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Tuesday, August 31, 2004
 
Schrock You Like A Hurricane

Yup. Another sex scandal; I repeat my ordinary disdain for them.


But this one, once again, is not a distraction, but a revelation;
it becomes a bona fide political issue when one of Congress'
chief gay-bashers turns out to have been doin' it on the Down
Low
, all the while he's very publicly hating the sinners with
which he cavorts.


When it comes to thumping on a Bible, there's
few in Congress who could outdo Representative
Ed Schrock
(R-VA). Considering the district he resides in (very
military
, and freakishly
Fundo
to boot), that's not surprising at all.


Irony of ironies, though ... little did we (or his constituents)
know that all this time it was the contents of Tijuana
Bibles
that he craved, rather than those of the venerable old
Burning
Bush Gazette


When
the story of
Congressman
Ed Schrock (R-VA-2)

first came to me, I was quite skeptical. After all, Congressman
Schrock's district includes parts of Hampton and Norfolk and all of
Virginia Beach, home to no less than NINE military facilities
and Pat Robertson’s Regent University! Nevertheless, the
activities of Congressman Schrock have been documented and verified
as thoroughly as any I have seen come before me and what I have
learned is, well, ScHrOCKING!

Congressman
Ed Schrock has made a habit of rendezvousing with gay men via the
MegaMates/
MegaPhone Line
,
an interactive telephone service on which men place ads and respond
to those ads to meet each other. What makes this story more amazing?
Congressman Schrock not only voted for the homophobic Marriage
Protection Act, but he also signed on as a
CO-SPONSOR
of the Federal Marriage Amendment!


The
Christian Coalition gives Congressman Schrock a 92% rating by the
way, according to the same website.


The
evidence gathered up is reportedly of the incontrovertible variety
... actual
recordings
of Schrock's personal ads and the like. It was
ironclad enough that Schrock didn't even try to counter the
allegations; he just called up a gaggle of reporters, and called
it quits
:


U.S.
Rep. Edward L. Schrock abruptly announced Monday that he will not
seek a third term in Congress, citing unspecified
allegations that have “called into question” his ability
to serve.


Although Schrock did not comment on
why he decided against seeking re-election, several Virginia
Republicans said allegations that Schrock is gay have roiled the
party since they were posted on a Web log Aug. 19.


[...]


I am totally, totally
shocked and disappointed. Whatever it is, he should have stayed in
and fought it. He’s a good Republican,” said Juanita
Bailey of Newport News, a delegate at the Republican National
Convention in New York.


Hardly, Juanita. Unless blind, stupid, power-drunk hypocrisy
really is the trademark of a good Republican nowadays.


Outing him is low political theater, but Schrock shouldn't
have buttered his bread with homophobic dairy products if he knew
that he was lactose intolerant. I mean ... that's just stupid; when
people smell your gas in the elevator every day on their way to work,
they're gonna figure out that something is up.


One of the few perks that come with being a part of the
Baal-worshiping, baby-eating, spit-on-the-Bible Liberal
Humanist Conspiracy
is that folks don't expect much from you on
the personal morality front.


I mean, when people walk into a room expecting to find you
casually tossing your firstborn child into the flaming maw of Molech
while reciting the Lord's Prayer in reverse, but instead just catch
you acting out scenes from Heather
Has Two Mommies
, they're going to be relieved.


Monday, August 30, 2004
 
Trans-Atlantic Flamingo Croquet, Anyone?

Maybe Lewis Carol could make sense of the foreign policy territory we're in with this administration.


Maybe ... but I'm not at all sure about that. Consider the plain weirdness of the age we live in: one in which our best friends commit acts of treachery and deceit against us, all the while our worst enemies come in from the cold to give us a hand.


Just consider how deep into the looking glass our relationship with Great Britain has become:



Michael Howard issued a blistering
rebuff to George W Bush yesterday after the President barred the Tory
leader from the White House as punishment for his attacks on Tony
Blair over the Iraq War.


In a furious phone call earlier
this year, Karl Rove, Mr Bush's closest adviser, told Mr Howard's
aides: “You can forget about meeting the President. Don't
bother coming. You are not meeting him.”


Yesterday, after the White House
ban was disclosed in the strongly pro-Blair Sun, Mr Howard issued a
strongly-worded statement: “A Conservative government would
work very closely with President Bush or President Kerry but my job
as leader of the Opposition is to say things as I see them in the
interests of our country and to hold our Government to account.”


If some people in the White
House, in their desire to protect Mr Blair, think I am too tough on
Mr Blair or too critical of him, they are entitled to their opinion.
But I shall continue to do my job as I see fit.”


Mr Howard's aides went even
further, insisting that he would “have nothing to do with those
trying to sustain Tony Blair in office wherever they might be.”


And you know the musk of anti-Americanism must be getting mighty pungent in Old Blighty, if even the Conservatives are able to catch a whiff of it:


The disclosure in yesterday's Sun
that Mr Bush had snubbed Mr Howard was widely assumed in Westminster
to have been a plant by Labour officials. However, Tory aides claimed
that if No 10 did leak the story the tactic had backfired as the
public would endorse Mr Howard's stand.


A senior Tory MP close to Mr Howard
said: “I don't think he will lose any sleep. The whole party
senses that whilst we want to be friends with America it is not
electorally helpful at the moment given the general reaction to the
Iraq war.


He's right. It's been only a few short years since our Boy Prince took office, but sneer-o-meter
readings
in traditionally amiable Great Britain are already seeing occasional spikes into the dreaded French Zone.


MP Howard has been identified in the past as the most pro-American
leader
the Tories have ever had. Note that his statement is not
really wavering from this position; he (and his aides) are very
carefully parsing out a stance that is much more anti-Bush
than it is anti-American.


Howard's declared agnostic stance regarding the American
presidential elections is especially telling, considering he is the
standard-bearer of conservatism in Great Britain. No one would blame
him, under ordinary circumstances, if he diplomatically stated his
ideological preference for a Republican president.


But these are not ordinary circumstances. Clearly, the current
American regime has not only shuffled the trans-Atlantic deck, but
gotten Howard's dander up as well. Imagine, if given the chance, that
the Tories could conceivably make political hay by running on a
Bush-hater
campaign!


In the meantime, Democrat John Edwards has been seen recently
prowling around out in point position, desperately
scrying
for any indications of a Blair-Democrat
reconciliation. There's no
sign
of that yet — although a clandestine
circle
of Labourite Blair alternatives (none dare call
them rivals ... yet)
have been spotted peering out from the viney undergrowth, just to
Edwards' immediate left.


All this has a weird, anti-gravity air about it, don't you think?
Like we're near a point when Karl Rove will stride up to the podium
at the Republican Convention, defiantly peel off his own face, and
reveal to a startled herd of elephants that the entire Bush
Experiment has been the brainchild of a demented, time-traveling
Nikola
Tesla
.


Should a Kerry presidency suddenly emerge from the fog, all the
pieces will certainly fall back onto the ground, and into their
proper places. Howard will once again be feted out by the finest and
whitest of rich white people our side of the pond; and Blair will get
up one morning and find Bobby
Ewing showering
in his bathroom, as if it were all just a bad,
rarebit-inspired dream.


But another four years of Bush, and who knows what the ideological
deck of cards will look like ... on both sides of the Atlantic? The
political alliances of 2012 may look as different to us as those of,
say, 1912 — with its fabled mint
julip
& machine
politics
Democrats on one side, and its queasy coalition of big
business
& social
justice
Republicans on the other.


Saturday, August 28, 2004
 
Are We Having Treason Yet?

Is it a spy case or not? There seems to be a bit of disagreement
on that issue among the varied bodies of the major media. Some
papers,
most notably the New
York Times
, appear to be deeply concerned about the
ramifications of the case, while other
sources
downplay the sensitivity of the information that have
been relayed to the Israelis.


Whether it is or not, two very interesting points have already
come up in the narrative (rather remarkable, considering the story is
barely a day old). First, there's the matter of whose office this
stink of treason is
emanating from
:


... the case is likely to attract
intense attention because the official being investigated works under
William J. Luti, deputy undersecretary of defense for Near East and
South Asian Affairs. Luti oversaw the Pentagon's “Office of
Special Plans,” which conducted some early policy work for the
2003 invasion of Iraq.


That office is one of two Pentagon
offices that Bush administration critics have claimed were set up by
Defense Department hawks to bypass the CIA and other intelligence
agencies, providing information that President Bush and others used
to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.


The other office was run by a
Luti superior, Douglas J. Feith
, undersecretary of defense for
policy, and was known as the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation
Group. Feith reports to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz,
who in turn reports to Rumsfeld.


Isn't that the most elegant string of culpability you've ever
seen? Beginning with the individual being investigated (whom the
above Post article identifies as Larry Franklin), the fishing
line runs up along a completely unbroken string of creepy neocons,
and drops its reeking bait right at the clawed, reptilian feet of
Donald Rumsfeld himself.


Other versions
of the story
are leapfrogging
the Luti link
, and going directly to Feith for the neocon
connection. Presumably, this is because Luti isn't as well-known
among neocon circles (even though he
is in the gang
) as Feith is.


And how 'bout that reference to these guys and their “early
policy work” through the Office of Special Plans? Just about
everybody and their sainted mothers knows by now that the OSP was the
cabal
of neocons
in charge of effectively cobbling
up any old crap it could sling together
in order to justify this
chimeric monstrosity of a war. Granting junk political science like
that the title of “policy work” is a mighty specious
claim of the Post, indeed.


But all that's just one interesting revelation coming out of the tale.
My eyes nearly bugged out of my head when I saw this
guy's name
pop up in the still-young story:


The Pentagon analyst who officials
said was under suspicion was one of two department officials who
traveled to Paris for secret meetings with Iranian dissidents,
including Manucher Ghorbanifar, an arms dealer. Mr. Ghorbanifar
was a central figure in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980's,
in
which the United States government secretly sold arms to Iran in
exchange for the release of American hostages in Lebanon and to
finance the fighters, known as contras, opposing the Sandinista
government in Nicaragua.


The secret meetings were first held
in Rome in December 2001, were approved by senior Pentagon officials
and were originally brokered by Michael Ledeen, a conservative
analyst at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute who has
a longstanding interest in Iranian affairs. It was not clear whether
the espionage investigation was directly related to the meetings with
Mr. Ghorbanifar. Nor was there immediate evidence of whether money
had changed hands in exchange for classified information.


You've got to be kidding me. Ghorbanifar?
In this day and age? You mean somebody hasn't rubbed this guy out
yet?


The article is correct about Ghorbanifar's connection to the
Iran-Contra
affair
; but, frankly, that's not nearly as deeply down the
rabbit-hole this fella goes.


Ghorbanifar plays a prominent role in the so-called “October
Surprise
” conspiracy of 1980 — the allegation that
officials of the Reagan-Bush campaign conducted an illegal diplomatic
exchange with Iranian clerics in the summer/fall of 1980, the purpose
of which, naturally, was to thwart any attempt by President Carter to
negotiate an end to the Iranian Hostage Crisis before the November
elections.


It's hard to find any major media stories on this, so you'll
forgive me if I resort to somewhat less official sources to deliver
the following account of it. Just keep in mind that I'm not trying to
prove the conspiracy to you (even though I'm of the opinion that it
happened), but rather to simply point out the relevant particulars of
the storyline.


According to Ghorbanifar,
it was George Bush himself who surreptitiously
flew to Paris
that year to take part in the negotiations,
accompanied by Reagan/Bush campaign manager William Casey, who
finished up the chore in Madrid a short while later.


Both men, you remember, came to the table with excellent intelligence connections —
Bush as a former head of the CIA (under Ford), and Casey as a future
head of the CIA (under Reagan).


Papa Bush has never really had to answer the conspiracy charges; the official line
is that the intelligence community regards
Ghorbanifar
as an untrustworthy
source
. Only the daffiest of idiots and most googley-eyed of
conspiracy theorists, so the line goes, would ever make the mistake of arranging their ducks to his layout.


Casey, however, did eventually feel enough heat about the charge
to provide an alibi for some of the dates in question. His answer?
Simple: he couldn't have been in Spain at the time Ghorbanifar
claimed, dammit, because he was on a camping trip on the days in question ... in (cue the
ominous organ music) Bohemian
Grove
!


Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for Bush), Casey died of a
brain
hemorrhage
before he had to say anything under oath, and the
allegations pretty much exploded along with the blood vessels in his
head.


I've long since given up gnarling my synapses over the whodunits
and whyfores of Bill Casey's untimely
demise
, but the resurfacing of Ghorbanifar gives me whole new cud
to ruminate upon. If this guy is considered to be such a
clown
by the intelligence community, then how come people keep
going back to him? Specifically, how come so many right
wingers
connected to the intelligence community keep
shuffling down to his street corner for a quick shoeshine and a tip?


“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
So the old proverb goes; but what about the third ... or fourth
... time that it happens?


For that matter, who's the fool here? Is it the Powers That Be,
who repeatedly seek favors
from a guy who they consistently denounce
as a loser
? Or is it us, for believing that the guy is a loser
just because the Powers That Be say he is, in between handshakes?


Thursday, August 26, 2004
 
A Question Of Honour

I always thought the British version of impeachment was that swiss
army knife of parliamentary politics — the No Confidence
Motion
.


I was wrong. The British do have an impeachment
procedure
in their ad hoc constitution, although it is
used with even less frequency than we do ours.


And so, after a century-and-a-half mouldering in the corner,
Parliament is dusting it off again. It's being brought not by the
Tories, nor by Labour, nor even by those wacky LibDems that I've
lately become so enamored of ... but rather by MP Adam
Price of Plaid Cymru
, the Welsh Nationalist Party:


Three centuries ago the Commons
called impeachment “the chief institution for the preservation
of the government”. It has been a key weapon in the long
struggle of parliament against the abuse of executive power. It has
been revived before, after long periods of disuse, when the
executive's hold on power-without-responsibility seemed every bit as
total as today.


Today a number of MPs, including
myself, are declaring our intention to bring a Commons' motion of
impeachment against the prime minister in relation to the invasion of
Iraq. This is the first time in more than 150 years that such a
motion has been brought against a minister of the crown, and it is
clearly not an undertaking we enter into lightly.
We do it with
regret, but also with resolve. For our first duty is to the people we
represent, who feel they were misled, whose trust was betrayed, who
have been placed in harm's way by the irresponsible actions of this
prime minister. It is in their name that we impeach him. It is in
their name, and with all the authority vested in us, that we implore
him now to go.


The overwhelming majority of the dozen or so MP's fronting this
motion are members of the Welsh and Scottish Nationalist parties,
although two Tory frontbenchers are in the mix as well, and a number
of disaffected Labourite backbenchers are mulling taking the plunge
with
them
:


Under the ancient right, which has
never been repealed, it takes only one MP to move a motion and the
Speaker has to grant a debate on the impeachment. This means, at the
least, Mr Blair will have to face a fresh debate on his personal
handling of the war and there will have to be a vote in parliament on
whether to institute impeachment proceedings.


In effect, impeachments were
discontinued after Lord Palmerston, accused of concluding a secret
treaty with Russia, survived an impeachment debate in 1848. The
proceedings were replaced with a convention on ministerial
responsibility, with ministers being forced to resign if they misled
parliament.
The last two cases involved the Home Office minister
Beverley Hughes, over immigration clearances in Romania and Bulgaria,
and Peter Mandelson over the Hinduja passports affair.


As MP Price notes in the explanation of why he's going ahead with
this motion (see the first article, above), the rules of ministerial
responsibility are maddeningly vague when it comes to the misconduct
of Prime Ministers. I suppose the presumption would be that the party
in majority takes charge of this, but what happens when that party
chooses to ignore the lie?


Like the American version, impeachment is an easy procedure to
launch, but a damn sight difficult one to carry through. As such,
there's little use pretending that this will be the straw that breaks
Tony Blair's back; still, the man deserves a reckoning for the shell
game he's been playing with the British people, and this is as good a
start as any.


The most interesting thing to watch will be those Labour MP's —
if any — who join in the rebellion, since being an active part
of this would signal their de facto resignation from the
party. British party politics is a lot harsher on its wandering
mavericks
than its American counterpart is.


Even so, this hoary old British example can serve as an
inspiration to us Colonials. If the folks across the pond are digging
into their Nineteenth-Century toolkit in an attempt to resolve their
crisis in democracy, perhaps we can do the same with ours.


Dueling used to be a fairly common method of dispute resolution
among the aristocratically-minded of this great nation. I seem to
recall that Lincoln got himself caught up in one (with broadswords!),
and of course the infamous Hamilton/Burr
matchup
has become the stuff
of legend
.


Considering how besmirched
Kerry's honor has been of
late
at the hands of Bush's minions (if not himself), the case
for a duel from his side falls easily within even the narrowest
of Nineteenth-Century criteria
. And as for Bush ... well ... to
paraphrase Walter Mondale, just telling
the truth
about him is a body-blow
to his reputation.


If Kerry played his cards right, he could get this whole
swift-boat thing all sewn up in ten minutes, flat. And the election
too, with the right aim (and a little luck).


Wednesday, August 25, 2004
 
The Natives Are Restless

First the good news — children of prominent political families
can occasionally be arrested for taking part in heinous acts
of antidemocratic outrage for personal gain.


Can you guess who it is? I'll give you a hint ... the son of a
major 1980's political leader, the person arrested was known as
someone who
...


... had managed to acquire the
reputation of being a generally amiable, if slightly blundering,
figure who had managed to make himself wealthy despite a distinctly
mixed record in business.


Oh, of course it's not him,
you dunderheads. That's the bad news — the rule still only
applies to anyone caught outside the boundaries of the North American
continent. And outside the realm of American citizenship, as well.


But it is a British citizen, and that's kind of a start.
The low-sparking
distributor
in question is Sir
Mark Thatcher
, the blissfully dimwitted son of former British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.


And I must say, the parallels between Sir Mark and the young scion
of that other elite political family are indeed striking, if I do say
so. Back to the original article for a moment:


Educated at famous private school
Harrow, Mark is viewed as less diligent — and, perhaps, less
intelligent — than his twin, who has carved out a solid career
for herself as a journalist and author.


In February 1987, Mark married
Texan heiress Diane Burgdorf, with whom he has had two children, and
relocated to the United States for some years, becoming involved in a
series of business ventures with mixed success.


In late 1995 after reportedly
losing million of pounds in business deals, Mark and his wife decided
to make a new life in South Africa, buying a plush, six-bedroom house
in the exclusive Cape Town suburb of Constantia.


Jumpin' Jeezus on a pogo stick. Dumb as a brick rowboat, couldn't
make a decent buck if God himself handed him a million-dollar bill,
and still the guy's worth over
$100 million
. Is this Creation we live in, or just some vast,
cosmic whoopie-cushion?


Alas, for all it's perks, Sir Mark's life is not nearly so charmed
as our esteemed Sir Dubya's. It would appear that the Iron Lady's
baby boy has gotten himself into a spot of trouble out there in the
nether reaches of the British Empi... excuse me, the
former British Empire
:


South African police have arrested
the son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on suspicion of
involvement in a coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, police
sources say.


A spokesman for the FBI-style
Scorpions unit said on Wednesday that “the son of a prominent
former British politician” had been arrested after a search and
seizure operation at a Cape Town residence.


Police sources said the suspect was
Mark Thatcher, now a businessman who maintains a home in Cape Town.
He was expected to appear in court later on Wednesday.


The plot to seize
Equatorial Guinea
went all kablooey last March ... thanks,
ironically, to
the actions
of that most undemocratic
of African crackpots
, Robert (“Get
Whitey!
”) Mugabe.


Here's
a link
to a post I wrote about it at the time, if you feel the
need to review the basics of the coup. Mark Thatcher's involvement in
the affair was not known yet; but the connection between the aborted
coup and some suited up thug-for-hire named Simon
Mann
was evident at the time.


According to the Reuters article, South African authorities
have linked Baby
Doc Thatcher to the coup
through Mann, who himself was linked to
the coup through a series of shadowy,
fly-by-night security corporations
... operating out of the
equally shady Channel
Islands
, a British offshore territory (actually a remnant of the
old Duchy of
Normandy
) whose corporate charter laws make Delaware's look
positively
Utopian
by comparison.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004
 
Subterranean Old Fart Blues

The Republican Party has been essentially running
against the 1960's
since ... well ... the 1960's.


It seems fitting then that the Powers that Be should be suddenly
concerned that the Grand Old Party is about to stage a violent reunion
with elements of Old School Radicalism.


And when I say old, I mean ... these
guys are old
:


A number of
extremists with ties to the 1970s radical Weather
Underground
have recently been released from prison and are in
New York preparing to wreak havoc during the Republican National
Convention, The Post has learned.


A top-level source with extensive
knowledge of police plans wouldn't disclose the names of the aging
rabble-rousers but said a handful of them are already here and will
play a behind-the-scenes role in attempting to disrupt the GOP gala.


These people are trained in
kidnapping techniques, bombmaking and building improvised munitions,”
the source said. “They're very bad people.”


They're not likely to take
direct action,” the source continued, “but they'll be
orchestrating operations.”


From where, pray tell? A hollowed-out volcano, deep in the
Catskill Mountains?


I know it's the New York Post and all, but you'd think they
would have put a little more imagination into digging up a viable
Emmanuel Goldstein for Dubya's Big Event. Really, guys — the
Weathermen? Come on!


The only member of the Weather Underground recently released that
I can find any reference to is Kathy
Boudin
. She left prison about a year ago, after spending 20 years
in prison for taking part in a bloody armed robbery of a Brinks
truck.


Of course, she's over sixty
years old now
, has a full-time
job
working with AIDS patients, is on probation for pretty much
the rest of her life, and has to check
in every night
by 10 p.m.; but I'm sure that whatever free time
she has she spends down at the local Learning Annex, dishing out
lectures on pipe bombing, radical social theory, wiping
Judeo-Christianity off the face of the Earth, and whatever else the
Hell the Republican Party fantasizes that an aging hippie raps about
when she's distracting America's youth with the sweet opiate haze of
her siren call to destruction.


Oh for the love of ... just station a few Ben-Gay sniffing dogs at
crucial checkpoints around The Garden, and be done with it. And pray
to whatever gods and idols you hold dear that Sara
Jane Olson
doesn't bust her ass outta prison before the end of
the month.


Monday, August 23, 2004
 
Among The Ralphworthy

About a month ago, the Congressional Black Caucus called Ralph
Nader in for a private
consultation
– and then proceeded to very publicly and
loudly slam-whack
his skinny white ass
around all four corners of the meeting room.
Nader reportedly emerged fairly shaken from what he called this
“robust exchange” with the CBC, but vowed to fight on to
the bitterest of ends.


For my part, the exchange confirmed a long-held opinion that the
Nader candidacy is (as it was in 2000) a latte liberal conceit ... a
fantasy of white, pseudo-progressive suburbanites, knee-jerk
collegiate trust-funders, and the like. It was reaffirmed a short
time later, when Nader fired off a clucking letter to the CBC
demanding
they apologize
for an “obscene racial epithet” that
had been hurled at him during the exchange.


One of them had called Nader an “arrogant
white man.


Which he is. But being the standard-bearer for burned-out hulks of
self-absorbed, 1960's jerktivists everywhere has its intellectual
costs, and ol' Ralph just can't see these things for what they are.


He wants us to pay attention to his tree, and his tree
alone, dammit ... forget the fact that the entire forest is burning
down all around it.


At the time of the CBC confrontation, I clacked out a good post on
my keyboard about it – only to then have it abruptly tossed
into oblivion by a power outage. I briefly considered rewriting it,
but then figured it wasn't worth the trouble.


Ultimately, Nader's candidacy is of little more importance
to this year's election than a cloud of fruit flies. He's a spent
force, no matter how obsessed the national media may be with him. A
vegetarian's Harold
Stassen
.


I wouldn't even be writing about him now, except that he comes up
during Garrison Keillor's interview in Salon.com.
When asked about the Nader phenomenon (or what's left of it),
Keillor's typically
understated response
is good enough (and amusing enough) to
reprint here:


The thrill of Naderism is in
telling your Democratic pals that you're thinking about ralphing and
seeing them get all flushed and earnest and wring their hands and
roll their eyes and moan. Actually going into the voting booth and
ralphing is no great pleasure, compared to the remorse you'll feel if
Mr. Bush is elected and fresh horrors begin to unfold and the nadir
is reached and the Bushies keep going down, down, down. I say, Stand
tall for Ralph, wear his button, wave his flag, put on his cologne in
the morning, be as ralphic as you like, but in that private sacred
moment, make your X for the Man.”


Nice rejoinder – and a nice use of the verb too, if I must
say. Although, frankly, I don't see why Nader keeps getting
all this attention
in the first place.


Back in 2000, sure, a ralphing electorate was a legitimate
concern. But for all the poll numbers I've seen this time around,
I've yet to personally run across anyone
this year
who's even considering voting for the guy.


There might be a few
ralphers
left out
there
in la-la
land
; but if they do
honestly exist
, they're one of the most heavily
closeted
bunch of
politicos
I've ever set eyes upon.


Friday, August 20, 2004
 
Deus Non Caecus Est: Peccas — Videt.

The White House has a
Catholic strategy and its name is Deal Hudson.”


Unnamed
“conservative Catholic activist.”


Well, not anymore it ain't.


Moving away from Iraq for a time and going back to another war (or
at least a war analogy), it looks as if the Republican Party's
Operation
Barbarossa against American Catholicism
has just taken an
unexpected hit. Winter appears to be rolling in unexpectedly early
this year on the Ecumenical Front; and Herr Bush has just lost
his General Guderian for the duration of the conflict.


The Washington
Post
is reporting
that Deal W. Hudson, a “religious
advisor” to President Bush (and his main Catholic point man)
resigned himself of his position just a few days ago.


Hudson is the editor of the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis;
yet, he used National Review magazine to explain his sudden,
urgent need for an immediate
vacation
:


... I received a call from a
liberal Catholic publication
requesting a comment. In response to the reporter's question I told
him that I thought the Conference had done the right thing.


[...]


Weeks passed and the same reporter
then called me asking for another interview saying his story had
taken a “surprising turn.” In reply, my office e-mailed
him asking for the questions he wanted me to answer.


The questions arrived and were all
targeted at my personal life — not my political beliefs. They
dealt in scattershot fashion with a range of topics: questions about
past annulments for my marriages before my conversion to the Catholic
Church, other Catholic organizations I have been involved with, and
allegations from over a decade ago involving a female student at the
college where I then taught.
At the time, I dealt with this in an
upright manner and the matter was satisfactorily resolved long ago.
It was now being dug up, I believe, for political reasons — in
an attempt to undermine the causes I have fought for: the defense
of Church teachings on life, the priesthood, the authority of the
pope, and the need for faithful Catholic participation in politics
.


Hmph. And “the
coward dies a thousand deaths
...” These people see
“political reasons” in everything under the sun.


Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't, and sometimes it just doesn't
matter. But the monomaniacal obsession with crying “political”
motivations to every unpleasant disclosure always smacks of
projection
to me.


So here's the thing: if you're going to play
the role
of Supreme
Defender of Church Orthodoxy
, it becomes somewhat important for
others of your faith to
know if you've been involved in an egregious violation of Church
teachings. Specifically, liquoring
up a college freshman to nigh unconsciousness and boinking her

behind your wife's back is not something that you can gloss
over with a couple of Hail Marys and a case of canned lima beans
shipped off to the local homeless shelter:


Hudson's rise to influence and his
status as public arbiter of Catholic morals is all the more
remarkable given that almost 10 years to the day of the 2004 St.
Patrick's Day celebration, the then-Fordham University philosophy
professor stood accused of breaching the bounds of the
professor-student relationship. According to documents obtained by
NCR, Hudson invited a vulnerable freshman undergraduate, Cara Poppas,
to join a group of older students for a pre-Lenten “Fat
Tuesday” night of partying at a Greenwich Village bar. The
night concluded after midnight in Hudson's Fordham office, where he
and the drunken 18-year-old exchanged sexual favors.
The fallout
would force his resignation from a tenured position at the Jesuit
school, cost him $30,000, and derail a promising academic career.


The article gets more graphic (and damning) ... but, y'know, some
things don't need to be repeated, once they're fully known. Read the
article (linked
again, here
) for yourself to get the full monty.


Sex scandals generally annoy me; they rarely add anything to the
social discourse but a
distraction
from more
crucial issues
of the day. However, it does become relevant if it
involves someone who has gained his earthly
power
and profit
by throwing open his theological trenchcoat and waving
his morality around
for all the world to see.


Or, to use
his own words against him
:


The question is, how far does our
right to privacy extend? Legal scholars have pointed out that, if the
sodomy laws are overturned on the basis of our right to privacy, then
other sexual acts that are currently illegal — like incest,
bigamy, and adultery
— will have to be made legal on the
same grounds. Santorum's point is not a new one, nor is it
discriminatory. Really, it's just being consistent.


He forgot to mention rape, and I guess we now know why. I mean,
Hudson's personal shame may be a ten-year-old date rape incident, but
it's still a date rape
incident.


Really, I'm just being consistent.


Thursday, August 19, 2004
 
Like Playing Chess With A Wookie

US forces stormed Sadr City yesterday ... hoping, I suppose, to
show the Madhi Army a thing or two about what it means to go mano
a mano
with Uncle Sam.


Unfortunately, the Madhi
people made like a true guerrilla force, and completely
disappeared
in the face of massive force:


Soldiers in Humvees called on
militiamen, who appeared to have stopped fighting and melted away, to
surrender their weapons. The thrust, which began on Wednesday, marks
the biggest push against Sadr's Mehdi Army militia in Baghdad.


Sadr City residents, your
government has banned all militias in Iraq. Come forward and
surrender your weapons,” a message in Arabic read by
loudspeakers from Humvees said.


We win again. Run, you Sadrist dogs, run. I predict generations of
future Americans will take this day off and hold magnificent annual
barbeques in commemoration of our glorious victory.


Or not. You know as well as I that this expansion of our dominion
will only last as long as our troops are out of their barracks. Once
our boys and girls go back to bed, the mice come out again, and it's
right back to where things were before the big parade. That's the
maddening
truth
of an insurgency
campaign
.


Meanwhile, the Iraqi government's diurnal call for al-Sadr's head
continues, right on schedule. There does seem to be a bit more force
behind this particular threat, however.


Or maybe it's desperation. Who
can tell anymore
?


The interim government gave Mr Sadr
just hours to hold a news conference in which he would publicly
renounce violence. They ordered him to leave the Imam Ali shrine in
the southern city of Najaf, which has served as the headquarters for
his Mahdi army in its two-week battle with US and Iraqi forces.


[...]


[Iraqi Minister Kasim] Daoud today
vowed to liberate the shrine, the Reuters news agency reported. He
declined to say whether the government would storm it. Just after he
spoke, a loud explosion was heard in central Najaf, the agency said.


Yesterday the Iraqi defence
minister, Hazim al-Shaalan, also gave Mr Sadr's fighters only a few
hours to leave the mosque before the military taught them “a
lesson they will never forget”. He said that only Iraqi troops
would enter the mosque itself, with US participation limited to air
cover and securing the roads around the shrine. About 2,000 US
marines have surrounded Najaf.


Frankly, if al-Sadr cries uncle, he's likely to find himself in
one heckuva pickle. From what I understand, the government's current
peace terms are not that friendly to the Sadrists; specifically, they
do not
include amnesty
for al-Sadr as to past accusations against him.


Al-Sadr has a murder
warrant
out for him. Last year, a prominent Shi'ite cleric (and
rival of al-Sadr's) was knifed
to death
in the very
same shrine
that al-Sadr is currently holed up in.


It is widely accepted that al-Sadr ordered the killing —
although, of course, al-Sadr himself denies
it
.


He almost certainly did approve it. The man is opportunistic scum,
and nothing I've written about his rebellion should be taken as
admiration for him, or for his cause.


That doesn't mean that he doesn't have a chance of prevailing,
however. I just wish we'd done a better job of making sure that
doesn't happen.


 
From The Hip

Frankly, the assault on Najaf
never seemed like a terribly good idea in the first place. Were the
lessons
of Fallujah
going completely unhindered? Did some closet
anarchist in Baghdad think it would be a really cool idea to see how
messed up
the Shi'ite south could get?


Well, yesterday's New York Times goes a long way towards
explaining exactly what was behind the Coalition's thinking on the
subject. And amazingly, what the Times reveals is that there
was no grand strategic thinking behind it — the local
Marine units launched the attack without
the approval of the higher ups
!


Just five days after they arrived
here to take over from Army units that had encircled Najaf since an
earlier confrontation in the spring, new Marine commanders decided to
smash guerrillas loyal to the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.


Acting without the approval of
the Pentagon or senior Iraqi officials
, the Marine officers said
in recent interviews, they turned a firefight with Mr. Sadr's forces
on Thursday, Aug. 5, into a eight-day pitched battle, one fought out
in deadly skirmishes in an ancient cemetery that brought them within
rifle shot of the Imam Ali Mosque, Shiite Islam's holiest shrine.
Eventually, fresh Army units arrived from Baghdad and took over
Marine positions near the mosque, but by then the politics of war had
taken over and the American force had lost the opportunity to storm
Mr. Sadr's fighters around the mosque.


If the Marines have any weakness, it's that they are not
psychologically equipped for occupation duty. Their job is is to
seize territory, not fret over it like a kevlar-clad mother
hen.


When a Marine sees a threat, his first instinct is to destroy
it
. That's apparently what happened in Najaf last week;
unfortunately, that doesn't make for good occupation strategy.


 
Ali Get Your Gun

Anything you can bomb, I can
bomb better
I can bomb anything better than you ...”


• With apologies to Irving
Berlin


Ali Shamkhani, the Iranian Defense Minister, has put us on notice.
We may bestride the globe like a magnificent, star-spangled colossus
— but if you happen to be one of those nations cowering in the
shadow of our heroically-stanced, arms-akimbo, legs-apart posture, a
certain part of
the body
suddenly presents itself as a very
inviting target
:


We will not sit (with arms
folded) to wait for what others will do to us. Some military
commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations which the
Americans talk about are not their monopoly,” Shamkhani said
when asked about the possibility of a US or Israeli strike against
Iran's nuclear facilities.


America is not the only one
present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in
Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf and we can be present in
Iraq,” said Shamkhani.


This is a slight expansion of the Iranian position. Earlier, a
commander of the Revolutionary Guard had warned that Iran
was prepared
to rain Shahab-3
missiles down on Israel's
Dimona
nuclear facility
... but in response to a “Zionist”
attack on Iranian territory, not before it.


If I were a member of this administration, would also pay very
close attention to that crack by Shamkhani about becoming “present
in Iraq.” Considering how stretched our forces are, the Iranian
Revolutionary
Guard
could mess up our already rickety Iraqi plans considerably,
especially in the crucial Shi'ite southern regions. This is a greater
threat to our plans than a game of international
badminton
with the largely inaccurate, easily defensible Shahab-3
shuttlecock.


And, dammit, the Iranians
have a point
. Just because they're a nation of freakishly
hyperobsessive fundos
, and their country is one of the current
chief
official enemies
of ours, doesn't mean that the fellas can't
score their debating points.


In fact, the fact that their country and ours are in such a
belligerent relationship reinforces their rhetorical positions
considerably. With US forces occupying territory on both its
immediate east
and west flanks, a
strong US ally on its northwest border (Turkey), plus a nominal US
ally (Pakistan) on another border — not to mention the
so-called “Persian Gulf” to all intents and purposes
having become an American Mare
Nostrum
— Iran has every right to feel straightjacketed
by the Great Satanic Arsenal of Democracy.


Yet, that still wasn't enough of a specific threat to justify
action under the old rules of engagement between nations; but as you
know, such antiquated rules no longer apply. In our new, post 9/11
world, one nation need only decide that it doesn't like the way
another one is looking at it from across the bar in order to throw
the first punch.


So I've been told, anyway. And even though I first heard it
proclaimed
unto the world
from the heralds
of the Imperial Seat in Washington, I never thought for a second that
it would apply only at the discretion
of the President
of the United States of America.


Only an idiot
would be that callow.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004
 
Good Cop, Bad Cop

Boy, when the Iraqis break out into their Bad Cop routine, they
don't mess around. We're not just talking about your average
shine-a-bright-light-in-your-face, shout-a-little, sweat-a-little,
cha-cha-cha here.


Iraqi police mean business; and by that I mean the business
end of an AK-47
:


... two marked police cars pulled
up at dusk outside the Sea of Najaf hotel on the edge of town, where
Arab and Western journalists, including The Times, are
staying. Ten uniformed policemen walked in and demanded that the
al-Arabiya, Reuters and AP reporters go with
them.


Journalists told them they were not
there, but the policemen found and arrested Ahmed al-Salahih, of
al-Arabiya, who the day before had been given exemption from
the earlier eviction orders.


A lieutenant then told the
journalists and hotel staff: “We are going to open fire on
this hotel. I’m going to smash it all, kill you all, and I’m
going to put four snipers to target anybody who goes out of the
hotel. You have brought it upon yourselves.”


But then, on to the Good Cop routine. The Iraqis are nothing if
not thorough in their co-option
of Hollywood action/buddy-film motifs
:


Last night General Ghaleb Hashem
al-Jazairi, Najaf’s police chief, summoned journalists to his
HQ and said that his 80-year-old disabled father had been kidnapped
in Basra. He accused al-Mahdi Army of responsibility.


He assured the journalists: “You
are not under any kind of threat, we respect your job. We respect the
press.”


He confirmed that the expulsion
order on journalists was still “technically valid” but,
in a much less combative tone, added: “I have contacted the
Ministry of Interior and told them this sounds unreasonable to have a
city with no media. This will turn against us.”


“Technically valid?”


In a society whose social
contract
is being rewritten on a bullet-by-bullet basis, nobody's
going to be moronic enough to rely on a “technicality” to
keep their asses on the breathing end of a funeral congregation. I
wonder what it's like to get “technically” shot?


The above article doesn't mention the cops' AK-47's, but this
one does
. According to that article, bullets had earlier
been fired at the hotel entrance, and the police claimed to have
disrupted an attempt by the insurgents to dynamite the hotel.


Funny thing, though: al-Sadr and his men want the press
around. They've taken extraordinary
steps
to insure the safety of at
least one of them
; why would they turn around and suddenly decide
to blow them all up?


The Madhi
Army
may not be the brightest bulbs on the planet, but it doesn't
take too many neurons firing in a skull to hit on the epiphany that
shooting at American soldiers makes for good
copy
in the Arab world. And good copy for Sadr makes for bad copy
for the US.


Earlier on in this conflict, the fighting had taken on a decidedly
sporadic tone, as US/Coalition and Shi'ite forces alternated between
spasms of belligerent hyperbole, flash-in-the-pan firefighting, and
sullen mutual withdrawals. I find this pattern very worrying; if our
side has such overwhelming technical advantages over the Shi'ites,
then why all the interruptus?


The answer, of course, is fear — namely, fear of a Shi'ite
blowback
. When this round of fighting first started, the initial
US offensive seemed to have been shorted out by fear
for the fate
of Iraq's
southern oil pipeline
. A few days later, it was a nascent
Shi'ite secession movement
that stubbed the fuse.


Sadr's latest uprising is taking on a distinctly pneumatic edge to
it; squeezing it hard at one point only makes it bulge out more
ominously at some other location.


Monday, August 16, 2004
 
(Not) Going Back To Cali

Well, here's one bogus recall attempt that looks to have gone
thoroughly down the toilet.


Barring any specific proof of impropriety in the ballot booth, it
appears as if Venezuela's Hugo Chávez has survived the recall
barrage leveled against him. Not only that, but he
won big, too
:


[Francisco] Carrasquero [of the
National Election Council] stopped short of declaring Chávez
the outright winner. But vote counts he released showed the firebrand
former army paratrooper had a virtually insurmountable 58-42
percent lead
, with 94 percent of the vote counted.


Carrasquero said 4,991,483 votes
had been cast against Chávez's recall, with 3,576,517 in
favor.


The recall effort, in order to be successful, not only had to
garner more votes than those voting against it — but also more
votes than Chávez received in the original election (back in
2000). Chávez collected 3.8 million votes in that effort,
meaning that the recall petitioners almost certainly won't even make
that goal, either.


I reiterate what I've said before: I suspect Chávez is an
incompetent clown, with an barely-concealed antidemocratic streak 1.6
kilometers wide. But he's the chosen incompetent clown of the
Venezuelan people; and they have every right to elect and stand by
their choice ... no matter how much oil they happen to be sitting on,
and whether any Yanquis approve or not.


Hell, at least when they chose their incompetent clown back
in 2000
, it was actually because he
carried more votes
than his opponent.


And speaking of voting, it's worth noting how truly
massive
the turnout was for this recall ballot. Even Jimmy Carter
was
impressed
:


Millions of Venezuelans stood in
line Sunday from the early hours of the morning to vote in the recall
referendum that will decide whether President Hugo Chávez will
complete his term or be removed from office.


Voters queued for hours outside the
polls in the longest lines ever seen in an election in this South
American oil-producing nation.


Nobel Peace laureate and former
U.S. president Jimmy Carter, one of the international observers, said
the Carter Centre had monitored nearly 50 elections around the world
and that he had never before seen such a turnout.


Though since we all live in the Amazing World Of Tomorrow, there
were naturally glitches
in the electronic voting process
(Chávez himself had some
trouble registering his vote); but so far the opposition is not too
up in arms about the delays. Back to the IPS article:


... the main
opposition leader, Enrique Mendoza, governor of the state of Miranda
(which encompasses the east side of Caracas), said shortly before
noon that “the process is functioning perfectly and there have
merely been a few delays caused by the fingerprint identification
machines.”


As part of its attempted initiation into the Twenty-First Century
Club, Venezuela decided to dabble
in biometrics
as part of its elections process (as well as — arrrrgh!
touch-screen
voting
). Frankly, all of this smells like a very bad idea to me,
even if it's centered around something as (relatively) simple as
fingerprint analysis.


But I suppose if they hadn't done the biometrics, then folks down
there would get all torqued up over doubled-up registrations,
unverifiable voter rolls, and the like. The fact is, someone is going
to cry foul with this election either way; hence, I feel it's
important to have Mendoza's statement out there, as a sort of early
firebreak
.


The return of the touch-screen
voting bugbear
is a separate issue. As a matter of intellectual
consistency, I have to regard the Venezuelan results with a skeptical
eye because of this; but it's up to the
opposition
to make any such case. I'll judge their evidence
when/if they bring it to light.


I don't really have any choice, do I?


Friday, August 13, 2004
 
Pretty As A Pigture

A flurry of bad economic news came in today. Consumer
sentiment
was down (which was no surprise, considering the poor
job
and weak
retail
numbers we've been racking up).


What was far more surprising (and worrisome), were the trade
deficit figures. And make no mistake about it ... they were baaaaaad last month.


I received the following
article
from a friend of mine:


Economists, on average, expected
the trade deficit with the rest of the world to measure $47 billion
in June, according to Briefing.com.


Boy, did the Commerce Department
have a surprise for them, reporting a whopping $55.8 billion gap, a
record. Economists' forecasts are often wrong, but this miss left
them scratching their heads.


As the article notes, there are a number of unpleasant
ramifications that go along with this number:


One certain effect of June's
numbers is that the second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP)
annual growth rate, the broadest measure of the economy, will be cut
sharply from the 3 percent first reported -- perhaps more than
offsetting the positive effects of stronger-than-expected retail
sales and inventories in June.


[...]


Rejoicing over the potential for
bad economic news, bond prices rose after the report, sending yields
-- which move opposite to price -- lower. But this reaction may have
been irrational -- the longer-term implication of record trade
deficits could be that the dollar will weaken, inflation will swell
and interest rates will rise.


[...]


In fact, the trade data may be
consistent with a pronounced and long-lasting global industrial
slowdown, according to the economists at the Economic Cycle Research
Institute, a private firm that tracks leading indicators of growth
and inflation for the United States and the world.


The ECRI's leading indicators for
growth have been heading south for several months, giving an advance
warning of the recent U.S. slowdown.


The ECRI's indicators point to
weakness in the rest of the world, too, and June's trade data are
perfectly consistent with that, said Anirvan Banerji, the ECRI's
director of research.


Another global economic slowdown? Have we even recovered from the
last one?


I have to get ready for work, so there's not much time that I have
for commenting on this. But it looks as if the administration's
Master Plan (the one to keep that Great Implosion I've been worried
about until after the election) is beginning to show a few critical
structural defects.


Things could still hold together until the election, of course;
but one has to think that the lipstick
is getting a bit smeared on this ol' pig of theirs.


Thursday, August 12, 2004
 
Pure, Weapons-Grade Stupidity

In case you needed any further reason to believe that the folks
hanging around with this administration have become totally unmoored
from economic reality, up comes a discussion
of a national sales tax
to remove all doubt.


Last week, House Speaker Dennis Hastert broached
the idea
of “abolishing
the IRS and replacing it with a national sales tax. The few who paid
any attention to him simply laughed
it off
.


But then this week Bush himself was asked about it, and his answer
was fairly positive. It's unlikely, given the extraordinarily
scripted nature
of Dubya's campaign appearances, that this
question came out of left field. What with the Republican National
Convention coming up at the end of the month, one might even be
forgiven for coming to the conclusion that this exceedingly
dumb idea
is being grantedfull GOP trial
balloon treatment
:


Asked about his receptiveness to
replacing the current IRS code with a consumption tax — a
subject of much discussion among Bush's agenda-starved economic
advisers these days
— the President replied that he's
giving the idea a hard look. “It's an interesting idea,”
he said. “You know, I'm not exactly sure how big the national
sales tax is going to have to be [to raise enough revenue], but it's
the kind of interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously.”


Oy. “Agenda-starved economic advisors?” Man, even
Business Week thinks this is an administration full of boners.
Get thee to a Bible and a bomb shelter, True Believers, 'cause I'm
fairly certain that's a sign that The Apocalypse is nigh.


But by all means, I agree with the president. I'm all for a
serious
discussion
of the full ramifications of replacing our
federal income tax with a sales-tax system; let's beam as much
sunlight on this spoiled lunchmeat as possible.


Forget the fact that replacing a progressive taxation system with
such an obscenely regressive one is a despicable
idea
. Rich conservatives will never get this point anyway.


And, frankly, they don't want to; forcing them to consider the
effects of their meshuggeneh ideas on people who have
considerably less money than they do only serves as a reminder that someone
other than them has material needs too. That's just not fun —
plus, it spoils the layout of their elegantly appointed, Socially
Darwinistic
illusions.


No, forget that fact for now. There's an even harsher reality for
these guys to confront.


Ironically, it's Business Week itself (who rather likes the
Bush/Hastert notion) that unwittingly torpedoes the idea, with this
assertion:


For starters, a consumption tax
would simplify the tax code and give the multitiered rate structure a
flatter profile. What's more, by penalizing short-term
consumption, it would encourage savings and long-term investment.


And this is supposed to be a good thing? Christ on a Cracker, why
do they let these people have magazines?


The American
economy
is a consumer
driven
one. Exacting a “penalty
on any form of consumption would be the equivalent of driving a
rusty, tetanus-laced railroad spike right through the skull of our
capitalist system. Couple that with a collapse of the social safety
net (brought on by the inevitable revenue disruption inflicted by the
new tax system), and you've got yourself all the fixin's for one big
granddaddy of a recession. One might call it a “Great
Recession,” even.


Mr. $150,000/year plus benefits isn't going to be put out enough
by the new tax structure to turn away from the Lexus dealership and
pump more money into his investments — and where's he going to
put it anyway, after The Mother of all Recessions tanks out his
securities portfolio? The bond market?


And as for Mrs. $8.50/hour plus tips (and kids), she might indeed
respond to the Hastert/Bush tax “penalty” by curtailing
her short-term consumption. This is because she would be — to
use the parlance of the Dismal Science — “broke.” I
cannot help but think, however, that this would necessarily preclude
any transference of her curtailed consumption into the investment
side of things.


Even if we assume that she could put something aside, the
most she'd ever be able to squirrel away might be an Abe Lincoln or two —
or maybe an Andy Jackson, if her kids aren't the eating-food and
wearing-clothing type. Self righteous quacking about wealth-building
aside, that's no way for a working mom to build a serious portfolio
... especially with The Mother of All Recessions rampaging up and
down Wall Street (see Mr. $150,000/year plus benefits, above).


Sure, gibberish like “abolishing
the IRS
” might be good for some simplistic traction, but
unless this nation is a whole lot dumber than I think it is, such
talk ain't
gonna fly
any farther than the first real debate on the topic. As
it stands, even National
Review
can't stomach the notion. If this idea defies all
expectations and comes on to the table, I'm all for hashing out on it
as long and thoroughly as possible.


Some things, believe it or not, are too stupid for even Bush to
get away with.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004
 
Long Day's Journey ...

Here's an interesting observation. If one begins with the
assumption that the direction of Federal Reserve interest rates is in
rough correlation with the overall strength of the economy —
for instance, that a downward trend in interest rates is a crude
indicator of an underperforming economy, and vice versa
then what should one take of the fact that when Alan Greenspan raised
the Fed rates last June
, it was the first time such a thing
happened in the entire history of the Bush II Presidency?




Policy? We don't need no steenking policy!”


Although there are exceptions to this notion (such as Paul
Volcker's legendary high-rate,
low-growth game of chicken
with inflation back in the early
eighties), as a general rule Federal Rates are lowered to stimulate a
cold economy, and raised to cool off an overstimulated one.


As a rule, that is. Meaning that, considering
the dour
economic numbers
that have been coming in, Alan Greenspan's got
to be out of his pointy little troll-doll head if he thinks that the
economy is in danger of overheating, right?


Oh, no, no, no, no ... perish the thought, mortal. Do not confuse
your foolishness with his genius; he and his ilk are a whole lot
smarter than you or me
:


... rates are still so low by
historical standards that they should continue to stimulate economic
growth by encouraging borrowers to take on more debt. The central
bank did not raise rates to slow the economy, but rather to ensure
that inflationary pressures do not build.
Lifting them by a small
amount at this point is more like easing up on the economy's
accelerator than like tapping the brake.


...


Meanwhile, job growth slowed
dramatically in the second quarter, with employers adding just 78,000
jobs in June and 32,000 in July — such small gains that
statisticians view the totals as essentially unchanged.


With no
job growth
comes no
wage pressure
. In fact, average net incomes, when adjusted for
(even our very mild) inflation, have been going
down of late
. People can't even afford to buy what they've
already got.


And there's where my differences
with Greenspan
appear. I don't care how much the price of a base
commodity like oil rockets up, it only translates into inflation if
the demand for the product keeps up with the price; and that's
a highly moot point if buyers don't even have the money to pay for
it.


It still translates
into pain
, mind you — just a different
kind
than the perils of raw inflation.


I've noticed, for instance, that the price of gasoline at the pump
has remained relatively stable in my neighborhood — even going
down some ($1,79/gallon, last time I checked) — while the
current price
of oil is 19%
higher
than June levels, and about
40-50% higher
than it was at this time last year.


Middlemen are taking the hit for now, no doubt, and with an eye
towards a future when they can bring the hammer down on us; but that
time surely
ain't now
... and it may be further
off
than the Federal Reserve thinks it is.


Tuesday, August 10, 2004
 
The Natural

I just got the word that Florida Representative Porter Goss has
been nominated by Dubya to be the next Director of the CIA.


Should the nomination go through, this will leave Congress down
one former intelligence agent; given that his district is in southern
Florida, it will be interesting to see who exactly gets the
Republican nod to run for his seat, should the nomination pass.


I don't foresee any show-stopping problems in getting Goss
confirmed ... although it won't
be entirely smooth
, it seems:


His nomination will be joined in
the coming days with a number of executive orders Bush is expected to
issue for intelligence reforms after recommendations from the
commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


When Goss' name was first floated
for the position, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior
Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he would not
support someone from Congress in that job and complained Goss would
be too partisan.


Also, the fact that Goss comes out of the House of Representatives
gives him an odd sort of comeraderie with another former CIA Head:


If confirmed by Congress, the
Florida Republican would be only the second congressman to head the
Central Intelligence Agency after George H. W. Bush, the former
president and father of the current U.S. President.


That's a nice reminder. I always forget that the former
President
also served
two terms
as a Representative from Texas back in the sixties,
before getting the nod from Nixon to move on to greater things.


Although, of course, it was Ford who ultimately got
him that stellar CIA job
.


Monday, August 09, 2004
 
Third Time's The Charm

With the Venezuelan recall election less than a week away, current
president Hugo Chavez appears to be rising in the polls. Barring some
unforeseen
attempt by shadowy terrorists
to disrupt the electoral process,
there is a very
good chance
that the buffoonish (but democratically elected) Señor Chavez
is
going to win it
:


I see a very clear trend in
favor of President Chávez,” said Luis Vicente Leon, a
top Venezuelan pollster and Chávez critic. “I'm not
saying that he is ahead of the opposition now, but Chávez is
improving. The two groups are very, very close.”


The stakes are high for Venezuela's
25 million citizens and for the United States, which receives a large
quantity of its oil from this South America nation, the world's No. 5
oil exporter.


Oh, that's right. Chavez and his countrymen also happen to be
sitting on an assload
of oil
. Therefore, the affairs of this little country are
of sudden and dramatic importance
to us norteamericanos.


To this end, we've been working like hell to get rid of Chavez,
any way we can. You may remember the
coup
against him from a few years back — the one which
ultimately failed miserably, and reeked
of gringo machinations
besides.


This recall process, while more home-grown than the coup,
certainly comes with the approval stamp of the US government. I wish
I could say it was for its value as a lesson in good citizenship and
responsive government; but, of course, it's simply because the US is
willing to embrace any tool to pry
Chavez's hands
off the oil spigot:


Publicly, Washington has backed the
referendum as a constitutional and democratic solution to the
country's political tensions, but some US officials have unofficially
viewed it as a mechanism that could bring about “regime
change”.


But a US official in Washington who
specialises in relations with Latin America said on Thursday that the
administration now expected Mr Chávez to stay in power “one
way or another”.


The US has put all of its
eggs in the referendum basket, hoping for a Chávez loss,”
the official said. “Of course this is rather a risky strategy,
since if Chávez wins then we are pretty much stuck with him
since he will have been confirmed through a democratic process three
times.”


Well, all right then. Three — count 'em — three times
this guy's gone to the table for democracy. How many times has Bush
been elected on a clean vote again?


I've mentioned
before
that I don't personally regard Hugo Chavez as a terribly
competent political leader. And I still remain suspicious of his
ultimate
goal
regarding his role in the Venezuelan body politic.


But I don't get to vote on it either way. Venezuelans do —
and they've already shown
their favor towards him
in two previous elections. Frankly, an
extemporaneous third go-round seems damned redundant.


The irony is that Chavez himself doesn't
seem to value
the democratic process very much; and as such the
US government should be opposed to him, if only on idealistic
grounds (and through appropriate channels, of course).


By our being opposed to him for the wrong reasons, however, and by
acting against him in such blunderingly obvious and inappropriate
ways, we've actually increased the likelihood of our having
to deal with him
for a long, long time.


But if that's how the
Venezuelans wish it
— then so be it.


Friday, August 06, 2004
 
“Out Of All The Gin Joints In All The World ...”

Who'd have guessed it? My beloved homeland, the Casablanca
of the War on Terrorism
:


[Jason]
Korsower
[of the Investigative
Project
]
says Minnesota probably ranks 4th in
terrorism-related arrests and prosecutions, behind areas such as New
York, Washington D.C. and Phoenix. He says the public shouldn't jump
to conclusions that Minnesota has now become a major haven for
terrorist activities. He says, however, Minnesota's international
border with Canada could increase its attractiveness to would-be
terrorists.


Border states allow for
relatively easy slipping in and out of the country,” says
Korsower. “Interestingly enough, I point out that three of the
top states for terrorism-related arrests and cases are border
states.”


Uhhh ... the United States is one of the least land-locked
countries in the world. Counting coastlines as well as international
borders, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a state that didn't
qualify as “border” status. Even throwing out the ones
whose borders face only raw ocean, and you'd still have plenty of
borderlands to choose from.


Still, I had noticed an unusual
number
of terrorism-related
arrests
coming out of my neck of the woods, considering its puny
relative population to the rest of the nation.


Now if I can just get a young Ingrid
Bergman
to wander into my shop ...



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