Wednesday, November 05, 2008

ALWAYS Write a Thank You Note

Show your gratitude for gift givers by sending out thank you cards. It’s a great way to show your appreciation for the gift they gave as well as the thoughtfulness of their generosity. Whether you receive gifts for a wedding, shower, or birthday, all gifts and acts of kindness should be reciprocated with a thank you card.

-from Thank You Card Etiquette
by Concrete Abstract

Dear Bush Administration,

I received your gift of President Obama yesterday, and I LOVE IT!

Now don't act shy. You've been too modest about your generosity in the past. Why, I remember when that Valerie Plame thing showed up on the front steps one day. You were all like, "Where did that come from?"

I knew it was you!

But not this time. You're going to take a turn in the spotlight even if I have to shackle your legs and frog march you out there! ;-)

Because I want everyone to know that we owe the outcome of this election entirely to you.

You see, some people would say this election proves that America has changed. That we're ready to acknowledge that complicated problems require nuanced solutions. That courage is trumping fear. That we're finally stepping into a post-racial future.

Bzzzzt! Wrong!

What's remarkable about this election is the mind-boggling amount of coercion, brow-beating, and finally the all-encompassing catastrophe that it took for America to even consider changing course!

What administration but yours could have kept its eyes on the prize and made it happen?

The storm warnings of your first term elicited yawns. The rising waters of the second term, shrugs. And even in the week before the election, polls showed that 12% of the bloated corpses bobbing on the flood you caused were still not sure how to vote!

It's not for lack of effort on your part. You've been trying to give this gift since the moment you came to power. You tortured people, denied habeas corpus, committed election fraud, wallowed in corruption, and spied on your own citizens. You wasted hundreds of billions on a pointless war. You bungled attempts to get Osama Bin Laden. You sat on your hands while an entire city was washed away.

Any ONE of these things ought to have been sufficient to assure the election of ten Barack Obamas. And yet, at the end of the primary season, he was running no better than even with McCain. A candidate barely palatable to his own party!

You must have been wondering, "Christ! What is this going to take?!"

I know I was.

A better administration would have thrown in the towel. But you didn't give up!

There were only two options left: to have the House Republican caucus drink the blood of Christian babies on prime time national television, or to hurl the country into a depression.

Personally, I think the former option would have shown a lot of style.

But that's quibbling.

So, sure, special gratitude has to go out to all the politically-appointed heads of regulatory agencies who were supposed to be patrolling the financial sector, but instead, with a knowing wink, kept a protective vigil at the front door while a circle jerk of hedge fund CEO's did belly shots from the navels of trashy mortgage derivatives.

You know who you are. I love you guys.

But ultimately, this was a team effort. And while the contributors were too numerous to mention here, I've got to give a special shout out to the committed few that did more than just break our laws and betray our trust. They made that extra effort required to rub America's face in it, just to be sure we'd notice.

To Larry Craig, David Vitter and Mark Foley. You knew that anybody can get themselves busted with their pants down. So you were sure to be moralizing, holier-than-thou crusaders right up until the moment they snapped the cuffs on you. Way to dazzle 'em with the depravity, then send 'em to the canvas with the hypocrisy!

Take a bow!

To Karl Rove and his corps of political assassins. You could have just played dirty when the score was close. But you went for the groin again and again and again--cold-cocking Don Siegelman in Alabama, canning U.S. attorneys, outing covert operatives--even when you had the game in hand! Talk about dedication!

Take a bow!

To Dick Cheney--there just are no words. You are the ultimate bureaucratic ninja. You could have quietly dismantled our democracy and no one would have even noticed until the unopened mail at the Rayburn House Office Building started piling up. But you played out of your head for eight straight years! It was like you were everywhere at the same time! The overreaching, the surliness, the swagger. You lied us into a war. You tortured innocents. You crapped on the Constitution. And then, like some kind of geriatric James Dean, you looked us in the eye and dared us to do anything about it.

Wow. That's giving 110%.

Take a bow.

OK. Now take another.

And last but not least, to you George.

For exhausting America's seemingly-limitless reserve of cowardice by pressing the fear button over and over, so that when John McCain went to that well to warn of a black man named Hussein, the bucket came up empty.

For valuing intuition over intellect. We watched you thrust your arm into one political wood chipper after another. And each time you'd regard your mangled digits with bewilderment, and then commit the same boneheaded mistake again! What less-numbing display could have driven the great unwashed into the arms of some brainiac college professor to be drearily lectured on economics?

And finally, thanks for exhorting us to aspire only to our basest instincts. For urging us to shop for trinkets, to suspect our neighbors, to get all we could get while the gettin' was good. By offering not a scrap to quell our pangs for more wholesome fare, you ensured that an ethereal menu of hope, change and unity would be welcomed as the starving welcome biscuits and gravy.

When I think about the effort you made. The commitment. I just...

I promised myself I wouldn't cry.

I will not cry.

Some people will say I should just display my new Barack Obama on a shelf. And sure, if I left the shrink wrap on, he'd be worth plenty on eBay in 2016.

But no sir! I can't wait to start using my Barack Obama to reverse every policy and repeal every law you've supported in the last eight years. And each time he does something smart, something competent, something Constitutional--or even when he commits mere misdemeanors in the places where the felonies used to go--I will think of you. And smile.

There may come a time when the destruction you've caused seems no more than a bad dream. When agencies are run by skilled professionals rather than political hacks. When other countries laugh with us, not at us. And when, with the wiser eyes of a Jimmy Stewart saved by an angel, we delight in the modest charms of our old, exasperating, imperfect, break-down prone jalopy of a government as it chugs unsteadily into the future.

Indeed, there may come a time when my Barack Obama has erased virtually every trace of the mess you've made.

But there's one thing he'll never erase: my gratitude.



p.s.--tell Barb and H.W. to send Thanksgiving pics!

Friday, October 31, 2008

It's a Good Thing My Former Boss Can No Longer Fire Me

An email came to me by a circuitous route the other day, a shrill cry of horror at the prospect of an Obama Presidency.

Normally I would pass on responding to something like this--particularly since the specifics have been rebutted by others more effectively than I dilettante such as I could ever manage.

But this one is special--it comes from a person that I worked with very closely for many years. This person was a veteran of business affairs. A longtime senior executive. And I was his right hand.

We spent much time together in foxholes, but never talked about politics.

It turns out that was a wise decision.

I wrote lengthy replies to all the specifics in his missive, which included a potpourri of trite attacks on Obama's patriotism, his Marxist political philosophy, and his thinly veiled revolutionary black anger.

In response, my critique of media bias was groundbreaking, my debunking of his supposed terrorist associations, irrefutable. My defense of ACORN's voter registration efforts was a seminal work on the topic. I demolished the attempt to brand him a socialist. And my treatment of the issue of race was so nuanced and sensitive, that it brought even me to tears.

Yet none will ever bask in that brilliance. Because it was too long, and boring as hell. So I deleted it.

Tragic, really.

Yet I think that enough remains below, that were my former boss ever to read it, he still would never speak to me again.

And so...

Dear friend, what the fuck? You're smarter than this.

I can't respond to all the points in your email. I tried and it gave me writer's cramp. You listed a host of smears that you suspect bespeak the tips of icebergs, and which I think point only to desperate Republicans with their backs to the wall.

I don't think either of us is likely to persuade the other.

But all these little points you make. You seem to be winding up to deliver the lethal blow. To say that Obama is anti-American, some kind of alien mole trying to worm his way into the White House so he can execute a long-planned Manchurian Candidate strategy to destroy America from within.

Is that it?

Than why don't you just say it?

Why all this veiled suggestion, this collection of minutia worth nothing individually, adding up to nothing when combined?

Colin Powell, Richard Lugar, and Chuck Hagel, all seem pretty comfortable with Obama's intellect, loyalty and patriotism. If these impressionable innocents are being conned, hadn't you better reach out and show them all the startling truth you've discovered on the Internets? Before it's too late?

Bad enough to attack someone's character rather than their policies. But to do so in this roundabout way, and then refuse to own it. Well, as you were always so fond to say:

For shame.

I know you prefer traditional conservative policies to what you perceive as liberalism. I can respect that and find plenty of room for dialogue.

But what about competence?

Nobody knows better than I how you do business. The attention to detail. The steadiness. Your respect for ability.

Is that really what you've seen from McCain and Palin?

What goes through your mind when you see McCain swing from talking about cutting taxes to offering to buy a country's worth of worthless mortgages? When he trumpets the importance of experience over all, and then selects a small-town Alaskan mayor whose biggest strengths are her boobs and her appeal to religious extremists to be his running mate? When he sacrifices the national interest in favor of petty political gamesmanship, suspending his campaign and rushing to Washington where his indiscretion promptly torpedoes a deal to resolve what you yourself just said was a genuine crisis of the highest order?

I know what you would have said about a business associate who behaved this way. Your disdain would know no limits.

Meanwhile, Obama runs an efficient juggernaut of a campaign, puts out some of the most detailed policy proposals that we've seen from a presidential candidate in ages, and demonstrates nothing but sense, stability and competence.

But you find that "empty" and "confusing." I don't think it's the message you have a problem with. It's the messenger.

You say it's not racism. I won't say it is.

I think it all comes down to your last words: You're scared. And what you're scared of is not policies you don't agree with. It's people who aren't like you and ideas that differ from yours.

I'm sure you would say that the mess the country finds itself in right now is not the result of your philosophy. I think you would argue that the underlying philosophy is sound. That the problem has been incompetence.

I don't buy it.

You have no problem with the opacity of conduct, with the authoritarian style, with the unalloyed rule of wealthy white guys who hire their fishing buddies for cabinet posts.

Well I've got news for you. That's the petrie dish that bred the incompetence. And that petrie dish will breed incompetence 100 times out of 100.

The fact that you would have the gall to suggest you know what's best when what you think best is such a monumental and self-evident failure is beyond presumptuous.

You're scared of what will happen if Obama gets his way? Well, I don't need to agonize over some ill-defined fear of what might happen if the country was run your way. I'm living it.

And frankly, it blows.

No Job? No Family? Sounds like you've got time to burn. Read the way-too-long version of this post so you can impress people at parties. If you're ever invited to one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A VP's Only Job: Rule the Universe!

Sarah Palin was an idea John McCain believed just crazy enough to work. That now seems too fond a hope. But hold your head high John. No one will ever accuse you of scrimping on the crazy.

From the moment Palin entered the race I've maintained unswerving confidence in her ability to kill the Republican ticket. I don't know how anyone could say anything negative about this woman. She has exceeded my wildest expectations, and I will be indebted to her until the day I die.

The media was slower to take her proper measure, but it's easy to see why. She presents a baffling array of conflicting cliches, this feminist dominionist with the smart glasses, sweet ass, and reality-tv family. Even now it's not clear whether she can best be used to sell advertising for bibles or lingerie.

So they poked her warily with sticks until she showed her true colors. She's a talking bobble-head figurine! And if you keep pushing the button, there is no end to the riotous absurdities she will utter. The pretensions of foreign policy expertise. The cringe-worthy attempts to don the ill-fitting mantle of reformer and maverick. The tortured fragments of syntax spilling off her assembly line like forgings from no mold.

And now, to keep this story on it's wobbling legs, the media informs us that our mockery on all these counts must cease. Jocularity has its time, but this matter has passed from farce to threat, and nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake. With that in mind, we must all pull together and henceforth mock her exclusively for her belief that the Constitution grants significant authority to Vice Presidents.

The press' outrage is manufactured, but valid nonetheless. Constitutionally, the vice President is our great government's sole spare part. Its job, like all spare parts, is to sit on the shelf and to cost too much. Thus, historically, those who have been most comfortable in the role are those that don't feel the need to be productive... well, pretty much ever.

So let us do our patriotic duty and mock Mrs. Palin. She may not have been smart enough to demur when McCain asked her to be his running mate, but I'm pretty sure she's not mentally disabled. And that means we can laugh at her with a clear conscience.

But remind me what exactly is so far-fetched about the possibility of Vice Presidential authority? Has everyone forgotten old you-know-who? The most powerful person in the world for the last eight years?

True, Dick Cheney had and has no formal authority. But like some diabolical political acupuncturist, he has altered history with a few pin pricks.

Who was the prime mover of the wars that cost trillions? Of the belligerent anti-diplomacy that has destroyed our international standing and which hastens the twilight of pax Americana? Of an altered balance of power that favors an authoritarian executive?

Sure, the orders came from a smiling puppet with a Texas twang. But in this production, Lady Macbeth is the one with a pace maker.

So it's embarrassing to watch the media haggle over Constitutional fine print like rabbis hashing out Talmudic arcana. Would somebody please ask the only question that matters?

How the hell did Dick Cheney happen?

The answer of course, is that Vice Presidents can wield exactly as much power as their wit, charm, connections, experience, and evil powers of sorcery can command. And as the President will cede.

Thus, Dick Cheney's successful conquest of the universe prompts two conclusions.

First, has there ever been a President more suggestible than George Bush? Mother of God, who reminds him to breathe out after he breathes in? Does he get hypnotized by the windshield wipers when he drives in the rain?

Second: Dick Cheney must have wit, connections, experience, and satanic power in spades, cuz' he sure didn't do it with charm.

Our experience with Mr. Cheney is germane. It tells us that Sarah Palin is more than just ignorant about the Constitution. She is also deeply deluded about her potential authority as a VP.

Sarah Palin is a simplest of one-trick ponies, a mere tool for getting John McCain elected. Her job is to smile, wave, praise Jesus and bash liberals. In the increasingly unlikely event that the guy that's always standing next to her--the one that looks like her grandfather--actually wins this thing, she will become invisible. Not because of anything the Constitution says, but because of who she is: an unconnected, unconvincing half-term Governor of an insignificant state who can't use the word "Machiavellian" in a sentence. No one in Washington knows her, respects her, or fears her. John McCain least of all. She'll be lucky if she can score Redskins tickets.

Sarah Palin the next Dick Cheney? As any movie goer knows, only the Dark Lord can wield the One Ring.

So if McCain is elected, and miraculously manages to keep senility and cancer at bay for the duration of his term, we won't need the Constitution to insure that Sarah Palin is one of history's most irrelevant Vice Presidents.

Though if John McCain is elected, Palin will be the least of our worries.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

America: Right of Center or South of Stupid?

Obama devotees (and I am one) may be inclined to see the ascendancy of their favorite as a great reawakening of the American body politic to its true self.

But I'm not so sure.

It's been 40 years since a significant portion of the populace shook off their torpor to inquire what the fuck, exactly, is going on here?! It was a volatile time, but that's not a bad thing. As lawful and tolerant as this country has typically been compared to just about anywhere else in the world you can think of, there's never been a shortage of black folks hanging from trees or support for murderous repressive foreign regimes. Rioting in the streets is an indication that at least somebody notices.

But that brief interval of optimism dissolved into successive decades of cynicism, jingoistic belligerence, superficial materialism, and finally--icing on the cake--the last eight years during which our country turned into your reprehensible cousin Todd, who lies, cheats, molests children, hits his mom and manufactures meth in the garage. Or at least that's what he was doing last time you visited and he stole your credit cards and ran up all those Internet porn charges.

So it's only natural that anyone eager to see the nation embrace ambitions loftier than gettin' rich and killin' A-rabs would speed to lash their dreams to this Democratic star from the windy city. That they would squint to see in this moment just what they so desperately want to see: the return of the true America of tolerance, moderation, compassion, and respect for intellect and accomplishment. This, they imagine, is not an America rendered temporarily placid by the anti-psychotic medications the international community begged her for years to take, but America casting off an evil magic spell and being itself again.

How very charming.

But forgive me. That's not what I see.

Perhaps I'm embittered beyond salvation. Give me lemons and I will take the seeds and the pith and make something so sour and rancid that it will blister your lips before it even hits your tongue. Or perhaps it's the profound discomfort with which I regard good times. When society is at rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up. But if this is a shining renaissance, duck and cover, baby.

No, the thing that I find so striking about America inviting Obama into their living rooms is the mind boggling degree of coercion that was required to get them to unbolt their front doors.

I mean, yes, it looks like he's going to be President. But he's been staked to such an overwhelming advantage that it seems a bit odd to call what he's doing "winning."

How stacked is the deck in Obama's favor?

To the extent that all elections are a referendum on the party in power, the Democrats should be able to store the public disgust with the last eight years and use it to hold the executive branch for the next half century.

Is their anything the Bush administration hasn't bungled catastrophically?

The war in Iraq is an unqualified failure. Don't waste my time with some crap about the surge. Is that shiny penny supposed to distract us from the fact that when it's all over, what we will have obtained for our trillion dollar investment is a distinctly less-desirable strategic position in the middle east, responsibility for thousands if not millions of lives destroyed, and an indefensible squandering of our international prestige?

And maybe it's because we focused all our energies and resources on Iraq that the fabric of our foreign policy is in tatters. Truly critical issues of national security like the Palestinian situation, nuclear proliferation, and global warming have been either ignored or addressed only with the administration's favored pour-gasoline-light-match tactic. Then again, perhaps we should be thankful for the Bush administration's absurd obsession with Mesopotamia. Can you imagine what disasters would have befallen had they reserved more of this monumental incompetence and applied it to countries that matter?

Our Republican-led international failures are, if anything, exceeded by the swath of their domestic destruction. Let's set aside the torture, the domestic eavesdropping, the politicization of the justice department, and the alteration of the balance of powers so that our federal structure more nearly resembles the dictatorship our founding fathers always envisioned. Set them aside because, by modern conservatives, these are counted accomplishments. There's no point in arguing about it here. But what about the things Republicans are supposed to be good at? What about the ballooning size of government? What about the deficit? What about the economy, for chrissakes!?

OK. We know the Bush administration is awful. Maybe the worst ever. But John McCain is a man who has bucked the Republican party time and again, a war hero with a Roman sense of honor and public virtue, right? No wonder then that, despite our pitiful circumstances, more than 43% of our populace will vote against Obama.


The whole idea of John McCain as a formidable candidate has never been more than wishful thinking. He is but the faint distillate of his party's fragmentation. Events have shattered the tenuous alliance between social, political, and fiscal conservatives. To say that John McCain represents all these groups is to call half-full a glass that is all but empty.

McCain is the great compromise, wholly appealing to no constituency of his party. In fact, he doesn't have much in the "appeal" department at all. There are the physical tics. The explosive temper. The jokes that are--to put it generously--off-color. And the man can barely read off a teleprompter. Appropriately or not, these aesthetics impact electability. These things are McCain's "Kucinich ears."

Nor should we forgive McCain his Keystone Kampaign. Have we ever witnessed a more cringe-worthy attempt to become President? Michael Dukakis was every inch the conquering Caeser in that tank compared to Spastic John. Bill Ayers? The Fundamentals of the economy are strong? Sarah Palin? Sarah-freaking-Palin?! He's not just trying to give the election to Obama, he's personally installed it in the Democrat's living room!. And McCain's endless failed attempts at political suicide have rendered him a far more pitiful figure than if he had succeeded the first time he kicked over the chair.

So here is Barack Obama, running for office for the opposition party at a time of almost unprecedented public dissatisfaction, against a despised Republican President and the weakest Republican Presidential candidate in living memory running one of history's most botched campaigns. Yes, Obama appears headed for a solid, perhaps even a landslide electoral victory.

But given the circumstances--how could this thing be so close? What if the collapse of first-domino Lehman Brothers had been delayed for a few months? If you recall, the country was in pretty bad shape before the financial crisis, but could Obama have pulled ahead without that issue coming to the fore?

Perhaps real change is on the way for this right-of-center country, floating behind the cresting wave of the baby boomer die-off. Maybe the brilliance of an Obama administration will be the spark. But it's not here yet. The American majority may be settling comfortably into the Obama camp, but they had to be driven there at gunpoint.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

She's a Breash of Freth Air!

Why in Christ's name would anybody waste 10 bucks registering the domain It has none of the cache of "That one." It practically impossible to spell, much less say--proven by the fact I wasted another $10 registering a misspelling.

I better sell about two million sets of glasses frames and d-cup bras tomorrow, cuz' this thing's got a half life of about ten minutes.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Bit of Optimism Best Expressed Before I Come To My Senses

Ah, our financial meltdown. Could any crisis be better contrived and timed to elicit every unbecoming, cut-off-your-nose, dig-your-own-grave tendency in our national character?

It bodes not well.

However, such crises also seem to produce their own opportunities for redemption. Opportunities like anti-matter in a crap-strewn universe, and every bit as elusive.

We'll get to that in a moment. But first, let's spend some time on the ledge.

Collected in the window frame behind us, quietly chanting "jump, jump, jump," is every negative influence ever isolated in the laboratories of self-help science. Fear. Fury. Bewilderment. Vindictiveness. Selfishness. Hate. All the impulses we should strive to hold at bay when it's time to make life-or-death decisions.

Evidence that our most rash and counterproductive urges threaten to win the day is everywhere.

The blogs are alight with cries of "let them fail!" Never mind that the "they" in question are holding your retirement.

In the recent Senate hearings on the crisis, Senator Sherrod Brown informed Treasury Secretary Paulson that not one of the torrent of calls to the Senator's office was in favor of the bailout plan. I suppose we should be pleased that looming disaster has rekindled America's moribund interest in civic affairs. Thanks to all those who paused their Wii's long enough to contact their representatives. But too bad our idea of constructive criticism is a collective wail of hysteria.

Garbage in, garbage out, says an old rule of thumb, meaning bad information produces faulty conclusions. And in the political sphere, our national hissy-fit ensures that we'll get more fluff than substance from the legislative sausage grinder. For example, capping Wall St. salaries is about as important right now as turning off the bedroom lights before fleeing a house fire.

Anyway, relax, I say. We'll all be taking a pay cut soon enough.

This is the allure of all our worst instincts on display. How do we respond? Do we boldly push them away? Do we resist their corrosive attraction? Of course not. We drink them down like shipwrecked sailors gorging themselves on salt water.

Stupid, stupid us. In penny romances, there is a moment when the protagonist recognizes their mistakes, is filled with regret, and sets out to make all well. They've traveled through a dark tunnel but come out to light.

Life is not like that. In real life, we come not to the tunnel's opening, but to a dead end where we realize we're inhabiting a disaster. But before we can set anything to right, we must first hack our way back through the recent track of our own dysfunction, blaming everyone but ourselves, lashing out indiscriminately, and sowing every bit as much misery and pain on the way out as we did on the way in.

Aren't we delightful?

So the question is, where on this trek are we right now? For several years now, polls have shown that most Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps then it doesn't require rose-tinted glasses to think this economic collapse is more of a final comeuppance than a wake-up call.

One other observation justifies optimism. I believe that there is an almost Newtonian physics to two-party politics. That a period of anomalous extremism can involuntarily generate its own antithesis. That out of the reeking, toxic decay of Republican depravity is coming some kind of exotic, mysterious particle of unsuspected positive potential. And its name is Barack Obama.

Look, I have no illusions about what the reality of an Obama administration is likely to be. In all likelihood he will be beaten to a political pulp by the problems he will inherit and will forever be tethered to Jimmy Carter in the revisionist worldview of the 12 consecutive Republican administrations his disastrous tenure will ensure. And who knows what unexpected failings of character he will display. He's as human as the rest of us, and if you think I have an inflated opinion of humanity, well, you haven't been reading very carefully.

And yet one can hardly deny that he is a very different quantity than any candidate to come to the brink of the Presidency in the last 40-odd years. And that his viability is a product of our 8-year-long national catastrophe. Were it not for the lies, the pointless war, the corruption, the disdain for competence, the indefensible use of torture, the disregard for the rule of law and constitutional democracy, and now this great hundred-year-flood of our financial system, is there any chance we would be on the verge of electing a black man whose middle name is "Hussein" President right now? Any chance?


So I think something different is about to happen. Something special. We are on a cusp that has the potential to be transformational, rather than just a slow, dreary crawl back to mediocrity. And it's happening not in spite of the calamity that envelops us, but because of it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Viva La Revolución!

I have no talent for admitting I'm wrong. Not because of any surfeit of pride. But rather because it is a skill I have never had occasion to practice.

Until now.

Recently, I wrote about the coming liberal dictatorship. I foresaw a world in which the instruments of power, sharpened by our current leadership to compel absolute submission, would be wielded by a liberal administration for ends every bit as extreme as intended, but far less palatable to people who live in Texas.

That could still happen. But it's like a television program preempted by breaking news: it may be in the can, but it's not what anyone will be watching.

Our constitutional crisis has been supplanted by an economic crisis. We paused momentarily to put our head between our knees and breathe into a paper bag, and when we looked up, we discovered we're having a socialist revolution--engineered by neo-conservatives!

Holy. Fucking. Shit. I'd like to think this is a simple matter of a spectacularly misguided policy coming to a head like an angry, puss-filled carbuncle. But we've been fleeced so many times by the carnies who run this country that we can hardly be faulted for suspecting this catastrophe is just another Republican sleight-of-hand designed to reclaim an initiative that seemed hopelessly lost. Are they once again stealing a march on their political opponents by doing something so unexpected, so out-of-left field, so bat-shit crazy that those who would resist are simply paralyzed with shock?

If so, admiration overwhelms my disgust. I mean... it's just... diabolical! And it's so freakin' BIG that even I never conjured such a thing in my wildest dreams--and I am not in the habit of constraining my imaginings. If you only knew the sick things I am picturing right now...

Just think! In the course of a few days, the people who have for a decade belittled their detractors with the epithet of socialism, who made a sacred mission of kneecapping the mere patina of a welfare state created in the 1930's, who have attempted to demonize Russia in a barely-disguised ploy to reanimate the politically convenient bete noir of world communism--these same people have swarmed to a one trillion dollar takeover of the entire American financial system like sailors on the decks of the battleship Potemkin!

Look! There's Henry Paulson driving the kulak financiers of lower Manhattan into the overcrowded bar cars of the MetroNorth railway. Soon they will disappear into the cavernous conservatories of their Greenwich homes, where they will forevermore consume canapes and cognac in miserable obscurity.

And there! There's Ben Bernake storming the New York stock exchange in a tricolor cockade! It impossible to tell what's happening amidst the cigar smoke and the roar of the press corps, but rumors fly that Goldman Sachs has declared a commune of lower Trinity Place. And who can calculate the human cost? The dry cleaning bill alone will run to six figures!

And now a hush falls on the nation. For returned from his long march to Crawford Texas is Chairman Bush, the Great Leader! For love of him, children expose their parents for shorting T-bills. With a glance and gesture he makes spareribs tender and biscuits moist.

Viva La Revolución! To the barricades! All power to the soviets! Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!


Something feels oh so wrong here. Aren't socialist revolutions supposed to come from below?

That the cries of "Power to the people!" are coming not from the downtrodden peasantry, but from the Tsar and his minions is testimony to the fact that what the people are going to get here is anything but power. It is a whole boatload of grief.

How bad is it? It is all the way bad. The bad, to borrow the idiom of Spinal Tap, will go to 11.

Envision the worthless paper of 10 million home loans that America is buying as the sorriest looking Ford Pinto in the used car lot. It's a colossal lemon. And the problem with lemons is not a philosophical one to be debated by earnest sophomores in bong-hit fueled bull sessions. The problem with lemons is that they break down right on the entrance ramp to the freeway in rush hour while your wife howls in labor on the passenger side and the air conditioning doesn't work and it's 105 degrees and the rest of your little monsters are trying to disembowel each other in the back seat and you feel you have no choice but to do the job for them yourself and that's going to take some explaining if and when the highway patrol ever arrives.

That's the problem with lemons.

For our economy, catastrophe is every bit as imminent as it was before our dear President signed us taxpayers up to bail out his rich friends. More so, perhaps, because those Wall St. wizards--major asshats though they be--actually do know a fair amount about navigating difficult financial straits. But they no longer give a damn what happens. They're off the hook and our fates are now in the hands of a completely different but much less skilled collection of asshats called Congress.

Why do you think there were so many smiling faces on the floor of the stock exchange when the bailout plan was announced and the Dow surged? Because we've been rescued? Of course not. The traders were smiling because they've been rescued.

We'll be sure to write frequently to those former Wall Streeters at their spas in Hawaii and let them know how it's going as the housing market goes from slide to plummet. As credit becomes impossible and business contracts. As pain cascades through the population in the form of sweeping layoffs. As inflation soars because that will make paying back the massive debt we've taken on cheaper.

We've chained ourselves to this falling anvil with the same rash ignorance with which we bought that 10,000 sq.ft. McMansion last year. And now we're living in one of those 1970 conspiracy movies where the hero is killed just before he can save the world, the bad guys get off scot free, and everything is most assuredly not going to be alright.

Looking for a bright spot in all this is like looking for the bright spot in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. The only brightness comes from the roaring flames, which serve to silhouette the doomed figures in the window frames just before they leap.

But let's indulge in a brief bit of Panglossian self-delusion anyhoo, yes?

One upside is that the crackers of middle America, stunned by sudden crisis, will probably not come to their senses until just after they've elected a colored fella President. Boy, will they be grumpy once they realize.

And this: It's true that America will be vomiting and watching our hair fall out for years as a result of the radioactive fallout from this disaster. But can you imagine how this would have been packaged if the Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac / Lehman brothers / AIG mushroom cloud had come even one hour after Barack Obama locked down the election in the predawn of November 5th?

Our present storyline sure wouldn't be about the apocalyptic comeuppance of mindless deregulation. Or the destruction of the myth that the mindless Darwinian churning of free markets is somehow tempered by an inherent goodness. Or about the essential hollowness of a society built on the corrosive notion that wealth is the same thing as virtue.

No sir. If this atomic blast had been delayed, there would be only one storyline trumpeted by the tools of conservatism and a p-whipped (c-whipped?) media: Barack Obama as pilot of the Enola Gay. That's right. We'd be told that an otherwise vibrant economy had collapsed at the mere thought of the prosperity-hating policies he would inevitably implement.

So we can breathe a big sigh of relief that the world is ending sooner rather than later.

This economic convulsion also alters the landscape of political possibility in intriguing ways. Free marketers talk reverently of creative destruction--the rise of new mercantile opportunity from the decaying matter of endeavors that have failed and fallen. But they never considered what might grow from the steaming corpse of their entire beloved system.

For example, though the words "universal health insurance" were spoken in the campaign, only a fool could have believed the idea more than a political pipe dream. But the shattering mental impact of seeing the establishment dissolve, combined with the soon-to-be-palpable effects of unemployment and the credit crunch on our already tenuous access to the proctologist we desperately need may yet give unexpected substance to that dream.

Not all political pigs will fly. But don't be surprised if some sprout wings and, like turkeys, make a whole lot of unforeseen commotion.

And finally this: Conservatives are ever fulminating that Obama---contrary to his voting record or his public statements--harbors secret intentions of outfitting America in Mao jackets and handing out Little Red Books. But now they've been compelled by the deformed product of their own extremism to lurch leftward in advance of his arrival. Will they therefore restrain their urge to tag his administration as the enemy of all that is American? As the undoer of freedom? Will they exhibit that most minimal degree of decency that shames us from accusing others of our own failures?

Don't be ridiculous. Of course they won't. And their misrepresentations will be swallowed hook, line and sinker by a culture whose worldview is shaped and reshaped by no experiences more distant than those of the previous two weeks. By February, Barack Obama will be solely responsible for our metasticizing economy, the plight of Katrina victims, the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the burning of the capital by British regulars in the War of 1812.

Yet some small weight has undeniably been lifted from Obama's shoulders. Centering economic governance will no longer require a massive heave to the left certain to provoke opposition from formidable conservative constituencies. And in the continuing chaos to come he'll find more freedom of action than he could have hoped for six months ago. It's a lot easier to be a builder when the demolition's already done.

And let's be fair (even if it isn't much fun), the real villain here isn't conservatism, any more than the savior is liberalism. The villain is absolutism. It's extremism. It's the absurd idea that if less regulation is good, no regulation is even better. Would any rational person argue that commerce is possible without the regulation of contract law, accounting rules, and the like? And if that's true, shouldn't we just scotch all the scorched-earth, anti-regulatory ranting and start a measured discussion on how to do it right?

So here's to hoping we can get back on track for balance and moderation. That we can enact the kind of regulation that let's us maximize the benefits of the free market while minimizing the risks. That we can stop chasing the chimera of perfecting our system, and settle in to the hard, never-ending, and unavoidably messy task of optimizing it.

Until then, Viva La Revolución, baby!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dear Mr. Vice-President - May I Call You Dick?

Dear Mr. Vice-President

Regarding the proposal I submitted for your review entitled “How to Solve the Climate Crisis: Must I Do Everything Myself?” Thank you for a your prompt response. It was most gratifying that your representatives contacted me even before I had fully withdrawn my hand from the postal box into which I was placing the completed dossier for delivery to you office. Given the astonishingly swift reaction my query elicited, I can only conclude that the media has created a false impression of your disposition on this matter in the public mind.

Clearly, you care very much about the environment after all.

My thanks to your staff. In these past several weeks they have been unfailingly attentive towards me. I am ashamed to tax your hospitality even further by respectfully requesting some additional luxuries. A little natural light, perhaps? And some clothes. And if someone would be so kind as to phone my wife and let her know when she might expect my return.

By the way… When exactly might my wife expect my return?

But your time is valuable...

Sir, I am not one who pays much attention to contemporary politics, but I am an unerring judge of character. I see the torment that is in your heart. You want desperately to alert the world to the dangers of global warming, to light the great beacon of public peril. But, like a Hamlet, all your urge to action is swamped by the erratic tides of an internal equivocation you cannot suppress.

Why, you wonder, why can't you ever just make a decision?!

Do not be ashamed that I have read your innermost thoughts so clearly.

And even if you were to speak up, how can one quiet-voiced, soft-hearted man hope to convince the sour Brahmins of conservatism to cease their obstructionism? To date, they have parried every approach. We have engaged in dialogue, but perpetual political dueling has poisoned the soil where compromise would sprout. We have pleaded for modest restraint of industries that pollute, but reluctance to regulate is their central imperative. We have offered facts, but the pronouncements of scientists they slough off as the naval-gazing of an effeminate academia.

So let us speak to them in terms they understand. Let us sell them insurance.

Conservatives love insurance. It provides a means by which they may hedge against the mischief of death, the fires soon to be set by their estranged children, and the divorce that must ensue when they at last acknowledge their own homosexuality. Insurance lets them profit each time the world proves to be as dark and menacing as they secretly wish it to be. And though they may witness one of their children tragically sucked into a wood chipper, they find satisfaction via the miracle of remuneration, and more still in the validation of their negative outlook.

Like you, I can only pity their wretchedness.

But let us take the opportunity presented by our opponents' spiritual deformity. Let us address the issue of climate change not as one political or scientific, but as one actuarial. Let us eschew the patchouli-scented, flower-powered argument of harmonious planetary stewardship that conservatives find repellent and propose the horse-sense of a fiscal hedge.

What would they offer in refutation?

Perhaps they would be reluctant to insure against an event they believe to be without precedent. They might note that insurers have audited history's track of eyeballs gouged, limbs severed, homes devoured in flame and luxury yachts drunkenly grounded. Actuarial odds makers can offhandedly calculate precisely the chance that you will regain full use of your fingers after fishing around in an airplane lavatory for the meth pipe you dropped. But we have yet to lose a planet. Come back after that happens, they will say. Then we'll talk.

Others on the right will know that the planet has indeed been lost before. Paleogeology shows that life on earth has been ravaged to its barest foundations by climatic reversals on several occasions in its deep past. But those who grasp earth's history can be no less stubborn. They seem to believe that the fact that disaster can strike even without cars or coal-fueled power plants means we should adopt a fatalistic passivity. As they watch their grandchildren scraping the baked clay for grubs to eat, they will take comfort in the fact that it might not be completely their fault.

But the masters of industry will open themselves to the message if it comes from you whom they blindly believe to be one of their own. Tell them! Tell them how data from ice cores and fossil samples, from ocean temperatures and atmospheric analysis, from studies of forestation patterns and species extinction all add up to the most tragic thing they can envision.

Reduced growth.

Paint the horrors of this future for them in all its sickening detail. The consumer products collecting dust on store shelves because a malnourished populace has not the energy for shopping. Sales of jet-ski's drying up as fast as the rivers and lakes upon which they once frolicked. Thousands of Mediterranean cruises refunded because the fleet is being used as temporary housing for 200 million African refugees.

"No!" They will cry, "Not refunds!"

Compel them to confront the monstrous horror of commerce impaired, the piteous site of profits reduced, and the soul-crushing purposelessness of life when quarterly revenue targets are not achieved. Then they will ante up. They will beg you to take their money to build windmills. To install solar panels. To convert cars to run on fryer oil.

For you, Dick--may I call you Dick?--the sacrifice required may be total. You must never allow the forces of evil to know the real you. You must be to all observers unfeeling, bitter, selfish, and cruel, even if the strain causes the true light of your spirit to flicker and go out.

But you can do it. Just be yourself.

Friday, August 08, 2008

All Hail the Coming Liberal Dictatorship!

If I read the headlines aright, John Conyers really means it this time.

Harriet Meiers, Karl Rove, David Addington, John Ashcroft, David Hasselhoff--all will testify, the truth will out, and there will be hell to pay.

For what we're not exactly sure. The politicized hiring and firing at the justice department? The persecution of Don Siegelman in Alabama? The EPA's willful disregard of a court's mandate to regulate greenhouse gasses? What about all that domestic eavesdropping? The war lies and forgeries? It's a list without end. Trying to find a thread that connects just one person to just one crime is like trying to remove just the shallots from a bisque.

But can you feel it? The pressure is building. The suspense is intolerable.

Buckle up people, we are headed for a shattering anticlimax!

In a normal world, there would be a predictable postscript to such an orgy of malfeasance. One that included resignations, indictments, arraignments, Alberto Gonzalez in an ill-tailored orange jumpsuit, and ultimately, Dick Cheney as the only reliable source for cigarettes at a Maryland Federal prison.

In a normal world.

But in our world, absolutely none of this will happen. Yes, the Democrats will shuttle these investigations hither and thither through committees with all the frenetic purposelessness of a flock of agitated turkeys. But these escalations from suspicions to subpoenas to contempt, these are not the executioner's blade falling in irresistible stages. These are shaggy dog jokes. And, as with all shaggy dog jokes, the punchline is your own slack-jawed gullibility.

You really thought someone was going to go to jail, didn't you?


The Democrats, however, are victims of their own jest as well. Eventually, flushed with a sense of victory, they will retire to their homes to exchange self-congratulatory phone calls. And the perjurers, torturers, profiteers, influence peddlers, and felons miscellaneous will saunter off to empty their Swiss bank accounts, write their best-selling memoirs, or take lucrative yet undemanding positions as lobbyists.

Surely the handful of Republicans who are not yet the subjects of an investigation must feel a little queasy to see such general indifference regarding the enforcement of justice? Isn't the magical deterring power of draconian penalties the only thing preventing us from plunging into anarchy?

But deterrence, in the conservative mindset, is really only an operative concept when applied to the lower classes, who, because they spend so much time in the criminal justice system, know exactly what kinds of sentences they don't want to receive. Lobbyists, legislators, and Presidents Vice- and otherwise can't be held accountable to a code with which they have so little firsthand experience. Nor would it be appropriate to place rigid constraints upon them, for the salubrious functioning of a vibrant kleptocracy such as ours requires that those in command be granted a certain expansive prerogative of conduct. In other words, as long as our government is making a good faith effort to secure the American way of life for future generations, who's to say just how much perjury is too much?

Armed with this enabling perspective, Republicans have worked as mechanically as a colony of ants for eight interminable years to remake government on the model of organized crime. Leveraging a terrorist attack to create war and fear, they manufactured the enormous social and political upheaval required to cleanse America of its quaint expectations of due process, a limited executive, respect for law, transparency, and human rights. The fact that the architects of this madness have been spared all consequence just shows that their success is complete.

Or is it? Perhaps these would-be autocrats have been so intent on the nearness of their prize that they've been blind to the fatal flaw in their plans. Yes, they have created a Franken-government optimized for tyranny. But if my calculations are correct, they will be ready to pull the switch and imbue this horrific creature with Life! Life! right about...

January of 2009. Just in time for Barack Obama to take over the controls.

All hail the coming liberal dictatorship!

Is justice not sweet? Will payback not be a bitch? I know it is unbecoming to savor the discomfiture of others, even one's enemies. But I have not had the opportunity to stretch, and if I were to resist the urge to revel, I might pull a muscle.

So, dear conservatives, let's consider what the next four years hold--besides compulsory abortions, that is.

All food will be locally grown, organic, and vegetarian. French fries will be taxed exorbitantly. Three days after the policy takes effect, fat people will eat fast food wrappers from trash cans in scenes reminiscent of Stalinist collectivization in the Ukraine.

Not only will there be medical marijuana, marijuana will be the only medicine. Cancer patients will eat and go into remission. People suffering from all other illnesses will endure unbearable suffering, but--small mercy--will later have no memory of it.

Everyone will be issued one of those cars so small that it looks like it caught some kind of necrosis of the flesh and had to have its ass amputated. Road rage will become cute. Teenagers will be so mortified that dating will cease. University researchers will compete to successfully miniaturize fuzzy dice.

Hundreds of luxury "Welcome Centers" will receive Mexicans along our southern borders. As part of a new national service program, debutantes will bathe the immigrants and massage their tired calves with scented ointments. The Department of Agriculture will fund the development of new, easy-to-pick varieties of fruit trees.

Each American will be given the names and addresses of 20 people from other countries to whom they must send a sincere-sounding note of apology. Hand written. And on good stationary--not that cheap stuff. That's right. Just like your mother taught you.

The tax rate for people making over $200,000 per year will be 90%. But they can have half of it back if they ask very, VERY nicely. And sign a paper denying Jesus.

That is just a small sampling of what is in store. The complete list of planned decrees is far too voluminous to transcribe here. And of course it is full of the kind of egg-heady, hard-to-read intellectual language that liberals use because they think they're better than everyone else.

But perhaps those of you who have seen it would like to describe some of your favorite provisions?

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Big Bucket of Treason and Troop-Hatin'

If it turns out the military really is the sole protector of my liberties, I'm going to have to make some other arrangement after they read this.

A cousin of mine was kind enough to forward a now-viral email--enhanced with some supporting commentary of my cousin's own--exposing Barack Obama as a hypocrite and fraud. It seems I have been greatly mislead by TV footage of the candidate in the middle east greeting ecstatic throngs of US service people. The truth is that Obama has been rude and distant, snubbing the troops in his haste to butter up the generals and the media. Everywhere, he has left shocked and insulted soldiers in his wake--it's clearly documented here.

I watched the news footage again on You Tube. The ingeniously doctored images of a beaming Obama against a backdrop of cheering service people look unassailably authentic. Is there no limit to what they can do with special effects these days?

I did not respond to the email. I imagined the dressing down I would receive from the team of case workers that I can only assume attend my cousin. What could possibly have possessed me to engage and provoke someone so obviously delusional? Do I tease children with cancer about their hair?

Gaping is the gulf between the words we write and the message we send. The words in the missive my cousin sent were lengthy and detailed, and for the most part grammatical and correctly spelled--not to be taken for granted in works of this genre. Yet the message received was many orders of magnitude more succinct:

"Hello. How are you? I am completely bananas."

It seems disrespectful not to accord each individual pearl of preposterousness in this email its opportunity to shine en solo. But let us concede to the demands of brevity, and give special honors to the fervently hymned assertion that the United States military is the supreme granter and guarantor of our freedom.

First off, cousin, the Founding Fathers--whose hagiography should always be invoked when their perspective conveniently reinforces the particular point we want to make--viewed standing armies as the pernicious enabler of a tyrant's will.

So as a young cub of a country, we had no army to speak of. This proved a terrible approach to winning wars. We owe our independence less to the disheveled Continental Army and its talent for retreat than to British exasperation and the serendipitous arrival of the French fleet. Our strategy in the war of 1812 was equally as clever. We simply waited for the Redcoats in the sacked wreckage of Washington to get sick of the mosquitoes and go home. Yet somehow, despite our martial floundering, liberty flourished: John Adams remained free to wander the moors of Braintree, MA and irritate all he encountered. People voted. Unless they were women. Or black. Or renters. And marginally human pioneers on our remote frontiers bred with their siblings and engaged in unspeakable acts with livestock, with never a worry about animal rights activists.

Isn't freedom rich and wondrous?

Have we become more free as our military has expanded? It depends what kind of freedom you mean.

I suspect when you talk about freedom, you are primarily referring to the freedom from subjugation. You have hazy, apocalyptic visions of being herded around in shackles and rags and compelled to move rocks from one side of the road to the other for no discernible purpose. You probably even picture your tormentors as the French, whom we have just learned are the same nice folks who saved your sorry ass in the Revolution.

You ingrate.

But if you will sharpen the focus of your mind's eye for a moment, you will see that the figures wielding the whips in your vision are not La Gaulois, but rather actors in gorilla suits. Because your nightmares of conquest are no product of some savant-like intuition for history's trajectory, but a vague recollection of that time you saw Planet of the Apes. And your fear of defeat at foreign hands is about as realistic as the monkeys.

For though many across the world owe their freedom to the prowess of our military--a thought that for you elicits only chauvinistic indifference where pride should swell--none have displayed any inclination to cross the oceans and subdue the people of Oshkosh or Coral Gables. The only defenses against foreign invasion we seem to require are our unwieldy geography and the world's terror that, if provoked, we will strike back by withholding our delicious snack foods and game shows.

But maybe the freedom you believe flows from a benevolent military is more abstract--the freedom of expression. As someone who spends most every waking moment trying to think of shocking and inappropriate things to say, this is a freedom I treasure. But dear cousin, if I am free to cheerfully belittle our nation's abysmal culinary predilections, to howl over our penchant for glorifying ignorance, and to suggest that our unbecoming narcissism is the hallmark of losers, it's not because the army is here to protect that right. Quite the opposite. It is because the army is expressly forbidden to deploy domestically absent the provocation of foreign invasion, and so can do nothing to stop me from making an ass of myself. It's an arcane legal remnant of a simpler time, and one which--take heart, cousin--I'm sure the President means to remedy before he leaves office. But until then the army can't shoot people in the nifty fifty. Which is why they're always so psyched when they get to travel abroad.

There is one kind of domestic freedom that the military is protecting these days, but I think you will regard this genuine concession on my part as only a veiled barb. OK--it's a veiled barb. The freedom the military is protecting is our freedom to be wealthier than other people. How do they do it? Most notably by hanging out innocuously in the middle east and saying things like, "Oh--is this an oilfield? We didn't notice." But don't be smug, because the balance sheet of our martial proclivities won't tolerate scrutiny. For whatever benefits it provides--yes, $4/gallon is cheap!--the military industrial complex absorbs countless billions of dollars that might otherwise be used for public education or health care, so rendering us less free to go to college or to get that lump checked out.

You probably think I'm a Utopian dreamer. But I'm not advocating for disbanding the army. I know well that foreign nations periodically behave as badly as the foreigners with which they are infested, and I believe our diplomatic tool kit should include a big, up-armored, military-style pipe wrench we can use to bludgeon the recalcitrant into unconsciousness when necessary. Nor am I a troop-hater. I'm confident the vast majority serve out of a sense of responsibility, selflessness, and desire to make a positive contribution. I can only hope that I too may one day rise to display an equal generosity of spirit. Dammit, so I shall if the anti-depressants ever kick in.

And I know my tactlessness tempers my power to persuade. "The more sacred the cow, the better the barbecue," I always say, and as a result am no longer invited to Indian weddings. But I am keenly sensible of your attachments in this matter. I know that your close family has a history of military service, and I know your children are serving now. It is only natural that any attack on the institution of which they are a part should arouse your defensive maternal instincts. I expected no less. I assure you the oil people, the arms people, and the ocean of hangers-on that stand to gain from our wars expected no less as well. The ferocity with which you cling to your faith in the benevolence of the military is most convenient for them. Perhaps, once our current crop of wars have been edged out of the market by a fresh round of conflicts, and your children have come home again--not in a box, god willing--these real victors will share some of their windfall with you. Out of the goodness of their hearts, of course.

My point is that you should protect your babies, not the bathwater. The nobility of your children's service cannot be more or less pure than their intent in offering it, no matter to what ends it is manipulated. Nor will you diminish it if you set aside your preconceptions and the superficial patriotic palliatives you fondly recite and instead think critically about the cause and effects of America's flourishing belligerence. That would not be a betrayal, but rather the exercising of a mother's due diligence.

I take it that you, like the author of the scurrilous fabrication you abetted, "usually don't think much about politics."

Maybe it's time you started.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Lie to Me Some More

Bob Woodward thinks that, in politics, sometimes it's OK to lie. He cites an instance in which Barry Goldwater deceived the press about the content of a conversation he had with Richard Nixon.

Just imagine, Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon in bed with a lie! What next? Santa Claus a myth?

The commenters on Woodwards piece were as shocked as I'm sure you are. Like a condemning chorus in a Greek tragedy, they proclaimed lying an absolute evil.

Let us dismiss that peanut gallery. Nine out of ten people who post comments on blogs that have not the panache of this blog are either bitter, beaten, bored, angry, hateful, drippy, obsessive, compulsive, or hopelessly insecure. The remaining 10% are just people who have no freaking clue how mind-blowingly stupid the things they write make them appear! Sweet Jesus. If these are our best and brightest we are doomed, doomed, doomed. Make no mistake...

And true to form, Woodward's trailing pack of clucking Mrs. Grundy's get it exactly wrong. Lying in politics is no crime. In fact, it is a foundational prerequisite for effective governance in a democracy. This I shall shortly illustrate with mathematical certainty.

But first, I cannot allow Mr. Woodward's scurrilous defamation of the venerable craft of lying one's ass off to go unchallenged. This lie he selects as his example, this pedantic, pedestrian little misdirection, is no more representative of the awe-inspiring canon of political lies than a platypus is of mammals or Joe Lieberman is of Democrats. In a world of Rembrandts and Picasso's, Woodward offers dogs-playing-poker as a basis for disparaging art.

And it's inexcusable because really, of all people, who knows lying better than Bob Woodward? Given his sordid, lifelong entanglement with this seductress, he ought to of recused himself from the topic entirely. Or did he just forget to mention that, yes, he does have some passing acquaintance , but only through love, sex, marriage, joint parentage of numerous mixed-race offspring, divorce, and purely coincidental hookups (twice!) in the stall of the men's room at CBGB's. Oh, and she donated a lung and a kidney to him in '86.

To betray this complex if debauched mistress after she bestowed upon him so much professional success demonstrates weakness of character. And ironically, his disavowal is a lie in itself. For lies are good. And so are liars. Follow the track of my irrefutable logic now, but be warned: you will be wiser when we reach our journey's end, but by then soap and water will have lost all power to make you feel clean.

I begin with an indispensable premise: A lie is only a lie if the teller knows they are lying. This is why insanity is a defense and also why Fox News anchor Chris Wallace looks so unconflicted when he speaks. Unfortunately, this precept is of little practical use for identifying lies in the wild, where they survive and thrive only in shades of gray. The black and white ones have long since been hunted to extinction by wives who, I'm sorry to say--and contrary to our half-hearted protestations--actually are less important to us than a silly basketball game.

So if all lies are lies by degrees, by what criteria are we to distinguish the inoffensive fib from the monstrous whoppers contrived to conceal the highest crimes that our rulers commit? Like torturing innocents. Or slaughtering civilians. Or being fellated in an alcove of the Oval Office.

The criteria are two. The magnitude of a lie is a function of the speaker's critical thinking ability and their humility. You see, a conscious lie--and all lies must be conscious--can be told only by someone with enough critical thinking skills to see the element of falseness amidst the partial truth of what they say. And the more nuanced the topic, the more intelligence is required for the speaker to grasp why at least some facet of what they have said is--may I be blunt?--bullshit.

But it's not enough to have the smarts to recognize you are full of shit. You have to be inclined to consider the possibility to begin with. This is where humility comes in. For only those accepting of their own fallibility can admit error, thus converting an inoffensive thought into an insideous lie.

Let us consider a non-political scenario painfully familiar to husbands and boyfriends.

"Do these pants make me look fat?"

You know your partner is now an armed, unexploded grenade. Would that she had asked you of your secret life of serial murder or inquired about your consumption of fetishistic pornography.

A simpleton might respond reflexively, his vocal chords providing an unintermediated account of the inverse image at that moment rendered upon his retinal membranes. Perhaps he offers up some suicidal gem like, "I don't think it's the pants," insuring that henceforth, his relationship with his children will be conducted entirely on alternate weekends. Regardless, whatever he says will be the truth as he sees it, for he has not the powers of introspection required for artifice.

But let us rewind our scenario and replace our dullard with a sharper tool. Like a chess master manipulating a mental image of a board, he instantly tracks each possible permutation of play to conclusion. His mind swirls with Sophistry, finding in the most minute cracks of his prison walls a potential handhold for escape. What exactly, he ponders, constitutes "fat?" Perhaps the blame may be squarely laid upon the pants themselves? What possible opportunities for extrication abide in the gulf between looking fat and being fat? Is this a trick question, a test of honesty? If so, how overweight must he suggest his spouse is to retain his credibility without discomposing the fragile underpinnings of domestic tranquility?

These factors and others--wind speed? currency exchange rates? viscosity?--they weigh internally in less time than required for a cycle of a hummingbird's wings. And then they whisper something in their dear one's ear that causes her eyes to well with tears of love.

Those words, those brilliant, irresistible, evasive words they utter before slipping inconspicuously away to catch the fourth quarter of the aforementioned basketball game... are they a lie?

To know we must look beneath thick layers of skin and fat, beneath the membrane covering the ribcage, into the thoracic cavity, where pumps the heart. (Alternately we can insert a probe into the vein of the thigh and access the heart that way, but it takes longer and is not covered by insurance.)

Is it the heart of an arrogant fuckhead? If so, look no further. The arrogant can speak only truth, for they are infallible--just ask them. No matter how patently flimsy their ploy, their conscience is unstained, for they believe that they shit cookies that cure cancer.

But if our heart belongs to someone humble and self-effacing, some pitiful self-loathing doormat who is a case-in-point for why nobody wants to read The Lives of the Saints, they can undoubtedly give you ten good reasons why what they said was not wholly true.

And as paradoxical as it seems, it is a fact that a statement which is 99% true is also 100% lie.

Call engine company number 2. Somebody's pants are on fire.

And so we are left with only one possible conclusion, one that runs counter to all intuition and which is liable to make us want to curl up into a fetal ball under the stairs: Only the best people lie. The brilliant. The humble. And the more brilliant and humble they are, the more they lie.

Perhaps this can be conveyed more effectively in graphic form:

Study the chart. Internalize it. Print it out, ball it up and store it in your urethra so that years from now, when you are languishing in prison for the perverse crimes you have committed and which I don't even want to know about, you will have something worthwhile that you might be reading if only it wasn't hopelessly lodged in your penis.

But in the meantime, remember, lying is good. Liars are good. And never more so than in politics. So the next time you are alone in the voting booth, ready to play your inconsequential part in this futile charade we call democracy, give your vote to the biggest liar on the ballot.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Don't Just Pander--Lie!

It's pandering season again, and our brave presidential candidates are out on the trail falling all over themselves to spew tripe about energy issues.

There is no shortage of examples. In Iowa--where it's all corn, all the time--they expressed support for an expansion of the energy-negative, water intensive corn ethanol initiatives that are helping to drive a devastating world-wide food crisis. But at least ethanol will do next to nothing to improve our energy security outlook, thus failing to realize the one goal that was supposed to compensate for all its drawbacks. Hooray!

In coal-producing states, they talk up coal-to-liquids synfuel programs, carbon capture and storage and assorted fairy tales about "clean coal." Apparently, the presidential contenders have been taking in a lot of coal industry PR. Just imagine what might be accomplished if Big Coal put as much effort into improving their energy efficiency and greenhouse gas profile as they do into creating the appearance of such progress.

And everywhere the candidates go, they promise to make gas cheap again. How? By telling the Chinese, sorry, no more for you--we called dibs. Or by threatening OPEC, or else asking them ever so nicely, or--oh look! A shiny penny!

What were we talking about again?

Naughty, naughty politicians. Telling us what we want to hear just so we'll vote for them. It makes us bristle with indignance. All the more so because their assessment of us is as accurate as it is damning.

Truckers begging to be lied to

Yes, our politicians have read us like a book once again. They are what we see when we collectively look into a mirror. While we like to toy with the delusion that they might speak bracing truth to us simply by opening their mouths and forming the requisite vowels and consonants, our electoral system is in fact a self-selecting system designed to insure that those who might say something that upsets us will never get the get to stand at the podium. In other words, our politicians will never be better until we are better.

This leads to an obvious conclusion--what is needed is a program of self-improvement for the American people. Perhaps if we invest in education and imbue the next generation with the kind of critical thinking skills so sorely lacking today, if we elevate the importance of social and political activism to the same level as facility with video games and fashion sense, if we restore respect for values like hard work and sacrifice--maybe then we'll look in the mirror and see the kinds of leaders that can grapple with the challenges we face.

Yeah, right. If you for even one moment find such fantasies credible, you clearly know nothing of America. We have neither the attention span nor the self-discipline necessary to effect such a revolution.

But I have a better idea, one that can succeed because it leverages some of the core American virtues--traits like indifference, disdain for detail, admiration for successful cheats, and the inability to remember what happened five minutes ago.

Rather than vainly hope for politicians too spineless and ethics-bound to promise us the pain-free, no-cost quick fixes we demand, let us look instead to candidates with the courage to transcend mere pandering in favor of full-blown, bald-faced lying.

You see, the problem with pandering is that it is a half measure. It begins when politicians commit to policies they know to be inherently dangerous or impossible to effect. So far so good. Such nonsense will secure their election, and there's no harm in words. But then, suddenly, they find themselves in the Oval Office, holding the levers power that could effect positive change beyond the dreams of ordinary citizens. This is their moment to atone for every instance of hypocrisy, every verbal act of moral cowardice committed between Walla Walla and Williamsburg. All they have to do is something smart.

But instead this is the moment at which--tragically--they develop a conscience.

For months on end they traipsed the country, saying anything--anything!--that would convince America to jump in the sack with them. But there's something about sitting at that desk that makes a new President feel bound to execute the absurd and counterproductive schemes they cynically preached from the stump. It's like some excruciating, Sisyphean dream we're forced to endure over and over again. And all because they merely pandered when they should have lied.

So once you're in office, remember: to hell with your idiotic promises about rolling back gas taxes! Coal-to-liquids? Never met the guy. Obfuscate! Deny! Blame it on a drinking problem! Anything rather than seek to execute the vacuous policies that we elected you to implement.

Please, save us from ourselves. If you don't lie to us now, we will never forgive you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thanks Mike's Blog Round Up Mike!

Really, a big thanks to Mike F., Bluegal, and all the C&L folks who have shown 'da love to Only Sayin' over the past year.

For today's visitors, some new lovin' from the oven below...

Clinton's Cards, Obama's Deal

Hillary Clinton is playing a hand dealt by Obama. And the dealer peeked.

Actually, he did more than peek. He laid out all the cards face up and selected the aces for himself. Aces like hope, freshness, change, and unity.

To Hillary he sent deuces and tres like competence, hard work, reliability and experience.

And now she's cornered. It's clear she's made the decision to play her hand to the hilt, raising the ante round by round. But if she thinks this can work, her naivete is stunning. And isn't Hillary supposed to be the shrewd one?

She should have cried foul the moment he took out the cards and with feathery touch sent them acrobatically arcing from one hand to the other. At the very least, she should have fought for a new deal like it was a matter of survival. Because it was.

Now it's too late. She has a losing hand. And the harder she plays it, the bigger she will lose.

Granted, Hillary entered the game confronting some intrinsic challenges. One is that she's a woman. There are those who would argue that this creates an unfair and impossible obstacle for her. How can any woman display the toughness that makes a credible Commander in Chief without also being pegged as an abrasive shrew?

Before long, a woman will come along who is equipped to use her gender as a point of strength. A woman who taps naturally into all the positive feelings people have towards the powerful and influential women in their lives. Voters will defend this woman when she's attacked as if their own sister were under assault. And they will bend to her will to avoid disappointing her, out of an almost holy respect, as they do for their mothers. Such a woman will come along, but it appears her name will not be Hillary Clinton. Except in a case of monumental coincidence.

You may lament the superficiality of a politics that elevates personality and carriage to a par with policy. But as well to rue inconvenient realities like the need for sleep or ear wax build-up. These things aren't going away either.

And while women have a bigger hill to climb in presidential politics—at least until someone breaks the glass ceiling—gender expectations cut both ways. Dennis Kucinich can never be President. He's short. And those ears! Even his wife, ravishing as she is, cannot restore him to manhood.

So Obama and Clinton are competing for the voters' affections each against a different set of gender expectations, like apples and oranges. But only one of them can be the winner, and Obama is proving that people like his orange more than Clinton's apple.

Some—you?—may find Clinton to be more personally compelling than Obama. You see in her a commanding presence, evoking warmth, loyalty and a host of protective instincts. But if so, you are incontrovertibly in the minority. In a race in which the policy differences between the two candidates are barely discernible, the wave of enthusiasm that is carrying Obama can only be attributed to the impact of his style and personality. It isn't just minorities that gravitate to him. It isn't just men. It isn't just Democrats. His support cuts across virtually every demographic except the sourest of dead-end conservatives. People like him more than Clinton.

She was slow to grasp both the fact and the significance of this. Perhaps she smugly believed Obama's expansive style would be his own downfall, that America had learned its lesson about selecting Presidents for their likeability. Given the experience of the last eight years, we might have come to believe that anyone we like enough to elect president must also be utterly incapable of doing the job. We might have forgotten that a winning personality does not preclude intelligence, and in fact what a powerful aid personal magnetism can be in the pursuit of well-considered goals.

Even if the Clinton team recognized early in the race that Obama was winning hearts, they can hardly be blamed for sitting pat as the candidate for the head. If the utilitarian fluorescence of her personality seems pale in comparison to the radiant aura generated by her competitor, what could she hope to do about it over the course of a few short months, if ever? Politicians make required mechanical adjustments when their pollsters identify negative responses to their bearing or facial expressions. Acting differently is mere stagecraft. But being different is a much taller order. Witness the plasticine smile that John McCain's advisers have hot-glued to his face in recent weeks. We'll see how that works out. The electorate may go slack and numb when confronted with even a glimpse of tax policy detail, but they can spot a phony in a second.

So Clinton stuck to her plan and waited for the Obama brush fire to show itself no more than a flash-in-the-pan.

But she underestimated both the staying power of Obama's talents and America's hunger for inspirational leadership. A preponderance of the electorate has recognized—consciously or not—the staggering scope of the challenges ahead. When in the memory of the living have so many explosive issues—the economy, international relations, energy security, global warming, immigration, terrorism—come to critical mass at the same time? For many years our leaders have denied, ignored, or obfuscated these difficulties. We've pulled the blankets over our head and in the suffocating dark shouted slogans of pride, courage and belligerence. But now we are gathering ourselves to face the onslaught. It's not bravery. It's an involuntary reaction. We are turning to face the wave just before it hits. And we are scared to death.

There is a profound emotional vulnerability that accompanies such an imminent trial. Clinton might argue that this moment should put experience, reliability, and familiarity at a premium. Indeed, those are great qualities to lean on when you spot the storm ahead. And they will be needed when we're tossing in high seas as well. But here, as we stare up into the yawning belly of a breaking mountain of water, what people want is courage. Someone who makes them feel rather than think. Any more prosaic narrative becomes an irritating distraction.

All this was manifest, if still partially obscured, right after the Iowa primary. That's when Obama slid the cards towards her and asked her to cut the deck. Clinton hesitated, her campaign paralyzed by the shock of that first blow. Had she gotten up from the table, insisted they play a different game, there might still have been time to alter the dynamic of the race. But confident in her game plan and her formidable tactical strengths, she took the bait. She hammered on her experience and her competence. She leveraged warm memories of the Clinton years and let her husband share the spotlight. She strode into the Augean stables of policy minutia and valorously wielded her shovel. She misread her victory in tiny New Hampshire as a validation of her strategy.

She was snookered.

Now it is obvious that all the thematic terrain she so triumphantly occupied was willingly ceded by Obama in a tactical retreat. What appeared to be a shining prize when viewed from afar—to command the territory of experience and workmanlike capability—turns out to be dreary and lackluster. Any mid-level brand manager would identify her positioning as catastrophic. The harder she fights, the deeper into quicksand she sinks, building Obama up in the process. If she paints herself the worker, he appears the leader. If she is the manager, he becomes the executive. If she is a return to a safer past, he becomes a pioneer into the future. He owns all the high ground, and he will easily reoccupy her territory after she packs up and goes home.

And in a crowning irony, her struggle for viability compels her to co-opt some of the most distasteful Republican talking points. She is playing the fear card, raising the spectre of the disaster that will ensue if we put an untested Commander in Chief in the White House. It's a cry that might serve to shave a percentage point of voters her way in a tight race, but it will never be heard above the roar of pounding feet as the mob rushes to Obama's banner.

With that play trumped, she is driven to go negative and attempt to sow doubt about the lesser man beneath the soaring rhetoric. Such a blatant appeal to cynicism certainly serves to clarify the stylistic gulf between the candidates. But not to her advantage.

Still, what other cards can she play at this point? If she had locked Bill in a closet in mid-January and remade her message from scratch, everyone would have thought her mad, but she might have a chance in the fight now. Instead she took the safe and ostensibly smart route. Since then she's been outfoxed, out-maneuvered, out-positioned, and just plain whupped. Now, the old expression about playing the hand you're dealt is the only one that applies.

And on March 5th, she will have no choice but to fold.