Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, February 2, 2009

Poet's Political Questions


(pie chart from warresisters.com)
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Time now for another highly infrequent (thank goodness) installment of "A Poet's Political Questions."
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1. When will a cut-to-the-chase discussion of the federal budget finally occur? Almost all the money goes to the military, health-care (Medicare), and interest on the debt. Of course, we can get in pie-chart wars (one imagines the pie-throwing denouement of a Three Stooges move), and we can put in or take out such things as interest on the debut and money for Social Security, but even so, the pies look roughly the same, even when you account for pie-chart bias. Arguably the biggest decision facing Americans (to the extent Americans make such decisions) is how much to keep spending on the military.
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Yes, I'm aware of the arguments in favor of a "strong military." Even if some of those are granted, however, we still have confront the fact that military-spending is sucking the federal budget dry. We could also debate the health-services and Social Security part of the pie, but I don't think people are going to stop getting sick and old. Let's put the question this way: How much of the military-budget is discretionary? Let's also ignore debates about whether to cut the Dept. of Education (or whatever). The filling in the pie is composed almost entirely of health services, the military, and interest on the debt. Debates about other stuff are merely distractions.
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2. Why don't the media cover in greater detail those companies and corporations which make weapons and therefore profit from war? Even if you support the wars in which the U.S. is engage, you would probably have some interest in who makes what and how much they make. Is G.E. the parent-company of NBC? Does G.E. make weapons? I don't know the answer to these questions.
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3. Not to throw cold water on the election of Obama (for many reasons, that was a good day for the U.S.), but will he retract the almost unprecedented expansion of the Executive-Branch powers achieved by Bush and Cheney (signing statements; refusal to turn over any documents; governing by fiat)? Oddly enough, when Obama was, during the campaign, chatting with the pastor from Saddleback Church, and when Pastor Rick asked him about Supreme Court appointments, Obama (without being prompted) said he disagreed with some of Roberts' rulings about what he, Obama, thought were excessive Executive powers that didn't seem supported by the Constitution. Now that he's president, will he retract some of those powers? I don't think he will. Why is it in his interest to do so?
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4. Now that Obama is president, will the U.S. stop "renditions," a euphemism that would have made even Orwell gag? It refers to the CIA's kidnapping suspects and transporting them to other nations. A rendition is a version of a song. This is kidnapping, false imprisonment, and--once the kidnapped area abroad--torture, no doubt. This morning newspaper had an answer to this question: No. No, the U.S. will not stop "renditions." Close Guantanamo? Yes. Return to previous rules and treaties regarding torture? Yes. Stop renditions? No. Should we stop renditions? Yes: that's my opinion. I'm willing to hear opposing views. I think I know one of them, which can be phrased as a rhetorical question, "What is the CIA supposed to do when it discovers a person who is clearly a potential terrorist--let him or her walk around free?" My rhetorical response is, "If the evidence is clear, why not prosecute him or her as a criminal, in a court?" Another retort I ofen hear is this: "You're naive." I agree. In many regards, I'm naive. Does my naivete justify "rendition"?
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5. I think that's more than enough political questioning from a poet, and I'm sure you'll agree. I would, however, like to ask why pie-charts never represent a pie-crust. I understand the crust is not crucial to the visual representation of data, but in the spirit of verisimilitude, I think there should be a crust. I might also add that my financial advisor made some pie-charts for me. They represented our personal finances. What was missing (in addition to a crust) was the filling. Cut up the pie as you will, but if there's no filling, you're just playing with percentages of almost nothing. You have dough, but you have no dough (nyuk, nyuk). Don't kill the messenger (in this case, the financial advisor), and don't blame the pie chart.
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