Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Good Many Dramatic Situations Begin With Screaming

And we all thought Ashcroft was bad.

Well, okay, he was, and is. But Alberto Gonzales, nominated to replace Ashcroft as United States Attorney General. should in fact be disbarred.

Exhibit A: The memo narrowly redefining torture. (Here's a quick refresher on 'em from The New York Times.) Torture is not an American value; it's not a human value. What part of "We are the Good Guys, and we do not torture people" is so difficult to understand?

Yet Gonzales not only specifically requested the memo, he did everything he could in his Senate confirmation hearings to avoid answering questions about it.

Exhibit B: Gonzales got George W. Bush out of jury duty in Texas in 1995 under, shall we say, dubious circumstances.

I mean, sure, fine, no one really likes jury duty, but most people -- especially those considering public office -- recognize it as part of their civic responsibility, and even take pride in it. Dubya? He gets his lawyer to pull some back-room negotiations. Oh, not wanting to reveal his criminal convictions might've had something to do with it.

The entire concept of representative government is selecting the best and the brightest to represent us, We The People. The entire record of the Bush Administration has been to reward allies, cronies, and contributors. The Gonzales nomination is a classic example: Someone who used to help Dubya back in Texas, now being rewarded with high office -- a high office he is uniquely unqualified for.

Contact your Senators and tell them to vote an emphatic NO on Alberto Gonzales.

(Thanks to the excellent Armando and Tom P at The Daily Kos for some of the linkage above.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I've Never Seen So Many Trying To Cover So Much With So Little

Tomorrow, we have the repulsive spectacle of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice being confirmed as our new Secretary of State.

She should be fitted for a prison jumpsuit.

She was one of the major cheerleaders of Dubya's insane invasion of Iraq. (Remember "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"?)

The President's daily briefing for August 6, 2001 featured a memo titled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike Inside U.S." Condi did nothing, and seemed baffled as to why the 9/11 Commission would ask about it.

Contact your Senators and tell them to vote NO on Condi Rice.

Friday, January 21, 2005

You Know, These Exercises Are Fantastic -- When The Day Comes We Have To Go To War Against Utah, We're Really Going To Kick Ass, Y'Know?

At least we won't have to wait around wondering:
President Bush refuses to rule out war with Iran. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami says his country is ready to defend itself against a U.S. attack. The United States is pushing for a peaceful solution to its nuclear impasse with Iran but, with mistrust on both sides running high, encouraging signs are hard to find.

"You look around the world at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the list," Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday in an interview with radio host Don Imus, hours before being sworn in to a second term.


"We don't want a war in the Middle East if we can avoid it," Cheney quickly added, "and certainly, in the case of the Iranian situation, I think everybody would best suited by, and or best treated or dealt with, if we could deal with it diplomatically."

Gee, I hate to bring everybody down, but we already have a fucking war in the Middle East.

Perhaps the most pessimistic comment of all this week came from Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.

"There may be nothing we can do to persuade Iran not to develop weapons of mass destruction," Biden said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing for Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice.

Let's see. We named Iran one of three nations in an "axis of evil". In spite of the whole world, we invaded the weakest one; we're still not talking to the strongest. Eeyup, I wouldn't get rid of my WMD programs either.

This, on the first day of the new regime.

It's gonna be a long four years.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Most Effective, Your Majesty. Will You Destroy This Earth?

Well, that went smoothly.

(By the way: fuck the concept of "designated protest areas", mm-kay? Just fuck it.)

Update: Holden at First Draft has a whole bunch of pictures.

Don't Worry -- This'll Only Hurt A Lot

Oh, those wacky Conservative Christians:
"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results.

SpongeBob needed no introduction. In addition to his popularity among children, who watch his cartoon show, he has become a well-known camp figure among adult gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."

Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."


On Wednesday... Paul Batura, assistant to Mr. Dobson at Focus on the Family, said the group stood by its accusation.

"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said. "It is a classic bait and switch."

'Cause, y'know, seeing an animated anthropomorphized sponge wearing squared-off pants and holding hands, or whatever, with an animated anthropomorphized starfish wearing purple-and-green Bermuda shorts gets me so hot for some gay lovin'.

First, how terrible and lonely it must be, to be so afraid of something that doesn't even affect you. Because that is the core point. Two men or two women -- or, for that matter, two men and two women in one big group, or any other configuration of consenting adults -- are people in love. Period. And, so long as no one gets hurt, what they do is no one's business but their own.

Second, as has been stated a few gazillion times, and is the case no matter how much the evangelicals may hate it, the First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees freedom of and from religion. Which means that US citizens may worship whatever they like, or worship nothing at all.

Dobson (and Donald Wildmon, and Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, and, and, and...) can't seem to get past this. They also can't seem to get past the I-would've-thought-blazingly-obvious contradiction that, if gays are condemned to hell, then their all-powerful God really doesn't need any help. Of course, they also can't see the obvious contradiction inherent in a character named Mermaid Man, so perhaps I shouldn't expect too much.

The creator of Spongebob has said the character is not gay. Googling "spongebob gay" gets, shall we say, a lot of active discussions on the topic. I haven't asked any of my gay friends if they have adopted Spongebob as a hero; none of them have mentioned it.

If Dobson et al. are so very offended by gays and gayness, they don't have to look.

But here, to me, is the really big thing: These hateful, spiteful, frightened people are so freaked out by even the potential for gayness that they are:
Dobson? Never mind being an ignorant, superstitious, self-righteous asshole. You're emotionally disturbed. Please, sir. Seek professional help. Because, my friend, you are worried about the dick on an animated cartoon sponge.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

One Of Us Has Made A Gross Error, And Wasted The Other Person's Valuable Time

Defanged dissent.

Harlan Ellison invoked that term some thirty-five years ago. That's what we have today.

I spoke with a friend this morning, who had just seen the guys behind JibJab on The Today Show. They said they were going to play an excerpt from JibJab's newest web animation... but they ended up playing the whole thing. And my friend thought this was A Big Deal, what with The Today Show airing such a daring point of view criticizing the Bush administration.

I just caught the new JibJab piece. It's utterly tame. Bland, even.

Yeah, it's got Dubya marking "No Gay Marriage" on the Constitution in crayon. Savage, biting satire, that.

Dissent means calling bullshit on Dubya's insane policies. Pointing out how he misdirects attention away from himself and his cronies. Refuting his numerous lies.

We sure got some "dissent" in the Condi Rice hearings, didn't we? All those vicious questions... and then all the vicious questioners, with the exceptions of John Kerry and Barbara Boxer and disappointingly including Barack Obama, voted for Condi.

Oh, yeah, babe. Dissent.

Salon printed an excellent Scandal Sheet the other day. (Subscription, or sitting through a few quick ads, required.) But, even with all that documentation at the ready -- and this is merely the newest compilation; there are many, many such that have been created over the past four years -- our elected representatives on both sides of the aisle seem reluctant to call our Preznit on his slight missteps.

Fuck that. I want some noise, dammit. And if our elected representatives don't make it... it's up to us.

(Cross-posted to the Digital Acoustic LiveJournal.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Somebody's Gotta Go Back And Get A Shitload O' Dimes

Well, actually, we won't. One of the ways to "celebrate" the Corona- er, Inauguration is Not One Damn Dime Day. The idea is simple: On January 20, the day of Chimpy's swearing in, don't spend any money. As in, don't spend any money. Let's see how close we can get to shutting down the retail economy.

Another idea with traction is Turn Your Back On Bush.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Don't Get Me Wrong -- I Love The Ladies, But They Don't Belong In The Newsroom

What the hell is it with David Brooks and wanting people to work until they drop?

For example, consider a common life sequence for an educated woman. She grows up and goes to college. Perhaps she goes to graduate school. Then, during her most fertile years, when she has the most energy for child-rearing, she gets a job. Then, sometime after age 30, she marries. Then, in her mid-30's, when she has acquired the maturity and character to make intelligent career choices, she takes time off to raise her kids.

Several years hence, she seeks to re-enter the labor force. She may or may not be still interested in the field she was trained for (two decades earlier). Nonetheless, she finds a job, works for 15 years or so, then spends her final 20 years in retirement.

This is not necessarily the sequence she would choose if she were starting from scratch. For example, it might make more sense to go to college, make a greater effort to marry early and have children. Then, if she, rather than her spouse, wants to stay home, she could raise children from age 25 to 35. Then at 35 (now that she knows herself better) she could select a flexible graduate program specifically designed for parents. Then she could work in one uninterrupted stint from, say, 40 to 70.

This option would allow her to raise kids during her most fertile years and work during her mature ones, and the trade-off between family and career might be less onerous.

But the fact is that right now, there are few social institutions that are friendly to this way of living. Social custom flows in the opposite direction.

Have you got stock in some refurbished Nike factories or something, Bobo, that you need all those extra kids? It's not bad enough that you're shilling for the Great Social Security Disembowelment, and your plan hacks away twenty years of putting money into that, but you actually want women to gear up for BEGINNING their career training after having spent twenty years raising the kids -- their "most fertile years", thanks so very much for reducing women's entire existence to an expiration date on the womb (and I notice that, in Bobo's world, there's no mention of any male role in the child-rearing).

And it's possible, given that you don't actually do anything for a living yourself, that you may not have noticed, but the work force is not friendly to older workers, and it's also harder to train for a new career at that age, and many people at that age have suddenly found themselves with parents who need part- or full-time care.

Jesus Christ. It's literally keep-'em-uneducated-barefoot-and-pregnant time.

The hilarious thing is that Brooks tries to portray this as "[women] do not have more choices over how they want to sequence their lives". Indeed, thou must be fruitful and multiply, and then we'll work your ass to the bone. Check out this horrific passage:
I suspect that if more people had the chance to focus exclusively on child-rearing before training for and launching a career, fertility rates would rise. That would be good for the country, for as Phillip Longman, author of "The Empty Cradle," has argued, we are consuming more human capital than we are producing - or to put it another way, we don't have enough young people to support our old people. (That's what the current Social Security debate and the coming Medicare debate are all about.)
People -- their hopes, their dreams, their wants, their needs -- are nothing to Brooks. Child-rearing, career, fertility rates, "human capital".

This is a perfect illustration of why the fights over reproductive rights and workers' rights are so vital. Brooks' thesis here is nothing less than an attempt to reduce an entire class of people to cogs in the Great Machine of American Business, cranking out babies and then laboring till they keel over. Pro-birth, pro-business, anti-women, under the guise of "good for the country".

Please, just go play with your Barbies, Bobo, and keep your damn hands off real women's lives.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

You've Been Living In A Dream World, Neo

So, it's finally happened. William Safire has gone off the deep end:

We also see the mark of character, or lack of it, in political parties. The Republican Party today is characterized by a mission to defeat terror while exporting freedom abroad, and a policy to restrain taxes while increasing social spending at home.

Such a sharply defined character has led to electoral success and control of the White House, the Congress, state legislatures and the Supreme Court. Though George W. Bush is not an overwhelmingly beloved leader, he won a clear majority because most swing voters felt he resolutely stood for what he believed in. Their votes for character had coattails.

The G.O.P. personality will split in a couple of years, as all huge majorities do in America. Idealistic neocons will be challenged by plodding, pragmatic paleocons, who, by fuzzing the party's present character, will someday lead it down the road to defeat.


History has shown that U.S. optimism has not been misplaced. But what of reports of global griping at America's superpower arrogance - at our government's triumphalism? Has our character been warped by victories in three world wars?

Call me a chauvinist unilateralist, but I believe America's human and economic sacrifices for the advance of freedom abroad show our personal, political and national character to be stronger and better than ever. This moral advance will be more widely appreciated as an Islamic version of democracy takes root. (What's triumphalism without a triumph?)

It is that growing strength of national character - more than our individual genius or political leadership or military power - that ensures the future success of America and brightens the light of liberty's torch.

I'm actually not sure what to say in the face of such blinding, arrogant ignorance.

The Republican Party's mission to defeat terror -- as has been pointed out, it's kinda difficult to defeat a technique, but we'll let that pass -- would have a lot more credibility if they, y'know, did stuff that might negatively affect terrorists. Like find them. (Which they may not even want to.) Like secure our infrastructure.

Exporting freedom? Yeah, that's going well.

"Restraining" taxes? How about giving the wealthy huge tax cuts, and making local and state governments pick up the slack? (Just Google "tax cuts go to wealthy" and start reading. Your mind will melt.) Here's an example from my local paper, just today.

Increase social spending? Oh man. Where do we begin? Well, here. And here. And here, here, here, and here.

And that's just one paragraph. I literally could spend all day analyzing this, interrupted only by bashing my head against the desk in disbelief.

What we have here is a man so divorced from reality that he refers to those chickenhawks who dream of empire, in spite of the cautions, advice, and flat-out warnings of people with actual experience in the military, as "Idealistic neocons". Who refers to huge tax cuts for the wealthy in a time of unnecessary war, keeping people in the military after their terms were to have ended and even calling back retired soldiers, and heaping generations of uncounted, unbudgeted debt into an illegal invasion (and the coffers of hand-picked profiteers) as "America's human and economic sacrifices for the advance of freedom abroad". And, indeed, "What's triumphalism without a triumph" -- what fun is it to show yourself superior and beat up on the helpless if you can't gloat?

I'll continue this post later. Right now, I need some bicarb.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Rest Of America Don't Mean Jack Shit -- You In Mississippi Now

How terrible it is to be oppressed:
A conservative group is threatening to sue the Secret Service for religious discrimination over security guidelines that would ban Christian crosses from President Bush's inaugural parade route.


The directive also prohibited folding chairs, bicycles and other structures, and displays "such as puppets, papier mache objects, coffins, crates, crosses, theaters, cages and statues."

"The way it's written, it's an unequivocal ban on crosses," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. The group is seeking to have the prohibition overturned in federal court if the Secret Service fails to retract it.

"They are not banning large displays of the Star of David or Islamic symbols," Mahoney said. "The only resolution is that they would have to pull 'crosses' out. And they could easily protect religious freedom by saying, 'We ban all structures made of wood."'

The Secret Service was working on a clarification Monday to resolve the flap. Spokesman Tom Mazur said the ban on crosses "is strictly in regards to structures -- certainly not the symbol."

"There is no prohibition on crosses, symbols or messages based on content -- only structures made of materials or of a size that could be used in a potentially threatening or harmful manner," Mazur said.

Quite frankly, Fuck You, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. Whether you and your fellow superstitious nits want to accept it or not, the inauguration of the President of the U.S. is not supposed to be a religious festival.

On the other hand, this year we are coronating a boy king, a chimp, a man who claims Jesus is his favorite philosopher but who doesn't go to church himself. So, what the hell. Have your damn crosses.

Y'know, they show up better on TV if you light 'em on fire.

All Is Fair In Love And War -- And This Is Revolution

Two subject lines today. Here's the second: "You can ruin our reputation and our life with a few well-chosen words. So of course I had to invent not only myself but ways of escape no one has every thought of before."

You'll see why.

There's a fascinating take on the Democratic party at USA Today (by way of Yahoo). You should go read the whole thing. But there are some interesting phrasings of the perception of the problem:
Democrats "as a group are uneasy" about attacking and defending on character, says Harold Ickes, a former Clinton aide who heads the Media Fund, a political ad organization. "But they damn well better get the stomach," he adds, because "we've seen way too many of our candidates taken down on issues of character."
Let's make a new definition, okay? When Mr. Ickes says "Democrats", above, he does not mean "people who think of themselves as Democrats". He means "the current crop of Democratic politicians, television pundits, and party officials".

Why do I make such a distinction? Because for several years now, we -- that is, Democratic bloggers, commenters, party workers, friends, family members -- have been
begging the Party to call these lying fuckers... well, lying fuckers. We're not uneasy, we're enraged that our party, our supposed voices, are just bending over and taking it. If you don't believe me, check out any blog listed to the right -- any one -- and look at the language there. Concise, evocative, accurate, and direct.

I suspect that the reasons the Repubs have become so adept at slapping Dems with character issues and "moral values" is a combination of things. The Dems don't want to look petty, i.e., getting into a game of "Whoa, yeah? Well
you guys did...". The Repubs, for the most part, have apparently had their shame and in some cases humanity surgically removed.

But the biggest reason is that, in the name of human decency and politeness -- which, understand, I am all for in most cases, thank you very much -- we are not using the right words for things. When I started looking for citations for this post, I had a different argument in mind. But a quick Google of "Gonzalez testimony", regarding last week's fun in the Senate Judiciary Committee, gave me some lovely opening lines.

From the Washington Post editorial:
"ALBERTO R. GONZALES missed an important opportunity yesterday to rectify his position, and that of President Bush, on the imprisonment and interrogation of foreign detainees. At the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on his nomination to be attorney general, Mr. Gonzales repeatedly was offered the chance to repudiate a legal judgment that the president is empowered to order torture in violation of U.S. law and immunize torturers from punishment. He declined to do so...."
Isn't that nice? He missed an important opportunity. I've got a slight revision for you: "ALBERTO R. GONZALEZ thinks it's okay to torture people. He gave long, legalistic justifications for inflicting severe pain on human beings. He tortures not only human beings but the law and the spirit of the law. He doesn't deserve to be Attorney General; he deserves to be disbarred on this point alone. But let's go on...."

From the ACLU:
The American Civil Liberties Union today called Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales’ confirmation hearing testimony vague, evasive, and said that it ultimately raises more questions than answers about the Bush administration’s role in formulating legal policies surrounding the abuse of prisoners in American custody.

"While Gonzales hoped to quiet concerns about his nomination in today’s confirmation hearings, he ironically refused to answer some of the important questions about his policies that may have contributed to widespread torture and abuse," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "Gonzales couldn’t even ‘remember’ if he approved or agreed with a now disavowed memo addressed to him in 2002 that justified certain torture techniques."

While as a matter of policy, the American Civil Liberties Union neither opposes nor endorses the Gonzales nomination, Romero said that the nominee’s testimony during today’s hearing has been frustrating at best.

Uh, guys? You're the organization that defends the Bill of Rights. First thing: No torture. Mm-kay? And what's this "vague, evasive... raised more questions than it answered" wording? Put it later in the press release. With the first line, you're supposed to be going for the hearts and minds of America here, framing your sound bite. Say "Alberto Gonzalez refused to directly answer questions about his justification for torture, which apparently led to the widespread abuses at Abu Ghraib."

Senator Joe Biden, the one who's supposed to be the attack dog on the committee, going after Gonzalez? He spends so much time in a lecture that ended with "We're looking for candor, old buddy. I love you, but you're not very candid so far" that Gonzalez didn't have to be candid -- his time was up.

Here's from the transcript of Meet the Press this week. Mention of Gonzalez? None. Not one word.

Dick Meyer actually gave a pretty good smackdown of Gonzalez on but how much of one are we going to get on The CBS Evening News? That would be "none".

Then there's this whole Armstrong Williams fiasco. No sympathy for the guy here -- he took himself down. But three Senators wrote a letter to the White House demanding explanations on this payola scheme. Where the hell were they when Gonzalez was nominated? Why didn't they write a letter saying, "Fuck you, send somebody who's not a torturer"?

Amy Sullivan points out something that the blogs have been going on about for months: The Dems keep hiring the same losers -- as in, inept, unable-to-win advisors -- over and over again.

Meanwhile, in the last ten years, among many other things:

What is being said about all these things? Not fuckin' much. Not by our most public spokespersons. Not by the ones we fucking elected to represent us.

So, yeah, Harold Ickes' "Democrats" had indeed damn well better learn to attack and defend on character issues. Because they only think they do.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

TOPSY TURVY! Everything is Upsy-Daisy -- TOPSY TURVY! Everyone Is Acting Crazy

There's an interesting planet we've seen more of lately -- the planet of New York Times columnist David Brooks, or, as Atrios calls it, Bobo's World.

For me, the best way to describe Bobo's World is kinda like a Jimmy Stewart movie, the scene where he pleads something like, "Don'tcha see? Don'tcha see? It doesn't have to be like this -- it can be better...." Except he then envisions something so completely divorced from reality that you blink, shake your head, and wonder if one of you needs to adjust their medication.

Brooks' column in today's Times is an excellent example of this. It's all about Bush's upcoming attempt to disembowe- er, save Social Security. Forget, for a moment, that the entire argument is a sham -- that Paul Krugman and others have shown how Social Security may need some very minor tweaking, but it doesn't need to be overhauled unless, say, you want to siphon some of its money in a big payoff to the financial institutions who backed your presidential campaign. Let's just look at Brooks' view of the politics of the thing, shall we?
Here are five observations about the politics of Social Security reform:

First, many Republicans will be loathe to back a bill that has no Democratic support. They don't want to transform a big, popular program without bipartisan cover.

Gee, ya think? If the Repubs ramrod something like this through with no Dem support, it will pretty much expose the Repubs as everything we on the left have been saying about them for years.

Second, it will be hard to get Democratic votes for a bill that includes personal accounts. Democrats oppose them for the same reason that Republicans support them: because they think the accounts will create Republicans. People who have them will start thinking like investors.
This is at best misleading, but why take it at best? It's bullshit. The Dems think -- and this is certainly the way the evidence points -- that the accounts will endanger the savings of millions of taxpayers. Social Security is a big group insurance program at core, and the president's proposals take a substantial chunk of that change and play it on the stock market. One bad day can wipe out millions of people's retirements. Don't think it can't happen? Enron. The high-tech bubble. The Crash of '87.
Third, any compromises that win you Democratic votes in the Senate, lose you Republican votes in the House. For example, if Senate Republicans raise the payroll tax caps, they might get some Democrats. But they will lose House Republicans by the dozens. This is the cruel logic we are going to come across again and again this Congress. Changes that build majorities in one house destroy majorities in the other.

I'm still trying to make sense of this one. It's like the "flypaper" theory of terrorists -- if they're all in Iraq, see, the US is safe. If there is a "steady state" number of voters between the House and Senate, it's along party lines, not compromises.

Fourth, even if Republicans try to go it alone, they probably will not agree among themselves. If the White House comes out with a bill that cuts benefits, the Democrats won't have to go into opposition. Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp and Steve Forbes will already be there. On the other hand, if there are no benefit cuts, the financial markets may go ballistic. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is working on a Third Way approach to please both sides. If he can do it, he's a magician.

Besides the fact that the White House has already discussed cutting benefits, Brooks' chosen opposition is telling. Last I checked, Gingrich, Kemp, and Forbes haven't won any elected office in a long time. They're talking heads from a bygone age -- except that they still wield phenomenal power of propagandizing. What about votes from currently elected officials, hmmm?

And his second point is also disturbing, if shallow. If there aren't benefit cuts, the financial markets may go ballistic? Why? The higher the benefits, the more money going into the markets, right? If there are percentage-based fees, the more money that goes to them as well. If someone could explain this to me, I'd appreciate it.

Fifth, the administration is doing a poor job of communicating with members. Republicans, except at the top, feel isolated. They doubt that John Snow or anybody else in the administration has enough skill and authority to guide this through Congress.

Got that right. Dubya is making this a big prioirity, but not telling any of his allies how to sell it. Maybe because there isn't a way, but we'll let that pass.

All of this adds up to big trouble. Does that mean you walk away from Social Security reform? No. It makes sense to preserve and modernize New Deal and Great Society programs so they fit tomorrow's world. But it does mean you stop and look for alternate routes before you hit the roadblock.
There's a big roadblock that the Repubs don't want to talk about, and fortunately the Dems are talking about: Social Security works. Less than 1% of money paid into it goes to overhead; more than 99% goes where it should, to benefits payments. But this apparently isn't good enough:
Next, it would be useful to broaden the frame of discussion. All the talk so far revolves around Option 2 from the president's 2001 commission. Why limit ourselves? There are dozens of creative reform ideas out there.... [Some] suggest a consumption tax.
Ahhh, the consumption tax. Penalize those who don't save! Of course, most people don't make enough to have substantial savings nowadays -- many are living hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck -- and our entire economy is geared to consumption. This nails poor-to-middle-class people in the worst way, because they consume the most.
Politically, blending Social Security reform with tax reform gives you more moving parts. There are more opportunities for negotiation and compromise.
Funny, I've learned over the years that, the more things something does, the less well it tends to do all of them. Legislation is no different. And blending the straightforward pay-in-pay-out mechanics of Social Security with the vast tangle of tax legislation that "reform" will leave, as it has every other time it's been reformed, will only provide more opportunities for confusion and exclusion.

But here's the part where Brooks is at his best -- saying nothing, in a manner calculated to be eloquent but ultimately both clumsy and vacuous:

The president's role - at the Inauguration and the State of the Union address and after - will be to educate the country about the problem and lay out some parameters. He doesn't need to say what the legislation should look like. That's too wonky. He should talk about what the country should look like. Social Security is more than accounting; it's values.
Values? I've got a value for you: Not giving substantial amounts of money to investment firms from the retirement plans of old people, so those retirees don't starve in the street.

Here are some of the values he might endorse:

First, Social Security reform should liberate our kids, not shackle them. It should eliminate the fiscal overhang so they have the money to tackle the problems that will arise in their own day.

Second, the reform should be transparent, so that people can see what kind of return they are getting on the money they put into the system. People should have information about their own lives.

Third, it should enhance people's control over their own retirement. In a self-governing democracy, citizens should do for themselves what they can do for themselves.

I have no idea what the fuck he is saying here, except that people should be self-aware and do what they are able to. Thanks, Brooks. That's helpful. Except, of course, that part of the point of Social Security is to help people who sometimes aren't self-aware, and who even if they are have little or no knowledge of the financial markets, and who have tried to do for themselves, but circumstances have thwarted them. They don't want to become investors. They want to eat, and to sleep under a roof.

Fourth, people should be encouraged to work longer. In an age in which many live into their 90's, we should be making better use of people in their 70's and 80's.
In which his fucking ghoulish heart manifests itself. During the late 80s and early 90s, McDonald's had a series of posters, encouraging retirees to come in and work for Mickey D's to have fun, to get to know people, and, if necessary, to help make ends meet. I've known more than enough senior citizens to know that nobody works in a fucking McDonald's for fun and to get to know people. Especially a senior -- he or she has nothing in common with kids young enough to be their grandchildren, and the work is physically demanding even at the simplest level. Wal*Mart employees, same thing. They're not there for socializing -- they're there because they're desperate. And "making better use" of seniors reduces these people's lives, experiences, and sacrifices to commodities to be expended and then discarded. Besides, if people work longer, we can up the age at which we start making payments -- say, to 70, or 72, or 75. And some of those old folks won't make it that long. It's a sure money-saver!
Fifth, we need a savings revolution. The plan should encourage the nation to save more, to create more capital for America's future greatness.
Reality and Brooks have an adversarial relationship. Again, this is really great if you can afford to save. Most people can't. And, between the constant encouragement of (and measurement of the success of the economy based on) consumption and the hideous mountain of personal debt in this country through credit cards and mortgages, more and more people are making more and more payments with the money Brooks airily suggests they should be saving.
This is a time to trust the legislative process. Social Security has a better chance of passage if Congress leads. It's also time to think big. Social Security reform plus tax reform go a long way toward getting you to an ownership society.
And this is the heart of Dubya's horrific "ownership society" -- making people, especially poor and middle-class people, pay cash-on-the-barrelhead for services which, for generations, we have all paid for with taxes.

Government exists to do what individuals can't and private companies won't. Individuals can't provide police and fire protection or negotiate international trade agreements or maintain food and water safety standards and pollution controls or preserve parks or guarantee the health of old people. Private companies can do much of this, but they do so with their own interests at heart, and for as much profit as possible. Taxes pay for a great many good things, and tax reform should encourage those who have the most to help those who have the least, not because we want to penalize people for being rich, but because it's good -- Biblically good, if you wish -- to help those in need, so that they have food, shelter, comfort, and hope.

But not in Bobo's World. There, everyone is an investment wizard, and we can all be rich if we just clap our hands and believe.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Why Is It Always The Assholes Who Pass The Test?

To all the people who are now ambivalent about Dubya:

Welcome to our world. Or maybe the world.

We've been telling you about this man and his thugs for four years. We've had to live with our stomachs in knots, watching our country perform acts of insanity, brutality, and downright evil. And new revalations come every day, sometimes in groups.

Thing is, we tried to stop him. We tried to stop you. We said, "This guy is a liar, and a thief, and as compassionate as a Brillo pad on an open wound, and he is stripping away everything that actually makes America great." And we're going to continue to hammer at him, because this is America, and the truth will set us free, until Dubya abolishes the courts and builds his gulags and seals the borders, which is scheduled for Tuesday the 25th.

Those activism links on the right side of this page are but the tip of the iceberg. Check 'em out. Find out what's really happening in the world. Put a specific name to your ambivalence. Justify your unease.

Save the nation and the world. Before your appointed leader destroys both.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

So Much Time And So Little To Do! Wait A Minute -- Strike That -- Reverse It

Let's see. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) signed on to the challenge of Ohio's twenty electoral votes, forcing actual public debate on the matter. I don't believe the challenge will change the outcome, but there were way, way too many discrepancies, almost all of which favored the Republicans, to let it go without something. You can write a thank-you note to Sen. Boxer here.

Attorney General nominee Albert Gonzalez is on the hot seat today. The first part included some fawning by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the guy famous for man-on-box-turtle sex. You can follow it live at C-Span. And here's a guide at the NY Times showing just why this Gonzalez fella has danced his impish way into our hearts.

And, the Dover Area School District near Harrisburg, PA is determined to introduce "Intelligent Design" to science classes. I simply have to include this quote from the story:
Intelligent Design does not presuppose any supernatural being, and is not creationism, the school district said in its response....
Well, then. Must be some guy named Larry. He had a kit.

A big kit.

These people are in charge of your children's education, Dover Area School District. Let 'em know what you think.

(Cross-posted to my LJ, Tom Smith And His Digital Acoustic LiveJournal.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

You've Got ME!? Who's Got YOU??

Just got the newest letter from John Kerry:

No American citizen should wake up the morning after the election and worry their vote wasn't counted. No citizen should be denied at the polls if they are eligible to vote. And, as the greatest, wealthiest nation on earth, our citizens should never be forced to vote on old, unaccountable and non transparent voting machines from companies controlled by partisan activists.

Tomorrow, members of Congress will meet to certify the results of the 2004 presidential election. I will not be taking part in a formal protest of the Ohio Electors.

Despite widespread reports of irregularities, questionable practices by some election officials and instances of lawful voters being denied the right to vote, our legal teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.

But, that does not mean we should abandon our commitment to addressing those problems that happened in Ohio. We must act today to make sure they never happen again.

I urge you to join me in using this occasion to highlight our demand that Congress commit itself this year to reforming the electoral system. A Presidential election is a national federal election but we have different standards in different states for casting and counting votes. We need a national federal standard to solve the problems that occurred in the 2004 election. I will propose legislation to help achieve this.

Florida 2000 was a wake up call. But the Republicans who control Congress ignored it. Will they now ignore what happened in 2004?

There are nearly 3,000,000 of you receiving this email. We accomplished so much together during the campaign. Now let's use our power to make sure that at least one good thing comes from the voting rights problems of the 2004 election. If we want to force real action on election reform, we've got to demand that congressional leaders hold full hearings. Make sure they hear from you and help hold them accountable.

Speaker Dennis Hastert: 1-202-225-0600
Leader Bill Frist: 1-202-224-3135

And please report that you've made your call right here:

I want every vote counted because Americans have to know that the votes they stood in line for, fought for, and strived so hard to cast in an election, are counted. We must make sure there are no questions or doubts in future elections. It's critical to our democracy that we investigate and act to prevent voting irregularities and voter intimidation across the country. We can't stand still as Congressional leaders seek to sweep well-founded voter concerns under the rug.

Please join with me in calling Speaker Hastert and Leader Frist and telling them that you want action on election reform now.

A recent report from Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) reveals very troubling questions that have not yet been answered by Ohio election officials. I commend the Democratic National Committee for its announcement this week that the DNC will be investing resources and reaching out to non-partisan academics in a long term study of Ohio voting irregularities. I am only sorry that we haven't seen the same from Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell and GOP officials.

Congress must play a positive, proactive role on this issue. That's why I will soon introduce legislation to reform our election system, ensuring transparency and accountability in our voting system and that all Americans have an opportunity to vote and have their vote counted.

Please remember to let us know that you made your call when you're done. We're hoping to ensure House and Senate leaders' offices hear our demand for action on election reform in meaningful way. Please take a moment to let us know you have made your call here:

Thank you,

John Kerry

P.S. Thanks to all those who participated in our USO "phone home" campaign last week. The totals are coming in from the USO, and they are thrilled with your generosity and support for our brave men and women in uniform. We will send you totals as we get them.

Well, excuse me for not jumping up and down and doing handsprings.

I mean, yeah, I'll call Hastert and Frist. I'll call my Senators, Levin and Stabenow; I'll call my Representative, John Dingell. But y'know something? I recall this man saying just before the election, "America, I've got your back."

And y'know something else? He conceded before the returns were in.

So, let's go over this literary gem.

Paragraph one. Obvious, obvious, obvious. But why hasn't anything been done about it? Well, we'll get to that soon.

Paragraph two. He's not getting involved with the protest. Why not? At this point, what can it possibly cost him? Does he think the Repubs might call him a whiny crybaby? They've already called him a traitor, a murderer, and a supporter of terrorism. What's left, Voodoo priest? Necrophiliac? Alien invader?

Paragraphs three through five. No evidence that would change the outcome. But that doesn't mean we should sit by and take it. Yeah, no shit, thanks a lot now, pal.

Paragraph six is the real money quote, though, addressing exactly that: "
Florida 2000 was a wake up call. But the Republicans who control Congress ignored it. Will they now ignore what happened in 2004?"

You asshole, they planned it. They didn't ignore it -- they literally counted on it.

The rest of the letter commends some people, expresses disappointment with others, and -- I love this -- calls upon Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist to hold hearings on the whole voting-is-fucked-up thing. Hastert and Frist
, two of the biggest liars and conniving scumboys in government, are gloating about their more solid majorities and are trying to gut the rules so that the minority has no power at all, e.g., disemboweling the filibuster.

Mr. Kerry, what you and the rest of your party should've been doing is screaming about this since day one. The reason that the government has been able to use the media so effectively to lie to the country time and time again is not merely because they are largely bought and paid for subsidiaries of BushCo, but because you refuse to call things by their real names -- for instance, lies, theft, lawbreaking, stuff like that.

You, and all the Republicans as well, are the employees of the people.

You say you've got our back? Start acting like it. Don't wait for us to call and write. Just do it. Just go on the Senate floor when there are actually people there and everything, and say, "This is a problem, it's been a problem for awhile, and why haven't you, the party in power, done anything about it?"

Don't be ruled by partisan politics. Do what you think is right. And be public about it. Be loud about it. Demand time on the TV shows. Go on all the damn networks. If Faux News doesn't have you on, or puts you on with three Republican talking heads, all of whom shout, say, "Why do you feel the need to lie about this? What are you hiding from the American people? We're all supposed to be in this together." If they call you on saying words like lies and theft and lawbreaking, say, "You've called me and my political allies much worse, with no evidence. Here's some evidence."

But, goddammit, before you have the gall to call upon us to phone two assholes who aren't even going to listen, show us something first.

Because, man, we had your back. And you folded like a map.

And What Do You Get For NOT Rehearsing?




Remember when Bush said that his amusing little Social Security plan would divert, say, two percent of your Social Security payment into an account? Well, it turns out that his actual plan is gonna ask for a little bit more:

The White House cautioned Tuesday that Bush had not decided on a specific plan.

But the administration is leaning toward letting workers divert 4 percentage points of their 6.2 percent in payroll taxes — almost two-thirds — into investment accounts, up to $1,000-$1,300 a year, the official said. The remainder of the workers' payroll taxes would continue going into the system.

The key words here, as pointed out by Atrios, are "percentage points". 4 percent of 6.2 percentage points is .248 -- not that much to risk out of 6.2. But, as mentioned above, 4 percentage points of 6.2 percentage points is 64-1/2 percent, damn near two-thirds.

To my chagrin,
this information has been out there for awhile. But the sell has been brutally misleading. Even recently, it was being described as "2 percent of their Social Security payroll taxes", which implies that 98% is still in the system, rather than 35%.

I've been trying to figure out for five years now under what possible logic it makes sense to divert a hunk of peoples' future into a stock market that has been unstable at best. And the only thing that makes any sense is the same ol' plan that BushCo has been actively pursuing all along: making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The Wall Street folks who will surely be called upon to manage the investment funds will get one hell of a sweet payout for that service, before one dime is made -- or lost -- in the markets.

They are lying about the financial health of Social Security in order to divert the bulk of the money in it to private investment firms. They will let old people starve on the street to enrich their own coffers.

Call or write your Congresscritter about this today.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

When I Want Your Opinion, I'll GIVE It To You

Senate Majority Bill "Cat Killer" Frist is in fine Evil Fuck form today (quote taken from Atrios):
In other words: "Remember when the Democrats had control of Congress and the White House, and we blocked Clinton's judicial nominations, sometimes for years? Well, that was good for us. That was us using the rules. Now that we're in charge, though, either you let through whoever Dubya nominates (because we have enough votes to win if it gets to the Senate floor), or else we'll change the rules so that you can't block anybody, and bring your own KY while you're at it, mm-kay?"

And this resembles democracy how...?

People Come And Go So Quickly Here!

By way of First Draft, we find out that we seem to be outnumbered in Iraq:
IRAQ’S rapidly swelling insurgency numbers 200,000 fighters and active supporters and outnumbers the United States-led coalition forces, the head of the country’s intelligence service said yesterday.

The number is far higher than the US military has so far admitted and paints a much grimmer picture of the challenge facing the Iraqi authorities and their British and American backers as elections loom in four weeks.

“I think the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people,” General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, director of Iraq’s new intelligence services, said.

Bomb attacks killed another 18 people yesterday, almost all of them members of the security services, and the head of the Baghdad division of the Iraqi National Guard admitted that his paramilitary police force had been infiltrated by people who are leaking information to the guerrillas.

General Shahwani said that there were at least 40,000 hardcore fighters attacking US and Iraqi troops, with the bulk made up of part-time guerrillas and volunteers providing logistical support, information, shelter and money.

“People are fed up after two years without improvement,” he said. “People are fed up with no security, no electricity, people feel they have to do something. The army (dissolved by the American occupation authority) was hundreds of thousands. You’d expect some veterans would join with their relatives, each one has sons and brothers.”

Combine this with our new death-toll and injury numbers, and this is obviously becoming a fiasco of epic proportions. And Dubya still insists there will be elections at the end of January, even though the Iraqi puppe- er, Prime Minister notes that there are serious impediments, and even though the Governor of Baghdad was killed yesterday, and even though more and more Iraqi officials are calling for a delay to make sure the Sunnis are represented, and even though the election workers are terrified to do their jobs, and even though no one's sure it will be safe to go to the polls.

And now we are sending families to Iraq.

This is beginning to look like a good time for some serious protesting, perhaps even calls for impeachment. Oh, there's no chance the Chimp will be impeached by his hired thugs, but at least getting it into the news -- especially at such a politically vulnerable time as right now -- may give some of the more stalwart Dems in Congress something to ponder, and perhaps even to act upon.

I've thrown a few more resource links along the right side -- casualty counts, impeachment sites, contact information for your senators and representatives. Give 'em a shout, and let 'em know that lying to the nation and to the world about the risks posed by a country that was and is no threat, sending our soldiers to illegally invade that country, and keeping them there in spite of rising opposition and continued bloodshed on both sides with no end in sight are acts worthy of the venerable description "high crimes and misdemeanors".

Monday, January 03, 2005

You Do Your Thing, And Let Me Do Mine

A great sadness. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, has passed away at the age of 80.

The story at, an article about her at, and a selection of her quotes.

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