Friday, July 30, 2004


Vladimir! Talk to me, babe.....

Bush's big line out on the 'trail' today is, 'My opponent has good intentions. [pause...knit brow] But good intentions aren't enough. You need [fake salesman grin] results'. Ah, so typical of the Mayberry Machiavellis: always accuse your opponent of what you yourself are guilty of. It's been their MO from the start. Machiavellian or not, it's a technique common to insurgencies everywhere. Doing it not only preempts the strongest, most obvious criticism of you - and, incidently, precludes serious debate - but it baffles and disorients your opponent. It reminds me of the old adolescent trick of answering a ringing phone with: 'Hello? Is Harold there?'. W-w-wa-HUH?!

It's not very 'hopeful' or 'uplifting' of me to say it, but God, how I despise these people.


I notice that Josh Marshall at TPM is thinking along the same lines, but I would submit that the more pertinent sound bite is the shorter one, the one I cited; unless they feel they are in very deep doo doo (which they probably do, although incoherent scrambling is nothing new nor rare with this administration), they can't believe they are really going to get very far comparing Bush's life with Kerry's - a dangerous comparison, as TPM points out. I think the broader 'theme' is that Kerry and his laundry lists and promises sound good, but good intentions are not enough. What makes this deeply galling is that the Bush Administration is ALL intention and NO result, to an astonishing degree. 'Results' are precisiely what the Bushies lack, from the wars to fiscal policy to health care, to etc. etc. etc.]

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


'bwamp bwaaaam'

Why are political or other news events so often followed by the equivalent of a muted trumpet playing a 'comic' 'bwamp bwaaaam'? Why does bathos always rush in? Why must everything devolve 'safely' into farce? Why does every sentence end with a fatuous giggle?

After giving his absolutely electrifying, brilliant keynote speech tonight, Barack Obama had to, I mean was briefly interviewed by, 'CNN Senior Political Correspondent' Candy Crowley. Among other things, Obama talked about how he put together his coalition to win the primary in Illinois using a non-ideological, common sense approach (keep your eye on Obama, BTW). She asked, 'What advice would you give Senator him with Illinois voters?' Obama, who might have been introduced to Crowley as CNN's 'Senior Political Correspondent', paused, a little puzzled, then explained to her that 'John Kerry is going to win Illinois'. Does CNN'S 'Senior Political Correspondent' not know that Illinois is not a swing state? Maybe it was a long day for Candy, but...there's plenty of cluelessness around other than Convention Week.

One thing many people, from cranky lefties to cranky righties, might agree about is the atrociousness of pundito coverage of both daily news and political news. I don't know how I was ever able to put up with some of the bad tv heads, but I sure can't now. And that includes Lerher on PBS. It's like listening to a review of a rock or hip hop concert by your great-grandfather ('You know, when I was a boy...'.). I'm not comparing this convention to a rock or hip hop show, obviously, but it's that kind of madning, bewildered, almost willful clulessness. It's as if they were reading talking points from a page...oh, wait...

Thursday, July 22, 2004


One Hour Cleaners

The WSJ ran a story this week which is getting a fair amount of juice, at least in the blogosphere. No, it's not 'Dennis Endorses Kerry'; it's about the effects of the Bush tax cuts, (and is extra-piquant at the moment because of the current weird showdown (mano a mano in Bushspeak) over extensions of some of the cuts). If you have time to read only one essay about it (after the story itself), check out Billmon's.

One of the main points of the WSJ story is: "[the] tax cuts . . . have sharply benefited upper income households relative to others.." Was that result ever in serious doubt? Not really. (It has been in plenty of unserious doubt, of course...) How do they get away with this crap? I would suggest that one way they do it can be illustrated by this classic (Pythonesque) Bonzo Dog Band routine from the intro to their song Shirt:

"When can I pick these up?"

"About 3 weeks, gov'ner"

"3 weeks?! But your sign says 'One Hour Cleaners'!"

"(slightly wearily) That's just the name of the shop, Gov'ner. Of course if you want starch, that'll be four weeks...."


The tax con is abetted by the fact that Americans famously define themselves as 'middle class' no matter what income group they're in. But deep down, we all know that, when the rubber meets the road, there is a material middle class dream, defined by what we buy, or can buy. Middle class today means having a cushion of truly 'disposable' income - running through a certain amount of 'non-essential' stuff. You know, Consumer Things. And that's after health care and tuition. If you drive a crappier, older car, or your footwear is a little off, or fill-in-the-blank, you might be 'sorta poor' and sort of a 'loser'. (This obviously doesn't apply only to kids.) You needn't be actually poor, but you know you aren't really 'middle class'. It's no wonder that there is a vogue among some younger, and some not-so-younger, people for 50s-60s 'ring a ding' nostalgia: those years were the Great Awakening of true Consumerism. The images of that era seem sweeter in the context of our much more developed consumerism. It's a kind of fetish, and an understandable one.

So what is the actual dollar amount for the middle class 'dream'? [For the sake of argument, I'd like to leave aside (but not 'behind') the people who have crushing debt.] What does it take to be reasonably solvent, raise a family, and have all the things you deem necessary for your basic self-image as a quasi-50s/60s-style middle class person or couple? Some may quibble, but I'd say between mid-$60k to - mid-$100k, depending on where you live, etc. Is that the 'middle' in any real way?

Actually, the median (literally 'middle' - opposed to 'mean', or 'average') US household income is a little below $50k. But even that might give too rosy an impression, because the point of a middle class is having a plurality of people making enough to feel successful - a cultural bulwark we used to be very proud of having developed in this country. It used to be called the 'broad middle class'. Since the curve downward in numbers (percentage) of people making $65k-$150k must be VERY sharp (given that only 2% make above $200k), clearly, the middle class, as I defined it, is not very many people at all - certainly undescribable as 'broad'. 'Thin' is more like it.

So how do they get away with it? As with the 'maturing' Dry Cleaning Business, the idea is to keep the name the same but change the meaning of it - absurdly. 'Middle class' is now defined by what it 'should' be rather than by how many people can actually afford to be in it. There's nothing 'middle' about it in the real world, in terms of percentage (or even, pathetically, median). We just call it that. In other words, a middle class income is what you should be making if the vast majority of you weren't such losers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


The Next Constitutional Amendment...

Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

....advances in the Senate. Does America feel safer with the current government on the case? I know I do.

In a related story, Aaron Burr commented: This Senate, he said, "is a sanctuary; a citadel of law, of order, and of liberty; and it is here-it is here, in this exalted refuge; here, if anywhere, will resistance be made to the storms of political phrenzy and the silent arts of corruption; and if the Constitution be destined ever to perish by the sacrilegious hands of the demagogue or the usurper, which God avert, its expiring agonies will be witnessed on this floor."


Tuesday, July 20, 2004



Despite the oceans of journalistic spew which spatter our country like acidified widely-scattered-showers day after day, there are always back-stories which few ever quite manage to talk about, even thought many people know them - like the punchline to a joke - in their heart of hearts. 'Polite company' and all. They aren't always 'uber-narratives', but they are geared differently, usually having more 'torque' than the everyday yack. For example, the changed role of the US Vice President. There is a clear narrative line from Clinton through Kerry. Clinton chose Gore, another Southerner, and actually gave him some things to do during the administrations - something of a first; the imaginary corpus called the 'Bush Team' responded, 'Ha! We'll pick a VP who will actually run the White House, and at the same time, allay fears about our pres. candidate's callowness'. Kerry has now continued the story: 'OK. I see your Cheney and raise you Edwards. I'll choose someone who the GOP is most scared of (and who I'm a little scared of) and give him a bigger role in both the campaign and in the administration - at least rhetorically, cause I need help there - than Gore had; sooo, I'm too vain and pompous to name someone who might outshine me? HA! I will not only choose him, but encourage him to outshine me - to my benefit'. Complete campaigns are so rare, relatively speaking, that pols study every previous campaign like it were sacred text. It's a kind of continuity....

In a polity as dysfunctional as ours, back-stories naturally loom especially large, and there are many of them. Juicier ones to follow.


When the Law becomes an Ass....

I live in Chicago, where the annals of relatively petty corruption are full of juicy stories. And a quick glance at Mayor Jimmy Walker's record of shocking maladministration of NYC reinforces the conventional view of machine hacks and ward heelers as scummy little criminals - perhaps somewhat laughable, but scummy. But a closer look at New York's Tammany Hall in the teens and twenties, and its production of Alfred Smith and the proto-New Deal, and then the subsequent transformation of NYC from Al Smith's NYC to Robert Moses' - gives rise to another thought: at their best, big city machines may have been pettily corrupt, but they served a real function - a social welfare function. The really big corruption which replaced the old machines is both much more damaging, and doesn't really serve anyone except the large beneficiaries. At least you got a free turkey or a job from Tammany. What did regular people get from Moses and his Authorities and bond-floating power? Lots of bridges, roads and parks, whether you wanted them or not, and whether it destroyed your neighborhood or not. Who really made out in those deals? It goes without saying that banks LOVE bond issues like Moses'....

Oligarchy-minded folks have probably always known the really smart, effective way to snatch more and more money and power: make it legal to do so. Just as it's much easier to dupe people who presume themselves to be 'free' - nobody believed anything they read in Pravda - the best way to steal is, and has always been, to make it legal. It's the trump card-argument that can be used over and over again, in almost any situation. "Of course the impeachment of Clinton wasn't about sex, it was the perjury; yes, marijuana is not as dangerous as cocaine and heroin, but it's a DRUG, it's illegal; yes, it makes little sense to give corporations a tax break to move their businesses off-shore, but those who've done it haven't done anything illegal". You hear it over and over in right wing talking points: when all else fails, ask the question 'Were any laws broken?'. This knee-jerk is provided an 'intellectual' underpinning by Federalist Society types - 'originalists' ('see, here's the constitution right here - it's the Law, you know - and I don't see anything in it about the right to privacy..').

From our horrendous tax code, to our outrageous drug policy and mandatory minimum sentencing - resulting in prisons becoming a for-profit-growth-industry, to our Rube Goldberg campaign finance laws, it's clearly time to stand up and say that, in some cases, the law, sir, is an ass.

Monday, July 19, 2004


Time to Snap Out of It

When Norman Ornstein - the fairly conservative but scrupulously non-partisan pundit/scholar currently employed by the American Enterprise Institute - sounds an alarm, it's a big serious bell which doesn't toll that often. In short, Norm is both highly intelligent, very knowlageable, and hardly the alarmist sort. So you know he's not kidding around when he writes in his recent op-ed:

Democracy is a fragile web of laws, rules and norms. The norms are just as important to the legitimacy of the system as the rules. Blatant violations of them on a regular basis corrode the system. The ugliness of this one [the hours-long vote in the House on the recent Medicare 'reform' bill] will linger...

Ornstein is one of a vanishing breed - the conservative. But he's hardly alone in his alarm. Indeed, in light of the blatant corruption and abrogation of its oversight responsibilities evident in the last couple Congresses - but particularly the current one - some are wondering whether our whole system of separation of powers, with its checks and balances, needs some sort of fundamental overhaul. The Greens are pushing the idea of run-off elections, which, while attractive, would be very difficult to affect at the Federal level any time soon. A better place to start would be real, sweeping, campaign finance reform - not a variation of McCain-Feingold, but truly taking money out of politics. THAT we could do NOW.

The conventional wisdom is 'oh, it can't be done, there are constitutional problems, bla bla bla'. Bollocks. It most certainly CAN be done. It's a matter of leadership. This is not intended to be an 'Edwards fan-blog', but he is salient for reasons additional to simply being on the Democratic ticket. During his primary campaign, John Edwards - alone among national politicians of note - talked about taking money completely out of elections in every speech for several months (before the 'two-Americas' stump got set into stone toward the end). He talked about standing on the WH lawn periodically (as president, of course) and simply telling the country what the DC money sewer cost them THIS month (or quarter or whatever) - a great idea.

But can it be done constitutionally? Of course it can. Over at the excellent Legal Fiction blog, my mere mention of this potential immediately brought this comment from a reader named Rahul Sinha (whose blog is quite good, too):

Actually there is an elegant solution:

Senate Bill 11, 1997 (or was it '96)

Basically elegant optional public financing of all federal elections.

As a candidate who either personally received 5% in the previous election or is the representative of a party that did, you get the option of opting into the system.

Within the system you agree to echew all sources of money, personal and external, in exchange for $X from the federal government. If any compeditor to you does not opt in, you either get $X or 110% of whatever they spend, whichever is higher.

It is constitutional, as it is optional....

I would go further, insisting on free television time - as Sen. Edwards and others have suggested - and a pot of federal money which the candidate who opted into the system would have to share with his competitor(s) if they opted in, but not if they didn't. Make taking the federal funds optional but very very attractive. If you opt into the federal funding, you get your millions and free tv time; don't opt in and raise your own money and pay for your tv time.

There are lots of other pressing issues this year, obviously, but this one is germane to all of them, in one way or another. Our current campaign finance 'system' is literally legal bribery - well beneath the dignity of a great country. Let's hope that a president Kerry will charge a vice-president Edwards with the task of leading on this - or that he will lead on it himself. Real, radical reform would change everything.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


Cuomo Disses Edwards

During the Q&A section after a recent speech about Lincoln - his new book is called 'Why Lincoln Matters - Mario Cuomo was asked (first question) who Kerry should pick for VP (BTW, C-SPAN happened to air this a day before Kerry made his announcement). Notwithstanding his token attempt at circumlocution, it was very clear what he meant: Kerry shouldn't pick Edwards. Cuomo - of all people - did allow that, yes, the ability to give a good speech is important (!), and yes, you have to win to govern, but suggested that Kerry needed someone with....wait for it....gravitas, like Gephardt or Clark. He cited what he called Edwards' "one skimpy little term in the Senate", and finished with the crowning insult: the implicit comparison of Edwards to Dan Quayle, whom Cuomo then, bizzarely, claimed to know to be a 'very intelligent guy'.

What tha'...?

Now, I'm surely not alone in long-thinking that Cuomo has always been a bit overrated - his 12 years as Gov. of NY were not really notable; I admire him for his decency and principled opposition to the death penalty, but he was not a remarkable Governor. But this is a new, and sort of touching, crank-dom. A gratuitious branding of Edwards as a 'lightweight'. Isn't it amazing how often our particularly elective criticisms of others apply perfectly to ourselves? Cuomo's star has fallen while Edwards' is rising - Edwards even has the 'speechifying' skills which were Cuomo's only real claim to fame.

Perhaps Mario is just getting old. It's happens to us all. But I wouldn't expect him to be very high-profile at the Dem. convention.

suswah writes, "Tim Russert asked Cuomo about his presidential aspirations during the MSNBC interview. He replied that he was not really good enough for that job. I don't know if that is false modesty. Or really how he feels." Kind of heartbreaking, really. The intention of this post is not to sneer at Cuomo, but rather to spark serious thought about the failures of the Dems and liberalism in the last 25 years; for many, Cuomo is still an icon, the best Dem of all ('if only Cuomo had run for pres.'). Clearly one necessary step is to - humanely - question our conventional wisdom now and then.

(I couldn't find a transcript for Cuomo's speech, but here is an attempt at a link to the video. The Q&A starts at about 41:25)


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