The Talking Dog

March 31, 2005, Grand Old Party Poopers

The tag-line might relate to Congressman Jim Leach and Senator Charles Grassley, both Republicans of Iowa, who are expressing deep reservations as to the support for the President's plans to decimate social security. This is further evidence in support of my proposition that we no longer need a Democratic Party-- the Republicans are perfectly capable of assessing the political lines of no-return, and checking their own executive. God knows, the Dems can't get it done.

Which takes us back to the main topic: you know who, who as of 0930 local time on 31 March, still refuses to kick off. Mickey Kaus offers the appropriate paradox to liberals. Assuming Terri could be cured by stem cell research, it would be the religious right arguing that it was God's will that she be put down like a wounded horse. Instead of making the "science is good" and "we need national health care arguments", liberals almost to a man or woman (I guess I'm now out of that group, by definition, as I am off the reservation on this one and only issue that matters, since as we know bankruptcy reform, ANWR, universal health care and a living wage really are NOT Democratic issues... anymore) simply want her dead. Kaus notes that no less than National Palestine Radio's Nina Totenberg has asserted that the "moral issue" is universally available health care. AND IT IS. Why is it liberals are so damned pessimistic here that she can "never be cured"... aren't we (they!) the big proponents of the march of science, and the optimism of technology?

Of course, we do like to make value judgments, and let's face it: Terri's life is not worth living. (As the Unseen Editor relates to me, "If you can't enjoy the feel of good cashmere, the taste of caviar, or regular trips to the Hamptons, really, what IS the point of going on?")

Well, let me say this, on record. Mrs. TD will understand, as will hopefully, anyone else. If I find myself in a situation near to Terri's, or really, any situation where I am unable to speak for myself, I want not only ordinary care measures, but I want the same extreme, heroic, irrational measures to keep me alive that the Pope is getting now (or whatever the medical technology equivalent is then) until further notice from me. Although I want the same rule for everyone, but I guess I'll settle for me.

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March 29, 2005, Divine Misdirection

While the world awaits the final demise of someone involved in major courtroom battles in a hospice, we were all looking in the wrong one on the wrong West Coast: Johnnie Cochran passed away at 67 in a hospice in California, of a brain tumor. (Apropos of not much, the Unseen Editor suggests you take a brief look at the biography of another lawyer, noting the interesting and salient interest in the penultimate paragraph.)

What I will say about Johnnie Cochran may be one of the best compliments I am capable of giving: Johnnie was damned good at what he did. Damned good. And what he did was practice law for fun and profit. And man did he have fun, and man, did he profit. While I personally never had the pleasure of encountering Mr. Cochran himself in my own career, during my brief sojourn in the wacky world of insurance defense work, I encountered "the Cochran Law Firm", which for a short time merged with New York's firm of Schneider Kleinick, a politically connected plaintiff's powerhouse at one time; the affiliation wasn't all that long-lived.

Anyway, we all know about Cochran's famous defense of O.J. Simpson, later cashing in with Abner Louima's civil case in New York and numerous other injury cases, after having built up a career suing the Los Angeles Police Department. Cochran was a show-man, and all I can say is, the man was good. We all know him for his asinine rhymes ("if it does not fit, you must acquit") and for his general in-your-face approach in the O.J. trial, which famously resulted in an acquittal for his client.

Lincoln gave this advice to lawyers ""Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser -- in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."

Let's just say that for the most part, Johnnie didn't take that advice, and for that, seems to have earned our admiration, and our respect. R.I.P. Johnnie Cochran. The fact that there are guys like you out there means that the state has to workthat much harder to trample the rest of our rights, and for that, Sir, we are grateful to you.

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March 27, 2005, Why Must Foreign Aid be so... Foreign?

Such is the implicit theme of the opinion piece from Beijing's People's Daily that will constitute this week's visit to the Eastasian metropole. Of course, the specific theme is most overt Japan-bashing, particularly over Japan's determination to phase out development aid to China by 2008. Despite being a vibrant economic powerhouse running unbelievably huge trade surpluses with this country, China is still, in many ways, a desperately poor country which appreciates the foreign largesse it receives.

The implication, of course, is that foreign aid should simply be guided by a spirit of pure generosity in the first instance, because ultimately it pays dividends to both the donor and donee country. There is much to this, of course, but at a governmental level, it is poppycock. The government of any nation is in the business of advancing the interests of that nation. There are times when appearing generous for its own sake advances that nation's interest. But the People's Dailly implication is incorrect: foreign aid is precisely a political tool. Otherwise, what excuse is there for the taxpayers of a given nation to fund it?

That said, I'm sure most Americans have no idea that our foreign aid (not counting our military "generosity" of course) runs well under one per cent of the federal budget (just as "welfare" runs well under one per cent of the federal budget, and wasn't all that much more than that even before Clinton signed a law ending welfare as we know it.) But our foreign aid is spotty, and tied up to various weird parochial concerns (such as restrictions tied to anything involving abortion).

In my view, the easiest form of universally valuable foreign aid is simple: eliminate (a 3 year phase out will be fine) all American domestic agricultural subsidies. ALL OF THEM. EVERY SINGLE ONE. "Agri-business" will fire its K Street lobbyists and start over, thinking of other gimmicks. And this plan is inconceivable politically, even though such programs to help a very small group costs U.S. consumers over $11 billion just in higher prices, forgetting budget costs like implementing and administering the programs.

We're charging ourselves higher prices for food commodities so that politically connected fat cats can rape the rest of us. But what has this to do with foreign aid, say you?

Well, it is well documented that the most likely sectors in the most desperately poor regions of the world (Sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, parts of the Americas) is agriculture. Importing a steel industry or a chip-fabrication plant into Malawi or Niger or Haiti or Bangladesh is probably not going to do much good; but developing these nation's agricultural sectors to the point where they can generate export crops would. A lot of good. And fast. Far better than even some of the most intelligently directed aid, actually.

But. We. Stop. It. Because. Of . Our. Agricultural. Subsidies. I personally believe that this is a failing of our Founding Fathers: the senate makes this country the possessor of one of the least democratic institutions on Earth-- a body where around 14% of the nation's population controls the majority of that body, and those states are overwhelmingly small and dependent on agriculture. And senators cannot possibly be seen to be caving in to sell out the interests of their state's leading citizens and businesses (usually contrary to the interests of everyone else in the state, btw), and hence, they jealously hold on to their farm subsidy programs.

At the expense of not merely our own taxpayers, but at the expense of development all over the world, development that would eliminate poverty at its source, development that would reduce pressure that incites extremists who turn to anti-western violence for which we deploy trillions of dollars in defense costs... In short, our own out-dated political structure precludes us from taking the necessary steps to enable the world to develop in a way that advances our national security interests.

Both parties are guilty of this. This may be an appropriate time for an urban-based national third-party, whose intent is SPECIFICALLY to control enough House and Senate seats to quell excesses of farm states (most farm states are "red states", but Iowa and the Dakotas jump out as states with Democratic senators who are just as problematic in these areas as any Republican.) I don't know. But once again, we have a simple solution that would be win-win-win all around except for a few well-connected fat cats, which is why it won't happen. Beijing, being capital of a vast dictatorship, doesn't have to concern itself with issues like this...

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March 26, 2005, Affordable Housing. For the Living.

And so, I guess, the cheering on the Upper West Side (and presumably in its companion locales like Berkeley, San Francisco, maybe Hollywood, places like that) is beginning to simmer to a joyful roar, as the combination of heel-digging by Caveman Judge Greer (liberals should know that their darling jurist is, by predilection, what would usually be considered a religious conservative, though his pastor kind of asked him to leave his church "because it would be better that way") yielding to the wishes of... another caveman whose new paramour and mother of his two children wished to have his former (and technically current) wife in the ground, one Terri Schiavo's rather unpleasant existence on our Earthly plain will soon come to an unpleasant end.

Congratulations to you all. After the bankruptcy sell-out and the ANWR collapse, I was more or less convinced that Democrats were effectively no better than Republicans: both parties were just about preserving the interests of the powerful (it's just that the Republicans were honest about it.)
After the Schiavo fiasco, especially given the rather adverse polling (the President may have lost 4 or 5 points in his approval ratings, for example), I was amazed to see that it was Republicans who might try something politically crazy regardless of the political consequences because (rightly or wrongly) they just thought it was RIGHT.

Damn. That was the party I thought I was a member of. I guess I was wrong. My party is about selfishness and the interests of the powerful, (just like theirs) but it's also about expedience and political correctness. As espoused by the one-issue nature of our party (that being "abortion", and of late, "very, very late term abortion"). Well, I'll continue my apostasy with another issue theoretically near and dear to Democrats (LOL), affordable housing. Perhaps someone will manage to tie this into abortion, so that the party writ large might be interested in it.

Once again, my proposal is relatively easy, and is called "the free market". Most of my remaining readers (I appreciate the six of you staying!) will recognize my approach to taxation designed to (get this!) collect revenue for the government. Accordingly, you already know that I would have eliminated mortgage-interest deduction (and indeed, all deductions) in exchange for lowered general tax rates. Further, the government running closer to balanced budgets would put less upward pressure on interest rates, or more to the point, less volatility in interest rates. Interest rate fluctuations, of course, are a key component of the movement in housing prices.

Locally, places like New York City have mandated rent controls and stabilizations. I would enact a federal law forcing all states and localities to phase all such forms of controls out over a ten year period, and (to avoid constitutional problems) use the spending clause": under pain of losing ALL federal housing funds. The fact is, these market distortions result in gross inequities, and, because they are impossible to un-do by local politics, probably need federal action. This move would, singlehandedly, solve most (if not ALL) problems associated with unaffordable rental housing in urban areas.

Another major problem concerns the insane auctions going on for housing in "good school districts". This, frankly, is a harder problem, because it involves the perverse way in which we deliver public education, and goes way, way beyond housing, so this issue will be left for a later (if ever!) post.

With respect to the po' folk who need somewhere to live, with the above-referenced market distortions removed, I suspect a fair number of affordable housing units would open up. As necessary, we can means-test for specifiic subsidies to reside in private housing for those who still require it, preferably on a state and local level for administrative purposes (though, see above, the Feds can still contribute to this).

And that's it. By removing the various perverse market distortions I've out-lined above, back-stopped by direct subsidies as needed, we can deliver far more affordable housing to far more people at far lower cost. Perhaps if we tie the same market mechanisms to delivery of abortions services, Democrats might become interested enough in the issue to do something about it. There are enough market-based goodies (like elimination of rent controls) to make Republicans interested in it.

I'm dreaming again. Sorry about that.

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March 25, 2005, Energy Independence. For the Living.

A brief query on the now fading-fast Schiavo situation (Terri will doubtless be dead by early next week, which may set the Upper West Side into apoplectic joy). That query: given that Florida law expressly prohibits assisted suicides, how can Judge Greer not himself be in violation of that law by including an obscene provision in the order denying the Schindler family stay requests which not merely prohibits insertion of a feeding tube into Terri Schiavo, but prohibits all attempts to feed Terri food or water at all? More troubling still given that some nurses insist that with therapy (or quite possibly even without it) Terri might be able to swallow. While Terri Schiavo has the right to refuse medical care (the basis for the whole case), she DOES NOT have the right to have others assist in her suicide.

Well, no matter. This is not a case where anyone will trouble themselves with anything as uncool as "the facts", so I apologize in advance for attempting to introduce anything resembling "the facts" into the debate. We'll continue tonight's liberal heresy (i.e. actual programs favored by most liberals but politically inconceivable for Democrats to do anything about because they don't relate to abortion) with "energy independence".

Here, my plan is actually remarkably simple. It's called "the free market". We are told, of course, that it is "the free market" that keeps us wedded to delicious and tasty oil (especially from politically unstable and otherwise troublesome
places like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Texas), because "the free market" renders alternative sources of energy (solar and wind are important, of course, but are still actually minor compared to the one I'm talking about-- actual conservation through efficient use of energy) just too darned expensive to implement.

Well, Europeans famously pay two to three times what we do for gasoline. Am I suggesting that we just willy nilly tax gasoline for the sake of taxing it? No, I actually dislike gratuitous taxes as much as the next guy. BUT-- our use of petroleum, and especially our overwhelming thirst for foreign petroleum, imposes a cost on the rest of us which is simply not reflected in the below market price we pay for oil. Specifically, I would estimate that the majority of our defense budget (said defense budget being around 20% of federal spending, or 4-5% GDP all by itself) is devoted to maintaining the protection of dictatorial theocracies in the Middle East, and of late, to wars of aggression against secular states in the region. We won't even count military action or aid involving such diverse places as Indonesia, Nigeria, Venezuela and the like, where we get oil. No, no, no. And we won't talk about social externalities such as air pollution caused asthma and attendant health costs.
No. No.

I'm just talking about the costs-- overall-- of maintaining our free-flowing oil supply. The direct monetary costs-- not the political costs or even indirect economic costs such as dissenters from Saudi Arabia who decide to crash airliners into our cities. Nope.

Just one simple move: shift the costs of defending Middle East oil which I would estimate at half the defense budget, directly to the oil pump (obviously, this would include all petroleum products, such as fuel oil, jet fuel, diesel, as well as your 92 octane premium). BUT... those costs would not have to come out of our general revenue... so, we could have a corresponding general income tax reduction in the range of 10%. My scheme would be "revenue neutral": money saved from income taxes would be available for the higher petro-taxes, and on average, most people would start out even, though have quite an incentive to reduce their petroleum consumption.

I am quite certain that by doing this, other sources of energy (syn-fuels, bio-mass, wind, solar and most importantly, efficiency and conservation) and technologies for implementing them would quickly take hold. Like yesterday. Some kind of "invisible hand" or something. Again, oil-industry-whore Republicans (especially from Texas and that part of the world) would have no interest in this at all, and as once again I can't relate this to either abortion or euthenasia in general, the Democrats won't have much interest either.

But I can keep dreaming.

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March 24, 2005, A Living Wage for the Economically Defenseless

Death of Anne Boleyn by Robert Lowell

Summer hail flings crystals on the window-
they wrapped the Lady Ann's head in a white handerchief...
To Wolsey, the nightcrow, but to Anthony Froude,
stoic virtue spoke from her stubborn lips and chin-
five adulteries in three years of marriage;
the game was hotly charged. "I hear say I'll
not die till noon; I am very sorry therefore,
I thought to be dead this hour and past my pain."
Her jailer told her that beheading was no pain-
"It is subtle." "I have a little neck,"
she said, and put her hands about it laughing.
They guessed she had much pleasure and joy in death-
no foreigners admitted. By the King's abundance
the scene was open to any Englishman.

It is ironic, of course, that in the Terri Schiavo case, the Republicans fell victim to the thing that is usually their principal advantage: an uninformed public. Most of the public would be appalled if they saw films of Terri Schiavo sitting up and interacting with her parents (albeit at an infantile. or perhaps advanced Alzheimers, level), because most people assume what they think they have been told: that Terri Schiavo is a vegetable in the Karen Ann Quinlan sense of unconscious and hooked up to machines that go beep (or worse, that the court order precludes attempts to feed her by spoon). None of this is true, of course. Most Americans would be appalled if they saw a severely retarded, conscious person as a candidate for euthenasia-- and apparently a rather bitter and spiteful one at that. Liberals (yes, you know who you are) to their nearly universal discredit (Jesse Jackson, btw, called the Terri Schiavo situation "nothing short of murder" and now Ralph Nader has demanded that feeding resume immediately) will either point out irrelevant or hotly disputed facts (such as "the MRI" that purportedly shows a liquified brain) or just deny the actual facts (did you know that liberal darling Michael Schiavo euthenized Terri's cats as soon as she got sick?). But I tip my hand and show my own bitterness here, which doesn't help...

So let me just repeat: if liberals could have shown this kind of discipline on anything else-- I mean ANYTHING else-- we would now control all branches of government, as we did back when our party stood for something besides the killing of the inconvenient (and don't think for a minute I don't mean what you think I mean.) We'd have energy independence, universal health care, affordable housing... you name it. In the end, the Republicans will play this to their advantage. It's a fool's errand to think otherwise. But I digress...

So... I guess its up to heretics and apostates like me to try to bring the debate back to anything meaningful. We'll start today with a plan for the living: specifically, a minimum, living wage package. Maybe later we'll talk about things like... energy independence, affordable food and housing, etc. But will start with this.

Ostensibly, I propose we amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to immediately adjust the minimum wage to $7.50 per hour (from a pathetic and unchanged in over 10 years $5.15/hour), indexed to increase each year, automatically, at the same rate that social security benefits are increased, or to 50% of the median national income, whichever is greater. Because of the perverse way we collect taxes, this will automatically have salutory benefits for both social security (this one measure may singlehandedly save the program forever) and the deficit in general. A business that cannot afford to pay its workers at least $7.50 per hour in the United States right now should not be in business.

But wait, that's not all. Any worker that works at least 250 hours per quarter will also be entitled to a minimum health insurance plan, set as the most basic health care plan available to employees of the federal government, employer paid, with the option to pay more, of course, or at least to have the employee pay for more coverage (such as family coverage). No longer will there be any excuse for a hardworking American not to have health insurance. It will, quite frankly, be against the law. With every working American required by law to have health insurance, the number of uninsured will duly plummet, taking awesome pressure off the Medicare system (which, btw, will be better funded because of the higher minimum wage).

Don't accept for one minute the right wing horseshit that this will cost jobs: the entire nation has been operating as a skeleton crew since the first President Bush. The fat has long been trimmed out of this economy. Anyone working at all is critical to their organization. And if their organization is not in a position to pay its workers $7.50 an hour and the basic federal worker health plan (a cheesy HMO, btw, but at least SOMETHING), than my answer is: GOOD. SUCH AN ENTERPRISE SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO BE IN BUSINESS, if it can't even pay its workers a poverty-line wage.

The other argument: how dare your business dump things that it should be providing workers (like health care, or the ability not to have to rely on food stamps to eat or public housing to live in) on the social services system, where other businesses that do provide these things have to subsidize it.

This minimum package is, of course, a joke compared to how things are done in every other industrialized nation (which has things like 35 hour work weeks and 6 week vacations mandated), along with generous health packages, pensions, public education, etc., etc., and frankly, higher taxes which most people mind less than we mind our substantially lower taxes here. But at least this minimum package will immediately improve the lives of millions of Americans, and start many people on the road to a decent life, if not the promise of obscene wealth.

Of course, I'm dreaming with all this, as Republicans are trying to bring back the golden age of work-houses, and unless I can tie this to abortion, Democrats are not interested in any of this. But I can dream, I guess.

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March 22, 2005, The Power to Tax is the Power to Destroy any Semblance of Fairness

My liberal brethren seem far more upset about efforts to avoid killing one woman in Florida than they were about stopping the God damned Iraq war (which, of course, has killed countless tens of thousands including over 1,500 Americans.) Certainly, I didn't see this kind of uniformity of opinion mobilized to stop the war; I saw the likes of Dick Gephardt, for example, happily selling the rest of us out, while John Kerry and more Democratic senators than not were voting yea to the (still to this day) unjustified carnage. Indeed, I have never seen my liberal brethren this animated or upset about anything, including either the 2002 or even 2004 election results. I must say... if this kind of passion could have been mobilized for something constructive, instead of this, maybe we might have taken control of the government back... but I digress...

What can I say? The fact that I am perceived as opposing what, I suppose we can call a 125th trimester abortion, means I can go f*** myself, right?
So... I hereby serve notice that I officially give up. Since I can write for whoever the hell wants to read.... I hereby chose to write for myself. No one need come to this site with preconceived notions of anything anymore. Which was kind of what I wanted all along, to tell you the truth.

So right now I think I'll write talk about taxation. And my proposal for a simple 27th amendment to the Constitution to replace the antiquated 16th which gave us the income tax in the first place. The text of the 16th as it now stands is:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Congress had no such direct power prior to this amendment. It is a power, of course, abused in service of special interests and K-Street lobbyists eager to get a huge bang for the bucks of their clients, at the expense of the rest of us. The fairest system, of course, would be a system of taxation designed to actually collect revenue to actually fund the government, and not reward or punish any particular forms of social behavior, from having (or not having) children to getting married to borrowing to own homes to living in states with high or low state and local taxes to anything else you can think of. Right now, our tax code is a multi-volume hash of favors for the well-to-do, and these favors are offset, of course, by much higher rates on everyone else.

I would end that. Federal spending as a proportion of GDP is around 22%. That should be the default base tax rate.

Here is the text of the proposed 27th amendment:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration. Said power shall not include the power to exempt any income from any tax levied for any reason other than amount of income or timing of receipt of income or expenses associated with deriving income. Rates of income tax shall be apportioned annually by Congress based upon the percentage of national income devoted to federal spending, and Congress shall have power to set a graduated rate schedule of income tax calculated to raise the apportioned revenue.

That's it. No more deductions, credits, exemptions, alternative minimum taxes... NOTHING. The Internal Revenue Code can now be reduced to a convenient slim volume; the 1040 can be completed on a post card. K-Street will have to devote itself to politically ugly direct subsidies (far less valuable than tax breaks, btw.) And Congress could do other things, besides giving tax breaks to friends and influence peddlers.

Tax cuts would require actual spending cuts; boom times would automatically generate "putting on the brakes" surpluses, and softer economies would automatically generate stimulative deficits. On net, most people would have lower, simpler, fairer taxes (payroll taxes, as I envision them, would be rolled into the income tax.)

Something like this, of course, has about as much chance of passing as, say. the Democrats do of holding together on any issue whatsoever besides abortion (including, evidently, 125th trimester abortions). So I wouldn't worry about it.
I just wouldn't worry about it.

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March 21, 2005, Life is too Short

It saddens me to note the passing at 80 of famed New York cabaret singer Bobby Short.

Mrs. TD and I saw Bobby Short, live at the Cafe Carlyle in the Carlyle Hotel, exactly twice. The first time was on Mrs. TD's birthday just two weeks before the Loquacious Pup was born, and then precisely five years later (last November, actually) on another of Mrs. TD's birthdays. (After the performance, Mrs. TD managed to track Bobby down, and had him autograph a c.d. for her.) Short was scheduled to retire, but was talked out of it, and went out the way he had been going since he was a child: still working as a performer.

Bobby Short held court at his piano, surrounded by his nine-piece (or was it fifteen-piece?) combo, as he belted out standards by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, and the like, in a genuine, and now gone, piece of New York style and sophistication. Short managed to become one of the few African Americans inducted into the Social Register, for whatever that's worth. Hanging out with the elitest of the elitist, but for a couple of hundred bucks for dinner and the show, anyone and everyone were welcome... the democracy of elegance.

There was something so human about the whole thing. An entertainer who sang using his actual voice (which had been more velvety smooth in an earlier era, but in its mature state, had a character all its own) in a human size room, singing standards...

Something that will be missed. Someone who will be missed. Life goes on, of course. Just a little bit diminished.

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March 21, 2005, The Yin and Yan of Islamic World Popular Protests

The President and supporters seem quite pleased with themselves of late, what with the Schiavo thing (apparently, everyone seems to have missed the fact that my conclusion is that I'd rather the Congress not do what it did... no matter...) and of course, "the march of democracy in the Middle East" (including places Bush should bear no real credit for, like Lebanon and Palestine).

I guess we'll try to overlook this massive popular movement-- protests of at least tens of thousands-- against our buddy Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.

Better yet, the protests are by those good old Islamist extremists (religious based political parties) that we sort of began the whole "war on terror" thing to... quell. Again, no matter. People are pissed at Musharraf... his pro-American views are unpopular, the economy is doing... badly, he hasn't stepped down as head of the military AND head of state as he once promised...

But... we'll overlook this one... this time...

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March 20, 2005, When the Wrong People try to do the Wrong Thing for the Right Reason

This is where we are, when people whom I have made it the point of this blog to oppose politically get together to do something universally opposed by people whom I suppose I have supported (and probably opposed by many if not most of my remaining readers) do something I have to admire, even if I kind of wish that they wouldn't do it: Congress is planning a special session to enact a special bill for Terri Schiavo. The legislation, which my guess is will be signed at some point today (if it hasn't already) would create special federal court jurisdiction in Florida, so presumably a federal court there could order a feeding tube reinstated.

Evidently, the reason that Terri Schiavo was sentenced to a slow, agonizing death by the courts of Florida has to do with a Florida law that allows anecddotal evidence of her wish to be put down in the event she entered a vegetative state, which her (financially interested) husband Michael Schiavo testified was her reaction to a movie about a woman in a coma ("I don't want to be kept alive like that".)

Which brings me to this quote from an excellent blogger on "the other side", whom, for reasons involving disagreeing with her on almost everything, I never do. But Jane Galt has it right:

What is so morally imperative about finishing this woman off in a rather painful and unpleasant way, that congressional opposition to it makes you physically ill? I thought liberals prided themselves on the protection of the weak . . . being in a vegetative state is about as helpless as one can get. Or is it only the protection of the weak who aren't politically inconvenient? Someone, please, explain to me the coherent political philosophy that not only allows, but apparently, requires removing this woman's life support.

And there you have it. Jane Galt and I are actually in agreement that permitting Congressional intervention in individual cases is probably far more dangerous than it is helpful (and for that reason alone, is probably not all that good an idea here). But why does some theoretical tie-in to abortion rights mean that "liberals"-- and worse yet, "feminist" liberals-- are the great champions of Michael Schiavo and his famous philosophy of "kill the bitch" (he has been quoted as saying that, albeit presumably in moments of distress)?

(Peggy Noonan, for example, questions what the problem is for Republicans, seeing as they have absolute power over all branches of government, if they really wanted to save this woman. I would guess that even the Republicans recognize the possible "special pleader" problem, and may not want to open that door. Although, frankly, given the power the President seems to have taken it upon himself to have, why not declare Ms. Schiavo an enemy combatant, and order the staff of the brig in South Carolina to restore her feeding tube? For "this one", he'll use signing a private bill... But I digress...)

My hope is that this case sheds some sanity on a critical issue: we are being extraordinarily nonchalant with human life here. Yes, Ms. Schiavo's condition (not quite comatose, but not quite conscious either) is unpleasant to look at for many. But, strangely, the despised Republicans are trying, at least, to do the right thing here (albeit in a dangerous and crazy way that we will doubtless all regret, and they will as well; think "special pleaders" of all kinds). The right to abortion never meant that if the emergent fetus were alive and viable, it had to be killed. Is that what liberals are fighting for? Is this the sole remaining reason for the continued existence of the Democratic Party (given that after the ANWR vote it's certainly not the environment and after the bankruptcy bill it's certaintly not the interests of working and desperate people)?

My guess is that the Schiavo circus will drag on awhile, before the United States Supreme Court decides that it was improper for Congress to have interjected itself in an already decided state court matter (as the Florida Supreme Court did with a similar state law). And then, the plug will be pulled then, and with vigils everywhere, Ms. Schiavo will expire.

And the big question will be so deferred, but must still be asked: what kind of human beings are we, if killing this woman seems to be our core principle?

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March 17, 2005, Loan Wolfowitz

The President continued to give a big hearty Texas style Bronx cheer to his detractors across the pond that began by nominating John "First Thing We Do is Disband the UN" Bolton as the USA Ambassador to the United Nations by nominating Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as President of the World Bank. (If I'm not mistaken, there's already someone over there named James Wolfensohn, which should keep things nice and confusing, and, hey, whatever the damned Europeans think, the IMF Chief likes the new guy.)

I would say that critics of the appointment are being picky, picky, picky. They should be delighted with ANY appointment that gets him out of the Pentagon, especially if they are unhappy with his advocacy of the Iraq war. And we can stop pretending that the World Bank is anything but a political arm of the United States, primarily making sweetheart loans at the expense of the poorest people on Earth for the benefit of American lenders. (You know, it's been a pretty good month for American lenders, what with the bankruptcy bill and now THIS).

Others just think Wolfowitz advocated the Iraq war as part of a grand Neo-con conspiracy to grab oil. Well, given that ANWR will soon be pockmarked with test wells, the oil industry should be celebrating this month as well... another industry having a great month.

See that? Wolfowitz is just the gift that keeps on giving. Happy St. Patrick's Day, b'gora...

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March 16, 2005, A Nation Thirsty for Oil for its SUVs to Drink Expresses its Priorities

Well, you might say, "it wasn't fair", because Democrats evidently couldn't use a fillibuster to stop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ("ANWR") from becoming the latest hotbed of roughnecks and wildcats and other characters associated with oil exploration, as the Senate passed a measure 51-49 that, because it was attached to a budget measure, couldn't be fillibustered, which will permit such drilling in ANWR..

Well, that's the way it goes. ANWR will be despoiled forever, millions will be made by thieves who bribe members of Congress and the executive branch for the lucrative ANWR oil concessions, and if we're lucky, this may lower the price of gasoline by a nickel or a dime... around the year 2016 or so.

I had long said, back when, you know, Democrats controlled the Senate (quite possibly, for the last time, because, as you know, neither I, nor I think the American people, will have much further use for such a party, certainly in Congress) that the move was, in fact, to concede ANWR (only, under a heavily managed regime, constantly monitored for environmental sensitivity), in exchange for a complete and total package of energy conservation and renewable energy development measures (which, you know, might mean that the oil from ANWR actually might have mattered). Instead, of course, we got the standard issue knee-jerk absolutism that will, in the end, cost us the environment (the same kind that may well result in the United States being pretty much the only country outside the Arab world that outright bans abortion). The GOP just got to piss in a national park anyway it likes (one of the last unspoiled wildernesses on Earth, btw) so a few well-connected oil industry folks can profit, and in exchange, the rest of us got... nothing. NOTHING.

But there you have it. ANWR is gone now. The usual folks (you know who you are) will whine that the Republicans don't play fair (just as some, btw, complain that terrorists and insurgents don't fight fair, by "not coming out to fight us", knowing that we have superior weaponry and all they have is mobility and the element of surprise). Well, guess what? They don't play fair. And we didn't play fair when we were in the majority. And isn't that just the way it is.

Only we didn't play smart when we were in the majority either. Deals that could have been forced onto the table were not made, and the opportunity to make them is now gone. The GOP will use its absolute power at the federal level to pretty much do what it wants.

The irony, of course, is that most people do not favor despoiling the environment for the profit of a few, just as most people would not favor an absolute ban on abortion. But, by brilliantly slicing and dicing issues, forcing Democrats to defend absolute positions on issues (think "partial birth abortion"), the Republicans manage to defy popularity, and get what they want for their corporate buddies (and religious extremist allies). It really is amazing.

So let's keep telling ourselves "but our programs and positions are really popular." Maybe some day, we'll get actual American voters to believe that. I wouldn't think so, but, you know, maybe...

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March 16, 2005, Supreme Irony Department: Decline in American Life Expectancy Should "Save Social Security"

According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, over the course of the next few decades, America's outrageously high overweight and/or obesity rate should knock at least 2 to 5 years off of our average 77 year life expectancy, providing more than enough actuarial good news to save social security without doing a damned thing!

Of course, the bad news is that the quality of the shorter lives Americans can come to expect as a variety of stresses on us (well, on 99% of us) will, alas, decline precipitiously. In some sense, decades of obsession with "low fat foods", at the same time that we are bombarded with food advertising in virtually every media imaginable, and as the quality of our food declines to ensure its "tastiness" by adding sugar and other gimmicks, we grow... progressively fatter.

The study observes that we still don't have a handle on what it is that is causing our national glut, but a simple correlation right here in Brooklyn shows that more affluent neighborhoods tend to have people in better shape than less affluent neighborhoods, and it's a darned good correlation City-wide (affluent Manhattan is in far better shape than it's outer-borough brethren).

Why? Well, people of lower income struggling to eat at all after rent, taxes, and transportation and health care costs are covered, tend to eat... less good food. Also, there is less TIME to eat at all, let alone eat properly. We are working harder than ever for less left over. Certainly compared to recent generations, which were apparently better off than we were... in almost every sense. AND... we will be funding their retirements, while no one will be funding ours (which, fortunately, won't bother us, as we'll likely be dead.)

Certainly, one hopes that the Tai Ch'i practices that our new Chinese overlords will likely introduce to all of us here will help alleviate some of the stress in our lives, and restore some balance, so maybe this rather gloomy study will not be quite so prescient as I fear it is...

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March 15, 2005, Coalition of the More Willing Before You Shot our Agent

"YOU TELL THAT TO SILVIO BERLUSCONI!" So shouted the President in a peculiar irrational moment at one of last year's ceremonial "presidential debates." Well, Silvio Berlusconi just thought of something to tell to the President: "Thanks for shooting my agent and the journalist hostage whose life he just saved. It gives me an excuse to withdraw Italy's 3,000 troops from your not so excellent adventure."

Berlusconi himself is running for reelection in 2006, and kind of needs the heavy Mesopotamian albatross off of his political neck, as he removes his (4th largest) 3,000 troop contingent; South Korea's 3,600 are third and the UK's 8,000 (you thought it was more, didn't you?) is second; we are carrying over 160,000 troops. You figure out the math to decide if our Coalition of the Window-dressing is, in fact, a coaltion at all (for Christ's sake, the British had a higher proportion of Hessians here to occupy US than we have of non-Americans there!) Query if Tony "I hate my own country so I'll join the irrationality of yours" Blair will join the wave (Holland and Ukraine and Poland are in process of their own draw downs; anyone remember Australia? They seem to be good and gone, mostly!) .

Well, no matter. This WAS after all, an American policy. God knows we're paying for it, so it may as well be our people getting killed to advance it, right? Well, as I've been mentioning in recent posts, we're in for a penny, in for a pound. Our oil consumption profligacy forces us to import oil, which in turn, forces us to defend Middle East oil, has us kind of boxed in. As someone I know once said, "I hope you like the Middle East. It's YOURS, America."

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March 14, 2005, Pay-back's a (non-talking) bitch

Many thanks for the heads-up to my former running mate Bruce "the Veep" Moomaw for this pondering on the inscrutible intentions of our Beijing-based creditors and overlords (written by Marshall Wittmann, a/k/a "The Bull Moose", who, before taking time off from blogging to help Senator McCain's endeavors, was an original dog run member, and now that he is back to regular blogging, I have added the Bull Moose back on our side bar.) BTW, for those of you wondering what happened, Bruce and I ended up abandoning our run for the presidency for the same reason most Democratic candidates are doomed to not winning: neither of us is a multimillionaire.

While getting on the New Hampshire primary ballot all by itself costs a cool grand (itself pretty much a bar to entry, as far as I'm concerned!), when you count the cost of a campaign bus, bobby-sox wearing staffers, a media bus, endless bribes of the local press and those damned pancake breakfasts... well, let's just say that the Democratic Party's "business model" (you raise all the money all by yourself, and not only won't the party writ large help you, it will make up rules on why helping you violates some campaign finance reform law or other) is... a loser. Except for multi-millionaires, or the already famous or incumbent. So... needless to say, the talking dog-Moomaw ticket failed to capture the imagination of the Democratic voters... instead, we nominated Kerry, and the rest is history as they say. But I digress.

The Bull Moose questions whether we will be in a position to honor our longstanding commitment to the defense of Taiwan against forceful "reunification" from the Mainland, noting (1) China's recent enactment at its ceremonial "Congress of People's Deputies" of a provision threatening violent efforts at reunification, and (2) the sudden belligerant tone from our Mainland friends (such as "be prepared for a war in 2005" or something).
Specifically, Wittmann chides the doctrinal insanity of tax cuts for the rich uber alles, which, although it has certainly not caused our deficit has certainly exacerbated it to a dangerous level (query what Truman or Eisenhower might think about our national debt being financed by the Red Chinese?)

Wittmann notes the peculiar vulnerability we have because of the domestic policy we have of tax cuts for the rich, which hamstrings our military and diplomatic options in East Asia, specifically, as to whether we will more or less be forced to abandon the defense of Taiwan (as a matter of possible economic blackmail). The good news, if any, is that Taiwan, like South Korea, could probably do an excellent job of defending itself (though when threatened with a Great Power, having another one on your team is always handy). He doesn't mention that it also forces us into a position of having to include the Chinese in our dealings with North Korea, a situation we might prefer to be "optional" rather than "manda(rin)tory".

Wittmann also doesn't discuss the other great longstanding Republican policy that creates our "other" foreign policy vulnerabilty: the Republican obsession with seeing to it that this nation consumes as much imported oil as possible. Recall that Ronald Reagan quickly dismantled some of the national energy conservation measures put in place by the Carter Administration, and weakened others; the first Bush joined the "energy importation" party, and a Republican Congress and a Bill Clinton happily riding a flood of cheap oil let the 32 gallon barrels roll on in. "America feeling good about itself" meant, of course, importing a lot of oil. Hence, initiatives and subsidies and tax breaks associated with renewable energy sources have been... weakened... and the preposterous inclusion of Sport Utility Vehicles as "light trucks exempt from vehicular gas mileage targets" has seen to it that this nation has as healthy a thirst for foreign oil as it does for regressive taxation.

Which is where we are now. In short, irresponsible domestic policy leads us to... questionable... foreign policy. Worse, our vulnerability to Middle East oil forces us to militarily defend Middle East oil... further driving up our costs of state (defense being around 20% of our federal budget, or around 4 to 5% of GDP, or the size of our entire deficit). These costs are duly financed by our Comrades in Beijing, further reducing our options in East Asia given the leverage our principal creditor has... Oh, the price of oil is also the number one contributor to our balance of payments deficit (also conveniently financed by... Beijing.)

As a service to our readers (who might wish to talk to their employers directly), consider this service and others like it. Hey, 1.3 billion people can't all be wrong, can they?

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March 13, 2005, The other end of the straw making that giant sucking sound...

I cannot commend you all enough to regularly read non-American sources for news and information. Our so-called free press feels the need to dumb down reality, and in lieu of actual reporting, just re-publishes press releases form the Administration without comment (even when same are on their face disingenuous, or on occasion, preposterous), and frankly, we are not being well served. One of my favorite sources is, along with Pravda, Beijing's The People's Daily, primarily because it amuses me that what were propaganda organs of their respective communist governments when I was growing up are now more accurate sources of news and information (not to mention, outfits that make better news selections), than, say, CNN or often The New York Times.

So, following up on my theme of [American] economic apocalypse (duly administered, btw, by both parties, though obviously the majority party gets more credit), we give you this report showing that in calendar 2005, once again, China expects to continue at an 8-9% economic growth rate. Of course, Beijing pegs the yuan artificially low against the dollar to favor Chinese exports, and we, of course, take the bait, because, hey, who could say no to an $8 television set, right?

Also, somebody has to buy the seemingly endless stream of T-bills we seem to be issuing to pay for our madness of refusing to tax our most affluent at anything approaching a rate that might sustain our economy. (BTW, I have heard Laura Bush quoted as saying that the President believed that a marginal tax rate over 33% was immoral). Notice that he didn't say that interest rates on credit cards paid by (1) single mothers, (2) our reservists and active duty soldiers, (3) other poor and desperate people in our society that often exceed 33% are somehow wrong or immoral (Leviticus 25:1-27:34 and its prohibitions on usury be damned.)

Anyway, we are shifting to a service (read Walmart and McDonalds) economy; Congress has lowered the marginal tax rates of those earning in excess of $200,000 per year, lowered the marginal estate tax rate of heirs inheriting over $5,000,000, lowered tax rates on dividends which tend to be received in meaningful amounts only by our most affluent; Congress has refused to adjust our $5.15/hour minimum wage rate, which has not moved since 1994, just refused to cap credit card interest at thirty per cent, and is cutting a plethora of social programs (notably in the housing and Medicaid area, but there will be more).

In short, our ride to the bottom of the bowl will not be pretty, and lots of us will get their first. As a service to our readers, if anyone out there is giving free Mandarin lessons... let us know...

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March 12, 2005, Survival of the Specie?

That would be referring to our rapidly depreciating legal tender, the yankee dollar. This week's visit to our comrades at Pravda gives us this story on the decline of the dollar as against the euro, the ruble, and you name it, as various Asian central banks (especially those of the nations that house our new labor force, India and China) are shifting dollar holdings into euros.

Most interesting is that virtually all of the weakness in the dollar has occurred since 2001. That of course was when that destruction of the American economy became the principle goal of the American government, for some reason that continues to elude many of us, including m'self (thanks to Avedon for that masterpiece).

You see, the European Central Bank has made balanced budget targets and that sort of thing pretty much a de regeur part of being in the Euro-zone. The result has been a pretty robust European economy, even though their people have 5 week vacations, 35 hour work weeks, actual health and education and pension benefits, public transportation and that sort of thing, along with regulations and high taxes, and generally a pretty good standard of living for all. We, instead, are hell-bent on giving a tax break to our wealthy, who were already BY FAR the least taxed people in the Western world. We also have an unbelievable trade deficit primarily the result of imported oil, while we make it ever more of a priority to consume more oil, instead of conserving it. We're also shifting to "a service economy", which, you may properly read as "McDonalds and Walmart".

The price of all of this is, of course, our eventual social destruction, preceded, of course, by the worthlessness of our currency, caused mostly by endless and unnecessary government deficits (again, a one year spending increase freeze coupled with a rollback of the Bush tax cuts reduces our budget deficit from around 4-5% GDP to 1%... simple as that, but we won't do it, and naturally, not even Dems are talking about anything like that.)

All this is curious, no?

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March 11, 2005, The Unified Field Theory of American Politics

It's not a pretty picture. Some of you may find it unacceptably cynical, or not adequately liberal, or whatever. But I fear I'm about to speak the truth in a rather frightning way. No one comes out well in my version of the truth.

But it was drawn out by good old Kevin H., the macher di machers of of American Street, who was commenting on my post there called "What's the Matter with Kansas"?

The context of my post concerned a Mr. Rader, also known as "BTK", a serial killer operating for some time in the Wichita, Kansas area. Rader was unbelievably "proper"; indeed, he even enforced "quality of life" offenses against others, was a regular churchmen, scout leader, etc. He just happened to have murdered 10 people and terrorized a city. He lived on the same block as one victim, and should have been made for ties to at least three. But... because, I submit, in places like Kansas, "micro-propriety" prevails-- meaning he does all the over things required of him-- he made law enforcement pass right over him.

I was making a broader point, of course, that American politics have, alas, been reduced to the right's obsession with "morality" defined as its view of sexual mores. But in an e-mail to Kevin, I went much, much further. Here goes:

Thank you. Glad you enjoyed the post. To tell you the truth, the bankruptcy bill (and other things) are kind of depressing me of late, and I'm not posting much on my own blog. Coming up with stuff for the Street (which actually has a READERSHIP!) is a nice break for me.

Anyway, to the topic at hand (not that our coming up with memes de jours will solve ANYTHING-- after the bankruptcy fiasco, I am convinced that OUR OWN PARTY IS THE PROBLEM, and should really be re-built from the bottom up and/or replaced with something like a "Labour Party" or a "Liberal Party" or the "Whig Party" or something that is about good governance and not about personal aggrandizement, celebrity worship, and whoring to big donors; but I digress...)...

Serial kiillers tend to fit a peculiar profile (with exceptions like Wayne Williams (Black and gay) down in Atlanta, or Dahmer (gay) for that matter, or David Berkowitz (born of Italian descent, adopted by Jews, both "not profile"). John Wayne Gacey, or BTK for that matter, fits it perfectly: a generally respected, not particularly suspicious PROTESTANT WHITE MALE who preys on other Whites, generally women, in a bland suburban setting.

Invariably they were mistreated as children, though not necessarily pathologically mistreated. They're response is that they see themselves as white males who, as Christian Americans, are members of the master race, gender and creed, and really resent the fact that others are not merely over them, but anywhere near them. The response is a lashing out to regain power.

Because this is bland, suburban America, where violence IS A VIRTUE, violence it is. Naturally, it would be a mistake to pick on, say, White males who might be oppressing you (your co-workers, your boss, although frankly, this is ANOTHER group of White Protestant male pathology-- notice its ALWAYS-- I'm not aware of exceptions-- White males who go in and shoot up their offices?), the serial killer goes after people he resents. Girls will do. Or women. Pretty ones, especially. Like the kind that made him feel so damned powerless in high school. While other guys (richer, better looking, whatever) got and banged the chicks in high school, we, alas, had to hang out with guys, maybe drinking bad beer, maybe shooting at things as we drove around downtown.

Well, let's just say that adulthood and its complete lack of accountability (let's face it: in America, other than industrial workers, fast food workers, agriculture and assorted other crap jobs at the bottom of the food chain, and jobs LIKE THAT such as at at a law firm I worked at where I was judged on my arrival time and how neat my desk was and NOT ANYTHING ELSE, like how good my work was, how much money I made the company, etc., most people can fuck off all day, and who would notice?) opens up some opportunities. The fact is, we are a free country, and it doesn't take too much to get away with bad shit. Most people coast, which is kind of why we are SO fucked as a country, we think even the PRESIDENT is a bullshit job we can put someone who coasts in (imagine if your doctor did that? or your airplane mechanic? When THEY coast, people die... kind of like the President, huh? but I digress...)

A woman who foolishly places herself in an isolated place (could be anywhere) is just asking for it, right? So our serial killer seeks out such circumstances, and then gets his little power/revenge fantasy. Since violence is cool, why not go all the way, right?

Fast forward: what have I just identified? Not merely the traits of the average ur-serial killer, but the traits of the quinetessential stereotypical Republican "values" voter. White. Male. Protestant. Bland. Suburban. The church-going and apparently proprietary is OPTIONAL-- not required. BUT-- despite being in a position to coast through successfully, RESENTFUL that anyone else is allowed in the game (damned women and minorities and furriners, etc.) And gun loving. MAN, gun loving. AND. RESENTFUL. OF. WOMEN. ABOVE. EVERYTHING. ELSE.

Unfortunately, the bankruptcy bill is the most important exercise of our current cycle (the war vote was the most important of our generation, but note the heavy overlap in pro-fuck-debtors votes and pro-fuck-reservists votes). Notice-- the GOP SENATORS THEMSELVES are putting a stop to tax cut mania, and even to environmental degradation, they say "there are limits"... Dems could EASILY hang together and kill bankruptcy repeal (you know-- to help POOR AND WORKING PEOPLE?) but feel they only have the cojones to do ONE THING-- and that is block anti-abortion judges.

We are fighting the battle of high school: it is the sex-deprived nerds (who now control all branches of government) against the cool kids, who want to (and GET TO) go all the way. We are fucked up. Yes, we know the problem. (But our side is as guilty as their side (moreso-- THEY SAY they want to benefit the rich; we just DO IT.)

You tell me? The fact that the profile of the average serial killer and the average Republican voter are probably identical is interesting, but... so what? Most Republican voters aren't serial killers (though, many of them COULD BE!) We. Have. Got. To. Get. Roe. Reversed. Ourselves. So our party can go back to the business of being a political power about protecting the powerless... Planned Parenthood reports that abortion is unobtainable in over 86% of the counties in America. For a hypothetical right that is best left to the states (and the COOL states will keep it legal), we have to sacrifice EVERYTHING ELSE? I say NO! STOP THIS! Abortion should never have been a federal matter to begin with. The uncool states HAVE EFFECTIVELY ALREADY BANNED IT. A formal ban (after Roe is reversed) will change NOTHING. But I digress.

You see-- in that, and ONLY THAT SENSE-- the crazed serial killers and the Republican voters are not only aligned with each other, but with one version of reality: they tend to be SEXUALLY POWERLESS. Their wives can tell them to go to hell, and they don't get any, despite being able to command their little business ventures and other stuff (like our entire government). Dem voters these days are overwhelmingly SINGLE WOMEN: they CAN SAY NO. They hold THAT ONE PARTICULAR POWER that is so fascinating to Republicans (and to serial killers). And indeed, its the consequences of them NOT saying no (or saying no and getting raped anyway) leading to abortion that have become equated with "moral values".

I don't know. As I said-- many things are depressing. But this can explain almost our entire political existence for the last few decades.

Ralph Nader ends up being right (proven so by the bankruptcy bill): the Dems are NO DIFFERENT, certainly NO BETTER, than the Republicans. Al Gore was a notable exception who Nader killed off, but in the macro, Ralph is right, I'm afraid. At this point, we have bullies in the bully pulpit: if we remain silent, they WILL seize the silence as consent, and they will continue to abuse our Constitution. We usually would have an opposition party to deal with that sort of thing. Unless the issue is somehow tied to abortion, we have no opposition party. We are the United States of K-Street lobbyists, basically. Whores on both sides of the aisle.

Frightening. Certainly takes the fun out of blogging when one considers all of it.

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March 8, 2005, Quickie Thought

The Republicans have always made it clear that they stand for the "value" of advancing the interests of the rich. Really, little has changed on that score since the days of the beloved William McKinley. Sure, we have the occasional GOP apostate like Rockefeller or Teddy Roosevelt (themselves rich NY Republicans who think that "noblesse oblige" exists)... but generally, consistency.

The Dems by contrast... well, since FDR and LBJ, who the hell knows what they stand for?

Fast forward: the Dems controlled Congress for decades. Dems COULD HAVE seen to it that (1) voting was set up in a tamper-proof, as opposed to partisan, manner, (2) our tax code was about collecting taxes, instead of complex corporate giveaways, (3) K Street lobbyists were out in the open, and government giveaways had to be via politically ugly subsidies, etc., (4) the liveable minimum wage-- and liveable health care mandated from employers and not government-- could have been legislated, etc., etc.

In short, decades of mediocre governance have led to the conditions for the current GOP feeding frenzy. Even on something as basic as the bankruptcy bill, the Dems are incapable of anything approaching a moral stand.

Once again: a consistent, but awful policy will almost always prevail against a possibly better but amorphous non-policy policy.

At least, that's what it looks like...

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March 6, 2005, Axis, Annex Acquire Excess Animus

In this week's visit to The People's Daily, Beijing's house organ gives us these two pieces, one simply entitled "U.S. aims its cudgel at Syria, Iran"., and the other concerning the fact that Russia presses on with development of Iran's Besahr nuclear power station.

The American cudgel article features wonderful idiomatic translations like "axial evil" and others, but what it's mostly about is that the thing we don't do: nuance. Policies toward Iran (Axis of Evil TM) and Syria (what I will call the "Annex of Evil") are, you know complicated and s**t. The Chinese, though, are clearly hip to the fact that we are trying to play it both ways: having the Europeans negotiate with Iran not to have nuclear weapons, while simultaneously trying to undermine those negotiations to justify a later military strike (you might remember this strategy with another Axis of Evil TM country.) The Chinese note, as have I, that Russia's role in all this is quite a complicating factor.

And speaking of Russia's role, it plans on (perhaps by 2006) delivering nuclear fuel to the Besahr nuclear power station (and Russia will retrieve spent fuel). Apparently, this is consistent with nuclear power deals, and the EU consensus is that this is not the sort of facility or materials that would advance Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Of course "nucular is nucular is nucular" (get your advance copy of the Congressional Record now!), and wahoos here will doubtless decide that there are no peaceful uses of atomic power, other than as engaged in by the United States, Britain, and of course, Israel.

We've been through this before: the slow buildup of the rhetorical "case" for military action (full-scale ground war seems inconceivable as our entire free combat capability seems pinned down in Iraq, trapped by long and dangeous supply lines that remind too much of British and Hessian supply lines in the 1770's easily disrupted by the locals, because we didn't bother to pacify the country-side by making friends... torture is so much fun, y'know....) The build-up will go through various incarnations. Perhaps a few trips to the UN. Visits with Berluschoni and Blair (the former with much 'xplaining to do to his own people after the insane events resulting in the death of an Italian secret agent at American hands and something like 99% domestic opposition to his country's presence in Iraq, the latter with better support-- only 90% domestic opposition to his country's presence in Iraq). Maybe even a not-so-carefully worded Congressional authorization for "whatever I feel like with respect to whomever I feel like" (followed by John Kerry giving a speech where he then distances himself from the "yea" vote he just cast).

The world becomes ever more complicated, even as Americans chose to elect simple "plain-spoken" folks... "people who don't do nuance." One of these days, this might lead to problems.

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March 5, 2005, The More We Pretend Things Change...

A quickie visit to Pravda this weekend notes the historical irony of the fact that our efforts to isolate Syria (in this case, with the help of our newfound friend, France, has led Syria to call on the one country that has remained its ally through thick and thin: Russia.

Lest the irony be lost on everyone, Syria was a Soviet distant satellite/ally back when it first occupied Lebanon in the late 1980's to calm down the crazed civil war between local Moslems (mostly Shiites), Christians, and Palestinians (mostly Sunnis). Syrian occupation has been problematic, but I think it's fair to say that Lebanon's prior civil war (featuring an ill-fated American intervention that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Marines at the hands of Hizbollah guerrillas blowing up a barracks) was worse.

Honestly, I view the Lebanese situation as not so much a rapid response to the assassination of Rafik Hariri, but as another side benefit of last year's most important event in the Middle East, and the most promising development there in decades: the death of Arafat. You see, Palestinians (still in Lebanon-- and Syria-- by the hundreds of thousands) now have a light at the end of their tunnel: an eventual overcrowded, poor, but viable Palestinian state.

To me, the fastest way to resolve tension in the Middle East is to (1) get Israel the f*** out of Gaza, ASAP, and then, as soon as Israel is out of Gaza, (2) get Israel the f*** out of the West Bank (or at least, as much of it as was once agreed at Taba), and with (1) and (2) safely in order, (3) force Syria into appropriate agreements regarding the use of the Sea of Galilee and nearby waters, so that (4) Israel will get the f*** out of the Golan Heights. Syria will probably be leaving Lebanon on its own, having mis-played with the assassination of Hariri, and the golem/monster of its (and Iran's) creation, Hizbollah, may find its pita-bread best hummossed by remaining "neutral" as to Syria.

But the wild card for decades has been piled up Palestinian refugees, and there is now hope that they can, finally, be "normalized". This is not an opportunity that we should waste because of American domestic political needs to keep our (already overtaxed) war machine primed with stupid attacks against players that don't really concern us, like, say, Iraq or Syria. And, frankly, given that (as my earlier citations to Pravda have shown us), Russia has a different view of the neighborhood: it thinks helping Iran with its little nuclear project is a good thing (note our complete lack of creativity by proposing a buy-out of that project-- which would cost but a few weeks' worth of our Iraq-adventure). Query whether the post-Cold-War-world is really as radically different, at least in some respects, as we like to pretend it is...

(BTW-- Russia's view is that a few A-rabs, or Chechens, or Shiites, for that matter, while irritating and dangerous, do not present the kind of end-of-the-world existential threat the Cold War presented; the fact is, committed psycho-paths have always wanted to smuggle nuclear weapons in to the First (or Second) World... the only difference is now we can conveniently label the perpetrators (Al Qaeda, or Islamists. or just swarthy people in general), and we have mobilized the political benefit by highlighting the threat, and we may well have, for the first time ever, an American government legitimately too incompetent to combat the threat on its own.)

Russia's different view is going to make things far more complicated than our idiot war drumbeat. Sure, the 101st Fighting Key-boarders and 50.1% of the American population will think another war is cool and s**t, but we will find that Bashir Assad is not nearly as isolated as we pretend. One hopes we will not have to find this out the hard way.

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March 4, 2005, Taking the Hostage Out of the Equation

It would appear that American forces manning a checkpoint near Baghdad had seen Speed too many times, as they adopted the strategy espoused by Keanu Reeves' character of what to do in a hostage situation (i.e., "shoot the hostage, and take them out of the equation") by doing precisely that, resulting in the death of an Italian intelligence agent and the wounding of a recently freed Italian hostage, Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist kidnapped in Iraq.

It would appear that the American troops in that area are sufficiently wary of just about everything, that a car speeding at them and not slowing down was, according to standard operating procedure, to be shot at.

The death of the Italian agent, coming along with the 1,500th American military death during the current Iraq adventure, and along with allegations of abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan by the CIA, I think it's safe to say that we here stateside are darned sick and tired of hearing about the unfortunate things happening in our wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Hence, it's time we started gearing up for our new war: the one against those irritating Syrians. You see, while Syria is not exactly up to a full-fledged "Axis of Evil TM" member, like Iraq, it is a largely secular Baathist style regime, and hence, offends Saudi Arabia, and hence, is ripe for regime change.

Obviously, naysayers (such as m'self) might question just why we might start our war cycle (which begins with bellicose rhetoric, and then right around a mid-term election, becomes an all-out shootin' war-- yes, it'll be a while before we get round to that war... but stick around) with Syria. Sure, Syria is an irritant to Israel, sponsoring various terror groups and all, but then, Israel kind of irritates Syria back, what by occupying the Golan Heights and all... Oh yes: if we attack Syria, Syria just might try to garner sympathy in the Arab world by attacking Israel, ostensibly making the operation an American/Israeli war of aggression (that's how it will be played, anyway) and we might just get World War III out of this yet.

Won't that be glorious? We'll show those octogenarian assholes who think they're the greatest generation that we could kick their asses, by kicking the asses of some swarthy Middle Easterners. Yee ha! Let's put on our shit-kickers, pop open a cold one, and hit our keyboards and remotes while some dufus reservists go do the dirty work... this will be so cool... we are sooooo kick-ass!

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March 2, 2005, Times they're a changin'

Say what you will about the 43rd President of the United States, but when he says he means action, he means action. He meant to forge "a new Middle East", and by God, changes are in the offing.

We have more or less free and fair Palestinian elections (albeit because of the death of Arafat, but surprisingly orderly nonetheless). We have an assassination in Lebanon where the suspect list seems to be coming down to one particular government based in Damascus, which in turn resulted in the fall of the Syrian backed government and massive street protests whichjust may lead to Syrian withdrawal from its neighbor (and, naturally, you know its ok to bash Beshir [Assad, Syria's leader] when both Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton do it the same day... we proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with France...)

Say what you will about the Iraqi elections (and I will!), but they were certainly wildly new to a sovereign Arab country (albeit an occupied one): more or less "open", secret ballot elections, albeit for secret lists of candidates with a crucial 20% of the country ineligible to vote because of our inability to secure them. But it was an election nonetheless, and those regions that were secure enough to vote had a very high turnout, and this will make it damned hard for us to argue with the incoming Iraqi government if it elects to do things we ultimately don't like.

And now... "the prize", at least in terms of number of Arabs, by far the largest country in the Arab world people-wise, Egypt, seems to be undergoing some kind of transformations. President Mubarak stunned the world by suggesting he would implement democratic reforms such as allowing competition for his own job, apparently partially the result of American pressure, though as this LaLaTimes piece notes, Egyptians were watching television coverage of Iraqi elections, Palestinian elections, Lebanese street protests, illegitimate elections being overturned in Georgia and Ukraine (though not in Florida or Ohio... just had to throw that in!), and Mubarak is starting to see the handwriting on the wall...

One thing not widely reported here is that anti-Mubarak protests have been growing of late; this piece in Cairo's Al-Ahram notes that an anti-Mubarak protest by the group "Enough" had over 500 protestors on hand-- huge by the standards of authoritarian Egypt, where demonstrations are usually stage managed by the sitting government, rather than expressions of outrage against it. Net result of all this: Egypt may finally start paying dividends on those billions of dollars we pump into it each year, with democratic reforms.

Well, it would be a mistake not to give George W. Bush some credit for this. He took a huge chance (albeit, not playing with his own money... like he ever has in his whole life... he counts Daddy's friends' money as his own,, of course). Bush jumped into the hornet's nest of the Middle East. And the jury is still out. Most of the action influencing Mubarak may involve affairs of which U.S.A. responsibility is between tangential or non-existent (pretty much everywhere save Iraq). But... we have opened up the can of whoop-ass in a region that needs to embrace the 20th century... let alone the 21st...

Here's the thing: as John Emerson a/k/a Zizka observes in what might or might not be his blogging swan-song, the Republicans govern like thugs, but thugs with vision. The Democrats, by contrast, are boring academic pragmatists. Well, the Middle East is certainly the pinnacle of thuggish governance... with vision...

Maybe this will all work out. We have always been a lucky country... so Bush's view is "press, press, press" (see above re: not playing with his own money). Unlike St. Ronny, who contrary to legend, did not singlehandedly bring down the Soviet Union (think of the Cold War as a striking a boulder with a sledge hammer for 35 years; when it breaks apart on the 1,432nd hammer blow, is it really fair to give all credit to the guy holding the hammer on 1,432, and ignore steadfast efforts of Ike, JFK, LBJ, Tricky Dick, Ford and Carter?), this Middle East thing really is Bush's baby.

Do I want it to blow up in his face? I have to be honest here: I don't like George W. Bush-- I think he takes too many chances with other people's lives and money for his own benefit. I think he's an awful President. I don't think he deserves the office. In fact, I don't think he deserves much of anything except a war crimes trial. On the other hand, I live in the City that was attacked on 9-11, and I remember 9-11 vividly from having worked a block from Ground Zero (as I do currently). Business as usual in the Middle East probably means that regions internecine problems caused by its endless arrays of brutal dictatorships would likely spill over to violence here again... and maybe, as insane (or misguided, or whatever) as I may think Bush's Middle East policies are, they may just work out. Somehow. And I admit, btw, that I don't see many scenarios where they will work out well... but they might... (BTW, I'm far more certain that Bush's handling of the economy will lead to disaster, than I am about his handling of the Middle East... I suspect that most Americans had exactly the same feeling, albeit drawing the baselines in different places, when voting last November.)

It's one of those things. Think about this in terms of... the drunk driver (I think a perfectly apt analogy to our President-- a man of convictions... for drunk driving, that is)... it'll be a wild ride, and you may well (somehow) get home safely. But... is that really how you want to bet your life? And is that reallywho you want driving your children?

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March 1, 2005, American Kafkaesque... continues

That would be the sorry saga of "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla. In a stinging 23-page opinion, a federal judge in South Carolina (one, might I add, appointed by this President Bush) ordered the Government to charge Padilla within 45 days, or release him. Apparently, Judge Henry Floyd in Spartanburg, SC, whose opinion lambasted the Administration for defying the rule of law, separation of powers, etc., etc., didn't get the memos from Al Gonzales and Nino Scalia; the fool thinks that habeas corpus is still an effective writ against the divine musings of our king.

Not to worry. Padilla's 2 1/2 years (and counting) of incarceration won't be coming to an end soon: there are two more appeals. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond is the next stop; while widely regarded as "conservative", there's no law whatsoever justifying Padilla's continued detention that any honest court could find.

No, just the momentum of it, and the hope that when Padilla is eventually released, that his wrongful detention suit falls on the next Administration (let Hillary or McCain worry about it!) will be the guiding factor here. Of course, the ultimate appeal will still go to the U.S. Supreme Court, who, in a pre-election gambit, made up improper venue as a superior public policy value to the Great Writ (and fundamental basis of constitutional limitation on absolute power since... 1215.)

That's right: the joke is, the Supreme Court will likely take the case this time, again, but to affirm it, because doing so will buy Padilla another year in jail after the Fourth Circuit affirms Judge Floyd. Note, and not without extreme bitterness towards my former employer the U.S. Department of Justice, the statement by Deputy Attorney General James Comey: Padilla would likely exercise his right to remain silent in a federal court and hence would likely leave a free man. That's right, boys and girls: Padilla is not being incarcerated in camera (and ex cathedra) by star chamber because the evidence shows he is too dangerous a man to be allowed a public trial in a courtroom. He is in jail as an enemy combatant because there ain't any evidence to keep him there otherwise. And I've said many times: this is no Afghan schnook picked up on the battle field, but an American citizen picked up in the United States.

On a dark and stormy night (it's not dark, actually; Brooklyn and most of the Northeast is under a blanket of snow... must... shovel... sidewalk...), it warms the heart a bit to know that somewhere, somehow, this nation may yet survive the Second Bush Administration, as its underlying institutions try to keep our Constitution in force. May.

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