Friday, January 01, 2010

Nobody Asked Me But....

1) Happy New Year, for what it's worth. According to Arthur C. Clarke, this was the year we were to make contact with an alien civilization. Me, I was just hoping for dolphins in my living room. That would have been cool.

2) It's also going to be the year of the Tiger, which will fall on Valentine's Day. We welcome our Chinese overlords.

3) So what will be the biggest stories of 2010? Here are my picks: Afghanistan, which I think will flare up and join Pakistan and India in a regional conflict that doesn't pit nation against nation (altho there will be plenty of bickering) but establishment versus insurgencies. A loose confederation of groups including but not limited to Al Qaeda and the Taliban will form a coalition in an attempt to deconstruct borders artificially imposed by Westerners.

4) Big Story #2: the destruction of Sarah Palin's political aspirations. The floodgates have crept open. I forsee revelations with respect to her personal dealings that will make past scandals look like Kiwanis Club level corruption.

5) Big Story #3: The economy will lag until the late spring when there will be a sudden surge in activity and hiring. Altho the unemployment numbers will not fall below ten percent, the turnaround will be real and will make people give Obama credit. Also, the Democrats will lose seats in the House and Senate, meaning the second half of Obama's first term will be devoid of anything much, forcing him to focus on international issues like Afghanistan and terrorism.

6) Big Story #4: Water. The impact of global climate change and warming has found its mark in the lesser developed nations, but the drought in the Western United States will become so severe that California will ration water south of Santa Barbara, and Las Vegas will all but be evacuated.

I learned my lesson from last year about making too many predictions...I mean, really, Cuba? I'm going to leave those out there as the four biggest stories of the year.

But I did call eight of the ten! ;-)

7) Blue blue blue blue moon...dididididadada

8) As a Finn, I have to say I'm very impressed by this.

9) When in doubt, suck!

10) The tree did it in the arboretum with a club.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rush Limbaugh Deathwatch

Early reports had him actually dead, which means he likely suffered a very serious attack before they were able to clamp him down with bungee cords to use the AED. I wonder what whaling vessel they called in?
But I digress.
Perhaps the time has come to pronounce Limbaugh "all but dead" and to determine what he will leave in his wake, besides a steaming trail of slug slime?
There's a small part of me, a very Christian, liberal part of me, that likes to think that deep down inside Rush is a scared little boy. You see, twenty, twenty-five years ago, this slug of a man, this Jabba The Nut, emerged with a shtick that saw him alter the reality of political talk in America, changed the direction of a major political party, and became a gravimetric force for evil.
Half-jokingly, so he could maintain the veneer of "comedian," Limbaugh launched anger as a weapon in the national political dialogue. Not that this hadn't happened before, Father Coughlin springs to mind, but the hatred that Coughlin spewed was not so much anti-American ideals as just random hatred.
Limbaugh, on the other hand, just hated that he was behind the times, and since he couldn't muster the effort to keep up, he set out to deliberately drag the nation back to him. It wasn't about advancing a political agenda. It was about self-promotion.
In that respect, Limbaugh had no qualms about stepping over boundaries that anyone who actually loved a nation would never set foot near, accusing anyone and everyone of being a Nazi or a commie, or an Islamofascist, or worse...a liberal!
"Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things...every one! So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, 'Liberal,' as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won't work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor." -- Matt Santos, The West Wing
Rush conveniently forgets that, if not for liberals, Rush himself would be begging loose change in exchange for butt-fucks in the Kansas City railway station. Rush, you see, the bastion of conservative, up-by-the-boot-straps, rock-ribbed self-sufficiency, was on both welfare and unemployment insurance.
But now this hatred Limbaugh has spewed all over the land, this sludge of toxic waste, has morphed into something that, if it had been submitted to DC Comics, would have been laughed out of the office, and if it had been submitted to Mad Magazine, would have been met with stone-cold silence in its unbelievability.
Consider the birther movement. Consider the teabaggers. Consider the hatred spewing from the extreme right wing like an oil gusher that has not yet been capped.
I think Rush is terrified. I suspect it is this deep deep fear in him that forces him to marry every five years, to bloat up like a corpse in a cesspool, stopping only to blurt out what now sounds like almost moderate venom. He sees that the monster he has unleashed threatens to tear apart the very party he claims allegiance to, the party he claims he would like to see leading this nation. He sees that party slide into a cartoonish obscurity of obsolescence and obscenity. And with each passing election, he watches the internal strife of moderates versus radicals become more and more obvious, more and more spiteful, more and more divisive. And he watches his party become a footnote to history because of what he instigated.
He's lost the spotlight.
I don't give him much time.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Right To Primacy

I have long believed, ever since Amy Carter, that the minor children of politicians should remain off-limits until they become of age. I didn't care much for the jokes about Jenna and Not-Jenna in the first Bush term, certainly I was disgusted when Rush Limbaugh called Chelsea Clinton "The White House Dog," and I'm pleased to see the right wing has kept hands off Sasha and Malia Obama.
Mostly. I'm not aware of any outright major blogging with respect to them and a quick Google search uncovers only the Beanie Babies controversy from February.
So it's with trepidation that I approach the news yesterday that Bristol Palin lost her fight to keep the records of her custody fight with Levi Johnston private.
See, Bristol Palin presents a problem: on the one hand, she was a minor when she was dragged out of the Arctic obscurity of Wassilla into the hot lights of the Minneapolis mayhem, and her private pain fully disclosed.
On the other, she presents prima facie evidence of at least Sarah Palin's inability to keep her own house in order, much less take over the White House.
My suspicion here is there's a reverse-discrimination issue at play, at least as far as the Chris Crocker wing of the GOP is concerned: after all, none of them had any problem when Al Gore's son was arrested for possession, calling that an example of the poor family values of the liberal Democratic party.
My instincts tell me that Bristol's name ought to be kept off the lawsuit. It's too late now, of course. Even if the ruling was reversed, it wouldn't take much to figure out which court docket was hers and to publish the details from it.
Which leads me to the dilemma. Legally, there is no question that the public's right to know is far smaller than the right to privacy that Tripp Palin is entitled to, and this is a nation of laws.
On the other hand, there's the whole nasty issue of Sarah Palin's exploitation of Tripp Palin. That cannot be ignored or denied, and that complicates the legal issue.
Part of Johnston's fight has been to protect his public image, which is his right to privacy such as he can maintain and the right to go about doing his business, whether it's being a public figure (which appears to be his destiny, however pathetic that career will be), from the smears and slanders of another public figure, Sarah Palin.
To privatize the records of these hearings is to shackle Johnston's hands from protecting himself. Indeed, his filings in this matter speak to that:
In an affidavit, he [Johnston] says he wants the case to be open to "public scrutiny as a check against anyone's need to be overly vindictive, aggressive or malicious." He adds that he's referring not to Bristol but to her mom.
Clearly, there are no winners here, only losers, especially Tripp. My suspicion is the testimony and evidence presented at the trial will speak to both sides of the family being rather...ugly...with perhaps Bristol the only one coming out of it with any chance of an improved public image.
Sarah Palin will be forced to spin, spin, spin mightily the testimony. That Johnston has already landed a few pre-emptive blows in his interviews with regards to how Palin behaved behind the scenes tells me that's about all he was allowed to say by his lawyers, and that there's more, much more, to come.
Which would be consistent with her harping image from the campaig trail, the "pitbull with lipstick" writ small.
For my part, I'll likely ignore the trial, except to note when there will be real damage to Palin's Presidential aspirations.
But she really only has herself to blame for that. She could have been a better parent.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Devil In The Details

When you bargain with the devil, sometimes you win. Most times, he wins.
You may recall back in '06 when Howard Dean decided to revitalize the party by energizing the machinery in all 50 states, regardless of traditional voting patterns. Everyone thought it was brilliant, because hey, it was Howard Dean. I thought it was idiotic.
But the results of the 2006 and 2008 Congressional and Presidential elections proved me wrong. Sort of.
Unfortunately, it has brought front and center the very wing of the Democratic party that we need to continue to run the country and there's the rub:

Before 2009, most Americans never heard of Sens. Ben Nelson, Max Baucus or Kent Conrad. More have heard of the Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman as a result of his Democratic vice presidential bid in 2000.

Yet now they are the movers and shakers in the Senate. Anyone who follows politics knows exactly who they are. It could not be further from 2005 when Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times wrote that "centrist Democrats today struggle with an unfriendly environment."

Throughout the Senate debate over health care, the centrists repeatedly forced the president's hand by insisting on changes to the legislation that made Obama's liberal base furious and which will constrain the impact of this legislation. Health care was the second major victory for centrists this year. They also were able to cut down the size of the economic stimulus bill back in February 2008.

Despite the poutrage from the liberal community, this is a simple fact: we can't run a 50 state strategy if we're going to lose the Baucuses, Nelsons and Conrads of the nation. How easy would it be to say to a voter in, say, Colorado "See what them libs did to Lieberman" and scare off a potential vote?
Let's turn back to CNN for a moment:

Why is this small group of senators so influential and will this change? The first reason has to do with the nature of the Democratic Party. Democrats have never been as ideologically disciplined as the Republicans, and they have been less successful containing party differences.[...]

The second factor behind the new kings of the hill has to do with the sharpening of the partisan divide on Capitol Hill. The impact of growing party polarization since the 1970s has meant that winning votes from the other party is extraordinarily difficult. Except for rare moments, neither party can count on winning significant blocks of votes from the other side of the aisle.[...]

Finally, institutions matter. The U.S. now has a Senate that operates as a supermajority. The Senate now requires 60 votes on any piece of legislation given that senators are willing to use the filibuster on almost any bill. If the majority party needs 60 votes to pass a bill, and it can't win votes from the other side, a handful of moderates wield tremendous power.

Expanding a voter base is a lot like breaking ground in a garden. You have to work the soil, amend it, fertilize it, then you can seed. Once you can begin growing things, you can thin and weed out the garden, thus insuring a healthier crop.
The basic flaw in the strategy of Karl Rove's attempt at a permanent Republican majority was in underestimating the ground that was shifting underneath him. He believed it was more solid than it was, but in point of fact, the number of solidly blue or red districts (much less states) in the nation is very small. And as CNN points out, generally you can count on 45% of any district to go Democratic, 45% to go Republican, meaning you are scrambling for less than ten percent of the vote.
Unless you can alter your party's image sufficiently that you can peel off voters from the other party who are frustrated with the lack of response from their own party. This is how Obama won in 2008. It wasn't the liberals that got him elected, altho the youth vote was a large factor.
Instead, it was the perception that he was not a radical Muslim liberal hippie pinko commie Volvo driver. Why do you think the radical ight chose the ridiculous tropes they did, day in and day out, to stain the man? 
And it's funny how our side missed that message completely, while the other voters got it almost from day one (and certainly the day after McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate).
So for now, we're stuck with these guys. If you read on in the linked article at CNN, you'll find the three options Obama and the party leadership have for dealing with them. If we as liberals are truly interested in helping this administration, we'll opt for Number Two:

The second option would be to use the power of the bully pulpit, as well as the famous but now forgotten campaign network from 2008, to go into the states of these senators and build grassroots pressure to vote with the party. Thus far, the president has been hesitant to take this path.

What if, rather than waiting for his instruction, we lifted the burden off his shoulders for him? You know, the man's a little busy and right now needs these guys but if we can get underneath their pins and start to push outward, they might decide they need to shift left a little in order to shore up their chances of winning re-election.
After all, ain't that what it all comes down to? It's all fine and dandy to have campaign money flowing in from corporations, but if you have no office, that tap gets shut off faster than beer in a Prohibition raid.
Ay, but then, the devil's in the details. How many of us really care that much?

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Modest Proposal

Little noticed in the hoopla over the failed terrorism attempt of Christmas Day, with the concurrent fingerpointing (these rules were instituted under the Bush administration, something jackasses like Rep. Peter King (R-Frontrunning Poser) seem to forget) was an item that made me think a little:
WUHAN, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- The Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway with the world's fastest train journey at a 350-km-per-hour designed speed, started operation Saturday.

    Two passenger trains rolled out the Wuhan Railway Station and Guangzhou North Railway Station at about 9 a.m. and reached the terminals within three hours, compared with the previous 10 and a half hours.

    The service between Wuhan, a metropolis in central China, and Guangzhou City, a business hub in the southern Guangdong Province, was put into trial operation on Dec. 9, reaching a maximum speed of 394.2 km (ed. note: roughly 250 miles) per hour.

Not quite as fast as a jet airplane, but no one drove a train into the 90th floor of the World Trade Center, either. And given the delays in airline terminals sure to arise from this incident, bullet trains might begin to make more sense.
Several reasons drive train travel in Europe and Asia that seem not to affect Americans: higher fuel prices due to government taxes, shorter distances between hub cities, less developed road systems (really, the Autobahn and perhaps Englands motorways are about the closest any nation comes to the US interstate highway system) creating slower speeds and longer travel times, among other reasons.
Indeed, China may be the only nation who suffers from both the need to have citizens in two places at once as well as the staggering large distances between those places.
Now, Barack Obama did propose investing in high speed rail systems, particularly across the heartland of the United States. So far, the only firm proposal is for a rail link between Disneyland and Las Vegas (courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid). I'm not entirely sure what the advantage is for having this. Do you drop your kids off with Goofy in the morning and pick them up at night after you've blown the mortgage payment?
But I digress. We have an opportunity now to invest in something that a) makes sense to do, given the economic catastrophe that higher fuel prices will create shortly, b) can be shovel ready within months, c) would help wean us off foreign energy sources, d) could employ zero-emission power plants strung along the rail lines, e) would reinforce homeland security, both from a macroeconomic point of view as well as a micro-security viewpoint, and f) would give us a goal that most Americans can appreciate and wrap their minds around.
After all, rail travel has been around 150 years and there's a whole litany of romantic notions with regards to it. Imagine going from Chicago to Denver. It's a 17 hour drive. It's a three hour plane flight, plus two hours at security. At 660-odd miles and 250 mph on a train, it's 2 and one-half hours. And you're in downtown at both ends.
Makes sense, right?