Friday, January 30, 2009

An Open Letter to Senator Feingold

Dear Senator Feingold:

I hope this reaches you in good spirits. I wanted to contact you about your recent proposal for an amendment that would take the authority of selecting a replacement Senator from that state's governor and provide for special election so a state's electorate can choose instead.

I have a pretty good idea why you're doing this: not only the scandal involving Blagojevich's scheming to use Obama's vacancy to either enrich himself or try to use that Senate seat to escape his growing problems at home, but also the arguments over the New York and Delaware vacancies where issues of nepotism (Biden's son gets his dad's job? Caroline Kennedy or Andrew Cuomo? Or do you put in another lady whose dad is a major player in New York politics?) over merit made this too hard to ignore.

On the merits of your argument, I approve this attempt to amend the Constitution. As the law requires that vacancies in the House be filled by special election, so too should the Senate. After all, we directly elect our Senators now, and that also took an amendment to ensure the people have a say in whom they want to represent their state.

But I call you to task, sir, as this one amendment idea you're pushing alone will not fix the overall problems our nation have with our political leadership:
  • We still will have a problem with questionable representation due to hideous gerrymandering of our congressional districts, which favors parties but does not reflect the real populations of the states or the nation.
  • We still will have a problem with our elections process, especially with a primary system that is uneven and disproportionate, with rules that change from state to state, and with the states racing to get at the head of each primary season to the point of prolonging an already drawn-out process.
  • We still have a problem with people who still act and believe that the President of the United States is above the law, and that even out of office the criminal actions committed by that President and his underlings are protected and should not be prosecuted. And sometimes, when someone does get caught and convicted, or someone is under serious investigation for criminal wrongdoing, the President simply waves his hand with a pardon or commuting of sentence, and the crime goes unpunished.

Senator Feingold, I call on you to answer these three problems I just mentioned. I call on you to introduce more amendments to a vote, amendments that are more truly needed than just a simple correction of how Senators get chosen. We need:
  • An amendment that eliminates gerrymandered congressional districts, by making it illegal for any district to be designed based on party affiliation, by ensuring a district conforms to population density and to boundaries both natural (rivers, lakes, mountains) and man made (city limits, county lines), and by establishing a non-partisan committee system in the states to review and redraw district boundaries per each ten-year census.
  • An amendment that forces parties to define their primary systems to a uniform code so there is no confusion from state to state, that requires a One-Day Primary like the majority of Americans want so ALL states get an equal say at the same time who they want representing their parties.
  • An amendment that spells out, in specific terms, THAT THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS NOT ABOVE THE LAW, and that there will be no protection for anyone committing crimes while in service to a corrupt President's office (for example, barring a President from pardoning or commuting the sentence of any person who worked for his administration at any level).

Each of these amendment proposals I send to you, sir, would go a long way in restoring the people's trust in our electoral system, and in our elected leadership.

I am posting this on my blog, and I am copying and emailing this to your office (which I hope your website's email system can copy/paste). I would like to see a reply, preferably in the form of these proposals showing up on the floors of Congress.

Thank you for your time, and hopefully next year the Bucs will beat the Packers in the 2009-10 NFC Championship game.

(edited for geographic content: I thought Feingold was from Minnesota, found out he's Wisconsin instead, ach)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Well, We Won't Have Blagojevich to Kick Around Anymore...

Breaking news, within the past hour: The Quarterback is TOAST.

I watched Hardball as it took place. My God, it was a unanimous vote too, 59 to zero, in favor of impeaching now-former Illinois Gov. Rod "This Is F-cking Golden" Blagojevich for becoming a shameless embarrassment for the state, the Democratic Party, and Americans across the board. He couldn't even get one sympathy vote, or at least a guy sneaking out to light up a fattie in the bathroom and end up abstaining.

The charges on the proceedings - abuse of power, attempts to extort campaign contributions, an attempt to bully the Chicago Tribune into forcing out Blago's critics - are actually pretty minor penny ante stuff, but still they were plentiful and powerful enough to give the state senate the excuse to kick the bum out. The impeachment only means that Blago is no longer governor, and that he can no longer run for elected office out of the state of Illinois (he can always carpetbag to New York and try there). His REAL problems of course are still out there in the form of the best prosecuting federal attorney of our day - FITZ! - readying a federal criminal trial for Blagojevich's misdeeds. The impeachment came before the criminal trial mostly because impeachment doesn't operate like a criminal trial: you can get impeached for committing acts that courts wouldn't even consider illegal but would make it difficult for government to function. The impeachment process had even speeded up once Blago pulled the Burris stunt and caused more chaos for everyone involved, all because he certainly didn't want to resign and showed with that one maneuver he was going to make everyone else miserable on his way out.

This isn't over yet: Fitzgerald still has his corruption trial for Blagojevich to start, and there's a good chance Blago's got more crazy sh-t under that moose rug of his. But for all intents the circus is over, it's done, and good riddance.

Now we need to see about impeaching Rush Limbaugh...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Bush the Lesser Was a Failure

So there I was, driving down to the Palm Harbor Krispy Kreme because, you know, it's Inauguration Day and they were offering a free donut, which of course p-ssed off the pro-lifers because if there's one thing we've learned is that the wingnuts hate donuts so I wanted to provide some moral support and see if the mobs were massing for food fights on an epic scale this day.

Instead it was rather quiet, few people there actually, and no rioters, so I got a blueberry cake and headed back out to the car to go drive off and study for a few hours on this A+ Cert exam I've got in a few days. I end up flipping through the radio channels trying to get the inauguration coverage, and instead I get on a talk radio channel with some shill whose voice I don't recognize who at that moment was ranting about one of the Austin TX newspapers having a front page editorial declaring George W. Bush's tenure as President a failure. The shill scoffed at it, calling the editorial garbage. At that point I turned off the radio and fumed.

You know, there's been a bit of that going about. All this legacy crap about Bush's administration, and all these hacks trying to defend his two terms. Well, I've got my answer for that. Nine of them, in fact.

Nine Reasons Why George W. Bush AKA Bush The Lesser Was a Collosal Monstrous Failure

1) He failed to capture Osama Bin Laden.
Get any neocon chickenhawk bragging about Bush's "successes" in his military misadventures, and just bring this one little point up and then watch that damn chickenhawk stutter and cough out fifty different excuses why America's Public Enemy Number One is still sleeping somewhere safe these past seven years. BUSH HAD ONE JOB AFTER 9/11 AND THAT WAS TO BRING THE CULPRITS RESPONSIBLE BEFORE A COURT OF LAW AND ANSWER FOR THEIR CRIMES. The best he could do was one fat guy we caught looking like he was sleeping off a cough syrup hangover. This is the deal: every day Bin Laden stays free is another day he gets to mock our nation's ability to bring evildoers to justice. And that was supposed to be Bush's big deal, his Good vs. Evil spiel. Every day is another day Bin Laden could die in the comfort of his own bed of old age or illness: every day gone and evildoers get to believe they can share his fate rather than ending up in jail or a dirt grave.

2) Bush presided over one of the most egregious spendthrift governments in American history.
This was worse than what's considered the benchmark for spendthrift, the LBJ years. And this wasn't money that actually seemed to go anywhere. I'm talking deficits going into the billions and towards the end trillions of dollars... and we've got millions of Americans standing around without jobs in neighborhoods with decaying schools and collapsing roads and bridges all asking "Where the f-ck did all that money go?" The money certainly didn't go into infrastructure, nor to actually improving our schools (No Child Left Behind? It may have boosted test scores but where'd the damn money go to actually improve our kids' educations?), and towards the one thing that truly blew up our annual budgets - the two-war front of Afghanistan and Iraq along with all the national security spending on the overall War on Terror. But all that money - trillions spent - entire billions of dollars just upped and disappeared.
The spending with the Iraqi-Afghani wars and occupations is an all-too-easy example of what went wrong during the Bush years: the Bush admin insisted on all these spending projects and private no-bid contracts to go out, and the Republican-led Congress signed off on all of it without raising any eyebrows or insisting on any oversight. And in the other direction regarding domestic spending, the Congressional Republicans wanted all these payoffs to their pet projects and friendly lobbys and the Bush admin didn't care one whit how much of it was unneeded pork. Combine all that with the Republican tax-cut mantras that cut too deep into the government's ability to, you know, actually afford any of these billion-dollar boondoggles, and you've got deficits up the goddamn wazoo. And to hell what Cheney thinks: deficits DO matter. And we're now paying the price for the last 6-8 years of Republicans spending taxpayer dollars like they were drunken high-schoolers wasting their parents' credit cards. On top of other financial disasters...
I don't see how any Republican can ever claim the GOP supports fiscal responsibility to the next ten generations. They've just proven they can be WORSE than Democrats when it coming to spending taxpayer dollars. And tax-cutting ISN'T being responsible: it's being blind to how government or any other structured entity exists. Where businesses and corporations generate revenue through products and services to create payrolls and profits, governments have to generate revenue through taxation (and once upon a time through tariffs although I'm not sure if we still do have tariffs on the books) in order to create payrolls and provide public services. Do you think Republicans want corporations to cut the prices of their services to 35 percent and in the process crimp their own ability to operate in the black? Hell No. But they want to do it, repeatedly and recklessly, to the federal and state governments. But I digress...

3) The Best and the Brightest? No, the Lackey and the Incompentest
I know that's not a word, but there's no other way to describe this portion of my rant other than to rail against a series of questionable and in some cases outright insane personnel choices that Bush the Lesser indulged in during his two terms.
Oh, he started off well. Part of his pitch to the American people was that he was going to let the "grown-ups" into the room and build a cabinet coalition made of respectable types: Powell at State, Rumsfeld at Defense, O'Neil at Treasury, etc. And he did bring on guys and gals who for the most part were considered by the DC Establishment and by the people at large as go-to and take-charge compentent types.
But a few things happened, sometimes in ways that it shouldn't have. O'Neil quickly got crowded out at Treasury because he (rightly) questioned the Bush/Cheney push for more severe tax cuts at a time (post 9/11) when spending was clearly going to go up. This was when Cheney made that famous quip that "deficits don't matter." Powell's foreign policy gravitas went from successfully handling a spy plane incident with China into a half-hearted and half-assed attempt to sell the U.N. on faulty intelligence on Iraq having WMDs that proved post-invasion to be flat-out wrong. Powell departed by the end of Term One, for the most part driven out by the more radical neocon elements in the White House. And then there was Rumsfeld. Commanded the task to streamline the military, he stayed focused on that ideology at all hazards well after 9/11 signaled greater needs, even when his generals (retired or otherwise) were letting him know he needed far more troops to invade and even more troops to occupy a place like Iraq as the Afghanistan operations were still underway. "We go with the army you have not the army you want," said he. Unbending, inflexible in thought, unable to adjust... and in the end forced from office long after he lost his usefulness. And those three were the high-quality guys.
Past all that, nearly every office in Bush's two terms were filled with ideologues, partisans, and old friends whose loyalty were proven and unquestioned (in other words, lackeys and yes-men). I could go through a list of them, with the most horrific - Gonzales, Meirs, Bolton, Doug Feith, Wolfowitz, "Heckuva Job" Brown - and even considering it could have been worse - Kerik, for one, as Homeland Security? ye gods - so be grateful. Of the loyalists, I'd put Condi Rice in as the most competent of the bunch, but even she could never bring herself to fix what was broken, never say No when it needed to be said. As for the rest, these could never be consider "the best of the best" that this country could have offered up for these positions. They merely went in there because they'd let Bush remain Bush, never challenging, never proffering better options, never pushing for what needed to be done. A cronyist style government not based on merit, but based on who you knew and which secret handshakes worked. And cronies placed in positions of power where they had no genuine experience, nor interest in running things smoothly.

4) A regime of torture and war crimes.
Abu Ghraib. Bagram. Waterboarding. Black sites in Eastern Europe.
And these were not the work of a "few bad apples." This was authorized. People were trained. All Lawyer-tested. Approved at the highest levels of the Bush Administration. Bush himself signed off on it. AND THE BASTARD LIED to boot.
And this all took place while the Geneva Conventions were part and parcel of the U.S.'s commitment to treaties and agreements with foreign powers. Every conceived lawyerly excuse the Bush administration came up with wouldn't even last three seconds in a court of law. If only the incoming administration and congress would do something about it...

5) A systematic refusal to uphold the Constitution.
I can go to one thing: Signing statements. These were actions that Presidents over the years used to "redefine" a piece of legislation sent by Congress to get the Presidential signature of approval (lest it be vetoed or passed without signing). Before Reagan, there were about 75 such statements... total. Then under Reagan through Bush the Elder to Clinton to Bush the Lesser, these signing statements exploded. But even then under the other Presidents, these signing statements conflicted with relatively few laws: Under Bush the Lesser, his 157 statements conflicted with 1,100 or so statutes, practically a record. And under Bush the Lesser, his signing statements basically allowed the executive branch to ignore entire duties and responsibilities not only to Congress but to the rule of law, to the Constitution itself.
And no one called him on it. Even when he made a signing statement ignoring a No-Torture law passed by a vast majority of both House and Senate (almost unheard-of veto-proof counts even at a time of Republican majorities).
But that wasn't all. At nearly every step, the Bush administration pushed on every front on the idea of a Unitary Executive - that the President can basically do whatever the hell he wants - and was doing it well before the War on Terror was even a consideration. Oversight into operations and decisions being made in the White House? Never. Following the rules regarding saving all communications and memos re: the Presidential Records Act? Ha. Answering to Congressional subponea? Answering any questions during Congressional hearings? Don't even need to invoke a writ of douchebaggery. Or else you can pretend to lose your mind and forget everything you've ever done.
And this didn't even apply, as I noted earlier, to the War on Terror. Across the board, the Bush administration was relaxing regulations, ignoring required duties, turning in such sloppy and uneven work that would make you question whether anyone was really working at all. Unless it was work that would have gone against those far right ideologies, such as climate science reports, in which case the ideologues put into positions of authority worked overtime to rewrite, shred, or flat-out squash anything that would have gone against their worldview.
And don't forget the violations of FISA, unwarranted phone taps, programs to infiltrate anti-war groups, the creation of "Free Speech" kennels in which to shove protesters to where they couldn't be seen... Oh, yeah, almost forgot about all of that. I still for the life of me can't understand how a group of Quakers would be under investigation... actually I can understand, but the thought sickens me.

6) The War in Afghanistan.
And this was a winnable war. The Taliban that had seized power in Afghanistan were despised across the globe (except in Pakistan and a few other rogue nations who liked the company). Hell, even the Iranian mullahs thought the Taliban were too extremist. When Bin Laden's crew pulled off 9/11, nearly every country in the world sided with the United States, joined us in a massive military endeavor into Taliban country to drive them out and capture all Al Qaeda elements hiding in the Afghan mountains. Within months, faster than anticipated, we had our success, and installed a more moderate leadership in Afghanistan, and promised massive improvements to the landscape.
It's now been seven years. We still have troops in there, trying to maintain stability. The Taliban came back across the Pakistani border and are continuing a program of blowing up schools, killing and torturing women, and plotting a return to power. It's gotten so bad the Afghan government is seriously looking at some way of letting the Taliban into their system (which is NOT a good idea). As for Al Qaeda, well they got away. See point 1) about Bin Laden: there's serious evidence we had him at Tora Bora and we let him get away.
Because of Iraq. Because Bush and his neocon buddies didn't think Afghanistan was a priority in promoting their Middle East policy of crushing any nations threatening Israel, which because of political complexities in that region meant getting ridding of Saddam and meant bombing Iran first chance they could get. So our resources got diverted at a time they shouldn't have, and our interest in Afghanistan disappeared once Iraq turned into an occupation quagmire.
Ever see Charlie Wilson's War? It's a good movie, I got my parents to see it back on New Year's Day. We've never really done right by the Afghani people, as the movie ends with a real quote from the real Charlie Wilson - "We f-cked up the endgame," as it relates to how we left that country to its own fate after the Soviets left - it reminds me of how Bush and his people left Afghanistan today: we're still f-cking up the endgame.

7) The War in Iraq
This is going to be a sticking point with a lot of Bush apologists, who are going to argue that Oh, the war was necessary, that Oh, we brought democracy to the region, that Oh, the Surge worked and thus we won the war and you should be grateful to our Commander in Chief yadda f-cking yadda.
Here's the deal. There were no connections between Iraq and Al Qeada as it relates to 9/11. Saddam wasn't building nuclear weapons, and it turns out they didn't have weapons of mass destruction by 1998, much less 2002-03. Nearly every piece of evidence used by Bush to excuse us going into Iraq was twisted out of context, or worse fabricated. We went in with not enough overseas support from our allies. We went in with half as many troops as we needed. We went in with a half-assed exit strategy: oh, despite the hindsight we have now where it looks like there was no exit strategy, there was the strategy of placing our so-called ally/puppet Chalabi on the throne of power and prop him up as a government, whereupon we would have left. Except for the fact that Chalabi was totally unacceptable to the Iraqis and also turned out to be in cahoots with IRAN (!!!), which kinda ruined the whole exit strategy. What happened was we didn't have a f-cking Plan B.
Which led to four years of kicking about from Bremer's disastrous regime of nation-building that alienated everyone. And four years or more of declining military enrollments which led to other distastrous policies such as Stop-Loss, redeployments, and lowering of recruiting standards to allow idiots, criminals, and other undesirables (that weren't gay). Which led to increases in PTSDs, numbers of seriously wounded vets putting a drain on vet care and other resources. And it wasn't anything else getting Bush's ass on fire until the 2006 midterms destroyed the Republican party's hold on Congress, at which point Bush had to pretend to follow the recommendations of a so-called bipartisan Iraq Study Group. But really all Bush followed was the idea of a Surge, to increase more troops anyway. Everything else proposed by the Study Group? Not so much.
By the way, nearly everything else on this list of Fail for Bush - the cronyism, the deficit spending, the torture regime - all of these problems are touched by Iraq.

8) That under Bush, we went from relative financial stability to a series of financial crises that rivals the whole Great Depression.
Again, the Republicans should never be allowed to claim they are the party of fiscal responsibility. Not ever again.
In a way, the Bush years were a good thing: they allowed us to bear witness to a full eight years of supply-side economics, a socio-economic theory once derided by Bush the Elder of all people as Voodoo Economics. The whole idea of combining massive tax cuts alongside cuts in federal regulation of industries and finances, allowing the free market led by the Captains and CEOs of Industry to work with a free hand to spread the wealth, improve services, and cure all ailments (well, that how those bastards keep selling it).
You see, we never really had a full Presidential term of supply-side. When the first few years of it under Reagan didn't produce the right results, Reagan was realistic enough to tweak the system and raised taxes here and there, before reforming the whole tax code outright in his second term. Bush the Elder was forced by a recalcitrant Democratic Congress to renounce the tax-cut portion of the ideas midway through his term, which was enough to alienate the Club for Greed people and hurt Bush's numbers at the polls in 1992.
Ahh, but under Bush the Lesser, there were no constraints, and no pragmatic view of things that even Reagan displayed. Bush never wavered in his belief of tax-cutting, of privatization of government services (to the point he pushed a disastrous plan of putting Social Security onto the stock market... even his fellow Republicans in Congress balked at that), of relaxing any oversight or regulation of business and finance during his tenure. He made deeper tax cuts almost exclusively benefitting the upper class (basically anyone above $250k). All on the belief that it would make our economy that much stronger.
Well, eight years we see the results. Broad and undefined tax cuts didn't lead to the spreading of the wealth: instead the upper class, the even-less-than-one-percent uberrich, got more of it and it did not trickle anywhere. Deregulation didn't make the markets more efficient: it made everything tied into everything else, and the collapse of one aspect of the markets cascaded into other branches leading to near-global collapses in every corner of finance. We didn't see constant job growth: job creation vacillated here and there until these past two years when unemployment started going consistently up (Bush entered with a 4 percent unemployment rate, he left with 7 percent and growing). Wages for those who kept their employment stagnated for anyone not working upper management on Wall Street. And speaking of: Rather than being a friend to Wall Street, Bush instead presided over perhaps the largest collapse of financial giants ever, bigger than even anything seen in 1929-30.
And this all made the mess over Enron and Worldcom back in 2002 look like penny ante stuff.
Alan Greenspan, Randian acolyte and the spokesperson of the whole deregulatory practices for the last 25 years, finally admitted to Congress in the midst of the global financial meltdown that "I have found a flaw." Oh, you think? You're right you found a flaw. Deregulation didn't lead to more efficient markets: it allowed GREED to drive our economics to the brink of disaster. It amazes me how economists never input the greed variable into their theories: nearly every economic system from the Pharoahs on down were vulnerable to it. Serfdom, Mercantilism, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism... every conceivable system is vulnerable to greed. It's only Capitalism - which is the only system to actively separate government from economic decision-making - that allows for any effective oversight (a force independent from the Captains of Industry) to ensure GREED doesn't take over. But government under Bush the Lesser turned a blind eye to it. And everything went to the Big Sh-tpile.

9) The one failure that most Republicans are gonna have to choke on for the next 20 years: Bush's failure of party leadership across the board.
I mean, let's face it. The Bush years were a grand time to push the agendas for the (religious) Social-cons, the (foreign policy) Neocons, and the (financial) Con-artist-cons. All three groups that make up the solid base of the Republican Party got what they wanted - for the most part. Social-cons got judges who fit their pro-life agendas, a stem-cell policy that discouraged ova harvesting, a sex-ed program that ignored common-sense stuff for an abstinence-only ideology. The Neocons got their wars in the Middle East. The Con-artist-cons got both their massive tax cuts for the upper classes as well as near-lax oversight of the financial sector covering the stock markets, the banks, insurance firms, various funds, what have you.
So of course, all three are still horribly dissatisfied with what they still haven't gotten. Even though a majority of Americans have come to the point where they will disagree with all three groups on what they still want.
But the leadership problem is going to make that more difficult for the GOP. Usually the party's done a decent job - as you look back into history - of creating and grooming players in the party for leadership roles down the line (both parties do, but the Dems have a bigger history of relative unknowns stepping into the limelight at the expense of more 'serious' would-be leaders). Consider Eisenhower the starting point of the modern Republican Party as FDR's extended rule covering two major moments of American history kinda makes a Chinese Wall of "Before And After". Eisenhower's tenure saw the birth of Buckley's intellectual conservatism and brought forth future roleplayers like Nixon and Rockefeller. Goldwater's conservatism of the early 1960s echoed downward through the likes of Reagan. Nixon in power begat the likes of Cheney and Dole. Ford was just... well, he was a long-time Congressional bigwig. I'd put him in the Eisenhower lineage. Bush the Elder could also be considered part of the Nixon crew, but really rose to prominence in the party as Reagan's understudy. Reagan begat the likes of Kemp and Gingrinch, and indeed a lot of Republican heavy hitters who got their starts in the 1980s owe it all to Reagan's enviable coattails. Bush the Lesser oddly enough doesn't reflect his own father as much as he reflects that of his VP, Cheney, which makes him more a political descendent of Nixon than anything else.
But today? Did Bush create anything of a legacy, and bring into office with him either in the White House or in Congress that could, post-administration, rise up to challenge the Democrats and lead the party in 2012 and beyond?
No. A lot of it has to do with self-destructive scandals that wiped out the major players in the GOP from 1998 on up. Newt Gingrinch's failure to use Clinton's scandals to win more seats in 1998 drove him into exile. DeLay, the guy who drove his mentor Newt out, was himself driven out by lobbyist scandals. Piece by piece, every possible major player (Ney, Foley, Frist) got caught in scandal or overpushed an extremist position to where they were losing support back home. The grooming of replacements got harder as fewer potential candidates rose to the challenges. More and more, the Republican Party kept getting raging mediocrities or raging extremists to fill positions that made the party less palatable to the public at large.
Those who weren't mediocrities or extremists found themselves driven out by a party that no longer wanted them. The likes of moderate Lincoln Chafee, for example, kept facing primary challenges by the Club for Greed or the pro-life factions (and sometimes both), which either left the extremist winning the primary or else allowing the challenging Democrat to highlight how dangerous Republicans were which still led to the moderate Republican's defeat(s). Here's a tidbit to chew over: THERE ARE NO REPUBLICAN CONGRESSPERSONS FROM NEW ENGLAND LEFT. None. There's I think three Republican Senators from New England. Almost no governors I think except Conneticut. That's actually a heavily-populated region of the U.S. with almost NO Republican representation. Not considering the heavily-Democratic New York, the leaning-Democratic Atlantic region with once-hard-right Virginia sliding to the left on a daily basis. In fact, in the last election the only places where voter turnout for Republicans improved were in the rural South and Appalachain regions. The Republican Party is literally shrinking, with fewer younger voters supporting the party than ever before (the under-30 vote is leaning so far Democrat that the Republicans might get outnumbered by whatever's left of the Reform or Green Parties in that age bracket within the next 4 years). A shrinking party means fewer electable candidates, meaning fewer leaders.
Look at the current make-up of the Republican Party. Who can you point to as the standard bearers now? McCain? He's getting older, and there's gonna be parts of the party that will always hate him no matter what. Romney or Giuliani? They couldn't win against McCain, for pete's sake, do you know how unpopular you have to be among the GOP base to do that? Huckabee? So far only a regional flavor, but given time perhaps... Sarah Palin? Oh Lord. Oh God. Despite all the starry-eyed worship she's getting from the talking heads and the far right wingnuts that make John Birchers look sane, Sarah Palin makes Dan Quayle look like John Foster Freakin Dulles. Americans would rather turn to Tina Fey for leadership (and damn right too, I still think she got that chin scar from fighting a rogue time-traveling Klingon). Jindal? Too new to the scene to tell. Now keep looking. Seriously. Anybody among the party leaders in the House and Senate: can you even name them right now? Try the governors. Other than Palin or Jindal, who else is setting the political arena on fire with rhetoric or ideology or sound leadership skills? Honestly. Who else is there? And who in their right minds are gonna vote for a party based on ever-increasing extremist views on the economy, on foreign policy, on social issues?
This may well be Bush the Lesser's truest legacy: poisoning the political field against the Republicans to where no one coming of age since 2000 will vote for the GOP.
I honestly do not believe the Republican Party is dying. The electorate is set up for a two-party system, and we've rarely been a one-party nation (briefly we were between the fall of the Federalists and the rise of the Whigs, which led to Know-Nothings, which led to the Republicans). But the Republicans are fast becoming a regional political power with reducing national prestige... pretty soon the so-called Southern Strategy won't be a cornerstone of a broad election policy, it will be the only platform left.

And there you have it. Nine items that I can come up with to list Bush the Lesser's tenure as an Epic FAIL among failed Presidencies. U.S. Grant... Franklin Pierce... Warren Harding... congratulations, guys, you're all off the hook. Except for you, James Buchanan, you still suck. And John Tyler, you're still an ass...

January 20, 2009

"...Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions..."

- Barack Obama, as of 12:01 pm Eastern Jan. 20, 2009 our 44th President of the United States of America.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

During jaded days, something can happen that restores your faith

I've spent most of today's afternoon writing up that long overview of The Prisoner television show, and ranting towards the end about what the show says about torture... and then I take a few hours to get dinner, and then I switch the channels about on the T.V. seeing what the news is...

And there's a picture of an airplane floating in the Hudson River.

Usually, plane crashes do not end well. Even in the instances when the pilot's able to do something, there's still injured people, fire and flames, the possibility of even a handful of people if not most of the passengers dying in terribly horrible ways.

I'm not a huge fan of flying. I will if I have to, but still...

What has been so amazing about the Flight 1549 crash is how close it all could gone disastrous once the plane collided with what appears to be geese. They had just lifted off at LaGuardia Airport, in Queens. They were flying northbound, then had to turn southwest, and all the while they've got cityscapes all about, no clear spot to land the damaged aircraft other than the two rivers bordering Manhattan. The pilot had to glide the plane - no power once the engines got knocked out, one catching fire by eyewitness report - and still according to traffic control reports was still able to get enough lift for the plane to get in position to the Hudson River. And then, the splashdown. Even without engine power that plane was moving fast, and gravity pulling hard. Hitting the water with that much mass and that rate of speed, it's still like landing on concrete.

The pilot for all intents nails the landing.

Everyone's up and out inside of 90 seconds, getting onto the wings as the plane precariously floats. The pilot's got enough time to check the whole cabin, walking it twice to make sure everyone's out before he's the last to leave. Pilot's name is Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, ex-Air Force pilot with sh-tloads of experience. He's gonna have babies named after him for the next 20 years, hell they might rename that river in his honor. Sully River. It has a ring to it.

Plane still floated long enough for the nearby ferries to arrive in rescue efforts. Coast Guard, city marine patrols, tugs, everyone on a boat in that river showed up to pick up the survivors within minutes. At worst injurywise is a flight attendant with reportedly a broken leg. Some of the passengers are treated for hypothermia, having gotten wet in the cold January waters. I'll bet nearly everyone is still shaking from the adrenelin rush of knowing they've just walked away from a miracle landing.

I remember being on flights, they do that little spiel before takeoff about where the emergency exits are, what to do with the oxygen masks in case of cabin pressure loss, and most of all about how the seat cushions can be turned into a floatation device. There'd always been a lot of snickering about that with the groups I've traveled with a few times, basically deriding the idea that if the plane were to crash into the ocean that the odds of surviving far enough to use the seat as a floatation device would never happen. Well, I am not ever joking about that again.

There's still not a lot of good things going on in today's world. Wars, with innocent people caught in the crossfire. Economic disasters with families suffering, facing poverty and homelessness in massive numbers. Still a lot of problems that need fixing, need constant attention, need some sunshine and happiness. Today, there's 155 people, and all their families and friends, and a whole city of 8 million people feeling just a little bit better, a little more faithful in the rolls of the dice that God throws from time to time (Sorry Einstein, but God does play dice with the universe. At least a pair of D20).

I am not a Number, I am a FREE MAN

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered!

The Prisoner was a television program from the late 1960s. Originally offered up as a spy-thriller show, much like I Spy, Man from UNCLE, and Patrick MacGoohan's earlier Danger Man, the show posited a hero British secret agent who angrily resigns from his job only to be captured by some nefarious organization. The organization seems to be run by spies, collecting and interrogating other spies on both sides of the Cold War, placing them all in an idyllic seaside luxury resort known only as the Village. Everyone, prisoners and guards, go by numbers, and no one can tell really who the prisoners are and if the guards are really guards.

Our hero gets tagged as Number Six. He's in the Village for two reasons. The organization thinks even after his resignation that Number Six can become 'part of the team' and work for them. And the organization wants information from him: to know "why did you resign?" It's believed that if Number Six cracks and answers the question, the rest will willingly follow. For his part, Number Six won't talk. And like every other prisoner in the world, he's not going to cooperate... and he's looking for ways to escape.

Thing was, unlike the other spy shows, episodes were not fully resolved. In a regular spy show, the hero would get caught, confront captors, endure some punishment, but then cleverly (usually by seducing a pretty maid) makes a daring escape before the episode ends, during which a) the bad guys blow up from their own sabotaged weapons or b) the bad guys escape themselves so they can re-appear in a fun-packed fan-happy follow-up episode when the rating start to sag.

Not so with the Prisoner. Number Six was stuck: every escape attempt foiled, usually because of fiendishly twisted psychological technobabble. If the hero had any successes, it was because he foiled the attempts of his tormentors (the ever-changing Number Twos) to break him. The show's episodes had three basic story lines: a) the Prisoner tries to escape using a potential flaw in the Village's security; b) the Prisoner resists efforts to force him to reveal why he resigned; c) the Prisoner gets involved within the Village's "community" to unravel an attempt by the Village's secret leaders to collectively punish or manipulate Number Six's fellow innocents.

For complex, behind-the-scenes reasons involving the production of the series, only 17 episodes were ever made (there's evidence there was going to be 26 episodes for what was then a full season, but because of production delays, artistic differences, and the ever-escalating costs of weather balloons), essentially making the Prisoner a prolonged mini-series in which every episode was essential for figuring out what was going on. The problem came with the final episode, knowingly filmed as such, in which the actor Patrick MacGoohan finally takes control of the whole series and presents the Village as a metaphor for modern society, attempting to force rebellious members of society - such as Number Six - to conform. To even try to explain the final episode in any detail would take 40 pages and perhaps even 40 days to comprehend it all, but suffice to say the Prisoner DOES and - this is the mind-blowing part - DOESN'T escape... depending on your point of view. Yeah, trust me, it'll help to make sense of it.

The show's been a cult classic ever since. The final episode was so confounding, so unwilling to spell things out for people, that MacGoohan had to flee England entirely and basically set up shop in Los Angeles for work... which explains why he got so many juicy roles on the Colombo mystery series. But the confounding episode also drew viewers in, forcing audiences to think, to ponder, to draw their own conclusions and also figure out just what the show meant, for themselves. Few other shows lasted for so few episodes could claim such fannish devotion... save Firefly (and Police Squad!).

As viewed today, the Prisoner serves as a parable about civil liberties: the rights of the Individual (the Numbers) as balanced against the needs of the Community (the Village). At what point do the Village elders give us Numbers the liberties to go where we want, when we want, however we want? At what point do we pay a price for the services the Village provides to us (health care, security, food, a home)?

There's one other thing: the show delved, in rather campy ways (this was the 1960s, they couldn't show waterboarding in reality), into the issue of torture. We get it from the beginning episode, when Number Six's first capture by Rover takes him to the Village Hospital. Number Six bears witness to a handful of fellow prisoners undergoing psychological torments, and sees the results (one man is left incoherently singing to a water fountain, another man seemingly mindwiped).

As one watches the show, one learns that the makers were rather unanimous on the value of torture: it has none. All it did was twist people into broken and useless humans (Dance of the Dead shows one example), or drive them to suicide (Hammer Into Anvil). Torture shows only one useful benefit: it breaks people into doing whatever you want them to, makes them into the torturer's pawns (Checkmate).

Consider how those who endured the torture of the Bush/Cheney regime (screw your Orwellian attempts at calling it 'enhanced interrogation.' Torture is torture.) Consider Jose Padilla. During his imprisonment under various and shifting accusations, Padilla was tortured. There's no ifs ands or buts. Padilla was tortured. And the end result wasn't confessions to what he'd been charged with: the end result was a broken man, unable to trust anyone other than the authorities that had tortured him, unable to provide for his own legal defense, and found by experts to be mentally unfit for trial (which still happened and still sent Padilla to jail). Padilla was left convinced that his mother needed to go speak to George W. Bush himself for mercy, that if Bush was convinced Padilla was 'a good boy' he'd go free.

The arguments against torture are all valid: there is no proof that torture extracts useful information. There is no evidence that the torture conducted during the Bush years led to any significant arrests or led us any closer to ending the threat of Al Quada: show me one case where a torture interrogation led to a break against a terror plot (nearly every so-called arrest came from standard police procedures of undercover work, catching the bad guys in the act, and/or an act of stupidity on the part of the culprit(s)). I'm looking online and in databases: I can't find one.

There is evidence that torture makes people more willing to do anything the torturer wants them to do. You torture someone long enough, you torture a poor innocent person from the hills of nowhere who doesn't know anyone and you can get them to state under oath that they've seen Dick Cheney hunt pink unicorns while wearing metal spiked collars and a matching leather tutu. That is all torture is good for: breaking people.

Patrick MacGoohan passed yesterday. The legacy of his show The Prisoner is still with us. The legacy of the damage from Bush's regime of torture is also still with us, until and unless Congress and the new President listen to the growing calls of the American people to do something about it, and bring those who installed torture as our main weapon in the War on Terror to a reckoning.

Be seeing you, Number Six...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Political Resolutions 2009

While I've got some other resolutions on my mind, these are of interest for meself in the political arena:

1) I hereby resolve to take an active role with and see if they have a place for me and my ideas on reforming the election process, specifically my hope for a One-Day Primary for the next Presidential election of 2012.

2) I hereby resolve to make a nuisance of myself on such political blogspots as Balloon Juice, The Atlantic's various blog voices, MY Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Obsidian Wings, Moderate Voice, and a handful of other links I've got over on the side there. Except for some reason Daily Kos is not taking my comments... grrr.

3) Oh, and I hereby resolve to, you know, GET A BLEEPING JOB. Danke.