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Thursday, January 27, 2005
 
Please Stand By


My business plan for an all-Godzilla cable channel was cruelly rejected. Please stand by.

Lost Citizens, please forgive my recent absence. I have not fallen into some interdimensional vortex, a la Nemo.

Besides an unusually hectic couple of weeks, I've been having some trouble with Blogger's software; it has been claiming to save drafts of my work, but is apparently not doing so. As a result, a couple of lengthy and devilishly clever missives have vanished in a puff of electrons.

Ah. Excuses, excuses, right?

Well, maybe I should take a page from the Bush administration playbook and simply say,"I never meant to post anything this week; in fact, I never posted anything at all. Where did you hear that ridiculous rumor? What's a blog?"

By the way, I would invite all of you to listen to a supercool new radio station, The Current. It's online at the MPR site .

I can't stop listening to it.

No, really: I can't stop listening to it.

There's a lot to talk about: Armstrong Williams, Spongebob Squarepants, the Iraqi elections, the Mars Rovers (they've been on Mars a whole year now, did anyone notice?), Bush planting the flag on a White House podium. And the lies, my friends! The lies!

Hang in there. We'll talk soon.


Saturday, January 22, 2005
 
Don't Turn Around, The Komissar's In Town
Political smartmouths often say that Pennsylvania is shaped like a giant letter T, with Pittsburgh on the left, Philadelphia on the right and Alabama in the middle.

Dover is smack in the middle of the Alabama part, not far from where John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom lived out his life of quiet desperation; and it is in Dover that, for the first time, the so-called "Intelligent Design Theory" is being thrown over the transom of America's schools.

It is not being taught by the science teachers, who have made it clear they would refuse to teach it even if that was legally allowed. Instead, school administrators are entering science classrooms and reading the following statement to students:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

Reads like it was written by a committee, doesn't it? Here, I'll translate: "The godless state requires that you learn about a ridiculous theory called 'evolution', that has no basis in fact. We can't stop you from learning about it, but we recommend that you read a different book that will hopefully make you doubt the veracity of everything you're about to learn".

Students are not allowed to ask questions after the statement is read; they are simply told that all the answers are in Of Pandas and People, sixty copies of which were helpfully donated to the district by the local chapter of the Anti-Evolution Brigade.

Of Pandas and People, by the way, is a notorious volume of pseudoscientific codswallop dressed up to look like a high-school science textbook. It doesn't spend much time providing scientific evidence for "Intelligent Design" (mostly because there isn't any); its real goal is to kick the props out from under Darwinian theory, mostly through the use of misinformation and deliberate distortions. Miller and Urey's work in prebiotic compounds, for example, is egregiously misrepresented in the book; exaggerations about the speed of geological events like the Cambrian Explosion are common. At least the school district's statement is careful to refer to "Intelligent Design" as an "explanation" and not a "theory". After all, a theory is a "well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations", right?

Well, one out of five ain't bad.

I've often said that the evangelical Christians who are now calling the shots in Washington are guilty of sponsoring Lysenkoism. Now it seems they are taking another page from the Soviet playbook -- appointing comissars to ensure that science hews to political orthodoxy.


Thursday, January 20, 2005
 
Idiot Stick
I once heard someone cynically refer to a shovel as an "idiot stick", because it had a scoop on one end and an idiot on the other. I thought the term was rather vulgar and clearly coined by someone who never did an honest day's work. Admittedly, my judgement might have been colored by the fact that I was the idiot in question at the time. Nevertheless I do think the term is appropriate when talking about the implement wielded by Time magazine columnist Mitch Frank, who regularly shovels manure provided him by the Republican National Committee.

Frank looks like he's auditioning for the part of Robin in a dinner theater production of "Batman", and his boyish appearence is augmented by the smug arrogance of your typical fratboy Republican. In his latest column he calls Democrats "whiners" and blames them for not having a sweeping domestic agenda of their own, even though they are not the party in power:

What should the Democrats be doing now? Proposing ambitious alternatives to the President's agenda, plans that demonstrate the party's principles and vision for the country. Bush has spent weeks sowing the seeds for his Social Security reform plan by telling Americans that the popular entitlement program is on the brink of insolvency and that private investment accounts are the only solution. Democrats have responded by accusing the President of distorting the facts. They may have a point—Economists disagree on whether or not the system is in any real danger. But most voters like Social Security and at the same time feel insecure about its future. The Dems can't just reject Bush's agenda—they need to present their own proposal for guaranteeing its long-term survival. If they don't, Bush will frame the debate for the next year.

Funny, I don't remember the Republicans offering "ambitious alternatives" to President Clinton's health care plan in 1993. They just kept shouting that it was socialism. Worked pretty well for them, didn't it? Anyway, given that the Bush social security "reform plan" is built on a superstructure of lies -- which Frank more or less acknowledges -- are the Democrats not supposed to speak up? Are they supposed to propose some competing "reform" plan, all the while accepting the false premises that the President has foisted on the American people?

Frank and his fellow Republicans would certainly like that. But as the old British saying goes, the purpose of an opposition is to oppose. It's time for the Democrats to get up on their hind legs and fight.

And the fact that they are fighting is making the right wing nervous. Republicans in Congress weren't crazy about Bush's "reform" plan to begin with. They recognize that the certain risks outweigh the potential rewards and that Bush, who will not stand for re-election, stands to lose nothing.

Add to that their sneaking suspicion that Bush wants to get credit for "reforming" social security while leaving it up to the Congress to work out the details, and the stage is set for the "reform" plan to implode in a spectacular and gruesome way.

Keep shoveling, Mitch.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005
 
Forget Political Science -- It's Time For Some Political Magic, Baby
Like Uri Gellar bending a spoon with the power of his mind, George W. Bush continues to twist reality by the feverish exertion of his wishes and dreams. In a recent interview on Air Force One, Dubya asserted once again that all is going well in Iraq and that his course will lead us to glorious victory. How does he know for sure?

Well, because the American people re-elected him, that's how; the wisdom of his policies have thus been vindicated. If his policies have been vindicated, no review of those policies is necessary. If no review of his policies is necessary, no mistakes have been made. And if no mistakes have been made, no individual can be held accountable.

Flawless logic. Never mind the fact that the Bush campaign told every lie it could think of about Iraq in order to get through the campaign; or that the lion's share of campaign rhetoric was devoted to personal smears against John Kerry. In a weird, Hitler-esque way, Bush is beginning to confuse God with Fate, Fate with History and History with the Will of the People. In the long run I suppose we will all pay the price for this, but in the short run it looks like Iran will.

Seymour Hersh's upcoming article in the New Yorker, "The Coming Wars", alleges that the Pentagon is running its own intelligence operation in Iran, laying the groundwork for a future invasion. Apparently tired of the pesky CIA bringing up "facts" and "reality" all the time, the administration is apparently opting for a factory-direct approach to intelligence-gathering. Both administration spokesdroid Dan Bartlett and the Pentagon have been shouting the official response all weekend: Riddled with errors! Rumor! Innuendo! Poppycock! Fiddle-faddle!

But when asked to deny any of Hersh's allegations, both Bartlett and the Pentagon clam up. "We don't discuss missions, capabilities or activities of Special Operations forces." Why not, if there's nothing at all to these rumors?

Today, though, Dubya couldn't resist. He wasn't going to issue a non-denial denial. His message was, watch out, Iran! You're next!

"I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table," Bush said in an interview with NBC News when asked if he would rule out the potential for military action against Iran "if it continues to stonewall the international community about the existence of its nuclear weapons program."

Sound familiar?

This is the clumsiest sort of brinksmanship. The idea is to make your opponent think that you're so reckless and crazy, you might do anything. Yes, of course I'm bogged down in a ground war with the last country I accused of having nuclear weapons. I'll probably have 150,000 troops there for the next decade. Hell, I'd be CRAZY to start another war under those circumstances, wouldn't I? Well, maybe I AM crazy! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

The problem with this strategy is, it only works as long as no one is willing to call your bluff. And the Iranians will be the first to see that this is straight from the Saddam Hussein playbook. Saddam had been crippled after the first Gulf War and a decade of air strikes and economic sanctions had bled him white. He had no deterrent to an invasion -- and so he pretended that he had an enormous chemical, biological and nuclear stockpile and that he was just crazy enough to use them.

That he ended up jabbering to himself in a spider hole for six months before he was captured is not a ringing endorsement of this policy.


Friday, January 14, 2005
 
Reach The Beach
This morning the Huygens space probe made a soft landing on Saturn's moon Titan and by midafternoon it was already sending postcards back home. For seven years Huygens had piggybacked on the larger Cassini probe; on December 24, Huygens jumped ship and it's been sneaking up on Titan ever since.

Titan is a cold, smoggy and desolate place, kind of like downtown Minneapolis during rush hour in January. It is suspected to have an orange sky and seas of liquid methane (Titan, not Minneapolis) but we don't know what's there -- or at least we didn't until today.

The picture above is the first photo the probe sent back from the surface. It really is amazing to think that we as a species are smart enough to do things like this. And I think it speaks well of NASA and the ESA that they have collaborated so well on a project of this magnitude.

But -- not meaning to minimize what is a great scientific achievement -- I admit to being a little disappointed by the photo. My first thought was, Geez, another boulder-strewn plain? Didn't we already visit this planet? To me, Titan was always the Titan of the Chesley Bonestell paintings , a hauntingly beautiful place that I would have loved to visit.

The photos Huygens took as it descended had features that were described by European Space Agency scientists as a shoreline of some sort. Looks like the surface of a giant oatmeal cookie to me.

Mmmm....giant oatmeal cookie.

But I guess there will be many other delicious surprises from Titan as scientists crunch the data.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005
 
If The "Christian Coalition" Is Against Him, He's Okay By Me

The Rush & Malloy gossip column (again, via Wonkette) has a little tidbit about Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey. Apparently Corzine, who is running for Governor in '06, might turn around and run for President in '08. Sounds unlikely, doesn't it? Well, it is a gossip column.

But that's all right. Corzine has a 0% voting record from the so-called "Christian Coalition".

I like the guy already.


 
You're Not Gonna Believe This


From Bob's Newswire (via Wonkette) comes this startling photo: Sen. Joe Lieberman, according to Bob, bears a "striking similarity" to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was elected Canadian Prime Minister in 1896. Bob goes out on a limb: maybe, he offers timidly, maybe the two of them share a little DNA.

Personally, I think they share all of it.

Come on, people. Look at the photo. Laurier doesn't have just a "striking similarity" to Lieberman -- that is Lieberman!

Here's my theory. Things here in the United States go badly for the Democrats in the next few years. And I mean, really badly. All the Dems end up fleeing for Canada, except for Uncle Mike, who keeps blogging until the secret police kick down his door and drag him off to be brutally killed. "I guess I should have left the country when I could," are his last words. It's all very sad.

Anyway, the Democrats are in Canada and feeling pretty good about themselves, until the Republicans start forming think-tanks in Canada, and right-wing AM radio talk networks in Canada, and then sweep into power in Canada, just like they did in the U.S. The Democrats realize they must escape into the past, and they build this really cool time-ship, and disappear into the 19th century. And Joe Lieberman assumes some Frenchy-sounding name, and gets elected Prime Minister. And all the Lost Citizens are living there now -- or then -- in Canada in 1896. Except for Uncle Mike, of course.

And except for Nemo, who mysteriously disappeared, long ago, into an even stranger place.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005
 
God Bless Ya, Newt


"I'm smiling because Jesus loves me".

We've already noted that the three early GOP presidential contenders for '08 -- McCain, Giuliani and Schwarzenegger -- are going to be hobbled by their lack of street cred with the religious right. It's pretty clear that these guys don't wake up in the morning with the burning desire to build God's kingdom on Earth. It would seem phony and demeaning if they suddenly started gushing about their personal relationship with Jesus, or if they suddenly discovered God like rock-bottom sinners at a Billy Graham revival. So who will carry the banner for the powerful Evangelical Christians in the next round of presidential primaries?

It looks like there will only be one man the born-agains can trust, my friends: Newt Gingrich!

Scoff if you will, but Newt is already moving to corner the God market. One chapter in Newt's new book Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract With America is called "A Walking Tour of God In Washington, D.C.". Why did the heretofore secular Newt include this chapter in his latest tome? "[I] got fed up with people who argue that somehow the concept of the creator wasn't central to how the Founding Fathers understood America." (What people are those, Newt?)

Of course, Newt has not yet expressed any intention whatsoever in running. But when people ask him if he is interested, he simply demurs, and his loony website contains what look suspiciously like a candidate's position papers.

Verily, verily, brothers and sisters, if we are good, if God loves us, He will certainly bless us with a Newt Gingrich run for President.


Monday, January 10, 2005
 
IOKIYAR! The Cry Of A New Generation

I've warmed up the Wayback machine today so that we can take a little trip into the recent political past. In the summer of 1992 former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was mounting a strong challenge to George H. W. Bush, a man who had been so popular a year before that some had wondered aloud if an election was really going to be necessary.

A souring economy and Clinton's political savvy brought the governor within striking distance in the polls. Clinton was dogged, however, by accusations that he had dodged the draft, engaged in extramarital affairs and had smoked pot in college. Bush campaign snark-in-chief Mary Matalin could not speak publicly about Clinton without referring to him as the "womanizing, draft-dodging, pot-smoking former governor of Arkansas". Clinton's dirty laundry was dug up and exposed by a gleeful Republican majority in Congress and their eager shills in the media. Even Clinton's daughter, an apparently smart, happy and well-adjusted teenager during the Clinton presidency, was publicly mocked, pilloried and belittled.

Yet when Newt Gingrich was later found to have engaged in an extramarital affair with one of his aides, it was shrugged off by the Republicans and by their media lackeys. When it was revealed that Dick Cheney had himself dodged the draft, there were yawns from sea to shining sea. When allegations surfaced that George W Bush had snorted cocaine in his misspent youth (a misspent youth that was extraordinarily lengthy by any measure), Bush declared that he would not answer any questions about it. The media gulped and never asked another question. And when confronted by a mountain of evidence that Bush's twin daughters were a couple of spoiled, witless, boozing, drug-addled skanks, the Republicans demanded only positive press coverage and they got it.

This double standard has become so deeply ingrained in our culture that it has earned an acronym of its very own: IOKIYAR: "It's OK if you're a Republican".

Thus the current House leadership can, with a straight face, declare that weakening ethics rules makes sense because the Republican majority is inherently more ethical than the Democrats who preceded them.

Rush Limbaugh can declare on his radio program that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are "racists" because they -- gasp -- questioned a legal opinion that Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales wrote that seemed to condone torture as a legitimate instrument of American foreign policy (I got two words for you, Rush: Donovan McNabb).

The Bush administration can pay a quarter of a million dollars to a so-called journalist who agrees to shill the No Child Left Behind act, and aside from some tsk-tsking in the media, the story fades away -- which wouldn't have happened if the Clinton administration had done the same thing (had Clinton even tried, the word "impeachment" would be echoing through the halls of Congress right now).

Former H. W. Bush National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft observed recently that the current administration is turning the word "reality" into a pejorative. But the hubris and triumphalism of the current party in power should be encouraging to Democrats. Because when these guys fall, they're going to fall hard.


Thursday, January 06, 2005
 
Heil Finstad!
We spent some time last month kicking around slack-jawed Alabama Legislator Gerald Allen. He's the yokel who wants to save Alabamans from the evil machinations of local teachers and librarians -- you know, those pinkos who want to stock "public" schools and libraries with "ideas" by people who don't agree with patriots like Gerald Allen.

But alas, this kind of idiocy isn't limited to the Redneck States.

Just as Allen wants to be Alabama's next George Wallace, now a northern legislator yearns to be Minnesota's next Orval Faubus -- a 28-year-old clown from New Ulm named Brad Finstad.

Young Brad wants to make immigrants learn English within one year of arriving in the state.

As Nick Coleman pointed out in the Star Tribune, New Ulm has a 97% white and 98% American-born population. Lazy immigrants who refuse to learn English can't be a big problem in New Ulm.

But of course that's not the point. Brad's bill is written for the benefit of know-nothings who believe that immigrants come to America just so they can go on welfare. Never mind that it's a myth that isn't supported by the facts, or that the availability of English-as-a-second-language classes is far outstripped by the demand for them in the immigrant population. When asked if he would support increased funding for such classes, Brad balked. "I'd have to see some hard data on that", he said.

Gee, Brad -- didn't you research the issue before you drafted the legislation?

Imagine, a clean-cut kid like that not doing his homework.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005
 
Bzzzzzzz
According to today's Post , the Bush team is finally showing a little stocking on its social security "reform" plan:

The Bush administration has signaled that it will propose changing the formula that sets initial Social Security benefit levels, cutting promised benefits by nearly a third in the coming decades, according to several Republicans close to the White House.

[...]by embracing "price indexing," the president would for the first time detail the painful costs involved in closing the gap between the Social Security benefits promised to future retirees and the taxes available to fund them. In late February or March, the administration plans to produce its proposed overhaul of the system, including creation of personal investment accounts and the new benefit calculation.

"This is going to be very much like sticking your hand in a wasp nest," said David C. John, a Social Security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation and an ally of the president. "And the reaction will be similar."

Just between you and me, I don't believe it. Not for a minute.

This is either a trial balloon or a feint. Republicans "close to the White House" -- this White House, anyway -- don't whisper secrets to Washington Post reporters unless they've been instructed to do so. It seems more likely that the administration is edging up to the wasp's nest and listening carefully to the buzzing from within. They blundered into Iraq because they convinced themselves it would be easy. But they won't go after the wasp's nest if they think it'll be hard.


Monday, January 03, 2005
 
The Lemmings Think It Over
Boy howdy, it was close.

The 109th Congress was about to jump off one of the highest cliffs in American political history, and it would have been sweet to watch. The Republican majority was all ready to roll back the House ethics rules that were embarrassing the ethically-challenged Majority Whip Tom Delay. But in a closed-door session last night, they got a sudden and acute case of vertigo:

The proposal would have made it more difficult for lawmakers to discipline a colleague for unethical behavior and would have allowed Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) to keep his post if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury that is looking into his campaign finance practices.

The sudden reversal came amid growing indications of dissension within the GOP. Just before House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's office announced that the measures were being dropped, the chairman of the House ethics committee issued an unusual statement denouncing the leadership's plan.

Rep. Joel Hefley (Colo.), who appeared on the verge of being forced out as chairman after his committee voted three times last year to admonish DeLay, issued a statement criticizing the proposed rule changes as highly partisan and not in the best interests of the House. "Ethics reform must be bipartisan and this package is not bipartisan," Hefley said in the statement after sending Republican colleagues a letter outlining his objections.

The House GOP leadership, of course, had already heard the criticism from the media and the whinging from their own rank-and-file, but they were sure that they could make the rule changes stick anyway. After all, this is the new America, where the GOP bends reality itself to its mighty will, right?

Well, yes and no. Representatives who had gone home during the Christmas break were getting an earful from their constituents. Republicans who were around in '96 knew that they were about to hand the Democrats a big stick that could be used to beat the living hell out of them during the next election cycle.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Republican hubris is at an end:

Republicans voted to go ahead with another of their controversial ethics proposals and will ask the full House to approve a change that could curtail ethics committee investigations. Under the change, a Republican vote would be required before an inquiry can begin. The committee is evenly divided between the two parties, and under current rules a deadlock means an investigation begins automatically.

Not exactly the red-hot campaign issue the Democrats were looking for. But running against Tom Delay doesn't sound like a bad strategy for a coordinated, nationwide campaign in 2006. It's long past time to get these clowns to play defense.


 
Just Talk Faster
Back in my junior high school days, the kids in our grade were given a tour of the local state hospital. It was one of the more interesting field trips of my childhood. Out in polite society you might occasionally run into people who are mildly or even moderately retarded, but the state hospital took care of people who were facing much higher barriers.

We walked through workshops were instructors were showing their charges how to do simple painting and woodworking and that sort of thing. The idea was to get the patients to a point where they could do factory work outside the hospital and live a more normal life. We also saw large rooms where patients engaged in closely supervised recreational activities in a setting that can only be described as adult day care (in fact, it was in this room that I first saw someone get a "time-out".)

So there was no mystery as to what this place was about, and yet there was a kid next to me for most of the tour (I can't remember his name anymore) who had a completely different idea. He told me rather conspiratorially that he was expecting that we would be jumped at any moment by one of the "inmates", and he was prepared. He had learned some spiffy move or other that would save us when, inevitably, a nearby door would fly open and a gibbering, spittle-flecked madman would leap out and attack us.

I remember telling him that we were at a state hospital, not an insane asylum, and that it was silly to be afraid of people who wore diapers and nailed together birdhouses. His reaction puzzled me: he literally shook off what I said and talked faster, as if he was afraid my words might land on his shoulder and creep up into his brain. I had never seen that reaction before, but I've seen it many times since.

And I'm beginning to suspect that the delusional kid on the tour with me is now an official in the Bush administration. Case in point:

To show that President Bush can fulfill his campaign promise to cut the deficit in half by 2009, White House officials are preparing a budget that will assume a significant jump in revenues and omit the cost of major initiatives like overhauling Social Security.

To make Mr. Bush's goal easier to reach, administration officials have decided to measure their progress against a $521 billion deficit they predicted last February rather than last year's actual shortfall of $413 billion.

By starting with the outdated projection, Mr. Bush can say he has already reduced the shortfall by about $100 billion and claim victory if the deficit falls to just $260 billion

.

I know what you're thinking: what if the administration can't reduce the deficit to $260 billion, even after they've given themselves a $108 billion head start? The answer is simplicity itself:

Administration officials are also invoking optimistic assumptions about rising tax revenue while excluding costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as trillions of dollars in costs that lie just outside Mr. Bush's five-year budget window
.

For the Bush administration, mendacity isn't something you have to apologize for. Reality is simply a matter of what you can get people to believe. And with both houses of Congress and much of the media under their control, this administration is finding it easier and easier to get people to believe anything.





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