Archive for the 'politics' Category

This is an ex-parrot

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Remember the 1978 sketch from “Saturday Night Live” with John Belushi as “The Thing Who Wouldn’t Leave”? Outside her camp of hard-core supporters, most other Democrats are screaming in horror like Jane Curtain (some quietly, some not) as Hillary continues to ignore the obvious in her increasingly futile bid for the nomination. There is not much doubt in the minds of anyone who is thinking clearly that for a variety of reasons, the Clinton ship is sinking; yet as captain, Hillary is determined to ride it to the bitter end — even if it tears the party apart. Most major news organizations, including Newsweek and US News & World Report, are beginning to rightfully focus their coverage on the upcoming McCain-Obama contest. The New York Times wrote, “The shrinking candidacy of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has all but vanished from the television set.”

Sen. Barack Obama’s milestone victory in Oregon this week gave him a majority of pledged delegates to the Democratic convention, and as Hillary’s campaign drifts further into desperation, one of the many venues in which she’s taking a shellacking is, predictably, YouTube. This video features the versatile Lisa Nova playing Hillary as a delusional Norma Desmond in the final scene of “Sunset Boulevard”. (For comparison, you can watch the original clip here.)

And in keeping with the Monty Python theme of today’s (as well as yesterday’s) post title — not to mention that we promised the hilarity of dismemberment would soon return to this site — the next video seems entirely appropriate.

Hillary still has a diminishing window of opportunity to show some class and gracefully withdraw, but that’s not likely to happen. She somehow sees herself as destined to make history as America’s first woman president, and no doubt must be incredibly pissed off at an upstart like Obama who hasn’t, in her mind, paid his dues or waited his turn. For someone like myself who has been so disgusted with the last eight years of The Shrub, I’ve been audaciously hopeful that America was at last ready to put a sane person in the White House; but if she continues on this path, Hillary may very well lead the Democratic party to proverbially snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How very sad, and dangerous. I actually do think that someday our first female president could be a Clinton, but I also believe there’s a good chance her first name will be “Chelsea”. buy cialisbuy cialisbuy levitrabuy levitrabuy propeciabuy propeciabuy somabuy somabuy levitrabuy cialisbuy propeciabuy levitrabuy somabuy cialisbuy propeciabuy levitrabuy somabuy cialisbuy levitrabuy propeciabuy soma

He came, he saw, he caucused, he went home

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Last night I added another item to my list of “things I’ve now done that I never did before” — I participated in a presidential caucus. It was quite interesting, and became sort of a “Politics 101″ lesson for me on how delegates are chosen to attend the party’s national conventions. I had always watched the huge crowds waving their state signs and candidate banners every four years on TV, but never gave a whole lot of thought to exactly how they got there.

Feeling a bit unsure of what to expect, I arrived at the precinct meeting place shortly after the polls closed at seven; turnout appeared fairly light, with about 25 or so people there. There were two sign-in sheets, one for each candidate, and after entering our names to indicate whom we had voted for earlier, about half of those who had showed up left immediately. (Amateurs!)

The meeting was called to order with about 12 of us left, and we then learned that our sign-in vote tally had split right down the middle, with 13 warm bodies there for Obama and 14 for Clinton. We therefore got to split the six delegates allocated to our precinct 50/50, at three each. Supporters of the two candidates then gathered on each side of the room to introduce ourselves to each other and discuss who would like to represent Barack at the county and district conventions on March 29. At these meetings, representatives will be elected from the precinct delegates to attend the state convention in Austin on June 6 & 7. Attendees at the state event will then select the 193 pledged delegates allotted to Texas to attend the Democratic National Convention. So, it’s entirely possible that some of us there last night will have the opportunity in August to go to Denver in support of Barack.

Since my oxygen equipment makes travel a bit problematic to me, I deferred to the other folks in our little group who were more than happy to volunteer as delegates. Demographically, our bunch was a nice cross-section: two “young” (20′s) white folks, one each male and female, an older white gentleman who appeared in his 70′s, two middle-age black ladies, and a black man who looked to be in his 30′s. All of us seemed intelligent, articulate, and motivated to get involved in the political process, and we enjoyed talking about the issues and our hope that Obama could provide the leadership to move the country forward. I did sign up as an alternate delegate, so in case one of the chosen three can’t make it, I may be asked to step in.

As I went to bed last night, Texas was still “too close to call” but Sen. Clinton was doing well elsewhere. Today, I awoke to the discouraging news that the race will be slogging on for months to come, as Hillary won Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island — re-energizing her campaign and bringing Barack’s momentum to a screeching halt despite his Vermont victory. This unfortunately means that the two Democratic rivals will now continue to waste time, money, energy, and most critically, voter confidence by attacking each other in a divisive effort that will only weaken the real goal of defeating John McCain in November. So while I feel good about becoming involved in the phonebanking and caucusing during the last few days, I’m pretty damn frustrated with the end result.

Welcome to Politics 101.

The big day is here

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Hot damn y’all, I’m excited today to be smack-dab in the middle of what could be the most decisive day of the Democratic primary contest. Not only is the Lone Star state playing a huge role in the nomination this year, but according to the Wall Street Journal, my own little chunk of East Texas from Houston to Tyler is being watched especially closely. Bill Clinton himself was even in town last week stumping for his wife, which is practically unheard of in our little hole-in-the-wall. We seldom get anyone that important here, but seeing as how most pundits are speculating that Hillary’s campaign is over if she doesn’t score big in Texas today, I shouldn’t be that surprised. You’ve been (and will no doubt continue to be) bombarded with news from all sources about events here, so I’m not sure what else I can uniquely add to it, but I’ll just say it’s been very interesting for me to be politically involved this year in a way I haven’t been for decades.

This weekend I’ve made a few phone calls on behalf of the Obama campaign, and will begin making a bunch more here shortly to encourage people to go vote today. It’s been easy; they have a very cool web-based contact tool that allows you to make as few or as many calls as you care to (or have time for) once you register and log in. You’re assigned numbers to call in your neighborhood in blocks of 20, and as you speak with folks and determine who they’re supporting you simply click on large buttons next to their name on the web site to report their status back to the campaign HQ. Of course the idea is to encourage them to vote for Obama, and there are some sample script pages you can use if you’re not comfortable ad-libbing. However if the person you’re speaking with wants more detailed information about Obama’s stand on the issues than you feel qualified to discuss with them, you can refer them to the web site or a more knowledgeable volunteer. It’s all very highly organized, and fun too. You’re awarded points for the number of calls you make, with the goal being to get your name in the Top 10 callers — kind of like putting your initials at the top of the “high score” list of a video game.

So far I’ve mainly gotten a lot of answering machines, but have also had a few interesting conversations. Not surprisingly, since this is a red state (and a fairly conservative Christian area at that), I’ve talked to one or two staunch Republicans. I don’t debate them, just record their preferences and say thank you. I did run across one elderly-sounding woman, however, who claimed to be a Democrat but was under the impression that Obama was “one of them Muslims”. I hope I was able to straighten her out.

As I work the phones, I’m also telling people about the “Texas Two-Step“, which seems to have a lot of folks confused. Texas residents get to participate in a unique process for assigning delegates; first is the regular voting today, then after the polls close this evening we get to “caucus”. I have never “caucused” before in my life, so I’m very interested in what it’s all about. I had always imagined a caucus as being a bunch of hard-core politico-wonks getting together in a smoke-filled room to strut their influence and make deals, but it’s simply another word for convention. Specifically, in this case it’s an ad-hoc meeting of those who have voted in the primary to stand up for their candidate; as a result, roughly 30% of unpledged delegates will be assigned via the caucus. In a way, it’s almost like getting to vote twice, and as close as this race is predicted to be it could make a real difference.

So tonight I’m gonna caucus, baby! Woo-hoo! I’ll head back to the polling location about 7:15 PM and sign in under the name of the my candidate, and then we’ll see what happens next. If nothing else, it should at least be good for a blog post.

Back to the phones. Hello?

Superdelegates explained

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

I discovered “Red State Update” today, a series of tongue-in-cheek parodies of redneck politics. (Sadly, even though it’s a joke, some folks actually think like this.) But we won’t worry about that now; Jackie and Dunlap finally clear up the confusion behind those mysterious “Superdelegates”, and delve into the heretofore unspoken relationship between politics and comic books. Damn, this stuff cracks me up.


Thanks and a special tip o’ the Toast hat to Gwen at The Super Happy FunTime Blog!

Never fear, Cap’n Toast is here

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

As the Texas primary looms closer on March 4th, I’ve been getting increasingly urgent messages from my good buddy Barack Obama. He’s been very pleased to tell me how well things are going, and how he’s been kicking Hilary’s ass. (Actually, I believe the exact phrase he used was “we’re on a roll” but I knew what he really meant.) More excitingly, Obama’s campaign recently wrote to offer me the chance to become a Precinct Captain here in my little corner of East Texas. According to the email:

Signing up as an Obama Precinct Captain means making a personal commitment to the campaign. But along with that commitment comes the opportunity to be a big part of our strategy in Texas. Here’s what Obama Precinct Captains need to do:

* Identify Obama supporters in your community and recruit more — campaign staff will provide you with a packet of resources to help

* Support Barack in your precinct on March 4th, 2008 and help mobilize neighborhood supporters to join you

You don’t need any previous experience to sign up. You just need to support Barack and be ready to turn your energy and enthusiasm into action. It requires some responsibility, but don’t worry — we’ll be here with all the materials, training, and support you’ll need every step of the way.

I have to admit this seriously appeals to me, as back in my college days I used to be somewhat of a political activist. In 1968 I helped organize local protests against the Vietnam War, mobilized buses to take people to rallies in Washington, and even cut off my long hair to go “Clean for Gene” McCarthy. Yes, I was all the picture of fresh-faced, bright-eyed, clean-cut college student respectability as I canvassed door-to-door trying to get people to vote for him and answer any questions they had about his positions on the issues (at least as best as I understood them at the time). It was a real feeling of empowerment to recruit and mobilize and all that good stuff, and I felt like I was having an ever-so-small yet perceptible impact. McCarthy eventually failed to win the nod (Hubert Humphrey was nominated following the death of Robert Kennedy), but at least I was out there working for something I believed in. After all the talk of “change” this year, you may note that it was being used as a campaign theme 40 years ago.

The main problem for me now, however, is the physical exertion required for all that recruiting and mobilizing; it’s not so easy tromping door-to-door when you’re sucking on an oxygen canula. However, I can speak on the telephone without difficulty, so I’ve decided to contact the Obama team and offer to help in that regard. I suspect they’ll be more than happy to have me make phone calls on their behalf for an hour or two each day.

You may find it surprising (at least, it certainly is to me) that after months of indecision I have come down firmly on the side of the Obama camp. I’m sure she’s a fine person, but there’s always been something about Hilary that has made me hesitate from the very beginning — I can’t tell you with any certainty exactly what that “something” is. Perhaps it’s her “professional politician” aura that comes from years of association with a political dynasty (i.e., Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes, etc.), which makes me wonder if she’ll say almost anything to get elected, or if she’s in the race more for personal glory than for wanting to improve the state of the nation. Or maybe she just plain scares me. I get the distinct feeling that if I were to ever cross her, I would be extremely likely to have my balls cut off. That sort of strength might be a good thing when it comes to dealing with the dangers of the world a president has to face, but after suffering through eight years of one mini-dictator I’m not sure I’m ready for another one, even if she might be way more competent and benign than Shrubya.

Nope; I think the simple answer is that I’ve caught Obama Fever. I don’t really know what kind of president he’ll make, or if he’ll get cooperation from Congress once the post-election honeymoon period is over, but I have a growing sense of optimism that things will be better, and sometimes you just gotta go with your gut.

As you surely know by now, Texas and Ohio have a major importance to the Democrats this time around which hasn’t been seen in very many years; most primary balloting has established a clear front-runner by the time they get to us. If Obama continues his momentum and extends his winning streak here, you might as well stick a fork in Hilary’s campaign: she’ll be done. She can go back to serving her constituents in New York, write a book, and maybe take another shot at it in 2012. There’s no doubt the Lone Star is a must-win for her, and if she is able to pull it out of the fire — particularly in the unlikely event that she decisively pummels Obama by double digits — it will give her new life and it’s on to Mississippi a week later, then Pennsylvania in April. But personally, I believe that Obama is unstoppable at this point.

But can he win the general election in November? A McCain-Obama matchup is going to be interesting, to say the least, and McCain is already taking direct aim at him as his presumptive opponent, stressing how his own combat and P-O-W experience makes him uniquely qualified for the role of commander-in-chief. “Where is the audacity of hope when it comes to backing the success of our troops all the way to victory in Iraq?” McCain said in a statement today after yesterday’s Democratic debate in Cleveland, during which Obama pledged to end the war by 2009. “What we heard last night was the timidity of despair.”

That kind of tough talk may appeal to those on the right, but Obama fired right back: “John McCain may like to say that he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that has cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars.” Right on, as we used to say.

So we’re getting ready for a good old-fashioned Texas slugfest down here next week. Early voting began Feb. 19th; I’ve already cast my ballot for Barack, and I’ll be on the phone harassing, er, canvassing, potential voters between now and March 4th. Cap’n Toast reporting for duty — let’s rock.

Secret Agent of Change

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

You may recall — unless you have a really short attention span, in which case you should click here — that a few days ago I came up with what I thought would be a really nifty theme song for Barack Obama. By making this idea public on the blog, I may have even secretly hoped that the candidate himself might hear of it, and realizing that my brilliant mind could be a great asset to his organization, offer to employ me as his Media Director — or at the very least his official Theme Songs Czar. Hey, I’m qualified: I enjoyed listening to Tom Lehrer back in the 60′s, so I know the value of a cleverly satirical melody with political overtones.

But then I realized that anyone from the Obama group might have a difficult time finding my post without constructing a very specific search query, so I thought I might help bring it to their attention by writing them about it. There’s a place on the “contact us” page of Obama’s website for “other thoughts and questions” which would seem to be a highly appropriate place to address the topic of, “hey, you should check out this song that is guaranteed to make people boogie in the aisles at your campaign stops.” (I’m all about the helping.) The form required me to enter my first and last name, so to avoid any possibility of confusion due to the fact that my real name would have no obvious connection to the blog, I typed “Last name: Toast”, and “First name: Mr.” into the contact form. I even hinted in my message that I was one of those “undecided” voters that candidates devote so much attention to, and that I might be persuaded to actually vote for Mr. Obama if he could adequately address some of my serious concerns about the future of this nation, for example:

• Appointing a presidential commission to study the possibility of designating beer as the “National Beverage of America”, a panel for which I would gladly volunteer to be a member;

• Offering large lump-sum tax-free cash compensation as reparation to certain individuals who have suffered lasting psychological damage as a result of tragic past events in our nation’s history — and by “certain individuals”, I am referring to readers of this blog;

• Sending Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin to the Guantanamo Bay Terrorist Detention Center to investigate conditions there, and conveniently “misplacing” their return tickets home;

I have many more concerns, but these will do for starters.

To be honest, I really didn’t expect much to happen; but amazingly, not long after clicking the “submit form” button, I’ll be damned if I didn’t get an e-mail reply! Although I must say I was initially a little disappointed, I still knew that someone had actually read my message and taken it under advisement, because the email was addressed to me personally!

Dear Mr.:

Thank you for contacting Obama for America, and sharing your ideas for Senator Obama. The volume of messages we are receiving has exceeded all expectations. While it is difficult to respond to thousands of messages a week as efficiently as we would like, the level of interest and nature of the comments reflected in these communications are very gratifying. Barack knows well that Washington does not have a monopoly on good ideas, and neither does he. That is why it’s important to hear from everyone, and we will take your ideas under consideration. Your thoughts on our campaign and America’s future are deeply appreciated.

Do you see that, people? My thoughts are “deeply appreciated” by an actual presidential candidate! How cool is that? As if that wasn’t enough, a few days later I received another email, this time no less than a personal message from Barack’s wife, Michelle Obama. (I hope he doesn’t mind his wife carrying on these conversations with total strangers on the internet; you know how freaky the web can be.) But as I read Michelle’s letter to me, I realized that I actually had something special that she and the rest of the Obama organization urgently wanted:

Mr.:

Thank you so much for writing. Right now, all across the country, thousands of Americans are taking their seat at the table and shaping the outcome of this election. One of the more than 100,000 donors who have given in 2008 is promising to give again if you make your donation today. Now is the time to own a piece of this campaign. We are building up our organization to compete in all fifty states, and your gift will help us reach our goal.

And that “something” … is money.

This week has seen regular correspondence from the Obama team asking me to input my thoughts, my ideas for the future, and most importantly, my cash. It is good to know that I’m such a valuable asset to the organization. Today I received a message from former presidential candidate Senator John Kerry, alerting me to a slime email that is circulating that claims Obama is a Muslim who refuses to recite the pledge of allegiance, as well as other falsehoods. I’ll have to admit I was skeptical at first when I saw the return address “John Kerry” in my inbox and thought it might be spam, but the Senator again addressed me personally:

Dear Mr.,

I support Barack Obama because he doesn’t seek to perfect the politics of Swiftboating — he seeks to end it. This is personal for me, and for a whole lot of Americans who lived through the 2004 election.

As a veteran, it disgusts me that the Swift Boats we loved while we were in uniform on the Mekong Delta have been rendered, in Karl Rove’s twisted politics, an ugly verb meaning to lie about someone’s character just to win an election. But as someone who cares about winning this election and changing the country I love, I know it’s not enough to complain about a past we can’t change when our challenge is to win the future — which is why we must stop the Swiftboating, stop the push-polling, stop the front groups, and stop the email chain smears.

This year, the attacks are already starting. Some of you may have heard about the disgusting lies about Barack Obama that are being circulated by email. These attacks smear Barack’s Christian faith and deep patriotism, and they distort his record of more than two decades of public service. They are nothing short of “Swiftboat” style anonymous attacks.

These are the same tactics the right has used again and again, and as we’ve learned, these attacks, no matter how bogus, can spread and take root if they go unchecked.

We need you to email the truth to your address books. Print it out and post it at work. Talk to your neighbors. Call your local radio station. Write a letter to the editor. If lies can be spread virally, let’s prove to the cynics that the truth can be every bit as persuasive as it is powerful.

Thank you,
John Kerry

[serious]
Kidding aside for a moment, this is an important issue, and if someone happens to forward you this particular slanderously distorted email, I hope you will reply with the facts and set them straight. The truth should be the truth, regardless of what your political leanings happen to be.
[/serious]

In conclusion, while there’s been no definite word as to whether he wants to use my theme song suggestion, I’m still glad to know that I qualify for these regular updates from Senator Obama. Who knows, I might even vote for the guy, especially if he promises to investigate the conspiracy regarding the “Seabed Nectar” secret ingredient in Slusho, which causes people to burst open at the seams. (Do not drink Slusho! You have been warned!)

Theme song

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Every presidential candidate needs a snappy theme song to whip up the crowd’s enthusiasm at public appearances. Remember Bill Clinton, and Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)”? A great choice, and I honestly believe that the optimism expressed in this song played no small part in his 1992 election. The 2008 pack needs something similar, and today I had a flash of inspiration.

I’ve played the song “Mama” by The Housefellas (feat. Christine Moore) a few times on my radio show and always liked it, but I suddenly realized today that with one simple word change, this tune would make the perfect theme for Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign. It’s got a funky, exciting groove and the words are spot on — just substitute “Obama” for “Oh Mama” as you listen to my 3-minute edit of the song, and see if you agree:

Let’s get it started y’all!
Let’s get it started for Obama!
C’mon yall … let’s take it higher! C’mon!
Hey!
Obama, Obama (sing it again!)
Obama, Obama (sing it again!)
Obama, Obama (Bama … Bama … Bama)
Obama!
You set my soul on fire
You set my spirit free
Your love just keeps on higher
Your love is burnin’ in me
It’d take a thousand lifetimes
To say the way I feel
Your light it keeps on shinin’
And now I know it’s real
I know you’ll take me higher
Into another world
Just keep the fire burnin’
Just wanna be your girl
Obama!

Sing it again…
Obama, Obama (sing it again!)
etc.

Crowds already go wild for Obama, and I can easily visualize thousands of delegates in Denver next August in a mass frenzy, jumping up and down and chanting the refrain “Obama, Obama” in unison (sing it again!) as he makes his entrance onto the convention stage. What do you think? Am I on to something?

Brother can you spare some change?

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Welcome to the first Wind In The Wire blog post of 2008! Yes, I’ve been slacking off lately but I decided that I simply must get off my lazy ass and write something, anything — mainly so I wouldn’t have to continue to look at those two butt-ugly corn-bag-throwin’ redneck dudes from the video in my last post at the top of my page. It was starting to get embarrassing.

But I hope everyone had a great holiday. I’m writing this on the eve of the New Hampshire primary election, and by the time you read this the citizens of The Granite State will have spoken, and having decided the fate of the nation and perhaps much of the world by their vote, will have gone back into hibernation until 2012. I was born and raised in New England myself, and yes, it gets that freaking cold up there in January. Perhaps it’s the frigid weather, or the fact that the race for the 2008 White House has been going on since, oh, mid-2002, and now that the new year has arrived, has reached a full-blown fever pitch. In any case, the mood in New Hampshire, according to respected serious political journalist Dave Barry, can be currently defined in one word: “testy”. He says:

This was clear during the big televised two-party debate sponsored by ABC News, Facebook, Mountain Dew, MySpace, eBay, Viagra, Microsoft and the Select Number Sleep Comfort Bed. The debate, moderated by avuncular newsman Charlie Gibson, was the pivotal moment of the New Hampshire campaign, and across the nation more than 20 million interested American households tuned in to the NFL playoffs, which were going on at the same time.

But those who watched the debates saw history in the making, as it became clear, over the course of the evening, that one person, and one person only, embodies the wisdom, the judgment, the maturity and — yes — the simple humanity that this nation desperately needs in its next president: Charlie Gibson.

Unfortunately he can’t afford the pay cut. This means we’re stuck with the actual candidates, who, as I say, are in a testy mood, as was evidenced in the Republican debate when John McCain and Mike Huckabee, during a particularly testy exchange over illegal immigration, gave Mitt Romney a wedgie. The Democrats, meanwhile, continued their ongoing obsessive argument about change — who is the most for change; who has done the most changing; who can change with the changing times to bring change to those who need a change; who has taken the time, with all this tromping around New Hampshire night and day demanding change, to change their underwear; etc.

I haven’t commented much on the election in this space so far, despite my unabashedly liberal bent … probably because I’m having a hard time deciding who I like, or more precisely, who I despise the least. I think a lot of people find themselves in this position at the moment. Fortunately for that big amorphous blob of “undecided” voters like myself, there is no shortage of automated survey tools on the internet that will cheerfully spit out an ideal candidate based on your own positions on the various issues. I call these “Pres-O-Matics”, and here are just a few of them:

http://www.wqad.com/Global/link.asp?L=259460

http://glassbooth.org/ (an especially good one)

http://www.selectsmart.com/president/2008.html (has some ads)

http://www.speakout.com/VoteMatch/senate2006.asp?quiz=2008

Finally, USA-Today’s “Candidate Match Game” has neat graphics featuring pop-up candidate heads. If only the actual voting in November would be this much fun.

The problem I’ve found after trying several of these sites is that they each suggest a different candidate even though I input the exact same information about my preferences on the issues. One will say “Oh yeah, you like Hillary, all right”, while another screams “Obama’s your man”, and still yet another says “If you were gay, you would totally do Dennis Kucinich.” So I’m confused.*

It’s damn lucky for me that I don’t play the ponies; my talent for “picking a winner” — as evidenced by my Fred Thompson prediction last year — obviously sucks. Nevertheless, Obama seems to be surging, so I’ll go out on a limb here and say I think he has the best chance to win in November. It will be interesting to see how it all goes; indeed, there will be no escaping it, unless one relocates here until 2009, which I am seriously considering. One thing we can say for certain: there will be change.

———-
*BTW: for the record, I am not gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

News Bulletin

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Washington, DC — Congress today announced that the office of President of the United States of America will be one of numerous jobs outsourced to India as of January 1, 2008. The move is being made in order to save the President’s $500,000 yearly salary, as well as a record $521 Billion in deficit expenditures and related overhead that his office has incurred during the last 5 years. “We believe this is a wise financial move. The cost savings are huge,” stated Congressman Thomas Reynolds (R-WA). “We cannot remain competitive on the world stage with the current level of cash outlay,” Reynolds noted.

Mr. Bush was informed by e-mail this morning of his termination. Preparations for the job move have been underway for some time.

Gurvinder Singh of Indus Teleservices, Mumbai, India will assume the office of President as of the new year. Mr. Singh was born in the United States while his Indian parents were vacationing at Niagara Falls, NY, thus making him eligible for the position. He will receive a salary of $320 (USD) a month, but no health coverage or other benefits.

It is believed that Mr. Singh will be able to handle his job responsibilities without a support staff. Due to the time difference between the US and India, he will be working primarily at night. “Working nights will allow me to keep my day job at the Dell Computer call center,” stated Mr. Singh in an exclusive interview with The Toasted Times. “I am excited about this position. I always hoped I would be President.” A Congressional spokesperson noted that while Mr. Singh may not be fully aware of all the issues involved in the office of President, this should not be a problem as President Bush had never been familiar with the issues either.

Mr. Singh will rely upon a script tree that will enable him to respond effectively to most topics without having to understand the underlying issue at all. Using these canned responses, he can address common presidential matters. “We know these scripting tools work,” stated the spokesperson. “President Bush has used them successfully for years, with the result that some people actually thought he knew what he was talking about.”

Bush will receive health coverage, expenses, and salary until his final day of employment. Following a two-week waiting period, he will be eligible for $140 a week unemployment for 13 weeks. Unfortunately he will not be eligible for Medicaid, as his unemployment benefits will exceed the allowed limit. Mr. Bush has been provided with the outplacement services of Manpower, Inc. to help him write a resume and prepare for his upcoming job transition. According to Manpower, Mr. Bush may have difficulties in securing a new position due to a lack of any successful work experience during his lifetime. A greeter position at Wal-Mart was suggested due to Bush’s extensive experience at shaking hands.

See Fred. See Fred run.

Monday, September 10th, 2007

I’m annoyed by the recent announcement that Fred Dalton Thompson has officially entered the 2008 presidential race. Many conservatives were positively orgasmic about Thompson, believing him to be the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, but a lot of them — particularly the religious right — are starting to have second thoughts now that he’s officially a candidate, so this is a point in his favor for me. Still, even though he seems like an affable sort of guy (at least for a Republican), I disagree with his stance on most of the issues.

But that’s not what annoys me. No, I’m pissed that I won’t be able to watch any more episodes of my favorite TV show, “Law & Order”, in which Thompson appears. Federal campaign law requires broadcasters to give all candidates equal time on the airwaves, a rule which even applies to entertainment programs like L&O. TV stations that run the show would be required to give other GOP candidates a like amount of prime-time exposure, a move which would be prohibitively expensive.

“As a practical matter, they (the television stations) would in all likelihood have to pull all of the Fred Thompson shows for the duration of his candidacy,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the non-profit telecommunications law firm Media Access Project.

The L&O hiatus would not be without precedent; stations also dropped “Bedtime for Bonzo” and other Ronald Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor and president, and TV stations in California pulled movies starring Ahhhnold when he also ran for governor of the state in 2003.

There is some hope for me; the FCC has — yet — never applied the equal-time provision to cable TV channels, where most of the L&O reruns appear. However, several legal experts said cable often abides by voluntary equal-time guidelines in the hopes of avoiding a legal case that would set a precedent, and Thompson’s situation could spark just such a case. If TNT continues to hold all-day marathons of episodes featuring Thompson, as it often does now, one of his rivals could seek to apply the equal-time rule to cable as well as over-the-air TV.

The L&O episodes featuring Thompson as tough-talking NYC District Attorney Arthur Branch are some of my favorites of the entire series. He portrays his character as a straight shooter, a no-nonsense kind of guy who says what he means and means what he says. It’s an image that I’m certain Thompson would like to present in real life as well, but as with many other cases, reality isn’t nearly as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. While his hardscrabble small-town-boy-makes-good story reverberates with the public (not to mention sympathy for the loss of his daughter Betsy in 2002), the “real” Fred Thompson has not accomplished very much in public life. The ex-senator’s legislative record reveals little in the way of a compelling legacy, and he is known more for his TV personae than for being a champion of the people.

Nevertheless, his entry into the race has injected a little extra interest and excitement into the 2008 campaign, and I can’t wait for someone to post a mash-up video on YouTube of clips from Thompson’s L&O scenes rearranged into a faux “press conference” parody of him as president. (You know someone’s got to be working on that at this very moment.)

I am further going to be so bold as to predict that Thompson will eventually win the Republican nomination. He will choose Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander as his running mate, and they will face off against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with whom she will make up and choose as her running mate. Who will prevail in the end? The crystal ball’s still a little foggy there, but a Clinton/Obama ticket would be formidable, and a win-win for the Democrats; I doubt that Obama has the strength or experience to take the nomination away from Hillary at the convention, but VP experience would give him a virtual lock on the White House in 2012 or 2016.

It bothers me to think that some people might vote for Thompson simply on the basis of his TV popularity — but then, there’s the Ronald Reagan factor again. I am equally troubled that millions of people might vote for Barak Obama for no other reason than he’s been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. What does it say about our society when celebrities and entertainers become our leaders? Are we really a nation of sheep? I am not alone in thinking that if Oprah herself ran for president, she would probably win by a landslide.

But what’s the alternative? After all, this is a country that has now twice elected a dimwit for president — so anything is possible. God help us.

Stick a fork in him

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

He’s done.

I was thrilled to see that Alberto “I can’t recall” Gonzales has finally made his exit. It’s about damn time. The most perplexing thing about this whole affair is how long it took him and Dubya to read the handwriting on the wall. Gonzo had exactly zero support on Capitol Hill, was openly criticized by the D.O.J., and rightfully to blame for his leading role in the U.S. Attorney scandal. His inability to make any distinction between commitment to the rule of law and loyalty to the president has been a national embarrassment. We haven’t seen a crisis of leadership like this since the Watergate era.

I had to laugh when Bush claimed yesterday that Gonzales had his “good name dragged through the mud for political reasons”. Bush just doesn’t get it. The “mud” here was entirely of Gonzo’s own creation. He signed off on the attorney firings, made a shameful attempt to get support for the illegal domestic wiretap program from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft while he was hospitalized in intensive care, and then stonewalled members of Congress investigating the role that politics played in this process.

It would be refreshing if the appointment of a successor to Gonzales does not turn into another political brawl — but really, what are the chances of that? Look for the White House to appoint another political crony instead of scouring the nation for a respected but independent lawyer with Justice experience. Just because Bush is a lame duck, don’t expect him to suddenly start acting with responsibility.

2008 cannot come soon enough for me.

Day of reckoning arrives for Internet Radio

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Today is the day that crippling new fees for Internet Radio broadcasters mandated by the record industry and the Copyright Royalty Board go into effect, and I have a mixed bag of news to report on this subject. On the one hand, there’s reason for webcasters and their listeners to breathe a sigh of relief; SoundExchange, the arm of the RIAA responsible for collecting the fees, has announced that at least for the time being they will not “enforce” the new rates that are retroactive to January 2006, which would have caused many stations to be silent today. These outlets can continue to stream tunes while Soundexhange and representatives of the Internet Radio industry try to hammer out a compromise rate structure under the watchful eye of Congress.

But make no mistake, it is only due to the threat of legislative action that Soundexchange is being even remotely accommodating, and if you’re one of the millions of web radio fans who have contacted their elected representatives in the last several months, you can pat yourself on the back as your efforts really have made a difference. The public outcry has been phenomenal, and so far over 125 members of the House and Senate have co-sponsored the Internet Radio Equality Act in direct response to your concerns. This bill would cap royalty fees paid by webcasters to a reasonable 7.5% of revenue, the same rate paid by satellite radio broadcasters, and would address the outrageous “per-channel” fees which would bankrupt even commercial providers. But while many legislators are on board, the bill is not yet law — so please continue to contact your local officials and ask them to support H.R.2060 and S.1353.

The bad news is that as things stand at the moment, the March decision by the CRB remains in place; even though Soundexchange has announced it will not “enforce” collection of the fees, it still expects webcasters to pay them voluntarily. In a press release last Friday, the organization claimed that the “new rates and fees are in effect, and royalties are accruing”. This follows a ruling the previous day (July 12) by a federal appeals panel who dealt webcasters a setback by refusing to grant an emergency stay of the new rate structure. Therefore, lacking any legal remedy by webcasters, Soundexchange is simply saying, “the law is on our side and you owe us the money, we’re just not going to go after you … yet.” Of course, their benevolence could expire any time they damn well feel like it.

In any case, an uneasy status quo exists today while negotiations continue to try and reach a compromise to provide artists with fair payments yet allow a still-developing medium to thrive. But what does it all mean to you?

It means that there is a Battle Royale taking place for control over what music and other entertainment you are allowed to hear and see. Right now, this power is concentrated in a handful of media corporations known as “The Big Four”: Sony BMG, EMI, Universal, and Warner. For many years, the music industry has been mass-marketing whatever lowest-common-denominator product they can sell, making tons of money for themselves and for a very select few “star” artists. Smaller and independent artists who make music in what is known as the long tail of the popularity curve are effectively shut out. But suddenly, along came mp3′s, iPods, and the Internet — and the traditional methods of music production and distribution have been forever changed. To say that the music industry has not handled this well is the understatement of the century, and they are desperately trying to return to a business model that is evaporating right before their eyes.

In the last few days, I’ve searched the web looking for reaction and commentary from “plain folks” about this issue, and the results have been eye-opening. I think it’s fair to say that the music industry in general and the RIAA in particular is one of the most reviled organizations on the planet, in no small part due to their strong-arm tactics like this move to silence web radio as well as efforts to curb downloading. Here’s a sample of comments left on various web sites like this one that I’ve visited recently:

What the record industry is trying to control here is the ability of small, independent musicians to gain any audience at all – the kind of musicians the commercial radio stations and even satellite radio will never play. They’re trying to assure that real art doesn’t distract from their marketing of sex and violence dressed up as music. Any politician concerned with the state of our mass culture should recognize that the degeneracy is largely a corporate product. So anything that decreases the power of these corporations by allowing more real art to flourish in spaces they can’t control is key to restoring health to popular (and less-popular) culture.

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The RIAA hates what it can’t control. It hates P2P (despite all the free promotion), barely tolerates iTunes (even though they’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars from ITMS sales), and has even sought to stop public libraries from lending out music (communists!) This move isn’t about revenue, it’s about killing net radio. The RIAA knows that it’s impractical (if not outright impossible) to strongarm every net radio station out there like they do with terrestrial or satellite radio, so they destroy what they can’t control.

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Look, the goose is already cooked. Let’s face it, the RIAA has all but completely destroyed the recording industry rather than give up control. Putting all the internet radio stations out of business is a scorched earth move, merely a spiteful parting gesture from a walking corpse.

Let them do it.

Let them use their sweaty, mean spirited little pencil pushing lawyers to take their ball and go home.

Nothing short of this will precipitate the revolution that is needed in the media, and it starts with the smallest independent broadcasters.

You think these businesses will roll over and disappear without a fight? No way, they will merely adapt to circumstance.

The RIAA works by creating a false scarcity of content. In reality there is a glut of high quality Free content out there, millions of musicians and podcasters who have had a decade to become highly skilled content producers are just waiting for the death of Big Media so that their work can become valuable. The myth of “artists need to be paid” has been so completely destroyed only fools cling to it. Everybody knows how crooked the game is, that artists never get paid properly anyway, and that all the ones who have any merit produce because they want to and would do so even without an audience. Once they skulk off home to mommy taking their hyped manufactured rubbish with them there’s gonna be an explosion of new talent, new voices, fresh political commentators and documentary, new celebrity…. It’s ripe to happen, simple supply and demand. There is a vast reservoir of supply, and now the demand is about to kick in. I hope to God they pass this law, because it will be the death of the bastards. Once mainstream radio and TV get a sniff of how internet stations are surviving by bypassing corporate controlled material they will want a piece too. And thus the whole filthy mess begins to unwind….

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Yeah well, every third person I meet claims that they’re a “musician.” So some slackers might have to get actual jobs and actually work for a living. I do not care. I look forward to the day Avril Lavigne takes my order for a cheeseburger. Musicians and artists tend to have an extremely high self-opinion in terms of what they think they contribute to “culture.” John Coltrane contributed to culture. The world would not be significantly different, however, if the last ten years in top 40 music had never happened.

Where’s the rock style life for the people who build bridges and clean up bathrooms? Where’s the rock star life for teachers who contribute something directly measurable to our civilization? Where’s the free booze and blowjobs for activists, community organizers, and people manning the soup kitchens tonight?

And for that matter, where’s the rock star life for the countless musicians in less lucrative genres like jazz or folk music? Some of the most mindblowing music I’ve ever heard was hardcore jazz played furiously with wild abandon on snowy nights in hole-in-the-wall bars in towns and cities you haven’t heard of by amateurs who had no chance in hell of ever making a living at it even in an ideal intellectual property/copyright environment.

What this all may portend is the end of the corporate-generated rock star and frankly, I couldn’t welcome it more.

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This new technology has been sacrificed on the alter of old-technology profit-taking. What else do you expect from the US government with the jerks we have in power?

Are you sensing a theme here?

I predict that if webcasters and the RIAA are unable to reach a compromise and these new rates stand, several things will happen: (1) The largest internet radio services like Pandora, Last.fm and Live365 will begin charging subscription fees to cover the cost of the huge payments to Soundexchange; (2) The majority of stations who wish to remain law-abiding citizens of their communities will simply shut down, taking their independent voices and music with them; (3) A certain number of smaller broadcasters will thumb their nose at the new rates and continue to stream music until they are sued off the air by the RIAA; and (4) Most remaining stations will be located offshore, out of reach of the US legal system.

There’s been a temporary lull in the action today, but this battle ain’t over yet by a long shot. Please keep up the pressure on your Senators and Congressmen until we have a permanent solution.

LATE BREAKING UPDATE!

SoundExchange is already beginning to backpedal, with director John Simson saying late today that his organization never “promised” to not enforce fee collection (whether they do or not), and that barring any intervention by Congress, webcasters will still owe payments retroactively. Not only that, but Simson is adamant that any negotiations concerning fee reductions must be contingent on Internet radio stations adopting DRM technology — a.k.a. “copy protection” — to prevent listeners from ripping and recording broadcast streams. No matter that for decades it’s been considered “fair use” for people to employ conventional taping methods to record over-the-air radio stations; no, somehow this is different.

Internet broadcaster DJ Profusion quite accurately points out in this excellent article posted on the Daily Koz that Simson is “an unethical weasel who will say anything to further his own evil plans”, and SoundExchange is a corporate cartel which “has no interest in a negotiated settlement, they want to destroy Internet radio.”

We must keep this issue in the news – you can help by contacting your local Congress person to thank them for their support (or ask them to support Internet radio if they haven’t decided whether or not to support it), or your local reporter to bring the story to your news outlets.

Keep the pressure on!

Quote of the day

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

In his book “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq”,  author Thomas E. Ricks (a Pulitzer-prize winning staff writer for the Washington Post) recalls a quip heard from a U.S. official in Iraq. Asked about the progress of the American mission there, the official replied that it was “like pasting feathers together and hoping for a duck.”

Priceless.

Memorial Day

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

As a kid between the ages of about 10 and 15 back home in Massachusetts, Memorial Day was always one of the biggest days of the year for me. Not only did it mean backyard cookouts, or a picnic in the park, but the day heralded the official start of Summer — which meant that vacation from school was not far behind.

It was also one of my favorite days because of our town’s Memorial Day Parade. You should understand that in the tiny town of Hamilton where I grew up, there was very little excitement. The two big events of the year were July 4th — when the town hosted a carnival, midway, fireworks and bonfire — and our one and only parade each Memorial Day. When you’re a small-town kid, parades are a Big Deal, and I was always thrilled by the pageantry of the uniforms and the marching bands. (I guess maybe I had a little of The Music Man in me, which was popular around the same time.) Every year I would bedeck my bicycle with red, white and blue crepe paper streamers through the spokes and flags on the handlebars so I could ride it in the parade alongside the other kids who did the same. People would wave at me and applaud my decorative efforts, and I loved it.

At the same time, however, the true meaning of Memorial Day was not lost on me. I remember from my American History lesson:

Memorial Day was first officially observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the headstones of both Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery after a proclamation issued by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was a holiday primarily observed in the North until after World War I, when the focus changed from honoring soldiers killed in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died in any war.

In the years of my youth from about 1958 through 1963, the holiday was almost all about paying homage to the veterans of World War II, which was not exactly a distant memory then. To put this in perspective, think about fifteen years ago today, when the big stories were the devastation of South Florida by Hurricane Andrew, and President George Bush The Elder puking on the Prime Minister during a visit to Japan (Bill Clinton would be elected to succeed Bush later that same year). Then remember the first Gulf War in 1990. Doesn’t seem like that long ago, does it? That’s how folks in my home town thought about the Big War in Europe. Most vets were fairly young, in their 40′s and 50′s, and there was a strong feeling of pride, honor, and appreciation for these former soldiers who had, quite literally, saved the world from fascism and evil.

Our town parade always started at the Hamilton Cemetery where local victims of the war had been laid to rest, and after a solemn ceremony including a 21-gun salute, the parade commenced down the main street to downtown. Naturally, there was considerable sorrow for those who had lost their lives, but it was tempered with a resolute pride that they had done so for a worthy and just cause, in the defense of freedom.

Today, of course, it’s a different story, as American pride hasn’t been quite the same since WWII. In large part this is a legacy of Vietnam, when returning veterans were (unjustly) spat upon as “baby-killers”, and America was forced to end the conflict, if not in defeat, at least without accomplishing its military objectives. This was a terrible time in our country’s history, not just because of the casualties on the battlefield, but for the polarizing effect the war had on those at home. Not since the Civil War has a conflict so divided brother from brother, turned friend against friend, or neighbor against neighbor. The political fight at home took center stage even from the military theater of operations, and in some ways we’ve never been the same since.

In the intervening years, it seems that to those who think of Memorial Day as more than just a long weekend marking the beginning of summer fun, there has been much less pride and a lot more sorrow, which has been particularly true during the last few years of our Iraq involvement. Let me make it perfectly clear that I make a huge distinction between our soldiers who are over there doing their jobs with honor as best as they can, and Dubya and his gang of neo-con idiots who got us into this mess in the first place. It’s no secret that I strongly disagree with our country’s Iraq policy, nor do I subscribe to the theory that “if we don’t fight them in the streets there, we’ll be fighting them in the streets here”. To me, the reason we’re caught in the middle of this civil war is simple: Bush had a score to settle, and he values oil more than blood. There’s no longer any viable way for us to “win” in Iraq, at least in the traditional sense of the enemy laying down their arms in surrender, and the sooner we get the hell out of there the better.

Yet politics are meaningless to the men and women in Iraq who are doing the dirty work, following the orders of their superiors, taking the risks, and most importantly, losing their lives — and they have my utmost respect. The fact that many of us question the wisdom of continuing our involvement in Iraq in no way diminishes the sacrifices made by the 3,400-plus Americans who have died in this war that is more than four years old. Regardless of my political opinions, I honor their memory, service, courage, and the fact that they gave their lives for this country. I will say a silent prayer on Memorial Day for the families of those who grieve over the loss of a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.

So if you know a veteran, tell him or her “thanks” for their service.

And to George Bush, say “enough”.

I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

It sounds like a joke, or a news headline that might have been thought up at The Onion, but unfortunately it’s real: embattled Attorney General Alberto “I Can’t Recall” Gonzales is proposing a new crime of “attempted” copyright infringement. No longer will it be necessary for you internet music and software pirates out there to actually infringe on someone’s intellectual property; all you would have to do is “attempt” it. Furthermore, under the A.G.’s proposals, you could be imprisoned for life under certain circumstances for using pirated software. Forget robbery, rape, and murder: finally, someone is cracking down on the real criminals in our society!

Gonzales and the Bush administration are pushing Congress to pass a bill known as the Intellectual Property Protection Act (IPPA) of 2007, which is likely to receive the enthusiastic support of the movie and music industries, and would represent the most dramatic rewrite of copyright law in years. Apparently it’s not enough for the RIAA to sue college students, dead people, and others thousands of dollars each for downloading tunes such as Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film“. The new laws would give authorities broad powers to, among other things:

  • Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations. Wiretaps would be authorized for investigations of Americans who are “attempting” to infringe copyrights.
  • Allow computers to be seized more readily. Specifically, property such as a PC “intended to be used in any manner” to commit a copyright crime would be subject to forfeiture, including civil asset forfeiture.
  • Criminalize “attempting” to infringe copyright. Federal law currently punishes not-for-profit copyright infringement with between 1 and 10 years in prison, but there has to be actual infringement that takes place. The IPPA would eliminate that requirement.

This is just incredible, and I hardly even know what to say. With all the serious problems this nation faces at home and abroad, this is what these guys find important? It is very disturbing to me that we seem to be getting closer to a police state every day as our civil and digital rights are gradually and continually being chipped away by this administration. At this rate, soon even thinking about downloading music illegally will become a crime.

The good news is that so far the IPPA has not gotten any sponsors, which it needs to go forward, and that Gonzales’ current low regard on Capitol Hill could inhibit support for the measure. New testimony presented this Tuesday revealed that in 2004, Gonzales pressured Attorney General John Ashcroft (who was in a hospital bed recuperating from pancreatitis at the time) to certify the legality of Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program. Ashcroft rebuffed Gonzales, but the White House certified the program anyway. The Attorney General has been less than forthcoming about the matter to say the least, and his selective amnesia and general air of incompetence have not served him well in committee hearings. Further testimony next week by Gonzales’ former White House liaison, Monica Goodling (under a grant of immunity), is likely to erode his credibility even more. Yet, don’t count him out by a long shot, as respected political columnist Margaret Carlson reports on Bloomberg.com:

How interesting that World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz was being forced to negotiate his resignation, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is sailing along like Mark Twain, with rumors of his demise greatly exaggerated.

It’s shocking that Gonzales continues to hold down one of the most sensitive jobs in Washington now that his cluelessness has been exposed for all the world to see.

He still rises each morning to run a Justice Department he knows almost nothing about, nor who decided to get rid of eight U.S. attorneys. He knows just enough to swear that no one at the White House had anything to do with it.

Gonzales holds onto his lease with a political loyalty so blind and unbending as to trump every other instinct, including embarrassment over barely being able to recall his own name before Congress.

The one bright spot is that as I write this, there are only 614 days left of this national disaster called the Bush administration. We can’t get these morons out of office soon enough.

Then and now

Saturday, April 21st, 2007


Click comic for a larger version. Credit: ©2007 by Dan Perkins

Check this

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

My brother-in-law Ray and I recently had a friendly little discussion about the upcoming presidential elections. It went something sort of like this:



Comic Truthiness

Monday, March 26th, 2007

The “Sunday Funnies” have been decidedly un-funny lately, in fact I can hardly remember the last time I had a good laugh at one of the so-called comic strips. Most of them are just plain stupid, and then there’s strips like “For Better or Worse”, or “Funky Winkerbean” that try to straddle the line between funny and serious and wind up being neither. But I’ve always been a big fan of Berkeley Breathed from the “Bloom County” days, so I especially enjoyed “Opus” today:

opus.gif

Way back when America was a civilized country, presidential elections meant six leisurely months of state primaries, followed by articulate and compelling national conventions, and a mercifully short general election campaign. Not any more. Arm yourselves, indeed.

4th anniversary march on Washington

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

As I write this, the stage is being set for a massive ideological confrontation later this month in Washington DC, the likes of which have not been seen in forty years.

On Saturday, March 17, the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq conflict, a coalition of groups and individuals opposed to the war will stage a march on the Pentagon, calling for, among other things:

• An immediate end to the war

• Withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq

• Shutdown of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility

• The impeachment of President Bush for war crimes

Protesters are also expected to voice opposition to a variety of related issues including the repression of civil rights and free speech at home, and provocative American foreign policy elsewhere abroad. No one is yet predicting how many people will take to the streets on the 17th, but the numbers could be huge. It is no accident that the demonstration was planned to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Washington march against the Vietnam War, which drew about 100,000 protesters to the steps of the Pentagon (of which I was one). Although not the largest anti-Vietnam demonstration (the National Mobilization to End The War on November 15, 1969 drew a record crowd of 600,000), the ’67 protest was significant in that it saw the coalescing of a number of disparate groups into a united and extremely visible anti-war “movement” that had previously been somewhat fractious and unorganized. Those planning this month’s protest march hope for a similar result.

Up until now, most critics of the war (with some notable exceptions) have tried to frame opposition to our conduct in Iraq strictly in political terms, while respecting the role of the military — and individual soldiers in particular — who have been sent to do a dirty job with no choice in the matter. This is vastly different from the Vietnam era, when soldiers were (unjustly) reviled as “baby killers” and received very little sympathy after returning home. But while the Abu Ghraib prison scandal certainly didn’t do much to help portray an image of U.S. soldiers as liberating heroes, the greater tragedy is that our soldiers keep getting maimed and killed with no end in sight. They’re doing the job they’ve been sent to do as best they can under deplorable conditions, and most Americans just want to get them home to their families and out of harm’s way. I think any reasonable citizen honestly wants to support their country, but the tide of public opinion has definitely reached a turning point; the majority now believe that we were deliberately misled into war by Bush, Cheney, & Co., who have continued to bungle and mishandle the conflict at every step of the way. Not only have we paid for this deceit and incompetence in precious American lives, but it has cost us dearly in traditional terms as well: billions of dollars has been flushed away in the war effort that could have gone instead toward building schools, hospitals, or for a multitude of other worthy causes.

Many people saw the 2006 mid-term elections as a rebuke of George Bush and his handling of the conflict, and expected to see a significant change in U.S. policy as a result. However, that has not happened; on the contrary, with nothing more to lose politically, this lame-duck administration has not only ignored that mandate, but has “doubled down” by sending a surge of additional troops into Iraq. I therefore expect that March 17th could mark the beginning of a new period where the gloves come off and anti-war protests become much more vocal and insistent. Indeed, the rhetoric seen on some of the web sites promoting the demonstration tends to be pretty harsh. For example, from “The World Can’t Wait“:

Your government has committed war crimes, is about to commit more, and you have the responsibility to stop them. The march will send a message to the people of the world, who cannot see our anti-war bumper stickers, or feel our individual outrage. YOUR GOVERNMENT, on the basis of outrageous lies, is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in their sights.

In the face of November’s election results showing people want an end to the war on Iraq, and with the occupation of Iraq going very badly, George Bush has expanded that war and is planning new crimes against Iran. A Pentagon panel has been created to lead a bombing attack on Iran within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead from Bush. Bush, Cheney, and Rice say that “all options are on the table” in dealing with Iran, and that includes dropping nuclear bombs, allegedly to stop Iran from developing them. It is the urgent responsibility of people living in the United States to demand and end of the war on Iraq, and to STOP an attack on Iran.

The Bush regime cannot be allowed to bring about even more destruction to the world and further inflame the Middle East with civil and religious war. We must show that the outrages committed by the Bush regime, from Iraq to New Orleans, are not being done in our name. We won’t accept war crimes! The march will clearly demand the removal of the Bush regime now. 2008 is too late!

There is not going to be some savior from the Democratic Party; people who steal elections and believe they’re on a “mission from God” will not go without a fight.”

That’s some pretty strong language, and as expected, it’s inflamed the conservative minority who still endorse Bush and the war. A number of organizations are planning a counter-demonstration for the same day, dubbed “A Gathering of Eagles“, and cheered on by supporters such as right-wing harpy Michelle Malkin who is perfectly capable of spinning her own brand of rhetoric. After referring on her web site to protesters as “moonbats” and “socialists”, she goes on to say:

“How many times have you sat in front of the TV over the last four years, watching anti-war activists march on Washington, chase the ROTC off your local college campus, vandalize war memorials, insult the troops and wreak havoc under the surrender banner? How many times have you thought to yourself: What can I do? Here is the answer: Get off the sofa and join the Gathering of Eagles on March 17 in Washington, D.C.”

Various Veteran’s organizations and others groups have responded with plans to attend, so it looks like March 17th will be a very interesting day in our nation’s capital indeed. Mark your calendar.

One final thought: anyone active in the antiwar movement from the Vietnam era will immediately recognize the poster to the right as the logo, and vision, of “Another Mother for Peace“. AMP was significant in that it was an offshoot of the burgeoning women’s movement of the 60′s and 70′s. Following the repressive 50′s, many women felt empowered for the first time to speak up about social issues, and the Vietnam conflict directly affected those Moms who were sending their children off to fight in a morally questionable and militarily un-winnable war. How ironic, and sad, that this organization continues to exist today for the same purpose. Some things, unfortunately, never change.

A few links FYI:

marchonpentagon.org

United for Peace and Justice
A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism)
Code Pink: Women for Peace

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UPDATE: I was just alerted by a friend to this website, where the “Gathering of Eagles” group continues to characterize themselves as “protectors” of the Vietnam Veteran’s Wall and other military monuments from what they anticipate will be efforts by protesters to deface these memorials on March 17th. I sincerely doubt anyone plans to do anything of the sort, but what is especially disturbing to me is the perception by these self-proclaimed patriots that being “anti-war” automatically makes one “anti-American”. From the site:

“The anti-war/anti-America group cannot be allowed to use the Vietnam Memorial Wall as a back-drop to their anti-America venom and stain the hallowed ground that virtually cries out with blood at the thought of this proposed desecration … it must not happen,” said veteran Bud Gross. “… All Americans are invited to support our effort, which is intended as a defender of hallowed ground and intended as a non-violent competition between those that would sell out America and those of us who support freedom and keeping the fight with the enemy on distant shores.”

“We’ll be there to act as a countervailing force against the march from the Vietnam Memorial to the Pentagon,” retired Navy Capt. Larry Bailey said. “When we say a gathering of eagles, that signifies people who support the American way. We will protect the Vietnam Memorial. If they try to deface it, there will be some violence, I guarantee you.”

This certainly has an ominous ring to it, and I bristle at the notion that only those who are pro-war support “the American Way”, while those who are against it want to “sell out America”. Bullshit. Those who oppose the war do so because we love this country and are deeply troubled by the direction we’re being taken by our leaders. Lying to the world while subverting our basic civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution is not exactly what I would call “the American Way.”

But one of the great things about the USA is our freedom to disagree on and debate these matters. I sincerely hope that any confrontations on March 17 are philosophical in nature, not physical, but I have a nagging fear that that things could get ugly. Expect to hear a lot more in the news about this in the days ahead.

Gawking as national pastime

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Here’s a thought-provoking article from Chicago Tribune columnist Cal Thomas. I don’t often find myself in agreement with his conservative views, but some of his points are spot-on; America has, indeed, become a nation of gawkers. I don’t believe, however, that most people think these objects of our media attention exhibit particular “heroic” (or for that matter, anti-heroic) behavior. It’s more the train wreck effect, something to divert collective minds from the depressing news of war and terrorism. In any case, I’d like to know what you think; please read and comment.

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PUBLIC LIVES
by Cal Thomas

Anti-hero: A main character in a dramatic or narrative work who is characterized by a lack of traditional heroic qualities, such as idealism or courage.

Consider what occupies and diverts our attention from substantive matters: Anna Nicole Smith; Britney Spears; the astronaut gone wild, Lisa Nowak; the sleeping, dating, marital and divorce arrangements of film stars. It is all about the base, the tawdry and the anti-heroic. Today’s heroes are cartoon characters, and those (Superman, Batman, etc.) are from another era in which real heroes mattered.

Some blame television networks, especially cable, for our increasingly prurient interests. In recent days, TV has gone down into the septic tank with so many of the rest of us and delivered not what we need, but what we seemingly cannot get enough of. TV wouldn’t be obsessing with it if we didn’t demand it.

USA Today reported on a Pew Poll that found most Americans believe the media overdo celebrity news, but they watch it anyway. Sixty-one percent say they think the media overplayed Smith’s death, but 11 percent followed it as closely as the 2008 presidential campaign (13 percent) or the Super Bowl (11 percent).

Can you name the last person you heard about who behaved in a classic heroic manner? How about our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? The media ignore their heroism, even when they are awarded medals for bravery. When the word ”hero” is used at all, it is generally to label someone who is simply doing his job or her duty.

There’s little time to explore heroism among a people who prefer to indulge themselves in stories about a Qantas flight attendant having sex in the airplane lavatory with actor Ralph Fiennes, or Bridget Moynahan of ABC’s Six Degrees announcing that she is pregnant with the child of ex-boyfriend and New England Patriot All-Pro quarterback, Tom Brady. Who gets married before having children these days? And what difference does it make in our ”anything goes” culture?

Politically, heroism disappeared around the time of Harry Truman, with brief reappearances during the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Now, everything is poll-tested and ”leaders” follow the opinions and base instincts of those they should be persuading to follow them. Today, when one speaks of ”vision,” they are usually referring to Lasik eye surgery.

There is little sign any of this is about to end. Last week, ABC drew nine million viewers to The Outsiders, a prime-time program about a group of Arizona polygamists. Commenting on the appeal of such a show, correspondent John Quiñones said, ”I guess (it’s) the voyeuristic appeal.” It’s true — we are a nation of gawkers.

To some extent this has always been so, but television has made gawking easier and the objects of gawking more accessible. This indulgence in the base and banal has had a corrosive effect on our collective spirit. It also lowers our defenses against those who would destroy us.

It isn’t as if we haven’t been warned about self-indulgence in secular and sacred writings. In his Republic, Plato has Socrates describe the effect on the soul of grace and gracelessness in the material culture:

“Our aim is to prevent our Guards being reared among images of vice — as it were in a pasturage of poisonous herbs where, cropping and grazing in abundance every day, they little by little and all unawares build up one huge accumulation of evil in their soul. Rather, we must seek out craftsmen with a talent for capturing what is lovely and graceful, so that our young, dwelling as it were in a salubrious region, will receive benefit from everything about them. Like a breeze bringing health from wholesome places, the impact of works of beauty on eye or ear will imperceptibly from childhood on, guide them to likeness, to friendship, to concord with the beauty of reason.”

You won’t find such “craftsmen” on television. Better to turn it off, or get rid of this unfriendly guest, than to allow for the creation of another generation of anti-heroes and gawkers.

©2007 Tribune Media Services