INAUGURATION DAY: JANUARY 1953 by Robert Lowell
The snow had buried Stuyvesant.
The subways drummed the vaults. I heard
the El's green girders charge on Third,
Manhattan's truss of adamant,
that groaned in ermine, slummed on want. ...
Cyclonic zero of the word,
God of our armies, who interred
Cold Harbor's blue immortals, Grant!
Horseman, your sword is in the groove!
Ice, ice. Our wheels no longer move.
Look, the fixed stars, all just alike
as lack-land atoms, split apart,
and the Republic summons Ike,
the mausoleum in her heart.
In 1952, the Republican Party, running on the "only a war hero can beat Adlai Stevenson" theory, put up the then popular president of the university I would attend three decades later, and the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, the affable Dwight David Eisenhower (and you know... I like Ike, even if Robert Lowell did not, but like the iconic Ronald Reagan of later years, I only wish he'd selected someone else as the vice president and heir apparent.)
Anyway, Ike's principal campaign theme of 1952 was "I'll bring the boys home", then from Korea. It would have been nice if John Kerry had modeled himself after the affable Ike, instead of the charismatic Kennedy... if Kerry, for example, had been principled enough to say "I like the war and the blood and guts as much as the next guy... but the torture... that's just wrong. And as my good buddy John McCain will tell you, torture is bad. And encouraging other nations to torture our people when captured... unacceptable... disgusting..."
And John Kerry would now be President.
Well, he didn't do that. And he's not. So here we are.
Contrary to the assertions of some (including our own Unseen Editor), I do not have ill-wishes for the Iraqi people, nor do I wish for the failure of "the election". I submit simply that reading the work of people who seem to know what the hell is happening there, such as dog run member Juan Cole and Iraqi bloggers, such as Raed in the Middle, does not give one cause for optimism in this department.
An Iraqi George Washington (who won't be named Allawi or Chalabi) might emerge, and extend sufficient enfranchisement to Sunnis so as to stave off disaster. But that's not how you bet.
The Iraqis, in my view, are due for a civil war. We can either be in the middle of it, or not. Frankly, our national security has already been compromised with this adventure (Iran and North Korea have taken advantage of this, and Dr. Khan's nuclear medicine show may well have proliferated nukes to God knows where while we're tied up in Mesopotamia.) We are now battling for the prestige of our rulers; I repeat: our national security has already been compromised, and we will not improve it by staying, nor worsen it very much by leaving, at this point. We have skewed the vote toward Shiites favoring theocracy by excluding the more secular minded Sunnis. Bad things are going to happen, IMHO.
We can cut our losses, and declare that "our work here is done", even with a flawed election. I suggest we bring the boys (and girls) home. Ted Kennedy is right on that. Disagree all you want. The war has had some successes (Saddam is out, Uday and Qusay or dead), and its share of failures. At an incredible financial and human cost. Was it worth it? Well, y'all know my thoughts.
Time will bear somebody out. I suspect it will be me. And if I'm wrong, well, pleasant surprises are the best kind.
We'll start our Sunday morning's coverage of the Iraq election (polls closed at 1400 GMT... or a few minutes ago as I write this at 0930 EST) with this roundup from the Beeb. While the Iraqi election commission spouts figures like 75% turnout and 90% of Shiite turnout, there seems no possible way to verify this. Anecdotal reports are heavy Shiite and Kurdish turnout, and light Sunni turnout.... maybe VERY light. Election day violence killed 22; probably less than a typical day in Iraq... less than I would have guessed-- I guess the shoot to kill curfew worked.
But as many gush about the success of the Bush Administration in pulling this off, the only figure that mattered as far as avoiding the coming civil war was the extent that Sunnis felt vindicated by this. Given that few voted, and according to this Zogby poll (thanks to Bruce the Veep), we see that Sunnis said they wouldn't vote (around 76-9%), Sunnis (80%) said the U.S. should leave immediately, most ominously joined by 63% of Shiites in that sentiments (only Kurds want the Americans to stay... or like us much at all... for obvious reasons).
In short, other than a somewhat lower level of violence than I expected, this fiasco pretty much went as I thought it would: Shiites get their majority, Kurds get their autonomy, Sunnis get their justification for not only the insurgency, but what will now be a stepped up civil war.
Too late to call a do-over. We now have to count on magnanimous Shiites to see their self-interest as foregoing the opportunity to screw the Sunnis in the formation of their new constitution and permanent "legitimate everywhere except Sunnis areas" government. This in what is ostensibly a revenge based society. (Our only hope-- and I mean this-- is that the Kurds will be more magnanimous in suggesting that the Sunnis get the kind of autonomy they themselves enjoy, and recognize that only getting autonomy respected by others will keep themselves from being tied into the coming bloody all-out civil war. Not likely, but at least I view it as more possible than the Shia giving up their thirst for pay-back.)
As Bruce suggests: not really analogous to recent American elections like 2000 or 2004... more like the election of 1860. (BTW... circumstances can prove me wrong... I hope they do-- as horrible as the carnage we have already brought to Iraq, look for a civil war there to kill millions, and very possibly draw Iran in formally if the instability spills over, with dire regional consequences.)
All I know is somewhere near the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, a smile is creeping across Osama bin Laden's face, as we have moved his dream of Islamic-world-wide-jihad closer to reality than he ever could have dreamed... All hail "democracy".
That would be the biggest embassy of any country in the world, our American embassy to Iraq, which suffered a rocket attack today, killing two Americans. The Green Zone, as I am fond of reminding people, is several square miles-- I suppose the size of Manhattan from 14th or 23rd Street all the way down to the Battery.
It's nice to see the insurgents including the Americans in what had mostly been an internal Iraqi celebration of their newfound democratic process. As I said elsewhere (such as over at American Street), if you wanted a formula on how not to do this, we have provided it. Such a formula would reward violence by assuring that a low turnout somewhere (caused by said violence) would lower ultimate representation, and thereby, maximize resentment toward Americans and toward whoever prevails in the election.
The best part of all: no matter what happens, the President can hail having brought "democracy" to the Arab world, and maybe get his ever-dropping approval rating off of its recent low water marks. Iran gets a Shia-dominated government favorable to it, Sunni "insurgents" get a freshly stoked and resentful Sunni populace...
Man, talk about a "win-win-win" situation.
It sure would seem that would be the only way the President could say with his usual cocksure certitude that the new Iraqi government would not ask American occupation forces to leave and take their heavy jackboot off of the chest of Iraq. Nonetheless, the President assured the Grey Lady that American forces, if asked by a new Iraqi government the President offered was "sovereign" and "back on its feet", American forces would, in fact, leave.
I suppose that this means the President has a pretty good handle on likely numbers and the identities of the expected winners, the Sistani backed Shiite party (which leans toward Iran) and the Allawi backed Shiite party (which leans toward the House of Saud), which is expected to come in second (and Allawi may get to stay on as Premier). Both, it would seem, are unlikely to invite the kind of chaos which would undermine their newfound power by telling the Americans to get lost. (Sunnis, around 20% of Iraq, are expected to come out at the rate of no more than 1 in 4, guaranteeing their marginalization and resentment, for which doubtless violent revenge will be taken; of course, if they do better than expected, they might favor telling the Americans to get lost.) Let's just say that in any "election" where people selected by the Bush Administration have set up the balloting and counting... don't expect the unexpected.
Of course, to quote Don Rumsfeld, "freedom is messy". Or was it democracy? It's always possible that the national list elections will result in a series of crazy quilt coalitions, where the front-running parties we think we can deal with could be outgunned by just the right coalition of others...
The only thing we know for certain is that this will be one of the few elections where both turnout and body count will be measured, and exit pollsters had best have flak jackets at a minimum.
They're a little too modest to celebrate in public, but some ayatollahs in Iran, methinks, are just a tad giddy about the whole thing... And good old Ahmed Chalabi, I understand, has already broken out the champagne, hummus and shawarma...
Unbelievably, and I mean unbelievably, John Kerry won't go the f*** away, and insists on harping about the issue that cost him the election (and Democrats Congress for over a decade) by criticizing the President on... wait for it... health care. John Kerry now joins the 9-11 Families among those I am telling to shut the f*** up already, you've done enough damage to this country.
And what is Senator Kerry doing? You got it: picking random things he doesn't like (like drug reimportation issues) and attacking the President, without offering his own reasonable, workable solution.
What troubles me is that ever since Saints Bill and Hillary first destroyed the Democratic Party in the early 90's by refusing to be honest about their health care plan (employer mandates), Democrats have thought that national health care was an important issue, even though the voters have shown, time and time again, that they really couldn't care less.
Which means, of course, that now that the Democrats are, thanks to Saints Bill and Hillary, deep in the minority in Congress and the federal judiciary and again out of the money in the executive branch, it's time to come up with creative, workable solutions-- in practical terms, though they are inconceivable in political terms (largely because Democrats will probably see to it that they don't happen, so they can sit at the tough-guys' table.)
With health care, it's simply a matter of identifying the problem. The problem from a national standpoint is that there are tens of millions of people who are employed full-time, yet lack employer paid (or even employer subsidized) health insurance. Very poor people are covered by Medicaid; old people by Medicare, and the rest are either covered by private plans or their employer's plans, or uninsured.
This is not hard: we are years overdue for a minimum wage increase. In lieu of raising the minimum wage to $8.00 an hour, the talking dog plan will raise the minimum wage to $6.00 per hour, plus $1.50 per hour to purchase a private health insurance plan, and if the employer doesn't have such a plan, then that money would be paid into the same benefit plans available to federal workers (which would be available for... $240 a month, with a reasonably available and reasonably priced family plan available). Period. Oh-- the minimum wage would henceforth be indexed to track social security benefit cost of living adjustments-- just as my tax proposal will adjust to circumstances such as federal spending rates and recessions automatically, so my minimum wage proposal will reflect cost of living increases-- automatically (including the portion paid for health benefits). And because wages will automatically rise, so will tax revenues (all other things being equal).
Insurers would have to compete for the new health insurance business, and my guess is, many of the newly covered workers would be relatively young and healthy... which means profitable to insurers. So there you have it.
I'm tired of hearing about complexity. I'm tired mostly of hearing from Democrats on this. Sure, the Medicare prescription drug benefit would be modified to require, rather than prohibit, the federal government from negotiating with drug companies for lower pharmaceutical prices. Medical malpractice costs are only 1/2 of 1% of the costs of the nation's health care bill; I would remind everyone of this. Constantly. To the extent that we enlarge the rather efficient federal employee health care system (and make it the insurer of last resort, having now established how it will be paid for), we will see health care costs miraculously drop-- because administration of private insurers tends to be the fastest growing cost (along with pharmaceutical prices).
Can our economy absorb the higher minimum wages? Well, it's going to have to. My "flatter tax" should take constantly changing tax policy out of the mix, and automatically stimulate economic activity in down times, and collect a surplus to pay down federal debt in good times. BTW-- social security is not in a current crisis, but a few more years of Bush-style borrowing, and all government programs, including social security, will be in peril.
The problem with this plan: it's too simple. Democrats will thereby likely join with Republicans to gang up to kill it. We KNOW Republican policy is low-wage policy: make capital more powerful than labor at every turn, and lament all the jobs will be costing. Of course, EMPLOYERS say the number reason they're not hiring is... health insurance costs! I say... ENOUGH.
Do I expect some marginal employers to stop hiring people? Sure. But McDonalds and Walmart (both of which usually already provide health insurance coverage for many of their employees, btw) will just have to suck it up-- make us pay $8 for a television set from China instead of $6. And best of all, Democrats can stop harping on this loser of an issue, and get on with war and peace. I can dream, I s'ppose... so why not dream big?
On this interesting day where Condi Rice sailed through the senate 85-13 (the most "no" votes for a secretary of state in 180 years), and the bloodiest day for our troops in Iraq yet as over 30 U.S. Marines were killed in Iraq in a helicopter crash (bringing the American military dead in Iraq over 1,400), the President urged the American people (as if there was a choice) to "have patience" toward his handling of the abbatoir in Iraq from the comfort of his maximum security perch in the White House, and he urged the Iraqis to foolishly risk their lives to vote in Sunday's election to achieve his rhetorical goal of something he can call "democracy".
Of course, the inevitable winner of Sunday's election will be Iran: the Sunnis are shut out of voting by violence and our inability to protect them, the Kurds will get their 20% and in any event have their armed pashmurga militias to ensure their position, and the 80% of Iraqis left, the Shia, can chose from theocratic pro Iranian parties, or secular... pro Iranian... parties.
We could have done things very differently. We could have gone for regional voting (like our own Congressional districts), so that even low turnout in Sunni areas would not have screwed the Sunnis out of representation, the way our "national party list" system in Iraq (used only in Israel and Italy) will... uniquely screw them. We could have gone for Oregon style "mail in" voting, or some other method that did not require making polling stations sitting ducks for attacks, as they will doubtless be on Sunday; this Iraqi election is a really bad idea. What else can I say?
It saddens me that the President will get to call the resultant hash "democracy", and claim that he was "successful", in what will probably end up being the opening salvo of an all out civil war. The fact that the Sunnis have been totally, totally screwed by us will become more clear to them next week, as will the fact that our inadequate post-Saddam security has allowed said Sunnis to retain hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives and other weapons that kill our troops and other Iraqis on a daily basis.
Which, strangely, segues me into my suggestion of the day. As you know, of late, I have suggested that Democrats use the Iraqi fiasco to take on the President on taxes. I even proposed a radically fair and K-Street free tax revision-- so fair, it is politically impossible. But, given that Democrats are showing SOME balls (not necessarily the way I would do it, but I admit it's nice to see Condi get a Jim Baker's dozen F*** Yous from the senate), and it looks like Alberto "Spanky" Gonzales will get a spanking from the senate as well... it's time to take on another important issue: democracy itself.
It's time to stop whining about "we wuz robbed" in Florida and Ohio, and take affirmative steps to make sure nothing like it ever happens again (just as I have proposed a tamper-proof tax system, that automatically raises taxes when government spending goes up, and lowers them when spending goes down). With elections, I am proposing that each state and the federal government appoint a non-partisan election commission, whose members must not have been members of any political party for at least 7 years. These Commissions should consist of members appointed in each state by legislative committes consisting of even numbers of members from each party, and be citizens of extraordinarily high character, who will be responsible for managing elections, counting votes, and drawing legislative and congressional districts.
These Commissions would operate in public, and their mission would be to assure that there was no partisan taint in the electoral process, and that elections were as transparent as possible. They would, for example, under no circumstances permit machines whose operations were not thoroughly available for public inspection (no "trade secret" b.s., for example). States would be compelled to set up these independent commissions under penalty of losing federal funds for something or other.
Iowa already has such a commission to draw its Congressional districts, and its districts are some of the only competitive House races in the country. Imagine the effect on democracy if incumbents actually had to deliver, because they couldn't rely on gerrymandered districts to keep them coming back?
Dems-- you're in the minority. You have nothing to lose (except, of course, the goodies your individual members get, which they unfortunately seem to value over actual power to achieve policy goals). I propose a simple, elegant answer to an ongoing problem of doubt about our very democracy that we can solve once and for all, and just as with my tax proposal-- put Bush and the Republicans on the defensive about why gerrymandering and partisan vote counters are a good thing. Democrats, unite: you have nothing to lose but your minority status.
The White House released its own estimates showing a budget deficit for fiscal 2005 in the range of, oh, well over $400 billion, a new record. The Congressional Budget Office predicts a 10-year deficit of around $800 billion, or so, which assumes that the GOP Congress WILL NOT "make the tax cuts permanent", and that the Iraq war ends in fiscal 2005. Good luck on both; more realistic guesses are $2.3 trillion with a T.
We're now talking about numbers so high that, well, our creditors in Tokyo and Beijing will themselves likely run out of money to finance our debt at some point soon.
My favorite part is the buried note about the $80B requestesd of which $75B will go toward army costs of improving combat capacity (nice to think about that as the war mires into its third year): a mention of the $1.5 billion earmarked for our embassy in Baghdad. You heard me: $1.5 billion for one embassy.
All I can say is it had better have luxury boxes and a retractable roof. Nothing like fiscal insanity at a time we can't afford to buy body armor for our soldiers.
Democrats: you have my tax proposal. You can brilliantly seize the initiative by lowering the top marginal rate, AND you can take away the Republicans' number one gift to K-Street (tax breaks for the rich) by taking away ALL TAX BREAKS FROM EVERYONE IN EXCHANGE FOR LOWER RATES. What could be more fair? Plus, we can take politics out of it, by setting the percentage of GDP the federal government spends as "the basic rate", with 5 points added to that for income over $100K and 5 or 7 points less than that for icem under $50K, and no tax at all for income under $10K, regardless of source, and all income, regardless of source, taxed at the same rate, and take politics out of taxation rates FOREVER. AND Bush would have to DEFEND why obnoxious heirs get a tax break while working men and women still have to pay taxes... Its win win for Democrats in so many ways... all they have to do is think big, instead of trying to please THEIR OWN K-Street lobbyist friends...
Good luck, as they say... It will be the Democrats who have most to benefit from this who will most likely see that it never happens... Too bad. We have an opportunity here. Hey St. Hillary of Chappaqua: instead of trying to pretend you can make common ground with the fundies on abortion, why not this? Oh yes... I know why...
Quietly, in the pleasant afterglow of the inaugural bacchanalia, the White House sent Congress its latest request for an additional $80 billion for ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, not in that order of course.
This brings the acknolwedged cost of the Iraq fiasco (Afghanistan represents a small fraction of what we spend on Iraq-- so small as actually not really effecting the number) to around $280 billion... and counting, most of which will make their way into private hands so that the appropriate kickbacks can be paid, etc.
Nancy Pelosi, continuing to be the poster child for what is wrong with Democrats, says "well, of course we can't shortchange the troops; we'll give them whatever money they need..."
The money appropriated is largely for private contractors charging the government 10 to 20 times the actual value of their services so there is plenty of cash to slosh around in Republican coffers. War is the health of the Republican praetorian state.
The only answer is: Mr. President, our creditors won't lend us any more money if we keep spending like this. Either we raise this money through current taxes (i.e. TAX INCREASES) or we won't appropriate a dime of it (and back it up with fillibusters). After the body and vehicle armor flak-jacket flap, it should be obvious to all that this money is not about "supporting our troops" any more than the war was about "bringing democracy to Iraq".
Which segues into my point. The Dems are in a position to outmaneuver Bush on taxes-- but they have to NOT PANDER by trying to buy voters with special tax breaks (the classic Republican lobbyists' game). What Dems should propose is actually something the Republicans TALK ABOUT, but don't do.` That, of course, is a more or less flat tax-- of whatever percentage of GDP federal spending represents (now 22%, IIRC).
Simple. I'd propose four brackets (the lowest being... zero, the top being 27%). We exempt the first ten or fifteen thousand dollars entirely, tax the next fifty thousand dollars at fifteen per cent, tax the next hundred thousand dollars at-- you got it-- twenty-two per cent, and tax everything over that at twenty-seven per cent (top rate one point lower than St. Ron's Tax Reform of 1986). Oh-- all income is taxed at these rates-- ALL INCOME-- whether wages, business income by corporation or partnership, inheritance (WHICH IS INCOME TO THE RECIPIENT-- and income the recipient didn't EARN at that), interest, dividends, or capital gains.... ALL INCOME. Once and for all-- our tax system is about raising revenue-- not social policy. Hence-- NO DEDUCTIONS-- not for state and local taxes, not for oil or race horse depreciation, not for mortgage interest or anything. Simple, easy. Business income will have the usual complications (how to depreciate long term assets and so forth), but those problems can be solved.
This proposal is simple, its fair, these taxes WOULD INCLUDE PAYROLL TAXES now taxed in addition to income tax, and best of all, these taxes would force BUSH to explain and justify why wages that people need to eat and pay their rent should be taxed, while inheritances, money that isn't earned and falls out of the sku, shouldn't be (along with interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.) Because we can LOWER THE RATES, we can afford to simplify and do away with deductions. It's fair: most people would probably pay around the same or less in federal taxes (remember-- my rates INCLUDE PAYROLL TAX.)
Democrats: its there. We can tie it to the war. We can beat Bush over the head with this. DO IT. TAKE YOUR HEADS OUT OF YOUR ASSES!!!
Probably the likely reason why I was nominated for "best non-liberal blog" last year was because of my position in the Terri Schiavo case, a position that, alas, has been reversed by the judicial killers in Tallahassee and now the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to intervene. Terri Schiavo, you will recall, fell into a semi-vegetative state (she can breathe on her own, but cannot swallow and hence needs a feeding tube, though she apparently is conscious a fair amount of the time) over a decade ago. Successfully contending that her condition was the result of a doctor's medical malpractice, her husband, Michael Schiavo, as her representative, won a large settlement, stipulated that it be used for Terri's care.
And there's the rub. In what I view as a hopeless conflict (that Michael Schiavo can absolve himself of either by divorcing Terri and renouncing his claim to the money, or just renouncing his claim to the money) Michael Schiavo instead of using the money (doled out; if she died, there would be a lump sum IIRC) for Terri's care (such as therapy which may have improved her condition), he instead hired a "right to death" lawyer and has been trying to use the court system to kill Terri for well over a decade.
After the law of Florida was changed by statute to overturn the earlier ruling of the Florida Supreme Court, that court then overturned the statute overturning it! And that's where we are.
Michael Schiavo, now living with another woman and two children by her, insists solely on his own word that he and the then 26 year old Terri discussed what they wanted to do if Terri fell into a persistent semi-vegetative state, and even though Terri didn't leave a living will or writing on this subject of any kind, Michael said her preference-- HERS-- forget that its also his own-- is to KILL HER, KILL HER, KILL HER...
In New York, at least I was taught in law school, for a spouse to be able to intercede to remove life-sustaining measures like a feeding tube, the evidence has to be UNEQUIVOCAL-- a living will. But Florida, you see, has a plethora of inconvenient old people and is willing to draw the line differently-- allowing the unsupported testimony of financially interested parties, for example, to decide matters of life and death.
So, here we are. Ms. Schiavo is the poster child for the termination of inconvenient life. And unlike abortion, this one isn't so complicated: the only other being she is attached to is money Michael Schiavo wants to get on with his life, with Terri safely in the ground.
A strange case, where liberals side with those who value money over human life, and I find myself in complete agreement with JEB Bush. But that's life, something we have all been taking a little too cavalierly.
Former presidential secretary to Richard Nixon Rose Mary Woods died at a nursing home in Ohio at 87.
Woods was most famous for being allegedly responsible (at Tricky Dick's direction, of course) for erasing around 18 1/2 minutes of presidential tapes during the Watergate scandal (which she always denied, contending she only erased 4 or 5 minutes' worth!) Thanks to Hassan bar-Sinister for the heads-up (who also speculates- tasteless joke alert- that her doctors were unable to account for 18 or so minutes of Ms. Woods' final hours...)
A CNN breaking news e-mail tells me that former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson died, at age 79, of complications from emphysema.
As, IIRC, former Tonight Show hosts Jack Paar and Steve Allen have kicked off in the not too distant past, well, insomniacs of times past are losing some of their heroes.
Time marches on. Here's the thing (for those wondering just how I was going to make this about Bush): this is not atypical. Vaunted gains in American logevity have been a tad... illusory (we remain a dismal 42nd or something in world health measures such as longevity and infant mortality and so forth). Hence, the main reason that "social security is in crisis"-- the explosion in the ranks of the superannuated-- is a complete and total f***ing lie. As if you'd expect anything different from this President. The fact is, because of such factors as NOT universal health care, we don't live all that long as a nation, and hence, social security, our national retirement program is not at risk of insolvency during the expected natural lives of just about anyone currently alive.
Unless the President gets his grubby little hands on the program, of course...
Sorry to hear about Johnny. The man was a professional: his life was a freaking mess off stage, but on, the man was the epitome of grace and class, who made his guests feel as if they were the star of the show. In our ever more "in your face" world, he will be missed.
This week's visit to our friends at Beijing's People's Daily will give us a number of snippets to try to piece together. First, this note that German Chancellor Schroeder promises to work toward lifting EU arms sanctions against China. Naturally, Schroeder also mentioned the EU's commitment to the "one China policy".
Next, Chinese consumers are expected to buy over 5.8 million cars this year, virtually all of which, I think, will be produced in China itself. Which means that, naturally, Chinese demand for oil will remain quite high this year.
Why would Beijing's CPC House Organ feel the need to tell us the view of the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis view that inflation in 2005 will be kept low? Because, as EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson tells us, "we all need to be China experts".
And therein lies the game. The new economic ballgame is China. We have made them so, by running such large trade and budgetary deficits. They may, and they will likely, start to impose fiscal discipline on us at some point during the "second term" by starting to lay claim to the immense financial assets they hold, and the leverage they have vis a vis our currency. And they may well use this economic leverage to exact political concessions.
China is concerned with our inflation rate to preserve its own investment here, and of course, because if we start going all Weimar Republic and printing money, we can send the world economy into chaos. We will, of course, continue to watch strong oil demand (from China, helped by idiots here who drive SUVs) keep oil prices high, and our growth accordingly sluggish.
But mostly, we will watch Chinese power slowly rise as China sits on the sidelines doing nothing, while we bleed money and blood in a misguided quagmire in Iraq, and wherever else "the Bush Doctrine" (if he gets a doctrine, shouldn't he at least be able to spell doctrine?) takes us... Iran or Syria, perhaps? Its back to Sun Tzu-- the best wars are those never fought and the objective simply falls into your lap.
The Great Game is being played now, right in front of all of us, only the game is between international grandmasters and the Crawford Nursery School after-school gaming club. Any guesses as to who might be winning?
This week's visit to Pravda gives us this interestingly mixed up story on the group of Chinese and Iraqis picked up in the Boston area on some kind of plot to detonate a "dirty bomb" in Boston. (It had been speculated to me that this was the "Mitt Romney for President Campaign Kick-Off Event"; fear, after all, seems to be the new political currency. We have nothing to fear except everything. While we're dismantling everything else FDR ever did-- why not his catchphrase too?)
I don't know what to make of the seemingly non-sequitur insertion that "astrologist Hassan Charni predicts that terrorists will attempt to assassinate George W. Bush some time in 2005." Pravda gives us evidence of Charni's omniscience by noting that he predicted the deaths of Princess Diana and Yasir Arafat; of course, I can tell you that the odds of both of them dying at some point were pretty much a metaphysical certitude, but then, my methods are less scientific than Charni's, I suppose.
The mechanism of delivery of the RBS materials (really bad... stuff) is "illegally via Mexico", a theme Pravda and I have related in the past. But the discussion of the Boston plot and of the interspersed Bush plot (unless the plan was to lure Bush to Boston... perhaps for the first pitch at opening day at Fenway?), or was it... something else...
No matter. Terrorists are around every corner. Maybe we should declare a "Code Red" already, lest the terrorists (and their allies, the crypto-homosexuals led by SpongeBob Square Pants) undermine our Great American Way of Life TM. Code Red, I say. That seemed to be the feared color the last time we believed in an insidious omnipresent enemy. At least that enemy had ICBMs, as opposed to box cutters, but what you gonna do?
It's a winter wonderland here in Brooklyn, with around 4 or 5 inches shoveled off the sidewalk as of around 16:00 local time. As I was telling someone who lives in the outer suburbs, where he said the usual panic buying descended on all area supermarkets, people here in the Big City tend to be cooler about all this.
I mean... cool. Over 2,000 other maniacs joined me at the start (and evidently, at the finish) of Central Park's "Frostbite Seven" (that's 7 miles). Just looking at the starting temperature (nine degrees Fahrenheit) makes me smile... thanks to a light wind, and lotsa layers, a relatively comfortable run... weather conditions did prevent all but the best cold weather runners from running at personal bests... No matter. We're cool in this town. Cooler, probably than... anybody in any red states I can think of... Why are we so cool?
Why? 9-11. That's why. (That, and public transportation... but I digress...) We suffered the hit of 9-11. We dealt with it. We did our mourning, we did our panicking, we did our coping, and life went on. Life went on here even as the rest of the country-- which, save places like Oklahoma City, will hopefully never experience anything like it-- but then got the vapors and decided that "nothing will ever be the same again", and then finally gave into the kind of fear that let the nation reelect a would be martinet who masquerades in ersatz military uniforms and spouts off about freedom while snipers sit on the roofs of the Capitol, White House and other government buildings and thousands of visored riot police stand ready to gun down citizens.
Anyway... we're cool. And many of the rest of you aren't. So we had a blackout in '03... and everybody just walked home, or drove home, or whatever... no looting, no end of world, no disorder... why? That's right. We're cool. We've been to hell before, and we're still here. So... bad things happen... surely they do. Weather can be a killer, as we constantly learn.
Now, it's a blizzard. In short, sleet happens. At least we'll be cool about it.
The Snow Man, by Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frist and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Congratulations to the President and his able team of cronies and donees and donors and owners as they party on in a huge, wildly profligate "in your face" to the rest of us, such as and especially those of us who are paying their salaries. If recent "second terms" are any guide to what's coming (Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater/Lewinsky)... well, let's just say it won't be pretty.
In fact, I think that's the best, and most apt prognostication I can make for the next four years. I will say this: those of us who don't have our heads up our asses (and it's a smaller number than I once would have thought) have to stop whining, and take forward action on our own. Simply opposing the now overwhelming majority party for the sake of opposing is dumb.
A commenter wanted to know what the strategy reason was for getting out of Bush's way on some things (like cabinet appointments). It's simple: the minority will be assaulted as traitorous or worse for daring to dissent on anything. It will be exhausting at times. Best not to waste energy on things (1) we can't win and where (2) we offer no principled alternative . And that's the key. Blocking nominees seems satisfying, but it achieves nothing (unless leaving the office vacant is somehow preferable; certainly leaving the Oval Office vacant would be preferable, but that's not happening).
First thing we do for the next four years is tell John Kerry and St. Hillary and the rest of our pro-war sellouts in Congress is to go f*** themselves: we must make a pro-Iraq-War vote a disqualification for our presidential nomination. If we do not, we will lose again-- no matter who the Republican is-- because it would show we have learned nothing. We must dare to assert positive alternatives: we must be an opposition party with a (principled and consistent) agenda of its own besides "everything they do is wrong". And truth is no defense, btw.
If we do this, the next four years will be painful-- but mostly for the people who deserve it to be painful. If not, then it will more likely be people of good will who will suffer. Let's go get 'em, and let's be careful out there.
Welcome to Dodge. Stay alert. Stay alive.
Ignoring my (rather intelligent and sound) advice, Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry were the only votes against Condolleezza Rice's passing through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a 16-2 margin.
My regular readers are aware that my sentiments toward Dr. Rice are probably comparable only to my sentiments towards the President himself. Disdain would be putting it politely. Outright hatred (at a completely visceral and irrational level at that) would probably be more accurate. But that's not the point.
No matter. Senator Boxer gets a pass, here, and actually, she gets my admiration for tilting at windmills: everyone loves an underdog, and though the late Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is hokey and dated, it still brings tears to myeyes. Good for you, Barbara Boxer. As crazy and ill-conceived as this was-- you go girl.
Ah, but as to that loathsome slug of an excuse for a homo sapien John Kerry (who, DEMOCRATS should hate-- with a passion reserved only for the likes of George W. Bush-- I know I hate him MORE than I hate Bush-- which is almost inconceivable)... as to him, I urge DEMOCRATS to work for his defeat at his next senate election (run a primary challenger, and failing that -- vote for the Republican-- ANY Republican) before his kind of cancer metastasizes (analogy supplied by Unseen Editor; I would have just said "disease spreads") and decimates remaining Democrats and people of good will forever.
Why? The most important senate vote of this generation, that's why. The only time I can think of the United States Congress was actually in a position to stop a war, simply by denying the President the political cover to pull this one off. We really were at a tipping point. A no vote by either house of Congress, and the war would not have happened. (I'm serious.) Instead, the (thankfully ousted) insect of a Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, allowed this matter not only to come to vote despite knowing that no "case for war" existed-- out of fear that he and Democrats would be portrayed as political wimps-- but he and the majority of Democrats then voted to have the war. Senators (and this includes my own two senators, Chuck and St. Hillary), the blood of over a thousand dead Americans is on your hands. We won't even talk about Iraqi blood.
Anyway... who was among that courageous group of 22 senators voting nay? You got it: Barbara Boxer (and to his credit, Linc Chafee (RINO-RI), who voted in support of "Dr." Rice's confirmation today). Ah, but where was John Kerry?
Of course. He voted for the war. Because he knew he was running for President, and he knew he voted against the first Gulf War, and he couldn't take a chance that GWII would go swimmingly and he'd miss out on it.
You see-- John Kerry has no principles save one: John Kerry is always right. This is the arrogance Democrats have been tarred with now for years, but in Kerry's case, it's sincere. Well, we deserved this. We picked him. We picked someone we didn't like-- didn't really even agree with-- because somebody swallowed the kool-aid of "only a war hero can beat Bush."
It made no sense, as the last three presidential elections had been won by draft evaders defeating war heroes-- but when Democrats go into expedience mode, the facts don't seem to get in their way. Howard Dean was craaaaaaaaaaaazeeeeeeeeeee!!!! (He said crazy things, like capturing Saddam Hussein made no God damned difference to the security of this nation, for example, for which John Kerry duly attacked him.) Thank you Iowa. Thank you New Hampshire. Thank you Democrats.
And most of all, thank you John Kerry. Because you helped make Condolleezza Rice everything she is now, including Secretary of State. How DARE you think you can go back on it now. Senator Kerry, you are not fit to spit-polish Al Gore's boots, Sir. You offend me, Sir. If enough other Democrats join me in this feeling, maybe we'll get our parties' soul back, and maybe our party, and our nation, will have some kind of viable future. If not, well... we can look back some day and remember longingly when we had a country and a party that stood for something... once...
So sayeth our next Secretary of State, at her senate foreign relations committee
lovefest confirmation hearing. We'll train some Iraqis, and note that the Iraqis problems involve "getting along", and then we'll operate in the political interest of the President.
"Doctor" Rice assured the Committee that she will be every bit the loyal yes-woman that she was as National Security Advisor, and we can rest assured, unlike that uppity Colin Powell, she will not rock any boats. She wants the Committee to know she serves the man and his interests-- and the nation need not worry that its chief diplomat somehow serves it.
Some of my loyal colleagues of the left may question whether the senate should make a point of blocking the likes of her, or Mr. Gonzales at Justice. My answer is a resounding no: these people are not criminals (compare and contrast "Bernard Kerik"); they are merely disagreeable, and have personality traits (fierce Bush family l oyalty) that will make them awful civil servants, and probably inure to the detriment of the nation. But by the loose standards of "advise and consent", the President is entitled to his team.
The people have spoken. This is what they want. Let 'em have it. Of course, we're part of the "'em", but then, we nominated someone that told us he was more in agreement with the Bush Administration than in disagreement with it, did we not?
So... all hail our next Secretary of State.
First, this link to Sy Hersh's New Yorker article on the current Bush Administration plans for (literally) world domination, starting with Iran. It would appear that groundwork similar to the invasion of Iraq is now underway at the Pentagon and in the White House. The lessons the White House believes it has learned from the Iraq fiasco? Political. I wonder what that means: arresting protestors?
A Pentagon spokesman (Larry DiRita) promptly disputes Sy Hersh's conclusions.
We will see. Hersh has yet to be wrong. The Pentagon has yet to be right. Draw your OWN conclusions.
Our visit to the People's Daily indicates that the folks in Beijing felt something was important in the Washington Post interview in my post right below that I glossed over: the President rejected Secretary Powell's statements that there was an Iraqi withdrawal timetable, and it would be well underway (if not complete) by the end of the year.
It seems that even with Powell a lame duck pending the ascendancy of Incompetentalleezza Rice to Foggy Bottom, the President continues to delight in treating General Powell as some kind of court jester. It seems that almost without fail, whatever Powell says will later be undercut or outright contradicted by someone else in the Bush Administration (frequently the President himself).
Well, I think Powell is used to this. It's the fact that he's actually not a knee-jerk yes-man (think of Paul O'Neill at Treasury) that is the reason he is on his way out. Again: whatever I once thought of Powell, he still strikes me as one of the few (if not the only) Bush Administration official still worthy of some degree of respect. Which, of course, is why the Administration itself shows him none.
Ignore what Powell said. Ignore what Bush said. Just watch very carefully what Rumsfeld has to say, oh, say, around two weeks from today, when the
bloodbath election is complete, and the results (80% Shia seats, 20% Kurd seats, 0% Sunni seats) are announced. If Rummy starts saying things like "democracy is messy", look for a rapid drawdown, possibly complete by June or July. If Rummy starts talking about "known knowns and unknown knowns" and so forth, look for American casualties to continue for sometime... If Rumsfeld isn't called upon to make a statement at all, God help us all: we're probably talking about a draft, and an expansion of this wing-ding into some kind of massive regional war, probably involving both Iran and Syria.
Plenty of time for all of this. Some $40,000,000 shindig has to take place first. (Wonder how much body or vehicle armor one could get for $40,000,000? Not much point in asking now, I guess.)
The President gave an interview on Air Force One to The Washington Post. (Hat tip for the heads up to Bruce the Veep and the Daou Report.) The President said his reelection constituted a complete and total endorsement by the American people of everything-- EVERYTHING, INCLUDING AND ESPECIALLY THE MISTAKES-- associated with the Iraq war.
While this will constitute liberal apostasy, I agree with him. COMPLETELY. Indeed, Democrats supported the President on this-- why else would we have nominated someone who voted for the war if we didn't think the war was a good and noble thing? Especially when we had two better candidates (in every way) who opposed the war? Further, said nominee expressly refused to tell us his war vote was a mistake. He even told us that even knowing everything he knew as of mid 2004, he still did not consider the war a mistake... So, I submit to you, that something like 99% of the electorate voted for a candidate who favored the war (even I voted for such a candidate, though I protested the war in 2003, and railed against the nomination of the Democratic candidate until his nomination became mathematically locked... but I digress).
The President said a couple of other interesting things in the interview. He went along with the White House refusal to reimburse the always cash-strapped District of Columbia government for something like $12,000,000 for extra inaugural security (DC always votes Democratic, of course) while noting that the inauguration might make DC a terrorist magnet, with no evidence to support this. If I were the DC mayor, I would convene the City Council, and get a vote not to spend that money at all--- the White House can either pay for the security-- or not have it at all. That's just me, of course.
The President stated he would not be planning to cut benefits for the 40% or so of social security recipients receiving disability or survivor benefits. He just wants to f*** with the other 60%-- you know: old people. (Social security is, I surmise-- a spectacular cover for something else I haven't figured out; GOP House and Senate members DO NOT want to run for reelection "having voted to destroy social security"...) Frankly, the President tells us that the social security system is doomed some forty years hence. That takes some faith. After years of telling us about Saddam's WMDs (not even WMD program relatede activities even existed) and terrorist ties, to be taken on faith, there is no reason to believe the President on this. Not to worry: his own party will draw the line. As I said-- what I am wondering is what he intends to slip through under cover of the social security debate... We'll see, I suppose...
Finally, the President decided to kick sand in the face of his most loyal supporters-- the people who came out to the polls to support his gay-bashing agenda. He said he had no plans to actively work for the passage of the "sanctity of straight marriage amendment", or whatever the Newspeak term is for constitutional gay-bashing. The question, of course, will be whether Democrats will be smart enough (for once, maybe) to get the message out there that the President's "moral values" rhetoric (God hates gays, God hates women-who-don't-want-to-stay-at-home-and-pump-out-WHITE-children-for-their-abusive-husbands, God hates the poor, infirm and elderly) is just talk-- he REALLY is using that as cover for his corporatist agenda that IN REALITY punishes rural White males as much as urban Black females. While I'm not optimistic, the fact that the President has made this so simple with this interview (he's a simple kind of guy) should help get this out there.
It's going to be a fun four years, and it hasn't even started. Welcome to Dodge. Stay alert. Stay alive.
This week's visit to Pravda gives us this analysis David Galland of Defense Watch called Insurgency 101, Misunderstood, or some of the things I have been saying about why our current strategy in Iraq is doomed. In short-- what matters not are Rummy's "metrics" to show a dim-witted President (and largely apathetic public) that "we are winning" because we have captured... 2/3. 3/4, 99% or whatever of "insurgent leadership" (excepting, oh, Zarqawi, or bin Laden, or, you know, anyone whose names the public knows). What matters is winning hearts and minds.
The fact is, having done such a piss-poor job of protecting the Iraqi people from the insurgency to date (blowing a window of opportunity to do so by again pursuing Saddam and the playing cards, instead of shoring up the place... again--"the metrics"), our only option now is to turn over this fiasco to the Iraqis ASAP-- and get out. The elections, of course, where, thanks to the success of our efforts, will be unavailable in large swathes of the country, will be no panacea.
But they may be the best excuse we have to quickly assemble an Iraqi government with some legitimacy, and get it to deal with the mess we have created vis a vis the insurgents. Otherwise, more of the same will only end when we decide to end it (commencing around 4 years and 5 days from now I would guess). Yes, John Kerry should not have been talking nonsense like "our allies", or "I will train Iraqis faster" and should have been in the context of "I will bring the boys and girls home..." PERIOD. Water under the bridge now. Bush will commence the drawdown right after the elections. (If not, I'll be somewhat disappointed, though not that surprised; obstinance at the expense of others seems imprinted in the Bush personality.)
For more fun from our Mesopotamean theme park, check out my comment "Scapegoats of the Empire" over at The American Street.
Salaam Alechim, everybody...
Israel considers its response to the Hamas/Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade attack on Gaza's main checkpoint into Israel proper that left at least six Israelis dead. Newly elected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has not even formally taken office, and already, he is being dissed. Spokesmen for the terror groups insist that the attack is aimed at Israel, and not at Abbas himself.
For its part, the Israeli government will, almost certianly, not engage in the usual heavy handed response of a military incursion. Why? To give Abbas an opportunity to get things in order, and internally crack down on, or at least stanch somewhat, the terrorists. Abbas has been saying continuation of the armed Intifada against Israel will only be counterproductive to Palestinians' interests.
Of course, Paestinians who might have finally looked forward to a post-Arafat future with some optimism are duly pissed at the terrorists for f***ing things up for them: Israel will cut off the checkpoint, and hence, isolate Gaza again, which only makes things more miserable there for 1.3 million already miserable people. I daresay, in the post-Arafat Palestine, we're probably less likely to see the sort of sadistic street celebrations of terrorist violence, as more Palestinians (finally) realize that the terrorists are part of their own criminal networks (now, a bit more dispersed... previously Arafat served as capo di capi), and not patriots, freedom fighters, or other such terms. Note, for example, that of the six Israelis killed, two were Israeli Arabs.
An ominous development is that Hizbollah is now sponsoring terrorist activities in the West Bank and Gaza. Hizbollah, in turn, is sponsored by the Syrian and Iranian governments. They are likely well beyond Abbas' ability to do anything about, though Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (linked to Abbas' own Fatah) may not be.
Time will tell. I tend to believe that Abbas (unlike Arafat) wants to lead the Palestinian people out of misery, and wants to crack down on the terrorists. And, for a change, I don't think (right now, anyway) Israel wants to undermine him in doing this. Which means the issue will become whether he can do this, or whether the terrorist groups are just too powerful, in which case, we will have to say, the ultimate resolution will probably not be possible. Possibly ever.
Just 70 days (same number as the virgins...) after achieving the purpose of the Iraq adventure (that would be the successful reelecton of the Imperium), the American government very quietly announced the termination of the mission of the Iraq Survey Group.
Simply put: the great snipe hunt for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist is now ignominiously over. Impressively, the former paper of record that continues to employ Judith "Warmonger" Miller, principal journalistic (so to speak) legitimizer of the "Saddam is really bad and no matter how many Midwestern rubes we kill in the process of removing him is fully justified no matter how tenuous the claim he has WMDs actually is..." now gives us this "quiet" story of the end of the Iraq Survey Group's work, fully backing up Charles Dalfour's report from last fall that Saddam had nuttin'. Despite the Dalfour report coming out before the election, the American people expressed their preference: preventing dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of gay couples from marrying was far more important than expressing outrage at a government whose incompetence had killed over a thousand of their countrymen on a fool's errand.
Knowing that the mission has been accomplished, the ball has been spiked, and the end zone party commences in just eight days time (unsportsmanlike conduct penalty be damned!), even White House spokesman and compulsive confabulator Scotty McClellan confirmed that Saddam had nothin'-- not secret caches deep underground, not moved to Syria... just nothin'. Doesn't mean the whole war wasn't justified (the Imperium WAS reelected, was it not?)
Well, most of the American people can go back to sleep. They know that the self-interestedness of GOP Congressmen and Senators who don't want to run against accusations that they destroyed social security or medicare, will probably keep those systems much as they are. And they can aspire to be rich enough to get into a lower tax bracket. And they can be glad that "moral values" such as cruelty to the poor, old and infirm will be safely preserved by the Government they went out of their way to restore to power.
Nancy Pelosi reacted precisely incorrectly to this (as I fully expected her to). To knee-jerk criticize the President for being wrong serves no purpose; after all, I have pointed out that the majority of Democratic senators voted to give Bush political cover for the war, even though Dems were then in the majority and could very well have prevented a vote entirely-- unless the President made a case for war. But political cowardice prevailed; Tom Daschle was deservedly unseated for it, and while John Kerry and John Edwards were deservedly punished for voting for the war in the first place, the American people voted not to punish the even more guilty Bush Administration.
IMHO, the appropriate response is to note that the war is not justified, and funding for the war should be terminated immediately and the boys and girls and moms and dads brought home as fast as they can be extracted from Iraq. The only relevant criteria should now be the safety of the extraction effort: trying to stabilize Iraq is a fool's errand. I suspect that the Bush Administration will begin a big draw down in just 18 days' time (same number as our voting age, not that any 18 year olds vote here!) right after the "election" (which will not be delayed, even if no one can vote in it). Sniping isn't good enough: we need action. And action is cutting off the bleeding of blood and treasure. We have already (thanks to the incompetence and hubris of our government... and the apathy of the American people that prefers government by the knee-jerk decisions of someone who never successfully achieved anything that wasn't handed to him by his Dad in his life) hopelessly destablized Iraq. We'd be pouring good blood and treasure after bad at this point: we blew it. Time to get out. Life will go on.
No, Democrats: now is the time to take a stand (join genuine coward Howard Dean in this) and call for a pullout-- NOW. BEFORE THE IRAQ ELECTION, when we'll do it anyway. NOW. TODAY. THIS EVENT IS THE JUSTIFICATION: WE NEEDN'T WORRY ABOUT IRAQI WMDS THAT DON'T EXIST.
The gang over at Wampum have nominated this blog for a much-coveted Koufax award (blog most deserving of wider recognition); last year, you will recall, we were up for "best non-liberal blog"... yes, I know.
Well, right now, things are looking grim for this blog in that category at press time, so for those of you care enough to vote for this humble source of screeds and rants, well, you will have my gratitude. Those of you willing to contribute to the mammoth dollar cost that Wampum is incurring to run this annual contest, please contribute generously.
You will have their gratitude as well.
While the President is too busy proposing to destroy the (not broken) social security system for future benficiaries, his brother, Florida Governor JEB Bush, attempts to confront a much more pressing and current problem: how to destroy the Medicaid system for current beneficiaries.
His answer, obviously, is called "ration care". Remember when Saint Hillary of Chappaqua first proposed her 487 volume health care proposal (because she was afraid that simply saying "mandate that employers pay 80% of health insurance premiums for all workers" sounded too much like "employer mandate" which is bad, and had to be obscured by 487 volumes, thereby pissing off the entire nation with her arrogance, costing Democrats the House of Representatives, the senate, and eventually, everything else except a senate seat for herself)? You see, the Republican mantra was "she wants to ration your care-- not like the hallowed free market does now..." They rode it into control of Congress.
And yet, now the Republican heir apparent to the Presidency, dynastic brother JEB, offers the standard Republican answer for all irritating government programs not designed to steer taxpayer money to family friends and supporters: destroy the program, and call it "privatizing". It's pretty clear that JEB wants to turn ALL Florida Medicaid recipients over to the private sector, where private insurers can have the final call on whether to cut off care, a/k/a rationing. What's unusual, and gives this "the mark of Bush", is
that there would not be a final state backup if someone had too many health problems for a private insurer to pick up (such as a "lifetime cap" being exceeded), and run out of their own resources (of course). In short, JEB would have such people either throw themselves at the mercy of private charities, or, preferably, die in the streets like animals.
We can call this "Bush care"... as in "Bush league". While the President hasn't "gone national" with this, rest assured this will be a model program for the nation as a whole, as it tries to deal with an escalating Medicaid/Medicare cost structure, which unlike social security, will collapse well before 2042 if nothing is done. So, rather than a dreaded "tax increase", or trying to get a handle on costs by, say, cutting sharper deals with drug companies, we have the standard Bush answer: fuck the poor. Let 'em fend for themselves, even if it means dying in the streets like (non-talking) dogs.
This is the future of our national health care system. You see, when Democrats propose universal health care (the dreaded socialized medicine), it's "rationing your care". When Republicans ration your care, it's, well... too freaking bad is what it is. The future, ladies and gentlemen. The Bush health care plan: don't get sick.
And so, the asinine decision by Dan Rather and his crack team of zealots to beat the dead-horse-story of the President's use of his Daddy's name (as always) to evade military service, rather than a RELEVANT STORY LIKE ABU GHRAIB, has caused CBS to sack four producers responsible for the TANG (Texas Air National Guard) story and subsequent defense of said story.
I realize the conventional wisdom is that bloggers somehow brought this story to light. Of course, this conveniently overlooks that those "bloggers" were Republican operatives, just using the cool new medium and some pseudonyms, and the speed it provides to start making the wild accusations on Free Republic before the story had even gone off the air! And to this day, given that an IBM Selectric typewriter of that era was quite capable of the proportionate spacing and other aspects of creating the memo, there is no definitive evidence that the memo is a forgery (of course, given that all CBS had was a copy, there is no definitive evidence that it's not!).
No-- I say good riddance to these misguided people, and I resent them for doing Karl Rove's dirty work. There is no TANG story. Everyone who knows anything about anything has long ago factored in the fact that George W. Bush successfully evaded serving in Vietnam by having friends of his Daddy the Congressman get him a cushy spot in the Texas Air Guard (a privilege also obtained, for example, by members of the Dallas Cowboys, and other rich kids). Remember that Vice-President Dan Quayle also used his Daddy's money and power to get him a spot in Indiana's National Guard (thousands of miles between South Bend and South Vietnam, of course). Of course, unlike Dubya, Quayle served honorably, and has no myserious absences in his service record (right around the time they initiated drug tests.)
BUT BUSH IS ALREADY PRESIDENT, AND THIS STORY WAS WELL KNOWN BACK IN 2000. You see, trying to juxtapose Kerry's heroic service (which, I think, it is fair to say, included some "grade inflation", though it was, unlike Bush, honorable, and actually involved serving in actual combat at great personal risk) was a huge, catastrophic mistake. It was an old story, and a well-known story, at that. Why not report on Laura Bush killing her boyfriend Michael Douglas in 1963 (at least, that story was less well-known...)
Worst of all, thanks to Memogate, ABU GHRAIB, THE STORY THAT MATTERED (ironically, the same show-- 60 Minutes II-- broke the Abu Ghraib story in a segment also produced by the now-fired-in-this-incident Mary Mapes) got blown off the front pages. Instead, of course, the media preferred to feast on one of its own, given Dan Rather's bizarre insistence on remaining wedded to the (unnecessary) TANG story. And so, weeks went by where the only media attention out there was NOT to the disastrous consequences of the war in Iraq, including the complete and total loss of this nation's moral authority in the Arab world or anywhere else, but whether the ordinarily hubristic as it is Dan Rather finally went over the top. The media LOVES a back-biting Hollywood kind of story-- and Rather gave it to them. (BTW-- KERRY HELPED... I said at the time that Kerry should have immediately issued a de-fusing statement, blasting anyone "on his team" responsible for this smear... it would have taken it off the front pages, but Kerry, as usual, was too much of a coward and ass-coverer.)
Politics is ostensibly the art of underhanded salesmanship: you try to oversell the positive features of your man, and to oversell the negatives of the other guy. Lying is encouraged, in our system. About everything.
The Memo-gate story gave the media exactly what it wanted most: a celebrity driven story of no real substantive content that saved them the actual work of reporting on an otherwise dull campaign. Dan Rather and his hubris gave us exactly that. And effort that could have gone into a story that mattered and the voters cared about (that would be more Abu Ghraib follow-up) went into a story that had been trod over for years, with no effect.
And, as usual, Karl Rove played it like a fiddle. So good riddance to you, Mary Mapes, and Josh Howard and Betsy West and Mary Murphy. And especially to you, Dan Rather. You FUBAR'ed this one, big time. And not that he needed it, but you helped George W. Bush. A lot. And for that, I'm sure he thanks you. Because you exercised pathetic journalistic judgment. No-- your handling of the story was bad enough. I'm talking about doing the story at all.
Maddening. Just maddening.
This brief visit to the People's Daily tells us of the arrival of the 1.3 billionth Chinese citizen. China regards this as a success insofar as they managed to put off this day (thanks to brutally repressive family planning measures) for over four years (the target date for this number was the end of the 20th century). Well, one massive, now mobilized labor force, all working for low wages, and kicking our ass, while acquiring claims against our assets.
What can you say. A scary number. Obviously, it could be a lot more, if the family planning measures were lifted (of course, the 1.8 per family fertility rate rivals that of, say, Western European industrial democracies... albeit, for different reasons). Still, over a billion more people than we have, and now, they are literally competing for our jobs, and eventually, for the world's scarce resources (eventually, meaning, right about now...)
Just some perspective as we foolishly squander our national wealth, security and moral authority in a misguided (and hopelessly FUBAR'ed) quest to avenge the loss of a mere 3 thousand people (and take our violent revenge out on people who had nothing to do with it, of course).
Obviously, we're not talking about Iraq. Iraq will have something called an election in precisely three weeks' time, but "democracy" implies something different from the Kurdish/Shiite self-governance referendum and Sunni boycott/aremed assaults with a preposterous "national list" system (used only in "I" countries Italy and Israel, both notorious for a lot of fringe parties and wildly complex parliamentary maneuverings and frequent failed governments; it means literally that if party A gets X% of the national vote, it gets X% of the parliamentary seats; not ideal where an ethnic group of around 20% of the country probably can't vote because of extreme violence because WE CAN'T PROVIDE ANYTHING RESEMBLING ADEQUATE SECURITY).
Sorry. I was actually talking about Palestine, where Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas garnered around 65% of the vote and declared victory in the post-Arafat presidential election. BTW: international observers declared the election pretty clean by international standards, minimal interference from Israel, although there was a low turnout doubtless helped by a Hamas boycott.
Unlike the time when Israel deliberately undermined Abbas (a/k/a Abu Mazen) when he was Arafat's prime minister, Israel will now lose any semblance of moral high ground if it tries undermine an actual democratically elected Palestinian leader who isn't Arafat, and who, by nature, and compared to everyone else out there, is pretty freaking conciliatory towards Israel.
This is really an opportunity. Israel will now have to decide what it wants to be: a nation hell-bent on stealing land and pissing on international law (not to mention its 3 or 4 million Arab house guests), or a modern state whose citizens don't have to live in perpetual existential angst everytime they get on a bus or go out for pizza. To be honest, I'm not optimistic. But for a rare change, both the bogeyman spectre and actual hindrance to peace in the living, breathing
form of Yasir Arafat has been laid to rest. Sharon can't blame Arafat for any failures of imagnation now. Indeed, Israel can now recognize that with Arafat thankfully gone, they have the opportunity to create a viable Palestinian state, and help it develop into a peaceful and prosperous one. Abbas would, if given proper backing, help weed out the insane violence of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and others that Arafat was counting on to help his protection rackets. The vicious cycle CAN be broken... will it is another matter.
Well, at least some of the Palestinian people have spoken loudly and optimistically today. I hope their confidence in democracy will be rewarded.
Coalition forces apparently bombed the wrong house near Mosul , killing at least five, and letting "the targets" get away. No word on whether an Islamic wedding ceremony was taking place inside the house.
Doubtless, just more winning of Iraqi hearts and minds as the election on which we are banking everything draws near. If it weren't going to show Al Qaeda "our sensitive side", to quote a mocking Dick Cheney, perhaps a sound truck blaring "We're terribly sorry for any inconvenience" (in English, of course) might be dispatched.
Would that any of this were funny.
In this week's visit to Pravda, we get this good old assault on Western values, noting not without bitter irony that the cost of our butchery in Iraq (I may use that term more regularly) hovers at around $200 billion (it's really much more, of course), whereas the entire Western world got together for a mere $4 billion in relief aid for tsunami relief (and less than 10% of that is from the American government, the one that committed hundreds of times their aid package for the purpose of murdering swarthy people in Iraq (for some still unexplained reason that did NOT include American self-defense). Well, while I personally made my tsunami related contributions, all I can say is "ouch". When asked what he thought of Western civiliation, Mahatma Gandhi put it best: "I think it would be an excellent idea."
Pravda also treats us to this report you won't see anywhere else indicating that terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been arrested by the Kurds. Zarqawi, as you know, has been substituted as public enemy number 1 for the long-forgotten Osama bin Laden, though the two now seem affiliated. Of course, the Pentagon has vociferously denied that Zarqawi has been captured. If he was, of course, it would too much like the capture of Saddam story line: the capture of the big fish did absolutely nothing re: the intensity of insurgency.
I have no idea if he has been captured or not, of course.
The Pentagon, like the government as a whole, is in no position to admit that their entire model of warfare is hopelessly flawed: the enemy is NOT subject to a rigid command structure, as we are. Even capturing 2/3 or 3/4 or 90% or whatever the popular figure is of the leadership of Al Qaeda or the insugency or any other such group means nothing: the field guerrillas can operate on their own, with minimal oversight. As I've said before: our forces resemble the British redcoats trying to line in orderly rows as more flexible guerrillas (be they American irregulars in the Revolutionary war or Mohawks, Iroquois, et al. in the French and Indian War), and are no match, doctrinally. But alas, our Pentagon remains a top-down structure, and will not learn. Sadly, the public at large really doesn't care. (Them gay-boys gettin' hitched? THAT it cares about.)
Well, a dismal weather day here in the New York area. Just some more happy thoughts for such a day.
And so day one of the Alberto Gonzales, Arlen and Leahy Circus, a/k/a Alberto Gonzales' senate confirmation hearings to become our nation's 80th attorney general.
As to his prior advocacy of torture and dictatorial presidential powers and the purported obsolecence of the Geneva Conventions, Gonzales told senators something like "mistakes were made". Well, the right honorable gentlemen will duly grill Mr. Gonzales, and then debate.
My advice, not that anyone wants it, is that the Senate Democrats express their disgust, and then note that they have no interest in undermining the President's choice of "his team"; the people elected the President-- he gets his team, even if, as in the case of Ashcroft, they are inconceivably stupid, or like Gonzales, are a tad "constitutionally challenged" in some of his opinions (i.e. anything involving limitations on the President's power, for example).
Indeed-- this would be my best advice overall. Do NOT try to be particularly disruptive; seek compromise where possible, and when none is coming, get out of their way. My inclination to fillibuster and disrupt everything is certainly a feel-good knee jerk reaction, but it will do little, if any good.
The people have spoken: we have unified government in all branches. The party in power, I fear, is fiscally irresponsible and has shown incompetence in the management of our security, internal and abroad, but as I have said before, the people, by a majority, albeit a small one, have told us they like what they see. If we are right, and these policies are folly or worse, then we'll see what happens in '06. If not, well... we have to ask ourselves if we simply have contempt for democracy itself? (We're not a democracy; we're a republic, and because of our senate and electoral college, one of the least democratic republics in the industrialized world.--Ed.) Damn... we're reduced to a Mickey Kaus...
Hey-- speaking of actual democracy, somewhere, somehow, I'm picturing a lean, mean, buff Al Gore running and up and down the Capitol steps in camouflage fatigues, and then heading into a meat locker pummelling a side of beef with Bill and Hillary Clinton's picture on it. Tipper!!! Standing by...
The White House has manufactured another "crisis", requiring immediate (and thereby, preferably, swift and thoughtless) Congressional action. Joining the panacea January 30th Iraqi elections, which will solve all problems in the Middle East, if not the universe, and removing the "security" aspect of social security, the President brings his brand of Texas cruelty to the nation writ large, by proposing at Collinsville, Illinois, a venue purportedly where large medical malpractice verdicts are reached, proposing that all pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases be capped at $250,000.
What the President will not tell you is that the National Practitioner Data Bank maintained by a forgotten part of the President's own government will show that total medical malpractice payouts to plaintiffs, nationwide, represent something like under 1/2 of 1% of our nation's (over $1.4 trillion, or around 14% of GDP) spending on health care.
The President will also not tell you that studies (yes, I know my link is from the American Trial Lawyers' Association) show pretty much no difference in malpractice insurance costs in states with caps such as the President's proposal to dump on the entire nation, and those with no such limits.
The enemies, as the President sees it, are (1) trial lawyers bringing cases that presumably included those against physicians and hospitals, and (2) their uppity clients who have THE NERVE to think they are entitled to large damage awards, or much of anything, without inheriting it, or arranging for it from their crony friends, rather than as compensation for some egregious action by a doctor or hospital (which, no matter how egregious, will be compensated at no more than $250,000 plus narrowly defined "economic" damages). Oh-- as it is, your odds of checking out dead (from something you didn't check in for) in an American hospital these days are as many as 1 in 200. Surely, capping damages at $250,000 will have no effect whatsoever on hospitals' and doctors' levels of care... Like hell...
As usual, juries are o.k. to sentence people to death, but heaven help us if they award too much money. And, of course, we have to assume that state trial and appellate judges willingly allow "frivolous" suits to be sustained... which, of course, it is their job to winnow out.
No matter. This is a campaign based on lies. Lie: Medical malpractice costs are driving higher health care costs. Truth: Payouts to plaintiffs represent less than 1/2 of 1% of what we spend on health care. Even including defense and administrative costs, we are still well under 1% of such costs. Lie: Caps will bring down malpractice premiums and enable doctors to offer more services. Truth: States with caps have virtually no difference in malpractice rates as against states without them. Lie: The nation has a medical malpractice crisis. Truth: Trial lawyers give their campaign contributions overwhelmingly to Democrats, and insurance companies, to Republicans. The President is trying to reward his friends and punish his enemies, and try to cut off funding for his opponents all at the same time.
Dwight Meredith often has interesting things to say on this subject, so we'll be looking out for it. But let us all not for a minute buy that anything the President says is "a crisis" is anything more than one of his political imperatives. Viewed calmly, and knowing the facts, this one is easy: we should all tell the President to go to hell, on this one.
And we'd appreciate it if he'd stop lying about it (i.e., opening his mouth on the subject... AT ALL.)
The House Republicans themselves took action to reverse themselves on a revision to an ethics rule that would have permitted Majority Leader Tom "Bugs" DeLay to maintain his leadership position, even if a Texas prosecutor decided to indict him. I understand perfectly why rank and file Republican House members would have wanted to make this rule change reversal.
What is astounding is how suicidally worthless the Democrats are. I mean, I swear, the so-called leaders of my own party make me sick-- they are really that bad. And I would say that Congresswoman Pelosi should be ousted as Minority Leader, immediately, simply for the position taken on this one issue.
Why, you might ask, would the talking dog defy conventional wisdom and contend that a rule change that permitted Tom DeLay to retain his Majority Leader position even if he were under indictment is good for Democrats? The question answers itself. How soon we forget, but it's only been ten years since the Gingrich led "Republican Revolution" rolled in. It was fueled by a variety of things, but mostly by a perception that Democrats were out of touch, corrupt, and willing to bend rules for their own benefit (see "Wright, Jim"; "Rostenkowski, Dan").
Amazingly, despite being a mere baker's dozen House Seats away from a majority in 2004, and with plenty of Republican vulnerability, as usual, the Democrats played to lose (not even contesting around half of forty or so House seats GOP operatives identified as vulnerable). And naturally, in the interest of knee-jerk opposing whatever the Republicans do just for the sake of opposing, regardless of whether it will benefit Democrats, the Democrats, more interested in scoring points than in scoring seats, shoot themselves in the foot. Big time.
That's right: nothing could have benefitted the Democratic Party more than a Republican House Majority Leader refusing to resign that position while under indictment (he wouldn't otherwise be forced out, under the now reversed rule change). What better way to argue to the voters for a Democratic majority, in the face of a ballooning deficit, falling dollar, failing economy, social security and medicare under the President's attack, the Iraq war human and financial costs continuing to mount... then a corrupt and out of touch Republican leadership more interested in protecting its own power than the appearance of propriety.
A wasted opportunity that is so serious, I hereby call on Ms. Pelosi and the current Democratic House leadership to resign their leadership positions, immediately. The House Republicans themselves (or maybe it was even Karl Rove himself) were smart enough to see the opportunity this would have presented to Democrats, and scotched it. That the Democratic leadership has its head up its ass shows that Ms. Pelosi and the "leadership" are not fit to lead. Not even a little. When your opponents want to drive off a cliff, get out of their way. Otherwise, jump off yourselves.
Sheesh. This should have represented a new "bipartisanship". As we say in my home borough, fuhgeddaboutit.
I'd be referring to the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the post of the nation's 80th attorney general, succeeding the thankfully inimitable John Ashcroft. Gonzales is "expected to receive criticism" of his memoranda suggesting, if not "legally" justifying, unlimited dictatorial presidential power (which includes the power to usurp the Congress and judiciary and lock up who the President pleases, forever, without charge or trial).
But Democrats, knowing that the President picked up around 9% more of the Latino vote in 2004 than in 2000 must be very, very wary of seeming to come down too hard on the first Latino ever nominated to attorney general (and the highest ranking cabinet post to which a Latino has ever been nominated), lest
the "Miguel Estrada" effect be repeated, where Democrats were perceived as
somehow biased against Latinos (just because they are conservative Latinos).
Interesting conundrum. As a human being, of course, IMHO, Mr. Gonzales' legal memoranda should disqualify him from remaining in civilized society, if even at large. And yet, in 2004, he will (barring his death, a disclosed homosexual affair, or a coup d'etat) likely secure a cabinet post. It's interesting: Democrats, having long ago sold out all semblance of principle, must now yield on torture, lest they use up the political capital that will later be needed to hold together to block judges who oppose abortion on demand (btw, Gonzales' record on that is pretty good, by Bush-appointee standards).
And so we see my beloved (LOL) senator Chuck Schumer say that "standards are more lenient" for cabinet appointments than for "life appointments", meaning the federal judiciary (of which Mr. Gonzales will become Chief Justice as soon as Rehnquist decides to hang up his HMS Pinafore uniform/robe).
Amazing what our politics has come down to. As digby so poignantly notes, its not even like we have a consensus on the inappropriateness of torture. Now, we have a government proposing that, like its tax cuts, to gulags permanent, and no one on either side of the aisle seems to be saying boo.
Well, my state's Democratic senators are Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton; I know better than to try to get anywhere with those two grandstanding sell-outs. Maybe some of you have Democratic senators who might be willing to draw the line on this torture bullshit once and for all, starting with Alberto Gonzales. A talking dog can dream...
From our weekly (more or less!) visit to Beijing's People's Daily, we give you this analysis that projections show that within the next four or five years, Taiwan will become the number one foreign purchaser of American armanents. We don't see the usual railing in the piece about American intervention in Chinese "internal affairs", but it's never very far away.
All oh so complicated; for example, a major crisis for Israel is brewing associated with its agreement to upgrade a number of Chinese airborne unmanned drones (said drones originally supplied to China by... Israel). Washington desperately doesn't want Israel to ship the goodies back to China; Israel desperately wants to complete its contract-- but risks pissing off Washington at a time when the entire Israeli defense arrangement (funded by the United States, and all() is up for review. And China-- is somewhat pissed, as this would be the second time Israel reneged on a defense deal at the behest of its American overlords, and hints at retaliating against Israeli business interests in Hong Kong and environs.
Right now, most of the news on these subjects is somewhat "droned" out, by the tsunami story (both Israel and China, as well as the United States, are all engaged in sending significant aid to stricken areas). And in this country, Iraq and the National Football League are pretty much all that matters (at least, as far as news coverage). So... we have to go a bit far afield to get small stories like these.
As an aside, Israel and Taiwan, as members of the "international pariah's club", traditionally had pretty good relations. One wonders how this fiasco will effect that; and I'm not sure how much military goods business Israel does with Taiwan these days. Who knows. Both countries are armed to the teeth. Israel, however, can pretty much kick the crap out of all its enemies, combined, except, of course, for the guerrillas in their midst. Taiwan gears up for an invasion by the Mainland, but the Mainland is pretty much all talk about that-- Taiwan has naval superiority, a nuclear strike would be pointless (destroying the object of an invasion!), and Taiwanese air power is pretty good.
So, expect business to be brisk all around. Good thing we don't do nuance.
Ah, yes. A young reservist, whose unit has not yet been deployed to Iraq... give it time, lad... has raised around $3,000 in an auction of sports memorabilia intended to be used to fund body armor and other necessary equipment for his reserve unit. Despite reports that the $87 billion "for our troops" (which was, if our troops were smart enough to have large defense contractors", but didn't mean body or vehicle armor), many military men and women report having to scrounge around for what we would consider basic safety equipment-- as roadside bombs have killed a fair part of the over 1300 combat dead.
Reservist Sean Flynn of the Mountain View (California) based 445th Civil Affairs Battalion was promptly told that his unit had all the equipment it needed (lest the truth which might save soldiers' lives get in the way of the official story), at which point he donated the proceeds to a soldiers' mothers' group and for a "luxury item" like a computer for the unit.
Ah, the mightiest nation that ever existed we are told. Whose army is down to 18-year old reservists who feel the need to privately raise money for their own equipment (shades of the Czarist forces battling Napoleon, no?)
We spend an awful lot of money on fancy anti-missile technology that not only doesn't work, but is directed at a threat that by and large no longer exists. The actual human beings who are going to go in and take and then hold ground are an after-thought. SecDef's Rumsfeld's fantasy military of the future only makes things worse, as we continue to ignore the reality of the wars of the present, which are raging away in Afghanistan, Iraq and all over Africa-- where irregular forces that move fast engage in hit and run guerrilla attacks. By contrast, we are the red-coats lining up with our muskets dropping to shoot and standing to reload, making oh so nice targets.
Well, godspeed to Reservist Flynn. He really is the future of this country. Let's hope we don't go getting him (or too many more of our finest young men and women) killed over in Iraq. For nothing.
Thanks to this week's visit to Pravda, we learn that Georgy Kirpa , former Ukrainian Transportation Minister and organizer of the (now unsuccessful) presidential campaign of Victor Yanukovich was found dead of an apparent suicide, amidst the surfacing of allegations of over $130,000,000 in missing state funds (intended to build a bridge) were evidently diverted to the Yanukovich campaign are coming to light. Some speculate this was not a suicide at all. We, of course, won't even talk about the possibilities of what Mr. Kirpa might have been able to tell the new government about, oh, election fraud, in the event of questioning...
Our good buddy Pooty Poot is just about finished nationalizing Russia's oil and gas industries, new Ukrainian President Yuschenko was poisoned by dioxin, and now we have this... Kirpa... thing... It would seem that the Russian Bear is... apparently not someone or something you want to be found in a cage with, these days...
Let's get right to it, shall we, and report some apparent good news out of Sudan in the nature of a peace deal, a power sharing arrangement between the Khartoum government and its southern area rebels. This particular conflict is blamed for upwards of two million deaths, and is one of Africa's longest-standing. It, like the conflict in Congo that has apparently killed nearly five million people, is, for whatever reason, less high profile than the conflict in Sudan's west, the Darfur region. The Darfur conflict rages on, however, but we'll take good news where we will find it.
This sort of "intra-mural" violence, along with guerrilla/terror attacks are, ostensibly, the wars of the present. Tanks rolling across the Marne... are not. We, as a nation, of course, gear up for... the latter, because, as Ike told us, we should fear the military industrial complex.
Anyway, my other thought for the day is that the basic "Republican" these days is, ostensibly, a businessperson. The key skill of businesspersons is, of course, sales. The best salesmen, of course, point out key features of your product you'll like and features of the competition you won't. Sadly, our electoral system is not governed by consumer fraud laws, so we can go way beyond puffery on both... and our candidates do. The basic "Democrat" these days comes from another model: either union labor (life ruled by the strict authority of contract terms), school teachers (authority in classroom paramount and sacrosanct), and lawyers (the great purveyors of authority). In short-- far less "voluntary" models. True, the lawyer must "sell" the judge and jury, but is bound strictly by rules he or she must follow in doing so (and by personality, the lawyer tends to be... authority bound). Given a choice in these models of presentation, many people tend to prefer the salesman over the school-marm or the lecturing lawyer or shop steward. Is it any wonder, btw, that the nickname of the most successful Democrat of our generation-- the one with the personality closest to that of a great used car salesmen-- is "Slick Willy"?
Well, just a thought. Strangely lovely weather here in the Northeast... maybe a harbinger of a nice year? We can hope... Happy new year, everybody!