Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Add Up the Damage
('I don’t think George W. Bush should be allowed to slip quietly out of town. There should be a loud, collective angry howl and demonstrations over the damage he’s done to this country.');
By BOB HERBERT
Published: December 29, 2008
Does anyone know where George W. Bush is?
You don’t hear much from him anymore. The last image most of us remember is of the president ducking a pair of size 10s that were hurled at him in Baghdad.
We’re still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel is thrashing the Palestinians in Gaza. And the U.S. economy is about as vibrant as the 0-16 Detroit Lions.
But hardly a peep have we heard from George, the 43rd.
When Mr. Bush officially takes his leave in three weeks (in reality, he checked out long ago), most Americans will be content to sigh good riddance. I disagree. I don’t think he should be allowed to slip quietly out of town. There should be a great hue and cry — a loud, collective angry howl, demonstrations with signs and bullhorns and fiery speeches — over the damage he’s done to this country.
This is the man who gave us the war in Iraq and Guantánamo and torture and rendition; who turned the Clinton economy and the budget surplus into fool’s gold; who dithered while New Orleans drowned; who trampled our civil liberties at home and ruined our reputation abroad; who let Dick Cheney run hog wild and thought Brownie was doing a heckuva job.
The Bush administration specialized in deceit. How else could you get the public (and a feckless Congress) to go along with an invasion of Iraq as an absolutely essential response to the Sept. 11 attacks, when Iraq had had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks?
Exploiting the public’s understandable fears, Mr. Bush made it sound as if Iraq was about to nuke us: “We cannot wait,” he said, “for the final proof — the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
He then set the blaze that has continued to rage for nearly six years, consuming more than 4,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. (A car bomb over the weekend killed two dozen more Iraqis, many of them religious pilgrims.) The financial cost to the U.S. will eventually reach $3 trillion or more, according to the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz.
A year into the war Mr. Bush was cracking jokes about it at the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association. He displayed a series of photos that showed him searching the Oval Office, peering behind curtains and looking under the furniture. A mock caption had Mr. Bush saying: “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere.”
And then there’s the Bush economy, another disaster, a trapdoor through which middle-class Americans can plunge toward the bracing experiences normally reserved for the poor and the destitute.
Mr. Bush traveled the country in the early days of his presidency, promoting his tax cut plans as hugely beneficial to small-business people and families of modest means. This was more deceit. The tax cuts would go overwhelmingly to the very rich.
The president would give the wealthy and the powerful virtually everything they wanted. He would throw sand into the regulatory apparatus and help foster the most extreme income disparities since the years leading up to the Great Depression. Once again he was lighting a fire. This time the flames would engulf the economy and, as with Iraq, bring catastrophe.
If the U.S. were a product line, it would be seen now as deeply damaged goods, subject to recall.
There seemed to be no end to Mr. Bush’s talent for destruction. He tried to hand the piggy bank known as Social Security over to the marauders of the financial sector, but saner heads prevailed.
In New Orleans, the president failed to intervene swiftly and decisively to aid the tens of thousands of poor people who were very publicly suffering and, in many cases, dying. He then compounded this colossal failure of leadership by traveling to New Orleans and promising, in a dramatic, floodlit appearance, to spare no effort in rebuilding the flood-torn region and the wrecked lives of the victims.
He went further, vowing to confront the issue of poverty in America “with bold action.”
It was all nonsense, of course. He did nothing of the kind.
The catalog of his transgressions against the nation’s interests — sins of commission and omission — would keep Mr. Bush in a confessional for the rest of his life. Don’t hold your breath. He’s hardly the contrite sort.
He told ABC’s Charlie Gibson: “I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it.”
The president chuckled, thinking — as he did when he made his jokes about the missing weapons of mass destruction — that there was something funny going on.
One poem in this wonderful collection leads one to another.............there will be more in the SRN.
1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference, who got his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whisky maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class as a weapon of math disruption.
5. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.
6. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
7. A dog gave birth to puppies in public and was cited for littering.
8. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France resulted in Linoleum Blownapart.
9. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
10. Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.
11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
12. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
13. Two hats were hanging on a rack in the hall. One hat said to the other, 'You stay here, I'll go on a head.'
14. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger; then it hit me.
15. The sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said, 'Keep off the grass.'
16. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital.
When his mother asked how he was, the nurse said, 'No change yet.'
17. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
18. It's not that the man did not know how to juggle, he just didn't have the balls to do it.
19. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
20. The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
21. A backward poet writes inverse.
22. In democracy, it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your count that votes.
23. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
24. Don't join dangerous cults; practice safe sects.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The driftwood Santa the other day did not have it's finial. When it was unpacked from the Christmas decorations the jingle bell must have come off and was at the bottom of the box, lonely.
So here is shown the completed Santa, symbolically, as our kids head home from Madison together on this snowy eve, as we write, putting the finishing touch on the advancing festivity at the SRN headquarters.
Monday, December 22, 2008
As to Wheeling, our unseen friend who works there for the symphony orchestra sends this cat greeting to the Sewer Raccoon News.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
She is not one who worries about fine threads, other than to always present herself well and cleanly. She, as her friends and colleagues know, does have a sense of color and textile match-ups that reigns at the pinnacle of this household and, I dare say, far beyond.
There is one garment she dons (frequently, frequently, frequently...... frequently) when she is doing in-house, under-roof business, a sweat shirt with matching pants that she cannot part with. Seeing Dee in this shirt is a very small price to pay for her presence, I've maintained, and over which I've remained silent. Sometimes when she slips on that old sweatshirt I have to suppress a very small smile.
I took the liberty of affixing a proclamation on the front of it, using the old Liquitex polymer acrylic paints still in the storage cabinet from when I was into painting ties on T shirts. I got the gumption for doing this violating and hence daring deed from the knowledge that I was going to buy a brand new sweatsuit for her, for Christmas.
We shall see if this tried and true designated "FAVORITE" shirt fades from fashion around here, but my bet is that this isn't the end of it.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I was thumbing my nightstand reading tonight. I keep my 1944 boy scout manual at my side in the same way some keep a bible undusted and close by. (I also have one of those.)
I asked my spouse, who was already asleep, where the old dutch oven is. She said she wasn't going to look for it tonight, but she thinks she remembers where it is in the basement.
There is no rush, as I'll have to dig a hole for this, and the ground is pretty frozen, and right now under more than a foot of snow. Using the general technique of the bean-cooking. however, I could thaw the ground with a slow-burning fire, but there isn't that sort of urgency at present.
A reading of the following from the scout manual may slow you down a little:
We clip this obituary and run it in the News for the information of some SRN readers who have moved away from the area.
And this one of the SRN editor's hand, feeding a chickadee, was taken by a friend with a better camera in Pembine, WI.
We know, we've covered this before. http://raccoonnews.blogspot.com/2008/01/take-eat-my-sunflower-seeds-given-for.html
A heavy snow falls in Waukesha today. Fortunately the raccoons in the sewer are in their dormant mode.
But the chickadees outside the window are busy feeding. Heavy snow is falling, expected to deposit another 12 inches or so on top of what there already is. It's warm, though, at 18. And I'm at a very warm 65 while the birds only a yardstick from my seat are in the "wild."
Normally, the chickadees flit quickly to the edge of the opening in the gourd, grab a sunflower heart and depart, sometimes to fine-carve it on the brackets attached to the window frame holding the wire, or to peck at it on a branch of the juniper tree behind.
Today, they like to linger inside the feeder to eat sheltered from the snowfall, so it affords an opportunity to take some better pictures. We have fed them by hand in northern Wisconsin on days like this. Holding the seeds in an outstretched and ungloved hand, and calling a high "chickadee-dee-dee, chickadee-dee-dee..." with your voice, they would fly in arcing, bobbing flight trajectories to your hand and perch on your fingers while they chose a sunflower seed and then departed.
While they picked a seed, their little feet were warm on your frigid fingers! And their breath steamed from their tiny nostrils. You could see it when they were that close.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
The Maryland Christmas box is being shipped from the SRN hdqtrs today. One of the gifts in the parcel, all wrapped by senior raccoon tolerator Mother Denise, is the present for her mother, a life-long seamstress by avocation who has in the last years brought out a line of womens' purses and carry-alls made from recycled blue jeans, with all proceeds going to benefit her village church. The demand is great.
Any garments in need of elaborate repair are sent to Jean Means, who lives on Hughes Shop Road in Pleasant Valley MD, at the farm where the barn made of billboards is located. Her husband John (Poppy), is barn artiste. (See http://raccoonnews.blogspot.com/2008/10/poppys-barn.html)
Our gift to Mom this year is a charitable gift in her name of sewing supplies through www.churchworldservice.org.
The imaginative gift wrapping by Jean's daugher, Denise, is a paper pattern for the outer wrap and green seaming tape for the ribbon, and a brass button for the bow.
Dee's motto could be "Packaging, that's where it's at!"
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Two Cheers for Rod Blagojevich
By FRANK RICH
Published: December 13, 2008
ROD BLAGOJEVICH is the perfect holiday treat for a country fighting off depression. He gift-wraps the ugliness of corruption in the mirthful garb of farce. From a safe distance outside Illinois, it’s hard not to laugh at the “culture of Chicago,” where even the president-elect’s Senate seat is just another commodity to be bought and sold.
But the entertainment is escapist only up to a point. What went down in the Land of Lincoln is just the reductio ad absurdum of an American era where both entitlement and corruption have been the calling cards of power. Blagojevich’s alleged crimes pale next to the larger scandals of Washington and Wall Street. Yet those who promoted and condoned the twin national catastrophes of reckless war in Iraq and reckless gambling in our markets have largely escaped the accountability that now seems to await the Chicago punk nabbed by the United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald.
The Republican partisans cheering Fitzgerald’s prosecution of a Democrat have forgotten his other red-letter case in this decade, his conviction of Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. Libby was far bigger prey. He was part of the White House Iraq Group, the task force of propagandists that sold an entire war to America on false pretenses. Because Libby was caught lying to a grand jury and federal prosecutors as well as to the public, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. But President Bush commuted the sentence before he served a day.
Fitzgerald was not pleased. “It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals,” he said at the time.
Not in the Bush era, man. Though the president had earlier vowed to fire anyone involved in leaking the classified identity of a C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame Wilson — the act Libby tried to cover up by committing perjury — both Libby and his collaborator in leaking, Karl Rove, remained in place.
Accountability wasn’t remotely on Bush’s mind. If anything, he was more likely to reward malfeasance and incompetence, as exemplified by his gifting of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to George Tenet, L. Paul Bremer and Gen. Tommy Franks, three of the most culpable stooges of the Iraq fiasco.
Bush had arrived in Washington vowing to inaugurate a new, post-Clinton era of “personal responsibility” in which “people are accountable for their actions.” Eight years later he holds himself accountable for nothing. In his recent exit interview with Charles Gibson, he presented himself as a passive witness to disastrous events, the Forrest Gump of his own White House. He wishes “the intelligence had been different” about W.M.D. in Iraq — as if his administration hadn’t hyped and manipulated that intelligence. As for the economic meltdown, he had this to say: “I’m sorry it’s happening, of course.”
If you want to trace the bipartisan roots of the morally bankrupt culture that has now found its culmination in our financial apocalypse, a good place to start is late 2001 and 2002, just as the White House contemplated inflating Saddam’s W.M.D. That’s when we learned about another scandal with cooked books, Enron. This was a supreme embarrassment for Bush, whose political career had been bankrolled by the Enron titan Kenneth Lay, or, as Bush nicknamed him back in Texas, “Kenny Boy.”
The chagrined president eventually convened a one-day “economic summit” photo op in August 2002 (held in Waco, Tex., lest his vacation in Crawford be disrupted). But while some perpetrators of fraud at Enron would ultimately pay a price, any lessons from its demise, including a need for safeguards, were promptly forgotten by one and all in the power centers of both federal and corporate governance.
Enron was an energy company that had diversified to trade in derivatives — financial instruments that were bets on everything from exchange rates to the weather. It was also brilliant in devising shell companies that kept hundreds of millions of dollars of debt off the company’s bottom line and away from the prying eyes of shareholders.
Regulators had failed to see the iceberg in Enron’s path and so had Enron’s own accountants at Arthur Andersen, a corporate giant whose parallel implosion had its own casualty list of some 80,000 jobs. Despite Bush’s post-Enron call for “a new ethic of personal responsibility in the business community,” the exact opposite has happened in the six years since. Warren Buffett’s warning in 2003 that derivatives were “financial weapons of mass destruction” was politely ignored. Much larger companies than Enron figured out how to place even bigger and more impenetrable gambles on derivatives, all the while piling up unseen debt. They built castles of air on a far grander scale than Kenny Boy could have imagined, doing so with sheer stupidity and cavalier, greed-fueled carelessness rather than fraud.
The most stupendous example as measured in dollars is Citigroup, now the recipient of potentially the biggest taxpayer bailout to date. The price tag could be some $300 billion — 20 times the proposed first installment of the scuttled Detroit bailout. Citigroup’s toxic derivatives, often tied to subprime mortgages, metastasized without appearing on the balance sheet. Both the company’s former chief executive, Charles O. Prince III, and his senior adviser, Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury secretary, have said they didn’t know the size of the worthless holdings until they’d spiraled into the tens of billions of dollars.
Once again, regulators slept. Once again, credit-rating agencies, typified this time by Moody’s, kept giving a thumbs-up to worthless paper until it was too late. There was just so much easy money to be made, and no one wanted to be left out. As Michael Lewis concludes in his brilliant account of “the end” of Wall Street in Portfolio magazine: “Something for nothing. It never loses its charm.”
But if all bubbles and panics are alike, this one, the worst since the Great Depression, also carried the DNA of our own time. Enron had been a Citigroup client. In a now-forgotten footnote to that scandal, Rubin was discovered to have made a phone call to a former colleague in the Treasury Department to float the idea of asking credit-rating agencies to delay downgrading Enron’s debt. This inappropriate lobbying never went anywhere, but Rubin neither apologized nor learned any lessons. “I can see why that call might be questioned,” he wrote in his 2003 memoir, “but I would make it again.” He would say the same this year about his performance at Citigroup during its collapse.
The Republican side of the same tarnished coin is Phil Gramm, the former senator from Texas. Like Rubin, he helped push through banking deregulation when in government in the 1990s, then cashed in on the relaxed rules by joining the banking industry once he left Washington. Gramm is at UBS, which also binged on credit-default swaps and is now receiving a $60 billion bailout from the Swiss government.
It’s a sad snapshot of our century’s establishment that Rubin has been an economic adviser to Barack Obama and Gramm to John McCain. And that both captains of finance remain unapologetic, unaccountable and still at their banks, which have each lost more than 70 percent of their shareholders’ value this year and have collectively announced more than 90,000 layoffs so far.
The Times calls its chilling investigative series on the financial failures “The Reckoning,” but the reckoning is largely for the rest of us — taxpayers, shareholders, the countless laid-off employees — not the corporate and political leaders who led us into the quagmire. It’s a replay of the Iraq equation: the troops, the Iraqi people and American taxpayers have borne the harshest costs while Bush and company retire to their McMansions.
As our outgoing president passes the buck for his failures — all that bad intelligence — so do leaders in the private and public sectors who enabled the economic debacle. Gramm has put the blame for the subprime fiasco on “predatory borrowers.” Rubin has blamed a “perfect storm” of economic factors, as has Sam Zell, the magnate who bought and maimed the Tribune newspapers in a highly leveraged financial stunt that led to a bankruptcy filing last week. Donald Trump has invoked a standard “act of God” clause to avoid paying a $40 million construction loan on his huge new project in Chicago.
After a while they all start to sound like O. J. Simpson, who when at last held accountable for some of his behavior told a Las Vegas judge this month, “In no way did I mean to hurt anybody.” Or perhaps they are channeling Donald Rumsfeld, whose famous excuse for his failure to secure post-invasion Iraq, “Stuff happens,” could be the epitaph of our age.
Our next president, like his predecessor, is promising “a new era of responsibility and accountability.” We must hope he means it. Meanwhile, we have the governor he leaves behind in Illinois to serve as our national whipping boy, the one betrayer of the public trust who could actually end up paying for his behavior. The surveillance tapes of Blagojevich are so fabulous it seems a tragedy we don’t have similar audio records of the bigger fish who have wrecked the country. But in these hard times we’ll take what we can get.
Is it a trend? Mayn't it signal degeneration?
A regional raccoon hosteler near Coleman WI advises her pet cat innocently went out to a mascarade ball and then instead of going to the dance slipped into the raccoon pen to shack up with higher-living beasts. He pulled a little slip of paper from his fur that said, "Address me as Rockwell!" Now practices walking with a hunch; washing his food.
Peculiar sightings are made sometimes in usually-conforming, straight-laced Waukesha.
At Christmas, some creatures in this town stir from their underwater or under-snow lairs to log interaction with the outer world.
Disguised to some extent, the SRN editor rang Salvation Army bells, per old custom, last night at Pick N Save on Sunset. The head- attachment worn by him worked well, bringing mucho dollars and coinage to the red kettle. Children, curious at the bearded old man - and hoping he had some Santa connexion - asked parents earnestly for a gift for the pot - and for the people served by the Salvation Army.
In that way ducks were lined up for better fortune under trees on Christmas morning, we speculated.
One guy, a fellow I haven't seen since our kids were musicians at Waukesha South high school, Tim Wright, recognized me instantly and came smiling over, as did many people, to greet the white-whiskered old man with the "neat hat, the COOL hat, ......I love your hat." (Money dropped continuously into the pot......)
And so Christmas goes on, unabated.................
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The adult male pheasant escaped prison camp
outside of town at the ex-dairy, now game farm
for gone-soft gunners who want their kill
served up to them unsavvy and easy;
now it was winter and the Wisconsin snow
had accumulated to a depth of sixteen inches,
but when he was taken out of the pen,
the only world he’d ever known,
to be set loose in an adjacent stubby corn field
it was autumn and he was without portfolio;
a suppressed instinct told him
to take to the air when the hunt dogs came,
sniffing close to the sumac stand
where he was hiding at the edge of the field
in a world he had no warning was so threatening!
The sports club had deprived him of an education.
They were flusher bird dogs
rustling and rooting through the undergrowth
for their shotgun-poised followers,
and luckily the dogs hadn’t smelled him.
But the guns rang out shortly afterward
and he heard falling fluttering feathers and a whump
as one of his unlettered fellows from the breed pens
made the fatal mistake of taking to the air.
Our bird passed his crash survival course
and became one of the escapees
who turn up along the country roads
in the vicinity of the game farm;
citified motorists briefly spot these newly released and marvel
at their beauty, likely not knowing how they got there,
fugitives on the lam,
birds who learned how to lay low in hostile territory;
birds with a suit of attractive feathers
meant to attract females.
This pheasant had a moment
of myopic or ancient joy
when a woman drove up a steep farm lane
near the hunt club with a Christmas cookie icing project
on her mind; and as she crested the sunny hill, The One
With Rainbows On His Wings chose to blast out of a snowdrift
twenty yards ahead of her,
and flying up to land on the drift’s icy summit
he lingered in the bright sun
and spread his wings triumphantly!
Looking down at the site of his captive birth,
he provided a brilliant though ephemeral sighting
in Waukesha County, known widely for its stewardship
of vanishing habitat and stupidly-named sprawl,
famous for its permission to make Fox Run shopping malls
out of its fox runs, and Rolling Meadow subdivisions
from its disappeared rolling meadows.
future generations may study the falsity and foolishness of it.
In earlier days before the bulldozers, before the lure of the dollar,
the big working farms were out there in profusion
And pheasants weren’t dropped loose,
in front of quick-fix gunners;
from chicks they were free and
had more of a chance to learn
what a pheasant needs to know.
Hail to the die-hard farmers who stay and farm!
Hail to those who harbor the ever squeezed-in wildlife!
Hail to their forbearance when the newly-arrived
city folks complain about their animals’ smells
and curse their slow-moving tractors on the roads.
Revere them, these people threatened,
the salt of earth,
the bread of heaven we once had.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
but more than that,
a reliable eraser
and a dry-cleaner
so that after rubbing out an error
a ground powder cleans and bleaches the paper
How great it would be to have an ARTGUM(R)
to purge us of all our sins.
We've had ARTGUM(R) on hand for many years
and we venture you've got it too
still knocking around in a forgotten desk drawer;
Lore has it that some people have smelled Artgum
for stress easement;
We didn't know we were doing that when we held an Artgum
to our vexed nose
while scouring our brain for
a right answer
but now that it is mentioned
- on the web, no less -
we say yes
that could have been so
How wonderful if we could just take an ARTGUM(R)
to life's larger vexations;
a huge cube of free FORGIVENESS
to have impossible messes taken away,
all cleared up;