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Monday, February 28, 2005
Curse Of Count Chocula

Rep. Chris Chocola (R-IN)

Of all the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, my favorite has to be Indiana Republican Chris Chocola. His name never fails to make me laugh.

His goofball stand on the issues is pretty comical too. As Josh Marshall points out, Chocola is telling his constituents that no, he never, ever said that he wanted to privatize Social Security. He seeks refuge in that hoariest of political cop-outs, the my-quote-was-taken-out-of-context defense.

Okay, read this from a Chocola interview in 2000, and tell me if you think his words were "taken out of context".

Bush's plan of individual investment of 2 percent of the money is a start.

Eventually, I'd like to see the entire system privatized. It's not a 'risky

scheme.' There will be a series of investment options for people,

professionally managed. If one isn't performing for you, you can change

every year. We're not going to let people invest all of their money in


"People will be smart enough to understand their risk level. I believe

people can make good decisions, and I know they ask really good questions

before they make decisions. Will somebody screw it up? No question. But the

government is screwing up the whole thing right now.

"The whole thing is optional, and it's good for a couple of reasons. One,

it's your money and nobody can touch it. It doesn't end up being borrowed by

the federal government to pay off other things. Two, it gives you a much

better return than you'd ever get out of Social Security. Right now, younger

people are getting a negative return on their money.

"The stock market has performed at 8 percent return over the past 70 years -

that's through wars and depression. If you give people the opportunity,

they'll build their self reliance and self respect because they'll be making

a direct impact on their lives."

As Al Franken once observed, the only way that you could credibly claim that this was "taken out of context" would be if Chocola began his remarks by saying, "I'd be a fucking idiot if I said...."

Ah, Count Chocola. You can run, but you can't hide. What's that I hear in the distance? Could it be....a rooster crowing? Yes! Daylight is coming, Chocula! The Democrats have found your coffin and have doused it with holy water! Where will you sleep your unearthly sleep now?

Thursday, February 24, 2005
The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Conservative Soul


The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) holds a grand celebration of wing-nuttery in Washington, D.C. every year. The Flying Monkeys have been fluttering to CPAC for more than three decades, but things have changed. It started out as a confab of nerdy Repubs who couldn't get dates; today it's a confab of nerdy Repubs who run the country and who can't get dates.

The years of exile have not matured this group. They all seem astonished that their fortunes have shifted so dramatically, but humility has never been the strong suit for these guys.

Patrick Hynes' write-up in the American Spectator is a masterpiece of unintentional comedy. First Hynes brags about how big CPAC is now, how many people attend, how diverse the groups attending are, how even the ACLU and the Walt Disney Co. have a strong presence there. Why, that proves the Flying Monkeys of the Right Wing are now in the mainstream! Doesn't it?

But wait -- isn't the mainstream bad?!?

[...] will all these strange bedfellows and particular agendas bastardize the movement? How big does a tent need to be, for example, to accommodate President George W. Bush's guest worker program and the build-a-fence immigration reformers? Can amoral, anti-government libertarians cohabitate with conservative Christians who want to ban gay marriage and teach creationism in public schools?

What's more, virtually every group in attendance had some legislative agenda or another. Isn't conservatism supposed to be the philosophy that holds the government that governs least governs best?
Well I dunno, buddy. You're the conservative -- you tell me. Geez, shouldn't you guys have worked all this out before you got control of the government?

Time was, political cliche held that "liberals were for change, conservatives are for the status quo." I kind of liked that. I don't think the government has ever touched something and not cheapened or ruined it. Why do some conservatives think it'll be different just because they're in charge now?
Yeah, it's a head-scratcher. Kinda hard to bash government when you're in charge of it, huh?

If conservatives have any more success, the next CPAC might be so big it loses all meaning. Some of us are beginning to long for the days when conservatives were public pariahs.

Whoa there, fella. Maybe you should keep your masochistic fantasies to yourself.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005
They Slimed Me

Will someone call the Ghostbusters already?

USA Next is a right-wing astroturf group that has hired a number of the slimeball "consultants" from the Swiftboat Veteran smear of last fall. As has been widely reported in the Times and elsewhere, USA Next has been dispatched -- unofficially, of course -- by the White House to destroy the reputation of AARP, currently the main opponent of the President's privatization plan.

While I don't agree with the paranoid belief that Karl Rove is behind every little machination in Washington, this is a big operation and it's just Rove's style: attack your opponent's strengths, not your opponent's weaknesses.

So everyone knew that USA Next was about to launch an anti-AARP smear, and everyone knew it would not be subtle. Still, a lot of people were surprised at just how crude and mean-spirited the attack was.

The ads they posted proclaimed THE AARP AGENDA and then showed two photos: one of an American soldier in Iraq, covered with a big red X. The second photo showed two gay men in tuxedos kissing, presumably having just been married. This photo had a big green check mark across it.

Even for Republicans, this is nasty stuff. The protests against it rattled across the blogosphere, and within hours USA Next pulled the ad.

Not before a lot of screen shots were taken, and liberal blogs are having a great time with it. Kos has posted this very funny page of parodies; check it out.

A Distinction Without A Difference
The administration's favorite Social Security sock monkey, Sen. Norm Coleman, gets a mention in today's Talking Points Memo. In an interview with Forbes, Norm provides the very definition of a distinction without a difference:

Coleman said he was attacked during his 2002 campaign for favoring privatization. "I countered it by being very clear that I supported personal accounts and opposed privatization," he said.

It is a distinction Sununu sought to make in 2002, and one Republicans have been told they will have to make successfully in 2006 if they are to be successful.

In other words, Norm says, he bobbed, weaved, dodged, dissembled, and kicked up as much dust as he could to confuse the actual issue.

Josh Marshall seems astonished at Coleman's bald-faced mendacity, but he doesn't know Norm like we do. One reason the Republicans could skate by this issue in 2002 was the Social Security privatization was a back-burner issue. It isn't anymore. Dubya has made sure of that. And Democrats should be ready to call Republicans out on this "distinction".

Monday, February 21, 2005
Everything's Doubleplusgood

"I hate to say I told you so, but..."

One of the great ironies of the 21st century is that George Orwell's 1984 isn't taught much in schools anymore, because students don't see its issues as relevant to their lives. Even setting aside the titular year (now 21 years past), America in 2005 does not, on its surface, bear a resemblance to the bleak, grimy, oppressive society Orwell described, in which you're lucky to have sharp razor blades, an extra chunk of black bread in the cupboard, and no government-appointed thug putting a bullet through the back of your head. But kids should be reading 1984 because appearances do not always match realities, and Orwell's bleak vision arrived about five minutes after everyone stopped worrying that it would come true.

Orwell wrote of telescreens in every place you went, shouting propaganda that you could never turn off. That's no longer fiction; it's fact. In more and more places -- at train stations, at airports, in classrooms, in rail cars, at sporting events, in movie theaters, in retail stores -- we are being subjected to a ceaseless barrage of advertisements, imploring us to buy, buy, buy. It is private-sector propaganda spoon-fed to captive audiences. The latest step has been taken by our old friends at Wal-Mart.

The advertising industry refers to it as Banana-Vision. Big-screen TVs are set up at numerous points around the store (on top of a pile of bananas in the produce section), and jumbo sound systems boom out messages that ensure that shoppers' concentration will be broken as they pass by. The 42-inch flat panel displays replace older CRT monitors that were bolted to the ceiling and were easily ignored. The new monitors are at eye-level, just distracting enough that people will be forced to stop and look.

These days it shows previews of soon-to-be-released movies, snippets of sports events and rock concerts, and corporate messages from the world of Wal-Mart, including some intended to improve its battered public image.

But the principal reason for Wal-Mart TV is to show a constant stream of consumer product ads purchased by companies like Kraft, Unilever, Hallmark and PepsiCo. And little wonder. According to Wal-Mart and to an agency that handles its ad sales, the TV operation captures some 130 million viewers every four weeks, making it the fifth-largest television network in the United States after NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox.

Wal-Mart spokesdroid Karen Burk says it's just sooooo wonderful.

"The Wal-Mart TV Network is a wonderful way for us to communicate with our customers, whether it's to educate them, entertain them or inform them about new and exciting things on the horizon, Burk said."

Exciting things like this, I suppose she means:

[...]it is Wal-Mart's private tool for defending itself against increasingly vocal critics, including labor unions and local governing bodies, that have questioned the company's rapid expansion, employment practices and competitive behavior.

About five minutes of every hour on the network is set aside for Wal-Mart to make its case, typically showing national or local ads championing the company's community service efforts or the kinds of jobs found there.

Yup, exciting opportunities are everywhere -- if you're willing to look at people as fat, stupid sheep to be preyed upon:

"We've almost had to invent the model as we go along," said Mark C. Mitchell, executive vice-president of Premiere Retail Networks, which operates and programs the Wal-Mart TV Network, adding that consumers had already become adept at absorbing information from the Internet, television, cellphones and magazines all at once.

"Attention deficit used to be a disorder," Mr. Mitchell said. "Now, I think it's the new order for consumers".

Think of it as evolution in action.

I'm always railing against TV commericals being shown in movie theaters, because I think it breaks the trust -- the unwritten contract -- between exhibitor and patron. A friend of mine thinks I'm crazy, and dispenses his usual you-can't-win-so-don't-bother-fighting advice. "So don't go to the movies", he says. Fine. Eventually I won't be able to go anywhere, but staying home won't help either. I suppose eventually they'll devise a way to beam advertising into my skull from a remote location; I suppose my friend will defend that too. "You don't have to buy what they're advertising", he'll say.

Meanwhile -- for anyone who doubts Orwell was right -- there's this:

The network has also been used by Wal-Mart executives who want to rally the employees, and from time to time its programming is replaced by widely televised news events like coverage of military activity in Afghanistan early in 2003. The broadcasts cannot be switched off by store managers, only by someone in the control room at company headquarters.

Don't worry. It's all doubleplusgood.

Friday, February 18, 2005
Aieeeeee! My Army Of Robot Zombies Has Turned Against Me!

With great irony, George was destroyed -- by the very thing he had created!

One of the hoariest movie cliches is that of the deranged scientist who builds a dangerous monster. With great irony, he is ultimately destroyed by his own creation! Over the last few weeks it has become increasingly clear that, if our government was a movie, George W. would be cast as the deranged scientist.

You will remember that Dubya, in his zeal to "reform" social security, was willing to borrow the money needed for the transition costs. But running up a huge budget deficit in order to put social security on a sound financial footing didn't sound like a good idea to most Americans (especially since the administration acknowledged that privatization alone would not fix the problem anyway). In recent polls, the American people did react positively to one idea: making the wealthy pay more into the system.

The other day, George (who insists he never looks at the polls) started dropping hints that indeed, the $90,000 cap on Social Security taxes might be raised in order to pay for privatization (never mind the fact that raising the cap would completely solve the funding problem anyway).

But now George's army of robot zombies in Congress are starting to rebel:

"This Republican House didn't come here to raise taxes," [Majority Leader Tom]DeLay said on Fox News. "We can solve this problem without raising taxes."

Payroll tax is now collected on only the first $90,000 of a worker's annual income, and raising or eliminating that cutoff could help mitigate expected shortfalls for Social Security. White House officials have long said that such a move could be part of a plan to revise the system but not the whole solution, and Bush repeated this week that he will not rule it out.

However, key allies on Capitol Hill reacted negatively to the idea, underscoring the president's challenge in winning majority support for a plan to deal with long-term solvency problems and to allow younger workers to divert part of their payroll taxes to personal investment accounts.

[House Speaker Dennis]Hastert (Ill.) said in an interview that the idea of raising the income ceiling was tantamount to a tax increase simply because it "would take more money away from people."

"We are long away from determining exactly how this bill's going to be put together and how you're going to pay for it," he added. "Not there yet."

DeLay went even further in two cable-news interviews, saying that change alone "wouldn't be any reform" and criticizing efforts to raise the income cutoff.

"To everybody that makes over $90,000 a year, it's a tax increase," he said on CNN.

Live by the no-new-taxes pledge, die by the no-new-taxes pledge.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Preventing Suicide Among Hedonistic Sinners Who Are All Going To Hell Anyway
To me, SAMHSA sounds the name of an evil cabal from a James Bond movie -- the kind of organization that includes an underground lair, a huge tank filled with hungry sharks, and a lot of busty women wearing silver lame' jumpsuits. In fact, SAMHSA stands for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is an agency within the mammoth Department of Health and Human Services.

SAMHSA has been in the news lately because it is "requesting" that the title of an agency-funded talk in Portland, Oregon be changed. The original title of the talk: "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals."

The "suggested" new title drops four words. Those words are: "gay", "lesbian", "bisexual" and "transgender".

Hmm, kind of hard to promote suicide prevention measures if you can't even name the groups being targeted by them! Of course, this change doesn't reflect any animosity toward gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people. Not at all. The change did allow the words -- ulp! -- "sexual orientation" to be used, after all.

You just can't say what you mean when you say "sexual orientation".

The title rewrite was one of several requested changes. Another was to add a session on faith-based suicide prevention, said [SAMHSA spokesman Mark] Weber, who said he believes the brouhaha is all a misunderstanding.

SAMHSA prefers the term "sexual orientation" simply because it is more "inclusive," he said. And besides, he added, it was only a suggestion.

Asked how strong a suggestion, Weber replied: "Well, they do need to consider their funding source."

Yeah, the mafia makes "suggestions" like that too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005
This Just In: Lobsters Don't Mind Being Boiled Alive
According to a new study conducted by the University of Oslo, lobsters aren't actually in agony when, after having been dropped in pots of boiling water, they flail around desperately to get out and make little "EEEEEEEEK! EEEEEEEEK!" sounds.

Must just be a reflex, right?

Who do these Norwegians think they're fooling? We can't continue to enslave and torture these creatures, you know. It's only a matter of time before they turn against us.

In fact, there's a good deal of evidence that it's already happening.

Monday, February 14, 2005
"Intelligent Design" Gets A New Ally
The beleagured "Intelligent Design" movement got a boost over the weekend when an influential scientific research organization backed its claims that life on Earth was not a matter of chance, but the handiwork of a higher power.

I am talking, of course, about our friends The Raelians, part-time reproductive biologists and full-time flying-saucer crazies, who believe an alien named Rael is the progenitor of the human species. You may remember how the Raelians bamboozled a gullible and lazy media into taking seriously its claims to have cloned a human (whom they still have not produced). Now the Raelians are aligning themselves with the "Of Pandas And People" crowd -- albeit with their own endearing spin:

The Raelian Movement would like to underscore that The Theory of Intelligent Design does not lead to a supernatural designer but to an extraterrestrial human civilization designer, which is in line with “naturalism philosophy”. One day, maybe sooner that you might imagine possible, we will go to other planets and scientifically engineer life on them. Then, probably, these worlds will create deistic religions from the interactions we will have with them. After this, they will develop an evolutionary theory to escape from the super naturalistic view of their ancestors, and finally, they will discover that life on their planet was indeed designed - but by us, human beings who came from another world, the Earth…

With backing like this, how can "Intelligent Design" fail to gain momentum now? Thanks, followers of Rael!

And -- if I may be so bold -- God bless ya.

Republicans Demonstrate Theory Of Evolution; Hell Freezes Over

"Don't look at me!"

It's been quite entertaining to read Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blog, which has been devoted almost exclusively to the Social Security privatization issue lately. Josh's "Conscience Caucus" list -- which has all the names of Republicans who oppose privatizing Social Security -- has become the hottest club in Washington, D.C. Every Republican wants to join.

The problem is, not every Republican in the club actually opposes Social Security privatization.

How can this be? Simple. Many Republicans, in a desperate bid to avoid political extinction, have developed a peculiar adaptation, a kind of Social Security camoflauge!

This adaptation allows them to oppose privatization when being quizzed by angry constituents, while being able to simultaneously support privatization when being strong-armed by the White House. As Josh points out, an Associated Press story characterized Rep. Heather Wilson's position this way:

GOP Rep. Heather Wilson says she's opposed to Bush's plan because she's against investing Social Security taxes in the stock market.

But as Josh Marshall notes, that's not exactly what she said:

Wilson's angle is to say she doesn't support having the government invest Social Security money in the stock market. But to her that doesn't rule out creating private accounts invested in the stock market because that's not the government.

The Republicans have thus demonstrated that the chameleon wasn't created overnight through "intelligent design"; instead it evolved a protective adaptation in order to shield itself from an inhospitable environment.

Life is beautiful, ain't it?

Friday, February 11, 2005
Requiem For A Lightweight

Rubber-chicken dinners and sweat stains: a strange guy enters a strange business.

I first met Mark Dayton in 1982, when he was making his first run for the U.S. Senate. Looking back at the photos from those days he looked like a kid, bright and eager and terribly naive.

Dayton was appearing at a number of town-hall meetings statewide. I was a high school student then, and showed up out of curiosity and more than a little boredom. Dayton took a lot of time to talk to me; he really didn't have much choice. You see, I was one of the only people to show up at the event.

He seemed genuinely impressed, though, that a high-school student would show up at one of these shindigs.

With a high-school student's lack of guile, I replied, "Well, I just wanted to see if you were for real or not."

Dayton sort of laughed and recoiled at the same time.

It was, I learned over time, classic Dayton behavior. He was smart and hard-working and ambitious, idealistic to some extent, but he also seemed strangely introverted, clumsy around people. He lacked the easy laugh and the condescending touch of the natural politician. And everyone who was involved in politics knew that he was a little impulsive, and a little weird.

He jumped into the 2000 race late, late enough that the party delegates had already committed to their candidates. That meant he wouldn't have a chance at the party endorsement. Dayton bypassed the convention and said that he would go straight to the primary. The public radio station had already interviewed all the other candidates for Senate, out of fairness the reporter went through the motions with Dayton, probably figuring that this was a vanity candidacy and that Dayton would linger for a while, then drop out. "Why did you choose to run?" the reporter asked. "Well, I got divorced recently," Dayton said, "and I was kind of at loose ends. I was thinking of traveling across Antarctica with Will Steger, but then I decided, why not run for the Senate?"

Why not indeed? He had money; and the candidate eventually endorsed by the DFL, Jerry Janezich, was a nice but inarticulate guy from the Iron Range who didn't have money -- or a hope in hell of winning, either.

Dayton won the primary easily by making prescription drug costs his issue. The seniors who vote heavily in the primaries responded, and Dayton rode the issue to a November victory.

But Dayton's innate goofiness always dogged him. Dayton had campaigned on the promise that he would serve for $1.00 a year, as if that gesture would somehow prove his integrity. To most voters, though, it just looked odd. Imagine you're interviewing an prospective employee, and the candidate suddenly announces that he'll work for nothing. Would that increase your confidence in that person's ability to do the job? Or would it come off as a little desperate? You might say: no thanks, I want a professional, not a volunteer.

Soon after his election, Dayton announced that he was liquidating his stock holdings into cash. Not bonds, which is common for politicians who want to avoid any hint of a conflict of interest, but cash. Again, Dayton intimated that this would blast him into some special orbit of personal integrity. Instead, people wondered why he felt it necessary to penalize himself financially just because he was serving in the Senate.

Little things like that would crop up from time to time, little impulsive gestures that rubbed the wrong way. He was not a self-promoter like Norm Coleman; he did not have a lot of pet issues or an ambitious legislative agenda. His public demeanor did not help him either. More often than not he came across like a stammering, defensive muppet. His vexing decision to close his Senate office in November, in response to some vague terrorist threat, made him a national laughingstock. Democrats who were planning to work on his campaign sighed a lot when his name came up. Victory in two years wouldn't be out of the question, but it would be tough.

His sudden decision to drop out was characterized as a serious, thoughtful decision but it clearly was not. This was more of Dayton's impulsiveness -- a symptom of his boredom and his restlessness.

Today 6th district congressman Mark Kennedy announced for Dayton's seat. In many ways it's a good thing Dayton won't run. Kennedy won't be able to simply bash Dayton; he'll have to defend his own positions, including a very staunch pro-privatization stance on social security. Kennedy's grabbing for the third rail and I hope the Democrats tie his hand to it.

The party is probably glad to be rid of Dayton, but in some ways I miss the young man that Dayton once was -- the idealistic rich kid who thought he could change the world.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Um, Did I Say "Cambodia"? I meant "Syria"
Larry Kudlow, spittle-flecked racanteour of the Fox News Channel, writes an interesting addendum to his gossipy column at Townhall.com. Larry, who feels that one bloody, ruinously expensive war in the Middle East just isn't enough, breathlessly writes that:

As we know, Bush singled out Syria as a world-class troublemaker and safe-harborer of terrorists in his inaugural speech. He said the situation is unacceptable, and if it doesn’t change quickly, action will be taken to correct it. What kind of action? The mainstream media is focused on Iran, where military action is not in the short-run cards, according to Rice and others. But no one in officialdom has similarly ruled out retaliation for Syria’s bad behavior.

Which brings us to our bonus newsmaker, General Wayne Downing, U.S. Army (retired) and former commander-in-chief of U.S. Special Ops. Downing asserted last week on CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer that Syria is clearly a base for insurgent operations. Consequently the U.S. must keep up political pressure. But he also expressed his view that before long we will see cross-border surgical air strikes against bases in the country. He also believes that U.S. troops will be part of the operations.

I have no doubt that Larry honestly believes that a war against Syria would be quick, clean, surgical and spectacularly successful.

It had better be. Apparently General Downing neglected to tell Larry that our military is stretched a bit thin right now. So U.S. troops will be part of the operation, eh? Tell me, General: where are these troops going to come from? Stop-loss orders and the liberal use of National Guard troops are the only things keeping our heads above water in Iraq. Another extended operation would make Nemo's fevered dream of a military draft a reality.

Of course, this proposed operation in Syria would be quick and easy. The military experts say so.

Just trust them.

Monday, February 07, 2005
Cats And Dogs, Living Together?

For the last month or so, Josh Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" blog has been transformed into "Social Security Privatization Memo" -- in content, if not in name.

Now, you'd think a blog about social security privatization would be kind of dull, but TPM has kept the whole thing kinda sexy, largely because of Josh's clever -- and constantly updated -- tally of the members of the "Fainthearted Faction" (Democrats who support privatization) and the "Conscience Caucus" (Republicans who have indicated opposition to the Bush privatization plan).

Marshall has held many pairs of feet to the fire over the last month or so, and his hard work seems to be paying off: today the tally looks like this:


Fainthearted Faction: 5
Conscience Caucus: 18


Fainthearted Faction: 3
Conscience Caucus: 5

The momentum has clearly shifted toward the Democrats in this debate, and Marshall seems to be doing the blogger's equivalent of a victory lap: for the first time in weeks he posted a non-social security-related entry for today.

Gosh, There Was No Way To Foresee This
Lost Citizens, I've got a news flash for you: Ronald Reagan didn't win the Cold War (in spite of what his acolytes have been shouting for the last decade or so), but in a fundamental way he really did change America forever. He demonstrated that hubris is something that you don't need to apologize for. And the Bush administration has learned from this, and turned its own hubris into an ongoing, multi-billion-dollar global performance art piece. This hubris has become a shambling monster, a thing unto itself, a symbol of 21st-century America, our increasingly expensive version of the Millenium Dome -- that is to say, ugly, overpriced, and doomed to ridicule by future generations.

Bush is supposedly a Christian, and I sometimes wonder if he lays awake at night wondering if God is indeed just and if his justice can sleep forever. After all, a just God wouldn't favor a country that was run by a pack of sniveling, mendacious hooligans, would it? No. He wouldn't.

Well, I expect God was growling over his breakfast cereal when he read in the Washington Post that the Bush administration -- the week after Bush's inauguaration for a second term -- announced that, oops, an additional $80 billion is required for the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senate and House aides said yesterday that the White House will announce today plans to request an additional $80 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That would come on top of $25 billion already appropriated for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. White House budget spokesman Chad Kolton declined to comment.

White House budget director Joshua B. Bolten is to describe the package to lawmakers today, but the budget request will come later, the aides said. Administration officials have said privately for several weeks that they will seek the additional funding, the result of continuing high costs incurred battling an unexpectedly strong insurgency in Iraq.

Sit back for a moment, close your eyes, and think about it. Eighty billion dollars. In addition to twenty-five billion dollars. And that's just to cover operations for this year.

There was no way to foresee this, of course, just as there was no way to foresee that several massive rounds of tax cuts would add to the deficit, and just as there was no way to foresee that as a result of the war and the tax cuts, massive domestic spending cuts would suddenly become "necessary". Nor was there any way to foresee that the administration's costs for the social security "reform" program would commence in 2009 -- just off the budget projection radar.

Hunter Thompson used to describe politicians as "lying swine" for much more venial sins than than these, but Dr. Thompson's brain spent too many years sizzling on a narcotics-fueled frying pan; today there are no journalists with his savage iconoclasm, no one to deflate the pompous stewards of our public policy or to call out the preening, self-important blowhards on the cable news stations.

And so the Emperor prances around without a stitch on him. And everyone -- everyone -- applauds.

Friday, February 04, 2005
Aw, What The Hell, Let's Just Name Everything After Ronald Reagan

The Cathedral of Saint Paul will soon be renamed the Cathedral of Ronald Reagan. You may kneel.

Naming things after Ronald Reagan has become an all-American pastime, like long Sunday drives in the country, or beating up kids on the playground in order to take their lunch money. Reaganauts all over the country are eager to name public schools, public parks, public libraries, public highways, public buildings, public bridges -- in short, all the things the 40th president despised -- after the 40th president.

The rush to do this seems a little desperate and unseemly to me. Reagan supporters had been worried about the guy's legacy even before he took office, and now they apparently want to carve his legacy into granite -- literally -- before history catches up with him, the way it caught up with Ulysses S. Grant.

One thing that Reagan taught us, after all, is that appearances are everything. If you look like you're presidential, you are presidential. If you look like you know what you're talking about, you do know what you're talking about. And if you tell the Israeli Prime Minister that you were one of the soldiers who liberated Nazi death camps, then you were one of the soldiers who liberated Nazi death camps.

Conservatives have been clamoring for years to have the "naming rights" for public spaces sold to corporations (which has always seemed odd to me; shouldn't you have to pay for the entire building in order to get the rights to name it?) but Ronald Reagan is the one exception to this.

The Minnesota Legislature is considering a number of Reaganistic proposals, including renaming the 494/694 beltway "The Ronald Reagan Memorial Beltway" and the Floyd B. Olson Memorial Highway "Reagan Memorial Highway".

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate have had the temerity to fight these proposals. Don't those ingrates remember everything that Ronald Reagan did for them? Minnesota was the only state not to go into the Reagan column in 1984, but did the Reagan administration act in a petty, vindictive way afterward? Not at all. Why, the administration proposed four brand new nuclear waste disposal sites in 1985, and all four were in Minnesota! Humble in victory, gracious in defeat -- that was Reagan.

But the first order for the legislature was to pass a fawning resolution, crediting Reagan for the collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of millions of pollution-causing trees, and the discovery that supply-side economics doesn't work. However, as the Saint Paul Pioneer Press reported:

Senate Democrats said the resolution was too glowing and too political.

Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, suggested adding phrases to the resolution that would praise the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton and note that Minnesota, unlike every other state, was not carried by Reagan in 1984.

Republicans said Cohen's suggestion was a "slap in the face."

"I'm dismayed at the kind of action I've seen here today. … I'm saddened by this whole episode, Senator Cohen," said Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, her voice breaking with emotion.

It's a requirement for Reaganauts, you know: when speaking about him, your voice must crack with emotion.

It's just one of those things you gotta do.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Joe Is A-OK

I'm only going to say this once: he's not a doll, he's an action figure.

When I heard that Iraqi insurgents had captured an American action figure and were holding him hostage, I was a little worried. One of my best friends from childhood was an action figure -- a tough-talking American G.I. named Joe.

In those days I really looked up to Joe, but he wasn't much of a conversationalist. He was always jabbering about duty, honor, his mission -- things that a suburban kid like me could scarcely understand. He was a brooding, restless figure, always staring at the horizon. Sometimes, at night, I would find him out looking at the stars. What did he see out there? What was he looking for? Did he yearn for some adventure in a distant land, or was he always anticipating a sneak attack? Maybe he was haunted by the things he had seen....the things he had been forced to do in the name of his country.

He wanted me to follow him into a military career but it just wasn't what I wanted out of life. We fell out of touch for many years, but I ran into him once at the airport a few years ago. He looked the same as ever, and seemed glad to see me, but his businesslike demeanor hadn't changed. He was catching a flight to the Sabaragamuwa province in Sri Lanka, where he planned to lead a group of government-funded mercs against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

I laughed and shook his hand. Same old Joe!

When I finally saw the photo of the captured action figure, I'll admit to feeling some relief. The guy they captured wasn't Joe after all, but some second-rater named Cody (Cody's get-up, by the way, was laughable; where does he shop for military gear, Marshalls?). I should've known that Joe would never get captured anyway; he lacked a kung-fu grip but he never needed that sort of thing. Give the guy a bowie knife and he could take out a dozen Vietcong. And I suppose he's still out there somewhere, muttering to himself about duty and honor and his mission.

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