Friday, September 30, 2005

Roy Blunt, Mini-Delay

So Tom Delay is out, and Roy Blunt, a slightly less foul-smelling version of Delay (this does not even rise to the level of damning with faint praise), is in.

The DLC has put out a somewhat wishy-washy call for Democrats to make Delay out to be merely an example of the corruption and cronyism that's killing our democracy, as I argued much more eloquently (and months ago) in King of Crooks, if I do say so myself (and I do.)

Ed Kilgore wonders over at TPMCafe why the liberal blogosphere has not been overtaken by sudden fits of grateful rapture at the DLC's late arrival at the "Republicans are Destroying the Country" party. In answer to Big Ed, allow me to quote the excellent Magnetic Fields:

So, you quote "love" unquote me
Well, stranger things have come to be
But let's agree to disagree
Cause I don't believe you
I don't believe you

It's one thing to put out a press release saying that Democrats have to turn Delay's accountability moment into a "reform moment." That's fine, but the DLC making some aggressive noises while there's no political cost (almost no one with any self-respect is defending Delay at this point) is nothing new. Unfortunately, when it comes to actually putting their chips on the table when there might be some actual risk involved, the DLC has quite a history of pulling a Bay of Pigs and leaving the real Democrats swinging in the wind while they cluck about how shrill and uncouth we "activists" have become.

Roy Blunt's assumption of Tom Delay's duties is a wonderful opportunity for the DLC to get out and lead the push to clean up the House of Representatives. Blunt is a corrupt asshole, and EVERYBODY knows it. The GOP replacing Delay with Blunt is an overt "Fuck You" to everyone who is calling for greater accountability and transparency in the federal legislature.

The difference between Blunt and Delay is that Blunt hasn't done anything overtly illegal. But if there's a systemic problem with the way the legislature is run, Blunt is just as emblematic of that problem as Tom Delay.

Case in point. Blunt is notorious for making last-minute changes to bills just before they are about to be brought to a vote, and the changes always seem to have one thing in common: They benefit Blunt's biggest contributors. He's an opponent of any kind of restriction on corporate financing of federal elections, and he supported the craven Republican effort to change House rules so that Delay wouldn't have to step down from his leadership post once he was indicted.

In short, Roy Blunt is not just part of the problem - along with Delay and Hastert and other toads just like him, Roy Blunt IS the problem.

So if the DLC is serious about holding the GOP's feet to the fire on this issue, they'll be right out on the front lines harshly criticizing Blunt's ascension to the House leadership.

I'll be waiting, but not holding my breath.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Snark, or Utter Cluelessness from the Post?

I'm thinking snark. For the non-junkies, here's the backstory - Congressman David Dreier, Delay's successor as Majority Leader (at least for now) is widely rumored to be gay. Actually, really, he's gay. Everybody knows he's gay. His chief of staff (a man) lives in his house. They're a gay couple. Everyone knows this.

But it's not official, for obvious reasons, because the guy is an important Republican poo-bah with Senate ambitions, so he's officially neither gay nor straight, he's just Congressman David Dreier whose chief of staff happens to be a man and live in his house.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So, knowing all this, now read this very strangely-headlined story in tomorrow's Post.

Yeah. They don't put italics in headlines, but if they did, couldn't you see this headline becoming:

Dreier a Different Kind of Republican

Also, note the last line of the piece:

"A native of Kansas City, Mo., Dreier is unmarried."

If this is just a coincidence, and the editor and reporter just have no idea about the rumors that Dreier is gay, then it's just sort of a funny coincidence. If it's not a coincidence, and it's supposed to be this weird sort of in-joke, I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's probably harmless, but it seems like what a character in a journalism-themed version of "Days of Thunder" might have called "low-down, shit-ass journalism."

And if NASCAR won't call it that, I sure as hell will.

If You Strike the King, You Better Kill Him

Today Ronnie Earl finally indicted Tom Delay on charges of conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud in the Texas TRMPAC case.

A couple of quick points about this:

One, Ronnie Earle definitely has it out for Delay. However, it's less of a partisan vendetta than a personal one - he and Delay just hate each other. Ronnie Earle is actually something of a pseudodemocrat, like a lot of Democratic attorney generals. It's hard to get elected AG on a social justice platform.

Two, now that Earle has secured this indictment, he is going to do absolutely everything in his power to bring down Delay. He has to; Delay is too powerful. As the saying goes, if you strike the king, you must kill him. That goes double for the King of Crooks.

Three, I would stop short of drawing the conclusion from #2 that Earle has an ironclad case against Delay. Conspiracy cases are hard to prove, and given #1 above, I think even if Earle has a weak case he wants to see it through to the end because he wants Delay very badly.

Four, this is a very serious charge and since there is no one above Delay that he can roll over on, there is a real possibility that if Delay is convicted, he will do actual prison time. That will be awesome.

Five, the conspiracy count is not necessarily the only one Delay will face. Other charges can always be added, up to a certain point in the process. The reason that's significant is that there is a very wide range of Delay's conduct that could be potentially criminal, and the more charges you tack on, the greater the chances that something will stick.

Bottom line, this is a critical factor, possibly THE critical factor, in the 2006 presidential elections. As I argued in King of Crooks, the Democrats MUST work hard to portray Delay not as a "bad apple," but as just a symptom of an ethical rot that has shaken the foundations of our republican system of government.

Our current leadership probably isn't up to the job, but there's a real opportunity here, just as there was in 2004, for some new leaders to emerge and take back the legislature just as the Gingrich Republicans did in 1994. If the Dems can recapture the Senate in 2006 (a moderate long shot) or take back the House (possibly more likely than people think; hope to detail why in a later post), we may be able to stop the bleeding on the budget.

Here's hoping.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Criminally Full of Shit

Intelligent people who support the Republican party in a lukewarm manner (there aren't too many who support the Republicans in a toasty manner) tend to be pretty vague about their reasons for supporting the Republicans to the degree that they do. This allows them to dodge the tough questions about why, exactly, they would lend their support to a party that, as these folks will admit when pressed, does not seem to share very many of their priorities.

One thing that makes life easier on these people is that the Democratic party is often obviously full of shit. And pointing out the various, often hilarious ways in which the Democrats are full of shit allows our tepid Republican-supporters to reassure themselves periodically that supporting the GOP does not mean that they are world-class suckers.

Let's stipulate that the Democrats are full of shit. Put that behind us. However, the painful reality that we need to force these folks to face up to is that the Republicans are Criminally Full of Shit.

Over the next fifteen minutes (and possibly longer if I feel like it) I will be chronicling one (possibly more) of the various ways in which this Criminal Shitfulledness is manifested in the Republicans' current piloting of our Ship of State. To show my versatility, I will do this while installing Windows 2000 on a Dell desktop AND while talking on the phone with Apple about my iPod AND while wrangling with my real estate agent via email regarding our move-out date (it's a busy week.) I will do this in an extra pissed-off manner because today my favorite pair of shoes (black Kenneth Coles for which I paid a whopping seven dollars at the Value Village) has died. Rest in peace KC's, you served me well.

CFOS File I - Budget Bamboozlement

Fact: The much-ballyhooed White House plan to halve the deficit over five years is in fact a plan to steadily increase the deficit, just as all Republican presidents have consistently done since Ronald Reagan.

A distinction must be made here, as it must be in most cases, between the rabid wingnut position and the position of honest conservatives who support the GOP because they dislike Democrats.

The rabid wingnut position on deficits is somewhere between the Dick Cheney position, "Deficits don't matter," and the Grover Norquist position, "Deficits are good because the proper goal of federal budget policy is to bankrupt the government."

These arguments are fairly easy to defeat, since they are basically insane. However, I don't reccommend engaging such a person in any kind of political debate, or really even talking to them at all. There is no point to it because here you are dealing with someone who is basically either a member of a cult or one of its leaders, and you can talk to them for a thousand years and nothing will ever come of it, except you may get a headache as you die of old age.

Instead, you should focus your energy on people who believe that the GOP really has a desire and a plan to reduce the federal deficit.

Exhibit A in debunking this myth is The Deficit Graph, pictured below with helpful markings:

The Deficit Graph

The first thing you will notice about this graph is that, contrary to protestations that you will hear from conservatives blaming Congress for any and all budget problems, the federal budget certainly seems to behave in characteristic ways under any given president.

Proportionality being what it is, it's hard to draw many conclusions from the graph about any president before Reagan. Once we get to Ronnie, though, we can see some pretty obvious things happening.

First, Reagan brought us the Modern Era of extremely large deficits. Before Reagan, all postwar presidents had run fairly modest deficits, with some variation among administrations mostly having to do with external conditions.

When the Reagan administration came along, they completely changed the way the budget process worked. They did this by selling a snake-oil that they called "supply-side economics," which predicted that by decreasing marginal tax rates, the government would increase its revenue.

This may sound really stupid, but in fact you can demonstrate that at SOME unknowable marginal tax rate, decreasing tax rates will increase government revenue. The leap the Reaganites made was to assume that this would work in actual practice, at the marginal tax rates that existed at the time. They offered no evidence of this because none existed.

It didn't work. Many, many Republicans, both rabid and lukewarm, will claim that it did work. But it didn't. And the evidence that it didn't work is right there in the graph. Reagan increased the size of the federal deficit to levels that had not existed since the end of World War II by drastically slowing the growth of federal revenue while allowing federal expenditures to grow at the same rate as before. There are many people who will dispute this characterization, and they fall into two categories, people who don't know what they are talking about, and liars.

So Reagan made the deficit much bigger. At the tail end of his administration, some of the damage was repaired, but in the end the deficit when he left office was approximately double the size it was when he took over.

George H.W. Bush pulled the exact same trick, but over the course of just four years, doubling the size of the deficit again. When Bush left office, the deficit was seen to be approaching unmanageable levels, leading Bush to renege on his "no new taxes" pledge and also giving Ross Perot the key issue that led to him getting a substantial number of votes in the 1992 election.

When Bill Clinton took over, he immediately put together a team of economics professionals to help him understand how to get the government out of the red and allow the administration to place Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on a sound financial footing. The plan they came up with was threefold - raise taxes, cut large numbers of workers from the federal payroll, and invest a portion of the Social Security trust fund in equities rather than investing it all in T-Bonds.

Republicans reacted as if Clinton had proposed the creation of a network of free heroin distribution centers across the continental United States. They howled about how the Clinton budget would bankrupt the United States, cause the second Great Depression, and bring about the end of everything good and righteous about our noble nation.

The third prong of the Clinton plan (investing Social Security money in the stock market) was unpopular and got mothballed, but the first two prongs were passed, and the result was that over the eight years Clinton held office, through four Congresses under several different combinations of friendly and opposition control, Clinton decreased the federal budget deficit every year, culminating in a 2000 budget surplus of 236 billion dollars.

During the 2000 campaign, Al Gore reccommended using the surplus to increase payments to the Social Security trust fund, while George W. Bush touted a plan to "give the money back" by lowering taxes primarily on extremely wealthy people. Bush took office and made good on his promise, passing his massive tax cuts with ease. He even had the audacity to use a version of the old Reagan snake-oil pitch, telling us that the tax cuts would "pay for themselves" by stimulating economic growth and thus increasing federal revenue.

Surprise! It didn't work. Bush II became the first president to actually decrease federal revenue, and he did it in a big way. The result is that the deficit for fiscal 2004 was a staggering 412 billion dollars.

So we can see pretty easily, first of all, that the 2004 Bush campaign promise to halve the federal deficit sets the bar pretty low, considering that if Bush achieves this lofty goal he will have increased the budget deficit during his two terms by over 400 billion dollars, by far the worst fiscal record of any president in modern history.

The trouble is, merely by using the numbers I'm using I'm actually Criminally Full of Shit. As bad as the Bush record (and the GOP record generally) looks using these numbers, in reality it's much, much worse.

You see, these numbers, which are the numbers we usually hear, include normal federal budget numbers AND Social Security numbers, when in fact Social Security is a completely separate deal and has nothing to do with the general fund. It's funded by its own tax receipts (the payroll tax) and even has its own investment account, the Social Security Trust fund, which contains billions of dollars worth of T-Bond securities to insulate it against the coming retirement of the baby boomers.

Social Security runs a surplus due to some hefty tax increases passed under the Reagan administration. Reagan didn't mind these tax increases because they are only paid on the first 90,000 or so of income, thus the tax burden of the payroll tax falls much more heavily on the poor than does the income tax, which funds the federal budget. Since neither Reagan nor anybody in the GOP gives a shit about poor people, they never howl about this obvious injustice. (Sadly, since the Democrats are mostly rich guys, they don't bother making much noise about it either.)

So when we consider Social Security and the general fund together, we're not getting a great picture of what is really happening with the federal budget. After all, the Social Security surplus is used to buy government debt, so from a general-fund perspective, that money is a zero-sum proposition.

If you look at the real federal budget numbers, which you can do at the handy CBO Historical Budget Data Webpage, you will see that the actual federal surplus in 2000, Clinton's last year, was a mere 86.3 billion dollars. The rest of the 236 billion dollar surplus was due to Social Security.

This was still a nice turnaround from the Bush I number, which was actually a 340 billion dollar deficit. Not chump change, to be sure, but look at what his son has achieved in the same time frame.

That's right, the federal budget deficit for 2004 was 567 billion dollars. George W. Bush took an 83 billion dollar surplus and turned it into a 567 billion dollar deficit. That is a staggering achievement, folks, up there with the very worst management disasters in history.

Many uncomfortable Bush supporters will claim that this is a result of external factors, not policy choices. This is just bunk, and they probably know it. But leave that point aside for the moment and pop over to the also extremely handy CBO Current Budget Projections Webpage and take a look at the CBO projections for the next ten years. These projections assume no change in current policy.

Here we can see two things. One, the White House claim that they are going to cut the budget in half in five years is a little off. If we include the Social Security numbers in our calculations, the budget deficit does decrease from 412 billion in 2004 to 218 billion in 2011. That's almost half, though 2004-2011 is eight years, not five. But we'll allow them this little bit of fudging. Five years vs. eight is, after all, a rather Democrat-sized fib.

But we can quickly draw a second conclusion that should start to make our GOP-lite readers a little nervous. The On-Budget deficit, that is, the deficit without taking into account Social Security, doesn't change much at all during the period from 2004 to 2011. Indeed, the shrinking deficit would be almost completely the result of the increasing Social Security surplus. You'll recall with us at this point that Social Security is the program that Bush keeps threatening to "save."

So in fact the fiscal policy of the Bush White House is to continue running massive general account deficits until the end of their term, making no effort of any kind to repair the unprecedented damage they have done to the solvency of the federal government, whose stewardship responsibilities they inherited at a historical solvency zenith.

Almost unbelievably, it actually gets worse.

You'll notice that after 2012, the outlook gets much rosier. The general fund is still running a high deficit, but not nearly as high as 2011 and before. That's because the current projections reflect the fact that the deep tax cuts passed by Bush are mostly set to expire in 2011, a provision that was added for the express purpose of creating artificially rosy budget projections. The GOP has announced that a major policy goal of the current congress is to extend these tax cuts permanently. If that does wind up happening, we can all head back to the CBO web page to watch that final number - the total public debt accrued from 2006-2015 - skyrocket from two trillion dollars up to some unforeseeable (but definitely really, really, huge) number.

So if you read this blog and you vote Republican, or if you vote for someone other than the Democrats on the theory that "Democrats are just as bad," please, please take two hours over the next couple of weeks to look over the historical budget numbers. Break them down however you want, by control of congress, control of White House, or any other delimiter you want to use.

If you're honest with yourself, you'll come to the only conclusion the numbers allow - another four years of a Republican controlled White House after Bush leaves office will mean the continued erosion, possibly terminal erosion, of the solvency of the U.S. government. And even if you don't care about food stamps, Social Security, aid to indigent children, or any of the other programs that keep people from starving in the fucking street, think about your precious War on Terror, and how much easier it's going to be for all the people who want to come kill you to do just that, once the government can't pay its bills. Think about the fact that you'll never again be able to invade some defenseless, poor country just because you don't like their president's beard, or the word he uses for god.

For fuck's sake I don't care what you think about, just think. For one goddamn second, think.

I told you I'd be extra pissed off. That's all for today.

The Ape Man

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Dog Ate My Article

Apparently, my DU article either got lost in the mail or they just decided not to use it (which would be a first), so I'm just going to post it here. It's a little dated now as it contains no reference to Bush's speect last week, but to my mind it's still operative. Enjoy.

The Fire Next Time

“We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

- National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice

When Condoleeza Rice spoke those fateful words almost exactly three years ago, kicking off the administration’s ultimately successful push for an invasion of Iraq, I reacted as most peace activists who knew half of anything about global politics did. I laughed, mixed a drink, and settled in for a nasty battle I knew the antiwar movement ought to win, but probably wouldn’t.

By the following February, the whole thing was beginning to seem faintly ridiculous. Hans Blix had found nothing and said so, noting that more time was needed for weapons inspections but that access to inspection sites was unfettered and there were scant signs that Iraq was hiding any significant banned weapons program. The normally pliant UN Security Council had made very clear that it was not interested in supporting a US invasion of Iraq under current circumstances, and despite the fawning reception by the stateside punditocracy, Colin Powell’s disgraceful speech had done nothing to change the ambassadors’ minds.

Though there had been some crucial missteps by the antiwar movement in late 2002, such as the failure to stage a significant D.C. protest the weekend before the congressional vote to give the president a blank check for war, it seemed that after one last push the administration’s crazy swashbuckling might actually be thwarted by an engaged global populace. Protesters poured through the snow-covered streets of New York over Valentine’s Day weekend, chanting the only slogan that’s ever mattered to really serious rebellion junkies: “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido.”

I remember chatting that winter with a friend of mine from GW, joking lightheartedly about one of the many boneheaded gaffes that had led the man who, seemingly indestructible after the attacks of September 11th, had somehow found himself on the fast track to become the first president in history to have his very public push for war headed off by popular protest.

Then it happened – Eliza’s face hardened slightly and she stammered “I mean… We can’t invade Iraq.” In that one unmistakably italicized word I heard every unthinkable consequence we had fretted about all summer, tens of thousands of innocent people killed, the most volatile region in the world destabilized still further, the strain of occupation leading another generation inevitably toward a military draft.

In the lines of her face in that moment, dramatically lit by a distant D.C. streetlight, I saw a harsh mirror, reflecting my own feelings of deep unease. With the New York protest approaching and the Bush administration on its heels, we felt confident. But how much of that confidence was fueled by the fact that the prospect of a second Iraq War, so much more arrogant and misguided than the stupidest of Ronald Reagan’s doddering overseas adventures, seemed like The End of Everything?

In the end, of course, the good guys lost. The slogan, it turns out, is good-natured hyperbole. The people, divided, will always be defeated. Otherwise, it’s a crapshoot, which is all we were ever promised, after all.

Now, two and a half years later, the Iraq invasion is in the books, and those tens of thousands of Iraqi innocents are in the tomb. The military is groaning and listing and ready to sink under the weight of Bush’s massive war of choice. As has happened so many times in history, the end of everything has come and gone, with little of the expected fanfare.

We stand, this September, amidst the rubble of yet another spectacular Bush administration failure, the almost impossibly inept government response to the worst hurricane disaster in United States history. Bush’s last defenders protest thinly that state and local governments failed, too, and perhaps they did. But that is a matter for the Louisiana electorate. Here in the capital we must consider the common peril of the whole nation. What a grave peril it is turning out to be.

The American people have watched as the Bush administration turned a budget surplus into a massive deficit, cutting essential services and public projects while lining the pockets of the Republican base, the very richest and most prosperous people in the world. We have seen a lackadaisical intelligence apparatus caught flat-footed by a low-tech terrorist attack on two major U.S. cities, followed by a wildly popular but poorly planned military invasion that failed to apprehend the perpetrators.

We have been shamed by revelations that our president rose to power largely through the patronage of men who were nothing but common criminals in expensive suits, and that he stood by as those same bandits milked a desperate situation in California for all they could before Enron, their sham of an enterprise, evaporated into the dusty, smog-choked Texas sky.

We stared in disbelief as the American military became bogged down in a massive, unwinnable war against an ill-defined, shadowy opponent in Iraq, pouring more and more part-time soldiers into a buzzsaw that today is just as dangerous as Vietnam in 1966, and that is showing no signs of improving.

Yet still there are those, some of them in the highest levels of the Democratic party, who refuse to admit that Bush is what he is – the most incompetent president in modern history. “September 11th was a systemic intelligence failure; could have happened under any administration,” these bitter-enders assure us. “Enron was a business scandal, not a political one,” they cluck. “Catching bin Laden was never that important,” they assert beyond all reason. “We were all wrong about Iraq,” they lamely concede.

As if that weren’t enough to swallow, we are now asked to believe that the federal government's feckless response to the Katrina disaster was the fault of New Orleans’ mayor. Nothing, it seems, is sufficient to convince the Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys, or the Joe Liebermans of the world that Bush is a dangerously inept and useless leader. So we press on with a government that every serious person knows has been stripped of its ability to perform its essential functions, turned into an enormous revolving cash machine by Bush and his crony capitalist to-the-victor-go-the-spoils approach to governing.

How many more people have to die before we say enough is enough? How many more years can we take under leadership that seems more appropriate to a drunken Mardis Gras bender than the presidency of the world's most powerful nation? How many critical ground balls does Bush have to boot before we bench him and replace him with some hot prospect just called up from the political minor leagues?

Does the smoking gun really have to be a mushroom cloud?

The question is more than just hyperbole. It’s true that in the context in which she uttered it, Condoleeza’s Rice’s fretting about a nuclear attack on US soil was plainly absurd. Iraq was among the least nuclear-capable countries on earth at the time of the US invasion; we had about as much to fear from Bolivia or Cameroon in terms of possible sources of bomb-making materials.

In a more general sense, however, Ms. Rice’s warning was a prudent one. The only significant large-scale terrorist threat to the United States remains a nuclear attack on an American city. Despite the misleading omnipresence of the catch-all term “weapons of mass destruction,” no unconventional weapon approaches the destructiveness of a nuclear bomb, and no other weapon of any type carries with it the same potential for touching off a catastrophic global thermonuclear war.

So how much progress has been made in protecting the country against the proliferation of bomb-making materials? I could list, as many writers of conscience have done, the many egregious missteps the Bush administration has made, on nonproliferation, disarmament, nuclear site security, the list goes on.

In the wake of Mike Brown’s ignominious departure from FEMA amidst revelations that his already anemic background in emergency management had been fabricated (by him or by the White House, it is not known), let us take a different tack. Let us ask whether nuclear nonproliferation has, like FEMA, been transformed from a vital and serious government function into a stagnant pool of political patronage.

A quick glance at the cast of characters reveals much to be worried about. Until recently, the top US official on international arms control was John Bolton, a man who has been almost universally derided as incapable of relating constructively with anyone except his ideological masters in the White House.

At Bolton’s Senate committee hearings, one of the key exceptions to the cacophony of scathing denunciations of Bolton’s leadership style was the testimony of his second-in-command at the State Department, GOP loyalist Stephen Rademacher. Rademacher himself was appointed to his crucial arms control post after working for the previous ten years as a big-shot Republican lawyer during a time when the GOP was working overtime to craft legal justifications for weakening and dismantling existing arms control treaties. According to his State Department website, Rademacher’s educational background in arms control is none. Of course, in his defense, we have no real reason to believe the information in his official biography is true.

Picking on Rademacher is probably unfair. In truth he is no different from any number of Bush executive branch officials, whose main qualification for their current complex, demanding positions is that they are very good at being friends with George W. Bush. But do the American people have to wait for the next great catastrophe to befall us before we demand that these sycophantic nincompoops be replaced by people who have some idea what they are doing? Is the time for examining these peoples’ qualifications now, or after another American city has been turned into a mass grave?

To shirk these matters because we are afraid of the implications is cowardice. To pretend these concerns are not realistic is insanity. To call such questions “the blame game” is pathetic and dangerous.

Perhaps, as de Tocqueville is supposed to have warned, in George W. Bush’s manically incompetent administration we Americans have finally gotten the government we deserve. But one thing is certain: in a world such as ours, full of grave dangers that threaten the very survival of our species, it is past time we demanded the government we need.

Swirling in the fetid waters left behind in New Orleans by hurricane Katrina are the last echoes of an old southern plantation song, stretching back into ancient history to bring us what may be our last warning:

God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water
The Fire Next Time

AP Short

Monday, September 19, 2005

Browns Win One!

So the Browns were on TV yesterday, playing the equally-horrible (possibly more horrible) Green Bay Packers, and lo and behold, in their first nationally televised game under new head coach Romeo Crennel, they actually got a win, 26-24, at Lambeau Field.

People make a big deal about Lambeau field because in the Packers' glory years (the 1990's and the 1960's) it was almost impossible to win there due to the often ridiculous field conditions. Yesterday it was less of a big deal because the conditions were balmy (76 degrees at kickoff) and the 2005 Packers may be the worst team in the NFL.

Still, it felt good to get a win. This week we get the Indianapolis Colts, a popular pick to win the Super Bowl. Coming off a win, I'm tempted to believe we have a shot to beat these guys, and if the game were in Cleveland in the swirling wind, on natural grass, I might be able to convince myself. But the reality they have an extremely talented team with a few holes at the margins, and we have a marginally talented team with extremely huge holes almost everywhere. Not a good matchup.

One thing, though, sports fans. There are many claims among the NFL punditocracy that the Indianapolis defense is much improved this year. I am not buying it. Though they've given up very few points so far, they've done it by capitalizing on some bad mistakes by the opposing team, not by overcoming their key weakness - stopping the run. They still can't stop the run, so that's going to be the key to keeping the score under control next week. Run, run, run, then run some more. Maybe you can keep it within 10 points and steal it in the fourth quarter.

Then again, as they say, hope is not a plan.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Bush Administration is a Caricature of Itself

Bill O'Reilly tries to get Condi Rice to come clean about the situation in Iraq:

O’Reilly: The truth of the matter is our correspondents at Fox News can’t go out for a cup of coffee in Baghdad.

Rice: Bill, that’s tough. It’s tough. But what — would they have wanted to have gone out for a cup of coffee when Saddam Hussein was in power?

You have to be kidding me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Firefly Aside

Ah, Ethridge showing up reminded me of a post I wanted to write about Firefly, a TV series he recommended to me. I just finished watching the final episode last night.

The narrative from the show's hardcore fans is that this was one of those shows that was canceled essentially for being too good, something the network didn't quite know how to deal with. I see where these folks are coming from, but I don't think that's quite right.

It's true that the show was daring and effective in a way that most television is not. I would say that for me personally, Firefly is better than almost everything on television right now. I don't much non-sports TV but I have seen most network stuff at least in passing and the only show I would say is definitely better than Firefly right now is Lost.

However, when you push the envelope and really go for something original, you have to really stick it. The West Wing is a good example of this - the show was phenomenal in the early years, but if it had been just a little bit worse it would have failed mightily. When you go big you have to be better than you do when you are trying to do something that everyone already knows works.

Firefly, for those who aren't familiar with it, is science fiction without any real element of "superscience," that is, high-tech gadgets or alien races playing an important role. The action takes place in space or on alien planets, but there is no life that didn't originate on Earth, and most of the people on the show use regular guns that fire regular bullets, etc.

To put it in a way that makes it sound cheesier than it is, Firefly is a space western. There are horses and shotguns and cowboys, but the main characters fly from planet to planet in a spaceship.

What makes it work (when it works, which it mostly does) is the ensemble cast, consisting of a captain, his old friend the first mate, her husband the pilot, a mechanic, a priest, a brute, a doctor, the doctor's weird psychic sister, and high-class space hooker (seriously.)

In watching the interviews with the people in charge of the project, it was interesting to me that one of their complaints was that the network really wanted to force them to drop the audience down in media res whereas they wanted to develop things more slowly. In my experience the weakest shows were the ones where there was no high-tension situation driving the story. Things worked best when the characters were on the clock, or when there was a deadly killer in their midst.

Most of the interactions that took place outside of this context wound up feeling forced. Part of this is the fact that I watched the entire series over the course of a couple of weeks, but I got really tired of the Captain and the space hooker having the same boring argument on every show, and of the doctor's dully predictable bollocksing of the country-girl mechanic's painfully obvious wooing.

In the end, there are three types of TV show : the amazing, cutting-edge series like the early Simpsons, Seinfeld, West Wing, even Survivor, solid gold crap like Everybody Loves Raymond and Friends (which I liked, BTW, but it was solid gold crap), and stuff that gets buried and then canceled. Firefly was better than solid gold crap because it had a vision and a flavor that you don't find on other shows, but the reason it was canceled was because it just wasn't quite good enough.

Whaddya Know - Sports is Depressing Too

So I'm disgusted by politics, eh? Well, at least the election was close. The Browns got pummeled 27-13 by a mediocre Bengals team, the Mets have completely collapsed, and my fantasy team scored the fewest points in the league this weekend. Oh, and Agassi got wiped off the court by Roger Federer.

Did anything good happen this weekend? Well, the Washington football team and the Buffalo Bills won, and those are the two teams I'm following this season while the Browns stink up the league. The Bills looked particularly impressive in dismantling the Houston Texans.

So if sports is as depressing as politics, what's a junkie to do? Apparently, it's back to politics. I submitted an article to DU yesterday for the first time in many moons. Watch for it at The Democratic Underground Front Page. It's the feel-good article of the year.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Reevaluating our Core Mission

I haven’t posted in a long time, obviously. But here are two of the things that are keeping me from coming back (other than the taking-care-of-infant, looking-for-new-jobs, selling-my-house stuff):

A) I’m completely disgusted with American politics right now. It took me longer to get there than a lot of my liberal friends because I just love politics as a sport and so my threshold is just really high. But this most recent rash of failures by the Bush administration is like that moment in a buddy’s relationship when the girl he’s seeing starts doing something like inviting her other boyfriend over to their house that he paid for while he’s there, and he still won’t break up with her. There comes a point where you just have to stop calling the guy or you’ll lose your mind. After they finally break up you can become friends again, because after all, you’re guys and there’s no statute of limitations on the friendship.
B) It’s September (implications below.)

So at this point I am temporarily getting out of the pundit game. I don’t have time to write features for DU right now, and most of the writing I’ve been doing recently is my own quick rundowns of stuff that’s happening in the sports world. Which brings me to the fact that…

It’s the first weekend of September, which is possibly my favorite weekend of the year from a sports perspective. The US Open tennis tournament is finishing up, the NFL season is starting, college football is through with its useless Week One mismatches (though the VT/NC State game was exciting) , and the baseball playoff races (isn’t it sad we can’t say “penant races” anymore?) are heading to the home stretch.

Of course on as a Mets fan, I get to enjoy the home stretch of the playoff race in only the most rueful sense, since the Mets have already completed their annual post-All-Star-break eight game losing streak and removed themselves from contention. But it’s still baseball.

Long story short, this is now a sports blog. To all who read this blog who hate sports, well, tough shit. To all my non-Dem friends who do like sports, come on down. I promise to keep the GOP-bashing to a lighthearted minimum.