On Pops, Vlads, GM & IBM, the 'Tappets,' etc.

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: May 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Pausing at random in a color-bursting May field to savor first this notable wildflower, now that..

Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has spoken eloquently of the recent papal succession: "(Benedict XVI) has a saying that has become almost like a mantra. Pope John Paul II's mantra was, 'Be not afraid.' What a great and important thing that is. Because Pope Benedict is a theologian, he comes at things differently. His mantra is, 'The church is alive.' To the church around the world, with all the problems that come up, he says: 'Don't give up hope. The church is alive. We're going to make it. We're going to do this. The church is young.'"

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Has there been a succession of a dramatically different sort in Russia? Among other things, President Vladimir Putin, in the old days a KGB colonel, has restored the music of the old Soviet anthem and resurrected a Soviet-era red banner as the flag of the contemporary Russian military. And last month, in his annual state of the nation address to parliament, Putin discussed the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in regions satellized by the Soviets and now breeding separatist movements: "First and foremost, it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the (20th) century."

"As for the Russian people," he said, "it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory. (Now) the epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself." It's enough to make one wonder whether Vladimir Putin is the ideological heir of bad Vlad Lenin.

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The quasi-governmental U.S. Postal Service, still trying to make ends meet, wants more of your money. It is talking about the need next year for yet another increase in the price of a first-class stamp - from 37 cents to 39.

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Maybe it was just bad timing, but that news arrived about the same time as a federal tax refund check containing an insert wherein the government asks for . . . more of your money. For what? A "United States Mint Proof Set (that) is an exceptional value and, in 2005, showcases the first newly designed Jefferson nickel obverse in 67 years. This set includes two new nickel reverses and each of the five commemorative quarter-dollars to be released through the 50 State Quarters Program this year." All for a measly $22.95. Each.

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The Pentagon's proposal to close and consolidate military bases contained bad news for holders of 26,000 jobs, but it could have been worse. Several states gained jobs. It all may be necessary in this consolidating hour. With the Army failing to meet recruitment goals and the other services struggling, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld evidently seeks a leaner, meaner force. What's more, the Bush administration seems to be moving swiftly toward developing space weapons such as its Common Aero Vehicle (CAV) - an unmanned spacecraft that could travel at Mach 5 with 1,000 pounds of munitions deliverable to earthly targets with pinpoint accuracy.

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Credit agency Standard & Poor's has yanked the investment grade ratings of Ford and General Motors. Now their bonds are rated no better than junk, reflecting the companies' declining domestic sales. S&P has downgraded Kodak to junk this year as well. Elsewhere, IBM has announced it will lay off 10,000 to 13,000 workers, mostly in Europe, as it downsizes to maintain profits. Maybe profit problems in IBM's case have been aggravated by company-subsidized trips to Bermuda for vast numbers of its high-performing employees who will return home to find they have been downsized out of a job.

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Is NPR ideologically skewed? NPR execs dismiss it as a "perception problem." Yet that perception could be grounded in reality. Consider. The popular "Car Talk's" Ray and Tom Magliozzi (aka "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers"), went to D.C. to lobby for continued government funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While there, they gave an interview to The Washington Post, wherein brother Tom said, "George Bush is a (unprintable vulgarity)." It's difficult to argue from that reality to the perception that the other Tappet Brother is a moderate.

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And the printed press continues to undermine its own credibility. A 10-sentence item, generated principally by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff from an anonymous source, said American investigators at Guantanamo had flushed a copy of the Quran down a toilet. The item, reprinted abroad, led to anti-American riots and at least 16 deaths in lands where defiling of the sacred Muslim text is not taken lightly. Newsweek has retracted and said it's sorry. Yet 16 are dead and many more injured. And Isikoff? In Dan Rather's great tradition, he's defending his reporting and continuing to check - all the while saying Pentagon authorities should have told him the report was wrong when he submitted it to them for review.

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Abu Ghraib, which caused extensive damage to the U.S. throughout the world, now deteriorates into a blame game. There have been key convictions, a mistrial, and at least one demotion - of the highest-ranking officer punished for Abu Ghraib. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commanding officer of the Army Reserve unit overseeing Abu Ghraib prison at the time of the incident, says her recent demotion by the Army's inspector general was based on a "so-called charge of shoplifting" and was not for Abu Ghraib. And it's unfair. Or something.

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