Monday, January 30, 2006

Water Sports and War Porn

If you decide to go to the video store and rent "Team America: World Police," by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, be sure to get the uncensored/unrated version.

Parker and Stone are the guys who do the t.v. show "South Park," so in the spirit of their small-box work, their first objective with this 98-minute marionette show is to shock, offend, insult, belittle, and provoke as many people as possible. They succeed admirably.

The premise is that Kim Jong-Il, who gets a lot of face time and whose voice is done by Parker, has concocted a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction which he plans to distribute to Arab terrorists, so as to effect the destruction of the United States by proxy. That's the MacGuffin that drives this whole thing.

In order to counter this threat, the Team America commandos sally out from their fortress headquarters behind the iconic faces that front the heads of our four deified presidents at Mt. Rushmore and fly all over the world, shooting at Arabs to the mindless strains of the musical cheer/anthem, "America! Fuck, Yeah!"

Coming again, to save the mother fucking day yeah,
America, FUCK YEAH!
Freedom is the only way yeah,
Terrorist your game is through cause now you have to answer too

Unfortunately, the commandos are not always such great shots, and in their pursuit of terrorists they manage to destroy such monuments as the Eiffel Tower and one of the pyramids at Giza. Of course, who needed those antiques anyway?

Mindless fascism is not the only mind-set attacked by Parker and Stone. Michael Moore is a suicide bomber who blows himself up destroying the Team America home base, and Kim Jong-Il is aided and abetted by the numerous pretentious liberals of the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.), led by Alec Baldwin and including Jeanine Garofolo, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, and many others, who visit Pyongyang to assure the Korean dictator that they think he's really a good guy.

However, the high point of the movie, for me, was the five-minute sex scene involving the male and female protagonists, which included every possible position, water sports, and solid-waste activities. It's calculated to cause viewers who don't share the producers' irreverent outlook to scream bloody murder, but I believe Trey Parker is attempting to make a cogent philosophical point here.

Of course, Parker would most likely be offended if he knew I was accusing him of making a philosophical point, but I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time, and the point is this: people are offended and outraged by certain kinds of pornography, but is anyone offended any more by the pornography of war, violence and killing?

No, we aren't. Not ever. We're way past that point.

"Team America: World Police" is also a vehicle for lampooning movie cliches, especially in the action and romance genres, and film buffs will appreciate Parker's and Stone's relentless skewering of such tired devices as the montage and the climactic countdown clock which has to be disarmed to forestall the end of the world.

What I enjoyed most about this movie, though, was Parker's music, especially the slow, country-western ballad sung with a suitably cornpone peckerwood twang and accent, "Freedom isn't Free." It trots out every musical and ideological cliche to which all of us, the wise and the foolish, are subjected on a daily basis:

Freedom isn't free
It costs folks like you and me
And if we don't all chip in
We'll never pay that bill
Freedom isn't free
No, there's a hefty fuckin' fee.
And if you don't throw in your buck 'o five
Who will?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Cindy Hearts Hugo

Whatever Cindy Sheehan's motivation be for visiting Caracas and hanging out with Hugo Chavez, she needs to be very careful.

Maybe she figures that if you don't like the democratically-elected military dictator you've got, then you need to go looking for a democratically-elected military dictator you like better. The principle is that if you're having trouble with a dog, then you go and find a dog that will eat a dog.

The problem is that people are going to regard forming common cause with a foreign head of state who is also a declared enemy with intense suspicion and hostility. Any effective opposition to the neocon dictatorship has to be home grown.

Cindy Sheehan's behavior and writings reveal her to be a political naif. Her greatest asset is her depth of feeling against the war, as she's experienced that event through the death of her son.

However, before her son Casey was killed she appears to have had no strong feelings about the war one way or the other, and little or no understanding of politics and history. She seems to have trusted the government, and to have drifted along with the tide of history up until the point where it affected her personally.

Those of us who have studied these things in and out of school for any length of time have, according to our political convictions, drawn different sets of inferences from current events, which are really just a continuation of policies that have been in place for decades.

We now see clearly that the Vietnam War was not an anomaly or a "mistake," that the perpetration of foreign wars, whether fought by our own armed forces (Vietnam and Iraq), or by proxy (Central America), or by strategic bombing campaign (Kosovo/Serbia) is a policy dictated by the military-industrial dominance of the American economy and articulated as policy by a federal government which is subservient to it.

The question before candidates is not whether this war is just or unjust. The question is whether war as standard operating procedure will be allowed to continue.

As the writer JoAnn Wypijewski, in an article on the Abu Ghraib trials in this month's (February '06) Harper's concluded, the political task before us is "to set America right again, on course as it was after the Vietnam War, a chastened empire still wielding a fearsome arsenal but with liberal intentions. We have not yet learned to pull up the orchard, to forsake the poisoned ground."

There are at this point no office holders or candidates dedicated to a comprehensive anti-war policy, nor do I see any candidates including Sheehan with anything like a full understanding of these matters.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Vominatrix

Maybe the folks in Hollywood should consider a new horror flick -- "The Bride of Pat Robertson."

During a college speech in Little Rock, Ann Coulter suggested that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens be poisoned.

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

Yeah, that's Annie for you. Always kidding around.

The thing that gets me about these kinds of comments and all these "100 people screwing up America" books about how nasty and stupid and disloyal liberals are is that liberals hold no power, anywhere. All three branches of government are now in the hands of right-wingers, and Justice Stevens has been reduced to writing angry dissenting opinions.

So I guess what liberals are doing that's so disloyal and screwing things up so badly and so dangerous is saying things that annoy people.

That just shows me that right wingers are terrified that there might be someone somewhere who disagrees with them. Even a mouse.

Well, as the 13-year-old gangster tough guy once said, "Fear this."

Friday, January 27, 2006

His Heart Went Hamas Hamas

On that "other forum," one of the respondents asked, "What do you want GW to do about the Hamas victory?" She followed up by posing the question, "Do you think GW's people are up to dealing with that kind of situation appropriately?"

So of course I replied...

You mean Karl Rove and Condoleeza Rice? No, of course not. They're morons who think they're geniuses, and they can be counted on to do precisely the wrong things.

But your initial observation is acute, and the little dictator certainly has his tit in the wringer on this one. His biggest problem is that he thinks elections and democracy are the same thing, i.e., he doesn't know what he's talking about. So now he's got his "democracy" and it's openly and blatantly anti-American. Who could have known?

Juan Cole, one of our most knowledgeable and moderately spoken experts on the Middle East, has commented at length on this election, and says in part:

The stunning victory of the militant Muslim fundamentalist Hamas Party in the Palestinian elections underlines the central contradictions in the Bush administration's policies toward the Middle East. Bush pushes for elections, confusing them with democracy, but seems blind to the dangers of right-wing populism. At the same time, he continually undermines the moderate and secular forces in the region by acting high-handedly or allowing his clients to do so. As a result, Sunni fundamentalist parties, some with ties to violent cells, have emerged as key players in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine.

Real democracy in the Middle East has about as much of a chance as a chicken in a coyote's den. The dictator keeps chasing this phantom as an article of faith.

I wish he was less worried about democracy in the Middle East and more concerned with it here, in what used to be the United States. What with domestic spying and eavesdropping, a policy of torturing one's enemies, prosecuting an illegal war outside the parameters set forth in the Constitution, and now creating a new class of criminals called "disruptors," democracy in the remains of this country is slipping away fast.

The dictator doesn't really have any idea what democracy is. Hamilton and Madison spread a lot of ink with their sharpened quill pens describing what it is and what they thought it should be in the Federalist. Alexis de Toqueville wrote a big fat book on our earlier incarnation of it in the 1830's. It's complex, multi-layered, and not a study for the simple minded.

But anyone who's marginally smarter than a brick and has passed a high school civics class can study it and understand it. Unfortunately, our Beloved Leader doesn't fall into that category.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Raise Hell

The little dictator, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to create a new category of criminal -- the "disruptor."

According to the WaPo story, a "little-noticed provision" in the most recent edition of the Patriot Act would enable the Secret Service to charge protesters with the crime of "disrupting major events including political conventions and the Olympics."

Examples of this now-illegal activity might include showing up at one of the dictator's speeches or staged events wearing a tee shirt that bears criticism of him, invading his sacred space by criticizing him to his face, or coming out from behind the razor wire at a political event (such as a convention) and openly protesting outside the limits of the "free speech" zone.

So much for the U.S. Constitution. It can now be lodged in a museum, along with the rotary phone and ladies' whalebone corsets. We apparently don't need it any more in this nameless political free-fire zone that used to be a country called the United States.

Of course, we can expect the faux-Congress, that body of late-empire sycophants and arse kissers that used to be a real legislature, to applaud this move, in exactly the same way as most of them spinelessly roll over when the dictator, having been caught illegally eavesdropping on citizens of the country that used to be the U.S., snarls that he possesses the power to do so because he's a "wartime president."

Whatever else the dictator might be, he is not a wartime president, any more than a Labrador retriever wearing fake antlers is a reindeer. His unilateral rape of Iraq is not a war, and I doubt that he's ever actually been elected. The evidence that he stole the election of 2000 is so abundant as to be irrefutable, and the 2004 head count only came off after the dictator and the Justice Department had spent several months discussing the feasibility of cancelling the election, which in the end was allowed only when the Gods of the Diebold electronic voting machine guaranteed the results.

It's time for us to send a clear message. If not us, who?

Well, the Democrats in Congress could do so, I suppose. William Rivers Pitt suggested that they observe the dictator's State of the Former Union Speech next Tuesday by standing up and walking out of the House chamber en masse on a pre-arranged signal. It's a great idea, but I doubt that today's Democrats have the intestines for such a bold move. Somebody might be offended.

So that leaves us as the only force available which might be able to convince the dictator that he'd be happier cutting brush in Crawford, Texas, than he is incinerating the Constitution in Washington. Next Tuesday, State of the Union night, we need to get out in the streets and join together in some noisy, disruptive, and not necessarily peaceful rallies to protest the dictatorship. There are specific instructions on the World Can't Wait website specifying where to go, what to do, and who to get in contact with.

If it's now possible to be arrested and jailed as a disruptor, I want to be the first. No, I insist: please arrest me and put me in jail.

If someone somewhere is compliling a list of enemies (and you know for sure someone is) of this country which used to be the United States, I want to be on it, if I'm not already.

Raise hell. This is not our country. This dictator is not a president, much less our president.

If he tries to continue doing what he's doing, there'll be trouble on a scale his little reptilian brain hasn't begun to imagine and really can't conceive.

Raise hell.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Osama bin Laden in his Own Words

(This was a posting number 99 on a long political discussion thread at BeliefNet.)

This thread has followed the trajectory of many that are spun here. A local ideologue -- one with more persistence than sense -- brings up an inflammatory subject with the aim of inciting liberals and baiting them into outraged responses. And he was successful in achieving that goal.

However, what no one has noticed so far is that he seems to have no interest in the actual tape recording itself and the light that it might shed on this discussion, but only in his "interpretation" of it, as the first post clearly states. This is the equivalent of writing a research paper on the Declaration of Independence without reading or referring to the primary document.

So for anyone remotely interested in actually reading Mr. bin Laden's transmission rather than a blackshirt interpretation of a radical Islamist manifesto, it's here.

First of all, in reading the transcript I was convinced once more that we have no reason to doubt that Mr. bin Laden is still alive. He might be dead, because he's had serious health problems for a long time, but we have no evidence of his demise, and this message, while shorter than previous ones, is written and was delivered in the same calm, quiet, and very confident tone as the others.

Secondly, I was struck by how very much alike bin Laden and Bush are, almost like the Blues Brothers. Both have God on their sides, and both are directly guided in their violent quests for glory and domination of the Middle East directly by God's hand. Bin Laden says so more than once in this message ("By the grace of Allah"), and Bush has been quoted in major media such as the New Yorker and Washington Post as saying that God was responsible for his having been elected, and is the guiding force behind his quest to bring what he calls democracy (and he probably actually believes that part of it) to the places in the world that don't have it yet.

They both have contempt for logic and rational thinking, compromise, the politics of consensus, and science. There is no middle way when God's on your side.

Bin Laden, like Bush, is given to making grandiose claims sometimes, as when he says "the Mujahideen have with the grace of Allah succeeded in breaking through all the security measures undertaken by the transgressing nations time after time." I wondered how he'd answer if asked why the mujahadeen haven't broken through into the Green Zone yet.

But it's very clear from this short address that the war, or wars in the Middle East are going exactly the way bin Laden wanted them to. For him, it's all good.

I don't know which of these guys, Bush or bin Laden, is more of a threat to the world and the people in it. They're both very scary. Bin Laden is scarier in some ways because he's obviously much more intelligent and much better spoken than Bush -- a better tactician, and a much more self-controlled, limited-resources type fighter. He'll bide his time and wait for his opening.

The American dictator, on the other hand, may be an ignoramus and an insecure adolescent, but he's got the world's most overpoweringly lethal killing machine at his beck and call. Besides, he's very unpredictable, because he's so emotionally unstable. All that makes him the more dangerous of the two, in the final analysis.

As for bin Laden's final threat -- that if you liked 9/11, just wait till you see the sequel -- who knows? Whether they're able to pull off another big attack, or fail in being able to mount or execute one, whatever happens is the will of Allah.

Sometimes There's No Need

Those times arise for everybody I suppose when we forego commenting about a subject because somebody else said it so well.

The redoubtable Molly Ivins explains, irrefutably I think, why most of us may not be voting for Democrats this coming November -- those of us who bother to vote at all. Maybe she ought to explain to the Dems in the House and Senate while she's at it, as well as the new candidates standing for the first time this year, that "You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You," or go home alone.

If, by some odd chance, the politicians in the Democratic Party would like to think about becoming relevant again, William Rivers Pitt is on hand to tell them exactly what they need to do.

Of course, if some firebrand like Dean or Nancy Pelosi were to actually suggest a Democratic walkout during the dictator's State of the Onion speech, the party will always be ready to send in the medivac units. Joe Leiberman will come drooping in and splash cold water on the idea, or Joe Biden will be deployed to change the subject and start talking about himself.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Last Wednesday I traveled to San Francisco to pick up my daughter and drive her to Santa Cruz, where she was scheduled to teach a workshop. She and I have both been quite ill since then, although she did manage to make it through her teaching assignment ok.

Anyway, that's why I haven't been here. No energy to write. Tomorrow I hope to post a review of "Team America: World Police."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Iraq and Proportional Representation

Iraq's first comprehensive national election was a year ago, on January 30. Not surprisngly, the Shia majority won the lion's share in the new 275-seat national assembly.

However, Shia opinion is not a monolith; there is disagreement between those Shia who favor a religious government and those who prefer a secular approach, and the new assembly has representatives of both, divided by party affiliation. In addition, because the Iraqis adopted the U.N.'s suggestion that the legislature be constituted according to the rules of proportional representation rather than the sort of winner-take-all system we use in this country, the Shia constitute a majority in the national assembly, but do not have a monopoly. Sunni, Kurdish, secularist, and other parties are represented proportional to the numbers of votes they collected in the general election.

Writing on the Washington Posts's editorial page in July of 2004, political science Professor Andrew Reyonolds of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill answered charges by U.N. critics Michael Rubin (in the Washington Post) and Richard Perle (speaking at the American Enterprise Institute) that proportional representation was the wrong system for Iraq. Both claimed that compromising the dominance of the Shia majority will lead to more instability in the country.

Reynolds responded, "(P)proportional representation will avoid the anomalies that are prevalent when single-member districts or some variant thereof are used in emerging democracies. In 1998 the Lesotho Congress for Democracy won all but one seat in parliament with 60 percent of the vote; rioting and state collapse ensued. In the 2000 Mongolian elections, the ruling party took 95 percent of the seats with 58 percent of the vote. In Iraq such a system would most likely give a significant "seat bonus" to Shiite parties, to the detriment of Sunni-based groups and embryonic multiethnic movements."

Reynolds's point is that proportional representation may enable Iraq to avoid the continued violence that would certainly result if the country's minorities -- the Sunni and others -- were frozen out of the new legislative assembly.

What he didn't say, but what Americans need to reflect on, is that proportional representation would be a better system for the United States than the winner-take-all system we use now, which assures that the two biggest parties are able to maintain their lock on Congressional seats and campaign funding, without any serious competition.

If we had proportionl representation here, this year's elections for the House of Representatives would produce a very different kind of Congress than the one we've grown used to seeing. If the Vegetarian Party won one percent of the vote nationwide, they'd get four representatives in the House. If the Gay Party won two percent, they'd get eight; if the Greens won seven percent, then the House would seat the top 28 or 29 Green Party candidates from that party's national ticket.

Proportional representation is not going to solve all of Iraq's problems. It may or may not have a beneficial effect on the chaos and violence there. But it would certainly help the United States to become a more democratic country if it were instituted here. A wider spectrum of interests would be represented, and the strangle hold of the Republican and Democratic parties, with their ties to big money and big business, would be considerably loosened.

That's probably why we're not likely to see it here in the conceivable future, and why war-torn Iraq, with all its disasters, has ironically ended up with a more effective democracy than the country that forced it to adopt democracy.

Due Diligence

MyDD is the oldest and still one of the most innovative of the liberal blogs. It was founded by Jerome Armstrong in 2001 as a partisan Democratic Party site, and all of its current writers -- Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers, Scott Shields, and Jonathan Singer -- continue to support the Democratic Party.

MyDD, along with the blogs DailyKos and Swing State Project, was the subject of an article in "Campaigns and Elections" magazine in 2005 which explored the increasingly important role blogs across the political spectrum play in raising money for political candidates. The highest-profile liberal blogs were very active fundraisers during the 2004 presidential campaign, of course, and the three named here were instrumental in the near success of Democrat and Iraq War vet Paul Hackett's special election campaign in Ohio's second congressional district in 2005.

MyDD's latest project, in conjunction with the site, is large-scale national polling, which began January 17 and aims to challenge what Stoller and his colleagues call "The big media companies and politicians," who, according to MyDD, "like to poll using biased questions that reflect their agendas."

MyDD's concern is well placed. For example, if pollsters ask voters whether they "approve of the way George W. Bush is handling the campaign against terrorism" (as an ABC News poll recently did), and 53 percent answer in the affirmative, then proponents of the Iraq War and NSA spying can proudly assert that the "people" have "spoken" and that the war and illegal spying on Americans will continue with their "approval."

"Our poll will be different," declares the MyDD/StartChange page which announces its launch. "We want our poll to be independent. We want a poll that asks the tough questions and gets real answers."

MyDD is soliciting its readers to send in the kinds of questions they would like to see asked in a national political poll, and is also asking for donations to help defray the project's costs.

This sort of interactive approach is typical of MyDD, which like DailyKos is a fully interactive blog. Registered members are invited to submit essays known as diaries, which are listed as they arrive at the site on the right-hand sidebar of the main page. A few are promoted to the status of recommended diaries based on positive responses from the readership, and the main page writers choose what they consider the best diary submissions and feature them on the main page.

In recent years MyDD has remained influential mainly on the strength of the high quality of the writing and research of the main contributors. However, it has lost some ground to the newer and more combative Democratic blogs such as Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's DailyKos and the gay activist John Aravosis's Americablog, possibly because it's less shrill than the newcomers, and retains the flavor of a newspaper's editorial page.

If MyDD's polling gambit is successful, however, it will remain in the forefront of influence and prestige among the liberal blogs.

"Due Diligence" is a legal term, also known as due care, which refers to the usual everyday efforts made by ordinarily careful people to avoid harming others. Failure to make this effort is considered negligence, and exposes the careless or deliberately malicious person to a window of liability. Therefore, the curious name of this blog is actually a warning to readers about the nature of the current government, with the authors implying that they would be remiss in their responsibility if they didn't issue such a warning to the general public.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Whatever else you might say about 12-step recovery, its rooms and meetings are places where people feel safe. Although some participants possess higher status than others, based on length of sobriety and reputation, there's no formal power structure in AA or any of the other recovery groups. Therefore there's none of the backstabbing, character assassinating, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering for power that characterizes so many workplaces and conventional social clubs.

Likewise, the recovery groups own no property, and usually keep only enough money on hand to satisfy their day-to-day needs -- coffee, rent, etc. Formal tradition expresses the idea that 12-step recovery groups and the people in them need to avoid problems arising from disputes over "money, property, and prestige (which might) divert us from our primary purpose."

Most of all, 12-step recovery is not just about eliminating addictive behaviors, it's about changing one's character. Members are reminded frequently to "apply these principles in all our affairs," especially the principle of uncompromising honesty. You can't be a liar or a thief in AA, any more than you can be a practicing drunk, even though tradition specifies that "the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking."

For all these reasons, it was doubly shocking for me to discover that someone in my home group -- someone in our midst -- has been using AA as a stalking ground for his con game. And he's been doing it for years, moving from town to town and group to group.

If this had happened anywhere else -- at work, at the local country club, or even in church -- it wouldn't have disturbed me as much as this. He's been sober the whole time, sitting in meetings talking the talk like Holy Joe, and violating the trust that naturally arises among members of the fellowship to rip people off.

For about half a minute I wondered if this experience was going to sour me on AA and the program and the people in it. It was that distressing.

But on reflection, I think it will cause me to move closer, to participate more fully, and to concentrate on the ideals that everyone preaches and many actually live.

It's been my observation over the years that about half the people who come to AA stay sober and apply the principles of the program in all their affairs. That's one out of two. Which one do I want to be?

Dave B
sober 11 yrs, 9 mos.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have battle in the fourth chapter of Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass." It turned out to be the same sort of thing that's happening in the Alito hearings in the Senate right now.

"Tweedledum said Tweedledee had spoiled his nice new rattle," an event surely as significant as this, since Alito, an eminently qualified judge who is eminently willing to further the designs of the dictatorship, will be easily confirmed.

Still, Mr. Kennedy, the scrotum-cheeked Senator from Massachusetts fumed and sputtered, the unctious and oily Sen. Booby Hatch of Utah spouted sycophantic praise, the windbag Sen. Biden of Delaware treated the t.v. audience to a virtuoso soliloquy stressing his own importance, and Sen. Brownshirt of Kansas testified that he was born again, and down with this brother who promises to serve as a cat's paw for the administration's designs on absolute power.

And the judge's wife cried on cue, wiping her tears away with an onion, and causing the administration's cheerleaders at the Foxist News Channel to explode in a bladder-emptying spasm of indignation. There wasn't a dry seat in the house.

It was such a great show, full of the sound and the fury, that you'd almost think the legislature in this country still means something.

When Augustus assumed dictatorial powers in Rome more than 2000 years ago, he was careful to leave all the disused machinery of the Republic in place. The legislature still sat and made a lot of noise, but it signified nothing.

With the Dictator now appending "signing statements" to nearly each piece of legislation he approves -- statements which essentially say "This is a law until I say it isn't" -- you can stick a fork in Congress's ass, 'cause it's done.

People like Alito and John Yoo claim the Constitution supports this concept of the Imperial Presidency. They're lying, but so what? They know that if they tell the lie often enough and long enough, people will believe it.

As long as people are allowed to engage in that ritual of political masturbation known as voting every few years, they probably won't even notice that the government has been hijacked and the republic has given way to one-man rule.

That's what makes all the grandstanding we saw in the Senate yesterday so useless, pathetic, and less than what it was supposed to be -- an entertainment. For me it was more like torture.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Last Farewell, Part II

About an hour after posting "The Last Farewell" yesterday, I ran across this little item about presidential "signing statements".

The signing statement is a note appended to a bill the president signs, and Bush has used this technique to unilaterally modify legislation more than 500 times. It's a way of saying, "This bill is law until I decide it's not."

This article goes a long way toward explaining why Bush has never vetoed anything. He just rewrites what he doesn't like.

The current government's use of "signing statements" pretty much puts to rest any serious debate about whether this administration is a dictatorship.

The Knight-Ridder article notes that:

Signing statements don't have the force of law, but they can influence judicial interpretations of a statute. They also send a powerful signal to executive branch agencies on how the White House wants them to implement new federal laws.

In some cases, Bush bluntly informs Congress that he has no intention of carrying out provisions that he considers an unconstitutional encroachment on his authority.

"They don't like some of the things Congress has done so they assert the power to ignore it," said Martin Lederman, a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. "The categorical nature of their opposition is unprecedented and alarming."

Now ask yourself, is Congress going to do anything about this encroachment of power which is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution? Of course not. Some of them will squeak and squawk, and a few might even talk tough, before the neocon noise machine sends the usual suspects onto the t.v. talk shows to call them traitors, stupid poopy pants, etc. In the end, Congress won't do anything except allow a few of its members to talk. It's the only thing they're good at any more.

If the Roman Senate, er, 'scuze me, U.S. Congress doesn't act to stop this bald-faced, illegal usurpation of their power, who will?

In the end, nobody can do anything to stop this.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Last Farewell

It's time to bid a final farewell to the dead, departed American republic. Time to put our memories of it in the ground and sing "Amazing Grace."

Despite widespread public opposition, the current administration has vociferously refused to back down from its clearly illegal torture, "rendition," and internal spying policies.

Public opinion doesn't mean a whole lot any more, and the squeaky protests against the gutting of the Constitution coming from Congress will have little or no effect on the continuing presidential aggrandizement of power.

An important analysis of the growth of presidential power, from Jefferson's engineering of the Louisiana Purchase to Bush's claim that our state of (undeclared) war confers dictatorial powers on him, appeared yesterday in the New York Times magazine. The author, Noah Feldman, an NYU law professor, notes that "The stakes of the debate could hardly be higher: nothing is more basic to the operation of a constitutional government than the way it allocates power. Yet in an important sense, the debate is already long over."

Feldman, goes on to observe that the administrative-branch dictatorship the Bush administration has become, " not the system envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. The framers meant for the legislative branch to be the most important actor in the federal government: Congress was to make the laws and the president was empowered only to execute them. The very essence of a republic was that it would be governed through a deliberative legislature, composed carefully to reflect both popular will and elite limits on that will. The framers would no sooner have been governed by a democratically elected president than by a king who got his job through royal succession."

However, that's exactly what's happened, and the American Empire, formerly the American republic, now is no different than the Roman Empire under Septimius Severus and Caracalla. The original form of government still remains, but its content has been emptied out and replaced with military dictatorship. A powerless legislature is still permitted to sit, but that's mostly for show. Members of the the high court are carefully chosen so as to assure that the bench acts as an extension of the will of the dictator.

At this point, even the dictator himself seems to realize that his most recent power grabs violate the Constitution, but justifies them as temporary emergency measures necessitated by war.

But then, we're always at war. How convenient. It's hard to imagine not being at war when you have a gargantuan military establishment that sucks up half the national revenue. After all, you wouldn't have a Ferrari and not drive it.

The war, as George Orwell pointed out, is as much against us as it is against any real or imagined enemy, and it's meant to be perpetual. If the war was to end, the dictatorship would be at risk.

This particular war has two purposes: it's meant to secure the petroleum resources of the Persian Gulf, and to justify the final touches of the establishment of the American fascist dictatorship. It hasn't succeeded in its first aim, but has in its second.

Once you've seen one military dictatorship, you've seen 'em all. The Constitution has now become just a piece of paper in a museum, the flag nothing more than an unaesthetically designed piece of cloth.

Since there's nothing we can do about it, we might as well forget talking politics and have a party. I'll bring the chips.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Leave it to Jeebus

OK, right. Network executives these days have to reach as far as Plastic Man to come up with a situation they hope might attract viewers to a situation drama. And so it came to pass that the descendent of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver" is a maudlin and convoluted miasma of dysfunction called "The Book of Daniel."

This overloaded vehicle stars Aidan Quinn as the hunky Reverend Daniel Webster, a liberal Episcopalian not-so-divine who has been driven by the incessant rasping of his bishop and immediate superior, the file-voiced Beatrice (Ellen Burstyn) to finding solace in pharmaceuticals rather than the arms of Jesus. What makes this odd is that his best pal is none other than his equally hunky counterpart -- Jesus (none other, played by Garret Dillahunt), who stands around looking mournful whenever the Rev pops another Vicodin, but mercifully and gently upbraids his bud in modern vernacular, rather than affecting the tortured syntax and antique vocabulary of King James.

Daniel's got a witch's brew of trouble at home, too. His daughter is a dope dealer, his grown son discreetly gay, and his adopted Chinese son devoted to football and spreading his seed among the local blossoms. Worst of all, his wife slams about half a dozen screwdrivers for breakfast every morning.

"Father Knows Best" it ain't.

Rev. Dan's faith doesn't seem to avail, nor does his impeccable pedigree (he's descended from the famous nineteenth-century politician of the same name). This is definitely a job for Jesus. And fortunately, Jesus is right out there in the garage, sharpening the lawnmower blades as he plans the guest list for the rapture.

The whole premise of this mess is just silly. When I was a kid it was enough for a situation program to just have a regular family where everybody was heterosexual and drug free except for that tiny cup of watery coffee in the morning, and the dad always wore a suit (did he sleep in that suit?) and smoked an unlit pipe and mom always wore a dress and heels at home, and she had a hair helmet with six coats of verathane on it, and the kids got in trouble for keeping a frog in a drawer and blaming it on Lumpy, and they ate things like stuffed bell peppers with creamy marshmallow sauce for dinner and appeared to be as normal as anyone can be when they eat that kind of drek, and Jesus always stayed right where he belonged -- nailed up behind the altar at the local church.

Were things better then? I can't answer that question. I've always had a feeling that Ward and June Cleaver were aliens who unzipped their human skins when the kids were in school, and went out to the garage and ate tire lint.

But they didn't show that part on t.v., like they do now.

Smote vs. Whacked

At a political debate board I frequent, a poster observed that Ariel Sharon has been "knocked out" of office.

"Wow," says another correspondent, "You can't get much more disrespectful."

So where's the disrespect in simply referring to the fact that old Ariel has been knocked out of the political process? You can get a hell of a lot more disrespectful than that.

Want disrespect? This is a job for Pat Robertson!!

Media Matters reports that Rev. Pat said Sharon deserved the stroke.

Speaking of the fallen prime minister in the past tense, Rev. Pat said "Sharon was personally a very likeable person," but he also declared that "God has enmity against those who, quote, 'divide my land.' "

OK, it's all right to do it to the Red Sea, but don't try it on land. You'll piss God off. And Rev. Pat don't like it either.

It looks more and more like Sharon is in that state of existence where death would be a blessing for him. If he clings to life, it might cause the sort of problems the U.S. faced after President Wilson suffered a stroke during his second term and his wife became the de facto president of the U.S.

So, God "smote" Sharon. I guess that's ok. Rev. Pat knows he can get away with saying such things as long as he uses the King James style verbs.

I really like that word "smote." God smites, but the Mafia "whacks."

Now if Rev. Pat had said that God whacked Sharon, he might be in trouble.

As long as we're quoting here, what does God actually say about the promised land and people who intend to divide it? Does he really "have emnity" sufficient to cause him to "smite" such people?

Or did he say, "Make a fortune in real estate by learning how to subdivide large properties."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Where's Waldo?

Does your brain feel like an oversaturated sponge? Are you having a hard time concentrating when you read about the latest political scandal in the newspaper or hear about it on the network news? Does the name "Abramoff" trickle through your head like water through a collander?

You may be suffering from "scandal fatigue." But relief is at hand.

The best single source of information on the details of the Abramoff scandal is a Washington Post story from last Saturday, "The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail." You'll have to go through the free registration thingy to acess WaPo's pages.

The basics of the story aren't that complicated. Abramoff is an old-time influence pedlar who took money from clients, many of whom were casino-owning Indian tribes whom he referred to as "morons," laundered it through a fake foundation, the U.S. Family Network, then distributed it to Congresspersons who might be able to help his clients.

The U.S. Family Network was a shell operation with one full-time employee, a computer, and a cashbox, set up in the back room of a Washington townhouse.

The mainstream media is still your best source of non-partisan information. This Associated Press story tells how the prosecutor in the DeLay case, Ronnie Earle, has subpoenaed correspondence between Abramoff clients and DeLay's national fundraising committee, Americans for a Republican Majority.

I've noticed that the public's attention to this case is somewhat limited due to what might be called "scandal fatigue." It comes on top of the NSA illegal spying story, the DeLay indictment, Plamegate, the bungled response to Katrina ("Browniegate"), and Bush's veiled admission that he lied openly and blatantly in order to shoehorn an intimidated Congress and a baffled public into the Iraq War.

All these scandals coming one on top of another have produced what Bill Berkowitz, in an article called "Bush Scandalrama" calls a sort of "Where's Waldo?" effect.

There's no doubt in my mind the Democrats will be able to take advantage of all this. But have they done anything to deserve such an opportunity? And how serious will they be about cleaning out the plugged up sewer that Washington has become?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

2006: Five Bucks an Hour and Four Buck Gas

You don't have to be Jeanne Dixon to figure this stuff out.

*The year kicked off with the Abramoff scandal, which will end up bringing down 20 or so Congressional figures and large numbers of auxiliary lesser fry, all or most of them Republicans. The breadth and depth of the scandal insures a Democratic takeover of at least the House of Representatives, and possibly both houses in early 2007, although the Democrats have done nothing to deserve such good fortune.

*After being lulled to sleep by post-Katrina infusions of crude oil from the American and European Union strategic oil reserves, Americans will be shocked to see gasoline prices rising rapidly again in 2006, and this time they will run all the way up to four dollars a gallon. Crude has once more resumed its relentless climb, closing today over 63 dollars a barrel. The realization that Saudi production has peaked will dawn on stupefied and amazed U.S. "consumers," a year or more after the fact.

*The housing bubble will either bust or hiss loudly, largely but not exclusively because of escalating energy prices. Another big factor will be rising interest rates. Homeowners, many of whom have purchased second properties for speculative purposes, will find themselves in hock for depreciating real estate no longer worth the amounts for which they are indebted.

*U.S. troops will begin their overdue pullout from Iraq as the air force moves in to take up the slack left by the departing grunts. However, the long-range plan for Iraq hinges establishing permanent American bases in the country, which will then be left to more or less go its own way, but under the shadow of a perpetual U.S. presence. This is the Persian Gulf region equivalent of Fort Apache in the Bronx.

*The Republican Congress will refuse to increase the $5.15 per hour minimum wage.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Rearwise and Horizonward in the Blogs

“Who are we to complain?” asks Alexander Cockburn in his wrap of 2005 – the internet’s “year in review” feature most worth reading -- at “Counterpunch.”

“It was a bad year for the Empire and not just in Iraq. A half century after Fidel Castro stayed in Harlem, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela came to the Bronx and promised cheap home heating oil from Citgo so the poor could keep warm this winter. He kept his promise. A month later Evo Morales swept to victory in Bolivia. From London the world heard Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate, broadcast the most savage denunciation of Empire heard since the words Tacitus put in the mouth of Calgacus.

“It was a bad year for George Bush, humiliated in Buenos Aires, scorned at home, It was a bad year for Tony Blair, his terror laws put to flight. It was a bad year for the Democrats, with only a handful, like Murtha, McKinney, Serrano, and a few others to salvage the party's honor in Congress.

“It was a bad year too for the corporate press. The New York Times saw Judy Miller turn from martyr to millstone. The Washington Post learned two years late what Bob Woodward really knew. Ad revenues and circulation figures plunged. The mass circulation, ad-based printed newspaper which arrived in the latter part of the nineteenth century, is heading, feet first, into the crypt.”

Cockburn goes on to a week-by-week account of some of the year’s most significant and interesting stories, many of them ignored or given only cursory coverage by the mainstream media. These include the suicide death of Hunter S. Thompson on February 22, and the revelation that the C.I.A. is now planting agents as spies in college classrooms.

Looking horizonward rather than rearwise, Nick Von Hoffman offers a preview of 2006 at the Huffington Post: “Outlook: Cloudy, with Continued Craziness.” April’s forecast has the typical Hoffmanesque blend of outlandishness and authenticity:

“April - Karl Rove, George Tenent, John Ashcroft and Fats Domino are awarded the Medal of Freedom. Fats entertains the glamorous Washington audience with ‘Ain't That a Shame.’

”Avian flu breaks out in Minnesota. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael O. Leavitt, says, ‘Not to worry, the disease is only infecting undocumented immigrants who are being deported as fast as possible.’"

As always, besides serving as an invaluable store of bizarre conspiracy theories, the blogs offer a wealth of obscure, inadequately covered, or insignificant stories that are nonetheless interesting. For example, Wonkette (Ana Marie Cox) links to a U.S. News and World Report item which details how John Kerry (in Wonkette’s words) “hunted birds, grilled meat, and watched football on male-bonding trip to Nebraska.” She also cites a New York Post item which reveals that Jenna Bush “lost her wallet --with her ID and $1,000 in cash-- while trying to lose a suitor,” which shows the liabilities that attend being Jenna, rather than other one – what’s her name – Notjenna.

Speaking of Wonkette, remind me never to get on her bad side. Extraordinarily clever, witty, and capable of awe-inspiring cattiness, Wonkette’s straight razor is a more lethal weapon than James Wolcott’s ( nine-pound hammer or Jane Hamsher’s ( 12-guage shotgun. This past week she shredded’s Kathleen Parker with that weapon, and the carnage is worth reproducing in full (“We Have Met the Enemy and It Is Us,”, December 29, 2005).

Hey, who knew the "Terrified of Blogs" bandwagon had any space left to acommodate latecomers? Because somehow,'s Kathleen Parker was able to successfully elbow her way on this week to sound a clarion call of warning about bloggers, "enemies" she breathlessly deems less interesting than "al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden."

Parker works very hard to be fair, allowing that "some bloggers do their own reporting", "some bloggers offer superb commentary", and that she isn't trying to put down the "many brilliant people out there...who also happen to blog." She says, "They know who they are," and I naturally reply, "Why, thank you Kathleen! That's nice of you to say." She also offers some tidbits of wisdom that can't be faulted: "People tend to abuse power when it is unearned and will bring down others to enhance themselves." Well said, Kathleen -- I bet Valerie Plame would agree!

Nevertheless, her tone shifts spasmodically hither and yon.

She says things like, "Schadenfreude - pleasure in others' misfortunes - has become the new barbarity on an island called Blog." And this upsets me, mainly because no one at Gawker Media has told me about this island yet, and it sounds like fun.
Ultimately she reaches for a tenth-grade literary reference to make her point:
Each time I wander into blogdom, I'm reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.

How tidy. But here's what's strange -- up until the moment I read this article, it never occured to me that Townhall itself was anything other than a blog itself. Can this be confirmed? Well, Parker does define blogs as "the angry offspring of narcissism's quickie marriage to instant gratification." So then we're agreed: is a blog.

Look, Kathleen, it's perfectly natural to see bloggers as fast and loose operators, working without oversight. But Lord of the Flies? That's unfair. As your column's existence proves, we're more than willing to give the most vacuous of twits a turn holding the conch.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year, 1806

This just in from the Chicago Tribune (and if you want to read it there, you'll have to fill out the free registration form):

A proposal prohibiting defense contractor involvement in human trafficking for forced prostitution and labor was drafted by the Pentagon last summer, but five defense lobbying groups oppose key provisions and a final policy still appears to be months away, according to those involved and Defense Department records.

The lobbying groups opposing the plan say they’re in favor of the idea in principle, but said they believe that implementing key portions of it overseas is unrealistic. They represent thousands of firms, including some of the industry’s biggest names, such as DynCorp International and Halliburton subsidiary KBR (Kellog, Brown, and Root), both of which have been linked to trafficking-related concerns.

(The emphasis is mine, not the Trib's.)

Of course, that polite, inoffensive, and semi-opaque phrase, "linked to trafficking-related concerns," means (in plain English) "practicing slavery." That's how I would have written it, but then, I don't have the Trib's way with words.

What a great way to start the new year. 2005 Saw revelations that our government is engaging in kidnapping (which they are pleased to call "rendition"), torture (enhanced interrogation technqiques), and domestic surveillance (you have nothing to fear if you're innocent).

Now, in the government's defense, we need to point out that it's not the government engaging in forced labor and forced prostitution here. All the government has done is fail to formulate a policy which would prohibit these practices by our corporate masters -- and theirs.

So here's my first resolution for the New Year: I resolve to spend less time bad-mouthing George W. Bush, who is after all just an appointee. The real criminals are Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, &c.

Bush is, in the words of Colonel Kurtz in Coppola's Apocalypse Now, "an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill."

And don't look for help to Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. They're just slightly wimpier, more liberal employees of the same firm.