Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Parliament Of Whores

(thanks to P.J. O'Rourke for the title of this post).

Well, well boys. Looks like some of the sleazy business of campaigning is coming home to roost for the Bush Administration's Congressional hatchet-man.

Tom DeLay (R-TX) was indicted for accepting illegal campaign donations in Texas.

Read the text of the indictment here.

With this, the ethical Martha Stewart-like problems plaguing Bill Frist (R-TN), it seems that the Republican majority in Congress, and indeed their leadership is having as many credibility problems as the President.

What does all of this mean in the long run? It seems that the Republicans, political capital long spent, have entered the "locust years" of their wave that started in 1994 with their seizure of the majority in Congress, topped out with the 2000 and 2004 elections of a Republican president, and came crashing down as the war lingers with no solution, the response to a national disaster was botched and the realization of their plight sets in.

This seems, for the GOP, to be the typical second term syndrome that hits all Presidents who serve twice. The second term is brutal, unforgiving and only made worse when problems hit concerning credibility.

Read this excellent piece by David Green. It really captures the hopeless position that the current ruling faction finds themselves in. You know it is serious when Bob Novak is wondering about the dedication of the GOP base.

Look out because the 2006 mid-term Congressional elections just got a whole lot more important. There could be a real change because of these lingering concerns.

Or people can go on being afraid and stupid and leave these morons at the switch.

Balls in your court. Wanna play?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Let's Make This Quick

Really, I want to go home and eat and read more British Foreign Office dispatches from WWI.

  • To paraphrase America, by John Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show, what is it about Americans and our ability to merchandise in the face of tragedy? Witness, therefore, Hurricane Katrina the Alcoholic Beverage. All I will say is the following: it's slogan is "Get Blown Away" and it was created by two lawyers. The only fitting punishment for this is to provide all stricken people with a lifetime supply. God knows, of anyone, they could use a drink.
  • The NYT cutting people? That is a pretty big cut. This can mean one of several things. Dwindling readership of print editions, redundancy or something bigger. Who actually reads the NYT? Is it the "paper of record" anymore? What about making up news? Can there ever be a paper of record? Are newspapers becoming more and more irrelevant?
  • Iraqi officials have embezzled billions from their own budget? Well, they certainly have the whole "robbing the budget blind" part of government down well enough. They learn fast and I am sure that Saddam was a good teacher. Things couldn't be going better.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Can You Answer? Yes, I Can.

Allright, Frema was good enough to provide me with some good questions. Let's hope I get 'em right...

1. What is the bravest thing you've ever done?
While I cannot say that I have ever done anything "brave" like in combat or life-or-death situations, I think that have participated in some personal bravery. I think it took considerable courage to completely change careers (Financial Services back to Academia), spend three years and too much money to get an M.A., and then uproot my entire life and move to a place where I know absolutely no-one. I guess you could say, in this sense, I am living my personal bravery moment as we speak.

In a broader sense, I have never been afraid to take unpopular positions or make unpopular decisions if I felt that they were the right thing to do. I also do not mind defending things that I believe in deeply even if it is dangerous or unpopular. It's what I think, deal with it.

2. What do you think is the most embarassing black mark on American history?
As a historian, I have many different feelings and opinions about this subject, but here is the overarching theme. The greatest injustice that American society does (and keeps on doing) is oppression and exclusion in the face of a "civil religion" that is based on individual liberty. Wether it be women, racial or ethnic minorities, gays, lesbians, the tune is all the same. The promise of America is denied in the face of such bright promise. The examples could (and do) fill the pages of our national consciousness. Often, we try to define America as who we are not. That is wrong and betrays the true goodness at the heart of the idea of America.

3. Which TV or movie character--past or present--best embodies your "perfect match"?
This, for me, was the toughest question. Let's see...character, not actor. I always liked Suzanne Pleshette's character on "The Bob Newhart Show." She was smart, sarcastic, an equal match for her mate, sexy but not in-your-face, an unconventional sense of humor. Seems that would suit me just fine. Ahh, that lucky bastard Tom Poston.

Hope these insights are somewhat fruitful! Keep 'em coming!

Friday, September 16, 2005

What Could Be The Answer To The Answer Man?

My friend Frema did this on her site and I thought it might be an interesting exercise. Here goes...

1. Ask me three questions. Any three, no matter how personal, private or random.

2. I have to answer them honestly, and I have to answer them all.

3. In turn, post this message on your blog and answer all questions asked of you.

Think about that over the weekend, post your responses and I will answer them next week.

Until then, enjoy the weekend. The Badgers are out of town this weekend, and I still can't find anywhere to watch the Bears. With their performance, that might not be entirely bad.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Last Call? Hell No!

In an interesting piece of local news, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has called for bars on Madison's State Street to close 90 minutes early on the Saturday of Halloween weekend. The reason given is that the event has ended in violence in the past three years coupled with the fact that the time changes on that Sunday morning at 2:00. This means that, techincally, the bars are open an hour longer.

In the Wisconsin State Journal article, an understandibly flustered Dane County Tavern League says that this is the last straw. After being hit with fines, lawsuits and a ban on smoking, the DCTL is not about to let the mayor do this on what is a big sales night for them; they claim they are desparate for the business.

There are a few things at work here. I can see the mayor's point of wanting to avoid violence (and this is not an exaggeration; fires, fights and mayhem cost businesses and the city hundreds of thousands of dollars). Apart from this concern, I have trouble seeing how the mayor can do this with a clear head (no pun intended).

These tavern owners, and I have spoken personally to a few, say that their business is suffering from the smoking ban as well as a so-so local economy and a simple change in drinking habits. Read this article in The Capital Times for more information and background. They have laid people off and some are even talking about shutting their doors for good.

How should this problem be dealt with? It seems that there needs to be some coordination between the government and business owners so that all can benefit and the rioting can be averted. Step up police patrols; a few extra boots on the ground may seem like passing on the costs of the irresponsible to the tax payers, but it may be a good deal in the long term when violence is quelled.

For their part, the tavern owners must more stringently enforce I.D. laws. Unfortunately, there are no state laws regarding serving those who appear intoxicated nor are there dram shop laws in Wisconsin. While it is hard to turn away a paying customer, the owners of taverns and bars must work with the authorities and turn the already-overserved away. A simple, legal way is to invoke the right of any business owner to refuse service to anyone and if they refuse to leave, have them arrested for trespassing (kinda like they do it in Vegas).

Now, for more wishful thinking, it would be nice if college students could excercise some control or simply drink at home with friends (which is what I did). It seems that they cannot do this, and there may be deeper factors at play. It seems that these people, still young and full of fight, need control from elsewhere. Little do they know that if they minded their intake, none of this would be necessary.

As for me, I will stay at home, get some refreshing beverages and answer my door for the kiddies. A fun game for just such an occasion. Gather your friends on Halloween and have a good quantity of spirits on hand. Take turns answering the door and consume for each trick-or-treater that comes on your turn. Safe, fun, topical and no riots.

Or, if all else fails, stay home amateurs and leave the drinking to the professionals.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Katrina: From Shameless to Thoughtful

Two more things about our latest great national nightmare.

First, the bad news. At the beginning of the John Roberts hearings, two members of the Senate sickeningly used Hurricane Katrina and the destruction to point out that we need a more representative Supreme Court. Yep, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) played the "Katrina card" in a hearing for a supreme court nomination.

For shame.

Now, the good news. These are important words to ponder from CBS anchor and "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer. He closed the program with these on Sunday, September 4:

Finally, a personal thought. We have come through what may have been one of the worst weeks in America's history, a week in which government at every level failed the people it was created to serve. There is no purpose for government except to improve the lives of its citizens. Yet as scenes of horror that seemed to be coming from some Third World country flashed before us, official Washington was like a dog watching television. It saw the lights and images, but did not seem to comprehend their meaning or see any link to reality.

As the floodwaters rose, local officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest.

By midweek a parade of Washington officials rushed before the cameras to urge patience. What good is patience to a mother who can't find food and water for a dehydrated child? Washington was coming out of an August vacation stupor and seemed unable to refocus on business or even think straight. Why else would Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert question aloud whether New Orleans should even be rebuilt? And when he was unable to get to Washington in time to vote on emergency aid funds, Hastert had an excuse only Washington could understand: He had to attend a fund-raiser back home.

Since 9/11, Washington has spent years and untold billions reorganizing the government to deal with crises brought on by possible terrorist attacks. If this is the result, we had better start over.

Amen, Brother Schieffer. Amen.

Just Give Him The Robe And Gavel Already!

This guy John Roberts has been a dead-lock since day one, and his accession to the top spot on the Supreme Court came as a welcome surprise (or not) to the Bush administration. To quote John Tierney of The New York Times in quite an amusing article, "the guy has made a career out of not talking. Why should he start now?"

I am of course speaking of Roberts and his tightlippedness (sp?) during the Senate hearings. What surprises me is that there is not more rancor and more questioning. The C-SPAN cameras caught Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) doing a crossword puzzle and Sen. Charles Schumer talking to himself, as Dana Milbank points out in The Washington Post.

I guess that when it comes to Katrina or John Roberts, the court of public opinion and attention voted long ago.

Still, there was some signs of oppositional life. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) told Roberts to "go ahead and keep shutting up." C'mon, Biden, you know that this guy's got nothing. A certain amount of it, I am sure, is really because he cannot speak about matters that the court may rule on. If you remember, the same issue of not talking came up in 1993 with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For many issues, they REALLY can't say anything.

Although it seems weaselly to sneak a nomination hearing in during a national crisis, if not now, when? The nation must go on and function. Opposition forces must now concentrate on the other opening in the court that will have to be filled on the eventual departure of Sandra Day O'Connor. That could be much more important than Roberts as Chief Justice. Think of the possible block: Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, [NEW GUY/GAL].

It is equally as possible that Roberts will be another David Souter, so who knows?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Race Prejudice, Class Prejudice?

See what you think about this exchange between Don Imus and Newsweek's Johathan Alter from today:

Monday September 12, 2005

Imus: "The response to the plight of these people affected primarily in New Orleans was the result of what, in your.. Was it class? Was it race?"

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter: "I also spoke to Barak Obama this week and I thought that he was pretty sensible about it. The local response was tinged with racism. You had, there's an anecdote in the story that I wrote. A Newsweek reporter down there spent a couple of days with a water taxi operator and was helping get him around town to see what was going on, from St. Bernard's Parish. And over the course of two days, this guy did not pick up one black person. Every single person he rescued, dozens and dozens of people, was white and he was just full of racial epithets and the n-word and just wasn't going to do anything for anybody black. On the other hand, I think that Senator Obama is right that the ineptitude at the Federal level was color blind. It's not like Michael Brown and President Bush had what Obama called 'active malice' but there was a passive indifference. I think that was the Senator's expression which was quite clear. I think the real factor there may have been just that there was no election right around the corner. They would've been more on the case if it had been like last year. Remember the Florida hurricanes and the feds were down there immediately to make sure that nobody had any trouble there. So the pressure was off, no election, no real concern in the United States about poverty and the less fortunate among us."

Imus: "What if the majority people of the affected had been white, what would the response had been from the top down?"

Jonathan Alter: "I think, again, I think the factor was really that there was just no intense political pressure."

Imus: "It would have been the same you think?"

Jonathan Alter: "I think it would have."

Imus: "You're a naive fool."

Jonathan Alter: "We're talking about two different things here. Are you talking about the response from Washington, or the overall?"

Imus: "Both. From the Oval Office on the idiot Mayor of New Orleans."

Jonathan Alter: "Who is African American."

Imus: "Well whatever. There's more class prejudice.. there's as much class prejudice and racism within the black community as there is within the white community. Anybody knows that."

Jonathan Alter: "Clearly it's a slew of racial and class prejudice that we're talking about here. But I just think that you need to separate the larger problem, which is what we explored in Newsweek this week from saying that, you know they got down there on Friday instead of Thursday because the people were black. I'm not sure I would say that."

Wouldn't you, Alter? If this sort of thing hit, say, Malibu California, you think the level of disaster, panic, disease and mayhem would be exactly the same.

For once, I do pretty much agree with the I-man.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

You Had To See THIS Coming...

You just knew that, upon hearing news of the greatest natural disaster in the U.S. since the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake, that the discussion at the White House or Crawford or wherever that little weasel is/was went something like this:

Karl Rove: Mr. President, this would be a perfect time to sneak the Supreme Court nomination hearings onto the Congressional calendar.

GWB: Yeah, Karl, you're so damned smart. While the emergency systems of the nation break down and millions are possibly diseased, homeless or dead, let's "git-r-done" and get Roberts in there. Hell, none of those poor folks voted for me anyway. This will deal with the Sheehan thing to, if we're lucky.

Karl Rove: Exactly. We'll do like we did for 9/11. Form some bullshit committee to look into it, find someone at FEMA to blame, shuffle the bureaucracy a little, and watch the housing and building bubble re-inflate as an entire city must be built to doubltess expensive new safety standards. Remember, it's easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

GWB: Y'know what'd be great? If Rehnquist were to kick off right about now. Then we could take care of two historically crucial nominations with one simple national tragedy.

Karl Rove: Yes (strokes chin evilly), that would be something. Will you excuse me for a minute? I need to make some phone calls.

Links of Interest
Roberts nomination.
Bullshit committee (GWB version).
Bullshit committee (Hillary Clinton version).
Shameless buck-passing.
A fair assessment (at last).
Another one.
Rehnquist bites it.

Government = Death

A horrible natural disaster in which thousands die, millions in property is destroyed and the coastlines of the Gulf of Mexico (including the ninth largest city in the country) are laid to waste.

Isn't it in these times when some of us don't feel so bad about the government's powers? Shouldn't these be the times when their far reach and almost unlimited resources (as long as we all keep paying taxes) should swiftly be brought to bear in aid of the citizenry? Isn't in these times that that, for all the rights that they take and suppress, the government should ACTUALLY do something to help people?

Well, it seems that this didn't happen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Civil society and the rule of law crumbled, the government at all levels was "caught unawares" and the toll in lives and assets grows daily. Now inevidably come the questions. Who is to blame? Who dropped the ball? How come the response was quick and decisive on 9/11 but not now?

With the crumbling of order, the example of Rudy Guiliani on 9/11 must have been forgotten in New Orleans. What was needed was a decisive, hands on leader who will be among the people, telling them that the situation is under control and bringing the forces to bear to make this so. This was not done by the Mayor of New Orleans, the Governor of Louisiana, any of Louisiana's Congressional delegation or by anyone at the White House. This crucial first step frimly cements the rule of law (with the muscle to back it up, naturally) and helps to stem the tide of helplessness while aid can be mustered.

It seems to me that this is another case of the government not really caring about its citizens. When it comes time to force you to pay taxes, obey inane laws or fight in ill-concieved wars, they cannot do it quick enough. When, however, it comes to helping the victims of a natural disaster, they seem to run around like the proverbial lion with the thorn in its paw. They play dumb, pretend that they are as shocked as everyone else, and finally get things together a week later just in time for New Orleans to become a corpse recovery mission.

The people of Louisiana and Mississippi were betrayed by those who are supposedly charged with protecting them. No wonder they rioted, took to the streets, armed and desparate. They thought, and rightfully so, that they were being left to die. Seems to me that that innate death instinct, good old thanatos, is a powerful force and can lead normally rational people to do irrational things.

Still feel good about trusting these people with your rights, life and safety?

Can you sleep at night knowing that these people are at the helm?

When will we stop being so trusting of those with the power to tax and destroy?

How many more dead Americans is it going to take?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Not Much Point, Really

If you want to read some more about me just in a different form with more advertising...

You DO get to see my picture...

On Wisconsin!

Well, the move is complete and I am now living in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin. Seems like a great town. Met some good people, fried some salami and had my first of many cases of sweet, cheap Blatz Beer. spiritual home.

I will resume posting soon, because there is much to discuss. The breakdown of all civil order in Louisiana and Mississippi for a start.

I am sure that my graduate career will also provide ample fodder for entries. We went through an orientation and it was informative if riddled with scare tactics for the unprepared. I guess that some of these people are coming right off of undergrad and have had no graduate experience. I pity them. Or maybe they are lucky in that they have no old habits to change/overcome.

Well, as the state motto of Wisconsin instructs us, "Forward!"