10/31/2005

I have to say of the op ed guys at the New York Slimes, I really like and respect Paul Krugman. I like his taut, terse, no-nonsense prose, and even when I disagree with him, I respect his opinions. But in today’s op-ed piece about the Bush Administration’s impending implosion, he gets it wrong. We, outside the bubble, see the string of failures that has and will define Bush & Co’s botched regime, but inside the bubble they’re not exactly deluded as to their successes. They have been enormously effective, just not in the way we expect a truly democratic government to be. If you look at the goal of the democratization of Iraq, for example, sure it’s bound to fail, but we’re all engaging in a little doublethink when we call it a failure for the administration. Because we know the real goal is not democratization. That's the stated goal, and holding the administration to it is just a kind of game the press and the opposition play. As a means of controlling resources in the Gulf, and of enriching its patrons, the campaign has been enormously successful. If we look at it through the other end of the telescope—or through the White House looking glass—we can see easily enough that our goals—and the goals we traditionally associate with the office—are not the same as their goals.

One example cited by Krugman in today’s piece: “By a three-to-one margin, according to a Washington Post poll, the public now believes that the level of ethics and honesty in the government has declined rather than risen under Mr. Bush.” Now this seems like a failure outside the bubble, where we believe it’s a no-brainer that an American administration should strive to earn the trust of the American electorate. But when you consider that Bush, Cheney & Co.’s oft-stated goal is to destroy reliance on government and to transform it, finally, into a patronage system that serves the wealthy, it has succeeded phenomenally. They don’t want ordinary Americans to have faith in their government, really, for practical purposes. They want the ordinary pleb to disengage. And in this, I think, they've been a -- as Mr. Bush himself might say -- rip-snorting success.

10/28/2005

The STINK

It was a rough week for the Bush Administration. The American death toll in Iraq reached a milestone, 2000. While editorialists claimed “America is grieving,” I did not personally see any individual Americans doing so, just for the record. Mr. Bush himself seemed characteristically unfazed. Senator John Kerry gave his first speech on the quagmire since his failed campaign for the White House, indicating the “soft-launch” of his next failed campaign for the White House. Harriet Miers skittered about the capital trying to win support for her nomination, but legislators remained unimpressed, and so on Thursday she withdrew. It was the right thing to do, Harriet. But it also paves the way for a more stridently, blatantly ideological nominee. Incompetence versus ideology seems to be the question these days. Miers’ withdrawal is being seen widely as indication of the waning power of the executive, and of Mr. Bush himself, in his second term. A Grand Jury indicted His Sublime Evilness Dick Cheney’s right hand man, Scooter Libby on one count of obstruction, two counts of perjury and two of making false statements. That’s five counts altogether for those who are counting. Of Cheney himself, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said, "We make no allegations that the vice president conducted any criminal act." Of course, it was Cheney who told Libby about Valerie Plame in the first place, but that's not a crime. Rest assured Darth Cheney will escape prosecution. He has been busy in his underground bunker overseeing the construction of the giant “Death Star” he will be teleported to shortly, and from which he will destroy Earth, and with it the Iraqi insurgency and the Democrats. Ol’ Turd Blossom, Karl Rove, rumored to have been on Fitzgerald’s hit-list, too, slithered away, relatively unscathed, although he remains a slimebag of interest. So the wolves are at the White House door, but Mr. Bush has had plenty of practice being the sacrificial lamb, victim of the liberal media, victim of bad intelligence, victim of the hate-mongers and naysayers. I’m sure he can handle being cannibalized by his own party. Bon appetit, boys! Democrats felt safe to gloat, some gleefully speculating that the Bush Administration may finally be imploding. No thanks to the opposition, who offered no leadership of their own to fill the vacuum in Katrina’s wake. The Democrats are about as bad as those chiliastic evil-gelicals, waiting for their Evil Christ to come. Instead of reacting to crises with an alternate vision, offering solutions that show that good government is still possible, they offer crowing critiques and speculation that this could be the moment the enemy self-destructs. In their version of things, you can lose all the battles but still win the war. That’s why we need more than two parties. I mean, wasn't it nice to see both the Red Sox and the Yankees bumped this year? When you've only got two teams, sometimes one wins by default. One more battle the Democrats are losing on their way to ultimate and glorious victory is on the budget. Last week Congress was busy giddily slashing it, with Mr. Bush revising his old ivy-league daze extracurricular role of cheerleader. Wielding his presidential pompoms and recruiting Harriet Miers, Karl Rove, and Scott McClellan for a human pyramid eerily reminiscent of those depicted in notorious photos from Abu Ghraib, Mr. Bush shouted: "Rah rah sis boom bah! Slash the budget, um, fa-la-la la-LAH la-la-la-LAH!” And after a triple-back-somersault, landing in splits, added: “I encourage Congress to push the envelope when it comes to cutting spending! GO TEAM!” The GOP, supposedly nervous about the cost of the Katrina Recovery earmarked cuts in student loans, on top of $3.8 billion in cuts to child support enforcement. The AP reported: “The bill also would tighten eligibility standards for foster care assistance in nine states and delay some lump-sum payments to very poor and elderly beneficiaries of Social Security's Supplemental Security Income program.” As blatantly evil as these cuts are, for some reason Congress has balked at slashing Medicaid, food stamps and farm subsidies. But to make up for the let-down, there’s a little-reported provision of the budget package to be sent to the Senate, mandating “whoopin’s” for legislators’ servants (and phasing in from 2006 to 2008, constituents) who do not refer to them as “massa.” Democrats opposed most of the cuts. The best offense is a good defense, boys. Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, stating the obvious, told reporters: "They are targeting programs for poor people to pay for tax cuts for rich people.” Once those tax cuts are passed, Obey added, deficits will be increasing again. So there. In the “looking for trouble” department, the US rattled its sabers at Syria over possible Syrian involvement in the assassination of billionaire Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri. Increased calls for sanctions against Syria, if it does not cooperate fully with UN investigators looking into the assassination, came shortly after a meeting, attended by Mr. Cheney, the President himself (for symbolic purposes), and US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, in which the latter said (according to the AP) “that the insurgency there remains formidable and will take longer to defeat if neighboring countries such as Syria and Iran continue to play ‘unhelpful roles.’” All in all a big week in the news. Unfortunately, also a week in which NPR was engaged in a ramped-up phase of its increasingly obnoxious never-ending fund drive, which, after all the whining, pleading, and gnashing of teeth, left about three-and-a-half minutes for news, and that was taken up by an interview with the ubiquitous and supremely unnecessary David Brooks. Don't you love it when pundits interview other pundits? And you cunts want me to pay for this?

10/27/2005

I was just reading David Brooks in the Slime. He’s such a fink. One of these apologists for poor, misunderstood Mr. Bush. He wants to save Bush’s second term. He wants us all to try to be more understanding of what a rough life Mr. Bush has:

"It is thrilling to work in a White House, but it is also psychologically corrosive. In a disciplined White House, one cannot really talk with people outside. There is a tendency to curl inward under the barrage of criticism, much of it ill informed. The sheer busyness of life becomes enveloping and isolating, and slowly an unearned disdain builds for those who are not in the bubble. …"

Oh, poor, isolated George! What a rough life inside the White House bubble! And all that ill-informed criticism. It must be just awful.

10/26/2005

I was reading a review of Al Franken’s new book on salon.com, and was again reminded of what is so wrong with the so-called left in this country. That’s what salon.com is good for, if nothing else. The people who write for the online magazine are all people you would dread being stuck in an elevator, much less at a dinner party with (if anybody actually has dinner parties anymore, these would be them). There is that ever ungenerous tone typical of those who are always right talking out their asses to those who always agree with them. They assume they are on the outside looking in, or, more accurately, looking down, and from a great height. But they’re not. They are very much a part of the status quo they’re always griping about. I should know, from my little perch, way up here on Mt. Ida.

The reviewer, a certain Lynn Harris, kicks off her review with a little gloating, referring to the current political “situation” as a “potentially delicious point in current events.” Bush’s dip in the opinion polls would matter if we lived in a lively democracy, but we really don’t. Harris reminds me of a Sox fan gloating at a Yankee defeat. She’s among those who were in a funk after Kerry conceded to Bush, as if Kerry would have made a big difference. Her political affiliation is part and parcel of her whole boring pomo consumer identity.

But she goes further. She hails Krugman, Kristof and Herbert as some kind of liberal holy trinity. Herbert is the only true, dyed in the wool traditional liberal among them. Krugman leans towards neocon in many respects, and Kristof is little more than an apologist for the GOP. But all three write for The Slime. It’s like, could you be any more clichéd? She is in every way the cartoon image of liberals that cartoon conservatives are always on about. I mean, it’s not surprising that people with weak personalities and limited intellectual capacity cling to stereotypes, but this is ridiculous.

Just to drive it home, she also expresses surprise that “the media -- even NPR!”—fell into lockstep after the election, as if NPR, with their corporate sponsors and political pressures, is some bastion of American progressivism. “Even NPR!” Pathetic.

10/22/2005

the STINK

this has been another banner week! Harriet Miers' three shoeboxes- worth of papers came in, and sifting through the mementos -- a lock of the Commander-in-Chief's hair tied with a red, white, and blue ribbon, some coupons for Toll House cookies, etc.-- was a poll she'd taken back in the eighties declaring her absolute opposition to abortion. Whew, we were all starting to wonder where she stood on that one. Meanwhile, Tom Delay's lawyers demanded that the Hon. Bob Perkins, the judge in his conspiracy and money laundering case, step down. They say he has made contributions to Democrats and, as the AP put it, "their liberal allies." This amounted to $3,400 in donations over the years. Perkins said he thought the most expedient way to address the grievance was to "defer further proceedings" and let state administrative Judge B.B. Schraub decide whether Perkins should recuse himself. As the AP reports: "Schraub, a Republican,... from 1989 through 2002, contributed at least $1,500 to federal Republican campaigns.... He donated an additional $4,900 to Texas GOP candidates between 1998 and 2001." In the Tangled Web department, Judith Miller, the Times journalist jailed in the Valerie Blame case, turned out to have been a pawn and puppet of the White House, who not only bent over backwards to protect her source (reported to be Prince of Darkness Dick Cheney's right hand man, Scooter Libby), but knowingly distorted the story to his satisfaction, helping mislead investigators in the case. Miller also served the administration well by spreading distortions about WMDs. Knowing that reporters critical to the administration were shut out, reporters like Miller with access to the White House routinely sweetened the story, working, more or less, as the administration's unpaid propagandists. Saddam Hussein had his day in court, for crimes against humanity. The trial will have several parts, starting with Dujail, which was fairly obliterated by Saddam in retaliation for an assassination attempt on his life there in 1982. The more notorious Halabja massacre will not come until later, because, some speculate, it is a more complex case and will be harder to prosecute, plus, others have conjectured, the level of tacit complicity on the part of the US in this latter atrocity is harder to finesse. But the US looked away in Dujail as well, mainly because Iran was a bigger concern. Saddam was given cart blanche in return for cooperation on Iran. Later will come the trial for the 1988 massacre of those kurds in Halabja nobody seemed to give a rat's ass about until recently. Subsequent to these atrocities, of which the US most assuredly had knowledge, the Iraqi regime was rewarded by the US, with billions in loan guarantees and agricultural credits, the sharing of intelligence, and leniency on weapons materials. It was the same crowd under Reagan and Bush I that knowingly created the monster now on trial: Cheney, Bush I's Secretary of Defense. Wolfowitz, his right hand man. And Rumsfeld was the one who courted Saddam under Reagan, as his envoy to the Middle East. As Congressman Bill Delahunt has written: "The record is hauntingly clear: the Reagan and Bush Administrations did not just look the other way after Halabja. They aggressively undermined the Congressional response to Saddam’s atrocities and actively supported his tyranny, right up to the day his tanks crossed into Kuwait." It really is a tangled web worthy of Shakespeare, and with Saddam looking more and more like Lear -- those wild eyes and that beard -- I can't wait to see it staged. With lines like: "I shit on the international community!" the script is sure to be worthy of the Bard as well! Speaking of Iraq: as of 7:36:22 a.m., the war has cost us $202,646,454,093 and 1,993 American soldiers' lives. In the "ho hum, so what else is new" department: The end is near (again). Dispatches from the Amazon say the rain forest is disappearing twice as fast as anybody thought. Another huge hurricane, Wilma, a category 4, is pounding the gulf. Ditch your bird friends or die. If they sneeze on you it's all over. Bird Flu is still poised to wipe out the planet. And there's no vaccine! Locally, Massachusetts' own Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey's in hot water over her husband's apparent abuse of the state's corporate welfare system. The difference between corporate and ordinary welfare is that corporate welfare junkies don't use checks to fund their crack habits -- they use them to fund their campaign habits. Of course, Healey's hubbie is funding what looks more and more to be his old lady's run for the not-soon-enough-to-be-vacated governor's office. Teddy Kennedy's latest effort to raise the national minimum wage failed miserably in the Senate. Kennedy noted that lawmakers have voted themselves seven raises totalling $28,000 a year in the eight years since the minimum wage was last raised. Meanwhile, Salvatore DiMasi, Speaker of the House, agrees with Governor Mitt Romney that Bay Staters should be forced to buy health insurance. As reported in the Globe, DiMasi said the House plan ''will make people take personal responsibility when they are able to purchase health insurance for themselves and their families." According to the Globe, "the Romney administration estimates that about 200,000 of the state's roughly 500,000 uninsured make enough money to afford private insurance." Well, Millionaire Mitt should know. Opponents of the proposal, like John McDonough of Health Care for All, want to remind the governor that ''You've got families in Greater Boston that are paying over their income for rent."

10/19/2005

On a recent trip back to Indiana to visit my peeps, I decided to check out the megachurch my mother’s begun to attend (though, thank God, she’s not become so zealous that she doesn't fink out nearly every other Sunday because she’s having a bad hair day, or something). It is a far cry from the little church that could in Speedway, Indiana we attended when I was a kid. The new place is a supersized structure more like a staging ground for Cirque' Du Soleil than a church in the traditional sense. There was a safe, anonymous feel to it, largely because of its enormity, but there was no warmth. And while people were friendly, they were Stepford-wife friendly. Get too personal and you could see they’d come at you like the pod people in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

What was particularly interesting to me was the program for the day. There was a lot of music in the program, and these being white folks, it was pretty much sheer torture sitting through it. My dad, a lapsed Catholic, refused to go to this church when my mother started, mainly because of the music, he told me, and now, finally, I could understand. They had four hymns in the ‘prelude’ alone. Funny thing was, they were all about power, none about mercy. They started with ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,’ and then it was ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,’ followed by ‘Majesty,’ and for a finale, ‘Above All.’ The offertory hymn was ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’; Communion hymn: ‘His Name Is Wonderful’; and the ‘Invitation’ (whatever to was not stated): ‘The Savior Is Waiting’ (tapping his foot impatiently, no doubt). The scripture meditation was from Colassians 1:15-20 (all about the supremacy of Christ):

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

And for something called ‘Prayertime,’ the following meditation was offered: ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.’ You are getting verrrrreeee sleeeeepeeeee…

I mean, it’s perfectly possible that the theme for the day was ’Jesus is Boss, and Don’t You Forget It!’ And that the following week was all about how you should be nice to your neighbors, about love, or mercy, forgiveness, or something, but somehow I think ‘My God Can Beat Up Your God’ is probably the theme pretty much every week. And a hymn or two about Jesus’ majesty (although I always preferred to look at it like ‘purple mountains majesty’—not in the sense of ‘your royal majesty’)—a hymn or two is understandable, but seven (there was actually an eighth I failed to mention, taken from Hebrews 1) is a little excessive—I mean, just because it’s monotheism doesn't mean it has to be monotonous, or worse: positively monomaniacal—there is a point at which you’re beating a dead horse.

Protestantism used to be about demolishing hierarchy--or maybe it was the particular hierarchy of the Catholic Church of Martin Luther's time, and not all hierarchy. But contemporary evangelical protestantism seems to be at least partly about putting the parishioner in his or her place, much like traditional Catholicism. I think this at least in part accounts for the affinity between evangelicalism and Catholicism we saw in phenomena like "The Passion of the Christ," which was a very Catholic film. The other part of the appeal of the film was, of course, the depiction of relentless victimization, which is, for some reason, a central facet of the modern middle class Midwestern personality. The problem is not that there's not grounds for gripes, the problem is: whatever their perceived torments, their tormentors are most assuredly not sodomites and abortionists.

At any rate, it's clear from the program what my mother's megachurch is all about. There's an undeniable appeal to subordinating yourself to a higher power in this way (there are, of course, plenty of other ways to acknowledge the enormity of the universe, and the unfathomable mystery of life that also allow for genuine curiosity, inquiry, and growth). Evangelicals consider themselves soldiers of Christ in the middle of a culture war, and every army has its hierarchy. But you choose your battles, and it seems to me that these evangelicals are fighting all the wrong ones for all the wrong reasons. But then, what the heck do I know? I'm just an infidel.