Friday, December 16, 2011

Mission Accomplished 3

So, the war in Iraq has ended.


In all honesty, the "news" that Pres. Obama has withdrawn all but a few thousand garrison troops from Iraq, being touted as the "end of the Iraq War" has been met with chirping crickets. Not because the war hasn't mattered. Not because Americans don't care about the troops. Not because we are an ignorant, lazy rabble. We've been down this road before. Who can forget this?

Then there was the announcement by Pres. Obama that a large number of troops were being brought home.

Two years ago.

I'm sorry, but this "ending" is not only redundant, it seems . . . anti-climactic. For one thing, there are many people in the United States who refuse to admit they were lied to. From Pres. George W. Bush through most folks in his Administration responsible. Remember Condi's warning about "mushroom clouds"? Who can forget Colin Powell disgracing himself and the United States before the entire world at the United Nations? Then, there was Donald Rumsfeld, insisting at a press conference that the US knew where those pesky WMDs were - north, south, east, and west of Baghdad! - which was a marvelous way of implying they were both everywhere and nowhere. That there were actually none, zero, zip, zilch, that this was known since 1998, and publicized pretty widely . . . well who would dare call the entire foreign policy establishment of an American Administration a bunch of liars?

Well, anyone paying attention, for one thing.

A whole lot of people, tens and perhaps even hundreds of thousands, are dead. More displaced; the exodus of Iraq's small but historically significant Christian community is almost completely unremarked upon. The destruction of the physical infrastructure has yet to be repaired.

The physical, mental, and moral toll upon the American military won't be paid until we admit, first of all, that such exist. Considering the way the previous Administration treated wounded vets, we have years of catching up to do. Considering it seems nearly impossible to talk about the corrosive effects dehumanizing our enemies has had on some folks in the military, how is it possible to address, for example, the more than occasional reports of our troops simply murdering civilians? I think a whole lot of thanks needs to go to military legal teams who investigate and prosecute these crimes when they occur; yet, like so much else surrounding this whole episode, we just don't talk about it all that much.

Since before the whole thing began, we haven't really talked about it. We didn't discuss whether or not we should invade Iraq. We were told we had to. Then, we were told we were going to. Then, we were told we had to stay. And stay. And stay. The reasons kept changing, the rationale always shifting. At the end of the day, erasing all the lies and 9/11 bloody shirt waving, there seemed no good reason. A whole lot of people are dead, a country lies in physical, social, and political ruin, and our troops are coming back home amid an uneasy silence because no one, either those in charge, those who fought, or we who have had to watch have wrestled with the reality that the whole thing has been a horrendous crime. Those in charge will never face legal sanction. Our troops, who have done their jobs to the best of their abilities, by and large, aren't coming home to ticker-tape parades and long speeches.

The whole thing has stunk, and the dearth of serious discussion leaves me feeling that nothing good has come of these past 8 years. It was all preventable. It is just . . . sad.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Voicing Frustration . . . Again

So, I'm reading Tbogg smacking Megan McArdle around, and I'm thinking how familiar it all is. Someone on the right says something morally foul; someone on the left points out how morally foul it is; the original person claims to ignore the criticism, yet actually doubles down on the truly morally vicious stuff until finally, in a display of utter abandon, someone like Tbogg comes along and says, with all the poetry at his command, "You are a horrible fucking human being who I hope dies slowly." Readers cheer with delight.

Over the years I've read stuff far worse than, but of a kind with, the kind of thing McArdle is pushing here. I honestly believed it was possible to listen to what they have to say, offer a counter-argument, have a back-and-forth, blah-blah-blah. I have come to recognize, however, that the Megan McArdles and Jonah Goldbergs and writer's at The American Thinker and Renew America and even such dull luminaries as the op-ed writers at our flagship national newspapers, by and large, are just horrible human beings. While I do not wish to see any of them die slowly, that needs to be repeated until it has sunk in.

These are horrible human beings.

It isn't just that, say, Jonah Goldberg, who has achieved all he has in life because his mother Lucianne Goldberg, was an integral part of trying to get Bill Clinton's penis impeached; it isn't that George Will played an unethical role in the candidacy of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, helping him prepare for a debate using papers purloined from the campaign of Pres. Carter, then adding to this lack of ethics by lying about what happened; it isn't that Charles Krauthammer has weekly visions of American and Israeli armed forces pretty much wiping out any and every non-Jew in the Middle East because that's the only way to protect Israeli, I mean American, interests.

While morally obtuse and ridiculous in and for themselves, these positions - and the hundreds, even thousands, of others - folks like this have taken, and continue to take, as well as the assumption by all involved that they are good, upstanding people who deserve to be heard all add up to the irrefutable conclusion that they are, to a person, morally vicious proponents of a vision of America at home and abroad that is violent, racist, almost demonic in its viciousness.

Rather than pretend, it is far better to just call these people out and say, "Do you have any idea that the combination of ignorance, stupidity, and moral vice in pretty much everything you write makes kittens weep?"

I know I harp on this theme more than occasionally, but the truth is simple enough. We would actually function far better as a political society without people like this sucking the life blood from our public discourse. I suppose we could just hand mirrors up - I'm guessing that neither Ann Coulter nor Ross Douthat actually cast reflections - but that just isn't good enough. It's one thing to dismiss a low-info, obviously bigoted blogger as a ridiculous scribbler who actually lowers our national IQ each time he or she publishes something on the internet. Saying the same thing about Joe Klein, while also technically accurate, is far harder to get across to people. He used to write for The New Yorker, after all. He writes for Time.

Which doesn't mean he isn't as big a douchebag as some anonymous scribbler on the internet. We just know this douchebag's real name, is all.

We just need to do more of this kind of thing. As often as possible. We need to stop pretending that these folks are being rewarded for intelligence, or hard work, or insight, or anything else. They are rewarded because they toss the chum in the waters of our political life, and the sharks come a-swimming.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Serious Proposal For Reforming The Nomination Process

With the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away, we are yet again facing the same set of questions political junkies have been hearing for decades: Why Iowa and New Hampshire? Why do we begin our contest for nominating candidates for the Presidency with two small, rural, unrepresentative-in-every-way states? The usual answers - because they're small, because they allow face-to-face connection with voters, yadda-yadda- just don't cut it anymore. While I know it pains so many in the national press to accept this, we live in the day and age of the internet. The basic falseness of the old-style face-to-face campaigning for the Presidency is meaningless. With the restructuring of the whole system of campaign finance with the Citizens United decision, as well as the advent of new technologies for connecting with large swaths of the potential voting public, I think it's high time, past time even, for the major parties to stop coddling the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire. There isn't anything wrong with them; they are both states in the United States, filled with good, hard-working folks who also happen to be mostly white and rural in a country that is multi-racial and urban. Their preferences and concerns are not those of the majority of Americans.

With the Democrats taking the cycle of primaries off, I believe there is an opening, if anyone in the Democratic Party had any sense, to completely revamp the entire primary/caucus system. Proposals like this are a dime a dozen; I believe even (gasp!) David Broder proposed something similar to what I am proposing way back in the 1990's. That doesn't make it wrong; it doesn't make it right. It does, I think, address certain inequities and disparities within the nominating process as well as make the system a bit less nonsensical.

The first Tuesday of each month of the primary season, beginning in January and ending in May, have primaries in 10 states. The first set of primaries would include California, the largest state. The second would include Texas. The third, New York. The fourth Illinois. The last, in May, would include Florida. Have the ten states spread across the country. No regional primaries like the old Democratic "Super Tuesday" nonsense.

By having each set of primaries include the five largest states, with California being up front, rather than last as has happened historically, the system would put a premium upon organization and fund-raising - a key barometer of support prior to voting; moreso than all the nonsensical, nearly daily "polling" that means absolutely nothing. It would also keep vanity candidacies such as those of Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum from this year, to a minimum. While anyone could declare their candidacy, once it became clear that some just couldn't create the infrastructure because of a lack of support and funds, they would fade away.

With a premium on organization and fund-raising, and with the understanding that competition will be in very large states with diverse populations, as well as small states, there will also be an emphasis, right off the bat, on national appeal. Candidates will be able to use the internet as well as traditional media; barnstorming tours rather than pretending to care about the farmers at some Hayseed County Fair in Iowa when everyone, including the farmers, knows they don't. With the rules established under the Citizens United decision clearly making corporate support - in a general sense; large organizations can advertise for candidates - easier, rather than stand around and whine about it, something the Democrats have been doing since the Court handed the decision down, they should use it to their advantage. Candidates could get both corporations and unions, large lobbying firms and other large organizations who have voiced a willingness to support a candidate to put their money where their mouths are.

I doubt very highly that either party, certainly not the Democrats, would ever think of doing something like this. For some odd reason, the whole process of choosing candidates is held hostage to nostalgia and simple-mindedness. The largest states in the union get shafted in the process. The mega-urban corridor on the east coast - running from Boston to Richmond, VA - gets little to no attention. The uniqueness of Texas with its very large urban areas, its vast physical spaces, its many and diverse needs and interests, becomes just "Texas" the southern state with border issues. Having Illinois be a key state would highlight the needs of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes states, a group of moderate-sized states that are diverse within and among themselves that nevertheless share key interests and changing populations and demographics.

The country has changed many times over the decades since the beginning of the primary/caucus era. The system, sad to say, has just not reflected those many changes. Personally, I would almost welcome some other system - a national primary day, say - to the one we have now. At the very least, the proposal on offer here has the distinct advantage of ensuring a modicum of seriousness and attention to central issues facing the nation as a whole. It also would reflect the reality that our nation is an urban, diverse nation. The one disadvantage it has, I think, is how sensible it is.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tom Tomorrow Sums Up Newt's Career

Thank God for Tom Tomorrow

A Hermeneutics Of Effrontery

Piling on the disgraced former Speaker - which, were the pile female members of his staff might be a reminder of past glories - along with George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and Peggy Noonan, we now see Michael Gerson. I should say that the first four words of the title given to Gerson's column, "The problem with Gingrich" are a Pandora's Box, a bottomless pit of possibilities, many of them beginning with the letter "M".

In any event, there are many ways we can read the growing chorus of insider attacks upon the disgraced former House Speaker. We can, I suppose, focus our attention upon the specifics of the attacks themselves. That, sad to say, leads us to applaud people as odious as George Will, as ridiculous as Peggy Noonan, as blood-thirsty as Charles Krauthammer, only because they have managed to spy something real through the lenses normally viewing only poorly understood baseball, or fringed with icons of St. Ronald of Dixon, or red with the blood of swarthy types.

In Gerson's case, while we may agree with many of the specifics of what he is saying - that Gingrich's understanding of Sharia and its role in Muslim societies, including the United States, may well be lacking a little something we call "understanding" - yet there is embedded in this otherwise noteworthy column two sentences that almost made me destroy my laptop due to the sudden urge to spit take:
n the United States, public officials respect the conscience of citizens while protecting them from violence. The proper role of government is to aggressively fight terrorism, not to engage in theological judgments.
Michael Gerson wrote that. Yes indeed. It is a monument to sanity. In the service of going after the disgraced former Speaker of the House, Gerson has managed to trip over the truth, and notice it sitting there. No doubt, he shall hop to his feet soon enough go on penning his usual fluff that is chock-a-block with advice for office-holders on making theological judgments.

Because of the incongruities involved when folks who are semi-regular readers of the horrible people suddenly feeling the urge to mutter, "Peggy! You go girl!", I think another way to read your typical Big Name Pundit, when said person has written about Newt, is through the interpretive lens of effrontery. Rather than, say, having to drink oneself to oblivion because one finds oneself agreeing with George Will, consider a totally different possibility. It isn't that Will has suddenly discovered the real world, or that Peggy Noonan no longer swoons over Ronald Reagan. These tidbits of reality, such as the Gerson's today, are accidents, really. No more than dollops of whip cream upon the usual Hot Crap Sundae that is their usual fare. They are done in service to a Greater Purpose. It is no secret these, and others, who have worked for years in the nation's capital, hold the disgraced former Speaker in contempt. With politics not being beanbag, as the saying goes, anything ready at hand that ensures the world understands a Gingrich Presidency would be far worse than anything currently under consideration is certainly available for tossing.

Even the truth.

Read this way, we can nod when Gerson writes what he has today, yet need not marvel at this moment of moderation. It is little different, in kind, from David Broder's famous quip that the Clinton's trashed a place not theirs. Will, Krauthammer, Noonan, and Gerson consider themselves the guardians of respectable conservative opinion, the gatekeepers to the House of Right. That they are usually, by turns, silly buffoons or blood-thirsty moral monsters or tin-eared pseudo-theologians is all in service of the Greater Good. In this case, that includes keeping Gingrich from moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW on January 20, 2013.

I'm not writing this because I feel sorry for Gingrich. I am defending neither his usual forays through the thickets of his own ignorance to the glorious meadows of his megalomania; nor am I defending the pretense of bad pundits assuming the tattered mantle of Lippmann and Broder. I am only suggesting that when the folks in question actually pen something that makes sense, it is an accident. It is obvious to most that Newt is a ridiculous figure to anyone not Newt. The folks who remind readers of this from the precincts of right-wing punditry aren't saying anything surprising. Rather, they are wiping the spittle and grime they rightly understand is the texture of a Gingrich speech from their clothes, telling any who might be interested that he is not "their kind."

Except, of course, he is. They would not exist today if not for Gingrich and his dogged pursuit of a former Speaker (Jim Wright) and the penis of a President (Bill Clinton). Their careers and his followed a similar rise in fortunes with American voters preference for a politics of nonsense, a flirtation with fabrication, and the no-holds-barred idiocy that is all that remains of the Republican Party in America. Now to turn on Gingrich in a last-ditch effort to ward off this fellow-creation of the past generation of American politics is amusing, but ultimately self-defeating. Their fortunes and his are linked in ways that would make Callista Gingrich blush; considering the memories I am quite sure she has of her own ways of linking to the previously married former Speaker, this is saying something.

In other words, when Gingrich fails to win the nomination, and fail he will, he shall not go quietly. He shall drag these, and many others, with him to the depths. That, after all, is how he rolls.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Life In Pottersville

So Lisa and I sat down and watched It's A Wonderful Life yesterday. The girls aren't that Jonesed with it, so it ended up being the two of us. While I was watching, the old familiar complaints I had with it surfaced. Except for Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore, it isn't really well acted. Some of the dialogue seems stilted. When George returns home having been told he's not only lost $8000 but may face arrest and the possible exposure and mischaracterization of his friendship with Violet Bick, does he take his wife aside, tell her what's happened, and figure out what to do? No. He throws a temper tantrum, then runs out and gets drunk, then wrecks his car. His self-pity is almost overwhelming. I don't so much feel sorry for him as want to smack him.

This doesn't even begin to capture my frustrations with the scenes when Clarence shows him Bedford Falls without him. George is supposed to be smart, yet he never really catches on that he has never been born! Seeing the downtown area doesn't convince him? He runs off to his "mother"! That doesn't convince him (a spell? What the hell!), so he heads over to "Bailey Park", even though his mother treats him like the drunken loon he is. And he is shocked, SHOCKED! I tell you to discover, despite Clarence's repeated description of events, to discover not only no Bailey Park, but the grave of his brother, whose death as a child doomed the lives of hundreds of soldiers whose transport was sunk.

After all that, even I'm wondering why I bothered watching it.

Anyway, I got to thinking about some other things while I was watching it. For instance, without the Bailey Building and Loan, the collapse of the local market in Bedford Falls allowed Henry Potter, who - as George correctly tells his frightened customers and neighbors and friends - wasn't panicking in the midst of a banking crisis, to take over the town He not only exploits the situation to his own advantage He converts a friendly, run-of-the-mill small town to the Las Vegas of the Finger Lakes. Potter is no dummy. Vice is the quickest, easiest, and most profitable business imaginable. Dance halls. Burlesque houses. Peep shows. On and on and on and on. We see Violet Bick, whose less than stellar virtue has already been demonstrated, not once but twice (she is, essentially, portrayed as a prostitute in an earlier scene; in the immediately previous set of scenes, she is heading out of town . . . because women had to leave if they were either pregnant, or involved in a scandal; personally, I think she probably got pregnant by some married dude and had an illegal abortion, but that's the romantic in me), being dragged to a paddy wagon, screeching like a harpy.

It occurred to me that the United States has become Pottersville. It's really that simple. Not only have the folk of Pottersville forgotten their history as the sleepy, pleasant community of Bedford Falls, their decade and a half as Pottersville (I usually put the community name-change at the point when the Building and Loan collapsed and Potter consolidated his hold on the town) has completely erased any vestige of personal or communal ethic from their lives. Even Mary, who is described as "an old maid" at, what, 35, doesn't react with any equanimity when George confronts her. That anyone like Mary could exist in a town like Pottersville - that it would even bother with a library - strains credulity. At the same time, the way the bad folk of Pottersville gather round to protect her as she faints over George's (largely unbelievable) entreaties is kind of a ridiculous display of false protectiveness. Which results in the kind of scene that, say, had George been African-American, would have ended up with him strung up from a tree.

Like the residents of Pottersville, the same Americans demand unfettered access to profit from individual and social weakness, promote a kind of collective ignorance and rapacious individualism that merely exists from one moment to the next without thought, and allies itself with a false virtue that protects largely symbolic innocents, all the while actively apathetic to the collective suffering that exists around them. Indeed, our major parties would much prefer we waste our energies protecting old maids who faint at the slightest provocation, while always reaching deep in to our pockets to shell out as much money as possible for the dance girls. That the same people can actually insist simultaneously that we need to be most concerned with some random matters of personal virtue all the while promoting a social, economic, and cultural milieu that seeks to profit from a variety of vices only shows how atrophied our collective moral imagination has become. Those who insist that things can be, or at least could be, otherwise are George Bailey - crazy, drunk, and refusing to believe that things are the way they really are.

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