Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Port left, uh, right, uh...

Well, the whole Portgate thing (I prefer the term Portmanteau, but that's me) seems to have temporarily united the divergent wings of American politics, although they each have different reasons to be against it (Extreme gloss: the lefties suspect Bush of being up to no good, the righties suspect the Arabs of being up to no good). By all rights, it should be one of these one-day new stories, except, like the Dick-go-blam affair, it seems to encapsulate well most of the major failings of this administration, which I call NISCE (Neglect, Incompetence, Secrecy, Cronyism and Eminence) *

Neglect - The revelations about the port situation have forced the news media to acknowledge just how little the Bush administration has actually done to secure the ports since 9/11, something they refused to do when Kerry was hammering on it during the 2004 campaign.

Incompetence - No one major in the Bush administration seems to have known about this (not Bush, not Rumsfeld, not the Pentagon). Whoever did know seems not to have realized that some people might object to this if not the Bush-hating lefties then the Arab-hating righties. Further, they didn't even bother to have the legally mandated 45-day waiting period

Secrecy - Secrecy and incompetence kind of blend in this administration, as one feeds the other (see above, and add Congress to the list of people that didn't know about this). However, I'm sure there are many interesting facets not being revealed now, e.g., why is Bush so adamant about going forward with this (see below for Eminence)

Cronyism. - In this case, Treasury Secretary Snow and ?David Sanborn? (who obviously didn't find playing mellow jazz fulfilling enough)

Eminence - When the going gets tough, Bush asserts his prerogative as President to do whatever the hell he wants. In this case, his threats to veto any Congressional action on the matter are somewhat confusing. One would think he would resort to his usual modus operandi: withdraw it and then quietly sneak it in the back door somehow (I hear Executive orders on Friday afternoons in August are great for that). His stubborness, while not unusual for him, has two likely causes:
a) There is much much more to this than we know right now; or

b) He wants to show Congress that he's the President still, and he can do whatever the hell he pleases.

Occam's Razor compels us at this point to chose option b. However, if there are hearings and all of a sudden scads of information is classified and/or withheld, we may be compelled to pick a)

*Hey, if you have a better acronym, leave it in the comments

Monday, February 20, 2006

Look how well it worked in um, Nicaragua

They've got to be protected,
All their rights respected,
Until somebody we like can be elected!
-Tom Lehrer, "Send the Marines"

Regarding the reports in the Times that the Bush adminstration has decided to try and destabilize Hamas and hope that the government falls and there is a new election...

Is this the kind of thing we really want to be doing? Aren't we supposed to be supporting democratically elected governments? You really want to make the people in Mideast resent us?

If we cause (or allow Israel to cause) Hamas to fall, why on earth does anyone think they would automatically elect someone more sympathetic to the neocon ideals? What is Condi smoking? Or maybe what isn't she?*

*A touch of the old hippie ideal that "if every world leader got stoned together, there would be no wars" sneaking through. Hey, it worked in the movie Dick, right?

There was up and there was no down

Several bloggers have written about the "down is up"-ism of this administration, in which "wiretapping" becomes "defending our liberty", "deficits" become "fiscal conservatism", "judicial activism" becomes " "judicial restraint" etc. In my reading, these are just manifestations of the ability of the Bush spinners to make everything into a positive for the President, i.e., not just down is up, everything is up! There is no down! To me this reached its absurb pinnacle when bin Laden released his videotape right before the election and for some reason everyone seemed to think this was a plus for the President. I mean, shouldn't it remind everyone that HE IS STILL OUT THERE?
So it has gone with the NSA wiretape story - Rove, followed by all the administration mouthpieces on the chat shows and in the rightie blogs, have been saying this will actually help the President and the GOP. However, Glenn Greenwald wrote a well-researched piece showing how, behind the scene, they were desperately working to avoid letting this thing get out of hand. The interesting thing to me is why they seem to be trying so hard to change the law now when they seem to have decided before that no one would go along with it. Like, what's different now? Perhaps they figure that now the issue has become one of those "make or break" ones, like "you're either with the Preznit on this one or you're for the turrurists", enough Repub sheep will fall into line to pass it (Bah bah Olympia, fleece as white as Snowe?).
Maybe they needn't have worried so. "Up is Up"-ism only works when the press is willing to go along with it, and so far they have never let me down in terms of how far they are willing to bend over to make the GOP overlords happy. Everytime I think something (WMD, Katrina, global warming, I better stop now) has to make the MSM realize what saps they've been played for, they just take it like another clunk in an increasingly clunky car, but they just smile and keep driving.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Always Lookin' fer dat ol' Silver Lining

One possible beneficial effects of these difficult political times may be, somewhat ironically, the return of the relevance of political life. As deToqueville and numerous other writers have pointed out, Americans have always been uneasy about admitting politics into their personalives, partially because many Americans were immigrants fleeing nasty political situations, and partially because of our frontier, individualist mythos. But when I grew up in the late sixties and early seventies I believe it was one of those unusual periods when there was the sense that the politics of the time were inextricably bound up with all the other changes that were taking place in the arts and in personal lifestyles.
Now of course some one will jump all over me pointing out that a) whatever changes took place were cultural, and that the political landscape was unaffected; and b) those changes were all bad anyway. Those issues are not what I am talking about here. I am talking about how politics is perceived to fit in with people's lives. And while there is always danger in surmising how a disparate body of people "feel" about something, that doesn't seem to bother most bloggers and pundits who in fact have made a cottage industry out of declaring how the American people "feel". So if Ken Mehlman can declare without any evidence that Americans don't want to vote for Hillary Clinton because they think she's angry, I can say that there was a change sometime in late seventies and early eighties in how people felt about politics. The causes are many and can be debated: Watergate, the realization that indeed the political landscape was largly unchanged and the increasing emphasis on personal liberation and alternative lifestyles. Some will credit Ronald Reagan and his cronies with this, but I think they merely rode the wave of this trend (or as Hunter S. Thompson put it, the breaking of the wave of the sixties) and then cleverly diverted it to further their own ends. Under Reagan, politics wasn't just not relevant to one's life, it was actually malicious, full of corrupt folks using it to no good ends (which of course he set out to make true).
And that sense has persisted to this day. Witness the squeamishness most liberals will have with declaring themselves in agreement with the tenets of liberalism, that government can be a force for good, that average people need to feel connected with their political life, and that they can have an effect on the way they are governed. Even when the federal government is intruding on people lives more than ever, the conservatives still manage to somehow trumpet this notion that government is should be reduced (cue Grover Norquist at this point).
Is that changing? Again, it is nothing but speculative to probe Americans collective psyche, if indeed we have one, but positive signs abound, in particular the aftermath of Katrina. Several writers have noted that Katrina brought home in a major way the things people depend on government for, and what happens when the government screws up royally in delivering them. That Bush's Social Security proposal went nowhere (although he snuck it into his budget) and the Medicare reforms are universally perceived to be a disaster are others. Of course, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" so it unfortunately make take further extreme disenfranchisements to make people realize that political developments do affects them perosnally. That is why the Bush adminstration is desperately trying to portray the NSA wiretapping as something that won't affect most people, because the surest way to rile up Americans is to make them think the government is spying on them (as opposed to most conservative writers and bloggers, for whom it is all hunky dory). And why, in private, the Republican leaders fear a repeal of Roe v Wade more than they welcome it.
So stay tuned. While I do not like the idea that we have had to have essential services obliterated and our rights drastically curtailed to make Americans realize that yes, politics do matter, it seems that is what is going to happen, so one can hope for some good out of it. To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, it's when things are really rotten that it's easiest to make a positive change.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Like when I was seven

Getting a blog (and this is my first) is like getting the 128 box of Crayola crayons and a sheet of paper. What do I do with it? I can do anything? Gee...that's kind of intimidating. It's kind of scary that the first thing that comes to mind is navel gazing, but that's the nature of the medium I guess. Well, hi, anyone who stumbles by.

As my slogan says, I am a void unless observed, so don't just observe, criticize, rant, but here's a whacky thought:

Try to rant on a subject you don't really believe in.

So if you believe in evolution, try to rant like a creationist. If you think that we're winning the Iraq War, try to imagine what you would say if you didn't. At the least, it might get us out of our heads for a bit.