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Are we this dumb?



This week, let's take a break from the seething, spinning-out-of-control, thug-ridden political insane asylum that is the city of Detroit.Your homework, however, is to ponder in the shower tomorrow how any inmate of that asylum, or the governor of this state, or anyone who loves this city, can tolerate leaving Our National Embarrassment, Kwame Kilpatrick, in office one more day.

But for now, let's step back and ponder just how, in foreign affairs, criminally insane became the new normal. Five years ago, the United States of America invaded a country that was doing nothing to us. The president used excuses that were either wrongheaded or, more likely, flat-out lies.

We were promised a short and glorious war. Since then, more than 5,000 Americans have died there (counting civilian "contractors") plus uncounted hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Today, we're still bogged down in Iraq. The so-called "surge" has indeed drastically reduced the number of Americans killed.

However, Iraq is still a mess; the vast majority of people seem to be worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein. Our lives are worse too, and will get more so. I don't mean the tens of thousands of soldiers who have had limbs blown off or who, like Bob Woodruff, face a lifetime of diminished capacity and metal plates in their heads.

I mean all the rest of us poor civilian slugs who, on paper, haven't suffered in the least. Robert Heinlein, the old libertarian science fiction writer, had a slogan: TANSTAAFL — There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. He was right about that, and an economic tsunami is coming.

The Washington Post, which has been remarkably more pro-war than common sense would suggest, ran a piece attempting to calculate the economic cost of Bush's Folly last March. The conservative estimate: $3 trillion. "Some people may scoff at that number, but we've done the math," Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz concluded. Nor are they just a couple of reporters with a calculator. She teaches at Harvard, and used to be former chief financial officer of the Commerce Department.

As for Stiglitz — oh, he was just the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Clinton. You may remember Clinton; he was the only president to balance the budget since 1969.

The war will have devastating economic consequences in ways we haven't even thought about. It will lead, when it works through the economy, to rising inflation. It will make it harder, the authors note, "to afford new health-care plans, make large-scale repairs to crumbling roads and bridges, or build better-equipped schools."

We could have fixed Social Security for the next century for far less. Even a salamander should be able to see that the war hasn't done a damn thing for us, except terribly damage our prestige. Yet, remarkably, millions of people seem ready to vote to install a President John McCain, who is promising even more war.

How anybody could vote for more of what we have now is impossible to understand, except if the following is true: We've become — or always were — a remarkably stupid people, and we are terminally racist, even when that is against our own best interests. My biggest fear is that this will cause millions of poor, stupid whites to vote for McCain. By the way, you need to lose any illusions that the apparent Republican nominee is still the "plucky maverick with integrity" the media thought he was eight years ago.

No, his campaign is going to be all racial fears, all the time. You saw a small taste of that last week, when Rick Davis, McCain's slimy campaign manager, said this: "Barack Obama has played the race card, and he has played it from the bottom of the deck."

What does that mean? Did Obama threaten to overwhelm the vast majority of the voting population who are white with the 12 percent who are black? Did he threaten to have his followers bring bottles of malt liquor to the polls to club white voters into submission? No, what the Democratic candidate playfully said was "I don't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

Essentially, the McCain campaign will boil down to this:


Well, maybe not Barack himself, they will purr, but certainly all of his friends. Plus, his wife looks uppity. McCain's handlers know that their man doesn't have anything to offer America.

They know, if the candidate doesn't himself, that even stupid housewives in soulless places like Troy don't want any more of his war. They know if the campaign comes down to the economy and the future, McCain is dead. He's even in trouble if his appalling military record (apart from his time as a prisoner) gets carefully scrutinized.

So he has to scare us to death, and depend on our ancient fears.

Will it work? Well, comrades, that's entirely up to you.

Saving Tiger Stadium: Detroit City Council unexpectedly reversed itself (I know, I know) and voted to save, at least temporarily, the part of Tiger Stadium between dugouts. Preservationists want a sports museum, Corktown welcome center, and a place for kids to play baseball.

That sent members of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy into ecstasy. But before you get too excited, two things have to happen first. The preservationists, who say they have raised more than $400,000, have to come up with it, and put $369,000 of that into two escrow accounts for the city by Friday. That's the easy part. Next, they have to raise $15.6 million by next March 1. Otherwise, it's curtains for the old ballyard.

Frankly, I don't think they have a snowball's chance of doing that — though I would be very cheerfully happy to be proven wrong. The concept of the sports museum that Ernie Harwell and Co. have been discussing sounds just wonderful. But how many people would really come to it, more than once? (I would, but I'm weird.) If they can make it happen it would be a real jewel for our city. One could even see it sparking more development, maybe getting some new clean and affordable restaurants and bars.

Yet this is a poor neighborhood in a stricken city, not a place where people wander around shopping. Detroit has lost most of its people in the last half century, and its core industry seems to be dying. Maybe if they build it, they will come. But if the money isn't there, they should knock the remnant down as soon as the snow is gone. We heard last week that the $4 million in federal funds that U.S. Sen. Carl Levin was talking about "earmarking" is on hold, probably till the next president takes office, or maybe forever. What Detroit doesn't need is another rotting, vandalized, derelict hulk. There is a reason they bury dead people.

If you don't know why, look at the vast ruin of the train station, aka the Michigan Central Depot, which Matty Moroun somehow gets away with not tearing down. You'll get the idea.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at

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