Election 2012: Zombies vs. Vampires?

I’ve found data (who can argue with data?) demonstrating that during periods of Republican political dominance there are more zombie movies produced.  When Democrats are in power, vampire movies abound.  Are zombies and vampires archtypes for the two major parties or is this just a silly attempt to attach relevance to a random statistic?  It might be useful to run a little scientific comparison.

First, are vampires a good metaphor for Democrats?  Let’s see.  Vampires aren’t all that interested in family life.  You won’t find many in the suburbs.  They’re worldly, well-spoken, and always have a lot of nice stuff, but none them seem to have a job.  They seldom join the military.  Their church attendance is erratic at best and they are extremely uncomfortable with expressions of faith.  They tend to carry that metrosexual vibe; you don’t run into a lot of burly, flannel-wearing vampires.

Vampires are incapable of seeing themselves or cooperating with each other in more than a superficial way.  And of course, they survive by draining the lifeblood from other creatures.

Hmmm…I don’t know.

And do zombies hold up as a symbol for Republicans?  Well, zombies clump together in groups.  They work very hard, but they don’t know why.  The undead are single-minded, absolutely determined, and extremely volatile.  None of them are vegetarians.  They are unreasonable and make lousy listeners.  They have no sex life to speak of, but there always seem to be more of them.  They are dead inside and don’t know it.

Zombies are gullible and easy to outwit, but won’t ever stop attacking and never seem to be entirely defeated.  Oh, and they want to eat your brain.

No, that comparison doesn’t really fit either.

These shabby attempts to tie political significance to cultural trends are generally a waste of time and this is no exception.  Granted, any sensible person would leave their wallet and other valuables at home before attending a Democratic Party grassroots rally.  You wouldn’t wander into a crowd of those folks looking like you had something someone else could use. But vampires?

And sure, the last thing you’d want to flash at a Tea Party Rally is a big, fat, juicy brain.  Listening to those speeches about “taking our country back” and the tedious lectures on the 10th Amendment can make you pray for someone to scoop your brainpan clean, but that doesn’t mean it will happen.  At least, probably not.

Using zombies and vampires as political metaphors?  Ridiculous.

How a Budget “Compromise” is Built

I’m a Congressman (not really, but go along).  There is a dollar on the table.  I want to use it to fund a tax cut.  You are also a Congressman and you want to use it to extend unemployment benefits.  In a better world, the two of us along with the rest of the body must argue and listen and evaluate priorities to reach an agreement on how that dollar should be allocated.

That’s not how budget negotiations work in Washington.

There is another party missing from the table in my sample negotiation – the future taxpayer.  That guy doesn’t vote, because she hasn’t been born yet, or because he’s too busy drinking at the frat house to be paying any attention.  The negotiation process in Washington consists of you and I reaching a stalemate, then breaking the logjam by having the future taxpayer make the compromise.

You get what you want and I get what I want.  We can’t pay for it, so we put it on the tab of a high-school kid who isn’t represented by anyone.  He’s going to pay for it down the line in higher taxes and less effective government.  “Son, you’re welcome!”

We can blame this process on “politicians,” but that’s incredibly deceptive.  They only do it because we demand it.  We’re borrowing from our children like some psycho stage-mother ripping off a child-star.  How do we justify it?  We cover our actions with a politically corrupted interpretation of Keynesian economics.

Boiled down to idiotic simplicity, Keynesian economic theory in this context refers to using government borrowing to smooth out the impact of recessions and using surpluses to contain the bubble-risks from economic booms.  It sounds like a good idea.  Borrow money as a bridge in recessions and raise taxes to pay it off and build surpluses in good times.

It should work, but it doesn’t in part because of a political problem.  The trouble with Keynes’ ideas is that we only let our leaders turn those levers in one direction.  We only let them cut taxes and borrow money, never the opposite.  The “good times” when the government gravy train should be reversed can only be recognized in the rearview mirror.  Anyone who suggests taking government action to stem irrational exuberance will not only fail, but risk a riot.

The consequence over the past thirty years has been an economy running on nitro, steadily burning itself out on borrowed money injected over and over with no constraints.  We stimulate the economy in good times and bad while our debt skyrockets.  The solution?  According this Congress the solution is to extend government benefits and tax cuts, neither of which we can afford.

Will the Tea Party Movement fix this?  It might have some indirect impact.  The TP’ers aren’t serious at all about genuine fiscal responsibility.  No one who thinks we get to balanced budgets by repealing the Estate Tax really gives a damn about balanced budgets.

However, the rhetoric they are hiding behind is drawing attention to this problem.  People are finally starting to think about the broken throttle on the engine of federal spending.  We need to make the shift from thinking tax cuts can balance the budget to accepting that someone has to pay the bill for this party.

Will we ever, short of a catastrophe (yet another one?), mature enough to move past cheap rhetoric and accept a real fix?   That remains to be seen.  So far no one in the Tea Party movement is saying, “let’s be the ones to pay the bills.”  They still think they can cut just someone else’s budget priority (“keep your government hands off my Medicare!”) to get the job done.

Real budget responsibility will involve some pain and sacrifice that affects all of us and probably drags the economy for a brief time.  Put that on a bumper sticker and run for office.

It means people like me who make a good solid living will make a greater contribution so that we can develop better schools, protect some of the least fortunate, and shore up our infrastructure to keep us competitive.  It will also mean a thinner social safety net in which the unemployed cannot expect two years and more of jobless benefits.

Nobody gets to skate.

Authentic, grown-up solutions that can strengthen the country instead of tear it down will not be cheap.  They will involve some short-term pain all around so that we can protect the core viability of the republic and strengthen our economy in the long run.  A compromise that matters, one that can help us start solving our financial problems instead of deferring them will be one that galls nearly everyone on both sides of the aisle.

When we’re ready to elect people who tell us these things then we will have cause for optimism and pride.  In the meantime, get ready for a lot more empty talk about tax cuts and other political candy.

Sarah Palin is a Communist

Just when you think you know someone…

Sarah Palin is spending time in Haiti this week shooting campaign footage with Fox News and Fundamentalist evangelist Franklin Graham.  Perhaps she assumed that since she was far away we could not hear her.  Maybe that’s why she chose this moment to show her true colors.

Palin reportedly issued this shocking statement through Graham’s organization:

“We are so fortunate in America, and we are responsible for helping those less fortunate.”

Wow.  Another mainstream politician jumps on the progressive bandwagon.  Don’t see it?  Follow me to the chalkboard.

Those who understand the way the world really works recognize that Palin is referencing Christianity’s supposed interest in “social justice” – the corrupt notion that we should try to support other people even if they can’t master the most elementary basics of resume writing.  This dangerous idea comes from a ridiculous misinterpretation of Biblical passages like this one:

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Matthew 19:24

Moonbat leftists take quotes like this out of context to suggest that Jesus was critical of the rich. He was actually issuing a sharp rebuke to the pre-capitalist system and the limited range of needle-sizes it offered to consumers, even the most wealthy ones.  But you already knew that.

It gets even worse.  It’s one thing for somebody to get weepy after a few beers and fire off a check or two to some aid agency.  No harm, no foul.  But Palin goes on to advocate full-on Communism:

“I know that there’s been some discussion of U.S. aid perhaps being lifted from this area,” she said. “Again, not to get political, but if some of the politicians would come here and see the conditions perhaps they would see the need for, say, a military airlift to bring the supplies that are so needed here.”

Now you see it, don’t you?  Who is paying for those military “aid” flights?  That’s right, my friends, you are.  Your money is being taken away from you by force, and given to people who refuse to work for a living.  Just try to call the government today and tell them you don’t want to donate.  They’ll throw you in jail.  That’s tyranny!

Rush Limbaugh recognized it back in January when he stood up to the powerful progressives in the Haiti lobby, saying that we don’t need to donate to Haiti on our own because we’re already being forced to do it by our government.

And what kind of political system is it where a government takes your money without your permission and gives it to people more needy than you?  That’s right.  Sarah Palin is traveling overseas to advocate Communism here at home.

Consider the dots connected.

Now, I always encourage my readers to do their own homework, to think it through.  You’re not “dumb” or “paranoid.”  You just see Communists everywhere.  I’m not asking you to trust me.  Hell, I’m patently unreliable.  I’m just giving you the facts that no one else has the courage to tell you.  Then I let you decide on your own…that everyone you disagree with is a Communist.

Come back next week when I expose Ron Paul’s secret role in the Communist plot to destroy our country.  If you love America and you’re willing to stand up in your easy chair to save her, then this is a blog entry you can’t afford to miss.

The Tax Cut Cargo Cult

There are Pacific Islanders who have built a religion around the expected return of the American military who will once again bring rich “cargo” to their land.  These religions have early roots, but they blossomed in and after World War II as the strange foreigners arrived seemingly at random bringing wonders, then just as quickly departed.

Reportedly, these islanders have built airfields out of the jungle complete with replica control towers and crude imitations of other equipment like radios and aircraft.  In spite of the consistent failure of the cargo to return and the increasing sophistication of the islanders in growing contact with the outside world, some of the religions continue to thrive (see John Frum).

It’s important to understand that these practices are not a product of ignorance, at least not any longer.  One of the leaders of the John Frum cult has been to the US.  The islanders have plenty of access to information about the genuine source of the “cargo.”  The magical, apocalyptic pursuit of the cargo cult is an article of faith, divorced from reason.  Their belief in the return of the cargo is no less rational than Shia’s belief in the return of the 12th Mahdi or American Evangelicals’ expectation of The Rapture.  It is religion.

We are witnessing the birth a new political religion rooted in similar misunderstandings, frustrations, and Messianic hopes.  No reason can penetrate it.  No facts can undermine the fervor of the faithful.  And like the islanders’ bizarre faux airports, it is diverting valuable resources away from productive pursuits and into destructive fantasy.

Bow down before the Tax Cut.

I’m not going to bother posting links to economic studies or even laying out common sense arguments.  My posts are already too long (I still read the comments).  Besides, anyone who is going to be moved by reason is already off this bus.  George Bush, Sr. once famously described the idea that tax cuts could reduce deficits as “Voodoo Economics.”  He had no idea how right he was.  Endless tax cuts for everyone, especially rich people, will solve all our problems, period.  Argue and you’ll be ignored or worse.

This began of course with Reagan, and like the origins of any religion the history is shrouded in myth.  Reagan did in fact manage to pass a massive tax cut at the height of a terrible recession.  At the same time, he failed to rein in spending, hoping to tackle that later – a goal he never achieved.  So the country basically borrowed its way out of the 80′s recession in classic Keynesian, Democratic fashion and left a future generation to pay for it.

A cargo cult is built around a refusal to substitute hard facts for shiny magic.  The airfields and radios that seemed to bring the cargo cannot be replicated with coconut husks formed into clever shapes.   In the postwar period top tax rates ranged from the upper 60′s to 90% at different times.  When Reagan passed his tax cut the top rate (income tax alone) was a whopping 70%.  We no longer face those high taxes and their consequences.  If anything, our taxes are irresponsibly, even childishly low.  But the mysterious big man, he cut the taxes.  It seemed to bring the cargo, so we’ll do it again.

The magical Reagan also raised taxes in many ways through the ’80′s in his efforts to restructure the system.  He rescued Social Security in 1983 with a massive tax hike that continues to operate today and he did a lot of other pragmatic, real-world things that sensible leaders do and mythical figures do not.  Those subtleties are all forgotten in the cult.

So the cult has come down to us without context or reason.  Cut taxes.  Cut taxes.  Cut taxes.  Taxes are too high.  Remove the terrible injustice of the Estate Tax so that Paris Hilton can lead us all to prosperity.  If Steinbrenner’s heirs have to pay taxes to get hold of his hundreds of millions of dollars that they did not earn that’s tyranny.  Cut this tax, that tax, and all taxes.

How will we pay for government?  That’s a lefty, progressive, Communist, Fascist question to ask.  All good believers understand that the only thing government does is take money from me and give it to Blacks and Mexicans.

George Bush, Jr. took office in 2001 facing annual budgets that had just been balanced for the first time in a generation.  It would have been a great time to pay down the already staggering debt and develop of new culture of fiscal responsibility.  Or…we could cut taxes.

Our aggressive redistribution of wealth from middle and working class families to the wealthy has fed repeated asset bubbles, constant capital inflation, and undermined the public faith in our institutions.  Meanwhile, the infrastructure of capitalism in this country – schools, roads, airports, and social services, are crumbling.  The cure?  Let’s keep doing the same absurd thing it until it works.

It is time to stop trying to “stimulate” the economy by passing bills in Washington.  It’s not that Keynes was fundamentally wrong, but politics has made his strategies ineffective.  Washington is only capable of doing the easy – cut taxes and continue spending.  It can’t do the hard parts of Keynesian economics.

And as Republicans we seem to believe that if we keep doing what our prophets say Michael Jackson will come back in his pre-creepy, jerry-curled glory; MTV will play music; thin ties will be back; Lee Greenwood won’t be cliché anymore;, and we can relive the glory of His Age.  We’ll all once again be singing “Born in USA” and not listening too closely to the lyrics.  Reagan will return and lead us once more.

The cargo isn’t coming.  Sooner or later we will have to make hard, adult choices and pay these bills.  Let’s start now.

Markets Need Rules

“Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal”

Warren Buffett, 2002 Annual Shareholder Letter

 

Albert Einstein famously had the foresight to recognize the dangers that his discoveries in nuclear physics could visit on the planet.  Even while they struggle to scrub the blood from the walls, there is little sign of that kind of thoughtfulness on Wall Street.

Derivatives are another of those boring, intangible subjects that hardly anyone cares about, but affects all of us.  They are almost entirely unregulated and have become by far the largest form of capital investment in the world.  By some estimates the derivatives market is several times the size of the total global economy.   Derivatives brought on the 2008 collapse and after much talk about dealing with them, they remain just as unregulated now as before the crash.  They are busy building force again for the next disaster.

New rules will be emerging soon as regulators work to implement the limited financial reforms Congress enacted this year.  The behind the scenes battle over those rules will determine whether Wall Street will see very modest curbs on its the most dangerous and lucrative financial innovations ever, or none at all.

At its core a derivative is actually a very simple instrument.  It is a gamble based on an unrelated transaction – like when you go to Vegas and bet on the Cowboys game.

When you buy stock or a bond you take at least a distant interest in the success or failure of an enterprise.   When you buy a derivative you have no participation, no stake whatsoever, beyond the bet itself.  You are just multiplying the outcome of a transaction.  That distance removes any limitation on the scale of the bet.  A single bond issue, for example, can be gambled on by derivatives traders to infinity.

Those who defend derivatives argue that they provide a vital financial function by allowing organizations to more accurately assign a price to relatively intangible risks.  Think about that Cowboy game you gambled on.  All those bets tell a story about the predicted outcome.  In principle, derivatives trading is supposed to cushion risk.  And they do create a relatively visible market for risk that allows companies both to hedge their bets on a certain deal and to better weigh the odds.  That’s nice.

The trouble is that along the way they multiply the stakes of a particular bet endlessly.  As a consequence, instead of hedging exposures, they can act as a sort of risk catapult, amplifying damage from a failed transaction outward.

Imagine that A Inc. enters into a deal with B Co. and decides to hedge their risk of loss on the deal by insuring it with a derivative called a credit-default swap.  They pay a third-party, C Partners, $25K for a promise that C will cover their loss if the deal goes bad.  The trouble is that any of the parties, or any unconnected parties, can get into the action too over and over again, offering to swap risk related to that transaction.

C bundles all its derivatives and sells a swap on them to D in which D promises to pay C if it incurs losses.  It can keep going, and going in an extended game of hot-potato.  Before long the modest deal between A & B for $1m has $3m in derivative deals riding on it if it goes bad.  And none of these parties had to put up any meaningful capital because there are no legal requirements. It’s all pure vapor.  That’s what creates the economic fission from the transaction.  That’s how the derivatives market can be larger than the whole global economy.

Cool, huh?  Like watching a plane crash.

What you need in order to turn this process into a mass disaster is a serious miscalculation or a shift in performance of a whole economic sector – like the mortgage market.  One day the first domino falls and the damage rolls through the entire economy like a tsunami.

How often would this happen?  This market has existed on a large scale for about fifteen years and its already brought the Western world to its knees once (along with some other serious shocks along the way, see Long Term Capital Management).  It will happen again, though you can’t hope to predict where it will come from.

How many more chances do we need to give it?  Can’t we at least stop them while we get back off our knees?

It’s that magnifying affect rising from the lack of rules that transforms derivatives from an arcane risk-management device, like insurance, into the economic equivalent of a nuclear bomb.  They’re a great idea, except they will persistently threaten to destroy capitalism until we rein them in.

The Democrats had a brief window in which they could actually have tackled dangerous problems like this and addressed them with some sensible solutions.  Instead, they had a hippie-freakout and devoted all their pathetic political capital to a futile effort to fulfill Lyndon Johnson’s dream of socialized medicine.

By the time they were finished failing in that effort and declaring victory, they had no momentum or consensus to deal with financial regulation.  The bill they passed to tackle the banking collapse was just as toothless and irrelevant as their healthcare catastrophe – and almost as long.

Congress punted on this issue, leaving it to relatively weak regulators to come up with rules that will only impact this market around the margins.  Your bank is making short-term cash in derivatives Vegas while you read this.  Those bets will eventually sour and we will face another crisis.

With the GOP bouncing back will someone flip the safety on this weapon?  Not likely.  Government is finished doing things for a while.  Republicans, greedily clutching  the crack-pipe of self-regulating markets helped make this happen in the first place.  As we stand amid the ashes their message so far has been “You’re Welcome.”  The response from the Tea Party Movement to the crash has been fury that someone had the insolence to rescue civilization.  Don’t look to this version of the GOP for any help.

The only thing this batch of Republicans will do different as the next crisis builds is let it burn with a smile as they search the skies for Jesus.

Keep looking.

Thanksgiving with Uncle Barry

Thanksgiving is almost here.  It’s a time when families assemble to remember their blessings and experience each others’…finer qualities.  A common staple of the season is the crotchety uncle (a role I’m studying to play), whose semi-sober, uninhibited, and occasionally insightful ramblings add unwelcome candor to every family gathering.

In the spirit of the holidays conservatives everywhere should take a few moments to remember the great curmudgeonly uncle we all share, Barry Goldwater.

Goldwater was already an old man in spirit at the age of 55 when he was the sacrificial Republican Presidential nominee in the ’64 election.  Like your uncle, he had an unsettling tendency to speak his mind.  Though his manner was blunt, his comments were more often than not right on the mark.  He was always opinionated, persistently gentlemanly (in his own way), and occasionally a bit odd.  But his insights guided the conservative movement for a generation and his warnings still offer wisdom in our time.

I present Barry Goldwater in his own words, best enjoyed with a good Scotch.

- On our modern Republican Party, in 1989:

“The Republican Party has been taken over by a bunch of kooks.”

- His Libertarian interpretation of Conservatism:

“I am a conservative Republican but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state. The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.””

- Putting principles above Party discipline:

Goldwater turned on Arizona’s Republican Governor Evan Mecham whom he had endorsed.  The erratic Mecham, a prototype of the right-wing nut of our time, called black children “pickeninnies,” kept the radio on in his office to “keep the lasers out,” and rescinded the MLK holiday.  Goldwater euphemistically called him “hardheaded” and supported his impeachment.

- The Democratic patronage machine:

“It is a fact that Lyndon Johnson and his curious crew seem to believe that progress in this country is best served simply and directly through the ever-expanding gift power of the everlastingly growing Federal Government. One thing we all know, and I assure you I do: that’s a much easier way to get votes than my way. It always has been. It’s political Daddyism, and it’s as old as demagogues and despotism.”

- His comments on the internal Republican civil war in the early ’60′s against the far-right led by William F. Buckley:

“We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the Republican banner.”

- No love for The Moral Majority:

” I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass.”

- Advice for Bill Clinton:

“The best thing Clinton could do — I think I wrote him a letter about this, but I’m not sure — is to shut up…. He has no discipline.”

- Advice for Johnson on Vietnam:

“I told Johnson and old colleagues on Capitol Hill that we had two clear choices. Either win the war in a relatively short time, say within a year, or pull out all our troops and come home… Vietnam is about halfway around the world from Washington. It’s as large as the major European nations, with nearly 130,000 square miles… Its ancient recorded history goes back to 111 B.C… We entered with considerable ignorance.”  From Goldwater, 1988

- Dealing with Fundamentalists:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them. …..

The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom…. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are?… I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.””

- The Conservative vision of Equality:

“Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.”

- His complex and contrarian view of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

“This was the only Civil Rights Bill in twelve years that I couldn’t vote for” and in another forum, “My basic objection to this measure is, therefore, constitutional…[the bill's public accommodations and fair employment provisions would] require the creation of a federal police force of mammoth proportions. It also bids fair to result in the development of an ‘informer’ psychology in great areas of our national life — neighbors spying on neighbors, workers spying on workers, businessmen spying on businessmen, where those who would harass their fellow citizens for selfish and narrow purposes will have ample inducement to do so. These, the federal police force and an ‘informer’ psychology, are the hallmarks of a police state.”

- On UFO’s.  That’s right, UFO’s:

“I think at Wright-Patterson, if you could get into certain places, you’d find out what the Air Force and the government does know about UFOs. Reportedly, a spaceship landed.  It was all hushed up. I called Curtis LeMay [The Air Force Chief of Staff], and I said, ‘General, I know we have a room at Wright-Patterson where you put all this secret stuff. Could I go in there?’  I’ve never heard General LeMay get mad, but he got madder than hell at me, cussed me out, and said, ‘Don’t ever ask me that question again!’”

- Making the GOP the Party of God:

“When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

- Homosexuals in the military:

“You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.”

- On legislation to protect gays from job discrimination:

“It’s time America realized that there is no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.”

 

And, with a tear in my eye and a Happy Thanksgiving to all, Uncle Barry’s stirring optimism, from his 1979 book, With No Apologies:

“My faith in the future rests squarely on the belief that man, if he doesn’t first destroy himself, will find new answers in the universe, new technologies, new disciplines, which will contribute to a vastly different and better world in the twenty-first century. Recalling what has happened in my short lifetime in the fields of communication and transportation and the life sciences, I marvel at the pessimists who tell us that we have reached the end of our productive capacity, who project a future of primarily dividing up what we now have and making do with less. To my mind the single essential element on which all discoveries will be dependent is human freedom.”

God bless you Uncle Barry, and God bless us all.  Happy Thanksgiving.

The Legislature Has a Jew in It

This year’s batch of Republican legislators has had enough of their liberal leadership.  If your response to that comment was, “Liberal leadership, WTF?” then you must be one of those RiNO’s who thought the loony Platform from last year’s convention shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Fundamentalists are mounting a revolt against Rep. Joe Straus’ (R-San Antonio) re-nomination as Speaker of the House and the rhetoric is taking an ugly turn.  The press is getting frothy over emails and robo-calls from Christian fundie groups taking aim at the fact that Straus is Jewish.  Yes, the Jew-baiting is tasteless, but the media is largely missing the point and overlooking the more interesting story in the process.

First, a little background.  Straus took the Speaker’s gavel at the opening of the last session in a gutsy revolt against the deeply unpopular Tom Craddick of Midland.  Craddick was a royal jerk who trampled every tradition of Capitol civility to promote his own power – not to put too fine a point on it.  But he had the support of the fundamentalist wing, so he was able to hold on for two terms.

At the end of the ’07 session, after repeated abuses and a rising rebellion, he claimed “absolute power” to manage the House floor when a motion to remove him started to gain momentum.  Say what you will about Texas, but the place won’t long tolerate a tyrant.

At the start of the last session Straus led a bi-partisan (gasp!) effort to replace Craddick after all the other Republicans who were talking about it behind closed doors chickened out.  The necessary 11 sacrificial Republicans and no more crossed lines to vote with the Democrats to select the Republican Straus as Speaker.

In the coming session, with the Republicans holding 99 seats to the Dems’ 51 it will take a lot more than 11 brave souls (most of whom are now gone) to put a somewhat rational Speaker in place.  The wolves are out and the list of Straus supporters is starting to dwindle.

The public knock against Straus, apart from that whole Jew business, is that he’s not “conservative” enough.  After all, he’s been spotted actually listening to Democrats when they talk.  How can you trust someone like that?  But the real story is in the fine print.  The Tea Party and fundie activist groups tip their hand pretty clearly when they describe the credentials of their two favorite candidates, Warren Chisum of Pampa and Ken Paxton of McKinney.   What do they offer?  They are Christian Conservatives.

Here’s where the press misses the critical point in this story.  The opposition to Straus isn’t based on the fact that he’s Jewish, per se.  Ya’ll listen close.  The fundies aren’t objecting because of what Straus is; say it along with me – ‘they have lots of Jewish friends.’

They’re upset about  what he ain’t.

The robocalls and emails about Straus’ Judaism aren’t about racism.  The hierarchy of bigotries in Texas is well defined and Jewish doesn’t actually rank high on the list.  The big three are Blacks, Mexicans (which encompasses all native Spanish-speakers) and Austinites.  Jews figure among the niche prejudices held by only the finest connoisseurs of hatred, settling in somewhere between Mormons and Bohemians.

What Chisum or Paxton bring to the table are their superior claim to being Christian Conservatives, a standard that disqualifies Straus.  In the new Republican landscape, the only authentic Republican has a flag stuck in one lapel, a cross in the other, and a prayer to Jesus on his lips.  As one Tea Party leader so eloquently put it, “if I want to say ‘Christian’ in the United States of America I’m going to say it.” Amen, dadburnit.

Chisum and Paxton are publicly denouncing any hint of anti-Semitism in this race and making clear it doesn’t originate with them.  That’s great.  But the folks who are throwing Straus’ religion into this have an aim more subtle than racism.  They still aren’t quite comfortable just coming out and saying that everyone needs to support a Republican who’s determined to replace the nation’s original pluralist structure with an expressly Christian government.  They’re still at least one election away from being able to talk about that openly.

And calling their favorite a “Christian Conservative” might not be coded strongly enough.  After all, how many Southern Republicans aren’t at least nominally Christian at this point?  The Jewish reference was necessary to make the message absolutely clear to those who needed to know.  Mission accomplished.

The new Legislature, faced with a $25billion budget deficit, larger by proportion than California’s, is ready to finally address the state’s real problems – Gays, Atheists, Kenyans, and Mexicans.  And Straus is not on board with their agenda clearly enough, at least not Bible-thumpingly enough.  The Jew must go.

This is a fine warning for any thinking Republicans still left in the state, all three or four hundred of you.  You can kid yourselves into believing the recent GOP surge is about “fiscal issues” all the way to the ballot box.  On the Wednesday after the election Jesus is Lord.  Any of you so-called Republicans who have a problem with that need to step quickly to the curb.  The bus to Jesustan is coming and it’ll lay tracks on your backside if it must.

In the words of the crabby old Barry Goldwater:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise.”

And because there’s no one around this morning to stop me, here’s Sacha Baron Cohen in character as “Borat” at a country bar in Arizona:

Surviving the Death of Objectivity

When Walter Cronkite stepped out of character in 1968 and opposed Johnson on the Vietnam War it was a monumental event.  Cronkite was a sort of national godfather, the arbiter of what is and what ain’t.  His statement said something more powerful than his own personal thoughts.  By publicly announcing his scepticism he was implying that there was no longer a way for a reasonable person to retain principled objectivity on the war.  The verdict was in.  Johnson was finished.

Needless to say, no figure in American journalism has anything like Cronkite’s stature in our era.  That may not be such a bad thing.  Though there’s nothing good to say about the blowhards who now fill the airwaves with fear-flavored lies, the old notions of objectivity were always more aspiration than reality.  The collapse of the old journalistic establishment as reported recently by Ted Koppel has created a lot of angst, but there may be a model for how a post-objective news media can work.

Riding the tube in London you can learn a lot about the people around you by looking at their newspaper.  Blue-collar Labour-types will be reading The Sun (Rupert Murdoch’s product, ironically).  Many will be lingering on Page 3 (no link provided, this is a family blog).  Tories will be pouring over the Daily Mail.  Hard-core working-class blokes might have the highly tabloidy News of the World (featured in U2′s Last Night on Earth).

The Guardian will be folded in the laps of either pointy-headed intellectual socialists, or lazy folks who bought it because of the handy kiosk at the train station entrance.  As the Red Line churns through its stops in The City, you’ll see bankers or traders reading the conspicuous pink sheets of the Financial Times.  Upper class professionals tend to stick with The Times, or expose their lefty pretensions with a peek at The Guardian.

In short, Britain is a successful democracy that has never, outside the BBC, pretended any objectivity in its news media.  Everybody’s newspapers are delivering content on a slant, and yet they suffer nothing like the polarizing ideological blindness we currently endure.

The critical difference between Rupert Murdoch’s British (usually)-Labour rag, The Sun, and his American Republican, Fox News, is intellectual honesty.  Someone may correct me here, but I don’t think anybody on the staff of the The Sun claims that they are delivering news that’s either “fair” or God-forbid “balanced.”  That’s not what the audience wants.  Readers understand the bias and calibrate accordingly.

Fair and balanced aren’t what Fox or MSNBC do either, but they continue to lie about it and listeners pretend they are getting The News.  Deception is bad.  Self-deception is even worse.  Neither are necessary.

Objectivity as a professional goal was always admirable, but it was also more than a little arrogant.  It functioned sorta like this.  A journalist is supposed to actively work to discover all the different angles of a news item and synthesize them in order to establish and report on what is real.  In other words, the professional journalistic establishment was supposed to be the arbiters of reality. That’s a bold stretch in a post-modern world.  It’s not working anymore.

Folks on the political fringes have long complained with some justification that this “objectivity” effectively discredits them, closing them out of mainstream political discourse.  Well, in reality, I suppose what they have more commonly done is claim objectivity is a damned lie and a conspiracy against them, and that the news media is manipulated by either corporate tyrants or leftist tyrants, or Jews or Communists or whatever, depending on who’s doing the complaining.  But beneath all the hyperbole that’s basically the reality they are getting at.

When media, by law, was dominated by television and the local newspaper(s), objectivity was a genuine concern and its preservation was critical.  But in the years since Reagan as the world has opened up and every aspect of life globally has been deregulated and subjected to the profit standard, journalism has taken an &^%-whoopin.  It turns out that objectivity does not sell.  In a financially competitive environment it has been gutted, replaced mostly by entertainers.

But this is not the end of the world.  The British have taught us that a mature political culture can tolerate deliberately slanted, tabloid-infused news.  Plus the emerging constellation of new media outlets mean that anyone who cares about reality (which is clearly not everyone) will have new options for how to discover it.  Undoubtedly, quality is going to suffer around the edges and high-end journalism of the war-correspondent type may be headed for the dustbin.  For a decade now we’ve had virtually no real journalism from our two war zones that was unfiltered by the military.  We have to adapt to this.  It’s a problem that won’t go away.

Well into the future there may still be major media outlets that will strive to preserve some relic of objectivity.  The British still have the BBC.  Americans have NPR and what’s left of the slowly suffocating CNN.  The rest of the old media establishment has already been overwhelmed by car-chases, idiotic crime-shows, feely segments on hero-dogs, and Glenn Beckistry.  America’s most trusted journalist was once Walter Cronkite.  Now that role is served by a comedian with a deliberate leftist slant.

We will adapt and survive.

The element that will make this transition survivable will be the gradual acknowledgement of bias.  The absurd recent scandal over Olbermann’s donations to Democrats will be joined by many others which will accumulate until news networks will be forced to acknowledge reality.  Before much longer you’ll be able to read a stranger’s politics (though perhaps not their social class, like in England) by observing what they read.

So long as we all understand and account for the angle, deliberately biased news reporting is something we can learn to live with.

The Worst Thing You Could Do to Sarah Palin

What’s the lowest, meanest, most spiteful thing you could do to Sarah Palin?  Elect her.

With remarkably little effort, Palin has achieved a magical transformation from the drudgery of elected office to the lucrative glory of life as a political celebrity.  It’s good to be Sarah.  First class flights, legions of fawning fans, and no accountability.

It’s a lot easier to be a celebrity than it is to do something for a living, and holding political office is a tougher than average job.  People are always questioning you and you actually have to respond to them like they matter.  It’s no life for a diva.

She has in her hands an opportunity to leave behind all the misery of politics while still enjoying the fame.  Whether you’re an actor, an athlete, or a politician, there is a revelatory freedom that sets in when you don’t have to do your job anymore and you can still be rich.  But there is a Faustian twist to her unearned fame and fortune that could still send the whole beautiful dream straight to hell.

In order to seal the deal, for the next half-decade or so Palin has to convince the public that she just might run for [insert office here] in the [insert year] election.  And she will probably have to stage some convincing facsimile of a campaign at least once.  All without either winning, or suffering the humiliating indignity of an authentic loss.

This is why she didn’t run for Alaska’s Senate seat.  She would have faced an extremely high risk of winning, then being locked for six years in some miserable job.  People would be calling all the time, and you have read stuff, and you have to answer questions that aren’t on the card.  It’s horrible.

The key is to never again have her name appear on a ballot on Election Day.  A gracious exit early in a primary campaign, with deference to the need to “protect party unity,” is the Holy Grail.  She must carry on long enough to be taken seriously but not so long as to be taken genuinely seriously.  If Republican competitors ever start to regard her as a true rival instead of a potential patron the bubble will burst.

The demonic denizens of the mainstream media are awfully cruel (why is Katie Couric so mean??), but nothing she has endured at their hands could prepare her for a real Republican primary campaign in the lower 48.  She doesn’t want to stick around long enough to experience South Carolina.

If she can for the next five or six years retain her celebrity status without suffering either a win or an authentic defeat her position will be safe for life.  She can evolve into a kind of political Elizabeth Taylor, always in the media eye without having to actually do anything.

From that point forward nothing could stop her. Sex scandal, divorce, DWI, cocaine, hookers, you name it, it wouldn’t matter.  She could murder three or four of the family’s staff and feed them to mamma grizzlies, or even gay, Communist grizzlies.  No problem.  She’ll be &^%$’ing golden.

It won’t be easy to remain “politically positioned” for the next several years without getting ground up in a primary campaign or worst of all – winning something, but she is carefully positioning herself for the role.  She is becoming a sort of clearing house for fundamentalist fundraising, building a cadre of endorsed candidates, and setting herself up to be a perennial kingmaker.

If she has the skill and wisdom to pull off this act, life for Sarah Palin will be pretty sweet, you betcha.  What could ruin it?  Pesky voters who take this act seriously are a real threat.  But the worst danger?  Letting her pride get the better of her.

At this point, the only thing that can destroy Sarah Palin is victory.

Election Day and Grandma’s Skillet

I like to bring the kids with me to vote.  I’m not a wealthy man and its unlikely that I ever will be, but along with Grandma’s skillet I have one other proud legacy to provide them.  They get to see it on Election Day.

They should grow up understanding that much of what makes them unique as Americans starts on the first Tuesday in November.  The rules of their legacy are – you don’t put Grandma’s skillet in the dishwasher and you don’t give your vote to fools, even if they say they’re on your team.  That skillet is awfully durable, but what makes it special can be ruined with carelessness.  You get the metaphor. Don’t make me harp on it.

The power we exercise when we vote is far more potent than it seems.  My kids need to understand that their ancestors’ wisdom and sacrifice gave them the gift of being in charge of this country, and to a large extent – perhaps larger than any of us really wants – the world.  That’s a deeply ironic gift, like being handed a shiny new hydrogen bomb.  It needs to be insulated from sour moods and bad days.

In my time I’m doing what I can to preserve the gifts given to me so they can be passed down in better condition to those who follow.  We’re all trying to do that to the best of our ability.

We could all use some help.

Come Wednesday, we’re going to have to find ways to work together in a political atmosphere polluted by opportunists.  It’s all good fun until someone has to govern.

Our economy is smothering under the rubble of a mortgage industry ruined by unfettered greed.  We’ve wasted trillions on overseas wars with no clear goals and we don’t know how to end them.  The effort at absolute prohibition of drugs like marijuana has given spectacular wealth and power to criminals who now threaten our borders.  Generations of public policy favoring oil as our fuel  of choice is empowering our enemies and stagnating our economy.  And our refusal to make hard choices on either taxation or spending has given us a troubling debt.

We have some problems to solve.

By Wednesday, the entertaining sport of elections will have to yield to the hard work of governing.  Are the people we vote for going to be ready to do the hard work, or will they just keep blaming and campaigning and trying to frighten us?

In the weeks and months that follow this election we will all have to learn how to compromise with people who have been labeled as extreme, socialist, fascist, nutjob, racist, marxist, idiotic, incompetent, crazy, and/or dangerous; sometimes with good reason.  I don’t envy the winners.  Sometimes a failed kitchen experiment gets some pretty stubborn stuff glued to the surface of Grandma’s skillet. Nobody’s perfect.

Are we ready for what we need to do?  Can we move past name-calling and find some common ground?  Our legacy depends on it.

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