Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: January 2007 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

WWJD: What Would Jeb Do?

Some Bush administration shill wrote a fantasy piece in the Washington Post postulating what life would be like if Jebediah Bush had won the Florida governorship in 1994. According to S. V. Date, Jeb was the Great White Hope of the Bush clan that would “avenge the Great Usurpation of 1992”, when voters denied George 41 his rightful second term in favor of Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, Jeb lost, while W became governor of Texas, throwing a huge monkey wrench (pun intended) into their nefarious plan.

We all know how it turned out. Dubya went on to the presidency, while Jeb was relegated to making sure Florida was a red state during the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004.

In Mr. Date’s fantasy world, however, Jeb captured Osama bin Laden and won the Iraq war, all in time for his sixth State of the Union address. Date continues the fairy tale in reality, bragging how Jeb helped Florida’s wealthiest citizens, whom he calls “risk takers” and “job creators”, avoid paying their share of taxes, even though during his reign, Florida had its worst job creation statistics since 1971.

In the spirit of this WaPo article, Wonkette takes the fantasy further with an altered State of the Union address:

As a grateful nation tuned in in greater numbers than next month’s Super Bowl, President Jeb, flanked by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Oprah Winfrey, would mention with pride the attendence in that august chamber of Presidents Ford and Reagan, both of whom had cheated death and recovered 100% thanks to Jeb’s forward-thinking health care policies. As a thousand Afghani orphans stood to cheer their hero for replacing their lost limbs with robotic prosthetics, the heroes of 9/11, those superpower-equipped firemen who saved the twin towers from collapsing and flew thousands to safety in Battery Park via their federal government-researched and -supplied rocket packs, would all brush away tears. Tears made of gold, which they harvest and use to repay our national debt.

Meanwhile, back in the real world: in his State of the Union address, dubya asked legislators to give his troop surge idea a chance, proving that he is insane (given the definition of insanity as trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result). The Senate said no.

Bet they wouldn’t have done that to Jeb.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Change is Brewing

St. Arnold Goes to Austin

As we plunge headlong into the new year, what free time I have is spent pondering what the past year has brought us, what the future holds, the true meaning of existence, and… beer. But not just any beer - craft beers, loving produced by microbreweries.

These thoughts were prompted by a call to action from the Friends of Texas Microbreweries, who are attempting to convince the Texas Legislature that archaic alcohol laws are hurting this particular niche of Texas’ small business community.

Under current law, brewers cannot sell directly to the public. This is fine for the big guys like Bud and Coors whose product is available just about everywhere on the planet, and who have organized their corporate structure to include in-house distribution companies. But it hurts the little guys, who are typically small startups who won’t get premium service from wholesalers and distributors.

The laws that were originally designed to protect the consumer and small businesses from post-prohibition profiteers is now actually hampering small businesses and consumers, and favoring wholesalers, distributors, and megabrewers.

By law, bars and restaurants must buy their liquor from distributors, or wholesale retailers that double as distributors. By ensuring that a middleman is involved, prices are higher, and the distributor decides what he wants to distribute.

In addition, megabrewers have organizational structures that take advantage of this law. For example, Silver Eagle distributes almost exclusively Anheiser-Bush products. If you saw one their trucks on the road, you would assume it was a Budweiser truck, unless you read the logo on the door of the cab. Microbrewers don’t have the capital to skirt the law like this, whereas with the big guns, it’s just another corporate restructuring for the tax lawyers to orchestrate. It should also be noted that the beverage distribution industry has a strong lobbying presence in the state capitol.

So the Friends of Texas Microbrewers, led by my neighborhood microbrewery, St. Arnold, are pounding the Austin pavement and cold-calling our elected leaders to persuade them to change the rules, some of which have been in place since before prohibition in the 30’s, so that the small business portion of this industry is allowed to prosper on their own merits, rather than at the pleasure of the distributors.

This campaign is being joined from all over the political spectrum, from Off the Kuff on the left, to Perry vs. the World on the right, and many points between, which demonstrates that beer truly is the universal language.

On any Saturday, you can visit the St. Arnold Brewery, tour the beer works, and sample its wares. Unfortunately, once you’ve determined which of their twelve specialty beers is your current favorite, you have to go elsewhere to buy it. This is not the case in other states, such as California and Arizona, where microbrewers typically run an associated tavern for socializing and imbibing. Likewise wineries, even in Texas, where once you’ve sampled the wares, you can purchase a bottle to bring home with you.

Out of 19 microbreweries that have emerged in Texas, only five remain. Those that are still around attribute the loss of so many of their peers to the legislative culture they’re forced to work in.

We can no longer ignore the fact that 14 out of 19 microbreweries have failed in Texas in part because current regulations disadvantage microbrewing small businesses," said Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner. "This common-sense proposal will allow Texas microbrewers to compete with out-of-state microbrewers on a level playing field."

While I’m on a soapbox (or should I say beer keg) about this, there are other portions of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code that could use some tweaking as well. For example, the code only allows beer to be sold in specific sized containers.

A Sunset Commission report cited the impacts of the Texas law that requires that beer be sold in only certain-sized containers. A 12-ounce can is fine; a 345-milliliter can -- common in much of the world -- holds 11.67 ounces, so it is banned by the TABC.

"As a result, [Texas] consumers lack access to a range of products bottled in metric sizes from countries such as Canada, Holland, Belgium, New Zealand and Japan, which can be purchased in almost all other states," the Sunset Commission report said.

So one domestic brewer has to pay $600,000 more to produce a container that conforms to Texas law. And a malt beverage producer estimated additional costs of $200,000 for that, the Sunset report stated.

Why the need for such a law? Because distributors prefer working with standardized containers. Sunset staffers wryly noted that "This does not seem to be a matter of state concern."

It’s time to change these decades-old laws to promote the small business atmosphere that our elected leaders are constantly spouting about. Give our microbrewers a fighting chance, and they will flourish. Or, as I like to say, "if you brew it, they will come".

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Surge in General

no·blesse o·blige ["naw-bless aw-bleezh"] noun. The moral obligation of those of high birth, powerful social position, etc. French, literally meaning: "Nobility is an obligation."

In his address to the nation last week, the president told us that the way to win in Iraq is to send more troops. For those in the armed forces, this is not good news; those who are currently serving in Iraq have been there way too long already, and there aren’t enough troops not in Iraq to cover the 21,500 additional troops needed to occupy Iraq for the next few years in order for dubya’s plan to succeed.

And I use the term "plan" very loosely, since the strategy proposed is really nothing more than what’s been tried and retried for the past three years - clear, hold, and build. We’ve been pretty good at the "clearing" part, but we’re stuck getting a handle on the holding stage. As soon as we clear an area, we move on to another, and the insurgents just move back in after we’re gone.

According to the report on which Bush is basing his strategy, we’ll need at least 30,000 additional troops, along with extending the tours of those already in Iraq, for at least 18 months in order to clear, hold, and build Baghdad and the western Anbar province. Bush, in his speech, mentioned little about the mission, and neglected to say how long the additional troops would be in Iraq, leading us to believe that they’ll be there indefinitely, regardless of his claim that it would not be an "open-ended" occupation. This is a double-edged sword for Bush, as Sen. John McCain, one of the most vocal supporters of the escalation, says that a short term increase in troops will not have the desired effect - namely, victory.

In addition to the lack of a clearly defined mission, the Bush administration faces a dilemma that could cause his dismal approval ratings to drop even further. According to the AEI Plan for Success in Iraq (on which the "surge" strategy is based), Bush must call for a "national commitment to victory", including a "personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this generation". Since dubya rarely makes any personal calls to anyone with income levels that will not benefit his coffers, the report must be talking about enlisting some of these armchair warmongers who have been hyping the war all along. A few prospects come to mind, including Kagan himself, who is of enlistment age, and the next generation in the Bush clan , including his daughters and Jeb’s children - all of enlistment age - yet the entire family is vastly underrepresented in the ranks of the armed forces.

Those who support the war, but feel they can better support the effort by drumming up acceptance stateside, need to re-evaluate their role - we don’t need more people cheering the war on at home, we need them in the trenches. Right wing bloggers, College Republicans, and war supporters of all economic classes need to do more than stick a magnetic ribbon on their car. It’s time to put up or shut up.

This surge, which in reality will be an escalation, is more of a political strategy than a military one. Basically, the Bush administration needs to appear to have resolve. Yeah, yeah, we get it, dub. You can be stubborn, and ignore the counsel of the commanding officers in Iraq, the Iraq Study Group, and Congress, as long as you get in the history books as a war president. Well, guess what? We already have a lot of war presidents in our history books, and almost none of them are remembered with respect or admiration.

The president’s choice of referring to his strategy as a troop surge, rather than an escalation of forces, is important to note.

A CBS poll released Monday found that only 18 percent of Americans support an escalation of forces in Iraq. However, when asked whether they support a "short-term troop increase," the number jumps to 45 percent approval (48 percent disapproval).

Rather than escalating the occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration should be planning for the long term: Increase the effort of training Iraqi troops and police, provide long-term economic benefits for a moderate Iraqi government, and use a diminishing occupation force not to clear and hold, but to train and build. These are basically the recommendations of outgoing military commanders (those who have less to lose by openly disagreeing with the commander-in-chief) and the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan effort led by Bush appointee James Baker.

Now that dubya’s minions no longer have complete control of our government, some Democrats are talking about blocking funding for additional troops. Although Republican
talking points
refer to this as lack of support for our soldiers, it should be noted that financial support of our existing troops will not be affected. The money that will be denied will solely be the funding required to send more of America’s finest into the meat grinder that is Iraq.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., charged that what Democrats really want to do is cut off funding for the troops, something Democrats have denied. McConnell threatened to block any legislation expressing disapproval of the buildup plan.

McConnell conceded that GOP lawmakers as well as Democrats are troubled by Bush's new policy, but he said, "Congress is completely incapable of dictating the tactics of the war."

Kettle, meet pot. Congress may be incapable of dictating war tactics, but so is the one who’s calling the shots now. Those who are capable - Generals in the field, and the Iraq study group - are being largely ignored.

As a veteran and the parent of a child currently serving in the military, I say, "enough is enough". Stop sending America’s finest to die for the ego of a "man" who dodged his own obligation to fight in a war that his commander-in-chief deemed necessary for the advance of democracy. When dubya encourages his own children and those of his supporters to enlist and fight in what he deems a necessary war, then I might consider changing my views. But as long as he continues to throw our children at a losing fight, he will do so without my support, and with as much opposition as I can muster.

Support our troops. Bring them home safely so they can protect us from real dangers, not imaginary dangers invented by warmongers to maintain their power and fill the coffers of their cronies.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A dreamer and a fighter

Houston Chronicle Posted by Picasa

Last Friday, the Houston Independent School District held the finals for their 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Oratory Competition at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. In honor of the late Dr. King’s day, I’d like to share with you one young boy’s version of his achieving his dream - not through peaceful protest, but through conflict.

Harvey Pittman II, a 10-year-old boy whose thin frame belied his loud voice, was supposed to be honoring Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader known for his nonviolent approach.

Pittman, however, said his own dream was to fight.

"I know, I know," he said Friday, "with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fight in our neighborhoods, I know you're probably thinking, 'Please, no more fighting.'

"But the fight I'm dreaming about is the fight for a better education, caring parents and honest politicians."

Pittman, a bespectacled fifth-grader, didn't stop there during the 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Oratory Competition.

"Parents, are you satisfied with the present condition of the black family?" he asked. "Teachers, are you fighting for your students? Politicians, are you fighting for our rights? Preachers, are you practicing what you preach?"

Pittman's words and delivery - as polished as a politician's - won him first place and a $1,000 savings bond. Ten students from across the Houston Independent School District earned a spot in the contest, which required them to write and give a speech answering the question, "If you could share your dream with Dr. King, what would it be?"

Young Pittman makes a very good point. How can we expect to achieve greatness, if mediocrity among our leaders - in the family, school, church and government - is the acceptable norm?

Here’s hoping he gets his message across enough to make a difference.