Notes on Political Venality, Pomposity and Associated Stupidity.

Friday, December 31, 2004

"Hopeless Hopes - A News Years List"

Here are my Top Ten Hopeless Hopes for the new year. Cheers!

10) Corporate criminals end up in the same prisons as guys named Bubba and begin to reconsider their opposition to gay marriage. Ken Lay would be a fitting first choice.

9) Cell phones are banned in Coach, but mandated in First Class, where they will take away your drink if you're not talking enough.

8) Oil prices continue to climb and force people to face the reality of the peak oil issue.

7) All Hummers come with a permanent plaque on the back which says, "Asshole on Board!"

6) Wal-Mart is forced out of business by a small variety store in upstate New York, even though they don't have greeters, low prices or those trendy blue vests.

5) A law is passed which immediately stops construction on all malls and big box retail stores across the nation.

4) The Democrats learn how to brand themselves.

3) People in the "red states" have an epiphany and realize they've been duped by a cadre of rich, upper-crust criminals, whose "mission from God" has less legitimacy than the one Elwood and Jake Blues were on.

2) We withdraw our troops from Iraq and let the Iraqi's figure it out for themselves.

And finally, the Big Number One Hopeless Hope for 2005...

1) President George W. Bush actually does see God, and God gives him what for.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

"Bush Poor Mouths The World"

The Bush administration has been backpedaling since the first faulty words rolled off their collective tongues. The first words? "15-million dollars." That was the hefty sum they initially commited to the relief efforts in Asia, where the staggering death toll keeps climbing. 15-million. Pathetic. Sad. Mean. Typical.

The best way to put this in perspective is to compare it to what is being planned for Mr. Bush's second inaugural, which estimates say will cost around 40-million dollars.

Keep this image in your head; 100-thousand dead bodies on the beaches of south Asia on one side. On the other? 1000 rich buddies of the President, parading and posturing around DC, like prize porkers. On one side, traumatized people who are desperate for even a trace of edible food and potable water. On the other, portly white men bursting their cumberbunds, stuffed full of steak. This group will sip champagne and shake their heads when discussing the tsunami's aftermath, and then they'll all agree, "We give more money than any other country, dammit! We're a giving people." Of course we give a lot of money, when you count the raw dollars. But, we are pikers when you look at per capita spending on foreign aid. But in DC, during the Inaugural, that's not something you'll hear much about.

It is abundantly clear that Bush and his henchmen are incapable of "doing the right thing." With a disaster of this magnitude, we should have pledged "whatever it takes" and we should have done it right away, not three days later while Dubya moseyed around the ranch in his usual stupor, trying to pretend that this didn't happen. Of course, in reality, he wasn't in a catatonic state (though it so oftens appears so). He and his political advisors were busy polling, researching and calculating the plus/minus ratio of the event. How would the Right react to pledges of massive foreign aid? Could we lose a seat in the House if we give too much? How can we make W look strong and compassionate, yet still keep the aid number low? That's what took three days, not "an assessment of the true nature of the disaster."

We have the opportunity to create some good will in the world and, at the same time, relieve the suffering of thousands of people, but I doubt this administration is up to such a win-win the task. While it still plays in the red states, that vacant sneer of Mr. Bush is seen for what it is around the world, the glassey-eyed equivalent of a middle finger.

Friday, December 24, 2004

"The Animatronic Pope"

Okay, I admit it. I want to be The Pope. Not because I feel that I have "his" ear, but because this guy has the easiest job in the history of the word. And it's a job where you can't go wrong. Once, maybe two times a year, he stands up (well, standing isn't his strong suit these days...) and says (to th astonishment of all) WE NEED PEACE! Peace is good! Always the astute observer of the world at large, it was Ms. Piltdown that turned me on to this some years ago. It was she who pointed out to me that all The Pope ever deigns to say is 1) Peace is good and 2) Don't have sex. This is one fun guy.

Now here's where Ms. Piltdown really get's down and dirty. She feels that the original John Paul was actually replaced by an animatronic version some years ago. No one, other than some crusty Vatican insiders with long cassocks and silly hats know precisely when this happened. And it was really easy, actually. I mean, saying "pray for peace" in 23 languages is actually a lot simpler than singing "It's a small world after all." This is Uncle Walt's finest hour. The next step may be combining the anamatronic Pope into some sort of ride; maybe "Pontifs of the Caribbean." The lines would be endless.

But I have to realize that my desire for Popedom is now doomed. The same Hollywood sorts who use servos and electronics to make evil little Chucky seem lifelike, are running the show in Rome. The bad news is, we may never get to go through the whole "white smoke/black smoke" thing again. The good news is, at least somebody is still talking about peace. Even if it's just a smiling, animatronic good guy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

"A Lean, Mean Signing Machine"

Rummy really is a busy guy. He's got reporters to be snarky with and late night scrounging missions for armor. That'll keep you going. Hardly even a timeout to adjust your glasses and sneer.

What he doesn't have time for is to personally sign what must be the most heartbreaking letter a loved one will ever get; the letter of condolence which arrives after your son or daughter has died in battle. Nope. Rummy thought a machine would be do it better. And who knows, maybe he's right. Maybe a machine has more heart and soul than the "embattled" Defense Secretary.

This is one of those issues that, if the tables were turned, we'd hear all manner of wailing and keening from the Right. They'd tell us how unfeeling and impersonal the Secretary was, how his liberalism had left him bereft of the values that most American's hold so dear and how it was this kind of person who should not be an imporant part of any administration. But we don't hear that, do we?

So now, the only signature that we can hope for, is the one that will appear on the Mr. Rumsfeld's letter of resignation.

Monday, December 20, 2004

"Liner Notes on the Nation"

Some short, timely takes...

> Angst must be very high at the major US airlines these days, trying to decide if they should please their high-priced corporate customers by allowing them to blather inanities on their cell phones....or please the rest of us by making cell phones verboten. I think the solution is simple; allow cell phone usage in First Class only, thereby punishing the same people who are so desperate to annoy those left behind in the office...or in Coach.

> Isn't it odd that most of these "woman steals fetus" stories don't originate in Detroit or NYC or Boston, but out there in the "heartland of the homeland?" Of course for many, the good news is, she only killed the mother, she didn't abort the fetus...which has to really please a lot of those "Values Voters!" And you think I'm kidding....

> How is it possible that nearly every recount of election votes in this nation comes up with a different number than the original tally? Shouldn't that scare the crap out of us? I used to think the "voter early and often" days were a thing of the past. Silly, naive me.

> New education studies continue to embarras those of us who "love our freedoms" here in the good ole U S of A. If the servers at most American coffee shops are any indication, we'll soon be out-scored by the children of (fill-in your favorite third-world nation here) How is it possible that these young people can't keep more than one thing in their heads at a time? Ask for a small coffee and a piece of marble loaf and get in return....? "That was a coffee and a wah??" As Bing Crosby said famously in "White Christmas;" "Go to Smith? She can't spell it!"

Friday, December 17, 2004

"Social Security is the New Abortion"

Just as orange is the new neutral, so has FDR's Social Security become the new abortion.

Consider this. The idea that Social Security is failing or is on the imminent verge of bankruptcy isn't new. It has been shouted from the right-wing rooftops for years. Ominous warnings have been intercut with faces of sad elderly people to form a pathetic pastiche, that has, over time, become to be accepted as convention wisdom. If something isn't done, and done soon, Grandma is going to be out on the street living off of roadkill!

So what's this about abortion? Let me tell you. Years of steady work went into building the anti-abortion movement from just a few nuts with guns and bombs into a driving force within the Republican Party. The GOP learned an important lesson about the modern media landscape; if you say something long enough and loud enough, it becomes "truth." Contemplate the medical procedure that came to be called "partial birth abortion." It came to be called that because the Conservatives kept calling it that - not because that's what it is. It was a completely manufactured, perjorative term that was eventually added to our lexicon and is used by nearly all newspapers and TV reporters with no caveat about its source. You can't say the term without visualizing a half-born fetus. Brilliant bit of marketing, actually.

And so it is with Social Security. The long walk down this path didn't just start in this election cycle. It has been progessing for years. Of course the GOP has always hated FDR and his programs (he was their whipping boy long before Bill Clinton) but with such a popular program they couldn't go after it directly. So they have slowly worked to dominate the discussion of the programs and its benefits...and to develop a fear that "something has to be done!" Fear being the operative term. And now, they think the time is right to strike, for two reasons. First, they are in power. No time like the present to yank that cigarette out of Franklin's mouth and burn his memory with it. Second, they have a load of baby-boomers who are facing retirement in a few years...and who are all deeply in debt. These are also people who, in many case, no longer have pensions (wasn't that a quaint concept?) who have used their 401k money to fund their kids education and who are fearful that they won't have any job in the near term. Under those circumstances, with fear at the center of the equation, no one will look too closely at the math; they'll just say, SAVE US!

And that may well happen. The Administration has their teeth into this like a Pit Bull with a side of beef, and they aren't likely to give up easily. Also, as usual, they will be more than willing to perpetrate a lie...and then just keep saying it. Hey, it worked really well with the WMDs!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Time For A Democratic Theme Party"

Apparently a slew of Democrats, including those who have recently huddled together to press their personal "let me be in charge" cases, continue to miss the point. Let's say this together, 'cause maybe that will help; it's not the issues we lost on, it's the presentation of those issues. Got that? Zillions of Democratic voters are God-fearing religious folks, but you wouldn't know it. Bazillions "support of troops" (whatever the hell that means, anyway) but you wouldn't know that either. And on and on. All this talk about which way to "take the party" is piffle. We have all the issues we need; good solid ones that haven't changed over the years. We support workers rights and a living wage, social welfare for the needy, war as a last resort and a panoply of civil rights for all American citizens, whatever their ethic, sexual or religious background.

But we lost control over the last few years. What happend was simple. The Democrats have allowed the Republicans to brand them, both in the marketing and in the literal sense. (that hot iron on your gluteous maximus hurt on November 2, didn't it?) The concept of the northeast liberal; latte drinking, academic, sexually promiscuous, sushi eating, child killing, is a GOP invention. It was formed in the caldron of modern marketing, which begins with one key element; research. Rove is no genius, he is just smart enough to employ the most sophisticated comsumer marketing and modeling available. Once you have that data, the trick is to break it down and apply the best advertising and niche marketing you can, so that you can manipulate those people. Hell, you now know what they think AND what they want to hear, so you simply feed them the blather with a spoon. Like most Americans, they have insatiable appetites and will gladly drink in the latest "news" with almost no attempt to validate it. And, in a world where the media is so pervasive, most people simply don't have the time or inclination to do that, even if they thought they might like to.

So forget about redefining the Democratic Party and get back to the job at hand; creating a Democratic Party brand that shoppers can easily identify and want to buy. I suggest that we get in the habit of advertising and marketing this brand year 'round - not just during the election cycle. Because if you wait until then, tactics tend to take precedence over long-term, brand-building strategy. And, we need to keep it simple. Something like "The Party of the People" wouldn't be a bad place to start.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"The Kerik and The Stick"

The GOP admin has done another great job of spin. I actually admire them for this. If there were awards for this...oh, wait, there are; they're called elections! But I drift off point.

A huge proportion of American's outside of NYC will remember one thing about Bernie Kerik, if they remember anything at all; he was the guy who got skunked by his she-nannygans. Red-faced over a green card. That is all they will remember, because the spin machine shouted that out loud and clear and the clarion call was picked up and repeated ad naseum. I can hear the conversations that result from this.

"That guy Kerik would have made a kick-ass head of Homeland Security, ya know? But the damn liberals dug up this stuff about his nanny. Hell, she oughta be thrown outta the damn country, but instead, this tough, hard-nosed cop loses his job."

It is abundantly clear that, after having first said "Good morning, Mr. Kerik," the very next words out of any investigators mouth would be; "Tell me about your nanny and your housekeeper and your lawn boy and the rest of your "help." Because if there is any trouble there, going forward would be moot. So clearly Bernie didn't lose his job over the nanny, but because of the dozen or so other dark clouds of suspicion that tenaciously hover above his sparkling pate. And here's my guess; there are far worse things which no one knows about...outside of the White House.

So let's get back to the spin, which, we all know, is actually just a euphemism for lying. The Bush administration, which can hardly speak a sentence without invoking God or Jesus or prayer, has once again lied outright in "spinning" this story. If you are a committed Christian who supports the Prez, you just have to explain why that's okay....?

In the meantime, it's nice to know that Bernie Kerik has found out what it's like to be on the receiving end of a stun gun.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

"Progressive Traction Among Some Factions"

Okay, I'll say it; I told you so.

Over a year ago I remarked over at Smirking Chimp that the now discredited term "liberal" should be set aside -- and that we should consider "rebranding" ourselves as Progressives. I took a lot of grief for this. Most of it turned on "I'M LIBERAL AND PROUD OF IT AND THE DAMN NEOCONS CAN'T MAKE ME CHANGE!" Now, while I appreciate that sort of determined attitude, it negates the reality we are now dealing with. The GOP has done a marvelous job of demonizing anyone who considers themsleves a liberal and has so subverted the term that it now paints you as being just a couple of notches below child molester.

But more and more the term progressive is popping up in the press, in blogs and everywhere people are talking about traditional liberal ideas and policies. And I think this is great. Why? Because it will take a lot more time and money to rehabilitate the term liberal than it will to spread the gospel of "progessive politics." How can you go wrong with the word? Both liberal and conservative carry a lot of baggage, but in the United States, where no major party has raised the Progessive banner in recent memory, Progessive just shouts; WE'RE THE GOOD GUYS!.

Progessive is by its very nature a positive, forward-looking and active term. Who wouldn't want to be considered Progessive? Even in an era where "traditional" is doing a lot of heavy lifting for the GOP, Progressive doesn't collide with it the way Liberal does. Here's an example. In the last election cycle there were millions spent on negative TV ads which used the phrasing (or something to this effect) "Joe Blow is TOO LIBERAL for ___________" (fill-in your state, county or congressional district) Now imagine the same ad saying "Joe Blos is TOO PROGESSIVE for _____________!" Doesn't quite have the same dissonance, does it? Another series of ads used by Republican candidates were the "Drag Hillary and Teddy in when all else fails" type. These would go something like this; "Bob Blowhard is even more liberal than Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton." Again, when using the Progressive appellation, it just doesn't have the same ring. Of course, you'll say (and you'd be right, initially) the GOP will simply continue to refer to Liberals as Liberals. Sure. This doesn't happen overnight. This is a long-term branding solution for the Democratic Party, not a quick fix tactic; But I insist it has to be done.

Remember, I'm not asking you to give us your morals, ethics or social conscience; I'm just asking you to understand that the parade has passed by Liberal Land and is headed in a Progressive new direction.

Friday, December 10, 2004

"Have Yourself a Tacky Little Christmas"

Not far from where I live is a county park. It is a large, mostly wooded tract that has at its center a beautiful Tudor-style mansion. Years ago, my wife and I had a tradition of taking a walk there on Christmas day, as a way of escaping the most commercial aspects of the day. But that was before THE CELEBRATION.

For the past ten years or so, the park has, at Christmastime, been taken over by THE CELEBRATION of OIL, LIGHTS AND LAZINESS. This isn't the official title, but it fits better than the real one. The Celebration amounts to miles of tiny white lights strung up in every imaginable style, but mostly in the form of some animal, icon or idiot. It is through this hopped-up light show that slow moving morons push their pug noses against frosty car windows and take in the splendor of it all. And mind you, this is no small undertaking. Thousands of feet of thick black power cords run along the roadside, deisel-powered generators and electrical break-out boxes dot the landscape and hulking metal frames form the massive outlines of snowmen and santas.

And it draws like hell, both in terms of power and visitors. Thousands of lazyass, car-obsessed buffoons bundle their fat little tikes up and go out to witness "the magic of Christmas." Blech! It is a pathetic site. What these parents should be doing is demanding that the park be given back to all of us and that this horrific, tacky display of oil consumption and tastlessness be forever banned. They should be getting their lumpy little kids out of the freakin' car and showing them the true beauty of the countryside at night. Make the little creeps walk for once. But I have little hope this will happen. Not when corporate America is involved, as it is here. You see, the entire event is "sponsored" by a chain store. Ostensibly this is because donations go to some local charity, but let's be real; for most companies, charity begins at home.

So have yourself a tacky little Christmas, if the fates allow, next year oil will be $90 a barrel and this hideous blight will be shut down.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

"Brother Can You Spare a Ride?"

The lack of financial support for public transportation in the U.S. is appalling and worse yet, it is an obvious and clear assault on those in lower socio-economic brackets and on our cities. How so?

Just do some quick math and think about how much it costs to buy a car, insure it and maintain it each year. For a well-to-do middle class worker, this isn't a terrific burden. But for a poor person, the costs associated with car-ownership are tremendous and eat up a disproportionate amount of that person's take home pay each week. It is essentially a regressive tax. This leaves public transporation, in the form of buses or trains or streetcars, to fill in the blank. But blank is what many local mass transit systems are getting. In Pennsylvania, both the Pittsburgh (PAT) and Philadelphia (SEPTA) systems are on the verge of collapse, and are threatening severe service cutbacks. And nobody, it seems, not the state or federal government, are willing to help out.

At the same time, however, everyone is all smiles about a new Interstate in Southwestern Pennsylvania which is being funded to the tune of 2-billion dollars. Am I the only one that sees the contradiction here? The contruction promises "economic development" to the former steel towns along that area's Monongahela River valley, but who knows. The nation is paved with roads which were built on these promises -- and a great many of them are still waiting for that glorious day.

Amtrak is a favorite whipping boy of Congress. Each year a whole raft of indignant legislators stand up and bemoan the cost of the supporting this vital passenger rail service. They talk about how is has to be "subsidized" and can't "stand on its own feet" and they threaten to cut off funding. Of course, they always do vote to fund it; their railing against the rails is just a political act they put on for their constituents. But ask yourself this; why is funding train service called, perjoratively, a "subsidy," when spending 2-billion dollars on a short stretch of Interstate in Pennsylvania is called "economic development?" We have been subsidizing the Interstate system, and by extension, the automobile, since Ike put his stamp on it in the 1950s.

So why is money being spent in the hinterlands and not in and around our cities? Politics. The current administration doesn't get a lot of votes from the inner city, so there is no impetus to help them. Think of both Pittsburgh and Philly and you think Democrats, Unions, minorities; you don't think GOP. In fact, by making a point of not aiding mass transit, the Admin and it's cadre of yes-men legislators are really thumbing their noses at the cities. This isn't just benign neglect, it's a chance to say, "Hey, you old Democratic cities, make it on your own or die. You didn't vote for us and we're not here to help you out!"

And while this is all about money and politics and social policy (or lack thereof) the real bottom line is the human one. People who are poor, or working at low-paying jobs depend on buses for their livelihood. Without the buses, their ability to get to work is diminished, if not entirely eliminated. Without a job, their lives spiral downward, with the associated social costs and the cost to the government in terms of welfare, food stamps or ADC. How's that for your "ownership society?"


UPDATE: Since I wrote this piece, some "stop gap" funding has been found for both SEPTA and PAT, but only enough to forestall service cuts and fare hikes for a few short months. PA Governor, Ed Rendell promises "action" when the State Legislature goes back into session, but who knows.... Support would be strong in both of these book-end cities, but not in the rural central part of PA. James Carville once called PA "Alabama, with two big cities at each end." and he was right on!