Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Goodbye Humvee

On this auspicious occasion that General Motors announced it will no longer produce the Hummer I for public consumption, I would like to take a moment to bid farewell to the worst, most wasteful, quasi fascist automotive fad to ever come down the road. In this monkey see culture, Arnold buys a fleet of Hummers and suddenly they are on the streets of your city. Imagining the arrogance it takes to drive one of these garish vehicles, I tried never to confront one of the owners personally to avoid bloodshed, probably mine. But I had to express my outrage somehow and ordered a package of fake parking tickets from an online prank company. They look very much like a government regulated citation and say "Violation, $100.00 Fine." Then they give you a list of offenses that you can check off. For the Hummer I usually checked the boxes next to "Driving a Hunk of Crap," and "Mentally Handicapped Driver," then put them under the wiper and slunk into the night with silent satisfaction. In fact, it felt so good, I started to put them on some of these Suburban Assault Vehicles. Maybe I gave one to you.

A Disclaimer: I am the co-owner of a red Ford Explorer that I inherited in my wife's divorce from her previous husband. It was either that or a pick-up truck. But it's paid for and we will probably drive it until the wheels fall off. But if I had my druthers, I'd trade it in for one of those sleek Japanese sedans. A solid and low highway bullet that needs minimal maintenance and has a tight turning ratio and responds to your urgings. That's the same symbolism the auto industry used to sell the SUV. The populace sees O.J. fleeing the police in a white Bronco, and suddenly our streets are filled with mammoth, gasoline swilling boxes of steel and chrome that obliterate all trace of the station wagon, which at least you could see over and around. Advertising emphasizes the security, but tests show that a 7000 pound vehicle rolls more easily than a 3000 pound vehicle. I ask my friends why they buy them and the answer is always the same; The Kids! I never had the obligation to take the children to soccer practice and I know it takes some space. But when I am in traffic, nine times out of ten the SUV contains only the driver, usually a woman and more often than not, on the phone. I am not attempting to be sexist. That's just how it is. Try the experiment yourself. No matter what time of day or night, the half hour of 3:00 to 3:30 aside, while you sit at a light, observe the SUV. If ten pass, they usually contain ten people.

Then there is always the response, "It's my money. I earned it and I can do damned well what I want with it." All these sentiments are undeniably true. But living in a civil society sometimes requires you to be cognizant of those around you. It requires more than ostentation, of doing things merely because you can. Civility is based on empathy, of imagining the consequences of your actions on others. Back in the day when our hair was long and our eyes were bright, I drove a Volkswagen mini-van until I realized what an enormous mistake I made in acquiring it. I couldn't park it or maneuver it, or heat it for that matter, but for a while it gave my self esteem a boost to be sitting up there high looking down on the other drivers. Now that it costs $80.00 to fill the tank, there are less expensive thrills. There will always be those who operate these vehicles regardless of the price of gas and the meager mileage because they wish to prove that they are able to do whatever they want. For anyone with a conscience, the game should be about over.

There is no real reason for optimism according to a poll run by Kelley Blue Book, (KBB.com). According to a survey that asked what a customer would be willing to sacrifice to achieve five more miles per gallon, only 27% were willing to step down in the size of their vehicle. And an additional 27% said that they were willing to sacrifice nothing. And every day the streets are more clogged, manners are non-existent, and the air is fouled. I used to love to drive. I hate it now. I have passed up opportunities to be with friends and family merely because I wanted to avoid the rage that encompasses me from here to there. It wasn't always this way.

I also once truly believed that by the turn of the century, we would have perfected the electric car. And instead of filling stations, there would be charging stations all up and down the highway. And you could zip along cleanly and quietly and drive into the heart of the city and still be able to breathe clean air and see the sun. Our energy dependence would be over and we could be about the business of cleaning up some of the century of automotive mess we've made. But, on the good side, I guess we're not going to Mars anymore. A good start would be to cease electing to public office those who feel obligated to dole out favors to Big Oil.

Jimmy Carter tried to tell us. We were too weary of the stage managed fireplaces and cardigan sweaters to remember the first campaign promise Carter made, "I will never lie to you." And he didn't. Considering that Carter was two helicopters short of being a national hero, the truth might have cost him the election. Carter's warnings about our energy dependence created a shift to more efficient cars and created an atmosphere for Saturn to begin. Too bad they made lousy cars, but it was the right direction. We need to right our course again and send a message to Detroit that the day of the family monster truck is over. Now that the kids are teenagers, maybe it's time to consider taking up less space on the road. A killer sound system always sounds better in a compacted space and increased fuel efficiency will drive down the price of gas. And imagine being able to park again. Until then, I need a ride.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Real World

And here I sit so patiently/Waiting to find out what price/You have to pay to get out of/Going through all these things twice.
Bob Dylan, "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again"

Now that everyone I see, hear, or talk to is outraged, furious, or frustrated, I would like to pose a question. Who could have imagined that electing a political novice as president, a Texas one and a half term governor who was incompetent and unprepared for the job, would have turned out so badly? I couldn't. I thought President Jethro would be a caretaker who would try to reverse the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson, at worst. When Dubya made his speech to the joint session of Congress after the attacks of 9/11, I not only thought it was a great speech, I thought it was one of the best speeches I had ever heard. But Dubya's posse had a chip on their collective shoulders from the unfinished business of Bush the Smarter in Iraq. They rolled an amiable dunce into believing he was Charlemagne. Perhaps Secretary Rumsfeld should have read Robert McNamara's book, "In Retrospect; The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam." Does that say it plainly enough?

Most frustrating is the mirror image of the war in Iraq with the war in Vietnam. Out of the whole bunch, only Colin Powell seemed sobered by that war and learned its painful lessons. The tag-team of Rummy/Cheney came aboard during the Ford administration after the war had ended. President Jethro was partying hardy and the neocons who participated in planning their war fantasy in Iraq never got a whiff of gunpowder. Neither did a lot of people who's lives were torn asunder by arrogant politicians who refused to admit their errors. But this regime never participated in the protests but, rather, had contempt for the protesters who they felt aided the enemy. History has disproven this lie as history will reveal the current lies. The people who are now shouting the loudest about accountability for the warmongerers are those same people who helped drag the Vietnam War to its inevitable conclusion through outrage and protest. They are attempting to keep up the pressure to end our presence in Iraq quickly, before the body count is to ghastly to conceive. The rage is the result of most 60s protesters believing they would never have had to experience such a tragedy again.

But the Vietraq comparisons will be the same at the end as they were at the beginning. Here is how I know. The turning point in the Nixon administration's intransigence began when the soldiers who fought came home and founded the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and marched on Washington. That was John Kerry's finest hour, unfortunately. Two weeks ago in New York there was a protest march attended by 300,000 people and it was led by soldiers disillusioned by their tour of duty in Iraq. You would think a third of a million people in the street would be banner headlines and leading news stories on the networks, but the corporate press was too busy covering the phony "crisis" in illegal immigration. This Rovian scheme to make illegals into felons even fooled the immigrants. Their turnout for amnesty was the result of the fear of being criminalized for existing, but it overshadowed the war protests.

Unprecedented, however, is this revolt of the retired generals and the mutiny at the CIA over the very real possibility that the Bush regime is going to bomb Iran. A great many people feel we have a score to settle with Iran over the humiliation of the hostage crisis during the Carter administration. Most don't know that in 1953, the CIA and the British Secret Service arranged and executed a coup to overthrow the democratically elected President of Iran, Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq, because he would not allow foreign interference in Iran's oil industry. Instead, our government re-instated the Shah, who's brutal secret police terrorized the citizenry until the Iranian revolution of the 1970s. Our government created the environment for the mullahs who now rule Iran to come into power. These are the unlearned lessons of intervention and intrigue. Was that those chickens I heard coming home to roost? I just hope we can impeach President Jethro before he starts World War III.

On this, the cusp of Karl Rove's indictment for perjury, and the eve of a breaking corruption scandal that will make Watergate look like Travelgate, it's good to reflect on the abuses of power that led to Richard Nixon's impeachment. No leader since Nixon has been more deserving of impeachment than President Jethro, maybe since Andrew Johnson, who botched Reconstruction. This President, however, if impeached and put on trial in the Senate will not only be removed from office, he will be sent to jail or The Hague, along with his fellow travelers who have caused so much misery and instability in the world.

We cannot afford to allow another three years to pass without holding the offenders accountable. The hapless and spineless Democrats are no lead pipe cinch to win back the House because they are busy pandering to the cult of personality that elected Bush. The only politician other than Russ Feingold who has been consistently anti-war and vocal in his denouncement of this cynical cabal has been Al Gore. If one potential freshman Congressman or Senator would run for office on the promise of initiating real investigations with subpoena power into this regime's deceptions, that would be sufficient reason to vote for them. The only political progressive with those kind of guts plays a funny conservative on TV with the courage to risk public condemnation in order to tell the truth.

Mealymouth Republican candidate for president George Allen of Virginia recently said, "We need people like Tony Snow, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh to speak out. They know what's going on in the real world." That is akin to the Democrats urging Courtney Love to be more outspoken. While Limbaugh was swimming in a sea of Oxycontin, in the real world a local home moving business has to drastically raise prices to put gas in their trucks. In the real world, a round trip from Memphis to Nashville in an SUV costs nearly as much as an airline ticket. In the real world, if you own stock in Exxon you're doing fine, but if you need Exxon to get to work, you're in trouble. And ultimately, in the real world, this president is not "The Decider," you are! It is past time that we should remember that.