Sunday, October 29, 2006

Stealing the Limelight

On this date in 1897 a man was born who has provided inestimable assistance in making the Bush Administration what it is today.

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, gave his name to “The Goebbels Technique,” the policy of repeating a lie until it is assumed to be the truth. I’ll bet Shrub doesn’t even give him credit for it.

(Note that the Nazis were at least honest enough to call propaganda what it was.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A New Low

This article appeared in Slate magazine on Friday, October 27.

When the Justice Department Played Defense.

I defy anyone to find any legitimate justification for passing a law that defies not only the letter of the Constitution, but the spirit of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

They’re only coming for terrorists? Who gets to decide whether you’re a terrorist or not? What if they’re wrong? (Even the most well-intention will be wrong from time to time, and it’s a long, uphill fight to declare Shrub or Darth Cheney “well-intentioned.”)

Most of us know at least part of this poem. It was never more relevant in America than it is today.

When the Nazis came for the communists
I remained silent;
after all I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats
I remained silent;
after all I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists
I did not speak out;
after all I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Think it’s too harsh to describe our current state as resembling the Nazis? The Nazis didn’t look so bad to the Germans when they started out. Times were tough, and the nation was suffering from a paranoid impression of being assaulted from all sides. Someone had to be blamed. Eventually the scapegoats were everyone except those in power.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 makes me ashamed to represent myself as an American.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Putin His Foot in His Mouth Again

It’s not just American media who have strange sensibilities. The recent contretemps over comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin shows the international media can be just as shallow.

Here’s Reuters’ description of the incident:

The Kremlin said on Friday President Vladimir Putin was joking and not condoning rape when he commented about the virility of Israeli President Moshev Katsav, whom police suspect of raping female employees.

Unaware a microphone was switched on during talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Putin called Katsav a "mighty guy" and said: "Raped 10 women! I would never have expected that from him. He surprised us all. We all envy him."

I’m fifty years old and twenty-five pounds overweight, so giving Vladimir Putin the benefit of the doubt could take more bending over backward than my back can stand. (All right. Thirty pounds, damn it! Are you happy now?) I’m still willing to try, in the name of journalistic excellence. (Even I’m laughing at that.)

Have you ever said anything sarcastic, intended for a select audience you assumed would get the joke? Ever felt embarrassed when it leaked out? Ever had it leak out in an international forum, where a thousand journalists hang on your every word because catching you saying something dumb allows them to get credit for a day’s work without having done any?

Putin said something he shouldn’t have said, in a situation where he shouldn’t have said it. It’s the resulting outrage that’s disturbing. Forget these comments; Vladimir Putin’s record speaks for him. His mission in life is to reunite the Soviet Union under the umbrella of Greater Russia. He’s done all he can to stamp out Russia’s post-Gorbachev democratic reforms, and ruthlessly suppressed dissent of all flavors. And people have their shorts in a know over something he said?

Nothing Putin says can disgrace his actions. The same pundits now debating how many rapists can dance on the head of a pin spend most of their editorial time painting around his neo-Stalinist actions.

It’s bad enough we live in an era where people like Putin, Dubya, Ahmadinejad, and Hu Jintao run things. (Forget Kim Jong Il. He gives ruthless dictators a bad name. They make him sit at the kids’ table at the annual Evil Tyrant’s Dinner.) Media, self-proclaimed watchdogs of a political correctness they alone define, have reduced even the most serious news to sound bites. Their apologists say it’s the only news their readers or viewers want to hear. They smirk when they say it, because they mean it’s the only news their audience can understand. That may be true. But at least some of us recognize bullshit when we see it, which is more than can be said for many of those who have “recognizing bullshit” as part of their job description.

Improving College Aid?

A recent Washington Post editorial, “Improving College Aid,” makes several good points, but overlooks several others.

Need-based financial assistance is shamefully neglected in our educational system. Omitting platitudes about The American Dream, everyone suffers when any deserving student is denied the opportunity to be a doctor, teacher, nurse, or other professional, merely because they can’t afford to go to college. It is society’s loss when talent goes unrecognized. For it to happen in a nation with our resources is unconscionable.

That being said, the existing system does a questionable job of determining who is “in need.” Families who have conscientiously saved for their children’s education may have their sacrifices held against them, as they have money available. Financial aid decision-makers wield influence well beyond college assistance, as they have the ability to help to determine how much a family has left over for retirement, future medical expenses, or the proverbial “rainy day.” After college has been paid for, of course.

Picture two families, with the same number of children and the same income, living across the street from each other. Family A limits their vacations to an annual week of day trips, maybe a weekend in Ocean City. They eat out a couple of times a month. Their Honda/Nissan/Neon is nearing 100,000 miles.

Family B flies to Florida for spring break, and takes a comfortable vacation every year, and owns a second home in the mountains. They eat out twice a week and buy a new Acura/Infiniti/Mercedes as soon as the last one is paid for.

Family A had money in the bank for education; Family B does not. Who gets more financial aid? Family B, of course.

Also at issue is America’s continuing celebration of mediocrity. Should not an excellent student reap some reward other than a hearty “Well done” for making sacrifices of her or his own? Social functions are skipped and extracurricular activities are foregone in order to make the grades needed for a better school. Should such a student be confronted with another hurdle because his or her parents were too conscientious in their habits?

If merit scholarships are to be eliminated, athletic free rides must also go. (In its current usage, “athletic scholarship” is an oxymoron.) The elimination of legacies would also be a reasonable step, as it would make available more spots for deserving students.

What’s needed is a sliding scale that considers both merit and financial circumstance, and defines financial circumstance as income, not savings. People who make more money have more flexibility in how they dispose of their resources. Let’s not reward their bad choices at the expense of others.

There is, obviously, an income level above which financial aid should not be considered. I think anyone absorbing the Washington area’s cost of living for even a modest lifestyle would agree that $92,400 is not the amount after which their children should be on their own.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Prick From Beyond the Grave

I feel like Steven van Zandt playing Silvio Dante impersonating Al Pacino as Michael Corleone: Every time I think I’m out, they pull me in again.

For several months I have made a conscientious effort to avoid overtly political posts. There’s already too much ill-conceived, unproven garbage accepted as Truth on the Internet, creating enough heat to melt Barbara Bush’s heart, but not enough light to see Dubya’s frat boy smirk from three feet away.

The Crazy Like Me Correspondent has goaded me in covert, deniable ways for several weeks. Others have wondered recently what I thought about certain news items. Blame them the next time I piss you off. I was willing to let things go along as they were.

What pushed me off the fence (with some coaxing from the Low Brass Correspondent) was word that Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay had his convictions set aside because he’s dead. There’s no conspiracy or back washing here. His appeals had been filed, and your day in court extends until all actions have been resolved. The presumption of innocence remains in effect while the appeal process moves forward. Since Lay’s death rendered his appeal moot, the court action could not be completed, and, since he’s not a Presidentially-declared enemy combatant, he must be presumed to be innocent. Let’s just say “not guilty.” Ken Lay’s innocent like Britany Spears is a natural blonde.

The primary effect of the ruling will be to make it a lot harder for those Lay screwed out of their life savings to get any of it back. The reimbursements were going to be spread pretty thin in the first place, with anyone getting ten cents on the dollar looking like a lottery winner. Now extra hoops will have to be navigated, as the civil plaintiffs will not be able to use Lay’s conviction as proof of his culpability.

The real winners are the lawyers. (Now there’s a shocker for you.) Extra hoops to means bigger fees. Plaintiffs who receive three cents on the dollar now should consider themselves luckier than Paris Hilton was in her choice of parents.

It’s only a matter of time before we start to hear anew that Lay isn’t really dead. With $44 million he can afford to make Howard Hughes look like Donald Trump in the publicity department. Maybe Lay can bunk with Elvis and Princess Anastasia for a while, keeping an eye on Kennedy’s brain.

Get over it folks. The term is “screwed” for a reason. Once your cherry’s gone, all that’s left is the pit. And that’s what you’re going to get for your trust in Enron.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Boy, Is My Face Red

The Washington Post is running an editorial today titled, "Blowing the Easy Ones." It's about the failure of authories to screen the mail of incarcerated terrorist suspects.

I thought it was going to be about Mark Foley.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Life Imitates Art

Congress has approved the construction of a 700 mile long fence to keep people from sneaking across our 2300 mile border with Mexico, apparently on the premise that no one will go over, under, or around the fence. One suspects that which 700 miles to be protected will be determined less by the frequency of crossings, and more by which patriotic representatives with districts on the border voted for the bill.

Does this remind anyone of the movie Blazing Saddles? Remember the scene where Slim Pickens and his posse are riding toward Rock Ridge, and Cleavon Little needs more time to set up his trap? Little sends Gene Wilder and Alex Karras out to set up a toll booth. Pickens stops everyone, right in the middle of about fifteen gazillion square miles of open prairie, and sends one guy back to town for a “shitload of dimes.” Everyone then goes through, one at a time, thus buying the sheriff enough time to save the town.

I’ll bet they won’t even give Mel brooks credit for the idea. They should at least name it the William J. LePetomiane Memorial Boondoggle, or something like that.