Monday, October 27, 2003


In many places, "taxes" is a four-letter word. Especially in places where they are used to find libarys and skools.

In a neighboring community, the Republican town supervisor is about to be ousted because he is not as rabidly anti-tax as his Republican challenger. This despite a booming town economy and overflowing sales tax coffers. The incumbent also has the audacity to, very occassionally, not write blank checks to developers.

Have you ever noticed how the words "taxes" or "taxpayer" are employed as an emotion-triggering propaganda cues? Whenever someone uses the word "taxpayer," you know you are supposed to be outraged about something.

You might hear someone say, "We Americans are proud to support our troops." But on another topic, it might be, "We taxpayers shouldn't subsidize those people who choose to be unemployed."

I have a long essay planned in the back of my mind which I will entitle "The Republic of Consumers." Americans consider themselves first and foremost taxpayers, whereas the French, for example, consider themselves first and foremost citizens. Other countries have had revolutions to overthrow oppressive oligarchies. The American Revolution was a middle-class tax revolt. This paradigm is reflected in the nature of public discourse in those countries.

This is the mentality that subordinates the greater good to the individual good. This is why many Americans hate taxes for its own sake.

Sure, no one actually likes paying taxes. It's losing money that we'd otherwise get in our paychecks. But, the fallacy is viewing out of context. Yes, we pay taxes. But we also get services for those taxes. Debating about which services should be funded by public money is a legitimate question. But removing that context and simply saying "taxes are bad," that is disingenuous. It's like doing a cost-benefit analysis while totally omitting the benefit half.

I've read tens of thousands of opinion columns, editorials and letters to the editor. Hundreds have bemoaned taxes. Candidates and parties base campaigns on lowering taxes.

But of those thousands of pieces I've read, no one's ever complained that their drinking water is too safe. No one's ever cried that their roads are too smooth, that crime is too low or that the fire department responds to blazes too quickly.

In this case, it's the people who are talking out of both sides of their mouthes. In 1995, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich made the mistake of taking the voters at their word. The GOP ran a campaign based on less government. The people voted for them. The shock occured when Gingrich actually implemented that plan. He shut down the government in his budget dispute with President Clinton. He figured that since his party was elected based on reducing government, shutting it down wouldn't be a big deal.

Gingrich learned a painful (for him) lesson. Americans hate government in theory, but not in practice. They hate "the guys in Washington" but their own guy gets re-elected 90% of the time or more. They hate "pork" so long as it's other people's programs, not their own. They hate taxes but love the programs that are provided with those taxes.

Everyone wants a free lunch, but in the real world, the money always has to come from somewhere.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

The Bush administration's single-mindedness in the face of all common sense was the reason for the United States' unilateral invasion of Iraq. We (American troops and taxpayers) are now paying the price, both in dollars and blood, for the hawks' intransigence. At the time, critics claimed that the Republican administration was so hell-bent on going to war that they used information (however dubious) to fit their pre-ordained conclusions rather than letting the information drive the decision-making. The tail wagged the dog. In fairness, it's worth noting that for the most part, the spineless, cowering Democrats in Congress did little to oppose the insane way the unilateral invasion was carried out.

Now the occupation part of the conquest is proceeding with far more difficulty than most of the gung-ho American public expected , the Republican hawks who drove the invasion are feeling the heat. This despite the fact that the occupation is going more or less in line with what any clear-headed historical analysis would've predicted. The administration led the public to believe we'd somehow be exempt from history. The public now feels duped.

The Intelligence Committee of the Republican-controlled Senate is preparing to issue a report scapegoating the CIA for exagerrating the case for war. This is a bit like the United States condemning Iraq for having weapons of mass destruction.

But the Senate report is very convenient. CIA chief George Tenet is a holdover from the administration of Bill Clinton, so detested by conservatives. By scapegoating a guy appointed by a Democrat, the GOP is trying to deflect attention from the real reason for the war: expanding American economic influence in the Arab world.

I don't expect the American public to be fooled by this shameless shell game. Already tricked once, the public is unlikely to take things about Iraq at face value again. They know who wanted the war. They know drove the case for war. They know who included deceptive information in important speeches. They know similiar revelations are embarassing the Blair government in Britain.

Even if you believe the report is straight-shooting, it still calls into question the president's increasingly bad judgement. If it was all George Tenet's fault, President Bush is the one who decided to maintain him as intelligence chief when he entered the White House.

But, the hawks convinced Americans that we wanted this war, that this self-imposed obligation was necessary for our "national security," that it was so imperative that we had to say "F*** the rest of the world." The hawks are now surprised that the support was a mile-wide and an inch-deep, even though it was always likely to be so as soon as events exposed just how flimsy the evidence was.

In the time after 9/11, the administration was lauded for its decisiveness. It was congratulated for standing by tough decisions they thought were necessary even though they weren't popular. Now, in the face of scapegoating, fingerpointing and blame shifting, even that rare admirable quality is quickly fading into the sunset.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I was watching ESPN's SportsCenter last night. They were doing a piece on the controversial Game 6 of the baseball series between the Florida Marlins and Chicago Cubs.

A little background. The Cubs are the most cursed team in North American professional sport. They've gone longer than any other team without winning the pennant and thsu playing in the World Series (1945) and without winning Major League Baseball's grand prize (1908). Many people erroneously think that last dubious distinction belongs to the Boston Red Sox, but they won it in 1918 (against, ironically, the Cubs).

In Game 6, the Cubs were winning and were a mere 5 outs from winning the pennant in front of their home fans. A foul ball went into the very front row of the stands and a Cubs' fan caught it, almost certainly preventing a Cubs' player from catching it. If a player reaches on to the field of play to catch a ball, fan interference could be could and the out awarded anyway. Except, when the ball goes in to the seats, that rule doesn't apply. The Cubs' player was furious and other fans threw beer at the now-infamous fan.

However, I bet 30,000 other fans in the park would've done the same thing in the same situation. Trying to get a foul ball is a rite of baseball. More importantly, when a hit baseball is coming right at you, your instinct is to catch it; your other instinct is to protect yourself so you don't get smashed in the noggin. You generally keep your eye on the ball (the first rule they teach 6 year old players), not looking around. Otherwise, you may get smashed in the face. I'm sure if he'd known the player from his own team had a chance of making the out, he would've tried to stay out of the way. He can't be looking in two places at once.

Immediately following this incident, the Cubs collapsed, lost Game 6 and eventually lost the series. Naturally, this fan has become the scapegoat for a collapse that had far more causes than that single incident.

ESPN quoted a long-time Cubs' season ticket holder, "I think these fans like that are sort of selfish or they don't really care about the consequences of what happened." Well, here are the consequences.

Last night, ESPN reported on how the guy needed leave the park with security for his own protection. There was a shot of him departing with a jacket over his head, like an accused criminal, which is exactly how the poor guy is being treated. Then, there was a shot of police cars guarding the guy's house in a particular Chicago suburb.

So after this piece telling how much of a threat there is against this guy, what does ESPN do? THEY SHOW HIS NAME!! They talk about how fans are reacting violently to the incident, then they broadcast on national television his name and what town he lives in!! The Associated Press article did the same thing. Why don't they tell where his wife works and where his kids go to school while they're at it?

I know the press can be reckless at times but this is insanely poor judgement. And for no reason. It's not like knowing the name helps us understand the story any better. So these media outlets are increasing the danger on this guy for absolutely no reason, no benefit to anyone, including those press outlets themselves. If anything happens to this guy, ESPN and the AP (and the screech media as well) will have it on what passes for their conscience.

Friday, October 03, 2003

After two years of confusingthe constitutional 'right to remain silent' with the unpatriotic 'obligation to remain silent,' Democrats are finally waking up. Except they're shooting off on the wrong issue. Congress is presently debating the president's request for $20.3 billion ($20,300,000,000) to help rebuild Iraq. Politicians of both parties say that some of the money should be given to Iraq in the form of a loan, not a grant.

Some Democrats and Republicans insist that future Iraqi oil revenues should be used to repay reconstruction loans.

Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh said, "How do I explain to my constituents that those who helped to prop up Saddam's regime, the French, the Russians, and others, could potentially be repaid, but those who financed the war to liberate the Iraqi people will not be repaid?" Either ignorance or intellectual dishonesty prevented him from adding the small detail that the United States falls into the "others" category.

Michigan's Carl Levin, also a Democratic senator, noted, "Obviously we're troubled by the fact we're being asked to put up $15 billion in reconstruction funds, while the Iraqis have this huge asset [oil]."

I find comments like these amazing. Many Democrats denounced the war precisely because they felt that the real reason was not to eliminate weapons of mass destruction but to control Iraq's oil. Now, all of a sudden, some Democrats are saying "Let's control Iraq's oil." The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

As far as I'm concerned, the United States made the mess in Iraq worse. We have an obligation to clean it up. I don't like that the final bill for the whole Iraq shebang will be in the hundreds of billions of tax dollars, when there is more than enough need at home for several of those billions. But we assumed this burden voluntarily, so let's actually finish the job. I say "we" meaning "we" because although President Bush made the decision, most Americans supported it. We wanted the war, we knew it would entail huge costs for reconstruction, so quit whining and let's finish the job we got ourselves into. Because of our choices we made, the responsibility to see that Iraq is rebuilt falls on us.

Behind the Democratic hypocrisy, there is a legitimate point. The arrogant petulence of the administration has made America's share of the bill much steeper. Our national snit fit against most of our European allies has made them loathe to pick up part of the tab. Their point of view is: America wanted the war, America told Europe to go to hell earlier this year, let America pay for it all.

What if we'd said to Europe: we'll do it without you but we'd much rather have your backing? What if, even after they said no, we'd just agreed to disagree like civilized nations. What if we'd done that instead of throwing juvenile temper tantrums that 2nd graders would've found undignified? Then, perhaps, Europe would've been more willing to foot some of the bill. The large contigent of German troops in Afghanistan (another war we initiated but with, not against, international consensus) is a testament to how our allies react when we treat them respectfully rather than contemptfully. The "why should we care what the rest of the world thinks" crowd is now finding out why we should've cared.

As Sen. Robert Byrd, who spoke out passionately against the conquest before it happened, observed, "American taxpayers have been presented with an $87 billion bill ... because the president decided six months ago to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq in the face of shaky evidence and worldwide opposition."

The president burnt bridges and now is trying to cross back to the other side of the river. And the Democrats' switch from craveness to hypocrisy and their seizing on micro-issues prevents them from formulating a serious alternative.
So I was having cereal this morning when I noticed something strange on the milk carton. MISSING, blared the title, with a picture of two warheads labeled "mustard gas" and another labelled "anthrax." These twins read the caption are responsible for provoking one of the most controversial wars in decades. But they have been missing ever since social services was sent in to find them in early 2003. If found, please contact G.W. Bush, White House, Washington DC immediately.

Well, the United States has spent $300 million trying to find the ephemeral weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but to no avail. Britain's The Independent reported that "Five months after the end of the war in Iraq, a CIA adviser has admitted that his 1,200-strong team of inspectors has discovered none of Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction."

If this ends up being the final result, it leaves the White House's already battered credibility in tatters. Countering Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was the main (public) justification for going to war. It was the basis on which most Americans supported the invasion and conquest of Iraq. Sure, getting rid of an evil dictator was a nice side benefit but that, alone, was hardly worth sacrificing American lives, according to most citizens.

Without the weapons of mass destruction argument, Saddam was "merely" a sadistic bastard like a dozen other sadistic bastards around the world. He certainly merited being overthrown (at the very least), but most Americans would never have supported a full-scale invasion to achieve that sole end. That's why the administration concocted the dubious argument that Saddam was a direct threat to Americans in America. They gambled, correctly, Americans WOULD support an invasion if facts were manipulated to seem like such an operation were in self-defense.

While considered how much energy and money has been spent on the mythical Iraq threat, I noted another headline from The Independent: North Korea has the capability to make six nuclear bombs.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Rush Limbaugh's in the news again. The head of EIB (Erroneous, Invidious, Bombastic) was a major figure in the early 90s but hasn't been heard from much lately outside his own circles. But since there's no such thing as bad publicity for someone in the entertainment business, he can't be upset about the current flap he finds himself in.

First, some background. ESPN hired Limbaugh to be a commentator on one of its flagship football analysis shows. This certainly raised eyebrows as he's the only person on the show who's neither a sport journalist nor a former player. He was hired to "liven things up" and he certainly didn't disappoint.

Last weekend, he criticized Philadelphia Eagles star quarterback Donovan McNabb. Limbaugh said that McNabb was overrated because he was black and the NFL wanted a black quarterback to succeed.

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said. "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

My mother didn't understand the flap. She thinks everyone is so hyper-sensitive that any time you criticize a black person, it's considered racist. I disagreed. Limbaugh was the one who explicitly brought the color of McNabb's skin into the equation. He wasn't talking about the alleged overratedness of "quarterback Donovan McNabb." He was talking about alleged overratedness "black quarterback Donovan McNabb." Limbaugh said McNabb's alleged overratedness was DIRECTLY related to his being black.

The thing that bothers me most about the actual comment is its flipness, its unsubstantiated nature. If Limbaugh is going to make a serious charge like that, he should back it up. He didn't. He just threw it out there casually. It could've been a fair comment if he'd offered any kind of substantitive justification for it.

And it doesn't even stand up to scrutiny. McNabb has been named to three consecutive Pro Bowls, the league's all-star game. He has lead the Eagles to two consecutive NFC East division titles and two straight NFC championship games. He's had a rough patch early in this particular season, as any quarterback will at some point in his career.

Saying someone is overrated is legitimate if you back it up. If you say someone is overrated because of their race, then you REALLY better back it up. Limbaugh didn't. I think this is typical of the yapping head profession. Making broad generalizations without backing them up with substance.

Limbaugh caught flack because he was accused of being racist or making racist comments. I think he deserves the heat because of his recklessness in making incendiary comments without having the decency backing them up. After all, shouldn't yapping heads be held accountable just like quarterbacks? But I don't think it's really a race issue (though McNabb understandibly might not be so generous). Limbaugh's attack was really targetting supposedly "liberal" things: racial diversity and the media.

ESPN's reaction was pretty pathetic. First they tried the mea culpa: hey, we hired Limbaugh to stir up the pot. Then, when they saw the way the wind was blowing the changed their tune: we told Limbaugh that he was being a bad boy and should be nice from now on. By their own admission, ESPN hired him to be controversial, to help ratings. Now, when he fulfills his end of the bargain, they hang him out to dry.

The real question is why did ESPN hire Limbaugh in the first place? After all, they saw how much Dennis Miller floundered in the Monday Night Football booth? Then again, if CNN hired Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon to do Crossfire, I'm sure conservatives would rip CNN's "liberal bias." The fact of the matter is that ESPN hired a political yapping head to do their football show. They knew what they were getting. There was no mystery.

Last night, Limbaugh resigned from the ESPN show. Now he, like the rest of us, understands just how risk-averse the CORPORATE media really is.

But I think it's interesting. This is the second time in recent months that a controversial conservative yapping head has made inflammatory comments and gotten sacked. The other was Michael Savage on MSNBC. In both cases, the network that hired the yapping head knew his controversial reputation. In both cases, the network thought that reputation would be great for ratings. In both cases, the yapping head lived up to that reputation, a flap ensued and the network caved to public criticism.

It's also interesting that both of these yapping heads got into trouble when they were no longer preaching to the converted. As soon as they left their comfort zone (talk radio or Fox News [sic] Channel), their comments were exposed to the light of day. They do great when they're in a forum where everyone agrees with them and where they're in total control. Once they leave that venue and have to deal with people who challenge them occassionally, problems ensue.

Does this mean that there aren't liberal or left-wing yapping heads? Of course there are. Ted Rall, Noam Chomsky, Molly Ivins. The difference is that liberal yapping heads tend not to be popular enough to get or maintain network television yap shows. Perhaps liberals don't warm to bomb throwers as much as conservatives, I don't know.

But that points out a fundamental irony. If you're not bombastic, you're labelled boring and get canned because of low ratings. If you are bombastic, you court controversy, the network caves and you lose your show that way.

I'm sorry Limbaugh lost his position in this manner. Sure, he didn't belong on a football show. But once ESPN made the decision to hire him for his ability to "liven things up," they should've stuck by him when he... livened things up. I say this not because I have an iota of sympathy for Limbaugh. But because it underlines the cravenness of the corporate media. Entertainment/news media (and you can't separate the two any more) corporations are so allergic to risk that anyone with a non-conformist opinion is shut out. If your point of view can't be easily pigeon-holed as "standard liberal" or "standard conservative," then the corporate media doesn't know what to do with you. So they either pretend you don't exist or patronize you. Ask Ralph Nader or Pat Buchanan about this. This harms progressives as much as those like Limbaugh. And it ultimately deprives everyone of access to opinions that will broaden their horizons.