Monday, November 22, 2010

The Habit of Freedom

We were struck the other day when we came across a picture of John F. Kennedy giving a stump speech in West Virginia during the 1960 presidential campaign.

The masters of the world, wrote Gibbon, professed themselves to be the Servants of the Senate and the supreme Augustus affected himself a bourgeois gentilhomme.

But the affectation had a real effect. Then, as now, studied simplicity does keep things simple. When things are simple they are direct and clear; and, being clear, open, and thus free and fearless.

It is a question of habit.

Habit is a form of doing things -- an outward motion. It is, to be sure, an appearance but one that dictates substance. A man who holds his head high, must of necessity walk erect and walking erect breathe fully and breathing fully feel full and flush and thus confident. Disease produces symptoms; habits (which are symptoms in reverse) induce health.

Jack Kennedy would have understood this instinctively.

It was odd that we should have come upon the photo of Kennedy standing on the kitchen stool, for a few days before that our mind had -- for some random reason -- called up the memory of Hyannis Port.

The Kennedy's were a wealthy clan; but their compound was nothing extraordinarily grand, particularly bearing in mind the clan's size. It was "roomy", well appointed and gentilement bourgeois.

Of course, America has had its ostentatious moguls and diamond-studded Trimalchios. There is always a class whose inner disgrace reveals itself in gilded depravity, as openly as possible for all to see! But they were not what the Country was about or conceived itself as being.

The habit of a retiring simplicity affected by the greater part of America's ruling class, as by the first Caesars, engendered and preserved an egalitarian concourse and familiar freedom despite our conflicts and imperfections.

The curtain on that habit of being was rung down by crisp rapports on a sunny November day, 47 years ago.

Even before the president was laid to rest, the cry went up that the Secret Service had been "lax". Indeed it had been precisely because the country itself was. In becoming correctively "un-lax" the Secret Service took those first critical steps which led to the forbidden end and made the country un-free.

We do not mean to suggest that there were no security concerns before November 23, 1963, or that the country became a police state the day after. The acquisition and loss of habits is always a question of time and degree. But before that day, even the police services, respected the demands of openness; after, even society itself became increasingly focused on achieving air-tight security.

It is inconceivable today that a president would stand on kitchen stool in the open air, and we, as a consequence, are no longer free.

©WCG, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Woodchip's People Friendly Balanced Budget

The Woodchip Miracle
As we noted in News and Notes, The New York Times published an inter-active chart allowing readers of their rag to try their hand at balancing the budget. It goes without saying that the choices offered were summarized in gross and that the inter-active, as a whole, was subtly biased toward social austerity choices the Times would like us to make. Nevertheless, the inter-active proves that the budget can be balanced by cutting our obscene military spending and raising taxes on the excessively rich, without touching a hair on the head of Social Security or Medicare. Woodchip’s Choices:


1. Cut Foreign Aid in Half .........................saves: 17 billion
(Most of this “aid” is disguised military spending and spying)

2. Eliminate Earmarks ...............................saves 14 billion

3. Cut 250.000 contractors .......................saves 17 billion
(Most of these contracts are scams, payback and kick backs.)

Not Selected were options to cut federal workers pay by 5% and the federal worlforce by 10%. We have no doubt that the federal workforce could stand cutting, but absent specification that the cuts will not affect services delivered to the needy, we cannot offer an endorsement. In addition, when unemployment is at 20% it is supremely stupid to cut any jobs even if they were only federal make work.


1. Reduce nuclear arsenal & space spending .. 19 billion
(This item would reduce our total nukular warheads by half to a mere 1,000; it would also give up on Mars-based interplanetary missle programs.

2. Reduce military to pre-Iraq War size ...... 25 billion

3. Reduce Navy and AirForce fleets. ......saves 19 billion
(Under this proposal the navy would “shrink” to from 286 sheeps to 230.)

4. Cancel/Delay weapons progams .........saves 19 billion

5. Reduce non-combat benefits/costs ......saves 23 billion
(This proposal would raise health care premiums/shift costs to private employers; it would also reduce housing allowances etc. We are loathe to cut personal benefits and do so only because we continue to emphasize that what is needed is a UNIVERSAL plan for all rather than patchwork of programs that benefit some and discriminate against others)

6. Reduce Iraq and Afpakistan troops to 30,00
by 2013 .............................................................saves 86 billion.
(If the cuts are delayed to 2015, it saves only 51 billions, but it is lunacy to delay ending a war that we know is unwinnable and which is bankrupting the country)

What these items indicate is how obscene and bankrupting the NeoCon 'escapade' into Iraq and Afghanistan has been. They also indicate how colosally disastrous the a war with Iran will be. It is simply no exageration to say that the ZioCon Agenda more than anything else has brought the country to the brink of fiscal ruin.

1. Cut Estate Tax to Pre-Clinton Levels ......... 50 billions
(The GOP/Blue Dog proposal would impose piddling estate taxes saving no more than 12 billion. Obama's "socialistic" proposal would tax a little more resulting in deficit savings of 24 billion. What gets forgotten here is the "Pre-Clinton" levels means the tax rate that existed under Good Ol' Ronnie. Join the Chipster Chorus in singing, "If 'twas good enuff for Ronnie; if 'twas good enuff for Ronnie; if 'twas good enuff for's goo inuff fo' me."

2. Raise Investment Taxes to Clinton Era levels... 32 billions
(Obamacrats would raise the capital gains tax to 20% for people making “a few hundred thousand dollars a year”. In theory, Clinton era levels would affect workers pensions plans; but in practice these have been wiped out anyway.)

3. All Expiration of Bush Tax Cuts for incomes over 250,000 ..........................................................saves 54 billion
(An alternative option would eliminate the tax cuts for incomes under 250,000 saving 172 billion; but under includes 100,000 and 50,000 and the Gazette sees no reason to hit working people harder. The savings figure illustrates just how much of the tax burden is borne by the working class, specifically three times as much as the upper class.)

4. Impose a social security tax on incomes over
$106,000 ...........................................................saves 50 billion
(There is simply no reason to exempt those who make more from paying more)

5. Special sur-tax income over 1 million .........50 billion
(If the Times wants to talk about an era of "austerity" it should include the concept "social austerity" which means that there is no reason why anyone needs more than 1 million dollars a year to have a perfectly good and decent life.)

6. Cut all tax breaks except child and earned income credits the mortgage interest deduction and health and retirement benefits ........................................ 75 billion
(An alternative proposal would impose higher rates yielding savingt of 136 billion)

7. Reduce mortgage interest deduction by converting it to a credit .................................................. saves 25 billion
(This deduction is very popular with the "middle class" but in actuality it is of principal benefit to real estate speculators and corporate property owners. There are better ways to incentivize and reward first home purchasers.)

8. Carbon tax ...................................................saves 40 billion

9. Bank tax ...................................................... saves 73 billion
Woodchip rejects any national sales tax or VAT (projected savings of 41 billion) because it is as highly regressive.

What the foregoing shows is that the budget can be balanced by taxing the wealthiest and least productive elements of society and reducing military spending from monstruously stratopheric heights to merely "over-the-top" levels. By the same token, the inter-active shows just what and who is responsible for this country's fiscal disaster. Banks, Insurance Companies, War Profiteers (that's what they used to be called before the Era of Euphemism) and the obscenely wealthy are the country's problem...not its poor.

The New York Times rather coyly offered the following options that would "blame" the working class and the poor for the country's woes and that would "solve" the problem by reducing the thread bare to rags:

1. raise the social security retirement age to 68 or 70.........saves 8 billion
2. reduce social security for those above 60th percentile ...saves 6 billion
4. tighten disability eligibility .............................................saves 9 billion
5. use alternate measuses for inflation adjustm..................saves 9 billion

6. increase medicare eligibility to 68 or 70 .........................saves 8 billion
7. medical malpractice reform .............................................saves 8 billion
4. reduce credits for employer provided health insurance .........41 billion
5. cap medicare growth as of 2013 .....................................saves 29 billion

The social security/medicare savings show what a vilely vindictive creep of a human Alan ("Cow Tit") Simpson is. On the scale of things the savings from social security and medicare cuts to recipients are among the smallest. But the human cost in suffering and hardship is immense. Alan Cow Tit Simpson and the Top Two Percent are perfectly happy to let old ladies eat cat food for dinner in order to save 8 billion dollars while excusing banksters from paying a tax which would generate 73 billion.

Nevertheless, we Chipsters have to thank the New York Times for baring its neo-liberal ass, allowing the rest of us to see, very clearly, how the fiscal woes of this country can be resolved by two principal measures: cutting back military spending to Bush I levels and returning tax policy to Reagan/Clinton levels. Ironic.

©WCG, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Remembrance of Armistice Day

Today was Armistice Day but I did not wear a red poppy.

Today, 92 years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month a haunting stillness fell upon Europe's battlefields as acrid smoke dispersed into the sky. In the bomb-plowed ground, red poppies bloomed.

I was nowhere in existence then but I was taught to fix a poppy onto my coat, to stand and ponder the vileness of war, the evanescence of peace and the tragedy of a species that is left to remembrance of its folly.

"What passing bells for those who died as cattle?"

But today, Armistice Day, lies buried under a heap of War Days and loud remembrances of heroes gone to wars.

What shadow of civilization have we become that we number our mass murders like cattle and pretend to remember the nameless fallen? Is it not obscene? Today is not “Veterans Day”. Today is not a one-for-all size “Remembrance Day” of service in war. Armistice Day marked an existential passing for a species that had shown its true quintessence.

World War I was the Great War. It was great because it was absolutely senseless and destructive of all sensibility save despair.

The World War -- that is, the one which really did engulf the world 21 years later -- killed six times as many humans beings with a diabolical murderousness that rivaled the fires of hell. But there were grievances and causes and, hence, reasons for war, misbegotten as they might have been. There was no reason for the Great War.

Historians have sought in vain for some tissue of a reason to cover the depravity of mass suicidal slaughter. The war was caused, it is said, by interlocking alliances, or by national jealousy, or by the building of boats or of a desert railroad. But none of these attempts explain what was the supposed advantage to be gained or the alleged grievance to be settled by marching off to war. The true explanation was the one offered by Emil Ludwig that the Great War was unleashed simply by two very, very bored aristocratic junior diplomats in Vienna. In other words, the cause of a senseless war was itself senselessness.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
---Cecil Spring-Ryce (I vow to Thee My Country)
The Great War was great because it was a pure war, intrinsic and pristine like a bloody sacrament.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
---Wilfred Owen (Anthem for Doomed Youth)

Just as senseless was the devotion with which men just threw themselves into the daily dread of killing and being killed in numbers that staggered the imagination. This was not strategic carnage but ritualized suicide. Four years, day after day, men rose up from the within the earth, ran into a leaden rain and fell back dead into the muck oozing with blood.

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
--- AE Houseman

And being young, men were lifted upward by shimmering allures of Faith! Country! Freedom! and, above all, Honour! until one by one all the noble sentiments too were slain and lay befouled in the muck oozing with blood.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
--- Wilfred Owens (Dulce et Decorum)
The Great War was great because Man emerged from the clouds of smoke and gas knowing that he had become more senseless than a beast.

“Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle now long since ironed, can laugh among the dying unconcerned."
--- Wilfred Owens (Insensiblity)

And a lover of death.

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead ...

Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be for what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.
-- Edward Thomas (Rain)

The Great War was great because, like no war before it, it hollowed out the soul and left civilization a mere husk of appearances.

“After the shells ... and the gas, the bullets were like the gentle rain from heaven ... I cannot say I suffered anything; having let my brain grow dull”
---Wilfred Owens

Senseless in purpose, senselessly begun, begetting senselessness, the Great War rendered civilization itself senseless.

“Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
as we miss the march of this retreating world”
---Wilfred Owens

No war has produced such poetry, for in no other war was the overweening hope of civilization so cast down into the nightmare of senselessness and despair. All war is stupid and its teasing vainglory exacts a vengeful price. But the Great War was a pure communion with death that revealed Europe’s marbled cities to be white washed sepulchres. It is only through understanding the existential passage traversed in the Great War that we can comprehend the unique essence of that day when the passage ended.

For if despite all progress, Man relapsed into murdering suicide; and if every courage and every lofty hope and every cowardice and every sordid lust was cut down equally in the muck oozing with blood, then there was no hope greater than that we might from time to time relapse into Armistice.

Armistice. A time to remember that peace is but a pause in the pace of war.

For years that day, that pause and that dismissal silence was marked by two minutes of stillness throughout the land

What passing bells? None.

leaving us to ponder in pitiful poverty

What have we done?
for we know not what we do

Once the pause was turned from a confession of senselessness into a commemoration of those who died in battle, and the ones thereafter and after that and thence of all veterans proudly "flesh-marked by the Beast", the holy and awful memory of Armistice Day was whored to war.

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.
---Wilfred Owens

Subtly and vilely the remembrance of a tenuous and evanescent peace has been corrupted into a celebration of heroic sacrifice in war; tricked out as always with sham affect and easy tears for the fallen while urging the young ever more to live the old lie and die.

What a defilement that we should remember Armistice Day even while, at the very moment, engaged in war.

No. I did not wear a poppy today. It was stolen from me.

Wilfred Owen’s mother received notification of his death on 11 November 1918.

©WCG, 2010

Armistice Day 2010

Armistice Day.
The day to remember, sadly, that peace is only a pause in war.

Essay: "In Remembrance of Armistice Day"


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stop Goofing Around

Oh c'mon you guys. Stop goofing around up there on the Hill. The Republicans need to get busy building bridges for people to die under.


Pope Does "El Camino"

Since it was not reported by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the U.S. press in general (except for the Washington Post on its back pages), the Woodchip Gazette will note that Pope Benedict has paid a second visit to Spain where he made pilgrimage (mini-version) to the tomb of Saint James, at Compostella.

The Princes of Asturias, welcome Pope Benedict to the Accompaniement
of the Papal and Royal Anthems

Arriving in Galicia, the Pope exhorted Spain and Europe to be "concerned not only with people’s material needs but also with their moral and social, spiritual and religious needs, since all these are genuine requirements of our common humanity."

At the Shrine of St. James Benedict stated that "To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself The Church is this embrace of God, in which men and women learn also to embrace their brothers and sisters and to discover in them the divine image and likeness which constitutes the deepest truth of their existence, and which is the origin of genuine freedom."

The Pope has called for a rapprochment ("meeting") between the Church and the Spanish Government which are in conflict over the issues of abortion, divorce and marriage. Spain's prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero was not in attendance to greet His Holiness at the airport, and a gay "kiss in" is planned on Sunday when Benedict visits Barcelona to consecrate Gaudi's fantasmagorical Cathedral of the Holy Family, a hundred years in the building.

Earlier in the week, at a Papal Audience on the eve of All Saints Day, the Pope stated that "God Excludes No One."