Saturday, July 07, 2007

Harry Potter and the Enormous Pile of Political Cash

At the railway station of national politics there appear to be just two trains one can catch---the Republican Zephyr and the Democrat Local.
But unknown to the regular muggle passengers (many of whom seem to pick the wrong train, no matter what) there is another, invisible platform where sits a train waiting patiently to transport those with the gift to see it, to a place of mystery and wonder.

I am of course talking about the Hogwash Express which leaves Platform 9-3/4 % every four years, destination: The Third-Party School Of Magical Politics.
Every four years the school spontaneously burns to the ground and then, Phoenix-like rises from the ashes, re-invigorated, and sets out to challenge political reality with spells and incantations and promises of a new broomstick that will sweep away the cobwebs and dust-bunnies of complacency and banish the soul-stealing status quo to some prison tower, never to be released again.

But rather than increase enrollment with the usual parlor tricks, this semester The Third-Party School Of Magical Politics has created a muggle version of the Mirror of Erised with a new website mysteriously named Unity08 (I’m pretty sure if you jumble the letters and numbers you get to see a unicorn or something).

At this mystic portal ordinary muggles can “vote” for a presidential “ticket” compromising one Democrat and one Republican that will form their desired “dream team” for unity, one destined to confound the traditional party system and usher in a new era where for once politics won’t give you a pounding headache.

As Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post reports, the founders of Unity08 don’t want to create a “Third Party” but instead want to “force Democrats and Republicans to revamp themselves by becoming more issue-focused, responsive and candid.”

"What we are trying to do is to create a forum for people who are in the middle who have been left out of politics."

To accomplish these goals Untity08 is inviting disaffected ‘centrist’ voters, especially the “young”, to bypass the traditional party structures and selection process and choose their own Presidential and Vice-Presidential ticket via an internet ‘ballot’ with the only nod to reality being that one should be a Democrat and one a Republican.
Their theory is that most Americans are fed up with both parties, a belief backed by recent polling data, and are eager to shake up the political process if they can find an outlet.

Noting that about 85 percent of Americans use the Internet, Rafshoon [a Unity08 founder] said that "they can't all be extremists. There has got to be room out there for us."
These old political consultants running Unity08 can’t be this stupid and clueless about how presidential elections actually work.
I think they are just cynically trying to siphon- off cash from what will be a record season for public discontent and political spending. They only need to persuade 2-3% of the electorate to donate to score a few million dollars for themselves.
The Harry Potter fantasy is an original work of entertainment that has provided an unexpected and broad benefit.
The fantasy these Unity08 jokers are offering appears to me to be an unoriginal exploitation of reality with absolutely no benefit to anyone except its founders.

Check out their site here and judge for yourselves.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Patriot Games

It seems there is a surge of patriotism (or what passes for it these days) in various state legislatures and Minnesota in particular, which has just passed a bill requiring local government to officially use only US-sourced Stars and Stripes instead of imported ones.

“The biggest honor that you can give the flag is that it be made by American workers in the United States of America. Nothing is more embarrassing to me than a plastic flag made in China. This replica of freedom we so respect should be made in this country."

So said Minnesota House Democrat, Tom Rukavina, the bill’s sponsor.
Republican Rep. Dan Severson didn’t agree, arguing:
“That flag should be made throughout the world because it is our message to the world that there is hope for freedom and justice.”
Looking-out for American workers is a major plank of the Democratic Party platform whilst sheer jingoism and a sense of manifest destiny has become a Republican trademark so these representatives’ positions seem consistent with their party politics and policies.
Yet they still appear to be reversed from the “norm”--after all it’s the Democrat slighting the Chinese “plastic” flags and the Republican expressing a more “nuanced” global view (though on the other hand the Republican by implication is supporting outsourcing).

Regardless of the real and imagined ramifications of their respective positions on this new legislation, I’d say that beneath it all they do share a common perspective seemingly apropos to a nation that bears the word United in its name”--they are both united in a fantasy where nostalgic symbolism trumps reality.

Restoring the manufacture of the flag to its country of origin is nothing compared to restoring its original meaning, and no amount of arbitrary local legislation can do that.

Independence Day?

231 years ago, Americans rose up to claim freedom from the tyranny of a dictator wielding a massive military and a government oblivious to the rights of the common man.

No longer would they tolerate the appointed monarch, George, financing imperial ambitions in far-off lands from American taxes, nor suffer the intrusions of government agents and arbitrary rulings of George and his representatives, nor permit the promotion of politically and religiously connected cronies to act and govern in their own self-interest.

My, how far we have come since then!!

Monday, July 02, 2007

In Which I May Well Be a Jolly Good “Fellow”

To quote the Brookings Institution:

"For policy-makers and the media, Brookings scholars provide the highest quality research, policy recommendations, and analysis on the full range of public policy issues.
More than 140 resident and nonresident scholars research issues; write books, papers, articles, and opinion pieces; testify before congressional committees; and participate in dozens of public events each year. Over 200 research assistants and support staff contribute to the Institution's research, publishing, communications, fundraising, and information technology operations."

Bully for them! Sounds to me like it is a highly organized and well-financed cadre of dedicated and disciplined intellectuals bent on illuminating really important stuff and whatnot (and indeed it is).

I. on the other-hand, am one of those foul mouthed dirty f**king hippie bloggers that such luminaries as WashPo Ombudsman Deborah Howell and syndicated talking heads Richard Cohen, Bill O’Reilly, Charles Krauthammer and their ilk consider a threat to intelligent discourse on Subjects That Really Matter; like being respectful of privileged morons who get paid handsomely to shape public opinion and influence policy without accountability.

So it was with great interest that, (thanks to a tip from Cernig of NewsHoggers-- a regular contributor to Crooks & Liars) I was apprised of this recently-posted article by three fellows of the prestigious Brookings Institution entitled Why the Iraq war won't engulf the Mideast, and I quote:

“Yet, the Saudis, Iranians, Jordanians, Syrians, and others are very unlikely to go to war either to protect their own sect or ethnic group or to prevent one country from gaining the upper hand in Iraq.
The reasons are fairly straightforward. First, Middle Eastern leaders, like politicians everywhere, are primarily interested in one thing: self-preservation. Committing forces to Iraq is an inherently risky proposition, which, if the conflict went badly, could threaten domestic political stability. Moreover, most Arab armies are geared toward regime protection rather than projecting power and thus have little capability for sending troops to Iraq.” ( emphasis added)

My interest was piqued not just because this was contrary to the continued promotion of the 'conventional wisdom' of the Bush administration and its cheerleaders—even though they’ve been dead wrong in every prognostication--but because I’d read something strikingly similar and thus corroborative before, and I quote:

“The essential problem with the Republican argument [that withdrawal from Iraq will lead to region-wide chaos] is that it assumes that the political and religious dynamics in the Middle East are monolithic—which they demonstrably are not.
In all the Middle East conflicts and radical political shifts in power since WWII each country has pursued its own particular interests above anything else. Alliances and opposition have shifted according to rational need more than emotional desire.”

Both these excerpted analyses posit the same basic argument; that history, observation and dispassionate logic strongly suggest that the right wing and the Republicans are most probably wrong (for the umpteenth time) in their public prognostications. The Middle East is not monolithic and it is not bent on a collective course. It is in fact the fractures within its arbitrary collective rather than its commonalities that determine its political course (as is the case in the US and Europe).

But here’s what is most interesting to me about this subject:

The first quoted analysis was authored by three fellows of a professional think-tank supported by a staff of several hundred salaried colleagues and researchers

The second quoted analysis was authored by me, a foul-mouthed dirty f**king hippie degenerate uneducated narcissistic blogger (not sure who to attibute that to)…FIVE MONTHS before the Brookings Institution Fellows got around to reaching the same conclusion.

My particular effort took about 4 hours of unpaid and concerted research which I didn’t link-to or footnote because otherwise my post would have been essentially unreadable.

Now I don’t mean to criticize the Brookings Institution for being slow off-the-mark, our respective timing regarding addressing the same subject is not necessarily relevant. But I think I can reasonably point out that by this example that critical thinking, intellectual discipline and pertinent commentary is not the exclusive domain of a self-validating and elite club.

This “concurrence” of analysis and opinion proves nothing with regard to the complementary arguments that have been made—time may prove us wrong—but it does strongly suggest in this instance at least that public status and social elevation has nothing to do with the essential validity of an argument.

I may be a foul-mouthed dirty f**king hippie degenerate narcissistic blogger but I think I can reasonably claim to have kicked the well funded, highly-resourced and reasonalby-respected Brookings Institution in the ass on this particular subject by dint of reaching the same conclusions FIVE MONTHS earlier and certainly with no more effort (and likely less), FOR FREE!!!

I should ask them for a job.

Admittedly the qualification is slim, but look at how well those who have been consisently and significantly wrong are doing! I think I'd make a jolly good fellow!


Blogs are like opinions; everyone is an asshole…no wait, that’s not right…let me blame an overzealous imaginary “staffer” for that little gaffe, and start again.


I try to avoid ‘blog-roll bloat’. Not that there’s anything wrong with a really long blog-roll, I just prefer to keep mine pretty short so I’m slow to add to it (I can always use others longer blog-rolls). But I have just added a new entry, The Newshoggers, and I’d recommend my guests to visit.

It has four quite prodigious contributors, and a simple layout with a very handy 'Label' subject search . The posts are smart, concise, wide-ranging, engaging and pointedly referenced. I know at least two of the bloggers have been guests on Crooks & Liars more than once so that speaks volumes I think. So check it out.