Friday, December 17, 2004

Watching and Listening

I was in my car last night and turned to C-SPAN radio, which I rarely do anymore, but nonetheless, happened upon the audio coverage of the Social Security conference and the President's speech on the same. I have to say I was mildly impressed. If nothing else, he spoke as someone who had some knowledge of the issues--however distorted--and as if he really believed in what he was pushing. If I was a non-biased person, who didn't follow the issues or know anything about Social Security, I'm tempted to say I might have found his presentation almost compelling in a simple kinda way.

Then I caught his act on televised C-SPAN. Yeah. This was the President Bush from the first debate bad. He looked like he was reading from the 1999 playbook, tossing out blithe one liners in an uncomfortable, verbal cut and paste kinda style. At this point the subjects for discussion were tort "reform" and the need for making permanent his tax plans. I imagine he believes in this stuff, too, but he didn't seem into it. When referring to the need to forever end the estate "death" tax for millionaires, of which the first $5 million or so at least is already exempted or was before he rode into town, he even trotted out that most pathetic of tried and true victimologies, The Family Farm. "If we don't end the estate tax, all our Family Farms will disappear", and all like that, forgetting for a moment our vast unfreemarketlike agribusiness welfare subsidy system, which has pretty much put the kabosh to the 16 or so family farms still left in the USA, but that's for another time, and for another conference, when the subject is something other than the economy, and Social Security, and how we just need more of that good old fashion Republican gospel of tax cuts, less government, and individual responsibility and everything will be alright drivel.

When calling for changing the malpractice system (or at least that's what I think he was talking about), he acknowledged a drug store owner or something in the audience from Mississippi of all places who had apparently become a part of some class action lawsuit that caused her and hers problems. Now, there wasn't any mention of what the case was about, or what the responsibility of the business owner in question may have had. Nothing. Just a bunch of pap about small town bidnesses, located in good ole southern town squares, serving the people, that shouldn't have to deal with this stuff. The audience seemed to like it, though.

Anyway, I'm thinking of writing more about the President's style, how he's handled, in the sense of what Democrats can learn. An odd angle for someone like me to be taking, I know, but there are probably points to poinder about how Democrats can make use of certain strategies and such, but I don't feel like it right now. Will think it over and get back to you.


Kevin Drum has a bit here on yesterday's Social Security panel.

And speaking of the deficit...

Finally, the White House has released Bernie Kerik's withdrawal letter... (Thanks to Atrios for the link).

What's in a Name?

I was minding my own business this morning, reading the NYT on the ride into work. There was a little story about the president's economic conference yesterday, and panel discussion on Social Security. Along with the story was a pic, showing some apparently serious minded folks explaining the crisis of Social Security to themselves and whoever else might have been listening, which I bet no one else was because the only purpose of these functions is to people watch so you can back to the office or wherever and report on who you saw...

Anyway, back to the article and its accompanying pic and my minding my own business. Four of the people in the pic are gents, and one was a gal. The gal's name was Sandra Jaques. The name rang a bell. I thought for a minute and then seemed to recall that frenchman, Josh Marshall, mentioning her. And I was right. Here's the link. Then, that being last week, she was a plain old citizen from Iowa, undoubtedly representin' the common folk with whom the president is so familiar, and no doubt possessing the good ole fashion common horse sense that G. W. likes. Then also, that being last week, she was affiliated with some outfit called Women for a Sound Social Security Choice.

Now, as I mentioned a few days ago, I'm pretty up to date, or so I thought, with all the doo-dad organizations out there pressing for privatizing Social Security, but I hadn't ever heard of this cult. Funny thing, too, that Josh did a little googling and couldn't find her or the organization either. But in the pic--and you were probably wondering when I'd get back to that--the woman's affiliation was now listed as something called FreedomWorks. Now, this is a gang that apparently has its origins in one of the Jack Kemp groups, Empowering America, Down with Government, Up With Free Enterprise, or whatever.

So what happened? Did the existence-nonexistence of this Women for a Sound Social Security Choice cause a problem to where a new affiliation had to be added? I was pleased to see that this FreedomWorks society does have a webpage at least, so probably exists to a certain extent, at least in the figment of a few people's imaginations, with the time and inclination to set up a webpage and with the intent of hoping people think they're a, you know, actual interest group, with real, you know, members who contribute and care about the stuff they're selling.

Anyway, there's a lesson here, I think. I'm not sure what it is, but maybe something along the lines of, hey, when you're doctoring up your resume, make sure the employer or association you list can actually be identified somewhere so people won't think you're either a lying suckup or nincompoop.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

War, What is it Good For?

Bradford Plumer had an interesting post a week or so ago, basically asking, Hey, What's Our Military Actually For?

It's an interesting question given some things I've wondering about lately, too. It's easy to get lost in a debate that has been framed by others to where the options are between tough and more tough plans for fighting terrorism, whatever that is, where-ever it is. One of the things I'd like to see happen is for some major policymaker to pose that question in a public forum, be it through the media or on the Senate floor.

As Bradford notes, we don't actually face any real military threats in the usual sense of the word, given our location and the minor array of state military forces out there that could or would do us harm, so our large standing professional army and the military industrial complex basically exists for some other reason, but what reason or reasons are those?

I've also been thinking about the draft. It's hard to imagine that the Iraq war would have been fought had we not already had a professional army "on the shelf" so to speak, and not had to go out and draft one. I can imagine a lot of the armchair warriors on and off cable TV would have thought about the whole thing much differently if a draft was required to fight it. It seems to me that the existence of a large military force provides a greater incentive to wage war than would otherwise be the case.

And of course there are budgetary and political implications as a result of the prior establishment of military bases, that, might like other pork, politicians are loath to take back once they've gotten communities hooked on the resources and sales opportunities they provide. And then there are matters of a more subtle nature, as a military culture infiltrates the public sphere. It seems obligatory for newscasters and sports entertainers these days to pay homage to the troops for "defending our freedom", despite the fact that any slightly objective evaluation of the conditions related to the war in Iraq would lead one to recognize that such is not the case and that whatever is occuring over there has nothing to do with our freedom, but for the need to accomodate a worshipful military culture here, there is little or no questioning of this posture.

Tocqueville worried about the effect the tyranny of the majority had in America in suppressing the freedom of expression. Many of the founders, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, in particular, carried concerns about the implications for liberty of having a standing army that could be turned on its citizenry for despotic purposes.

If I was a Mean Spirited, Partisan Hack of a Blogger...

...I might remind everone that the conservatives first response to the now infamous question by a soldier to Sec/Defense Rumsfeld about the lack of armor was to silly-poo the thing and claim that there was really no problem. But I won't do that. If I was a mean spirited, partisan hack of a blogger I might also go on to point out that the next lego in the conservative response factory to the "hillbilly armor" crisis was to blame the questioner and the press for planting the question, but I because I'm not a mean spirited, partisan hack of a blogger, I won't do that. And if I was a mean spirited, partisan hack of a blogger I could go on to point out that the third conservative response to the "hillybilly armor" crisis has been to make a 180 degree to turn to actually admit, that, yes, when we really get down to it, Rumsfeld's response to the question, and his overall attitude towards his responsibilities and handling of the war in Iraq has sucked, and that Bush should dump the guy.

But because I'm not a mean spirited, bitter, partisan hack who enjoys pointing out conservative hypocrisy and flamfloonery, I won't do that.

This episode and the whole approach to the world we've witnessed the last few years kinda reminds me of that scene from Apocolypse Now where after finally tracking down the butcherous Colonel Kurtz, Martin Sheen's Captain Willard listen's to Kurtz complain about the Army's not liking his methods and then turning to Willard, asks, "Do you disagree with my methods"? Looking out at all the wreckage and hung bodies, Willard says, "I don't see. ..Any method."

I don't see...Any method. Do you?

Will the Liberal Writing the "Doug Giles" Columns Please Stop?

I am making a public appeal that whichever liberal blogger has been writing the "Pastor" Doug Giles columns over at the Heritage Foundation's idiot forum, er, website, Townhall,com, to please cease and desist.

Yes, it's been amusing at times. It's been hiliarious seeing such ludicrous rantings on such a prominent wingnut site get all this attention. But now it's just getting ridiculous. Sooner or later, even the ignoramuses there are going to catch on that the "Pastor Doug" columns are a joke and a parody. Nobody could be as stupid and backward as the guy pretending to write this column is.

I've long suspected that the real author behind "Pastor Doug's Clashpoints" is Michael Berube. You've seen some of his satire, what do you think? Or if anyone out there has any suspects you want to put forward, I will make them available here so they can be investigated. In any case, the column must be stopped. Before it's too late and they catch onto us.

Office Space 2: The White House

Infamous consultants Bob and Bob have been hired to vet President Bush's cabinet nominees as the administration prepares for its second term...

Scene 1: Department of State nominee, Condoleeza Rice, enters interview room.

Bob and Bob: Donna Rice?

Rice: No, my name is Condoleeza Rice and I'm the President's National Security Advisor.

Bob and Bob: 'Cause we just loved your work on that boat, the Monkey Business.

Rice: You have me confused with someone else. I was the Provost at Stanford University, and I-

Bob and Bob: Do you still talk to Gary Hart?

Rice: Gentlemen, please, now unless you have any real questions for me I really must be going...
(Rice leaves)

Bob and Bob: How about that, that Donna Rice woman's going to work for the President! Well, so much for vetting this one...who's next?

(Bob and Bob open the folder of information for the next nominee, Margaret Spelling, nominee for the Department of Education)

Scene 2: Margaret Spelling enters...

Bob and Bob: Tori Spelling?

Spelling: Huh?

Bob and Bob: Weren't you on Beverly Hills, 90210?

Spelling: I don't understand what you mean? I thought I was here--

Bob and Bob: I loved that show. But I bet you really loved that show...

Spelling: Am I in the right place? What is this?

Bob and Bob: What was your favorite 90210 episode?

Spelling: Do you mean that show with that guy Dylan and that horrible girl, what was her name?

Bob I: I always liked Andrea, never thought she got the attention she deserved, very sensible gal.

Spelling: Excuse me, but what does this have to do with education?

Bob and Bob: Um, ma'am, we're done here. Thanks a lot for coming, and tell the 90210 gang we said "hello".

(Spelling leaves)

Scene 3.

Bob I: Who's next?

Bob II: Looks like a Bernard Kerik.

Bob and Bob: Hi there, Bernard, is it?

Kerik: Just call me Bernie.

Bob and Bob: Bernie, now, refresh our memory if you would, you're here to interview for what job again?

Kerik: Department of Homeland Security

Bob II: Is that the company that puts out them color warnings?

Bob I: Yeah, what goofball thought of that?

Bob and Bob: OK, Mr. Kerik, we're just trying to get an idea about what President Bush's nominees do with their day. Can you tell us about what you've been doing?

Kerik: Just got back from Iraq, where I was training the new Iraqi police force as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. But my wife called to say our the addition to our house was completed so I came back. There was lots of bombs going off all the time over there anyway, so I didn't mind gettin outta there if you know what I mean...

Bob and Bob: Now, Mr, Kerik--

Kerik: Bernie...

Bob and Bob: Ok, Bernie, now we see you filled out these forms asking about your financial information, your assets, your hired help, and whatnot.

Bob I: Yeah, we wouldn't want anybody with nanny problems or mob connections gettin in to the White House, if you know what I mean. You never believe the types of people that apply for jobs like this.

Kerik: Nah, don't worry about that.

Bob and Bob: So no problems we should know about?

Kerik: None just that I'm in tight with Rudy, so let the President know that.

Bob and Bob: Great, Bernie. Good luck.

(Kerik leaves)

Bob II: OK, are we about done, who's next?

Bob I: Last one--Alberto Gonzalez for Attorney General, whatever that means...

Scene 4: Alberto Gonzalez, nominee for Attorney General enters.

Bob and Bob: Hi there, Alberto, is it?

Gonzalez: Yes, that's right.

Bob and Bob: So Alberto, why do you want to work for the government?

Gonzalez: Well, I'm one of President Bush's most loyal subjects, er, followers, er, advisors...

Bob I: Glad to hear that. Anything we should be concerned about as we make sure you're suited to be President Bush's, uh, general attorney?

Bob II: Is this a military job?

Gonzalez: Well, no, not really, although some of my work has had military implications.

Bob and Bob: Anything we would have heard about?

Gonzalez: You guys here about the "torture" memo?

Bob and Bob: YOU WROTE the TORTURE MEMO? Wow, awesome, man. Man, we loved that book.

Bob I: Hey, don't let us keep you any longer.

Gonzalez: It was pleasure meeting you guys.

Bob and Bob: Hey, the pleasure's all on this side of the table.

(Gonzalez exits)

Bob I: Ah, I love this work.

Bob II: Yeah, too bad it only comes along every four years.

Bob I: What's next?

Bob II: Think we can get a TV gig with Fox?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Tanned, Rested and Ready

MyDD has a blurb today about Wisconsin Senator, Russ Feingold, who, according to Hotline, has a potential interest in a 2008 run for the WH.

Although we haven't even gotten to dubya's inaugural yet, and many of us are still licking our wounds from the past campaign, two factors: the increasingly elongated presidential campaign; and the need for someone, anyone, in the Democratic world to arise as a spokesman for the party, means that the search for, and examination of, potential leadership is getting an early start, too.

In short, I tend to agree with MyDD's initial assessment of Feingold: he's an intriguing possibility. But he needs more to hang his hat on than campaign finance reform. His was, I believe, the only vote against the Patriot Act in the U.S. Senate, a mark of courage given the hysteria of the moment. He's midwestern, for those of us worried about candidate geography. And he doesn't have the same level of baggage that either Hilary, Edwards (inexperience) , or Dean would bring to a race.

But as I mentioned in an earlier post, it's important that whoever wants the nomination start to make an impact now, and not wait until the snows of Iowa and NH in January 2008 to start talking. Despite the frivolousness of the past campaign and the temper of the media, important policy issues are at stake in the next months and years and as the recent Beinhart-Will Marshall, Al From-led attacks have demonstrated, the absence of a comprehensive and compelling Democratic counter-narrative has created a vaccuum of rhetoric and ideas that is itching for leadership and direction.

On this last point, it is probably worth noting that neither Kerry or Edwards (or Dean really for that matter) has gone very far in challenging the underlying premise of the current, so-called War on Terrorism other than that they would fight it better, harder, and with more global partners. It's a long post, but Descrates gives us some idea, based on earlier remarks by the sadly departed Edward Said, about what such an alternative vision might revolve around. Give it a read.

Anyway, Senator Feingold, and any others, we await your contributions and your voices in the days ahead.

The Latest

I sincerely regret my derth of postings lately but my inner academic is finishing a paper, I stayed up late Sunday night to watch the Redskins (lose), and my cadre of fellow bloggers have been covering recent events nicely.

Speaking of which, here's a great takedown of the Bernie Kerik debacle. Hilarious. Wolcott doesn't post as regularly as I could use but when he does he hits it out of the park.

On a more cautionary note, I've been reluctant to invade the brewing debate on Social Security "reform" because of my association with friends who may or may not work for the agency, and on the basis that my inner government worker may be compromised.

However, two points on Social Security "reform" are worth highlighting: First, as Kevin Drum, MaxSpeak and others have patiently shown, there is no Social Security crisis. As long as the Social Security Trust Funds register a positive balance, which they are projected to do until 2042 at last count, Social Security checks will go out, regardless of however much of a deficit the government is generating or what war we're in. At the point at which the Trust Funds are no longer in surplus (i.e. 2042-ish), the system will still be generating enough in payroll tax income to fund upwards of 67-70% of expected benefits, which because of the rising growth of wages on which benefits are based, would still be MORE than what retirees are getting today, EVEN after inflation is taken into account.

The second point is a more delicate matter and pertains to any potential strategy used to oppose the move towards Social Security privatization. While this blog will not put forward such a strategy or pontificate on the relative wisdom of either adamantly opposing "reform", submitting an alternative plan, or negotiating with the administration and congressional Republicans on the matter, the consideration of a little history may be in order, and for that I turn you over to our friend Mr. Digby. (Warning: the post to which this link is made is of an especially graphic and disturbing nature, revealing in excruciating detail and depth the utter contempt and brutality of the then out, but now ruling party. Please read with caution).