Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Another change
I am now blogging over at The Apollo Creed with Wendy Ginsberg and several bloggers to be named later.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Look at this pathetic blowhard
You have to wonder if he knows how he will be portrayed in the history books. The military historian Martin Ven Creveld believes that Bush committed the worst strategic mistake since the Roman incursion into Germany in 9 B.C. by invading Iraq, and a majority of the American people believe they were misled into a disastrous war that has gained them nothing but several thousand body bags and a crippling budget deficit. $6 billion a month is being poured down the Iraqi sinkhole, even as critical services are being slashed domestically, while quixotic and doomed programs like missile defense survive unscathed.

What has this deluded and arrogant fool accomplished? Iraq barely exists as a state in fiery and blood-soaked chaos. The leaders of his party, including Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and untold congressional Republicans, are under investigation for various venal forms of corruption. The Middle East is a vast powder keg, still lamentably controlled by the same set of repressive autocrats that held power when Bush took power in 2001. In Libya, Qadaffi gave up some weapons he never intended to develop in the first place in return for indefinite indulgence for his bestial autocracy from the Bush crew. Egypt's longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak has held two sets of fraudulent, rigged elections in order to placate the simpleton desires of the Bush administration. Lebanon, while free of the Syrians, is racked by controversy and sectarian assasinations, while Morocco, Jordan and Iran have become decidedly less democratic during Bush's misrule. If this is victory, I would hate to see defeat.

At home, the President has presided over a crippling recession and an anemic recovery, all the while gleefully instituting new forms of inequality and injustice, from the punitive and vicious bankruptcy bill to the evisceration of labor protections by the Bush-appointed National Labor Relations Board. He is about to appoint a second fundamentalist constitutional-originalist to the Supreme Court, who will almost certainly vote to overturn Roe-v.-Wade if the case were to come before the court. More Americans find themselves without health care with every day of Bush's wretched leadership. His tax cuts for the rich have failed to stimulate the economy enough to eliminate the horrifying budget deficit, and his drive to crush Social Security has led to nothing except one embarrassing retreat after another. In five years his party has managed to inaugurate an era of Banana Republic corruption reminiscent of the Gilded Age. Gasoline prices are soaring, natural gas prices are going through the roof, and there is nary a word from Plutocrat Central about how ordinary Americans are supposed to shiver their way through the brutal winter ahead without sending themselvs spiraling into the bankrupty that they are no longer able to file.

But still The Smirk receives hosannas from the media glitterati for his steadfastness in the face of criticism. The chattering classes keep saying that no matter what a colossal screw-up the President is, you can't take away his honesty and his steely-eyed perserverence. But of course the President said he would fire anyone involved in the Plame leak. Yet Karl Rove still collects his paychecks from the White House even though he was incontrovertibly involved in the outing of the cover CIA officer in retaliation for her husband's whistle-blowing. He said he was going to make sure America acted as a more humble nation. He said the congressional Iraq resolution was a way to avoid rather than wage war, even though he and his advisors had decided to invade Iraq within days of 9/11. His minions have pressured CIA analysts to change their reports, and forced budget officers to lie about the impact of the new prescription drug benefit. His EPA appointees routinely bury and change reports that describe the Bush administration's environmental pillaging. His CIA director has turned the agency into a Republican fiefdom. He allowed his Supreme Court pick, Harriet Miers, to withdraw after conservatives laughed at her makeup and celibacy.

I could go on. George W. Bush is a failed President, a man who no longer has the confidence of even 40 percent of the American people. He is a weak, arrogant man who was born into privilege and who has always believed that the world has owed him whatever he seeks. He has combined this pusillanimous disregard for global opinion and sentiment with the religious convictions of a backwoods hustler. And even worse, he has chosen as advisors a group of paranoid and dangerous ideologues who have helped transform America from a global leader into an international pariah -- a nation that sneers at international treaties that don't serve America's every single narrow interest, foregoes cooperation with its fellow democracies, and sniffs at every accomplishment of the past 60 years.

His fellow Republicans are fleeing from him like Dustin Hoffman in The Running Man Marathon Man. He has become political poison, and his advisors are unlikely to ever find the antidote. This is the reality: Iraq is unlikely to stabilize in the near future. The economy is supremely vulnerable because of the negative savings rate of most Americans, the real estate bubble, and the endemic rise in energy prices. His congressional majority may be decimated next November. It is astounding to me that even the most vacuous right-wing sycophants once hailed this colossal wanker as the next Winston Churchill, a man's man who would finally teach the Arabs that force means force and that America would not truck with being attacked. Instead this fraudulent cheerleader, who bought his ostentatious ranch as a campaign ploy and who wouldn't know a hard day's work from a double-scotch, has brought the American economy to its knees and exposed the widening strategic weakness of the U.S. military. His approval rating is at Nixonian levels, and his political power is at an all-time low.

I would chuckle at the irony if it weren't all so tragic.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

What is wrong with these people?
Ask yourself some questions about this picture: What sort of person gets up before 5 a.m. and lines up outside a Wal-mart in the blistering cold? What sort of company manipulates people in such a way? Isn't it in many ways sad that consumerism is perhaps the greatest aspiration of American culture?

I don't care if they were offering $1,000 plasma televisions for a twenty-spot. One of the things you have to fight for in this world is your own dignity. And that dignity is not well-served by lining up like schoolchildren before dawn in the teeth-chattering deep freeze, only to rush through the doors like it's the Wonka chocolate factory. Ultimately, you are catering to the whims of billion-dollar corporate entities who want you to buy items that they are deliberately selling at a loss to inflate sales figures. There is a very short list of reasons for which I will rise at 4 o'clock in the morning, and cut-rate DVD players and Mp3 players are not among the bullet points.

I do not shop on Black Friday because there is no particular reason for me to do so. Everything that is for sale that day will be on sale the following day, for maybe a few more bucks. I also find it distasteful to have to shoulder my way through rabid crowds of shoppers because someone tells me that this is what I should be doing. Or worse, because it has been deemed patriotic to spend myself into debt. That is why I find the Internet such a liberating medium; I buy almost nothing at Christmas in actual stores anymore, not because I have it out for most retailers, but just because I have always found the commercial aspects of the holidays to be most disagreeable. I realize that everyone needs clothes and music and appliances; I just don't believe that we should have to do our shopping at times and days that are approved by the great minds of American capitalism.

26 years ago George Romero released a horror film that spoofs this sort of behavior. Fleeing a zombie holocaust, two reporters and a cop steal a helicopter and take refuge in a Mall. Inexplicably, the zombies have already started to congregate there, banging on the doors, wandering around aimlessly and shuffling from one store to the next, a look of glassy-eyed blankness permanently plastered on their rotting faces. Francine, one of the protagonists, asks, "What are they doing? Why do they come here?" Her friend replies, "Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives." The trio lives at the mall for weeks, and they have unfettered access to all the goodies of modern consumerism -- food, wine, clothes, toys, you name it. They have found the Garden of Eden of capitalism, and yet they are all miserable, closed off from what remains of human society and besieged by hungry zombies on the outside.

In 1978 this movie struck a chord with audiences, despite its over-the-top gore and wooden acting. Astoundingly, it raked in $40 million, back when that figure still meant something. Can you imagine a movie with such a message resonating with mainstream audiences today? Last year's tepid remake was technically impressive and much better acted, but it utterly lacked the social criticism that Romero intended in the original script. But it was a perfect expression of its time, when the dictates of commercial enterprise have become so hegemonic that it is weird even to question them in polite company. You mean we weren't put on this Earth to hunt endlessly for bargains?

Clearly my fellow Americans disagree.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wednesday Cat Blogging Posted by Picasa
Alyan has heard from his friend in the Marines, and he thinks your plan to pull out of Iraq is treasonous. And he doesn't care how many medals you won in some stupid war that took place like, 30 years ago. Cats only live 20 years!

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Creeping Robber-Baronism
The new economy, also known as "the ownership society" is beginning to take shape. Someone at that noted humanitarian organization, Wal-Mart, leaked a memo outlining the steps the company will take to tackle its 300-pound health care linebacker: "rolling all employees from traditional insurance to health-savings accounts, reducing company 401(k) contributions by 25 percent, and pushing out older and less healthy employees." For the uninitiated, "health savings accounts" really mean "the end of health insurance as we know it." Instead of employers or the state bearing the unbelievable costs of American health care, the burden will be shifted to Americans themselves, who will take huge chunks out of every paycheck and put them into "high-yield" savings accounts that they will draw from every time they need treatment.

As everyone knows, health care and retirement costs are crippling U.S. employers, particularly those employers who are forced to compete with cheap overseas laborers in the era of unfettered free trade. So instead of allying themselves with progressive forces that seek a more inclusive governmental role in health care and retirement, we are seeing the outlines of a regressive, creeping robber-baronism led by Wal-Mart and its fellow union-busting employers of the working poor. Companies will warn of their own extinction if they have to live up to their contractual or moral obligations to provide for their own employees, and the Bush regime will happily make itself complicit in the further evisceration of the working and middle classes. Either that or the companies will declare bankruptcy and force the government to assume more and more de facto responsibility for broken pension promises while the GOP continues its drive to "starve the beast." The bankruptcy of GM auto-parts manufacturer Delphi is just the opening salvo in this battle, as the looming bankruptcy of all the major American car manufacturers and airlines has cast a pall over the entire U.S. economy.

Meanwhile there is no end in sight to the war in Iraq, which has become an albatross around the neck of the Bush Administration and a strain on an already ailing economy. That constitution, which gives regions the right to form new super-regions, is an admirable attempt at compromise, but ultimately looks to me like a pre-nuptial agreement for a doomed marriage. Imagine if the U.S. constitution allowed states to form quasi-countries which could compete with the federal goverment for resources and power! Now imagine a U.S. criss-crossed with ethnic and sectarian cleavages (ok, imagine that those cleavages were territorially concentrated). The Iraqi state does not currently have the capacity to enforce its own fledgling legal order, meaning that U.S. troops will probably be asked to stick around indefinitely. But as they seem to be dying at about the same rates as they have been for the past two-and-a-half years, their presence is as much part of the problem as part of the solution. Leave and we condemn the Iraqis to state failure; stay and we will continue to sacrifice the lives of soldiers and civilians for a cause with no clear endpoint other than the partition of the Iraqi state. For the record, in the long-run that might not be a bad thing, but it would entail further suffering and bloodshed. What is the moral calculus here?

Amazingly, the administration seems angling for a similar outcome in both Syria and Iran, where presumably we prefer chaos to the edgy but stable status quo. Syria is every bit as vulnerable as Iraq to ethnic conflict and post-authoritarian anarchy, but the Bush Administration steadfastly refused to engage in even a tactical and short-term agreement with the Asad regime, an agreement which could defuse the current spiral of hostility between the United States and the new axis of evil. The ideologues in the neo-conservative circle insist that a sweeping reordering of the Middle East is still possible and desireable. It only serves to prove that, like cats, neo-conservatives cannot be trained. They will keep eating out of the wrong bowl again and again, and they are incapable of connecting their actions to their punishment. The cognitive dissonance required to look at Iraq as something to be emulated is almost too great to imagine. The idea that a pitiful, enfeebled and bankrupt kleptocracy like Syria is a strategic threat to the United States of America would be laughable in another context, but in the current political climate of fear, paranoia, and zero-sum political calculations, it is taken seriously.

And the media is shocked -- shocked! -- when U.S. and Israeli hostility to Iran leads the Iranians to make outrageous and pathetic threats to "wipe Israel off the map." Everyone forgets that the U.S. is partly responsible for the "election" of this man after our threats in Bush's 2002 Axis of Evil speech emboldened hardline nationalists and conservatives to clamp down on reformers. Did we expect our threats and hostility to be met with flowers and sweets? Weren't those expectations dashed for good on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates? Regardless of our precarious strategic position, don't be surprised to see Ahmedinejad's bluster to be met with Israeli or American airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. Such a move would further undermine our position in Iraq, but this gang has never thought even one step into the future anyway. Remember that the complaint from the Curtis LeMay wing of the Republican Party about the Middle East is that we haven't fucked things up enough. It is eerily reminiscent of the call to start World War III with the Soviets during the Vietnam War in order to save Vietnam from communism.

All of this is set against the backdrop of the Plame scandal and the Supreme Court battle. I have never been very compelled by the specifics of the scandal, but clearly something very nefarious went on in the White House, part and parcel of the WMD cover-up, and surely much more serious than Bill Clinton getting off with his interns. There was a conspiracy at the highest levels of this government to peddle false and misleading information about the Iraqi threat to the American people, and to cover its tracks Bush had senior members of his administration smear Joe Wilson, one of the whistleblowers, and his wife, a covert agent working on the sensitive and critical area of weapons of mass destruction for the CIA. There will never be a smoking gun, but is there any doubt that this is what happened? They lied to get us into an unnecessary war that has taken the lives of over 2,000 Americans and countless thousands of Iraqi civilians. And then they broke the law to cover it up. Only a deeply corrupted and blind ideology could see Clinton's crimes as more serious.

The Miers withdrawal is timed suspiciously to divert attention away from today's indictments. The hope is clearly that media attention will be divided, the public will dismiss the scandal as a minor affair concerning one or two marginal players in the administration, and that Bush will be able to ram an ultra-conservative jurist through Congress. I would fear the worst if I were you. Frankly, I would have preferred a malleable and weak Bush crony, who would be isolated as soon as Bush leaves office, to some powerful, Constitution-as-suicide-pact originalist like Janice Rogers Brown, who will form an alliance with Scalia and Thomas to overturn a century of jurisprudential precedent in the service of 19-century aristocratic, free-market ideology. I don't think the Democrats are strong enough to block the nomination of any qualified candidate, even if their ideology is bat-shit crazy. People just don't care enough, nor do enough of them recognize the long-term reordering of American society that this regime wants to usher in through the back-door of the Supreme Court. They are too busy figuring out how to pay the skyrocketing heating bill this winter when their wages haven't risen in any serious way against inflation since Bush took office.

The only good news is that there is a turning point in sight in the form of the 2006 congressional elections. If the Democrats can unite and either take away or cut into Bush's governing majority, it could set the stage for a more comprehensive comeback in 2008. But this will only happen when Democrats start telling the truth about the effects of and alternatives to Bush's destructive policies. They need a narrative, and that narrative needs to include things like fair trade, national health insurance, and the moral right a decent life in America, even for the worst off. Otherwise no one will vote for them, nor should they. Unfortunately, 2008 is three years away, and there is no ceiling on the amount of damage these people can do at home and abroad in the intervening years. But hey, America, you voted for them. You know what they say about beds and lying. Get cozy.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Sunday cat-blogging
Alyan hates that you Democrats are always trying to criminalize politics. He's said it before and he'll say it again: Objectively Pro-Saddam. Posted by Picasa

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tuesday Cat Blogging
Miles believes we should use New Orleans as a ground-zero testing ground for crappy conservative ideas like vouchers and the flat tax. He also -- and he's very serious about this -- believes that "Brownie" did a heckuva job.

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