The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Dumbasses of the Day
The Chicago Tribune has an article today about "census resisters" -- people who refuse to give the big, evil government any of their personal information. Clearly these people are living in 1952. Nowadays, anybody can find out anything about you if they want to. Do you really think you're protecting your privacy by throwing away your census form?

They say they want to "send a message" to Washington. And what is that message? I think it's, "I don't mind taxation without representation. Go ahead and send my tax money to some other community." Or better yet, "My silence shows my displeasure with government." Oooh, you guys really know how to protest, don't you?

These people make the teabaggers and the birthers look brilliant.


Thursday, September 24, 2009
100 Reasons to Hate Your Country
100 Ways America Is Screwing Up The World by John Tirman - I didn't like this book. If not for my New Years resolution, I would have given up halfway through (it took me two months to finish). Don't get me wrong -- for the most part, I agree with the author -- but this book disappointed me. For starters, Tirman apparently doesn't understand verb tenses. Although one can make a case for lingering impact, it is ridiculous to recount our country's every post-World War II sin as "ways America is screwing up the world." Going back as far as the Reagan administration -- a quarter of a century ago -- is reasonable since that ideology still holds sway (besides, I love to read criticism of "Saint Ronnie"), but CIA shenanigans in 1954 Guatemala? That seems like a stretch in 2006 (when 100 Ways was published). Tirman even repeatedly dredges up the extermination of Native Americans in the 19th century, hardly relevant in the present tense.

A bigger problem is that even after reaching back to the 1950s, the author doesn't have enough good topics. The 100 ways overlap, and sometimes Tirman fails to convincingly explain how certain domestic issues are meaningful abroad. A few of his ideas are weak or peculiar (oh no, America is fomenting anti-smoking laws worldwide!). Especially toward the end, Tirman's case devolves into curmudgeonly whining. Liberal whining can be just as annoying as conservative whining (though not as mean-spirited).

I presume this book was inspired by the right-wing screed about 100 people (liberals, naturally) who are screwing up America. Unlike that book, 100 Ways is not a complete waste of time. Although a less informed reader probably would enjoy it more, even a jaded leftist like me learned a few things, such as how the NRA helped defeat anti-gun laws in Brazil. The trouble is that "answer books" are like "answer songs"; they rarely get as much attention as their inspiration. Tirman probably could have written a better book without the "100 ways" gimmick.

I suppose it works as a mediocre introduction to "why they hate us." In that sense, the worst thing about 100 Ways is that the people who need to read it the most are precisely those who will ignore it. I should send my copy to my Fox News-addicted grandmother.

Current tally: 71 books finished, 65 books acquired

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Thursday, August 27, 2009
One for the Birthers*

For the sore loser Republicans who doubt that President Obama was born in the U.S., I have two words: Hillary Clinton. Knowing the thoroughness (and perhaps ruthlessness) of the Clinton campaign, if there was any truth to this rumor, it surely would have been exposed during the Democratic primaries.

Alas, most of the "birthers" are also Hillary-haters, so they would probably say she's just part of the conspiracy. But seriously, this woman would have done almost anything to win, so what reason would she have to cover up Obama's alleged disqualification from office?

It's frightening how many people are buying into this birther bullshit. And how long will this go on? Sheesh, people, he was sworn in seven months ago!

* The title of this post is a tribute to the Hold Steady's "One for the Cutters", which is named in tribute to the townies in Breaking Away.


Friday, August 14, 2009
Helen Thomas, Gerald Ford, and a Mexican
Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times by Helen Thomas - Anyone who knows anything about Washington knows that Thomas has been in the White House press pool practically forever -- since John F. Kennedy. This book, written ten years ago, is part autobiography but mostly a chance to share stories about the most powerful figures in America. I especially enjoyed the chapter about traveling on Air Force One, but most readers will be drawn to the later chapters where Thomas tells stories about each first lady and each president. She shares lots of humorous or interesting anecdotes, but nothing particularly shocking. As one might expect, the book is very journalistic in nature. Even in a book ostensibly about herself, Thomas knows that the real story is the people she covered. Overall, this book is good but not great. It might have benefited from tighter editing.

Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford by Thomas M. DeFrank - I've always had a soft spot for President Ford, perhaps because he was the president when I first learned who the president was. Even better, Ford despised Ronald Reagan (though he refused to say anything bad about him in the years after his Alzheimer's diagnosis). Although I wouldn't agree with Ford's ideology, he was a likable, decent man, the last of the reasonable, moderate Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower before Barry Goldwater's acolytes took over the party. DeFrank first covered Ford as vice president, developed a special friendship over the years (a president considering reporters as friends? Yep, that's the kind of guy Ford was), and carried out a series of interviews starting in the 1990s with the stipulation that nothing from them would be published until after Ford's death. The result is a revealing and affectionate paean to our 38th president. Ford was blessed to live so long and so well after leaving the White House, staying active and lucid into his early nineties. The book could be more complete, though -- I wish DeFrank had asked more about the Warren Commission (the only mention being Ford's dislike of Oliver Stone's JFK), Ford's decades in the House, and some of the difficult decisions he wrestled with as president (besides pardoning Nixon). I haven't read other books about Ford so I can't say where this fits into the body of work about him, but I enjoyed Write It When I'm Gone.

¡Ask a Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano - This is a collection of questions and answers from a nationally syndicated (mostly in the border states) newspaper column that explains the culture, customs, and habits of Mexican-Americans. Arellano weaves irreverent humor and thorough research into his replies, making the book fun and informative. I wish a Chicago newspaper would carry the column, which originated in Orange County's OC Weekly.

Current tally: 64 books finished, 61 books acquired

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Monday, March 23, 2009
Americans Are Too F***ing Sensitive
or "Why I Will Never Be a Prolific Blogger Again"

As the media tell it, President Obama's only words in his recent late-night talk show appearance were an insult to Special Olympics bowlers. He probably said more, but apparently it wasn't important. Was the comment ill-advised? Of course, it was. Was it offensive? I would argue that it was not because Obama clearly did not intend it to be. Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible these days to speak off-the-cuff for more than a few minutes without someone somewhere taking offense. As a blogger, I've been targeted several times by people who choose to be deeply offended by my words, even when -- no, particularly when -- no offense is intended. Frankly, that is a major reason I've posted less frequently in recent years. It's not that I'm afraid to speak my mind; I just don't need the irritation of defending myself from the perpetually offended American public anymore.

The Chicago Tribune had a ludicrous article on Saturday headlined "Obama's 'Tonight Show' gaffe one of many for president: Special Olympics slip isn't the first time he has stumbled." The story goes all the way back to the Democratic primary campaign to point out every single time Obama said anything vaguely offensive. Give me a freaking break. Imagine how many words the man has spoken in public in the past nine months. Who could do that without upsetting someone in modern America? It's ridiculous to hold anyone to such a standard. Besides, George W. Bush made as many "gaffes" almost every week for the past nine years, speaking a previously unknown dialect of the English language, and most of the media (David Letterman excepted) let him slide.

Someone commented on the Tribune story (insert rant about the general inanity of Tribune commenters here) that the media aren't being nearly as critical of Obama as they would have been if Bush had made the same comment about the Special Olympics. Well, that's because Bush would have flashed his malicious, condescending smirk, as if to say, "Take that, you little retards!"

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I Love Vermont
Specifically, I love Brattleboro and Marlboro:
Voters in two Vermont towns approved measures Tuesday calling for the indictment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for what they consider violations of the Constitution. More symbolic than anything, the items sought to have police arrest Bush and Cheney if they ever visit Brattleboro or nearby Marlboro or to extradite them for prosecution elsewhere -- if they're not impeached first.
Way to take the bull by the horns, folks. I'm glad somebody is willing to do what the Democrats in Congress will not. The best part of the article is this poorly crafted retort from a Republican National Committee spokesperson:
"It appears that the left wing knows no bounds in their willingness to waste taxpayer dollars to make a futile counterproductive partisan political point," said Blair Latoff. "Town people would be much better served by elected officials who sought to solve problems rather than create them." [emphasis added]
You mean problems like the Iraq War that Bush created even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and wasn't hiding weapons of mass destruction? Just replace "town people" with "all Americans" and for once, the RNC and I agree on something.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Politics Where You Least Expect It
I was reading a blog entry at The New Republic's site when I came across this comment from "epackard-02":
Has anyone else seen the Charmin commercial where the red bear wants the *strong* Charmin and the blue bear wants the *soft* Charmin.

Subversive, I tell you.
That's the funniest political observation I've heard in months. So was Mr. Whipple a Republican?

UPDATE - I wrote the above before learning that Dick Wilson, who portrayed Mr. Whipple for decades, died on Monday at age 91. Here's some interesting stuff from the AdAge obituary:
Mr. Wilson also received an unusual stipend from [Procter & Gamble] -- complimentary rolls of Charmin shipped each month. He made the "Guiness Book of World Records" for the longest-running TV character with 504 ads, and a 1979 poll (conducted for P&G) pegged him as the third best-known American behind Richard Nixon and Billy Graham.
And I know he was better-liked than at least one of those guys (that poll doesn't say much for President Carter, does it?). Wilson also did a lot of television and movie work (read the list and try to think of a TV series he wasn't on in the 1960s and 1970s).

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Saturday, October 13, 2007
Thoughts on Al Gore
By bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize, probably the highest honor in statesmanship, on Al Gore, could the Norwegian Nobel Committee have sent a bigger "F*** you" to George W. Bush? This is even better than 2005, when the International Atomic Energy Agency and Mohamed ElBaradei won (another jab at Bush, who refused to believe their claims that Iraq didn't have nukes).

Of course, the big question now is whether Gore can be convinced to run for president again. I doubt it, but if he ran, I'd probably vote for him.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007
News Items

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007
9/11 Conspiracy Article Misses The Point
Matt Eagan's Tribune article "9/11 myths still linger" misses a major point about the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. Putting aside the crackpot theories about remote control airplanes and cruise missiles (and the anti-conspiracy crowd always trots out those extreme examples to discredit their opponents), look at the political objectives pursued by Bush/Cheney nationally (PATRIOT Act) and worldwide ("war on terror," "axis of evil") after 9/11. If Bush didn't lean on 9/11 to justify the Iraq War and virtually every other failure of his presidency, then maybe Americans wouldn't be so willing to consider 9/11 conspiracy theories. As it stands, many people are suspicious of the government's account because the events of 9/11 were just a little too convenient for the Bush administration. When the scene is too perfect, you can't blame people for thinking it was staged.


Monday, September 10, 2007
The Week Ahead
Out of the blue, I recently started receiving e-mails from the Huffington Post again. I unsubscribed long ago, but what the heck, I'll give it a second chance. So far it's better than I remembered.

Marty Kaplan tells us what to expect from Bush's upcoming prime time speech about Iraq. The answer: "not much" if you're generous, "same shit, different day" if you're me. But this is my favorite part of the story:
This week is also, of course, the anniversary of 9/11. Republican presidential candidates can be counted on for a splendid dick-size tourney, which will be as consequential as any of the pious huffing and puffing we'll hear from the Hill. None of the candidates will brag of a wide stance, but several, no doubt, will boast of an admirably strong stream. Sensible Americans, except for the 20 percent or so who still constitute the Republican base, and except for the media who confuse covering the opinion of an extreme right-wing fringe with covering the issues of a presidential election, will sensibly ignore the adolescent tape-measure antics of the GOP field, just as they have already discounted the Frat-Boy-in-Chief's we're-kicking-ass-in-Iran delusions.
I'll bet we're going to hear loads of lies and half-truths from Rudy the Hero. I wonder if once again he'll claim he spent as much time at Ground Zero as the rescue workers did. After the New York Times determined that he only spent 29 hours there between September 17 and December 16, figured out that he spent 33 hours at Yankees games between October 10 and November 4 (and that's comparing a 3-month period with a 1-month period). I'll bet most of the poor bastards who got respiratory diseases at Ground Zero (one study says 70% had such problems) didn't get to attend any Yankees games that year.


Monday, August 13, 2007
Bastard of the Day
Well, of course it has to be Karl Rove, or Turd Blossom, as our Commander in Chief calls him. While I am happy to see him go, I must honor his previous achievements -- he's committed enough bastardly acts over the past 15 years to fill several books (see below). He's second to Dick Cheney in responsibility for the mess known as the Bush administration.

Rove's worst contribution to the world is his conflation of politics and policy. Every policy enacted by the administration is orchestrated for maximum political benefit. Rove doesn't let Bush wipe himself in the bathroom without weighing the political ramifications of both wiping and not wiping. I guess I might admire that approach as a cynic, but it doesn't seem like the wisest or most efficient way to govern a nation.

Although Rove has been hailed as "the architect" and "Bush's brain," his electoral successes haven't been as great as the hype. Let's face it, the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election, and riding the coattails of 9/11 won the 2004 election.

Finally, as Kathleen Reardon has already written, haven't we heard this "spending more time with my family" excuse for resignation just a few times too many? Rove's son is in college. If he really wanted to spend more time with his family, why didn't he resign before his son's summer vacation? Unfortunately, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of this bastard.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Bastard of the Day
It has to be EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, who claims that Indiana's BP butt-kissing is good for the Great Lakes. This article is so full of bullshit that it defies critical analysis (although Jennifer tries). It's no surprise that the Bush administration is against the environment in general (which is why Christie Todd Whitman quit the EPA), especially when it's sucking up to the oil industry. But like Senator Dick Durbin said, that doesn't make it acceptable.

An overwhelming majority of the U.S. House approved a resolution asking Indiana to reconsider its decision to let Bastard Polluters dump extra toxins into my drinking water, but the state doesn't care. I've had enough of their crap lately (the Illinoisans-pay-full-boat-on-the-toll-road debacle is another example). It's bad enough they gave us Dan Quayle. Let's declare those Hoosier bastards a "rogue state" and attack. Or better yet, let's make Indianapolis draw its drinking water out of Lake Michigan, preferably within 50 feet of the BP refinery's drainpipe. Then we'll see whether it really poses no threat to people.

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Friday, July 13, 2007
How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen
This is the first book I've read out of the many that I purchased at Powell's in Portland last month. It doesn't really explain how "mumbo jumbo" took over so much as it reviews a number of disturbing trends that have brought us to where we are. Its subtitle "A Short History of Modern Delusions" is more fitting than the title.

Here's an incredible passage that I must share:
The American presidential election of 1800, in which John Adams stood against his old friend Thomas Jefferson, also happened to be a contest between two men who were, at the time, the president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the president of the American Philosophical Society. The historian Henry May described this as "a coincidence very unlikely ever to be repeated in American politics," and his prediction looks increasingly solid. Exactly two centuries later, the main contenders for the presidency were George W. Bush, a genial chump, and Al Gore, a moderately intelligent liar and influence peddler -- a choice summarized by one British newspaper as "Dumbo vs. Pinocchio."
That says all one needs to know about how horribly America's democratic process has gone astray. There was a time when voters could choose between brilliant candidates rather than wearily punching their tickets for whichever candidate is "slightly less bad."

I thoroughly enjoyed Wheen's sarcastic yet spot-on descriptions of trickle-down economics, self-help gurus, X-Files believers, Princess Diana worshippers, dotcom mania, and other irrational phenomena. While many examples were familiar, Wheen also shared anecdotes from the U.K. that were new to me. I got bogged down in a few chapters discussing philosophy, but I suppose that's the price I pay for not studying the field in college.

Acknowledging that my eyes glossed over during a couple of Wheen's more philosophical chapters, I didn't feel like he really tied all the amusing yet revealing tales together into a consistent message. Sometimes he reached to include things that, though interesting, didn't fit well into his thesis. It was entertaining reading, but How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World is more about What than How. In that respect, it is as good a review of the past 50 years of popular and political culture/history as any. Anyone who likes Wheen's writing style will probably enjoy the book, even if the sections about philosophy are difficult for the uninitiated.

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Monday, May 07, 2007
If We Lost, Who Won?
A great article on AlterNet by Gary Brecher discusses who won the war in Iraq. Early on, he paints a picture that nearly had the milk from my breakfast cereal dribbling out of my nose:
At a regional level the big winner is obvious: Iran. In fact, Iran wins so big in this war I think that Dick Cheney's DNA should be checked out by a reputable lab, because he has to be a Persian mole. My theory is that they took a fiery young Revolutionary Guard from the slums of Tehran, dipped him in a vat of lye to get that pale, pasty Anglo skin, zapped his scalp for that authentic bald CEO look, squirted a quart of cholesterol into his arteries so he'd develop classic American cardiac disease, and parachuted him into the outskirts of some Wyoming town.
Iran has lost a regional enemy and gained "a risk-free laboratory to spy on American forces in action. If they feel like trying out a new weapon or tactic to deal with U.S. armor, all they have to do is feed the supplies or diagrams to one of their puppet Shia groups." Should the U.S. choose to unleash their military on Iran, the Iranians will be ready.

Meanwhile, the long-term winners will be ascendant powers India and China. They have watched the U.S. burn through a trillion dollars in a losing cause while shoring up their own economies.

Brecher also describes how the war has hurt two major U.S. allies in the region, Israel and Turkey, and admonishes our VP: "Happy now, Cheney, you Khomeini-loving, anti-American mole?" I love it.


Friday, May 04, 2007
Naomi Wolf Jumps on Fascism Bandwagon
A growing number of insightful writers are documenting America's descent toward fascism. The latest is Naomi Wolf, best known for The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. Although her new book The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot isn't coming out until September, you can read "Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps" now at AlterNet. She focuses on the erosion of rights without even mentioning the corporate element described by Benito Mussolini (another clear sign that we're on that path). I just wonder how many books must be written about this before people wake up to what's happening in 21st century America. Turn off the TV, put down the National Enquirer, pull your head out, and open your eyes.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Bastard of the Day
I haven't said much about President Bush recently. Call it bullshit fatigue -- the guy just wears me out. But his ludicrous campaign speeches lately have once again earned him the esteemed title of Bastard of the Day. Robert Parry describes and debunks a typical campaign stop with Bush preaching to the choir, as he always does (the opposition is weeded out by his handlers, another shining example of the freedom he espouses):

"In this new kind of war, we must be willing to question the enemy when we pick them up on the battlefield," Bush told a crowd in Sellersburg, Indiana, on Oct. 28, as if in the old kinds of wars, captured enemy troops weren't questioned. (They were questioned, but U.S. policy strictly forbade torturing or otherwise abusing them.)

Then, referring to the capture of alleged 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Bush said, "when we captured him, I said to the Central Intelligence Agency, why don't we find out what he knows in order to be able to protect America from another attack" -- as if CIA officers wouldn't have thought of that on their own.

Bush contrasted his eminently reasonable suggestions with crazy positions that he attributed to the Democrats, whom he claimed opposed detaining, questioning, trying and spying on terrorists.

"When it came time on whether to allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue to detain and question terrorists, almost 80 percent of the House Democrats voted against it," Bush said, as the crowd booed the Democrats.

"When it came time to vote on whether the NSA [National Security Agency] should continue to monitor terrorist communications through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, almost 90 percent of House Democrats voted against it.

...(omitted call-and-response with crowd)...

But Bush knows the Democrats are not opposed to eavesdropping on terrorists, or detaining terrorists, or questioning terrorists, or bringing terrorists to trial.

What Democrats -- and many conservatives -- object to are Bush's methods: his tolerance of torture and other abusive interrogation techniques; his abrogation of habeas corpus rights to a fair trial; and his violation of constitutional safeguards and existing law, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which already gives the President broad powers to engage in electronic spying inside the United States, albeit with the approval of a special court.

The entire article is worth reading. I can only hope Americans will pull their heads out of their arses long enough to make the right decisions at the polls today. We've got to get those Repubastards out of power, and taking Congress back from them is the first step.

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Monday, October 02, 2006
Bastard of the Day
I'm a couple of days late, but today's bastard has to be former Florida Congressman Mark Foley. While I feel sorry for the young men who had to endure this creep, I must admit it sets my heart atwitter to see another "family values" Republican publicly humiliated for his hypocritical duplicity.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I have a new nickname for the Republican Party: the Bad Penny Party (note: this has nothing to do with a certain Tribune columnist who wants to eliminate copper from our pockets). The Republicans deserve this new moniker because they keep resurrecting poor ideas, bringing them back to Capitol Hill or the White House just when most of us thought we had finally gotten rid of them.
I know there are Democrats in Congress who support some of these misguided measures, too. But the Democratic Party doesn't control anything in Washington these days -- the Bad Penny Party sets the agenda. And like a bad penny, their ideas keep turning up over and over.

UPDATE 06/28/2006 - Somehow I missed this before -- the Bad Penny Party actually has a name for all of their recycled ideas: "American Values Agenda." Ugh.


Friday, May 12, 2006
Still Trust the Government?
Last week I discussed a poll that said 67% of Americans trust the government. Maybe we should ask that question again in the wake of revelations about phone companies keeping track of the calls made by ordinary Americans and sharing that information with the National Security Agency. This is the stuff of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists, and yet it is real.

Bush apologists will try to spin this one as, "It shouldn't concern you if you're not doing anything illegal." But if you aren't doing anything against the law, shouldn't you expect privacy? Think about all the phone calls you've made in your life and ask yourself if you would like to know that the government has a record of all of them. Bush defenders might point out that at least the government is not recording the content of your calls. But that could work both ways -- the data mining operations performed by the NSA may simply make assumptions about the content of calls to certain numbers. The potential for abuse of this data is huge.

Today President Bush is making the predictable claim that no laws have been broken (of course, the administration has repeatedly operated under its own interpretation of the law), along with the patently ridiculous statement he has made with every new revelation of widespread spying on ordinary Americans -- that whenever these tactics are revealed, it makes it harder to fight the "war on terror." Terrorists are not the issue here -- any terrorist with half a brain should fully expect that his calls and actions may be monitored. But regular Joes and Janes don't.

Add to this the fact that cellular companies record every "ping" to your mobile phone, and things get even scarier. As your phone moves, "pings" are how your phone picks up a signal from a tower. You don't need to make a call for your movements to be tracked. Carrying a cell phone is like wearing the electronic transmitters some criminals and parolees must wear on their ankles -- someone knows where you are at all times. The cellular companies sometimes share this information with police, and by extension the government.

The government could conceivably know every call you made, where you were when you made them, and where you went between calls. Do you trust the government enough to let them know your every move?


Thursday, May 04, 2006
Scary Stories
The nominees for today's scariest story are

On a lighter note, RedEye columnist Jimmy Greenfield warns women, "We're gonna look if you show cleavage." Lewd dude that I am, I had to write to ask why he hadn't mentioned a helpful accessory: sunglasses!

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Basking in the DeLay Afterglow
Tom DeLay's deMise has the liberal bloggers doing the happy dance. Shakespeare's Sister has a rewrite of Elton John's "Candle in the Wind:"
And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a fart in the wind:
Ever stinking, odor lingering,
Even when rain set in.
And I really will not miss you,
Nor your loathsome slimy trail;
I wish you all that you deserve
As your dumb ass rots in jail.
How touching. I think I'm going to cry.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Bastard of the Day
Today we honor one of the greatest bastards in a field full of them: embattled Rep. Tom DeLay. The news is that DeLay will not be running for reelection, but I have no doubt we haven't heard the last of the most corrupt former exterminator in history.

Our country will feel the pain of the legislation he rammed through Congress for years, maybe generations. Confused about Medicare prescription drug plans? Thank DeLay. Losing your job thanks to CAFTA, the worst trade agreement since NAFTA? Thank DeLay. When Congressional Republicans came up with an idea so bad that even their own kind wouldn't necessarily support it, they turned to the Hammer to deliver fence riders to the Cause. His career path led from killing bugs to killing scruples.

As Jim Hightower and others have reported, DeLay is also the poster boy for American sweatshops. When you buy that "made in U.S.A." shirt for a few dollars, don't think for a minute that it was made by garment workers on this continent. It probably came from the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory where the labor laws we take for granted stateside do not apply. Even dyed-in-the-wool conservative Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska was disturbed:
Moved by the sworn testimony of U.S. officials and human-rights advocates that the 91 percent of the workforce who were immigrants -- from China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh -- were being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks minus plumbing, work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, without any of the legal protections U.S. workers are guaranteed, Murkowski wrote a bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas.
The U.S. Senate passed his bill unanimously. But the House never even considered the bill. Why not? Thank Hammerboy DeLay, lover of the good life in the Marianas, where he was regularly feted by territorial leaders and factory owners. Maybe he'll miss golfing and snorkeling in that Pacific paradise now that he is retiring. More likely, if he doesn't go to jail, he will become a lobbyist for those islands of shame.

For Tom DeLay, Bastard of the Day is too kind.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006
Bastard of the Day
Actually, this is my nominee for Bastard of the Decade, but she's in the news again. Katherine Harris wants to be Florida's next senator, and The New Republic has a an article about this peculiar woman. Although she got into the House easily enough, the GOP bigwigs aren't so enthusiastic about her running for the Senate.

Ironically (and I'm surprised the article didn't mention it), it's the same problem with running Hillary Clinton for president -- so many people have already made up their minds before she opens her mouth that it's going to be hard to win over anyone who isn't a hardcore party supporter. Every mention of Harris in the news is like picking at the scab of the 2000 election. The Republicans know that she won't attract votes from anyone who doesn't like Bush at the moment since she, ever the dutiful campaign chairman, delivered victory to him. The scary thing shown in the article is that the true believers really think she's wonderful. (Of course the difference between the two women is that the Senate is relatively "low stakes" compared with the Oval Office.)

TNR cruelly resurrects a litany of slurs flung at Harris regarding her makeup in 2000, which seems petty to me. This article gives me plenty of better reasons to hate Harris:

The most shocking thing in the article is an assertion by one of her former aides: "She thinks she's the smartest person in the room." That's pretty amazing coming from the most notorious party stooge in recent history. If she's so smart, why did she let herself be Karl Rove's marionette in November 2000? If Harris is smart, it is only in the most cynical, sinister, Machiavellian sense of the word. By subverting democratic principles, she got an easy ride to Congress. The ends justify the means, I suppose. Kathy, you'll always be a bastard in my book.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Health Care: The Next Battle for the Compassionless Conservative
The question in everyone's mind upon hearing that health care expenses will be a major topic in tonight's State of Disunion address has to be "Oh God, how will W. screw this one up?" You know he will. And a cursory glance at the pre-speech hype confirms it:
Bush's proposals include an extension of tax breaks for individual medical spending and an expansion of tax-free health savings accounts, sources say. The goal is to make medical markets more efficient and give consumers an incentive to shop more carefully for health care.
Uh, Mr. President, there are two huge problems with health care (actually three, but we'll get to the other one later): people who can't afford insurance and people who can't afford care despite having insurance. How exactly do these proposals help those people? They don't.

Obviously, people who cannot afford health insurance cannot afford to stash a meaningful amount of money in a tax-free health savings account. And tax breaks on medical spending don't solve your problem when you have $50,000 in health care costs and a $40,000 annual income.

Bush's plan encourages people to insure themselves by saving and spending their own money for health care. Who will have the most to gain from this? Healthy people, of course. And that will leave only the unhealthy in insurance programs whose premiums will skyrocket. The basic principle of insurance is spreading the risk among many. Healthier people subsidize the care of sicker people. This is both a social good (not letting the weaker among us die for lack of care) and a personal investment (eventually the healthier people will get sick, counting on healthier people to subsidize them). When healthy people's personal savings accounts cause health care premiums to rise, even more sick people will fall through the cracks because they cannot afford insurance.

Like everything else in America, though no one wants to talk about it, it all comes down to economic class. The wealthy will save money by paying a portion of their health costs from tax-advantaged accounts, while the poor, if they can even afford insurance (forget about personal accounts for them), will pay more for it. The wealthier get to save money and the poorer get to spend more money. Sound familiar? Every major program the Bush administration has pushed aims to accomplish these two goals.

And here's the third problem, the 800-pound gorilla that Bush ignores. Our health care system is among the worst out of all industrialized nations by numerous criteria. Market efficiency may save us some money, but it isn't going to save our lives.

Conservatives don't have any good solutions for health care; they never have. I hope that after Bush's social security privatization debacle and countless other miscues (war under false pretense, FEMA incompetence, domestic spying, et cetera, ad nauseum), the public won't drink any more of his Kool-Aid.

Like social security, the health care problem is huge and needs to be fixed. But these aren't the people you want to fix it.


Saturday, December 31, 2005
Missing the Real Wiretap Story
I know UPI isn't what it used to be -- ever since it was purchased in 2000 by Reverend Moon's News World Communications (which also owns the always objective Washington Times), it cannot really be trusted. But this article is particularly amusing. The headline says, "Bush was denied wiretaps, bypassed them." Aw, poor George. He had to authorize his own spying because the court wouldn't.

The first two paragraphs of the story portray Bush as victim: "...the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than the four previous presidential administrations combined." How dare they deny King George? They must be activist judges!

The third and fourth paragraphs give hard numbers, and that's where the real story is found. The court "modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation." You can feel the Limbaugh-esque indignation in this statement: "But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration."

Whoa, hold on there! You mean that there were 13,102 requests over 22 years and 5,645 requests in the past four years? That is the story! I cannot speak for the court, but perhaps their interference had something to do with the Bush administration's unprecedented volume of warrant requests. I know this sort of thing probably ebbs and flows, but let's look at the average number of requests in the first 22 years: 596 per year. Now what about the last four years? 1,411 per year! It sounds to me like this administration is going wild with surveillance. Did the United States really become suddenly, dangerously overrun with enemies of the state? Of course it didn't. But four years ago, an administration came into power with a strong desire to quash all dissent.

Gotta keep an eye on those Quakers. You never know when they might decide to sow their wild oats!


Sunday, October 30, 2005
So Long, Harriet, We Hardly Knew Ya
But that was the problem, wasn't it? No one knew enough about Miers (aside from dear George knowing her heart) to have any idea what she would do on the court. She shrouded her resignation in the principle of maintaining the rights of the executive branch, but obviously she was just trying to bow out gracefully. She was losing ground, not gaining it, even with Republican senators like John Thune (SD) and Trent Lott (MS).

Now for his real nomination, Bush is said to be considering two federal appeals court judges with the sort of qualifications that a Supreme Court justice is expected to have, namely a record that is not hidden behind the walls of the executive branch. Both are men, and this is a political win for Bush because he can put a man (perhaps less likely to change course on abortion issues) up for the job but say, "Well, I tried to nominate a woman, but the Senate didn't like her" (remember Laura Bush's ridiculous claim that sexism was the reason Miers was facing opposition). There is still an outside chance for Priscilla Owen, and that alone should be enough to win support for the other judges from Democrats. It's hard to imagine a worse candidate than Owen (I know her heart, and it is black), and with the filibuster "deal," it would be difficult for the Democrats to fight someone they already confirmed for the appellate court.

Of the two supposed candidates, Judges Samuel Alito and J. Michael Luttig, it appears that Luttig might be the better choice for Democrats, though both have conservative philisophies. Of course, Alito has name recognition by similarity to one of America's most famous judges, Lance Ito, though I doubt that will come up in confirmation hearings.


Sunday, October 23, 2005
Con Man In Chief
George McEvoy, a columnist for the Palm Beach Post, discusses President Bush's ability as a con artist. He begins by recalling the "Mission Accomplished" show on the USS Lincoln two years ago:
For a while, the most obvious con jobs worked for Bush the Younger. That landing on the aircraft carrier, with him squeezed into a flight suit, strutting across the deck in front of a huge sign reading "Mission Accomplished," was so blatant that, watching it on TV, I figured all those sailors and Marines would burst out laughing at any moment. But no, they must have been under orders to be cheerleaders for the head cheerleader. And the public fell for it all.
Then he moves on to Bush's phony video conference with soldiers in Iraq on October 13. Without even mentioning the video showing soldiers being coached beforehand by Pentagon official Allison Barber, McEvoy notes
What did them in was the language they used to answer questions. It obviously was scripted. When a captain from Idaho was asked whether the Iraqis wanted to fight and were capable of defending their homeland against the insurgents, he replied: "The Iraqi army and policy (sic) services, along with coalition support, have conducted many and mutiple (sic) exercises and rehearsals. It was impressive to me to see the cooperation and communication that took place among the Iraqi forces."
Then he moves in for the kill: "That's not the way soldiers, or any other group of Americans, talk. That's the way Pentagon or White House hacks write." Can anybody really be falling for this stuff?

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Monday, October 10, 2005
She Blinded Me With Science
The Republican War on Science is a new book by Chris Mooney that examines how science has become politicized. Most of us can name at least several examples off the top of our heads. In an excerpt paired with an insightful accompanying interview at AlterNet, Mooney talks about global warming and evolution/intelligent design. These are great examples because they involve the two bases that the GOP is trying to satisfy by rejecting the bulk of scientific evidence: big business and evangelicals. Industry claims that humans are not responsible for global warming while evangelicals believe intelligent design is right and evolution is wrong. Incidentally, these are two arguments that make the U.S. the laughing stock of the educated world. Everyone signed the Kyoto Treaty except us. Numerous overseas newspapers ran editorials in the wake of Katrina surmising that now the Bush administration would surely have to acknowledge global warming. Alas, they were applying science and logic to the American political system, and those things don't mix these days. Intelligent design is even more puzzling to me. Didn't we figure out this whole evolution thing a long, long time ago? Intelligent design is more of a spiritual concept than a scientific one, so how can one claim that science supports it?

Mooney discusses scientific consensus and wonders why reporters don't seem to give it any credence. They often try to "balance" science stories by treating both sides equally even though one is clearly more accepted than the other. By doing "he said she said" reporting, the writer gives readers the false impression that the topic is hotly debated among the scientific community, even when a scientific consensus is clear. Of course, to some extent these reporters have been pummeled into this approach by harsh criticism from whichever side feels their views are not being covered fairly (I have a lot of problems with "balance" in modern reporting, but that is a subject for another time).

According to Mooney, the demise of the Office of Technology Assessment and the shift away from government funding of science has led to more and more science being done or funded by people who have a vested interest in the results. University research has declined, leaving corporations and think tanks to do the work. This must please the Republican party's privatization fanatics. All the "controversy" about global warming has originated from scientists paid to reach a predetermined conclusion (if they don't reach that conclusion, the research "disappears" and the scientists lose their jobs).

This sort of thing has been going on in the "morality" and social science arenas for decades. Look at the statistics used by groups on both sides of the abortion and gun control issues. The result is that a person cannot possibly make an informed decision about which is side is "correct." One can make a moral or emotional judgement, but the facts have been twisted into uselessness. I once argued for gun ownership against a rabid anti-gun person (my dad would have been so proud!) just because his lack of critical thinking bothered me. He would trot out "FACTS" (in all capitals, no less) from Handgun Control, Inc. In turn, I could easily refute them with info from other equally biased sources. The difference was that I knew those sources were biased and said so, whereas he was convinced that his source was not. What I found most disturbing about our exchange, aside from his pigheadedness, was the absence of solid, unprejudiced information.

This is why the politicization of science matters. Social sciences are somewhat interpretive, but most of us view natural sciences as more factual (i.e., about finding an answer rather than merely formulating an opinion). Republicans (not all, but many) are trying to call accepted findings into question to satisfy their supporters regardless of strong evidence to the contrary. If the current trend continues, we will become the most ignorant society on earth, a nation so overwhelmed with politics that no one's facts are trusted.

Stem cell research is a prime example. Everywhere else in the world (and within most of the scientific community in the U.S.), scientists agree that adult stem cells have limitations and that embryonic stem cells must be studied. But certain Republican groups claim that adult stem cells are all we need. The reason behind this is not scientific consensus, but rather, it is because the "Christian" right has the mistaken idea that using embryos for research is equivalent to aborting fetuses (which I previously debunked). The average American might say, "Well, there is some debate about using embryonic stem cells because adult stem cells are just as good." A European who, because his government did not make it into a political issue, accepts the value of embryonic stem cell research as common knowledge would be utterly shocked to hear this. I realize that there are moral elements to this debate, but minority-viewpoint, politicized "science" is also being used to argue the issue.

Indeed, Mooney's quarrel with Republicans is not about their opposition to scientific issues so much as the way they claim science is on their side when it is not. It is quite acceptable to say, "We oppose this on moral grounds," but instead they make up science that "proves" them right. Even worse, they claim that the other side, i.e. the scientific consensus backed up by years of research, is completely wrong. The stakes are higher than just making us look stupid, though. When America's best and brightest are recruited to validate or invalidate these ideas that were pretty much proven long ago, they are being diverted from the important, groundbreaking research that can truly benefit mankind.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005
What Does Harriet Miers Know?
President Bush threw the Senate a curveball last week. He looked at the long list of qualified candidates for the Supreme Court, and then he made it into a paper airplane and flew it out the Oval Office window. White House Counsel Harriet Miers picked it up off the lawn on her way into work. When she stopped by Bush's office to ask the boss if maybe he needed the list, he told her she was his choice for the nation's highest court. Just imagine if Barney, his Scottish terrier, had fetched it!

Everyone is talking about the obvious cronyism in this selection, even some Republicans. It is bad timing on Bush's part, considering the mess that political crony Michael Brown made of FEMA's Katrina response. The best comment I saw was from Steve Chapman, who said that this selection shows that the best bet to replace Alan Greenspan in January is the acccountant who does Bush's taxes.

As most people now know, Miers has never been a judge. In that respect, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is much more qualified, but the fundamentalist right would never support him because they want a strong anti-abortionist. However illogical it sounds, though, judicial experience is not essential for the Supreme Court, just as proven leadership ability is not a prerequisite for the presidency (a string of failed businesses and a figurehead governorship do not count). Still, the evangelicals are concerned that Miers hasn't demonstrated sufficient fealty to the anti-abortion cause. Maybe she should blow up a clinic or two; that would surely please them. Bush has tried to assure his "Christian" pals that there is nothing to worry about. In an encore to his dimwitted remark about Vladimir Putin, Bush said, "I know her heart. Her philosophy won't change." That's the silliest thing I've heard since I learned that Nancy Reagan used a psychic to schedule her husband's appointments, but in Bush's mind, that should be enough to satisfy his holy backers. Too bad Bush didn't know Miers' heart in 1988 when she gave money to Al Gore's presidential campaign. See, sometimes people do change philosophies. We can only hope she returns from the dark side when she dons that black robe.

The experience that Miers does have is more troubling. She has been the consummate corporate lawyer, defender of the powerful. That gives us faint hope that she will ever take the side of the "little people" on the bench. If a case challenging Bush's idea of "tort reform" (suppressing lawsuits from consumers, patients, etc. to "protect" corporations) ever comes to the Supreme Court, she will be there to affirm its constitutionality. And as a White House insider, she probably will defend and uphold the administration's controversial legal positions, such as those condoning torture. Unfortunately, Bush would not nominate anyone who doesn't wholly embrace his skewed legal philosophy, so criticism along these lines is irrelevant.

Most of us progressives were astounded to hear that Miers called Bush the most brilliant man she had ever met. Her poor judgement of intellect could be forgiven--she clearly bet on the right horse years ago in Texas and feels compeled to lavish praise as she rides that pony to the top. Plus her contrarian viewpoint was good for a guffaw or two. Whether she was being sincere or patronizing, I'm sure Ms. Miers will change her statement soon: I am inviting her to have lunch with me. Give me a call, Harriet!

What troubles me most about this nomination is not the cronyism rampant in this administration, nor is it Miers' lack of judicial experience. It is not her background as a corporate defender or her ridiculous praise of Bush's diabolical mind. The biggest question for me is, what does Miers know? When he ran for governor of Texas, Bush hired Miers to investigate his past to determine whether anything would cause him trouble in his political career. If he has anything to hide, she knows exactly where the bodies are buried. In fact, given Bush's previous bouts with the bottle, Miers probably has more knowledge of his past than he himself can recall. As a White House insider, Miers also knows exactly what lines Bush has crossed from a legal standpoint. And just to toss a bone to conspiracy theorists, Miers was accompanying Bush in Florida as staff secretary on September 11, 2001. With this nomination, Bush has bought Miers' eternal loyalty. Whatever she has in her head, she will carry it to the grave. She will not write a tell-all book after Bush leaves office. She won't sit down with Barbara Walters to explain how she worked around the legal system to further the administration's pernicious objectives. Plus, I'm sure her presence will come in handy when the inevitable criminal cases against administration officials begin.

What can the Democrats do about it? Alas, nothing. I am in the camp with those who grudgingly accept that anyone else Bush could pick would be worse. Someone with a heinous record a la Priscilla Owen (talk about judicial activism!) is undoubtedly a more dangerous choice than Miers, who at least has a remote chance of occasionally taking a moderate position. Scalia and Thomas are Bush's favorite justices, and if we do not accept Miers, Bush may nominate one of their proteges instead. The Katrina fiasco may tempt some Democrats to try to ride the wave of Bush opposition and fight Miers, but I think their limited leverage could be better used elsewhere.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005
The Hammer Gets Nailed
After years of mischief, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is finally getting his due. He was indicted today by a Texas grand jury for conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme. It's probably the least of his sins, and I'd love nothing (well, okay, one thing) more than to see this guy hang for his crimes.

Notice how DeLay keeps ripping on Ronnie Earle, the Travis County District Attorney. He is trying to frame this as a partisan issue. But wait... although he is a Democrat, Earle has prosecuted many more Democrats than he has Republicans. That doesn't sound like the record of a party hack; it sounds more like the work of a rare crusader against corrupt politicians. DeLay is going after Earle because he doesn't have a good defense. Besides,
The grand jury's foreman, William Gibson, told The Associated Press that Earle didn't pressure members one way or the other. "Ronnie Earle didn't indict him. The grand jury indicted him," Gibson told The Associated Press in an interview at his home.
Good point! I wonder if the Republicans will create another media diversion a la Terry Schiavo to draw attention away from this. One may recall that the heat was on DeLay for his ethical bankruptcy when the Schiavo battle conveniently pushed him off page one. To follow the DeLay story from a slightly biased point of view, check out The Daily DeLay.

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Saturday, September 17, 2005
The Folly Of Rebuilding NOLA
A common argument used by atheists is that if there is a God, why does He let natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina harm His children? To accept God, one must acknowledge that He does allow these things to happen. In fact, many see such events as "God's will." In this context, Bush's plan to rebuild New Orleans should be downright offensive to the fundamentalist Christians who support him. He is essentially giving God the middle finger, saying, "I don't care if you wiped out our city, we're going to make a new one! You can't control us!"

For once, I am on the side of Dennis Hastert, at least before he backpedaled and told us that he didn't really say what he said. How can we defiantly rebuild the city exactly where it was, knowing that this could happen again someday? And it may not be centuries from now; random bad luck could make it happen as soon as the reconstruction is finished. The same factors that have increased the danger to the city over time -- lost wetlands, channelization of the river, etc. -- are not going away and will probably get worse. It makes very little sense to me. I think any area that didn't flood can be repopulated, but any area that did should be abandoned. Sure, we could build stronger walls, install bigger pumps, whatever, but a coastal location below sea level is inherently vulnerable. Some people argue that New Orleans is too vital as a port to abandon, but it doesn't take a million people to service a port. We could create a much smaller city on the higher ground for that purpose.

I know this isn't a popular point of view these days. Heck, Eric Zorn recently got lumped together with Jack Kemp and David Brooks for daring to question rebuilding. The American mindset is to overcome all obstacles and reshape the earth to suit our desires. We flatten mountains, harness or even reverse rivers, make the desert bloom, etc. Plus, many people have a romantic attachment to New Orleans that clouds their judgement. I wonder whether a town like Biloxi, MS or Mobile, AL would be rebuilt at similar expense.

Valmeyer, IL is an example of what we should do. I visited Valmeyer, which is about 25 miles south of downtown Saint Louis, for the first time this summer. I thought it was strange how new everything was. The town's welcome sign offered a clue with the slogan "Rising To New Heights." Valmeyer was located on the Mississippi River floodplain. After a disastrous flood, the town moved -- now it is located on top of the bluffs instead of beside the temperamental river. I know that New Orleans does not have towering bluffs on which to build, but the point is that sometimes relocation just makes a lot more sense than reconstructing what was swept away.

I don't see how rebuilding helps the people of New Orleans. What is compassionate about putting people back into the same place with the same looming threat that destroyed their lives once already? Are we really doing them a favor? I am reminded of Sam Kinison's solution for the starving Ethiopians -- don't send them food, send them moving vans to take them where they can grow food. It would be wiser and probably cheaper for the government to help former New Orleans residents rebuild their lives elsewhere than to reconstruct the city itself. It is one thing to keep protecting or living in a city whose position has grown increasingly precarious over the years. It is another thing altogether to recreate that same situation and send people back there. Some would even call it cruel.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Presidents And Poverty
On Paula Zahn Now Monday night, former Bush campaign advisor Rev. Joe Watkins had an interesting take on poverty under our last two presidents:

...under Bill Clinton, 15.1 percent of the population was poor; under President Bush, 12.7 percent of the population is poor. That's a reduction, that's a good thing.
Okay, that may be technically true BUT... Those numbers are taken from Clinton's first year in office (1993) and Bush's most recent year (2004). By the end of the Clinton administration, however, that 15.1 percent had been reduced to 11.3 percent. And guess what? The percentage has risen every year under the Bush administration! It isn't exactly fair to compare Clinton's first year, when he hadn't had time to implement any policies, to Bush's fourth year, when his policies have had time to work their magic. If you want to compare "fourth years," Clinton reduced poverty 1.4 percent by 1996 whereas Bush increased poverty 1.0 percent by 2004. The gap grows much wider when comparing families in poverty: Clinton reduced this by 4.0 percent in eight years, while the number have increased by 1.1 percent in four years under Bush.

Aside from the game Watkins played with the numbers, I wouldn't put much stock in those percentages anyway. Heck, Ronald Reagan reduced poverty during his term, from 14.0 percent in 1981 to 13.0 percent in 1988. Aside from those who have canonized him, no one would cite Reagan as a hero in the War on Poverty. In many respects, the poverty numbers are merely a reflection of the general economy. That's why Bush the First and Jimmy Carter look bad, with increases of 2.0 percent and 1.4 percent respectively. I cannot imagine anyone saying that Carter was trying to screw the poor (or maybe he was... and he joined Habitat for Humanity to assuage his guilt!). If you're looking for some good news about poverty, at least we are still ahead of where we were before Lyndon Johnson, when 19 percent or more of Americans were below the poverty line.

UPDATE 09/17/2005 - The right-wing echo chamber is at it again. Parrotting Watkins, Bill "Loofah" O'Reilly claimed on his radio show that "the only fair comparison is halfway through Clinton's term, halfway through Bush's term." Of course, that ignores the obvious, which a caller was trying to point out to him: Bush didn't take over halfway through Clinton's term, he took over at the end of it when the poverty percentage was lower. I don't know why callers even try to correct these rambling idiots. I'll admit that the first few times I heard O'Reilly and Hannity, I thought about calling in to question their ridiculous logic. But it didn't take long for me to see that there was no point in trying.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Why Chief Justice Hearings Don't Matter
There is a lot of talk in progressive circles this week about how we have to interrogate John Roberts thoroughly before he is confirmed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. While the appointment is a critical one, the hearings are trivial. Democrats can ask Roberts about Roe v. Wade, for example, until they are blue in the face, but the answers, if given at all, are ultimately meaningless. If Roberts says one thing at the hearings and does another on the bench, no one has any authority to hold him to his word. He won't necessarily "lie" this week, but he could easily "change his mind" between now and the time these issues arise in court.

Judges have always been held to a higher standard of honesty than politicians, but that doesn't mean we should expect any more integrity from Roberts than we have seen from the man who nominated him. I am starting to think that all these conspiracy theories are floating around about Katrina and 9/11 precisely because Bush has done so little to cultivate our trust. Once you determine that your commander in chief lies regularly (Iraqi WMDs being the most egregious example), it isn't such a big step to concoct wild ideas about what "really" happened. This isn't to say that I believe such theories, but I wouldn't be shocked if some of them turned out to be true.

All this talk by the Democrats about holding Roberts' feet to the fire is hollow rhetoric anyway. They have already for the most part waived their right to filibuster, and the Republicans run the show. As long as Roberts doesn't say anything to offend conservatives, he will breeze through the hearings.


Sunday, September 11, 2005
Condi Goes To NYC
The leaders of the Bush administration truly have no shame. In August 2001, Condoleezza Rice ignored a memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." For all her supposed brilliance (Stanford provost, blah blah blah), she simply brushed this memo aside as "historical information." Oops. Today she was in New York talking about September 11 on the anniversary. Sending Condi to NYC to commemorate 9/11 is like having Steve Bartman throw out the first pitch for the Cubs on opening day.


Thursday, June 30, 2005
Just What America Doesn't Need
Two recent, related stories out of Washington really bother me. These are not partisan issues; they are things that take democracy out of the reach of 98% of Americans. First, from the Washington Post:

The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent. Only a few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity in an otherwise fitful economy.

Great. I have long been concerned that corporations just don't have enough influence on government. The last time I looked, the U.S. Constitution began, "We the People of the United States..." I suppose today we could have another Constitutional Convention and change those words to "We the Corporations of the United States..."

Lobbyists give corporations access to politicians. But how do citizens get access to politicians? Well, certain citizens will have no trouble at all getting access if H.R. 1316 gets passed by Congress. The so-called "527 Fairness Act of 2005," which, as the Washington Post notes, isn't really about 527 groups or fairness, will eliminate those bothersome campaign contribution limits put in place after Watergate when the corruptive influence of money was a big concern. Apparently it doesn't matter now. Here is a summary of
H.R. 1316:

To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to repeal the limit on the aggregate amount of campaign contributions that may be made by individuals during an election cycle, to repeal the limit on the amount of expenditures political parties may make on behalf of their candidates in general elections for Federal office, to allow State and local parties to make certain expenditures using nonfederal funds, to restore certain rights to exempt organizations under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and for other purposes.
Instead of delivering the promised "fairness," it simply makes a bad situation worse. Most of us cannot reach the existing ceiling of $101,400 per election cycle (total including contributions to individuals and parties), but imagine what will happen when the sky is the limit. If a politician gets $1 million from Mr. Billionaire and $50 from you, who do you think he will listen to? H.R. 1316 just gives the very wealthy more power in government, and that will hurt the rest of us. Certain groups are spinning this as a way to "protect free speech for all Americans" because it diminishes the influence of 527 groups. The Washington Post easily refutes this argument:

But the way to address the problem of 527s is to bring them within the rules that govern all groups whose purpose is to influence federal elections--not, as this bill would do, to open the spigots wider for all.
This bill is a bad idea for anyone who lacks the means to buy his or her way into the game. Unfortunately, some congressmen are thinking only of the big sacks of money this law would deliver to them.

Lobbyists put individuals at a disadvantage against corporations in the legislative process, and H.R. 1316 puts lower, middle, and even upper middle class Americans at a disadvantage against the very wealthy. Neither bodes well for democracy.


Monday, June 27, 2005
South Park Conservatives?
In the article "Oh My God! They Tried to Steal South Park!" Simon Maloy goes after a book of deep b.s. called South Park Conservatives: The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias by Brian C. Anderson. The book claims that the South Park cartoon television show is "overthrowing the liberal media bias and political correctness" because it makes fun of liberals. Sure it does, but Maloy makes the point that is obvious to anybody who watches the program: they make fun of everybody, regardless of political or ideological position. That is one of the things that makes the show so great--it skewers both sides and lets us laugh at ourselves as much as we do our opponents. It's surely the most politically charged program I can watch with my woefully Republican dad without getting into an argument.

Anderson's book sounds like a classic work of selective citation. Maloy provides numerous counter-examples, and it took me, oh, ten seconds to think of more. What about the episode about gay Boy Scout leaders where Big Gay Al is heartbroken to lose his position in the troop? He is replaced by a "manly," military-type guy who orders the boys to take off their clothes. In fact, there are lots of South Park episodes that show acceptance of gays (while mocking and celebrating their idiosyncrasies), which doesn't exactly fit today's Republican agenda.

In addition to poking fun at Pat Robertson (which Maloy notes), South Park has gone after just about every religion. Pope John Paul II was presented as the drooling, nearly dead leader of priests who, when presented with child molestation charges, wanted to find a way to stop little boys from telling on them. The
episode about Satan and Saddam in Hell was particularly ecumenical in its ridicule. Cartman made himself into an evangelist whose only goal was to make ten million dollars from his followers by using the fear of eternal damnation, an obvious jab at TV preachers. Then Satan's director addressed people new to Hell:

Protestant: Hey, wait a minute. I shouldn't be here, I was a totally strict and devout Protestant. I thought we went to heaven.
Hell Director: Yes, well, I'm afraid you are wrong.
Soldier: I was a practicing Jehovah's Witness.
Hell Director: Uh, you picked the wrong religion as well.
Man from Crowd: Well who was right? Who gets in to Heaven?
Hell Director: I'm afraid it was the Mormons. Yes, the Mormons were the correct answer.
The Damned: Awwww...
When Saddam Hussein went to Heaven (Satan asked God for a favor because Saddam and Satan's boyfriend kept killing each other; whenever Saddam died, he came back to Hell--"Well, where was I gonna go? Detroit?"), he was met by a group of Mormons. One said, "We're just about to do a play, about how much stealing hurts you deep inside. Come join us." When Saddam cried out, "Nooo! Nu- nooooooooooo!" we all felt a little sorry for him.

Anderson quotes a student about what being a South Park conservative means:

The label is really about rejecting the image of conservatives as uptight squares--crusty old men or nerdy kids in blue blazers. We might have long hair, smoke cigarettes, get drunk on weekends, have sex before marriage, watch R-rated movies, cuss like sailors--and also happen to be conservative, or at least libertarian.
Maloy deliciously counters that this profile has rather broad appeal:
Forgive the skepticism, but finding college students who drink, smoke, fornicate, and watch Quentin Tarantino films is like finding sand on the beach.
For a supposedly individualistic society, we are hell-bent on shoehorning people into groups and labeling them, be they South Park conservatives, limousine liberals, or beauty salon libertarians. This book just demonstrates that one can write about anything these days, and if it leans right, people will buy it no matter how weak its premise (see Thomas Friedman's pathetic The World Is Flat--its title and thesis unintentionally imply that connectedness has taken civilization backward six hundred years!).

While Eric Cartman is the most quintessential young Republican on television since Michael J. Fox on Family Ties, his political position doesn't always help him, nor is it presented as the preferred choice; it's just who he is. He is hardly a role model, and even his own friends tell him how heartless he is. If this is the image that conservatives want to claim for themselves, then let them. But South Park as a whole? Ridiculous.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Should I Worry About Our Country Going To Hell?
I mean that figuratively, not in the literal sense like evangelicals believe will happen if we don't ban gay marriage and abortion. I've been reading a lot of books and articles lately that make me pessimistic about our future (most recently Chalmers Johnson's Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire). More specifically, I am wondering whether our country will decline dramatically and/or fall apart before I die (if it happens after, well, I'm not planning on having kids, so it's not really my concern).

I expressed my fears to a close friend the other day, and his answer was worth sharing. First he said, "If you asked my dad, he would say our country is going to self-destruct in fifteen minutes, but he's been saying that since Reagan got reelected." Then he gave me his own philosophy:
If the country doesn't go to hell, then you're just wasting your time worrying about it. If the country does go to hell, there isn't anything you can do to stop it, so you're just wasting your time worrying about it.
I tried weakly to counter with something naively idealistic (quite out-of-character for cynical me) about possibly being able to make a difference and change our nation's course. He responded with deserved laughter.

My friend's words spun me into a panic. If I don't worry about the direction our country is headed, then what am I going to do with all of my time? And what am I going to blog about?


Monday, February 07, 2005
What's The Matter With Kansas?
I just finished this great book by Thomas Frank (not to be confused with retired General Tommy Franks) that examines how his home state of Kansas, once controlled by Republican moderates, has been taken over by fundamentalist conservatives in the past 15 years. These people have sided with the GOP even as the party's pro-business policies have devastated their communities. The book seeks to explain why Kansans vote against their own economic interests in the name of moral battles that they can't really win.

While I enjoyed the entire book, I had an epiphany as I read the Epilogue. I guess I knew it subconsciously, but I never quite put it into words: I am a historical Democrat. What I mean is that my support of the Democratic Party is largely based upon its history, not the message it is delivering today. Although I still see the Democrats as the party of Roosevelt and workers, they don't talk that way anymore. They often sound merely like socially liberal Republicans.

The Republicans have been the corporate party for a long time, but for the Democrats, this is a more recent development. The decline of the Democratic Party culminated in Bill Clinton's Faustian bargain with big business. Clinton had to govern from the center to accomplish anything and to get reelected. But in the process, the economic distinctions between the two parties were downplayed, then forgotten. In fact, Clinton could be the best thing that ever happened to the Republican Party, despite how virulently they attacked him for eight years (and still do, four years after he left office). Frank points out that since the Democrats stopped standing for and talking about class conflict (i.e., workers versus owners), "moral" issues are the only argument left.

I'm not saying there aren't Democratic politicians who still believe in workers and are not beholden to big business. But they aren't conveying that message anymore. If the Democrats ever want to win back the country, they have to change their stance. That does not mean they should move further to the right; that would be the death knell for the party. They need to offer a clear alternative that really speaks to the common man's economic well-being, like the Democrats of old. While the more militant anti-abortion and anti-gay evangelicals will never change parties, other people with lousy jobs in dying towns just might if they thought it would make a difference.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Power Up The B.S. Meters
Our dear President will be giving his State of the Union address tonight. He probably won't say anything important, but he'll try to put a happy face on his miserable approval ratings (the worst for a second-term president since Nixon during Watergate!). It's appropriate that today is Groundhog Day, because we're going to hear the same old things all over again.

Expect him to carry on and on about the election in Iraq. He'll probably reiterate the freedom theme of his inauguration speech. Don't expect a timetable for when we're going to get out of there so our soldiers stop getting killed. He may talk about the economy, but his words probably won't match your wallet. He'll say it's getting better. He won't talk about offshoring of jobs or the growing trade deficit. He certainly won't declare war on the corporatocracy that is holding down wages and benefits, ravaging the environment, reaping the benefits of deregulation and capitalist cronyism, and paying minimal taxes for the privilege of doing so. He won't brag about how this is the best time for big business since the 1920s. If he talks about health care, he'll probably blame it all on the trial lawyers and malpractice lawsuits. He won't mention how his tort reform plan will rob us of our only recourse against incompetent doctors and unregulated corporations. Hee won't mention that abortions are up or that his "abstinence-only" approach is not effective. Expect him to tell us how Social Security is in big trouble, and expect him to use the same bogus figures and logic that he has been using for the past month. Don't expect any concrete details about how he intends to implement privatization (which he now spins as "personal accounts"), and surely nothing about where those trillions of dollars will come from to fund it (hint: when you go the bathroom after the speech, look in the mirror, or better yet, look at your kids). Oh, and he'll probably mention God/Jesus a few times.

This begs the question, why bother having a State of the Union address? The informational purpose it once served has long been outdated, or "rendered quaint" as Alberto Gonzales might say. Nowadays it is more like the "Spin on my Policies" address.

I'd love to join you all to watch the show, but, uh, I have to wash my hair.

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