesn’t appear to be a man plagued by deep thought; he simply believes what his handlers tell him to believe. These days the safe money goes with believing that God is responsible for everything and we shouldn’t bother with scientific explanations of the world we inhabit. This was the presiding philosophy in Europe during the thousand years between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, an era known as The Dark Ages. Welcome back, Dark Ages. It looks like a lot of people have missed you.

I don’t see any difference between religionists who oppose the teachings of evolution and the fanatical Amish who refuse to accept such modern concepts as electricity. The Amish feel that modern innovations are a threat to their faith because the Bible makes no mention of electricity and telephones. If your faith puts you at odds with evolution, how can you come to grips with cell phones, digital TV, and Viagra?

We are now about 300 years into the Age of Enlightenment yet we are in an even more desperate struggle with the forces of medievalism than in Voltaire’s day. At least in Voltaire’s era the clerics could be excused for their blind opposition to the voices of reason around them because reason was so utterly new. What excuse did Pope John Paul II have for condemning the use of condoms in a world being ravaged by AIDS? How can so many Americans not accept evolution in the wake of over a century of scientific discoveries in that field?

Much of modern day Islam seems to be at odds with the modern world, but not to any greater extent than many Christian factions in the United States. Christian extremists seem every bit as willing to resort to violence in pursuit of their causes as the most radical Muslim elements.

Corporate conservatives in America are using the religious right to affect their pro-business agenda. An example of this surfaced in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case. Brian Darling, the legal counsel to Senator Mel Martinez R-FL, admitted that he was the author of a memo citing the political advantage to Republicans if they feigned concern over the fate of the comatose woman. Mr. Darling was formerly a lobbyist for gun rights. Remember people, choose life and aim for the chest cavity.

Corporate conservatives don’t understand irony, they certainly aren’t shamed by hypocrisy, and cynicism seems to be their overriding ethos.

This partnership between the plutocracy and the faithful is eroding the secular nature of American society. The corporate world would like to roll back the gains of workers over the past century while the religious fanatics want to return us to the mediaeval world in which the Bible supercedes the constitution.

Most of the countries of Western Europe are much more egalitarian and much more secular than the United States. They are also struggling against the forces of medievalism although the regressive forces of Islam they are fighting do not have the corporate sponsorship that American religious conservatives enjoy. Only 5% of people in the UK regularly attend church. Only 12% of French Catholics regularly attend mass. The corporate conservatives will have to find another tact to ally themselves with the masses in European societies. Perhaps corporate conservatives in Europe will foment anti-Islamic and racist sentiments to gain the support of the electorate.

The corporate political strategy seems to be this: Keep the masses ignorant, find things that piss them off, and then make like you are on their side. While the religious fanatics are mourning the Pope or standing vigil over a comatose victim, the business world can dismantle our pesky environmental codes and entitlement system. The thing to remember as all of this unfolds is that in the Dark Ages most people were surfs.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Hardball Rite of Spring

Hardball Rite of Spring

Opening Day has been one of my favorite spring rituals for longer than I care to say. It’s always a good excuse not to work, a better excuse to drink a beer and have a hot dog, and I don’t need much of an excuse to watch baseball. The days are getting longer and I don’t wear the heaviest of my winter coats much anymore. Opening Day of baseball is like the second half of the spring equinox, letting you know that the rain will end (in a few months), it’s time to look for your own ball and glove, and there will be something to watch on those horrible sports channels they force-feed you in bars.

I’m one of the lucky few people in America who can actually walk to the baseball stadium from where they live. Safeco Field, where the Mariners play, is on the other side of the downtown from my apartment, but I always walk to games. Driving is out of the question because of the lack of parking, and busses are slower than walking because of all the pre-game traffic. I could ride my bike, but I’m the only bike freak out of the crowd going with me today.

I love walking down First Avenue towards the stadium on game days. By the time I reach Pioneer Square the sidewalks are teaming with other fans on their way to find a place to have a beer before they get to the stadium. There are dozens of great old saloons in this historic district of Seattle. My favorite is FX McCory’s. It’s old and elegant with lots of varnished wood and dozens of beers on tap.

We’ll finish the beers, pull out our tickets, and head down the street to the ballpark. I love walking the last two blocks past all of the hot dog and peanut vendors, ticket scalpers, and merchandise hawkers. What, besides baseball, could be more American than selling shit? Baseball is all about facilitating commerce—just talk to any business owner in Pioneer Square. It’s not just about putting asses in stadium seats; baseball puts 45,000 extra asses on top of Pioneer Square bar stools for 82 home games each season. On about 20 of those dates during the season, one of the asses on one of those stools will be mine.

At some point in all of this a baseball game will be played.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Pope Is Almost Dead

Dude, die already!
If the Pope were any less alive he would certainly be dead. He’s as close as you can get to not being of this world. To illustrate how almost-dead he is, touch your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Now move them apart ever so slightly. He is that close to being a goner. That update is straight from his doctors.

Even though he is close to pushing up daisies he’s a lucky guy, because how many people rate a New York Times front page headline saying they are almost dead? Even if I die a spectacularly flamboyant death, the news of my demise probably won’t even make it in the paper at all, and this guy gets a top-of-the-fold headline for being “near death.” Some Popes have all the luck. I should have never dropped out of the Pope academy. I should have stuck with it. Now I’m just a Pope School drop-out nobody.

One thing that you have to admire about this Pope is the guy's work ethic. Here he is on his death bed, or death chair, or death throne, or wherever the fuck the Pope sits, and yet he’s still working. Granted, he doesn’t do much but he’s still doing it. He’s been blessing the living shit out of all of those people out in Saint Peter's Square, along with his other papal duties of drinking Christ’s blood and eating his flesh. Even though he's near death his handlers are working him like a rented mule. You never see the cardinals in Rome doing jack shit. The Pope needs a union or something.

That’s a pretty full ticket even for someone who isn’t almost dead. If I were almost dead I’d just be kicking back watching videos and eating nachos. Not this guy, he’s out on his balcony blessing pilgrims to within an inch of their unholy lives. You gotta hand it to the almost dead guy.

It’s a slow news day so I’ll give you an update: The Pope is still almost dead. Prepare yourselves people, it looks like he ain’t gonna make. He could go at any minute, or maybe in a few days, or he could hold on for fucking weeks. Who the heck knows? Not me, not his doctors, and not The New York Times. Thousands of people are flocking to the Vatican to get one more In Nomini Patri out of him before he kicks off.

I don’t see what the big rush is all about. You can just get blessed by the replacement Pope. I guess it’s kind of like watching Ted Williams play his last game. I feel bad for all the poor slobs who went to Rome a few weeks ago thinking that they could say they were there to get the Pope’s last blessing and here he is still out there waving away.

I better get this posted before the “almost dead” thing is old news. The end is near, or it could be next week, or the week after.


Reminds me of Monty Python's Holy Grail..."I'm not dead yet". "But you will be by Tuesday."

Can't a pope get a break from you atheists even for a day? My guess is that Castro will get more coverage than this guy when Fidel's time rolls around. Shit, look at the 2 weeks of endless blather we had to listen to about Arafat.

-- Andy Apr 02 2005

If CNN were really clever they'd hack into the Vatican computer system and display the Pope's real time EKG so they can report the very microsecond he croaks. I imagine that's not as silly as it seems for the future.

-- mat Apr 03 2005

Nope, the Pope won't get a break from me. He dresses like a drag queen, presides over a world-wide network of child-raping weirdos and his corporation takes so much money from poor people, it makes Sam Walton blush with shame. Fuck the pope.

-- kevin m. Apr 05 2005