Tilting at Windmills

By Peters, Charles | The Washington Monthly, August-October 2008 | Go to article overview

Tilting at Windmills


Peters, Charles, The Washington Monthly


I hope they have a good coffeemaker

l worry about our strategy in Afghanistan, with its reliance on air strikes and increased conventional ground forces, as distinguished from the kind of small-unit Special Forces we need to fight against guerillas. The air strikes have hit far too many of the wrong targets, killing innocent people and inflaming Afghan opinion against us. Some of the air strikes are carried out by drones operated by "pilots" sitting in a trailer, some of whom work for twelve straight hours a day for 120 days.

Don't leave a message at the beep

An irritating new practice has been embraced by the telemarketing business. Whereas the sound of your answering machine used to deter the salesperson, a growing number of them now leave long messages that clog up your machine. And to add to your aggravation, there is a new technique that permits the marketer to get directly to your voicemail without the phone ringing.

Lies and sex

Just as we were going to press with this issue, the media finally began to call out the McCain campaign for its lies about Barack Obama. Under the headline "McCain Barbs Stirring Outcry as Distortions," reporters Michael Cooper and dim Rutenberg did so on the front page of the New York Times. The day before, on the television show The View, cohost Joy Behar told McCain, "We know that those two ads are untrue. They are lies. And yet you, at the end of it, say, 'I approve these messages.' Do you really approve them?"

"Actually, they are not lies," McCain replied, lying again. One of the lies that Behar was talking about was the McCain ad that said Obama favored "comprehensive sex education" for children in kindergarten, when what Obama actually advocates is teaching children how to recognize improper sexual advances. I hope that the press will continue to put the corrections on the front page and the lies inside, rather than the other way around.

The best and the greediest

Since the early '80s, I've been struck by how many of the brightest young people have gone to Wall Street. I would have preferred to see more of them go into government or journalism or into making useful products and giving people jobs. Back then, I was so concerned about the trend that I commissioned an article by Philip Weiss deploring the fact that Steve Rattner, a promising young New York Times reporter, had decided to abandon journalism for Wall Street. I foolishly hoped the article would stem the tide. But the tide turned out to be a flood.

The result is described in Kevin Phillips's new book, Bad Money, which describes how the concentration of talent in the world of finance and in the pursuit of wealth--instead of in making a decent living while doing something worthwhile--has corrupted those involved, and threatened a nation with economic disaster.

There were so many smart guys trying to get rich that they ran out of honorable ways of achieving their goals and had to resort to inventing financial instruments that were of dubious value but were designed cleverly enough to fool even themselves.

How were the American people persuaded to accept lax Republican regulation and the resulting (as Phillips puts it) "period of speculative indulgence and conspicuous favoritism to the upper income brackets"? My guess is the major factor in the tolerance of the excesses of the rich is that too many average does have come to aspire to wealth. My father never wanted to be rich. Neither did I. Neither did most of his friends or mine. Neither does my son, who is now forty-five. But beginning with his generation, the number of people with that aspiration has been growing. Now, even on public television--the traditional home of book readers, concertgoers, and tree huggers--there is a popular show called Stay Rich Forever & Ever!

I watched a segment the other day during which sober-looking citizens in the audience shook their heads in sympathetic concern as they were told about the estate tax burden on an individual with $5 million. …

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