Sunday, August 31, 2008

Drinking Liberally moves!

Well, for a week. This coming Thursday, Drinking Liberally in the Twin Cities will meet in St. Paul at the Liberal Lounge:

Liberal Lounge, a space generously provided by the SEIU, will be set up as an evening venue in which progressive bloggers, activists, new media and alternative media to relax, socialize, network, perform and write. Located within walking distance of both the Xcel Energy Center and the offices and workspace of The Uptake Citizen Media, "Liberal Lounge – Sponsored by the SEIU" will provide a convenient gathering space for media and bloggers to move on to once the major coverage from the day is complete and the official workspace [is] closed.

If you follow the link, boys and girls, you can get a map to the Liberal Lounge and more information about the space. Spot looks forward to seeing all of you there, Thursday night, September 4th, six to nine, or whenever Robin or maybe Jason kick us out.

Don't be scared by the graphic; DL will return to its usual location after the RNC.

Tim Pawlenty, eat your heart out!

As the Dependable Renegade says, the way McCain fiddles with his wedding ring is really precious:

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Seduced and abandoned!

Scene: Backstage at the Xcel Center during the Republican National Convention. Tim Pawlenty and John McCain find themselves standing next to each other as the little knot of people they were talking with drift away. There is an uncomfortable silence for a while, then the stilted beginning of a conversation.

JM: Oh, hi Tim! It's nice to see you.

TP: [not meeting JM's gaze] Pfffft - -

JM: I'm sorry, Tim. I didn't hear you. Just had my 72nd birthday, you know! I must say you're looking good.

TP: Hullo, Senator.

JM: That's John, Tim.

TP: Thanks, Senator.

JM: Whoa! I'm sensing a little hostility here.

TP: [after a pause] No. [another pause; TP is looking at his shoes the whole time] Not really.

JM: Not really?

TP: [another pause; TPaw still looking down] Why do you like her more?

JM: [chuckles] What? You were auditioning for the job of girlfriend?

TP: [TP looks at McCain] Ha ha. Very funny. You know what I mean.

JM: [evenly] No. Tell me.

TP: How could you think that Yukon Barbie is more qualified than me?

JM: Yukon Barbie? I thought her nickname was Sarah Barracuda. But she is a beauty contestant, a vice queen or something.

TP: [becoming more animated now] Yeah! From Alaska! How many white people can there be in Alaska?

JM: Oh, come on, Tim. Be reasonable.

TP: You're a fine one to say that! What has she got that I haven't got?

JM: [chuckling again] Well, aside from the obvious, she's an evangelical.

TP: [his voice rising] I'm an evangelical! The pastor of my church is one of the biggest evangelicals of them all! I got that guy praying named as the state photograph.

JM: You did? I didn't know that. Why didn't you tell me that? Whatever. Sarah still seems more evangelical than you.

TP: Meaning?

JM: She's just a little, well, crazier.

TP: I could have been crazier if you had wanted me to be.

JM: I didn't know until recently how much I needed crazy.

TP: Well, that's just great. I've busted my hump for you for two years, and right at the end you throw me out for some two-bit hussy you only met, what, once?

JM: [becoming angry] You're going down the girlfriend route again, Tim.

TP: [on the verge of angry tears] I don't care! Did you ever stop to think of my feelings?

JM: I'm a POW! Did you ever stop to think of my feelings?

TP: Right. Play the POW card. Doesn't work with me. How many days did I campaign for you?

JM: Well, a lot I suppose.

TP: How many did Yukon Barbie, before you picked her?

JM: None. You're starting to piss me off, Tim!

TP: I don't care. You have no idea how hard I worked to keep my conservative cred up for you. The roads and bridges in Minnesota are in crappy shape and I still opposed a gasoline tax increase. The first increase in nearly twenty years passed over my veto. I've consistently raided a fund to provide health care to low income people to balance the regular budget. That takes chutzpa! [pause] I spent last week at the DNC bleating "he's not ready," and now you pick her. Do you know how stupid that makes me look? [pause] Never mind that I've set Republicans in the Minnesota House up for an ass kicking this fall.

JM: Now it's my turn to say that I don't care.

TP: [shouting] I hope you lose!

JM: Why you little weasel. I'll wring your neck like I did Shirley the rat when she tried to steal my bread in 'Nam. Let's take it outside!

Secret Service agent who has been standing by: I'm afraid you can't do that, sir. They've just tear gassed a Grandmothers for Peace rally outside and the air is much too foul to breathe, especially for an older person.

JM: Well then, will you shoot him for me?

SS: I'm afraid I can't do that, sir.

JM: Not even wing him?

SS: Not even wing him.

JM: But he threatened me!

SS: No he didn't, sir. [speaking into his sleeve] Command, we've got some trouble with the Gray Goose here. [pause] He wants me to shoot Tim Pawlenty. [pause] Of course I'm not going to do it. But I need some help here. [pause] No, sir. I wouldn't rather guard Jenna Bush. [pause] That's a great idea, sir. [speaking now to JM] Tell you what, sir. Let's go get some pudding at the concession stand, and you can tell me again about how angry you still are at the gooks. Come on. It'll be fun!

JM: Say, that does sound like fun. Did I ever tell you that I was a POW? Well I was.

The secret service agent takes JM by the hand and leads him away. As they leave, the agent turns to TP and winks.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Truth in advertising

Check out!!!


Drowning it in a delta bathtub, pt. i

There are plenty of reasons not to vote for John McCain in the upcoming election: Iraq, Afghanistan, tax cuts, Katrina, health care, and so on and so forth. For me, the biggest reason of all is that I don't think that people who believe that government is the problem should be left in charge of the government. It's that simple. Something about a fox and a hen house comes to mind. Anywho...

Earlier this week the Washington Post ran a short story about an absenteeism report run on federal employees:
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has been checking up on the attendance records of federal employees. And he doesn't like what he's found.

Civil servants have been away from their jobs without permission much too often in recent years, Coburn says in a new report. Records from 17 federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service show that workers were absent without leave for 19.6 million hours between 2001 and 2007, the study found.

That's the equivalent of 2.5 million missed days of work, or 316 employees skipping out for entire 30-year careers, says Coburn, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on federal financial management.

First of all, it's quite precious that Senator Coburn, a man whose political ideology encourages the raping of government, is concerned about the aptitude and proper oversight of the federal workforce. To his modest credit he does step away from the whole this-is-an-affront-to-the-American-taxpayer line for a moment to lay responsibility where it needs to be laid:
In a telephone interview, Coburn said he is bashing not the rank-and-file but rather bosses who do not address the issue. "This isn't about the federal workforce, this is about the management of the federal workforce," he said. "That's what needs to be better."
To state the obvious, these words are coming from a United States Senator and member of the party that has had a majority share in managing the federal workforce for the better part of the past decade. Of course, his ideological sensibilities make it impossible for him to connect the dots:
"It is unreasonable and unfair to expect taxpayers to foot the bill for inefficiencies that federal agencies fail to address," Coburn wrote.
For nearly 30 years conservatives have filled the ranks of government with cronies, horse trainers, back scratchers, and all-around scoundrels. The great irony with Coburn's "concern" is that a malfunctioning federal workforce is actually considered a triumph by the people who subscribe to his sort of up-is-down politics. This is exactly the type of government you get when you elect people who hate government, or to quote the words of their hero, those who subscribe to the idea that government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.

The following is a short passage from Thomas Frank's new book, The Wrecking Crew. It is a fantastic example of the problem I am writing about:
It was just after Hurricane Katrina had destroyed New Orleans that I started to get it. Everyone who was able to turn on a TV knew the disaster was coming, and yet of its six thousand employees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) managed only to station a single person in the city before the storm hit. As I read about the thirty thousand desperate people in the Superdome, my mind turned to the billions and billions and billions that we had spent on "preparedness" since 9/11--the great levee of public money that was supposedly necessary to keep us safe--and it slowly dawned on me that it had all been a waste. These inconceivable expenditures--this greatest security effort ever, mounted by the mightiest nation in history--and it was all for nothing. We might as well have piled the banknotes up in a pasture somewhere and set them afire.

From first to last the New Orleans disaster was a test of Bush's "market-based" government. To start with, we have FEMA as it was in 2000, a well run, freestanding federal agency whose employees reported high morale and job satisfaction; candidate George W. Bush even praised the agency in one of his debates with Al Gore. President George W. Bush then put FEMA under the charge of Joe Allbaugh, a Texas winger with no disaster experience but a long history at Bush's side; Allbaugh proceeded to fill the place with political appointees and incompetent pals like the soon-to-be-notorious Michael Brown. Two years later Allbaugh left "Brownie" in charge and opened a lobby shop, representing companies that specialized in disaster relief and big reconstruction projects, much needed in Iraq those days.

FEMA, meanwhile, had become part of the Department of Homeland Security, where outsourcing was the normal practice, bungling was the normal result, and where, by 2006, fully two-thirds of top officials had departed for a job with the contractors (or their lobbyists) to whom the department outsourced its work. At FEMA the brain drain was more like a hemorrage. Between the dispiriting leadership of Allbaugh and Brown and the market-base opportunities dangled by the rising homeland security contractors, the old hands had rich incentive to get out. Morale among the career types at FEMA sank so low that the president of the union local wrote a letter to Senator Hillary Clinton in 2004 begging her to do something to save the agency. "This administration really distrusts government workers. Just right across the board," Leo Bosner, a FEMA career man told me in 2005. But outside consultants? "We can trust those guys [the administration thought], and they're the private sector, and they'll do it right."

So the hurricane hit, FEMA failed completely--and then came the really big money. Bosner told me that standard disaster procedure had previously been to hire recovery workers locally, because doing so helped the people most affected. This time, though, the idea was apparently to help the people most connected. The no-bid reconstruction contracts poured out like gravy, and clients of Bush's buddy Joe Allbaugh just happened to be among those who won them. An emergency housing contract went to the engineering conglomerate CH2M Hill, a client of a different lobby shop that also featured a detachment of former top Homeland Security officers. Still other contracts went to the Fluor Corporation, whose patriarch had been one of the original trustees of the Heritage Foundation, and to Bechtel, a longtime donor to right-wing organizations and employer of retired right-wing politicians.

A month after the disaster, the contractors got together to chortle over their good fortune at a "Katrina Reconstruction Summit" held in a Senate office building. The air tingled wiht talk of the billions that were to be handed out, and a former Reagan administration official named Ed Badolato was particularly ebullient. His employer, the Shaw Group--an enormous construction company and a client of Allbaugh's--had already bagged a $100-million contract. In the past, he related, people "around town" would say, "Shaw Group, we never heard of y'all." But today Shaw men were walking tall in the corridors of power. "Right now, I'm sure that with the large contracts that we have been receiving," Badolato boasted, "everybody [every subcontractor, that is] who had my name in a Rolodex...has been calling me and everyone else they knew at Shaw to get a piece of that." he gave a shout-out to "our consultants, people who really delivered the bacon to us...when we needed it"; reminded the crowd that Shaw had done "a lot of lobbying and consulting efforts, both in Louisiana and in Washington"; and allowed that this "really pays off when it's time to get some contracts."

By now over $100 billion has been spent, but parts of New Orleans remain empty. Repairing public housing seems to have been a low priority; rebuilding casinos an urgent one. All this might seem like social engineering in a cruelly nineteenth-century mode, but in fact it is the unavoidable result of a recover plan composed of tax cuts for entrepeneurs, fat handouts to chosen contractors, and toxic trailers for those who can't afford large donations to the GOP.

You can buy Mr. Frank's book here.

The one thing you should take away from this particular example is that conservative politics literally drowned a major American city. Not only that, but conservative politics have failed to properly rebuild New Orleans to such an extent that this week's GOP convention may be delayed so as not to share the split-screen festivities with Hurricane Gustav. They're worried because they know that the guys they've been funneling the money to have likely spent more time on the golf course than they have on the gulf coast. Again, when you elect people who think that government is the problem, you get a problematic government.

In part ii, I'll write about how the con works.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Northern Exposure

Will the GOP be updating their anti-Obama NotReady08 site now that Palin is on the ticket?

Extra points to the reader who can dig up the clip of Pawlenty going on and on about Obama's lack of experience (while highlighting his time as governor of Minnesota) hours before McCain picked the former mayor of Nowhere, Alaska as his running mate. Here is a local news link that has the goods in print:

He appeared at a news conference called by "Citizens for McCain" at a TV studio in an industrial area south of downtown Denver. The stage was draped in signs bearing the image of Democratic nominee Barack Obama, with the banner "Not Ready 08: A Mile High, an Inch Deep."

"I want to start today by congratulating Senator Obama and Senator Biden on their nominations, and we look forward to a robust campaign," Pawlenty said before getting down to the real business of the day.

"Just because he's not ready to be president doesn't mean we won't see a lot of glitz and glamour tonight."

"We already know he's a rock star and can bring 85,000 people to the stadium, but what happens about the show's over?"

The McCain camp is pushing the message that the Illinois senator, at age 47 and in his first term in Washington, isn't prepared to deal with the national security threats posed by terrorists and "rogue" leaders, such as the presidents of Iran and Venezuela.

"Our question for Obama is 'What have you done? And what have you run'?" Pawlenty said.

"The answers are not much and nothing."

I love how all this celebrity talk has ended up with McCain picking a woman who has appeared on the cover of Vogue. Maybe John can talk about that during his next appearance on the Tonight Show.

One question for McCain: Is this the type of decision you make at 3 in the morning? Initial reports are that McCain has only met Palin once. Knee-jerk decisions at 3 in the morning. Boy, that's exactly the type of leadership this country needs.

In all seriousness, this pick will cost McCain whatever chance he had at the White House. First, the selection is 110% reactive. It only makes sense in the context of wanting to appeal to disgruntled Hillary voters (however few of those people are left after the DNC) and to increase his bona fides with a group of people who were going to vote for him anyway. Second, McCain is one lesion away from Stage III melanoma. He has serious arthritis which may require surgery (and a temporary replacement in the Oval Office). Earlier this year it was revealed that he had early stage squamous cell cancer. He has a recorded history of taking Ambien. Even without his personal medical history, men of his age have a 20% chance of developing dementia. (UPDATE: I can't believe I missed this before, but according to his recent voting record, McCain actually has a better chance of developing dementia--20%--than he does changing the country's direction from the path Mr. Bush has placed it on--10%.) There may also be warning signs of un-treated mental health issues arising from his time as a POW (more on this subject in a future post; he hasn't had a mental health screening in over 8 years). In light of these real-world medical issues, I find it amazing that McCain would pick someone with as little experience as Palin. It's simply baffling.

Third, McCain's most effective attack against Obama was his lack of experience. This push was considered to be so effective that it was a central plank in the GOP's attack efforts during the week and was to be highlighted during next week's RNC. The GOP literally launched a website (linked to above) called NotReady08 in order to attack Obama on this front. All of that is out the window with the selection of Palin. Even if you stretch your mind to the outer edges of winger-dom to make-believe that Palin has more experience in actually running things than does her VP competetor,'ve just made the argument that she is more experienced than the man at the top of the GOP ticket.

Fourth, getting back to the disgruntled Hillary thing, what Hillary supporter in their right mind is going to vote for a creationist right winger who has a conservative view of reproductive rights? I think all 20 of the PUMA folks have found their savior.

Fifth, as mentioned above, it looks like McCain didn't exactly perform his due diligence in the vetting process (which should set off all sorts of warning bells as to how he'd process information in the White House). Palin comes complete with an Alaska-based scandal of her own that is under investigation by an independent panel whose findings will be made public...wait for it...literally days before the November election.

Finally, I can't say this loudly enough: McCain just sacrificed nearly each and every single argument he made against Mr. Obama up to this point in the election with his selection of Palin. Lack of experience? Dead. Lack of foreign affairs prowess? Dead. Not ready to lead our armed forces? Dead. It goes on and on and on. Mr. McCain has repeatedly reminded us that these are important and dangerous times that require someone with grit and experience. He was the man for the job because of...well, his plane was shot down a long time ago and he's been angry ever since. Palin's selection doesn't make the slightest bit of sense.

Welcome, Hurricane McCain

Senator  PTSD hits town:

Ken Avidor shot the video.

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Crimean peninsula could be the next South Ossetia

That's the headline from an article in the U.K. Independent:

Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, could be the next flashpoint in the new Cold War. And any violent disturbance in Crimea could provide the political seismic shock to split Ukraine itself along its existing fault lines of ethnicity, language and religion.

The Crimean peninsula is the only part of Ukraine where ethnic Russians are in a majority. Many of them are deeply resentful about being part of Ukraine and openly call for annexation by Russia. Moscow has fostered pro-annexation groups for years.

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a Ukrainian-Crimean political activist, said: "Moscow has laid the foundations for the occupation of Crimea with years of careful propaganda. It's like Hitler's excuse of helping the ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland as justification for the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. I have no doubt that, now that the Georgian conflict is over, Russia aims to take over Crimea.The level of hatred against anything Ukrainian here is astonishing. Many people have been attacked in the street for merely speaking Ukrainian. You can talk French, German, or Chinese here without problems but if you speak Ukrainian, people often come up and start insulting you."

Word also comes that the Ukrainian president wants to renegotiate the lease (to the Russian navy) for the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, which is in the Crimea:

KIEV/TBILISI, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Ukraine said on Wednesday it wanted to discuss charging Russia more to lease a Black Sea naval base, a move that could aggravate regional tensions already inflamed by Moscow's conflict with Georgia.

As the U.S. Navy shipped in humanitarian supplies to Georgia, Russia said its navy was watching "the build-up of NATO forces in the Black Sea area" and had started taking measures to monitor their activity.

Good luck with that, Ukraine!

Meanwhile, there was a good op-ed piece in the Strib Wednesday about the great things we have done in nearby Georgia:

The United States will not sacrifice a nation's freedom for stability, President Bush has stated repeatedly, a policy applied especially in Eastern Europe and the states that emerged from the Soviet Union. Well, we may not sacrifice freedom for stability -- but because of this policy, the nation of Georgia has sacrificed several dozen soldiers, several hundred civilians, much of its military equipment, and quite possibly any hope of ever bringing South Ossetia and Abkhazia back under the sway of the central government in Tbilisi. We have staked out our position clearly -- and have let others pay for implementing it. And now we are outraged. Perhaps we should also ask just what our brave words have wrought.

William Davnie, a retired Foreign Service officer, author of the article continues:

[ . . . ] Much has been written in recent months about the famous book title "The End of History," which asserted that after the Cold War, democracy and Western values had won. There would be no more great divergence of political systems. Oh, well, it seemed a nice idea at the time. Its author, Francis Fukuyama, has since both recanted and said he was misunderstood. Russia has been a major force on the east side of Europe for at least 300 years. To think that ended in 1991 was, at best, naïve. And yet we have acted for the past 17 years, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, as if it were true.

We must accept, as Davnie says, that "history continues." The United States is not the final winner of history; Jesus isn't coming with the Heavenly Hoover; people won't become so civilized that the don't need government.

Meanwhile, the United States has conducted itself so imperiously, acting unilaterally - and then sometimes bribing countries to join us in a "multinational" effort - that we have no influence capital left in the bank. And in truth, Europe needs Russian's gas more than it needs US gasbaggery. George Bush's "democracy" and "freedom" is just plunder, privateering, and crony capitalism.

Rumors we've heard

Rumors are part of politics, and have been forever. But we heard one last week that set our brains spinning. In an effort to highlight the GOP's git-'er-dun capabilities, the plan is to let President Bush make a triumphant entrance into the Twin Cities by having his helicopter land on the newly-completed span of the 35W bridge. Seems by some coincidence that the bridge that fell down a year ago, killing 13 people and injuring well over a hundred more has been completed just in time for this entirely non-political event. Because playing politics with tragedy is simply wrong.

But thanks to the intrepid Tild and the Cucking Stool investigative team, we have some of the details on the advance planning for this glorious return.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Drinking Liberally to Barack Obama

Tonight, we'll watch the Uptake or other streaming coverage of the DNC and Obama's acceptance speech at the 331 Club in Minneapolis. The meeting is six to nine, or whenever Obama is done speaking.

If you want to watch on a big screen, this is not the place to be. If you want the finest in live commentary, however, it is.

Bring your portable device: laptop, iPhone, whatever.

Fair and Balanced

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Prophecy of the White Squirrel

Has Spot ever told the boys and girls about the Prophecy of the White Squirrel?

No Spotty, you haven't.

Well, remind Spot sometime.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

He was pleasured again by the Invisible Hand

Captain Fishsticks can be counted on to consistently deliver pompous and ornate - and entirely vacuous - apologies for the state of his calcified little heart. He did it again here in his standard imperious ass-clenched fashion, lecturing the Speaker of the Minnesota House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher:

Lunching in the sustainable urban environment the other day, I ran into Minnesota Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher. I casually reminded the speaker, a DFLer, to take note and pay the new transit sales tax on her bistro bill. She was happy to pay it, she replied.

"Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society," she added, quoting words physically and metaphorically "carved in stone" above the portal of the Internal Revenue Service.

"Not quite right," I responded. "Taxes are the price we pay because we are not entirely civilized."

Being taunted by the occasional astringent adolescent gnome is apparently the price you pay for being the DFL Speaker of the House. Of course, Madame Speaker was quoting not the Internal Revenue Service, but rather Oliver Wendell Holmes. but the IRS sounds so much more oppressive to Sticks. It is, after all, picking on fellow travelers like Mac Hammond.

For the support of his proposition, our Kafka-on-the-St.-Croix goes right to the Bat Cave, the Cato Institute:

"Taxes are, in fact, a reflection of our failure to achieve a fully civilized society," observes the Cato Institute's David Boaz in his book "The Politics of Freedom." "Civilized people get what they want by voluntary means, through persuasion or exchange. The use of force to acquire property is uncivilized, and the history of civilization is the history of limitations on the use of force."

Right. Say you're unemployed, maybe because you're disabled, mentally ill, or just down on your luck. You try to "persuade" the Captain or Katie to give you a buck; were do you think that will get you?

Fishsticks tells these are the only reasons we pay taxes:

  • To protect us from force and fraud.
  • To have our civil disputes mediated in courts of law.
  • To be protected from risks imposed by others to which we do not consent and cannot reasonably avoid on our own.
  • For public goods (not private benefits) necessary for government to carry out its defined and limited obligations.

Recognize, boys and girls, that our Captain appears to have come with this list on his own.

For his pièce de résistance he offers proof, as if it was a theorem in geometry, that public transit is a private benefit, not a public good:

The best way to understand the idea of "public good" is by contrasting it with the more familiar "private benefit." Each of us engages in private benefit transactions when we exchange money for products and services we want. We get in a taxi, and for a fare, we enjoy the benefit of getting from point A to point B. We buy cup of coffee; we drink it, and nobody else gets to drink it. That particular cab ride and cup of coffee are not available to others.

Public goods in support of legitimate government functions provide benefits that, unlike our cab ride or cup of coffee, don't exclude anyone. A streetlight is the classic example: It benefits everyone and anyone equally at the same time. It would be virtually impossible and highly inefficient to limit access or proportionally charge people for the streetlight's glow. Police and fire protection and the court system are other examples — they don't limit discrete benefits to some at the exclusion of others.

The policy distinction boils down to this: If a taxi ride from point A to point B is a private benefit for which an individual pays a market fare, why is a bus or light-rail ride from point A to point B a "public good" subsidized with tax dollars? The only answer is, it is a more "civilized" way to travel.

Fishsticks doesn't explain how some people are barred from getting on a train or bus. But then Sticks has apparently never heard of airports, navigable waterways (think locks and dams), the Federal Reserve System, securities regulation, or the countless other things that government does that empowers individuals and business to make the economy work.

It also apparently doesn't occur to Sticks that there are probably a lot of people at the newspaper he writies for who take public transit to work where they assist Sticks in publishing his silly bile. Everyone who takes transit helps unclog the roads for Sticks in his '88 Cordoba, and it improves the labor supply for business, too. That's why business owners like transit.

Holding out the utopian view that civilized people wouldn't need government is naive almost beyond imagination.

If there is a more delusional newspaper writer about in our fair city, Spot hasn't met 'em yet. Well, Katie's right up there, now that Spot thinks about. But still.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Can I just say this about that?

I've never been prouder to be a product of the south side working class of Chicago than ever before.

"We know what fairness and opportunity and justice look like. And isn't that the great American story?"

Protesting at the RNC

Here are comments from a few DLers about protesters at the convention.

Some responses edited for content.

Spot will add this:

Welcome to the Twin Cities. A lot of people worked hard to provide good protest routes and visibility for you. They didn't get all they wanted, but it's not for lack of trying.

There is plenty to protest, so have at it. Having said that --

Anarchy and nihilism are not progressive values. We support your First Amendment rights, but those rights do not include destruction of property or harm to persons.

Some of us even have friends who are cops, and we don't cotton to the idea of their having to mix it up with you while just trying to do the job they were hired to do.

This is a great town and a great place to live. Please respect that.

Remind me where Iran is, okay?

The Old Soldier in today's Strib:

At three o'clock in the morning, when the telephone in the White House rings to tell the president of a major crisis in the world, I don't want him to have to put the call on hold while he calls the vice president to ask him what to do. That is why I'm voting for John McCain!


Right, Joe. Much better to hand it over to the reflexive geography-addled hot-head John McCain. A man who in 2000 people in your own party intimated was mentally unstable.

Spot will stick with the cool-as-ice lawyer and law professor over the Cold Warrior out past his freshness date anytime.

The party that wrecked America

That's according to Spot's favorite Malthusian, James Kunstler:

As the political conventions descend like the soggy forces of nature they have become -- the tropical depressions of politics -- the Republican party will be seen, with growing clarity, as the party that wrecked America. So many shoes are about to drop, and so many dominoes lined up to fall 'out there' on the financial landscape that the thump and clatter of crashing institutions will sound like the percussion section of the renowned USC marching band as the nation tramps toward the general election.

He continues:

At the moment, two of the biggest elephants in the room, so to speak, are going tits-up with X's where their eyes used to be. These would be the "affordable housing" enablers Fannie and Freddie, who managed during the past decade to make housing virtually unaffordable for any normal, responsible person unwilling to game the system -- with the additional consequence that not only the housing market but the general credit-and-lending apparatus of the US has entered a state of morbid failure. These two corporations are now dead, incurring a legacy of obligation that will add five trillion dollars to the national debt at one stroke. Nobody knows what the exact results of this debacle may be -- and the current silence about it is deafening -- but odds are the effect will range somewhere between destroying the currency and bankrupting the United States altogether.

Meanwhile, the list of giant banks on life support runs to at least ten, with an unknown number of less giant banks that will be squashed when the big ones go down. The sound you hear in the background -- even beyond the sound of John McCain's carping, snotty campaign commercials -- is the whoosh of capital leaving the system. By capital I mean assumed accumulated wealth ready to be put-to-work by this society. We won't have any. The president-elect will wake up November 5th as leader of a poor nation, and all the grand plans laid out during the campaign will have to take a back seat to a severe revision of hopes and expectations.

That Jimmy is such a Pollyanna, isn't he?

Meanwhile, we learn that the Office of Thrift Supervision had a good talking to BankUnited Financial Corporation.

But back to Kunstler's point about giant banks taking down smaller ones too. One of the ways that may happen is though the syndication of loans that will end up bad. In other words, the biggest banks sell "participations" in loans to raise the money to fund the loan and to *cough* spread the risk. The investment portfolios of many smaller banks includes participation in syndicated loans.

That is all. Return to what you were doing.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Feminist for a day!

Or: Bi-sexuality makes strange bedfellows!

You really do have to hand it to Katie. The day before the deadline for Brian Lambert's contest to out-Katie Katie, she sets the bar even higher. What a competitor! Here's the lede from her column today (Sunday):

Imagine that you hear that your 18-year-old daughter was kissing another girl at a party last weekend. What races through your mind? "O my gosh, she's exploring same-sex attractions. She must be a lesbian."

Which, of course, to Katie is a fate worse than death, right Spotty?

You would think so, grasshopper. And yet. It turns out that girls are doing it to turn on guys:

Hold up, Mom and Dad. You're showing your age. Chances are, your daughter's not fixed on the pretty young blonde she's locking lips with. There may be something entirely different and unexpected going on.

"Girls making out with each other to turn on guys is the latest craze at high school and college parties," according to the online magazine

We have trouble right here in River City, all right.

It turns out that Katie has found another room in the dark basement of our souls:

What is fueling this trend?

One factor is the huge popularity of Girls Gone Wild, a DVD franchise that films alcohol-addled females' sexual encounters with other women at college drinking revels. Same-sex kissing has been glamorized by celebrities, including Madonna and Britney Spears.

One of the biggest influences, however, may be Internet pornography, which has dramatically altered young people's ideas of mainstream sexual behavior.

"Girls aren't kissing other girls because they want to," Pamela Paul, the author of "Pornified," told Salon. "They're doing it because they want to appeal to boys their age. And for boys their age who've developed sexually alongside Internet porn, their sexual cues are affected by the norms and standards of porn. And that's girl-on-girl action."

The result? Rampant cultural confusion.

That must be it, of course. Katie is afraid that this experimentation is going to turns young women into lesbians, or maybe even worse, bi-sexuals:

Female bisexuality is "the erotic new trend (everyone's trying it)," announced Marie Claire magazine in 2006.

A 2005 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appeared to confirm this. It found that while 1.3 percent of women identified themselves as homosexual, 11.5 percent of women ages 18 to 44 -- and about 14 percent of women in their late teens and early 20s -- report at least one sexual encounter with another woman.

It has to be a pretty titanic force to turn Katie into a feminist, even for a day. But it looks like that's what happened; Katie ends her column with a quote from Salon (and not from somebody she actually talked to, naturally):

It's sad to see that this is what it's come to -- that guys will raise the bar and girls will scramble to meet it. Women just want to know what they have to do to get these guys to fall in love with them.

It has to be even more titanic for Katie to quote, with evident approval, a lesbian:

Chicago Tribune sex columnist Jenni Spinner, who is a lesbian, maintains that Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" song [identified by Katie as part of the phenomenon] "sets gay rights back." In nearly every "gay dance dive," she has complained, "the joint has been infiltrated by a gaggle of giggling straight girls, playing gay for a night because it amuses them."

But you know, Katie, this kind of confusion has been around for a while.


Corporate tax: the series II

When we left this subject, boys and girls, the grasshopper asked if a lot of big companies were just really bad at making money. And as Spot replied, that is what King Banaian wants you to think. Spot recommends his original post, because you'll need it to understand this one.

The genesis of the discussion is the GAO's recent report of corporate tax liability, or in many cases lack of it. To repeat one of its findings, for the largest companies, just for good order's sake:

During the eight-year period covered by the report, 72 percent of foreign-owned corporations went at least one year without owing taxes, and the same was true for 55 percent of domestic corporations.

The report finds that most of the zero tax liability returns were from reported operating losses, not tax loss carry forwards, tax credits, or the like. In other words, the companies mostly said, straight up, "We lost money this year."

According to a figure from Sens. Levin and Dorgan (who requested the study) and quoted by the Professor, corporate sales last year were $2.5 trillion. And that's just to the Defense Department! Kidding.

That seems a little, odd, doesn't it, Spotty?

Indeed grasshopper, it does. The purpose of the study as requested by Sens. Levin and Dorgan was to examine whether one technique, the transfer price mechanism was part of the explanation. International trade is an increasingly large component of US GNP. And, related-company transfers are a large part of that trade. Spot had a statistic and a link, but he can't find it right now. Perhaps for the next installment.

In other words, there is a whole lot of selling and buying going on involving companies under common control. In such a situation, the price paid by one unit of a company in one country to a unit in another country is known as the "transfer price," and by definition it is not an "arm's length" bargain.

Transfer pricing can be abused. From the report:

Tax liabilities may also be reduced through transfer pricing abuse. Any company that has a related company, such as a subsidiary with which it transacts business, needs to establish transfer prices for those intercompany transactions. The transfer price should be the “arm’s length price,” i.e., the price that would be charged if the transaction occurred between unrelated companies. Section 482 of the Internal Revenue Code provides IRS authority to allocate income among related companies if IRS determines that the transfer prices used by the taxpayer were inappropriate. How transfer prices are set affects the distribution of profits and ultimately the taxable income of the companies. The following is an example of abusive cross-border transfer pricing. A foreign parent corporation with a subsidiary operating in the United States charges the subsidiary excessive prices for goods and services rendered (for example, $1,000 instead of the going rate of $600). This raises the subsidiary’s expenses (by $400), lowers its profits (by $400), and effectively shifts that income ($400) outside of the United States. At a 35-percent U.S. corporate income tax rate, the subsidiary will pay $140 less in U.S. taxes than it would if the $400 in profits were attributed to it.

The GAO did find transfer price abuse in some of the low or no tax liability returns, but had difficulty saying how much:

Transfer prices are the prices related companies, such as a parent and subsidiary, charge on intercompany transactions. By manipulating transfer prices, multinational companies can shift income from higher to lower tax jurisdictions, reducing the companies’ overall tax liability. As we noted in our previous reports, researchers acknowledge that transfer pricing abuses may explain some of the differences in tax liabilities of foreign-controlled corporations compared to U.S.-controlled corporations. However, researchers have had difficulty determining the exact extent to which transfer pricing abuses explain the differences due to data limitations.

US-based multinationals can do this, too: shifting earnings to tax-haven jurisdictions where the income is still reported as part of the world-wide earnings of the company for financial reporting purposes, but less of the income is subject to US taxation.

Moreover, some of the companies you think of as red, white, and blue, aren't. Stanley Tools is now incorporated in, gasp, Bermuda! Spot wonders if all the executives wear Bermuda shorts in their New Britain, Conn. headquarters, which didn't move an inch.

Professor Banaian's answer here is to throw up his hands and say, in effect, that you can't collect taxes from these multinational companies, so why bother to try? Spot says that Banaian is such a defeatist! Sort of like George W. Bush who says that we might as well abolish the estate tax, because rich people will figure out ways to evade it, anyway.

That's enough for today, boys and girls. Next time, we'll look at another popular way to move income off shore.

Note to Victor Davis Hanson

Those who know the laws of history appreciate that they coincide for the proposition that a historian who wishes to perform his office faithfully must rid himself of the spirit of flattery and libel and must, to the full extent possible, place himself in the state of a Stoic who is beholden to no passion. Indifferent to all else, he must be attentive only to the interests of the truth, to which he must sacrifice resentment provoked by an injustice as well as the remembrance of favors, and even the love of country. He must forget that he comes from a certain country, that he was raised in a certain faith, that he owes his success to this person or that, he must forget even his parents and friends. A historian is thus like Melchizedech, with neither father, nor mother, nor indeed a genealogy. If asked: Where do you come from? He must reply: I am neither Frenchman, nor German, neither Englishman nor Spaniard, etc.: I am a citizen of the world; I am not at the service of the emperor, nor of the king of France, but simply at the service of truth, who is my sole queen; I have taken no oath but of obedience to her; I am her devoted knight.

Pierre Bale

A thump of the tail to No Comment.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dear Diary

NC makes me so mad! Last winter, I wrote a column about how easy it was to bring starving and freezing people to Jesus. And then, after I turned it in to DT, I find out that NC wrote a column about a homeless person, and he made it sound like the homeless man's troubles weren't caused by his lack of faith. NC made him sound like a memorable character, too. I was really proud of my column. I had to spend some time with some really icky people to do it, but I stuck with it!


I wrote about this young Christian boy who was killed in a car accident. I talked about how he was an athlete and such a dear boy, and how his passing made so many people sad. Especially on account of how he was a Christian, of course. But then I said, "Don't worry! Be happy! He's with God now!"

God can really make lemonade out of lemons, can't He, Dear Diary? Well, anyway, where was I? Oh yes -

Then last Sunday, NC wrote about his friend Don Boxmeyer who died recently. It's so unfair, writing about somebody he actually knew. But maybe NC didn't know him so well, after all, because he didn't mention what church Boxmeyer went to. OMG! Maybe he didn't go to church! Did you think of that Dear Diary?

When NC and I write columns on similar subjects, I always feel like mine sounds like that first bag of trash when you drop it into the can. Thud!

Every time he walks by me at the paper, I think I can hear NC humming the tune from that song "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better." Maybe it' my imagination, but I just want to shout, "No you can't!"

I don't know how much more of this I can take. SCREAM! SCREAM! SCREAM!!! I feel like I am on the top step of the stairway into the dark basement of my soul.

That's why I am so thankful, Dear Diary, for my friends who supply me with good ideas for my columns. I don't know what I would do without them. My recent column about Peter Hegseth sure got a lot of help. I guess the Beatles were right!

My friend John at Power Line just had another great thought about the real John McCain. I want to write it down so I don't forget it:

The truth is that McCain isn't out of touch with "ordinary people" because he's rich, he's out of touch with his own domestic arrangements because he cares little about material things, and for many years has devoted his extraordinary energies not to enjoying his wife's money, but to serving the American people. Given the number of nights he's spent in hotels or on military bases over the last few years, it's no wonder he hasn't seen much of his wife's condos.

How true! I must write more about what a selfless man John McCain is!

Well, good night, Dear Diary. It always feels good to talk like this with you.

[N.B. This is Spot's entry in Brian Lambert's contest.]

The jokes just write themselves

Just saw a partial list of parties during the RNC Convention. Among my favorites:

The All star Jambalaya Fundraiser for the Katrina Recovery at First Avenue on Monday (wonder how big a crowd they'll get at this one).

Reception: Bank of America Goes Green (sponsored by Bank of America, who's been loving it some green for over a century), also on Monday.

The One Campaign & RIAA featuring A-list musical guest at Epic (apparently they're keeping secret so that no one shows up trying to cut a bootleg).

Building stable Communities for America's Future at the Graves Hotel on Tuesday, sponsored by those centerpieces of stable communities from coast to coast, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Tribute to the Reagan Revolution and 80's Celebration Reception at the Aqua Nightclub on Thursday, sponsored by American Conservative Union (oh, think of the hair!)

And there's even an event called - appropriately enough - Pit Bulls and Pigs: A Reception Celebrating Efforts to Lower Taxes, sponsored by the Taxpayer's Union. Nothing like a greedy pig to make you feel good about being a greedy pig.

(Image stolen from

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Drinking Liberally: Kick Back and Relax Edition

Tomorrow night, Thursday, DL will meet at its usual time and place: six to nine or so at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis. We don't have any guest planned for the evening, but Spot will bring a video camera and ask the question, "What would you say to a protester at the Republican National Convention?"

Next week, we'll gather to watch Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

It was a dark and stormy night

In a very promising development, for Spot, anyway,  the 'Farian has really been getting the drop on Spot in the Katherine Kersten department.

In recent days, he mentions the Brian Lambert contest for the best Katherine Kersten parody. The "Farian post has already scrolled off the bottom of the page, so no link. The catalyst for the contest was Katie's recent "Dark Basement of the Soul" column.

To Spot, the column was just another stupid screed against what Katie believes are the forces of moral depravity in America, hardly worth comment. But to guys like Lambert and the 'Farian - actual writers, that is - it was much more: it was a "dark and stormy night" assault on the English language.

And then, speaking of moral depravity, today the 'Farian conducts an excellent autopsy of Katie's current column: The inside story on the night-to-day transformation in Iraq.

Peter Hegseth? Boy that name sounds familiar. Katie says he is just a local boy, a vet. But he's so much more, Katie, as you well know:

Kersten has found an Iraq vet willing to confirm her beliefs and prejudices. He’s from Forest Lake, but oddly he has already been written up by Hot Air [video], SourceWatch, National Review Online, Power Line, SWAC Girl,, the Weekly Standard, and the Forest Lake Times, among many others. Pete Hegseth, the subject of her column today, also has been published in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post and has appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews. and, more disgustingly, he’s been on the Glenn Beck Show. Watch the Beck clip if only for the rant that starts the show but then Hegseth comes on and makes his agenda very clear as he rips on anti-war protesters. In fact, he and Beck rip on the protesters at length, but Hegseth never takes advantage of the media opp to ask young men and women to enlist. (Odd, how that never happens, ever.) [Oddly, all his contributions to the Family Research Council have been yanked.]

Katie probably didn't even have to talk to Peter to write the column.

Peter is the nice young man that Katie met at a Fourth of July parade a few years ago. Spot wrote about it. Katie never mentions what Peter really is: a national cheerleader for the carnage in Iraq.

Someday, Peter and Katie are going to have to wear the chains of the Iraq war they have forged around their necks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Corporate tax: the series

Over the next few days, boys and girls, Spot is going to write a little about how corporations are taxed.

Um, Spotty, may I be excused?

No, grasshopper, you may not.

You sure know how to ruin a good time, Spot.

Spot will make this as painless as possible, but it's a topic in the news and one that's not well understood. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found:

During the eight-year period covered by the report, 72 percent of foreign-owned corporations went at least one year without owing taxes, and the same was true for 55 percent of domestic corporations.

Here's a pdf of the actual report. It was a report requested by Senators Carl Levin and Byron Dorgan, and one of its principal purposes was to determine if foreign-controlled domestic corporations (FCDCs) paid comparatively less than US-controlled corporations (USCCs). Obviously, based on the quotation above, they do.

But the thing that got people's attention was the fact that over half of USCCs paid no tax for at least one year during the period covered by the report.

Before digging right in, boys and girls, a few things need to be understood. In the case of both the FCDCs and the USCCs are corporations incorporated somewhere in the United States; the only difference between them is whether they are "controlled," that is owned, by foreign or domestic (US) persons or entities.

As a result of this, we are leaving out foreign companies that just sell into the United States without having a so-called "permanent establishment" here. There are tax treaties usually in place for that kind of business to be conducted without giving rise to income taxes. Many US companies do this in foreign countries, too, the theory being that the earnings will be taxed in the corporation's domicile and the income is considered to be earned entirely there.

Got it? The importance of this is that the GAO report is comparing apples to apples. So far so good.

A lot of the no-taxes-paid numbers come from small potatoes: closely-held corporations that may be new, or run in a way to take money out of the corporation in deductible ways (like interest and royalties paid and not dividends) and not to show a profit to passive, especially public, shareholders, or genuinely unprofitable small companies. The attrition rate for small companies is breathtakingly high. Spot had a lawyer friend, boys and girls, who used to say that he had a flat fee for representing a new restaurant from the incorporation though the bankruptcy.

Kinda lawyer gallows humor, but you get the idea.

We can let all the chaff blow away, and we're left with about one percent of the companies that mean a lot according to the GAO:

We also report separately for large corporations - those with at least $250 million in assets or $50 million in gross receipts - because, while they account for less than 1 percent of all corporations, they make up over 90 percent of all assets reported on corporate returns.

These are, of course, the big multi-nationals. Here is what the GAO found out about the one percenters specifically:

In the 8 years from 1998 through 2005, large FCDCs in a panel data set that we analyzed consisting of tax returns that were present in the SOI corporate files in every year were more likely to report no tax liability over multiple years than large USCCs in the same panel data set. As figure 2 shows, about 72 percent of FCDCs and 55 percent of USCCs reported no tax liability for at least 1 year during the 8 years. About 57 percent of FCDCs and 42 percent of USCCs reported no tax liability in multiple years—2 or more years—and about 34 percent of FCDCs and 24 percent of USCCs reported no tax liability for at least half the study period—4 or more years. A correspondingly higher percentage of USCCs reported a tax liability in all 8 years, 45 percent for USCCs and 28 percent for FCDCs.

The first set of numbers in the paragraph above are, of course, the ones that were reported in the article linked above. More significant to Spot is the fact that between a quarter and a third of the corporations paid no taxes for at least half of the study.

Boy, Spot, there are sure a lot of big companies out there that aren't good at making any money!

It would seem that way, wouldn't it grasshopper? And that's what Perfesser Banaian wants you to think. He says that most of the companies had no taxable income. And because they paid no income tax, that proposition is probably understood by the most casual observer.

But zero "taxable" income and an actual operating loss are two different things. Next time, we will examine a few ways in which that can be possible.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

From the Boston Globe:

At the end of a long list of reasons to be suspicious of the Iranians, McCain declared: "And they sure don't share our Judeo-Christian values."

It seemed at the time to be an odd thing to say about a Muslim country. After all, even if there were no nuclear program, no oil, and no rabble-rousing president, Iran still wouldn't have Judeo-Christian values. And it's troubling to wonder if that alone would be a reason for suspicion.


And a review of online records by the Globe library shows that McCain uses the term "Judeo-Christian values" quite often, and in varying contexts. For example, last week in York, Pa., he praised small-town Americans by saying, "The Judeo-Christian values that they hold are the strength of America."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Spot, is there a chill in the air?

Yes, grasshopper there is. And it's not an early fall. You know, maybe it is, come to think of it. While George "Butt Thumper" Bush and much of the rest of the country have focused on medal counts, the geopolitical situation of the United States has taken a sudden turn for the worse. Some of Spot's favorite opinion sources have commented on it.

For example, James Kunstler, today:

Meanwhile, Russia got its house in order under the non-senile, non-alcoholic Vladimir Putin, and woke up along about 2007 to find itself the leading oil and natural gas producer in the world. Among the various consequences of this was Russia's reemergence as a new kind of world power -- an energy resource power, with the energy destiny of Europe pretty much in its hands. Also, meanwhile, the USA had set up other client states in the ring of former Soviet republics along Russia's southern underbelly, complete with US military bases, while fighting active engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, if this wasn't the dumbest, vainest move in modern geopolitical history!

Here comes the indictment of the balsamic vinegar generation:

We could have spent the past ten years getting our own house in order -- waking up to the obsolescence of our suburban life-style, scaling back on the Happy Motoring, reconnecting our cities with world-class passenger rail, creating wealth by producing things of value (instead of resorting to financial racketeering), protecting our borders, and taking the necessary measures to defend and update our own industries. Instead, we pissed our time and resources away. Nations do make tragic errors of the collective will. The cluelessness of George Bush is nothing less than a perfect metaphor for the failure of a whole generation. The Boomers will be identified as the generation that wrecked America.

With some help from the Magic Fingers of the Invisible Hand! All the free market types who thought energy, transportation, and banking would all just take care of themselves without any planning or oversight were engaged in some pretty magical thinking all right.

Here's a graf from yesterday's Sunday New York Times Magazine article about the work of Nouriel Roubini, an economist also known as Dr. Doom:

The '90s were an eventful time for an international economist like Roubini. Throughout the decade, one emerging economy after another was beset by crisis, beginning with Mexico's in 1994. Panics swept Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and Korea, in 1997 and 1998. The economies of Brazil and Russia imploded in 1998. Argentina's followed in 2000. Roubini began studying these countries and soon identified what he saw as their common weaknesses. On the eve of the crises that befell them, he noticed, most had huge current-account deficits (meaning, basically, that they spent far more than they made), and they typically financed these deficits by borrowing from abroad in ways that exposed them to the national equivalent of bank runs. Most of these countries also had poorly regulated banking systems plagued by excessive borrowing and reckless lending. Corporate governance was often weak, with cronyism in abundance.

Does that sound like anybody you know, boys and girls?

Dr. Doom was mocked a couple of years ago when he predicted a financial crisis in the United States, but not anymore. He even has a blog. (So he must be good, right?)

Finally, we turn to Bernard Chazelle, the computer science professor who blogs at A Tiny Revolution. He has some observations about the brilliant thinking that led us the believe we could and should encircle Russia:

Pretend for a minute, if you will, that you're Russian.

Look back and what do you see? A Western power invaded you 67 years ago and killed 20 million of your compatriots. If you fear the West, perhaps you're entitled to your paranoia.

Look around and what do you see? In virtually every country in or bordering your defunct Soviet Union, US military forces as far as the eye can stretch. Please follow me on a quick tour of US military installations. Counterclockwise, you've got the NATO countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania. Outside NATO, you've got Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia, all of which have a US military presence. Then Russia's near-abroad, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more NATO countries, eg, Bulgaria and Turkey: again, an arsenal of US weaponry.

So there you are, entirely surrounded by hostile US military forces. And all you hear from the Americans is that a missile defense system aimed over you toward Iran is on its way to Poland and the Czech Republic. All you hear is that Georgia and then the Ukraine need to join NATO just to complete the perfect encirclement of your Western front. All you hear is that it's perfectly OK for Kosovo to secede from Serbia but a triple Nyet for South Ossetia to bolt out of Georgia's hated mini-empire.

Chazelle sums up Putin and Bush:

Putin is a thug (ask Groznians). President Saakashvili gave him an opening and he took it. In 6 days, Putin has undone the 6 years of US-led military buildup meant to bring Georgia up to NATO standards. Perhaps not since Pearl Harbor has so much US military equipment been destroyed so quickly. Or sent to "enemy" labs for reverse engineering.

Bush is a thug (ask Fallujans). But there's a big difference between the two leaders. Putin has won every war he's fought. Bush hasn't won a single one. Worse, he's helped his friends lose their own (Lebanon'06, Georgia'08). No time for glibness, but if you want to lose a war a good first step would be to follow President Saakashvili's lead and rename the main road to your airport "George W. Bush Street," as a starstruck Saak gleefully did. Perhaps he could have gone one step further and renamed the nation of Georgia "GeorgiaBushi." Saak was so flattered to welcome thousands of US and Israeli military advisors to his country. Now, that really helped.

The fact is, boys and girls, after all the military adventurism of the Bush years, we couldn't guarantee a car loan, much less the territorial integrity of a landlocked country like Georgia. Not that we should, according to Chazelle:

NATO is a dangerous charade. If Georgia had been a member, does anyone seriously believe that the West would have gone to its rescue by risking war with the world's second nuclear power? In her recent trip to Georgia, Condi Rice, America's professional pouter, only confirmed America's weakness. She can huff, she can puff, but in the end it's up to Sarkozy to arrange a cease-fire. McCain is dispatching Lieberman to the region and Obama is sending Biden on the Great Senatorial Pilgrimage of Impotence.

America has no business encircling Russia with US military forces. Perhaps war is the only way Americans learn geography. But is it also the only way Americans will learn they don't own the planet?

Well, it's dawning on us, Professor.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Save Us Mr. Warren!!!

Last night presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama spoke at the home base of noted book salesman Rick Warren. Mr. Warren, who claims the title of Reverend, is the leader of the 20,000-member Saddleback mega-church in Southern California. The event marked the first time both candidates have appeared on the same stage together as their parties’ candidate for the highest office in the land.

According to the CNN story on the event, Warren interviewed each candidate separately and each candidate faced questions on faith, leadership, and “worldviews”.

To be perfectly honest, I kind of passed in and out of the debate. I was kind of caught up in some reading. James Madison was the subject of the night:

Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government how can its legal establishment be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.

I followed up my remedial work on Mr. Madison with a little Thomas Jefferson:
that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry, that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right, that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them
It is interesting to note that both Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments and Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom were written in response to Patrick Henry’s attempt to formalize the Anglican Church as the official church of Virginia. Our Founding Fathers specifically chose the Madison/Jefferson view of religion in the public square rather than religious-friendly constitutions from places like Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Delaware. Even more, the idea of including Jesus and Christianity was explicitly rejected during the Constitutional Convention.

(If you're interested in more of Jefferson's thoughts on religion in the public square, there's always the Danbury Baptists. You can also check the University of Virginia's excellent quote database.)

The reason I bring this up is because I have the bad feeling that both of our major candidates for president seem to have a view of public religion that is closer to Patrick Henry than Jefferson and Madison, and yes…this is a problem.

In the case of McCain, his religiosity can be dismissed as a purely political stance. In the 2000 campaign he famously remarked that the thankfully departed Jerry Falwell was an “agent of intolerance.” This time around, he needs that particular voting block so he’s taken up speaking at Bob Jones University and saying transparently insincere things like this:

And yes, I think that pretty much qualifies for a religious test. Sorry Mitt, no VP for you!

McCain is at Warren’s church because he needs to be there. Having a radically deformed view of what our Founding Fathers had in mind for religion is a pretty dominant characteristic of the group of people he needs the most. I get this and I don’t fault him for showing up where his base is.

On the other hand, Barack Obama is one of the 1st Democrats to wear his religion on his sleeve since Jimmy Carter. While we lefties are able to conjure all sorts of umbrage and poo-pooism when Michele Bachmann takes to the pulpit, I’ve noticed that a large portion of us let loose a prideful grin when Mr. Obama hops up on the stage at a South Carolina megachurch or gives a speech so thick with religious overtones that EJ Dionne hailed it as possibly “the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy’s Houston speech in 1960 declaring his independence from the Vatican.” Unfortunately, in today’s uber-religious political climate, if Kennedy were politicking today, he’d likely have to pledge his allegiance to the Vatican in order to placate the legions of Americans who would view him as nothing more than a godless Massachusetts liberal, which he probably was more than anything else.

Getting back to the Obama/Bachmann comparison, there is the little matter of Mac Hammond (and his personal endorsement) that makes a straight comparison not entirely accurate, but that shouldn’t stop us from addressing what is a troubling strain of liberal/Democratic thought that gives Obama’s piety a pass because it is viewed as inspirational and heartfelt rather than divisive and political. This is nonsense. Both Bachmann’s pious insanity and Obama’s bumper sticker self-help theology are equally inappropriate. If anything, at least the conservative view of faith is attached to something real and meaningful, like a religiously fueled distaste of homosexuality. Obama’s faith is obtuse watered-down drivel about butterflies, rainbows, and getting along. His god is an Awesome God and He tells him that we should have hope that all of us can band together and heed…well, Obama’s God isn’t much of a stickler about the details. He's also not much of an Old Testament God.

The point here is that our Founding Fathers believed that religion in the public square was incompatible with personal faith. By introducing one to the other, both are poisoned and corrupted. Last night in the book salesman’s debate, we got a healthy look at all of the bad things that happen when religion is introduced to politics, and the other way around. On one hand, you have a man who clearly doesn’t give a shit about god; babbling on and on about some sort of meaningless fidelity to faith and Judeo-Christian values—whatever the hell that may mean. It’s pretty clear that neither his heart nor his mind are in it, yet everyone has to sit there and pretend that they care or that his faith-based statements have any religious or political value whatsoever. On the other, you have a man that clearly believes in god, but feels that he has to do so in a certain way to make his belief compatible or attractive to a specific group of voters. He covers his words in codes that are unnoticeable to your average social science college professor from New England, but resonate in the ears of anyone that has turned on TBN, cracked open a Left Behind or two, or knows the ins and outs of his or her local mega church (and other associated stereotypes). His faith is more of a Babbelfish that allows him to talk Bubba than it is a way of theologically relating to a group of people that probably have about as much in common with him, faith-wise, as Osama Bin Laden.

Last year, the Star Tribune quoted Obama as saying the following about faith:
Faith, he said, is "what propels me to do what I do and when I am down it's what lifts me up.'' The Democratic presidential candidate said God "is with us and he wants us to do the right thing,'' including breaking down the divisions between Democrats and Republicans and among religions.

When people work together, he said, there is "nothing that can stop us because that's God's intention.''

Yikes. Outside of him advertising to the entire world that a belief in the unknown plays every role in his life, Mr. Obama appears to be suggesting that Faith = Dr. Phil. It’s an all-purpose motivator that means everything at once and nothing when applied to specific details. Oh well, enough with the pot-shots and onto the finale:

Last night’s events were not about faith. They were not about theology. They were not about coming to grips with the ultimate ends of the universe. They were all about religion and politics going down on themselves like a bunch of drunken teenagers, leaving behind nothing more than a trail of insincere love poems and sloppy attempts at saying what you think your never-to-be-seen-again partner wants to hear.


Here’s the dirty little secret: no matter what happens this election, I am going to vote for Barack Obama because I’m a Democrat. How is this any different from someone voting for Michele Bachmann simply because they are a conservative Christian? That’s the rub: It’s all political. The problem here is that we pretend that some of our politics are more deserving of protection from ridicule than others, and since this is the case, it is in each and every politicians’ best interest to make as much of it as faith-based as possible…whether they believe it or not. Now that’s an Awesome God. When the rubber hit the road in last night's debate, Mr. Obama could quote Matthew until the cows come home, but Mr. McCain was still the one with the anti-choice record, support of conservative judges, and was the candidate who would carry on Mr. Bush’s crusade to make the world safe for Christian missionairies (you remember Mr. Bush’s trip to the Christian church in Beijing, don’t you? If not, go back and check out his interview with Bob Costas.) This basic connection between the audience and Mr. McCain could not be overcome no matter how well Mr. Obama knew the Bible, and it was clear that McCain walked away from this debate the winner: he had clearer answers, more precise answers geared towards the audience’s interests, and even a tid-bit about his failed first marriage to head off John Edwards at the pass.

Finally, the greatest sin of last night’s festivities was that none of the things that were mentioned needed religion in order to be conveyed to the American people. Altruism, helping ones neighbor, and even anti-abortion policy can all be explained away to your heart’s content without a book that was written by a civilization that could not possibly comprehend the modern world. Turning this around, most political decisions are as complicated as hell and they involve reasoning that cross all sorts of religious and moral lines/boundaries. Again, this is a mix that not only poisons the public square, but also corrupts the sanctity of both the sacred and the secular.

As the final question of the night, the book salesman asked each candidate what he would say to people who opposed the forum because it was held in a church. This question was not directed at a straw man. It was directed squarely at history. Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison in particular.