Wednesday, December 31

Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition

SO: Xmas. My father's children were skimpy breeders, and it generally falls to the extended crew, the descendants of his 90-year-old sister, to host holiday festivities, since their seeming unfamiliarity with the work of Thomas Malthus, the concepts of home economics, or the advances of modern contraception (their average of 3.5 children, 3 marriages, and 2.5 divorces is actually dragged down by my once-married, childless first cousin) has necessitated each maintain a small banquet hall just to meet their daily feeding requirements.

The late patriarch of this clan, my Uncle Sam, was the CFO of a major international conglomerate who lived like a minor suburbanite rather than a prairie earl. This was not, so far as I could tell, due to miserliness, but a sort of Christian duty to frugality, one which passed into quaintness, became endangered, and finally as rare as ivory-billed woodpecker teeth, all within his lifetime. That current of Midwestern Calvinism still riffles and eddies along, somewhere, with his grandchildren, but their children cross dry-shod and oblivious; any future hints of frugality will no doubt be thrust upon them, by a world they seem connected to only electronically. This is not the grousing of a bitter old man, not this time: our neighbor's child is a beacon of social responsibility, and I have hopes for the eldest of my Poor Wife's younger brother's brood, the one who seems to have escaped serious brain bubbles. It's the young person who isn't at least partly frivolous who's suspect, and one unstuck to at least one electrical gadget is practically unthinkable. The disturbing fact is not addiction to consumer gizmos, nor a steady diet of crappy blockbuster movies consumed with relish, but the genealogical evidence of a startling decline: my uncle was a very smart man, and his eldest daughter, whose serial monogamy and slightly-excessive reproductive rate kick-started the whole business, is damn near brilliant, but they've managed to usher in somehow, in less than sixty years, an entire generation of aspiring cheerleaders. (Mind you, we've known a couple of smart cheerleaders in our time, and we regard Life Itself as an endless stream of surprises, some favorable. We're just saying that whatever that gang was doing with its cellphones Xmas Day, we think following current events can be safely ruled out.)

The day ended with the near-traditional invitation to the neighbor's holiday bash, which is always a source of decent drinks, entertaining conversation, and better dope than most Republicans will admit to owning, let alone share. And this led, indirectly, to The Greatest Gift of All, or at least the most fun I had all Season. I was ushered into the Secret Smoke Room (our hostess knows enough to grab me when the disapproving schoolmarm I married isn't looking) for a semi-annual lung capacity test, followed by the customary hanging and shooting the neighborhood shit. A couple people had come in, indulged, and gone out again when the room suddenly filled with Metaphorical Camouflage: the decidedly Republican husband, his usual three-man posse of twenty-somethings, which I find a tad odd, and a guy I didn't know, who turned out to be a former assistant chief of police, but who, in the parlance of The Day, was cool. The young guys started in to tokin', after which the conversation returned to the subject I believe it rarely left: Huntin'.

Now, the only thing I've ever shot at, or wanted to shoot at, is a target. I've done a little fishing, but only as part of a program to determine if there were levels of Boredom beyond Extreme and Mind-Numbing. I married into a family of hunters (the menfolk, that is), and I've known others, and I have to say I Don't Get It. I don't have a Bambi complex. I don't want to ban hunting. I just think the concerned citizen of the world today would put the vast majority of his available energies into protecting what's left of this natural world--including not peppering it with stray lead--so they and others might be able to hunt in the future.  But, like I say, this guy's a Republican, so his consideration for what you and I might call "the planet" begins and ends with himself (please, don't bother telling me there's such a thing as non-toxic shot. I know it, and I know the level of concern these guys have for the environment vs. their own pocketbooks or lethality ranges).

And these guys are bird hunters, like my father- and brother-in-law, which means that they don't hunt in any accepted definition of the word; they go sit by a lake at some guy's lodge, wait for whatever's in season to fly over, and shoot at it. I'm not attempting a psychology of the thing, nor impugning a native moral superiority; I'm just saying that, to me, the woods are a great place to hike in, explore, and observe, but if I want to sit for fourteen hours a chair, suitable light, and a good book seem like more the ticket. And my Poor Wife, who was regularly fed the spoils of this sort of thing while growing up, thinks that biting unexpecteldly into a piece of birdshot somewhat diminishes the pleasures of the table.

Anyway, the talk goes on at length about some prime spot a few miles north, a private lake between two cornfields, and drifts into just what conservation laws can be ignored or violated with impunity (a feature of every hunter's confab I've ever heard, with apologies to any scrupulous shooters out there. These are people who have a list of imaginary intrusions into their Rights a yard in length, and expecting self-policing is analogous to expecting Republicans to protect voting rights. Then there's a segue into grousing [pardon] about the possibility that Indiana might join the ever-growing list of Socialist States which unfairly require gun show peddlers to obey the law an' stuff). 

And this wakes the cop up, apparently, and he starts telling gun tales, either from his own casebook or some NRA fanboy site I'm not sure, but there's a couple in a row that end with the a) law-abiding homeowner and b) firearms-savvy storeowner putting one right between the eyes of a ne'er-do-well (the latter, I think, was Aarne-Thompson 961, "Shopkeeper saved by Hidden Piece"). That one evolved into a discussion of the trigger mechanism responsible for saving the merchant's life, then smart gun technology and the politicians who are just waiting for January 20 ("Black Tuesday") so they can ram it down our throats.

The growing audience enthusiasm triggered (sorry) the inevitable "when this Obama gets in" rant. (I'm a reasonable student of local culture and color, and the "this" construction is foreign. Is it military? The helicopter instructor in The Simpsons used it: "Another guy I like is this Leo Sayer".) "Although he seems to be moving more towards the center".

I should note here that when I drink, or treat my mind like a couple of fried eggs, I actually become unbearably charming; I'm sort of a reverse surly drunk. But there was some political contentiousness going on already (my Republican host saying at one point that "it's the gun nuts who make everyone else look bad", thereby, at least, recognizing that there was some reason), and one of the younger guys turned out to be some sort of libertarian Marxist, so I decided I could put in 2¢ without harshing the buzz.

So he paused for a moment, and I kinda looked at him sideways and said, "Y'own a credit card?"

And I'm not going to recount the rest of the conversation, which would sound like I was arguing with an imaginary cabbie. But he got it right away. His face went slack for a moment. And I went on for the sake of the younger guys, whom I was sure it had passed by. "You hand over more information about yourself five times a day; every time you buy razor blades or ball-point pens. Why is requiring fly-by-night weapon salesmen to keep records such an imposition on your rights when you give up those same rights, willingly, for the sake of some small convenience?"

It was a little unfair, because I knew he thought he'd had a completely simpatico audience, because he imagines that Barack Obama is as far to the Left as one can get, and because I hadn't jumped up with the Bambi Defense, but instead hit him right between the Rights. He kinda looked at me hopelessly for a moment.

Then he said "You're under arrest for possession of a controlled substance."

You gotta love cop humor.

Monday, December 29

2008: Worst Year Ever, Or Just In The Last Twelve Months?

OKAY, so, you're busy, I'm busy, we're all busy this time of year, and it took a couple days before I had time to consider Dana Perino's Night-Before-Xmas (okay, two days Before) explaination of that mangled Pardon: that neither the Acting President nor Fred "Forty Years In Politics And I Wind Up Getting Dicked By George W. Bush?" Fielding knew enough about the Toussie Crime Family contribution to Team Bush to recognize "the appearance of impropriety". I think that consideration took six seconds. Six is my estimate, anyway; in a couple of eyelash battings, tops, it became clear that we have finally cleared the last hurdle in the Bush administration's eight-year struggle to develop a language which appears, for all intents and purposes, to be a variant of English, but which has no cognitive or semantic function at all.

Here's a rough outline of those six seconds:

0.0-1.8 sec.: instantaneous grasping, without conceptualizing, as a Gestalt, one might say, the idea that someone has suggested not just a theoretical limit to the Bush administration's capacity to commit 'improprieties', but that this theoretical limit could be reached by a concern over the appearance of impropriety.

1.9-2.6 sec.: sympathetic nervous system assesses neurological information, prevents skeleton from leaping out of body.

2.7-4.5 sec.: quick, though not instantaneous, realization that the statement actually manages to transcend comparison, and is therefore non-, trans-, or anti-lingual; i.e., one may not in fact say, "The Bush administration is to the suggestion of impropriety as x is to y", because we have nothing left that could possibly begin to suggest a means of conveying the irony there, let alone coming anywhere near resembling it....

4.6-5.1 sec.: ...and this, despite the fact that a half-second's reflection is all that is required to realize that the field for such comparisons has never been larger, in no small part due to the moral leadership of the Acting President and his Republican cronies. In fact it's difficult to name a single famous person in this country who is not, let's say in the main famous for some sort of embarrassing excess, and most likely several.

5.2-6.0 sec.: leading, somewhat paradoxically, to an intuited recognition that none of these, nor, in fact, all of them put together, could serve as a metaphor for this administration's Borg-like relationship with Impropriety. Not bug-witted tundra dwellers suddenly cast as Vice-Presidential candidates despite failing to name a single daily newspaper, not national news anchor chairs filled by self-tanner models and people with crippling speech impediments, not even Joes the Plumbers who are neither Joes, nor Plumbers, nor familiar enough with current events to pass a junior high pop quiz yet ascend to the national political stage, however fleetingly. We could construct a wall of ironic ineptitude and butt-nakid greed in this country high enough to hold off a melted polar ice cap, maybe two, without much effort, but all in vain. The Bush administration is not to the appearance of impropriety what Plaxico Burress is to handgun safety, "Jeff Gannon" to military service, nor Phil Gramm to economics advice. The latter are ironies which exist on a human scale. The idea that the Bush administration would be forced into a moment's fucking reflection over the "appearance of impropriety" is simply beyond our experience, even as extended by the Hubble telescope, sub-atomic particle acceleration, and televangelism.

Neither is it sufficient to suggest that Ms Perino herself should have experienced some instant response of a physical or spiritual nature: head exploding, convulsive laughter, Plague of Boils. Though here we must admit that a mere passing familiarity with the history of public relations work, the modern Republican party, or simply the general high regard placed on personal honesty in this country sufficiently prepares one for any possible combinations of English (or, in this case, English-like) words coming out of a White House Press Secretary.

There is, of course, another component to this: the incoming Bush administration's plan (hatched, we think, in 1999, like the Iraq war, the Kyoto snub, and the decision to keep George W. as far from microphones as possible) to use Pardons as one tine of its three-pronged offensive to fork Bill Clinton and thus take the spotlight off its initial incompetence so it could work on perfecting it.

And here's the thing, which you may recall: the whole thing's cut-and-dried; people howled about Ford's pardon of Nixon, and there was even a brief mention of the first Bush's more numerous, more egregious, and directly self-serving list (Clinton would up disbarred, you recall; George H. W. F. Bush wound up precluding the indictment, trial, and serious stretch in Leavenworth he'd deserved since 1985). But the power is absolute, though this did not stop the Congressman from One Gerrymandered District to my West, Daniel Lee "Two Handicap" Burton, from chairing Congressional hearings. And this is the same party which insists that Money is the freest form of Free Speech, not to mention the most attractive, and that the modern Presidency has suffered considerable harm from the pernicious idea that there are two other branches of government.

The Grand Old Hypocrisy of the thing is a helluva lot more damaging to our politics than the chance that somebody, or fifteen somebodies, might manage to buy themselves a pardon, which, for that matter, is pretty mild even as a form of corruption, since a Pardon is a one-off; it's lobbying interests which are the gift that keeps on giving. The proper response to Bush I pardoning all his Iran/Contra co-criminals wasn't a Congressional investigation, it was a general recognition of the foul stench that resides at the core of the Bush Crime Family, and a vow never to put another one in public office. Sure, Hindsight's 20/20, but Common Sense can still keep you from being run over by a bus.

Who do they think they have left to kid? Laura Bush? She and Condimelda were sent out Sunday to confabulate a version of the Bush II legacy that doesn't include the words "nadir" and "shitbag", presumably on the grounds that no gentleman would throw a shoe at a lady. Who're they kiddin'? Issue the fucking pardon now, or don't, but shut th' fuck up. Getting all prissy about it at this point is like curling up in the fetal position and imagining it's January 2001 all over again. Which, come to think of it, is a fitting legacy, just not one the rest of us can be forced to share this time.

Wednesday, December 24

The feather'd race with pinions skim the air

SO I'm looking at that pic of Bush looking at his portrait, and I'm trying to come up with a witty caption, and I notice that his fingers are weirdly intertwined:

And it took me about a day's incubation to Remember the Pueblo:

And, mind you, I'm not saying George W. Bush is flipping off the National Portrait Gallery or anything.  I'm just sayin' that if we had a President capable of that sort of thing, he'd be it.

Oh, So That's Why The Times Hired Kristol.

William Kristol, "Popularity Isn't Everything". December 22

You gotta love Dick Cheney.

Or stay out of range. [rimshot]

O.K., O.K. ... you don’t have to.

Well, I wouldn't call it love, exactly, but I have to admit that if Dick Cheney did not exist it would have been necessary to invent him, either by digging up Dick Nixon and giving him the brain of a (stupider) criminal, or by giving Phil Gramm a charmectomy.
But consider this exchange with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday”:

WALLACE: Did you really tell Senator Leahy, bleep yourself?
CHENEY: I did.
WALLACE: Any qualms, or second thoughts, or embarrassment?
CHENEY: No, I thought he merited it at the time. (Laughter.) And we’ve since, I think, patched over that wound and we’re civil to one another now.

No spin. No doubletalk. A cogent defense of his action — and one that shows a well-considered sense of justice. (“I thought he merited it.”)

And again, with apologies to Tom Lehrer, you gotta respect the courage of a right-wing rageball like the Vice-President who's willing to go on FOX and admit he said Fuck you to Pat Leahy.

You can't expect this to get any better. There's no theoretical objection to someone attempting to limn Dick Cheney, I suppose, unless it's another one of those pieces Slate assigns using Magnetic Poetry ("Sarah Palin" "Is" "Intellectual"). There is an objection to that someone being Bill Kristol, and not just that he and Cheney haven't exactly been hiding all those cozy, candlelit, têtes-à-têtes these past eight years (at this point all we don't know is which one's the trick). It's that counter-intuition isn't in the Republican playbook, which for thirty years now has consisted of repeating GOP! USA! and promising Remarkable Economic Success, Super Military Buffness, and Getting Back on Jesus' Good Side. To the long debate over the relative paucity of "conservative" comedy we can add that it's damn difficult to score points through cosmic buffoonery when your party is introducing a Flag Burning Amendment every Congressional session.

Certainly the events of the past decade have put the lie to this (that is to say, again; it's a measure of the power of pernicious PR bullshit that people now forget that the final years of the Reagan administration were pretty much the Bush II administration minus the humiliating military setbacks, which Reagan had had the good sense to schedule for his first term and counter-program with the Combined US Western Hemisphere [COMWESCOM] Command's glorious defeat of the 1st Cuban Overseas Typing Platoon. For that matter, which he had the even better sense to get the hell out of once it happened. By the way, the first six months of the Iraq War killed just thirty more American military personnel than did the two Beirut bombings six months apart). But they also seem to have overwhelmed the sort of claims these people made for decades, back when everything was going their way. It's as if, having determined that George W. Bush represented a choking hazard, we forgot the fact that we bought him in the first place because the ad said he was the perfect toy for teething infants.

But theoretical problems are dwarfed by the practical, which include a) the fact that Bill Kristol is a pathetic writer, an egregious liar, a moral coward, and a sorry excuse for a human being; and b) the fact that you couldn't invent any positive contributions Dick Cheney has made to his country or its politics without resorting to the worst conventions of science fiction. Cheney took the panoply of American political might, the power of the modern Presidency, and the treasury of the United States, and fashioned himself a secret lair, which he exited, rarely, only in order to out agents of our own government for personal gain or help lie us into the worst political decisions, well, in our history; to say otherwise is to find oneself obliged to apologize to both Herbert Hoover and James Buchanan, and who can afford the seance bills these days? By the time his Invisible Fortress was half completed he had no one left to talk to except Western Ranching and Mining interests and People United for Redecorating Harry Whittington's Face. Reagan's hagiographers and re-write men could at least pretend that being a genial narcoterrorist counted for something; whaddya do with Cheney? "Never proven to have consumed human flesh while on duty"?

Of course, this isn't what Kristol is really up to. Five-hundred-seventy of his eight-hundred-forty words will address Rod Blagojevitch, and, not surprisingly, in an entirely different fashion than his famed column [Caution: famed Bill Kristol column] claiming the prosecution of Tom DeLay, the Fitzgerald investigation of Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, the SEC investigation of Medicare grifter, medical clairvoyant, and friend of homeless animals Bill Frist, the partisan investigation of the duly-appointed partisan hack running PBS, and the horrid, horrid lies Dan Rather told about George W. Bush's heroic National Guard service proved a conspiracy to "criminalize Conservatism". Whereas this time a Fitzgerald investigation proves that Democrats are uniformly shady. The Cheney business is just cover for a sorry-assed wingnut hack job of the sort Kristol's been getting away with since the Times hired him. But it's made to serve a dual purpose, since the reality--which Kristol must face at some point, even if only when changing blades in his razor--is that, aside from the pages of the Times Kristol is bound to Cheney like Eng was to Chang, and they've been takin' hits off the same truck exhaust since 2003. The only difference is that Kristol, if anything, has been even more spectacularly wrong, since he's been obliged to do things in public.

So we get this, the one defense of Cheney he can come up with besides "When he says 'Fuck You' he means it":
Cheney’s loyalty to Rumsfeld didn’t stop Cheney from being a key behind-the-scenes player in encouraging George Bush to order the surge of troops to Iraq at the end of 2006 — after Rumsfeld had resisted adding troops for years. I’m told by several key advocates of the surge that Cheney was crucial in helping the president come to what was a difficult and unpopular decision — one opposed at the time by the huge majority of foreign policy experts, pundits and pontificators.

Okay, look: 'The Surge Is Working!' is now done, like your reign. The goddam thing did its job, namely, it provided enough distraction to allow Bush to refuse to admit defeat through the end of his term. Mission Finally Fucking Accomplished; right-wing diehards will be able to argue ad infinitum that "we didn't lose the war", or Bush didn't, just like they've been arguing about Vietnam for forty years, and with equal likelihood that the past will magically bend to their wills.

The reality is something else, and the reality is going to be there, this time. You managed to play the Nam-era You Can't Lose A War So Long As You're Still Paying Lip Service To It card one last time, but the fact is that this time most Americans understand that "Victory" meant something more than "Managing to solve the problems you yourselves created through poor planning, ideological rigidity, and the use of American blood and treasure for temporal political gain in the space of a mere five-and-a-half years". There will soon (thank gods) be little reason left to play pretend, beyond George W. Bush's, and Dick Effing Cheney's non-existent reputations. We will return to the public understanding--never gone away, just superseded by later Republican disasters--of Iraq as an utter waste and a military disaster.

And again we find, in a sort of mirror image of the Bush Is An Idiot, So Let's Forget That He Was Once Sold As A Genius And Give Column Inches To The People Responsible, historical amnesia: let us recall that back when various "key advocates" [Question: are they all named Kagan?] tell us the Dick of all Dicks threw his support behind this "unpopular" decision, it was the only fucking decision that offered any hope of his saving face. In 2006 the Bush/Cheney Gulag had the choice of acceding to the Strategically Delayed, Strategically Bearded by Lee Hamilton recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, with its carefully denatured approach to the extensive motherfucking generation-long multiple fracturing of American military strength caused by the Iraq War, or to simply ignore it and maintain present troop levels past the breaking point in an effort to avoid acknowledging failure. Guess which one it chose? After that, declaring victory was a foregone conclusion, though, admittedly, it invoked the considerable risk involved in telling the American public it was #1 in something. Violence is down, due to any number of factors, but there's precious little in-depth reporting about that. (I got to watch last night as CBS's abominable Harry Smith cheerfully enthralled listeners with the tale of The Little Commuter Train in Baghdad, that now carries nearly a half-dozen passengers. Things are returning to normal! It's five-and-a-half-years and untold trillions of dollars, dude. A sorry-assed third-world train chugging through a blasted Malaria Town is a Success Story?)

The major thing that's not reported in all this is the added cost to the already disastrous effect on military preparedness we might find ourselves needing to combat actual genuine threats some day. We don't really know what it's cost us to stick a toothpick through a cherry tomato and garnish the footlong shit sandwich just so the right could exit without publicly admitting it smelled anything funny. In something just over forty-five months, from the invasion of Iraq to the Kegan/Keane PR blitz, Dick Cheney managed, though force of intellect, to grasp the need for more troops! Compare Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in forty-five months after Pearl Harbor, had only managed to defeat Nazi Germany, the Japanese Empire, and be dead for five months. Hey, everybody! Rod Blago's got funny hair!

Monday, December 22

Xmas Olio Cookies

• First, rilly, rilly, what Gavin said.
But in any case, the reason I’m mentioning Jonah and his latest column is that together with this thing of Mirengoff’s, you can really see the success of the slow, at first aspirational, ultimately decades-long and richly financed conservative project of piling up cooked information and slanted analyses, paper after column after article after study, until they almost literally have no historical or social referents that aren’t ideological.

Read the Whole Thing, as they say. All we would add is that once you get to Goldberg and The Power Trio you're talking about people who have chosen to participate not so much as shills or swindlers (though there's plenty of that) but, evidently, as their one hope for pubescent coolness. Although in Jonah's case we're convinced there was some sort of Manchurian Candidate thing going on as well. The "Conservative" intellectuals of the 1950s--we use the term relatively--were either Christian apologists or capitalist mouthpieces, or Christian capitalism mouthpiece apologists. We are not surprised to find them clever, or slippery; we are not surprised to find a small but fanatical following among sophomores. What we are surprised to find is that sort of thing extending into middle age without even the most diaphanous suggestion of later reconsideration. To us this reeks of the pantsed and de-lunch-monied AV club/hall monitor dweeb who sadly came along at just the wrong moment, when his social and physical high school superiors were all smoking dope and listening to Styx; when the politics of corporate greed had advanced George Eff Will and James Watt as pocket-protector-wielding role models; and who has worn his candy-assed superiority and sexual grudges on his sleeve ever since.

Well, we'd also add that we don't consider Goldberg the Stupidest Man in Stupidville, just the guy who says the stupidest things, an achievement which generally requires a college-wiseacre manqué.

• Thank you, CBS, 60 Minutes, and the decades-long ineluctable odor that is Leslie Stahl, for last night's daring exposé of airport security annoyances, proving once again that at least 80% of the news value of a piece is determined by how much it affects upper class careerists and the people who pen their scripts, get their coffee, and hope someday to be them. Stahl started off by sneering that the Transportation Security Administration had "launched an image makeover and PR campaign" (this is, for all I can tell, Stahl's one and only claim on the term talent, since it's the function she performed during the Carter administration: pointing out, sometimes divining single instances of spin, news-shaping, and PR while simultaneously standing nostrils-deep in the culture of Spin, News-shaping, and PR). Never mind, of course, that the reason such activities are necessary might be summed up as "Leslie Stahl and other dipshits with a national forum". She followed that up by devoting almost the entire segment to a conversation with outgoing TSA mouthpiece Kip Hawley, interrupted by occasional complaints from Security Expert and TSA Critic Bruce Schneier.

Thus we had gone, in the space between Promo and Air, from grousing about the grouses that the traveling public grouses about, to allowing The Experts to duke it out on their behalf, minus the grousing or the grouse. Though, for my money, when Schneier appeared to accept the notion that what UK police had foiled in 2006 was a genuine threat of terrorism by shampoo bomb, and not puffed-up horseshit, it became more a question of whether we were listening to competing sides of an argument or competing sales pitches.

Just for the record: we are willing to tolerate uninformed carping, but not from the same people responsible for the situation in the first place. Your climate may be too hot in summer, or too cold in winter, but if you think it is both the problem is that you're talking when you should be moving. Who panicked in 2001 and asked the guvment to take over daily life? Who reinstalled the fear-mongering, Constitution-stomping Bush administration in 2004? You complain about being force fed a shit sandwich, but you're the ones who crapped on the toast. Griping that grandma gets patted down is sheer hypocrisy; this reduces the panic to its racist roots. Seven years ago we were at the mercy of the Islamic arm of SPECTRE; today, apparently, the people who would blow us all up conveniently line up at airport security in ghutras, looking shifty and swarthy and carrying satchels full of Prell. It's all Bureaucratic Kabuki? Who th' fuck voted to turn over the whole business to the Bureaucracy? Or, for that matter, voted to turn over voting to the same bunch? What did you think was going to happen when you handed a few hundred million to law enforcement and rightist sinecures and asked them to go all authoritarian on someone, while you promised not to be too squeamish about how they did it? Aggressive reasonableness?

• I wish all of you could have enjoyed The Dome Blows Up Week, as covered live by every local channel with a "news" operation, as much as we locals. The Dome--still, officially, The "RCA Dome", or The Rubble of the RCA Dome, which is evidently how everyone is legally required to refer to it on the grounds that the Radio Corporation of America paid someone else some money for the privilege. (The replacement Football Barn, ill-conceived, mis-aligned. and at least seven times more expensive, is officially Lucas Oil Stadium, on the grounds that a producer of over-priced lubricants, and not the fun kind, even, paid the goddam ownership of the Colts for the privilege, even though the Colts put approximately zero dollars into the thing. The adoption of the morning-zoo-esque nickname "The Luke" by, among others, the Racist Star's sports columnist, has prompted angry responses from readers offended by such casualness when so much fucking money changed hands. No, really. And these people are allowed to vote.)

The Dome, part of the Dick Lugar inaugurated Let's-Revitalize-Downtown-In-Time-For-The-Land-Leases-Expiring-Between-1980-And-The-Turn-Of-The-Century Program, cost $82 million in 1984, or back when public announcements of project costs came in within 70% of actual (by comparison, the Barn was announced at $500 million, and may have cost twice that). That's $162 million in today's dollars, or $6.75 million for every year the thing was in operation. That's not counting what it cost to knock the thing down, or how much we had to pay the Colts for putting them in the difficult situation of moving to the new place we built after they threatened to leave town if we didn't. It's not as though the thing hasn't been controversial; it's merely as though there's no time to cram that sort of information into a 90 minute nightly newscast. At one point in the live--that's live--ninety minute countdown to twenty-five seconds of a dust cloud rising in downtown on a Saturday morning, one brave teleprompter reader--they are, of course, reduced to winging it in such circumstances, with predictably ugly results--actually addressed the question of a city which can't afford to put more police on the streets, keep its neighborhood schools open, or stop dumping raw sewage in its waterways--though he didn't explicitly tick those items off, mind you--spending untold hundreds of millions on sports palaces with a life expectancy of the average electric razor by replying--replying, of course; imagine the career arc of the local news hairdo who refused to act as a Civic Booster or corporate shill!--that the old Dome was simply unequal to the task of meeting the incredible growth of football attendance since its inception. The new Barn, in case this makes you wonder, seats, given the most favorable choice of numbers for the argument--5000 more for football. It may actually be less than half that many; at any rate, that's a $ quarter-million per additional seat.  That's some growth. Of course, in reality, that has nothing to do with why the place was built; skyboxes, and the increased revenue from them for the Colts, does. We're not necessarily arguing the point; we just think that it should be possible for the average news-hairdo in Indianapolis to unearth that information without spending more than the average amount of time at the water cooler, and to act accordingly.

We've had two City Halls in the last century, and we've found a series of uses for the old one ever since the city moved out. Just sayin'.

• These would be the same hairdos who, over the weekend, were faithfully reporting that Mr. President-elect Obama's Hawaiian vacation would be marred by his having to deal with his aides' possible connection to Blagojevitch, Inc. (the woman who read this when I was watching came to a screeching halt at the name, as though it were the first time she'd seen it) while simultaneously pointedly ignoring the fact that the city's homicide total had equalled 2007's, the mayoral election year when they had a big countdown tote board with flashing lights and skimpy-costumed spokesmodels on either side to announce each additional infamy. We're sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the current (Republican) Mayor is the same guy who as a candidate last year excoriated the then-(Democratic Republican) Mayor for those same fucking numbers. Say, what're we blowing up next weekend?

Friday, December 19

Friday Bush Farewell Tour III: The Inauguralizationing

Together, we will reclaim America’s schools, before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives.

We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes, to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans.

We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge.

We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors.

--George W. Bush, Last Comic Standing First Inaugural Address

I DON'T propose to tick off a chronology of Bush administration foibles, failures, and felonies; the internets, while vast, are not infinite. But the arc of the ascension of The Man They Call Dubya, And Who Calls Them "Chief", "Stretch", or "Gonzo", seems so neatly to presage all that came after that it seems the inevitable place to begin. Besides, while so much in life is covered by the ol' Hidsight is 20/20 routine, George W. Bush, clearly, is not among those. It couldn't have been more clear that the man was unfit, ill-equipped, and all but disinterested in The Presidency, which he seemed to regard as some sort of honorific, like "Governor of Texas" or "Air National Guard Pilot". This leaves us with a single conclusion: that nearly half of the electorate, and nearly all of the Press, are blind babbling lunatics, or at least the small percentage of them who qualify as honest are. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani thanked God that George W. Bush was President on September 11. John Hinderrocket marveled that a man so intellectually superior to his fellow human beings as to almost constitute a separate species could endure their opprobrium without stooping to having them squashed. And they are both, as of this morning, still walking around free.

The American public, by the time January 20 of 2001 rolled around, had endured six weeks of hysterical Press babble about falling skies and Constitutional crises should Al Gore press the desire to count actual votes in Florida, narrowly aversion of that crisis by a quick-thinking Court. In the meantime, of course, the public hadn't panicked in the slightest, as the public actually realizes, however well it hides the recognition, that politicians, the Press, and celebrities in general are just hyperactive braggert children. Unfortunately this same public has never figured out not to give any of 'em matches and tinder.

The Bush inaugural procession, at least the part of it carrying the soon-to-be Acting President, suddenly stopped dead in the middle of the parade route--remember?--for like ten minutes, for reasons which were never explained on teevee, and which remained inexplicable to the audience, since the massive protests were barely alluded to and never shown. The public, which had recently been so concerned lest vote counting and winner announcing be delayed long enough to get them right, was now to be portrayed as a vast pacific field eager to return to what were then known as "Jobs", televised mayhem, and lap of Morpheus, a point which merely required keeping the cameras off everyone who didn't qualify in order to stress.

Sore Losermans! The Bush camp had already used the M-word the month before, right on schedule, and now Bush would exhibit his new reading skills with a speech that seemed to have been crafted in 1999, one which backhanded Bill Clinton a couple times (discreetly, with a capital-D) before inviting his political opponents to be bi-partisan or else. Jes' Lak Texas! Then off to two days of partying with a Texas twang more blatantly constructed that Bush's own. Oh, Goody! We're about to be governed by a pair of boots!

Like the country, I had survived Reagan--of the two of us I had perhaps done slightly better--so I can't say there was a serious foreboding about Bush's politics. It was, rather, that sense that nothing was right--before it had been stolen from voters (that minor irritant the Bush camp never once made any appeal to, or suggested it believed was the source of political power) the election had been stolen by pundits, turned into a referendum over whether Al Gore was too boring to be President yet, somehow, too bizarre at the same time, a man supposedly given to making wild, megalomaniacal claims about himself.

This was bullshit on the face of it; not that politicians have not been known to get away with that sort of thing on occasion, or that occasionally a politician bases his entire appeal on it, but it clearly wasn't the case with Al Gore.

And, ultimately, the people who told us horror stories about Al Gore were backing George W. Bush as a man. As a candidate, a leader, as a paradigm of Not Clinton. And that did not ring true either. In fact the downright curious thing in all of it is how--absent serious bias--one could possibly have been so completely and utterly wrong about two people. Gore may have been wooden, and dull, but he was clearly a serious man, too serious to have been flattered by Love Story or Inventing the Internet. George W. Bush, misunderestimated to the power of 16, would not yet be Presidential timber.

No, there is simply no explanation for the performance of the Press throughout campaign 2000, or the lapdog treatment of George W. Bush thereafter. Mere cupidity, simple bias, and a string of corporatist paychecks (over and under the table) stretching to the Moon cannot explain how anyone looked at George W. Bush in January 2001 without realizing we were whistling past the graveyard.

Thursday, December 18

This Week On Undercover: The Case Files of Jesse Jackson Junior, P.I.

• Julia: "You know, I was wondering if anyone but me was wondering about that."

Someone, let's call him or her "you", is the eight-term Representative to the U.S. House from a large Midwestern, let's say, state. Frankly, I can think of several reasons, many of them good, why your wife, husband, life partner, significant other, brother, sister, brother- or sister-in-law, paramour, gigolo, soubrette, or family dentist should not be "up for" your state's top Lotto job, nor a job in your office, nor any of your colleague's offices, not in any fashion connected with fundraising, nor the head of Something You Just Thought Up. We in no way mean this to impugn the qualifications of Sandi Jackson, Todd Palin, or Christine DeLay. What we are suggesting--okay, what we're coming out and saying--is that so long as minor corruption thrives you can't expect to fight major corruption, and so long as mass-market media is a den of liars, careerists, stenographers, flacks, hob-nobbers, and cosmetics junkies, minor corruption will be overlooked where it is not openly praised. CNN just fucking stovepipes the informant story. Never mind that the member from Illinois 2nd District is up to the short and curlies in the proverbial ringer; never mind that the goddam story seems patently false on the face of it, nor that its sources are all from the Jackson camp; CNN seems not to've considered attempted verification to be a part of the process of news spewing.

Say it again: a United States Congressman is having a discussion with his state's governor about the Congressman's wife being appointed to run a cash business operated by the state. And we're supposed to be outraged only because there's a hint of quid pro quo thrown into the mix? The whole fucking thing is quid pro quo.

• Design a Logo for the Caroline Kennedy: I'm Available! Tour. Win Backstage Passes!

I turned on CNN early this A.M.--that's two days of morning news in a row, I know; I'm worried about it myself--and not only is a gubernatorial appointment to fill a vacant Senate seat "news", based on the fact that Someone With a Famous Name has seen fit to demean herself and insult the process by openly campaigning for the thing, but CNN sees fit to create a fucking graphic that puts her picture over a 20% transparency of her sainted father, who died when she was five, and when the average American--let alone the average American viewer desired by CNN--was still about ten years short of conception, not that he evinces much knowledge of what's happened since then or anything.  Crypto-religious iconography does not noticeably improve news reporting.

• Neither does the opposite: 

"Dems embrace dynasty politics". [Caution: it's Politico, but that's the point.] For chrissakes, the story is at least as old as Alexander Hamilton, the son George Washington never had, and it's as recent as the ascension of that unqualified ape from Texas who still squats in the White House. Mary Bono. Liddy Dole. John J. Duncan. Jo Ann Emerson. Lisa Murkowski. Bill Shuster. Bob Bennett. Shelley Moore Capito. Mario Diaz-Balart. Rodney Frelinghuysen. Judd Gregg. Walter B. Jones Jr. Jon L. Kyl. Cornelius Harvey McGillicuddy IV. John L. Mica. John Sununu. All Republicans, all dynastics, all currently serving, though Liddy'll be leaving us shortly. The Kennedy thing is off-putting, but that's between the citizens of New York and their governor; I don't know enough about Delaware or Colorado to comment there, but we might at least wait until something actually happens before we announce the "trend" it represents; time will tell, and eventually the voters will, too. In the meantime, your concern, as well as its timing and its oddly monocular vision, is noted.

• Could you fuckin' yell "Stop!" or something before you use the pepper spray?

Slate's redesign substitues cluttered pull-down menus for the formerly cluttered page, leaving them room at the bottom of a standard monitor to plug Mickey Kaus and the XX Factor, which has the same effect as the Indianapolis Racist Star putting the comments of its mouth-breathing, superfluously-chromosomed readership right at the bottom of news stories, without requiring an intervening click. Gack! I'm eating here! I did not need to see that! I'd love to leave The XX Gang alone, the way I do Kaus, but I keep running into irresistible leads, and clicking on links that don't take you to the post. Today, instead of Melinda Henneberger's specious "How Blago Is Hurting Caroline", I get the specious Rachael Larrimore and a gratuitous slam of Alexandra Penney:
And normally I don't hate on people for enjoying the finer things in life. But when hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs or having their hours and benefits cut, and all of us are cutting back on expenses, neither can I get too worked up about someone having to give up her Hermes bags.

Penney was reportedly swindled out of her life savings by Bernie Madoff. And I, not a Republican, not much of a capitalist, and nobody's sweetheart, have little enough concern whether Ms Penney ever sleeps on high-thread-count sheets again; when she's having trouble staying out of the rain I'll sympathize. But then, I have complete sympathy for someone who's been the victim of a crime, particularly one which has been facilitated by people who are those things. And I don't have any sympathy for someone who is those things and suddenly finds common ground with the common man six weeks after saying (of you know who):
Noreen, I'll back you up a bit. If I had $150,000 to spend, I think I'd run right out to Escada. Or Prada. Or any other -ada where you could get such gorgeous garments.

For fuck's sake: either you believe the biggest piggies deserve the teats, or you don't; bad news about the economy (and your own "cutting back") either counts for nothing, or you're a liar. Ms Penney chose to pursue the sort of stuff-centric life you were drooling over just last October. Now she's suddenly less human for having done so.

• Rick Warren To Deliver Inaugural Invocation. 

I've said it before, I'll say it again: it was one of those rare elections where if you did vote you now have no right to bitch.

Wednesday, December 17

Have We Lost The Ability To Tell The Truth, Or Is It Just Permanently Misplaced?

I SWITCHED on the teevee this morning, as part of the continuing melee involving things I record, things I have time to watch, and the inadequate amount of disc space available for keeping things I'll never get around to watching. Every so often I take the time to transfer something to DVD, so I can file that away and ignore it. And the teevee was set to CBS, because my Poor Wife, God love her, insists on imagining that Indianapolis Public Schools might one day delay the start of classes when the roads are a skating rink, even though she knows it'll never happen, so she'd been checking the local weather/traffic reports. Before I could switch to the list of recorded programs the CBS morning show was on me, and this being the Top of the Hour, they were covering two actual minutes of actual "news", or near-news. And the top story was the Madoff business, and Whomever It Was was speaking to Michael Santoli, the associate editor at Baron's in charge of being telegenic. (And by the way, can we do away with this sort of thing now that everything's crashed in a heap? If nothing else, on the grounds that the inverse Good Looks-to-Ability-to-Speak ratio of the past quarter century has brought us nothing but exponential increases in Bad Luck? I'd like to get my financial news and analysis from someone saggy for a change. Save the hunks and bunnies for celebrity gossip; it's not like they won't dominate 95% of your broadcast anyway. Maybe it's just me, but considering all that's gone on the past eight years, maybe turning over serious news to people who don't look like they might have a mistress with a coke habit stashed somewhere they're having trouble affording, or like any given night before they might have imbibed any given club drug, would be a good idea, or at least a nice gesture.)

Anyway, Santoli says something to the effect that, well, the SEC is feeling some embarrassment right now, because it thinks more could have been done to uncover the problem, but it's really not possible to catch a well-run Ponzi scheme any quicker. Which prompts Whomever It Is to ask, "Then what regulations should we put in place so people can feel safe about their investments?"

Whoa, there Little Lady. Did you say regulations? Because within that fifteen seconds the world shifted on its axis. We don't need more regulations, says Mr. Santoli's suit; we just need investigators to do a better job. These, of course, being the very same investigators who moments before had no way to detect such a scheme before people experienced enormous losses.

It turned out the Madoff story had replaced the Blagojevich saga as today's #1 hit; the Embattled Illinois Governor might want to consider hiring an escort or accidentally overdosing on prescription medication if he's desperate to regain the top spot. This morning's shocking revelation was that Rahm Emanuel had had "detailed discussions" concerning the appointment of Valerie Jarrett to the seat Mr. Senator Obama is vacating. This, of course, plus the news that Jessie Jackson, Jr.'s political career is in such disarray that he decided announcing that he'd been a long-time, secret, and, apparently, remarkably ineffective police informant sounded like a step up. Though this is not exactly how the story was reported. (In fairness to CBS, all it did report was that Jackson, Jr. sources were saying this.)

(Jackson, Jr.'s story was treated as a revelation elsewhere, despite the fact that part of it consisted of his recollection, years later, that Blagojevitch had asked him for a campaign contribution, perhaps in exchange for Jackson's wife getting the top state Lotto post. Perhaps several years from now someone will think to ask him why his wife was up for the top Lotto post in the first place.)

Now, far be it from us to question the news judgment of professionals, but we are sometimes left to wonder whether "thinking things through" is simply discouraged or is explicitly banned. The story probably owes more to timing than anything else--except hair, maybe; have we considered, as a nation, how often our news stories, as reported by people whose careers revolve around image, turn out to revolve around hair?--but I think it likely that the teleprompter readers and Op-Ed editors figured Blagojevich would be gone by the weekend. Now they're teetering on the brink of a major story which will involve Nothing But Talk, and frequently coming from the mouths of a State Attorney General or legislative whip. Not exactly public restroom toe-tapping code when it comes to Ratings Gold, is it?

The alternative is setting up a lasting whiff of Eau de Scandale Présidentielle. Again, we're not suggesting conspiracy, just the way the "news"business works; in my lifetime we've had Sherman Adams (Eisenhower; Nixon's Checkers speech predates me), Bobby Baker, Billy Sol Estes (LBJ), Beebee Rebozo (Nixon), Burt Lance (Carter), the entire Reagan administration, and Everything but the Kitchen Sink (Clinton), while somehow the guy who'd traded his family name and access for twenty-five years of self-enrichment while drunk as a Freshman got a pass. So I guess we'll see. Still, as Bob Somerby and others have pointed out, "alleged", which used to be the eighth most-used word on the evening news, after "the", "a(n)", "be", "in", "hair", and "thundershower activity", suddenly dropped off the charts last weekend, only to sheepishly return once it became clear Governor Blagojevitch wasn't gonna bust out cryin' like Duke Cunningham, and video of his 18th century French commode would not be immediately forthcoming.

The whole thing's topped off--for the political internets habitué, not the intended network audience--by memories of a snowy Fitzmas long ago, the bright, cold days when legions of Left Blogtopians imagined they could almost hear hoofbeats on the roof. That one too involved crusading I-dotter Patrick Fitzgerald, who took a slam-dunk case of national security violations made for partisan gain reaching at least to the Most Repugnant and Least-Competent Marksman in our history of Vice-Presidents, and turned it into a single perjury trap for one of his aides. Somebody call Vegas and check on the odds of Blagojevitch being struck by lightning while still in office in 2010.

Monday, December 15

Hey, Slate, I've Counted Twice Now And I Keep Coming Up With An Extra Chromosome

Jennifer Olmstead, XX Factor: "Spirited Defense of the Imaginary Accomplishments of Our 40th President". December 11

YOU may have noticed I have a minor obsession with the Date of Birth. It dates to 1980, to a car trip with my Poor Wife, her father, who was driving, and her baby brother, riding shotgun; I have no idea at this point where we might have been going. They lived an hour's drive away from us, so we would have had a vehicle of our own, and it's odd that Mom was absent, but that was the lineup. And the radio was on, and we get to the newsbreak, where the top story, as always in that benighted time, was the Iranian hostages, and baby brother says (I'm approximating), "We should just take 500 of them, and start killing one every hour until they release ours."

I can't swear to it, but I think some variation on "towel-head" might have made an appearance in there somewhere.

Now, I'm from Indiana; I've been inured, of necessity, to gleefully unalloyed racist genocidal fantasies coupling with almost Disney-esque imaginings of the power and abilities of the US military, not to mention the universal assumption of any and all proponents of the above that every white person within earshot wholeheartedly agrees, most of my life. What shook me up about the thing was that at the time, Baby Brother Ray was a first-class teenage hellion. I believe that by this point he'd wrapped two vehicles around trees while under the influence of Quaaludes, one while under the driving age and the other, of course, while under court order to avoid driving until he was eighteen. And as I recall these were two of his more positive contributions to society, on the grounds that he was at least being influenced by something, or something other than the plastic phantasmagoria of American cultural life as it haphazardly rains on Her teenaged boys like a particularly virulent case of dandruff. So I had two objections: that one really ought not aver murderousness in defense of the supposed foreign policy objectives of a nation whose most basic, lives-of-fellow-patriots-protecting traffic regulations you were not prepared to acknowledge, and that, while it was fine to smash cars into private property, provided you endangered no one but yourself, doing so on drugs was an insult to the drugs. Drugs were supposed to be taken to enjoy life, or to figure out something about it; to enhance the sexual experience or, more often in my own case, to obtain the sexual experience. None of this had anything to do with driving, unless you had to drive somewhere before you did it. Screwing this up was a faux-pas, perhaps forgivable in cases of youth; but screwing it up while identifying with the more rabid anti-humanist nationalist faction of a country which was pursuing a war, not on these supposed foreign enemies, but on you and your drugs was simply unforgivable. My snap evaluation was confirmed, that Christmas or the next, when he asked his sister and me for the latest Rush album.

(I'm probably also obligated to point out, in case the School Board is looking in, that he was nearly a decade younger than his siblings, whom the chemical hedonism of the Sixties had, within reason, passed by. For example [Opposites Attract!], my wife's intoxicants of choice, by the time I met her, were nicotine and white wine spritzers; one of the things I liked about her immediately was that having her to windward when the joint was going around meant it got back to you one step quicker, and she was never so stoned she fell asleep holding it.)

It's certainly not as if this were unprecedented, nor I somehow unaware of those native tendencies toward political solutions inspired by the Tokyo Fire Bombings, but the time frame has always stuck in my head, and I've always been acutely aware that the later notion of what might be thought of as the Ron and Nancy Reagan Youth Reeducation Program was already in place, and in part quite unnecessary, throughout the 70s. (I had, in fact, experienced plenty of it myself, in public school early in the decade. Be like your idols Sonny and Cher, kids!)

Marihuana! You'd'a thought The Bard in the English Setter Vest might've been a little more savvy in his choice of intoxicant to battle. Acid? Smack? The only thing I've ever been able to figure out is that he wanted the world to marvel that the man who could sum up the breakneck pace of a world gone mad in a single line--'Lectric'ly they keep a baseball score!--wasn't even high at the time. Ironically, of course, Cher's later career is due entirely to the easy availability of poppers.

Like any other generalization, one's DOB is no predictor of individual behavior, and it may be that the whole idea is just a pot flashback of mine--I wouldn't know, would I?--but it is interesting to see the number of Reagantots--Brooks, Reynolds, most of the Cornerites, e.g.--who view the era of their youth and/or young adulthood in a sort of universal sunny pastel haze not unlike the more earth- or jewel-toned hazes of my own formative years, but tougher, apparently, to climb back out of. Unlike the more common form of inebriation, Reagan intoxication seems to prevent one from ever wondering where the hell he'd gotten to last night, what he did once he was there, or why his pants are on backwards.

Which brings us to Slate, and the XX Factor, and someone called Jennifer Olmstead. I don't know whether she's the same Jennifer Olmstead who's an associate professor of economics at Drew University, and I don't know anything about Professor Olmstead even if I did. She's the stated author of what might be termed the ultimate Slate post, (entitled, or not, "Rapidly Aging Jailbait"), as it does not seem to exist at all beyond its capsule description on the front page of a day or so back (how's that for contrarianism?). Clicking the link brings one forward into the present, which is not a bad thing except you're still at Slate. The piece apparently stated, or did not state, depending on which shoebox you opened, that she is a newlywed, and suggests that her new hubby is a twenty-two year old notable for a culturally-deprived upbringing innocent of the teachings of The Karate Kid, a movie which predates his presumed birth. Or the face before he was born. We note here simply that tongue-in-cheekiness works best when the tongue is planted firmly. While we're at it, one should never, ever write anything even mildly approaching "deeefinitely". Not even while twittering.

Mrs./Professor/Schrödinger Kitten/Ms Olmstead writes:
Newsflash: Bush Isn't the Culprit (!!!)
Posted Thursday, December 11, 2008 5:21 PM | By Jennifer Olmstead
It was REAGAN all along, after all these years!
"The financial crisis is not only a cause of our national malaise," says Good's Jeffrey Sachs, "but also a symptom of the deeper wrong turn that America made decades ago, when Ronald Reagan declared that government had to get out of the way to restore the national economy. After a wild decade of high inflation and soaring energy prices in the 1970s, Reagan made government the enemy. From that point on, the name of the game was to cut taxes, shrink government, and allow the magic of the market to deliver the goods."
Cutting taxes? Shrinking government? Relying on the free market? The horror!

(I'm sorry. Somehow in the above we left out the bit about three or more exclamation points, especially when using even one, parenthetically or no, overpowers what little of actual substance you actually have to say.)

Now, while we don't know (deeeefinitely) whether Ms Olmstead is an associate professor of economics, we know for certain that Jeffrey Sachs was one of the youngest professors of economics Harvard has ever had, and that he's currently Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs and a Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia's School of Public Health. And we know he was born in 1954, which means he might actually have some experience of the Reagan administration and its aftermath, unlike the bizarro world second-generation Xerox of a defense spouting here:
Luckily, Sachs proclaims, all is not lost. We've entered the age of Obama (who, incidentally, happens/ed to like Reagan and what he did for our country—at least until he realized he wasn't supposed to), and as soon as we learn to stop worrying and love ... taxes—which are, apparently, "the price we pay for civilization" and the only choice we have, with "the budget pushing toward $1 trillion"—then we'll fix the world, walk on water, community will be restored, and our blasted economy will stand up on weak legs and dance.

So long as we screw Reagan, who didn't, like, pick the country up off the brink of a major recession; create 17 million new jobs; cut black unemployment in half; do a little tax reform; restore the idea that the private individuals/businesses, not the government, were the source of prosperity; and work out a few minor misunderstandings with the Soviet Union ... or anything like that.

Again, absent more evidence we're not going to accuse Ms Olmstead of being an economist, but "hagiographer" is already settled. We remind you, once again, that the Reagan economy is neatly bounded by the remarks of Donald Regan, Secretary of the Treasury, in April 1981, to the effect that the spring Market rebound was due to the "anticipation" of those wonderful Reagan economic and tax policies which had yet to be enacted, and by the remarks of Donald Regan, White House Chief of Staff, surveying the wreckage of Black Monday, 1987, to the effect that the administration had never claimed to have overturned the business cycle.

So: 1) the Recession(s) of 1980-82 were man-made, the result of Fed actions (in October 1979, when Carter-appointee Paul Volcker took over as Chairman) designed to combat inflation (then running at over 14% a year) full-on, instead of trying to balance that against fears of recession and unemployment. Unemployment went up, and Carter lost his reelection bid, but in two years it worked; by the time the money supply was loosened inflation was broken and would remain so for two decades. This had nothing whatever to do with Ronald Reagan, prophet of Trendy Anti-Keynesianism. 2) Reagan's 2% job creation record is the worst for any post-war President not named Bush, and is accompanied by a growth in real wages of less than half that. 3) "Cutting black unemployment" is just a silly bit of Reagan apologetics you picked up somewhere and stuck on sideways before the icing set. Unemployment among African-Americans was twice that of whites when Reagan took office, and twice that when he left; it's one of those matters which just seem to be argued the way the Bad Guys throw sand in the hero's eyes in cinematic fisticuffs. 4) "Doing a little tax reform" included (off the top o' me head) lowering the top marginal rates twice and raising them once, giving rise simultaneously to a generation of people claiming this (the lowering) was the source of The Miracle, and a generation of people ignoring the fact that the results say exactly the opposite. It is this, I think, where Sachs' case really lies, the conflation of improved economic activity (as compared to the 1970s, economically worst decade after WWII, at least prior to our current one) with the much more successful PR campaign for tax giveaways to the wealthy. Between WWII and 1980 rising wealth indeed lifted all boats, with the bottom 20% doing the best; since then, with the exception of the Clinton years, only the top 20% have prospered. 5) Sorry, but "restore(d) the idea that the private individuals/businesses, not the government, were the source of prosperity" is just moisture-laden breath on a cold window, with more than a hint of gin; and 6) the Solitary Hero of the Cold War business is too, except that it also involved increasing the military budget to nearly half again its size at the height of the Vietnam war, despite the fact that we knew, for certain, by the late 70s that the Soviets were about to go belly up. Apparently it was necessary to keep this quiet at the time so that thirty years into the future total no-nothings could make solid pronouncements about how wildly successful it was. With a 100% certainty of success.

Sunday, December 14

You People Detest Boomer Politics So Much, Why Is It Your Nose That's Still In Bill Clinton's Crotch?

Peter Baker,"Acid Test: Memories of Bill Clinton's Impeachment, as Obama's Staff Faces Scandal in Illinois". December 14

OR Hugh Fucking Hefner's, for that matter. What demographic's keeping that show afloat?

And who, exactly, is responsible for dreaming up this turd of a think-piece?
Ten years ago this week, Bill Clinton became the first elected president ever impeached by the House of Representatives, the culmination of a sex-and-lies scandal that consumed the nation and fractured the political system. Although he was eventually acquitted by the Senate, the scars run deep even as veterans of that showdown return to power under a new president promising to repair the breach that still divides Washington.

First, eventually acquitted? It took, like, ten minutes; certainly less time than it took Rehnquist to design that stupid robe of his. Unless you want to start counting from the time the bloated corpse of impeachment was found floating belly up in the Tidal Basin, in which case (since we're so interested in historical precedent that we needed to find a way to make Clinton sound like the first President to be impeached) Bill Clinton was the first President, elected, succeeding, appointed, or breathing, to ever be acquitted before the fucking impeachment took place. Baker wrote The Breach, the ultimate Beltway insider tick-tock about the Clinton impeachment; you'd imagine he'd have a little better grasp on the timeframe.
As key members of Mr. Clinton’s defense a decade ago, Mr. Podesta, his chief of staff; Mr. Emanuel, his senior adviser; and Mr. Craig, his special counsel, bring the lessons of that searing moment to the table as they now serve in President-elect Barack Obama’s inner circle. They learned the imperatives of moving quickly, closing ranks, controlling information and never conceding an inch when the president faces a threat, strategies employed with varying degrees of effectiveness back then.

For crying out fucking loud, Gregory Craig was born in 1945; he was practicing law in DC during Watergate. John Podesta (b. 1949) worked in the Carter Administration. Rahm Emanuel was born in 1959. No doubt the hunting of President Clinton--which had been in full swing for seven years by the time impeachment rolled around--informs something of their present approach to responding to Slimy Partisan Politics and the Newspapers of Record which Enable Them; God knows it gave 'em all enough practice. But I'm going to wager here that each man is familiar with the broader picture of the partisan low-road in America from 1980 on, possibly even including the continuing fucking attacks on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fer chrissakes. If so this would apparently disqualify any of them for writing for the Times.

And look: even if we were able to make the case for Clinton's impeachment as some sort of Prime Mover of Modern Partisanship. so fucking what?  Which party threw a succession of haymakers at the other's groin? It wasn't an eight-year stalking of lying under oath; it was eight years trying to resuscitate a land-deal swindle (with the Clintons as swindlees), the facts of which were already quite clear when the Times decided (for some reason) to reopen the case to mark the beginning of the Clinton presidency. In fact it is the very measure of how things work that you can reprint this nonsense as 2008 draws to a close without being pitchforked by an enormous mob of people eternally pissed off about your role in ginning the whole thing up in the first place. "[M]oving quickly, closing ranks, controlling information and never conceding an inch", are those some sort of Clinton administration discovery? How can anyone with a passing familiarity with Democratic politics in the Era Begun with the Impeachment of Bill Clinton miss the fact that the Democratic rank-and-file, at least, clamor for more of that sort of Republican-esque, hit-back-twice-and-never-apologize behavior, and blame passivity in the face of underhanded Republican tactics, at least in part, for their big losses in 1980 through 1988? How can anyone discuss current partisanship without reference to Lee Atwater, at the least? Other than working for the Times, of course?

If there's one thing, one thing that wasn't already understood about the Republican party by the time impeachment rolled around it was the degree to which it stood ready to burn everything to the ground using its own marrow for tinder, rather than admit error, let alone defeat. In other words, it served as a preview of the Bush administration, which we may or may not have just barely survived, and which, I'd like to remind the Times, was marked by large-scale capitulation ("cooperation") from Democrats even as it fell into the subbasement of Harry Truman's approval numbers.  

Why would Podesta, Emanuel, and Craig be informed by those tactics? Because, whether they employ them with glee or dolor, they're necessary. Because in no case will it ever take more than ten minutes before what's left of the Republican party tries to exploit whatever flimsy excuse for ginned-up outrages comes its way. And because it won't be more than a week before the New York Times has linked it, no matter how, to Bill Clinton's cock.

Friday, December 12

Friday Bush Farewell Tour Vol. II: Well, That's Settled

I DON'T suppose even the most ardent Republican hater could have imagined just how awful a Chief Executizer George W. Bush would turn out to be, seeing as how "unprecedented" only begins to cover it, but even so, for me, the "acceptance" speech that terrible December 13 eight years ago--whether God in His Infinite Crankiness could have made it Friday the 13th, and if so why He didn't, is one for the theologians--maybe He was in a snit because we'd ignored the Boil thing--still represents a nadir of sorts;. I listened--no, I'm serious--intending to give the man a chance; within a couple minutes I had vowed never to forgive or forget what he said. And though he could have made me eat those words, even by just turning out to be a moderate Republican problem-solver, I felt confident that what the man had made of this "opportunity"--facing what was unquesionably the most gravid acceptance speech in the history of the Presidency, he gave birth to a misshapen two-headed microencephalic, the mindless homilies of a State Treasurer's victory celebration with one of his own empty stump speeches growing out of its back--told just about everything you'd want to know about him. That he proved so much worse in reality is due to a combination of factors, not all driven, but none overcome, certainly, by his multi-faceted lack of talent. And if one knew even then the boundless evil that is Karl Rove, or Dick Cheney, or that informs the banality of the Bush Crime Family; even though one suspected (in fact, had seen) the capacity of the mass-market Press for puffing and fluffing a President with no discernible positive qualities; even as the cocktail proved more toxic than all these combined, a Gestalt of noxiousness, still, the cold hard slap in the face of December 13, when we fully confronted the reality that not only had a man been appointed President of The Most Powerful Nation On Earth For Some Of The Next Eight Years, but that the man in question was completely hollow.

Let's follow along, shall we? No doubt with better reading comprehension than his?
Thank you all.


Thank you very much. Thank you.

Thank you very much. Good evening, my fellow Americans. I appreciate so very much the opportunity to speak with you tonight.

Okay, so I don't want to get all nit-picky right at the start, but it's now five weeks since you lost the popular vote, and your fellow Americans have seen or heard you twice in that time, leaning on a fence while your team talked to reporters. It's not as though you didn't know where the camera trucks were parked.
Mr. Speaker, Lieutenant Governor, friends, distinguished guests, our country has been through a long and trying period, with the outcome of the presidential election not finalized for longer than any of us could ever imagine.

Though, as it turned out, not nearly long enough. Never would have been preferable. Hopeless deadlock and turmoil would have been a major improvement.
Vice President Gore and I put our hearts and hopes into our campaigns. We both gave it our all. We shared similar emotions, so I understand how difficult this moment must be for Vice President Gore and his family.

Okay, this is where I simply abandoned hope, though maybe it's just me. What th' fuck does Hallmark have to do with this? This is perhaps what might have been said between them, given that George W. Bush has no talent whatever for word usage, (unless you consider mangling a talent) but it just seemed too creepy by half to me. The man had at least seen professional athletes, right?  I mean, you say, "Wow, that 2-1 slider just hung up a little bit, and I was just trying to get my bat on it, you know?  I never thought it'd get out of the park." You do not say, "Well, my first thought was that his wife and kids were probably watching. My heart goes out to them." It's a parody of Nice, and it comes from a man who obviously thinks politics is all about entitlement, and in case of a tie, decided by a pissing contest.

And this was supposed to be an address to the public, and god knows the public had suffered, too; millions of its component parts had just seen their votes flushed down the toilet in the most jaw-droppingly partisan act ever to occur in the annals of American jurisprudence. They will wait in vain for their condolences from this jerk.

Add to it that the entire sentiment rings doubly false. It makes it sound like Gore was faced with a heart-breaking but necessary concession; he could have chosen to denounce the gang of lying bastards led by Bill "Light Opera" Rehnquist. But Gore, sadly for the rest of us, had chosen the honorable thing. The other thing, of course, is that George W. Bush had no freakin' idea in the world what Al Gore was going through; Bush had never lost anything in his life other than his dignity, his balance, and his driving and flying privileges.
He has a distinguished record of service to our country as a congressman, a senator and a vice president.

This evening I received a gracious call from the vice president. We agreed to meet early next week in Washington and we agreed to do our best to heal our country after this hard-fought contest.

And, as usual, George W. Bush was as good as his word. What, do you imagine, did Al Gore have to offer to get Bush to promise "to do his best"? Do you think "spend the first six weeks claiming Clinton trashed the White House" or "give everybody nicknames" were Gore's prescriptions for national healing?
Tonight I want to thank all the thousands of volunteers and campaign workers who worked so hard on my behalf.

And here I remember thinking, "Is this a fucking Oscar speech?" I mean, thank your supporters at the end, or on your own time, but not before you address the majority of voters, you know, the ones who voted for the other guy?
I also salute the vice president and his supports for waging a spirited campaign. And I thank him for a call that I know was difficult to make. Laura and I wish the vice president and Senator Lieberman and their families the very best.

Again with the fucking phone call! And that "spirited campaign", which is how you describe something that finished eight points back, not ahead of you.
I have a lot to be thankful for tonight.

Yeah, we know. And at our expense.
I'm thankful for America and thankful that we were able to resolve our electoral differences in a peaceful way.

Okay, it's not fair to blame George W. Bush for this, and God knows that politicians, especially Republican politicians, seem to imagine that the American public needs more reassurance than a child heading into major surgery, but then again, maybe if Bush were actually familiar with any other country on the face of the earth--and no, a lost weekend in Nuevo Laredo doesn't count--this might sound a little more convincing.
I'm thankful to the American people for the great privilege of being able to serve as your next president.

I want to thank my wife and our daughters for their love. Laura's active involvement as first lady has made Texas a better place, and she will be a wonderful first lady of America.


Okay, again with the tangents, which might have been appropriate if he'd been speaking to a bunch of drunken Bush Pioneers at the Houston Marriott after winning on election night. He wasn't.
I am proud to have Dick Cheney by my side, and America will be proud to have him as our next vice president.


Indeed. It was an historic night; the last time the name "Dick Cheney" elicited applause.
Tonight I chose to speak from the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives because it has been a home to bipartisan cooperation. Here in a place where Democrats have the majority, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we represent.

It's the fucking Texas State Legislature. Using that as an example of your bipartisan outreach is like saying you've worked with leading Civil Rights leaders because you had lunch with J.C. Watts.
Blah blah Texas, blah, Texas blah blah [snip]

The spirit of cooperation I have seen in this hall is what is needed in Washington, D.C. It is the challenge of our moment. After a difficult election, we must put politics behind us and work together to make the promise of America available for every one of our citizens.

I am optimistic that we can change the tone in Washington, D.C.

I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past.

Our nation must rise above a house divided. Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreements.

And with that promise began the transfer of power to the greatest collection of lying political hacks and criminal sociopaths ever assembled in a single city, an administration which would set the tone in its first hours by ginning up reports of White House vandalism and gifts to the American people unlawfully removed by the previous occupants.
Republicans want the best for our nation, and so do Democrats. Our votes may differ, but not our hopes.

"Nope, whatever our various choice of race, creed, or political philosophy, at heart we're all just lookin' to line our own pockets. And I pledge to you mine will be the most American administration in history in that regard."
I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want progress. And we must seize this moment and deliver.

Together, guided by a spirit of common sense, common courtesy and common goals, we can unite and inspire the American citizens.

Examples? Anyone?

And let me say, without giving the rest away, that by now I was thoroughly convinced that Bush had no intention whatsoever of addressing directly the millions of voters, the majority of voters, who'd voted for the other guy and seen the election swiped by a banana republic of a state run by his brother and a Supreme Court run by pimps, pickpockets, and sexual degenerates. The more the motherfucker told me he was intending to inspire our commonality the more I was convinced it was a good time to start hoarding gold.
Together, we will work to make all our public schools excellent, teaching every student of every background and every accent, so that no child is left behind.

Together we will save Social Security and renew its promise of a secure retirement for generations to come.

Together we will strengthen Medicare and offer prescription drug coverage to all of our seniors.

I gotta tell ya, when I found my copy of the speech and I saw that I was dumbfounded to learn he'd actually said something that night that proved to be close to the truth. Though of course all the rest of it proved to be worse than wrong.
Together we will give Americans the broad, fair and fiscally responsible tax relief they deserve.

Together we'll have a bipartisan foreign policy true to our values and true to our friends, and we will have a military equal to every challenge and superior to every adversary.

Together we will address some of society's deepest problems one person at a time, by encouraging and empowering the good hearts and good works of the American people.

This is the essence of compassionate conservatism and it will be a foundation of my administration.

Thus do all Americans stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and wave goodbye to the Good Ship Compassionate Conservatism, which vanished mysteriously the minute it got out of sight.
These priorities are not merely Republican concerns or Democratic concerns; they are American responsibilities.

During the fall campaign, we differed about the details of these proposals, but there was remarkable consensus about the important issues before us: excellent schools, retirement and health security, tax relief, a strong military, a more civil society.

We have discussed our differences. Now it is time to find common ground and build consensus to make America a beacon of opportunity in the 21st century.

Though in the event he only managed to make it a target of opportunity.
I'm optimistic this can happen. Our future demands it and our history proves it. Two hundred years ago, in the election of 1800, America faced another close presidential election. A tie in the Electoral College put the outcome into the hands of Congress.

After six days of voting and 36 ballots, the House of Representatives elected Thomas Jefferson the third president of the United States. That election brought the first transfer of power from one party to another in our new democracy.

Shortly after the election, Jefferson, in a letter titled "Reconciliation and Reform," wrote this. "The steady character of our countrymen is a rock to which we may safely moor; unequivocal in principle, reasonable in manner. We should be able to hope to do a great deal of good to the cause of freedom and harmony."

At this point I remember I had passed beyond lividity into a great pacific calm of the sort one probably experiences just before shooting up a post office.

The Election of 2000 resembled 1800 only in that the party on the losing end of the popular vote had the juice where it counted and was able to bollox things up; in all other regards it was nothing like it. Jefferson was the overwhelming winner of the popular vote and was understood by the voters to be the Republican/Democrat choice for President, with Burr for Veep. But they wound up tied, turning the thing over to the still-Federalist-controlled House. 1800 was a sea-change in Congress as well, whereas in 2000 Bush's party lost seats in both chambers. In 1800 the logjam in the Electoral College was precisely the result of the way the law was then written; in 2000 the election was decided by a Court which had no Constitutional basis for inserting itself. And, for that matter, in 1800, though somewhat delayed, the House did finally see fit to do what was understood as right. I'm sure you can compare that one with 2000 without my help.

The real precedent, of course, as frequently remarked upon at the time, was the Stolen Election of 1876, which gave the country Rutherford B. Hayes, the disastrous withdrawal of Federal troops enforcing the Reconstruction, and the first use of Federal troops to gun down striking workers. The latter two became traditions which lasted well into the 20th century; the precedent of throwing an illicitly-appointed President out on his ass after one term sadly remained a one-time, 19th century event.

Of course, it's tough to come up with a really good platitude about 1876, and comparing Bush to the great, near-great, highly-regarded, or simply fictionally competent would remain a parlor game for the Right throughout both his first and second ignominies. Jefferson, Churchill, Wilson, John Wayne, Flash Gordon, and Jesus all made appearances; later it was Truman, Hoover, Imelda Marcos, and Ham, the First Chimp in Space. That was after they'd run out of uses for him.
I have something else to ask you, to ask every American. I ask for you to pray for this great nation. I ask for your prayers for leaders from both parties. I thank you for your prayers for me and my family, and I ask you to pray for Vice President Gore and his family.

I was pretty certain by this time that we didn't have a prayer.
I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation.

The president of the United States is the president of every single American, of every race and every background.

Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests and I will work to earn your respect.

I will be guided by President Jefferson's sense of purpose, to stand for principle, to be reasonable in manner, and above all, to do great good for the cause of freedom and harmony.

The presidency is more than an honor. It is more than an office. It is a charge to keep, and I will give it my all.

We are, mercifully, at the end of the thing, except for his parting "Thanks, and may God show you more mercy in the future than He's shown tonight" bit. And he's never once looked me, or any other Gore voter, in the eye. He's never once acknowledged that we might have any reason to be irate about this turn of events; it's just a Tough Loss. I'd have forgiven him, really, if he'd simply acknowledged losing the popular vote. That's all I asked. I grant you the forgiveness wouldn't have survived his inaugural speech, but that, too, was ungraciousness personified. Like all that business about Gore, and his feelings, and his need for prayers: if someone with human feeling is touched by such an act he responds with genuine emotion, not with his best good wishes and an offer to do lunch. It was clear, then and there, even before the sliming of the Clintons began in earnest, what this guy was all about. I can't say that I was caught slack-jawed when the first three months of his administration was consumed by cheap attacks on his predecessor. And I sure understood the desire to keep the actual President as far away from microphones as possible.

Thursday, December 11

1. Affect A Monocle. 2. Don A Boater. 3. Three Words: Rickrack Is Back.

Jack Shafer, "Unsolicited advice for David Gregory". December 9

The media fuss wasn't so much about the importance of who was good enough to sit in Russert's chair but—like the over-coverage of Russert's death, funeral, and memorial service—another demonstration of the Washington press corps's extraordinary high regard for itself. All the conjecture reinforced the notion that the people who ask politicians questions are so very, very important. But Meet the Press draws an average of only 3.7 million viewers, making it a TV flyspeck compared with ABC's Dancing With the Stars, which recently drew an audience of 21 million....

The most difficult aspect of a Sunday-morning show is source maintenance. Until Sunday show moderators obtain subpoena power, they've got to keep politicians feeling good about themselves or else they won't come on. Russert was a master of source maintenance, which made his show a destination for politicians. For all his legendary hardness as an interviewer, most of Russert's pitches were hittable. For example, throwing up on a screen those trademark graphics that proved that his interview subject had flip-flopped was completely overrated. A politician had contradicted himself? Is a hypocrite? Double wow. As Tom Carson wrote for Esquire in 2004, "Russert rarely shows much interest in which position is wrong." This shtick was completely beatable.

I HAVE no idea why it is that moments of close agreement so often bode ill. It's like your table is on its third round, and some guy says, "You know, Katherine Hepburn is the most overrated actor in the history of cinema," and you're just about to permit yourself to think that he might have some depth heretofore hidden, when he adds, "Let's all strip down, coat ourselves with Crisco, and get arrested while urinating on her grave."

Look, Jack: you came so close to the target there that there can't be any question of your recognizing it. For almost twenty years Russert played the Monday Headline game. He dedicated an hour of the nation's airtime each Sunday morning--ostensibly the one hour remaining on the nation's air devoted to in-depth political discussion--to an endless search for the sort of stupid gotchas he tried to pull on Hillary Clinton using a quote from her husband (later excused on the grounds that "the Press always gangs up on the front-runner", remember?). He was an educated man in a powerful position, not just the clowning moderator for a measly 3.7 million viewers. He was the VP of NBC News and its Washington Bureau Chief through a period where severe staff contractions, plus his gargantuan ego*, made him seem like the voice of NBC News--particularly after the equally vacuous Tom Brokaw left--and as MSNBC turned into Russert's own children's choir. And yet, with a place on some portion of the American power grid lasting a quarter-century, Russert never once seems to have questioned whether this is the way politics ought to proceed. Gotcha! He's the most massive tuber inside the Beltway, but it never occurs to him that bartering The Game for access is wrong or unnecessary.

So, tell us, Jack: what should the new guy do about it?
Get rid of the Russert regulars. Who hasn't heard enough from James Carville and Mary Matalin by now? Hasn't plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin run out of gas? Doesn't William Safire phone it in? Can't NBC do the right thing and give Andrea Mitchell her own show?

Quick, somebody hide the Crisco! I'm gonna hope that your Inner Kathy Griffin took over there. "The right thing" regarding Mrs. Greenspan is for some NBC insider with a shred of human decency to turn over the evidence so it can be put before a Grand Jury. As for the rest, y'know, I think a better suggestion is that we Get Over people Getting Over people. The problem with the above--maybe excepting Safir(e), since his problems are legion--is that they basically can be guaranteed to play right along with the supposed middle ground of American experience while giving the illusion of wide-ranging opinion. Well, that and Matalin's buggy as August ditchwater. Please, let us stick to the analysis and rid ourselves of people because they've settled comfortably into a role we do not need, and never did, not because some guy I'm tired of is tired of them.
And why does the mere sight of David Broder, Bob Shrum, E.J. Dionne, or Peggy Noonan on television make me want to kill myself?

Well, sometimes we oughtn't fight our impulses, but, y'know, I hope it's because they're all professional clowns, not simply the number of times they've been on or an unfashionable age bracket, as defined by someone younger who'd like one of those seats.
Blacklisting these usual guests from the Meet the Press round table and recruiting a younger band of participants would mark the passing of an era and acknowledge the arrival of a young president. It's not even a very radical step. Russert was known to experiment with formula, adding Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh to the mix

[emphasis mine]The Crisco's locked up, right? Jesus, how 'bout recruiting a panel of mulattoes? Or people with prominent ears? Maybe secret Muslims. And yeah, more shake-'em-up ideas like adding Drudge and Limbaugh, which, in any reasonable world, would have landed Russert in prison.
Invent a great gimmick. Russert had a dozen gimmicks. He had the flip-flop graphic. He had Buffalo. The Bills. His blue collar. The whiteboard. His dad.

Three-point-Seven Million Americans Can't Be Wrong!
Gregory needs a similar signature, and I've got just the thing. Good politicians are evasion artists, able to field a difficult question without answering it and making it sound as though they did. When confronted with such maneuvers, Gregory could pursue his prey with three follow-up questions. If the politician didn't answer satisfactorily, Gregory could give his best grin and say, "Senator, that's three and you're out" and move on to the next question. If deployed artfully, "That's three and you're out" could become the most feared phrase in political reporting and just maybe it could get politicians to respond truthfully.

Okay, let's just stop, since, among other things, it's obvious that we've written an article with advice for David Gregory, and we ran out of ideas before we reached #2. How about this: we blow up everything that is vile, double-dealing, fatuous, fallacious, and unnecessary about Russertism, Jack Welch worship, Sunday "news" thumbsucking, and "American journalism" in general, and, in acknowledging not the Shining Promise of a New President but the horrific consequences of the Old One, his party, and the cozy relationship with the mainstream Press that made it all possible, we try to atone for that somewhat? Say for thirty minutes out of every unnecessary hour? That we find people who were willing to criticize Russert while he was alive, not sling shit about his funeral; that we have newspaper reporters function as newspaper reporters, instead of inept semi-entertainers; that we look up from our expense vouchers long enough to recognize why it is people turn to the internets and--even at their current pathetic levels--away from The Sundays and the nets in general, and start putting everyone on notice? We play this shadow game of fact-checking politicians who're speaking extemporaneously, but we never quizzed Tim Russert about his carefree approach to epistemology. Three strikes and you're out? Could we have booted Timmeh from that October debate for making the whole thing about Hillary?  Kicked him off his own show for going on about Louis Farrakhan long after he'd thrown four straight in the dirt? Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh got exposure at Meet the Press. When did their filthy stinking lies ever get exposed?

Maybe, forty years after the birth of Happy Talk news and Faux Balance and America is a Center-Right Country ™ Brand reportage, we could experiment with covering the news again. Maybe we could ban the trivialities and the tabloidisms, and ban anyone who doesn't observe the ban while we're at it. Three-point-seven. That's about as many Americans as watch the average network program because they can't find the fucking remote in order to change it. Maybe we could forget all about how much slucing is required to get the average lying politician to agree to appear, and see how many Americans would tune in for some truth for a fucking change. How's that for a gimmick? Maybe, just maybe, we could try solving the problem of "rarely show[ing] much interest in which position is wrong." by, I dunno, showing an interest in it.

Look, it ain't about fashion, and for fuck's sake it ain't about minor failings and too much cozy insiderism, or a long fascination with Bill Clinton's dick. Not any more. Russert fucking screwed the pooch with the aluminum tubes story; he stovepiped the Cheney/Judy Miller/Jack D. Ripper business. With thousands, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of lives in the balance, he sat at his desk and waited for a phone call that never came. And that's his story; like a bad movie trailer, that's the best the man could do. For godsakes, the fucking story was attributed to unnamed White House sources; you wouldn't buy a small appliance under those circumstances, and you, unlike Mr. Insider Washington, had no way of knowing that Scooter Libby was Judy Miller's Aspen clone. We're talking about something which should have been a Klaxon for skepticism, even though skepticism needed no warnings in that environment; yet Tim Russert waited for his phone to ring. (And who, knowing enough to debunk that story that morning [and the reality is it didn't take much] would have bothered to call Tim Russert? (Here's the Moyers piece at Crooks and Liars; the video, unfortunately, cuts off Bob Simon appearing immediately after to explain how easy it is to pick up a telephone in this day and age. The full program is here.)

I'm sorry, but the idea that careerist journalists, who seem not just immune to questions about their own performance over the last two decades, but willing to pass out Gold Stars for achievement, are going to change their own culture is like my thinking that yelling into my own hat will do it. The difference there being that I don't pretend it will.

* rumored