January 27, 2007

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Dowd rising

I'll admit that lately, I've been pretty consistently disappointed by the New York Times' Maureen Dowd. She's seemed a bit too much like the "elitist" her critics accuse her of being, caught up in oh-so-clever inside jokes and run-for-the-encyclopedia mythological references. And her writing itself has often been more rambling - and less interesting - than the average reader comment at HuffPo.

Today, however, she hits the nail on the head, with her dismantling of the Vice President. Excerpts:
Delusional is far too mild a word to describe Dick Cheney. Delusional doesn't begin to capture the profound, transcendental one-flew-over daftness of the man.

Has anyone in the history of the United States ever been so singularly wrong and misguided about such phenomenally important events and continued to insist he's right in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

It requires an exquisite kind of lunacy to spend hundreds of billions destroying America's reputation in the world, exhausting the U.S. military, failing to catch Osama, enhancing Iran's power in the Middle East and sending American kids to train and arm Iraqi forces so they can work against American interests.

(...)

You must have a real talent for derangement to stay wrong every step of the way, to remain in complete denial about Iraq's civil war, to have a total misunderstanding of Arab culture, to be completely oblivious to the American mood and to be absolutely blind to how democracy works.

In a democracy, when you run a campaign that panders to homophobia by attacking gay marriage and then your lesbian daughter writes a book about politics and decides to have a baby with her partner, you cannot tell Wolf Blitzer he's "out of line" when he gingerly raises the hypocrisy of your position.

(...)

Mr. Cheney has turned his perversity into foreign policy.

He assumes that the more people think he's crazy, the saner he must be. In Dr. No's nutty world-view, anti-Americanism is a compliment. The proof that America is right is that everyone thinks it isn't.

He sees himself as a prophet in the wilderness because he thinks anyone in the wilderness must be a prophet.
Welcome back, Ms. D.

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(NOTE: For those of you who are not yet subscribers to the NYT's "Times Select", Ms. Dowd's article is reprinted in the comments section below. Click "add your opinion" to access the full editorial.)

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January 25, 2007

Oh, for heaven's sake!

Guess that's it then. Game over. Pack up your locker, throw in the towel, hitch a ride home, and listen to that fat lady sing, brethren. For TIME, once known as a symbol of journalistic excellence, has released yet another poll on the 2008 presidential contest - Page 1, no less - which declares the race will most assuredly be Hillary vs. McCain.

Whew! I'm glad we cleared that up.

Think of all the free time that'll leave for each of the contenders to actually try and get something accomplished in Washington. Think of all the free time that'll open up on the airwaves, and in the newspapers, and on the blogosphere, for some informed discussion of, you know, that handful of things we need to address today. Think of all the free time that'll give each of us to repent for our part in treating the election of our Chief Executive as some sort of game show.

For heaven's sake, America. It's more than a year until the first presidential primary! Until then, can we give all "Campaign '08" coverage and polls their due, and relegate them to the Entertainment section - right next to the Jumble - where they belong?

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January 24, 2007

SOTU, Part II

Forget last night. Here's the real state of our union. From the Associated Press:
The Democratic-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee dismissed President Bush's plans to increase troops strength in Iraq on Wednesday as "not in the national interest," an unusual wartime repudiation of the commander in chief.
Yeah, yeah, I know it's a non-binding resolution we're talking about here. But, by God, it's a breath of fresh air nonetheless.

So is this, from Senator Chuck Hagel:
"There is no strategy," he said of the Bush administration's war management. "This is a pingpong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in Anbar province, in Iraq, in Baghdad are not beans; they're real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder."
Is this essentially symbolic measure enough? Not by a long shot. But in the coded language of Senatorial etiquette - particularly less than 24 hours after the President's SOTU address - it's a real encouraging start.

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SOTU, Part I

Today's NYT editorial just about sums it up. Snips:
At times, Mr. Bush sounded almost as if he'd gotten the message of the 2006 elections. "Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on - as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done," he said.

But we've heard that from Mr. Bush before. In early 2001, he promised to bring Americans together and instead embarked on his irresponsible tax cuts, a divisive right-wing social agenda and a neo-conservative foreign policy that tore up international treaties and alienated even America's closest allies. In the wake of 9/11, Mr. Bush had a second chance to rally the nation - and the world - only to squander it on a pointless, catastrophic war in Iraq. Mr. Bush promised bipartisanship after his re-election in 2004, and again after Hurricane Katrina. Always, he failed to deliver. He did not even mention New Orleans last night.

(...)

Neither broken promises nor failed policies changed Mr. Bush's mind. So the nation has been saddled with tax cuts that have turned a budget surplus into a big deficit, education reform that has been badly managed and underfinanced, far-right judges with scant qualifications, the dismantling of regulations in order to benefit corporations at the expense of workers, and a triumph of ideology over science in policy making on the environment and medical research. All along, Americans' civil liberties and the constitutional balance have been trampled by a president determined to assert ever more power.

Now that the Democrats have taken Congress, Mr. Bush is acting as if he'd had the door to compromise open all along and the Democrats had refused to walk through it.

(...)

Mr. Bush almost certainly didn't intend it, but his speech did reinforce one vital political fact - that it's not just up to him anymore. There was a big change last night: the audience. Instead of solid Republican majorities marching in lock step with the White House, Congress is controlled by Democrats. It will be their task to give leadership to a nation that desperately wants change and expects its leaders to work together to deliver it.

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January 23, 2007

This 'n' That

Wow. This is the best response I've seen to that all day.

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January 22, 2007

Nothin'

OK. Today I've got nothin'. Nothin' new to add. Nothin' left to say. Nothin' that hasn't been covered a thousand times already.

Nothin'.

Just scroll down this main page, and it's all there. The same litany of complaints - none of which seem ever to be addressed or corrected - 'round and 'round and 'round she goes. I suppose, come to think of it, that these past six years have felt exactly like turning in circles on some nightmarish carousel. The worst thing is that I can see the off switch in plain sight on each revolution, but I realize with despair that those who can actually reach it are too scared or apathetic or manipulative or self-absorbed or just batshit insane to simply shut down the ride.

Which leads me back to... nothin'.

It hasn't escaped my attention that my tone has been pretty bleak, of late. Sorry about that. Strange, too, because I'd be willing to bet that my friends and family would almost unanimously describe me as a funny guy. Easy going. Quick with a smile, or a shoulder to cry on, or an optimistic prediction, or a corny joke to lighten the mood.

(Good grief - have I turned into Benigni's ridiculous Guido Orefice from Life Is Beautiful? Eeesh!)

I suppose, when it comes to the conduct of our "leaders" in Washington, I have such an overwhelming sense of impotence that I just can't find anything positive to say right now. And believe me, I try. I search every day for some glimmer of good news to spark that ol' feeling of hope. But as the Bush-Cheney Administration leads us inexorably toward World War III without an effective check or balance in sight, the best I can come up with is...

Nothin'.

I can't help feeling that our country, our culture, is in the clutches of madmen - and I don't just mean the ones in Washington. Work circumstances being what they are right now, I've spent a considerable amount of time the past week reading (magazines, newspapers, web news portals, blogs, and reader comments), listening (Air America, NPR, and the Axis of Evil: Limbaugh/Hannity/O'Reilly), and watching (CNN, MSNBC, FOX, and local network affiliates). Sadly, I've been left with but one conclusion:

That, aside from those of you who frequent this column, we've become a nation of idiots, governed by idiots, and "informed" by idiots who've been hired by idiots to ensure that we remain idiots. And, by God, we're damn proud of our idiocy!

Of course, the tone of any organization is set at the top, and I have nothin' to add to my previous observations that when you have a President who's proud of the fact he doesn't read the papers, unconcerned that he doesn't know a Sunni from a Shia, and defiantly resistant to even pronouncing the 2nd-grade word "nuclear" correctly, a tacit message is telegraphed to the populace that being educated and well-informed ain't so important.

Why, those traits might even be (shudder) "Lib'rul."

(News flash, Mr. President: If you have it within your linguistic capabilities to utter phrases like "This balcony's got a view clear to the horizon," or "Why don't you clear some brush with me," or "Is Lou clear on what I said in the meeting," then you damn well have the capacity to stop speaking like a member of the "Redneck Comedy Tour" about the most awesome power on our planet.)

And how can we hope to have anything resembling a meaningful debate on America's domestic or foreign policy direction when there are still people conflating Saddam and 9/11? When there are sizable numbers of our fellow citizens who believe that FOX News or Wolf Blitzer report only the facts? When American adults can't find France on a map, and high-school seniors can't calculate 8 times 7 in their heads?

When millions can name the past winners of Survivor and know the lyrics to every one of Beyonce's songs, but have no clue who's serving on the Supreme Court? When 1 in every 3 Americans still have faith that the Bush Administration knows what it's doing? When significant portions of our population believe the Earth is 6000 years old, Jews really do have horns, the Magna Carta is a volcano in the North Atlantic, and you can't catch AIDS unless you're gay?

As I noted, however, that criticism is nothin' new either.

So what's left to say, kids? I can guarantee that today there'll simply be more of the same. The same Administration lies and misdirection. The same slanted, factually-incorrect "analyses" by partisan TV, radio, and print pundits posing as "experts." The same symbolic but ineffectual opposition by Congressional Democrats and progressive bloggers. The same examples of willful ignorance among an ideologically divided population that'll go along with anything as long as WalMart stays open 24 hours.

And I've written about it all before.

This column used to be a form of therapy in a way, a means of releasing my frustrations with the insidious incompetence that seems to infest every layer of our 21st Century society. But it's now become angst-inducing to cover the same obvious territory day after day after day, and see no evidence that Americans as a whole are moving any closer toward understanding "the big picture," or that we have any genuine power to change things for the better.

Today, that leaves me with nothin'. Maybe tomorrow I'll find somethin' intelligent to say.

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January 21, 2007

Double-play

Here are two excellent editorials from today's New York Times. Nicholas Kristof writes:
Unfortunately, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Ahmadinejad benefit from confrontation. Both are unpopular domestically but can use a crisis to distract from their policy failures.

"The current strategy benefits Ahmadinejad," says Professor Nasr [an expert on the region at the Naval Postgraduate School]. "It's going to divert attention at the popular level from democracy."

Mr. Ahmadinejad is facing growing criticism: he has been heckled by university students and scolded in the press, and his candidates did poorly in recent elections. Ordinary Iranians love the U.S. - it's the most pro-American country in the Middle East I've visited - and a civil society is struggling to be born.

"If there is any military strike on Iran, all this movement will end," said Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
And this coup de grace from Frank Rich:
This White House gang is so practiced in lying with a straight face that it never thinks twice about recycling its greatest hits. Hours after Mr. Cheney's Fox interview, President Bush was on "60 Minutes," claiming that before the war "everybody was wrong on weapons of mass destruction" and that "the minute we found out" the W.M.D. didn’t exist he "was the first to say so." Everybody, of course, was not wrong on W.M.D., starting with the United Nations weapons inspection team in Iraq. Nor was Mr. Bush the first to come clean once the truth became apparent after the invasion. On May 29, 2003 - two days after a secret Defense Intelligence Agency-sponsored mission found no biological weapons in trailers captured by American forces - Mr. Bush declared: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories."

But that's all W.M.D under the bridge. The most important lies to watch for now are the new ones being reiterated daily by the administration's top brass, from Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney on down. You know fiasco awaits America when everyone in the White House is reading in unison from the same fictional script, as they did back in the day when "mushroom clouds" and "uranium from Africa" were the daily drumbeat.

The latest lies are custom-made to prop up the new "way forward" that is anything but...

[It's] incumbent on all those talking heads who fell for "shock and awe" and "Mission Accomplished" in 2003 to not let history repeat itself in 2007. Facing the truth is the only way forward in Iraq.
Read on...

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(NOTE: For those of you who are not yet subscribers to the NYT's "Times Select", Messrs. Kristof and Rich's articles are reprinted in the comments section below. Click "add your opinion" to access the full editorials.)

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