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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 4 May 2005

Topic: World View

Iran: Nuclear Ambitions, Automotive Ambitions

From United Press International (via WHAM in Rochester, New York) this bit of bad news -
United Nations inspectors have told the BBC Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.

In a documentary to be broadcast Tuesday night, U.N. Inspector Chris Charlier said the dismantling of a nuclear facility at Natanz raised suspicions the Iranians were trying to hide their nuclear activities.

"It was really, I believe, to conceal the program and their activities," he said. "And maybe there are still other things that they are doing and we couldn't find. And that's why we are getting suspicious, after 20 years of working with them, it takes time to repair confidence."

Washington is adamant Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons and wants to refer it to the U.N. Security Council. Britain, France and Germany persuaded Tehran to freeze its nuclear activity in November but senior Iranian officials have said some enrichment activities will soon resume at a uranium conversion plant near Isfahan.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said if Iran went ahead with the threat it could lead to referral to the Security Council.
That’s as of Wednesday, May 04, 2005.

Oh, there are bad times coming.

Then we find
this from Daniel Gross in SLATE (also Wednesday, May 04, 2005) - "Britain may soon sell one of its most celebrated automakers to a charter member of the Axis of Evil. That little MG you've been coveting may soon be made in Iran, because it looks as if Iran will end up with the remnants of MG Rover, the last independent British auto manufacturer."

Say what?

Daniel Gross gives us background, via everyone’s favorite cooperative encyclopedia, Wikipedia -
MG Rover is based in Birmingham, where the Austin auto company was founded in 1905. In 1968, it merged with several other brands to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation, which was nationalized in 1975. Later redubbed the Rover Group, it was privatized and sold to BMW. In 2000, a boom year for SUVs, BMW sold the Land Rover business to Ford. Then it gave away the rest of the company—the MG division (sporty coupes) and Rover division (classy sedans)—to a group of British investors for essentially nothing. Which is precisely what they proceeded to make it worth.

MG Rover went into "administration"—a kind of bankruptcy—on April 8. A week later, with efforts to find an immediate buyer or government funding having failed, the company announced it would start laying off its 5,000 workers. This loss of jobs—plus another 15,000 lost at suppliers—came at a remarkably inopportune time for Tony Blair's Labor party.

MG Rover is still looking for buyers, and it claims to have received some 200 inquiries. But firm offers from respectable investors have been slow to materialize. In fact, the only serious noises are coming from Iran. Iran is the biggest auto producer in the Middle East. In the 1970s, it acquired the manufacturing rights to Britain's Hillman Hunter and has been producing its Paykan cars in volume. According to an article in the Guardian, "Two million of the five million cars on Iran's roads are Paykans and sales were still 150,000 a year." Ironically, the Paykans are being phased out because "a model once regarded by Iranians as the epitome of British cool and manufacturing quality has been rendered obsolete by tougher environmental standards and the demands of Iran's younger generation for greater comfort and sophistication."

History is repeating itself. On April 26, the Financial Times reported that "Iran is considering a rescue of MG Rover" and might be willing to continue production in Birmingham. Sounding more like Lee Iacocca than Ayatollah Khamanei, Iran's Minister of Industries and Mines Eshaq Jahangiri told Reuters, "We reckon our auto industry is capable of reforming a troubled European carmaker and churning out a car to world markets under the same brand."
One hardly knows what to say.

Iran's younger generation has a yen for greater comfort and sophistication, and they’re turning to these machines? Your editor, whose first automobile was a very used Triumph TR-4 (the one with solid read axle and leaf springs, not the TR-4A with the swing axle and independent rear suspension) suggests these Iranian folks keep working on the nukes. Forget the cars. As for manufacturing quality, well, all of us car nuts have one warning for them: Lucas electrical systems.

What are these people thinking?

Gross then points to this from May 2 in the Financial Times of London, the London in the UK, not the one halfway between Detroit and Toronto. It seems Dastaan Industrial Development, an actual Iranian automaker, is seeking to buy several thousand unsold MG Rovers – and they are interested in buying more finished cars and kits. The idea to assumable the kits domestically, in Iran. And if that deal fails, they say they would be quite happy to buy the company's currently mothballed assembly lines and relocate them to Iran.

Given all this, perhaps we should not worry about Iran developing nuclear weapons. They like these undependable fourth-rate British cars and want to buy the company and flood that part of the world with sputtering Rovers and often inoperable MG things? What does that tell you about their level of engineering?

Perhaps we should all relax a bit.

__

A note about Wikipedia, that cooperative encyclopedia. Crispin Sartwell teaches political philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (a good school!) and in the May 4 Los Angeles Times explains what that is about -
"Wiki" is the Hawaiian word for quick, and it refers to a website that can be updated easily by anyone from any Web browser. The first wiki armature was developed in 1995, and Wikipedia — the brainchild of one Jimmy Wales — was founded in 2001. Under Wales' brilliant conception, anyone can go into Wikipedia (wikipedia.org) and create a new article or edit an old one: It is entirely accessible and entirely alterable.

This is anarchy, of course, and completely antithetical to the encyclopedic tradition, which has emphasized a kind of solemn definitiveness and authority. Britannica and Encarta, for instance, not only employ experts to write their articles but subject everything they publish to a rigorous review process. At Wikipedia, you (or any old maniac) can march right onto the "nuclear fusion" page and add your thoughts.

But as Wikipedia says about itself, the point is not that it's hard to make mistakes but that it's easy to correct them. Because thousands of people — ordinary, unpaid, outside participants — monitor and edit Wikipedia, errors and vandalism are often corrected in seconds. One feature of the site is a list of recently updated pages, so that one can keep track of changes. One can even revert to a previous version of an article if mistaken or malevolent parties have messed it up.
Cool, huh?

__

And a note on WHAM in Rochester, New York. They also report this along with the Iran article –
Salvia - A Legal Hallucinogenic Herb

Rochester, NY - There's a new way teenagers are getting high and so far, it's perfectly legal. People are experimenting with an herb called salvia divinorum. It’s a type of sage from Mexico that can cause hallucinations when smoked or chewed. …
Does salvia divinorum also grow in Iran? That might explain the MG Rover stuff.

Riders of the Purple Sage...

Posted by Alan at 20:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: The Culture

On Writing: The often repeated charge that Americans lack a sense of irony…

Reading automotive reviews seems to be a guy thing – so distaff readers can tune out now. But some of the liveliest writing can be found in such things. This was first discussed in the pages well over a year ago - February 23, 2004: What would Roland Barthes drive? - a discussion of an amazing Los Angeles Times column by Dan Neil.

Neil, then, on pickup trucks vis a vis Roland Barthes – regarding America's love of snazzy pickups in spite of the obvious lack of need for such things -
Like the soft-handed Parisians who bought up Millet's peasant paintings, pickup poseurs would find rural virtue a different thing entirely if they spent a day in the fields.

Barthes loved to flog the petite bourgeoisie with their own illusions.
Cool.

And here - April 11, 2004: Fun With Words - you will find a note and some comment that a few days earlier the Los Angeles Times won five Pulitzer Prizes - the second most ever won by a newspaper in a single year, for coverage that included wildfires, wars and Wal-Mart. And Dan Neil won the Pulitzer for criticism then.

Since that time his Wednesday Los Angeles Times reviews continue to amuse – and recently (April 27, 2005) he presented an evaluation of the new Mercedes SLK in verse form - “April marks the 10th annual observance of National Poetry Month, established by the Academy of American Poets to increase the visibility, presence and accessibility of poetry in our culture. In that spirit, Dan Neil has written his weekly column in verse.”

It wasn’t very good – but since I had a relatively bad experience with the older model SLK (five years of ever-increasing odd electrical problems) – perhaps I am not the one to judge.

Neil now also writes a regular column for the Times Sunday magazine – “800 Words” – on general culture, and often on the culture of Southern California, such as it is. Recommended? You might call up Prize Bull from April 24 this year – a discussion of Harry Frankfurt's book "On Bullshit" that is well beyond clever, being ironically self-referential on many, many levels. But registration is required, or maybe you even have to be a paid-up Times subscriber, so perhaps just trust me on that.

But Neil is not alone. I came across this in The Independent (UK) – at it is amusing. There one Michael Booth has a road test of the new Corvette C6 Coupe.

See Stars and go-faster stripes
Michael Booth discovers that beneath the Corvette's new European-friendly curves lurks a slab of unreconstructed American muscle
01 May 2005 - The Independent (UK)

Two thirds of the way in you will find this -
The often repeated charge that Americans lack a sense of irony is, of course, soundly refuted by both their sitcoms and the career of their current president, but I still can't tell whether the Corvette is for real or a self-referential cultural parody. Certainly in a European context it is a preposterous overstatement. After all, this revered piece of American cultural iconography has a 6-litre, 400bhp V8 engine that General Motors still insists on calling a "small block". It also boasts an optional fighter jet-style head-up display which projects read-outs for speed and G-force (no, really) above the bonnet in an eerie glow - eat your hearts out Maverick and Goose. Later, I notice a sticker that says, "Warning: children under 12 can be killed by the air bag. The back seat is the safest place for children." The Corvette, of course, has no back seat. Even more curiously - given the current sate of international relations - this is translated into only one other language: French.

So, either the Corvette is a post-ironic parody by the South Park team, or it really is a car to drive, as PJ O'Rourke's immortal phrase has it, "fast while on drugs while getting your wing-wang squeezed and not spill your drink."
Ah, as a sub-genre of artful writing – the popular review of new cars – there is much vigorous writing to be discovered here.

Posted by Alan at 14:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Tuesday, 3 May 2005

Topic: God and US

On Disciplining Children, God?s Vengeance, and Keeping Jews and Muslims Contained

The character Ursus speaking in Victor Hugo's "L'Homme qui rit" – Vous pouvez croire en Dieu de deux facons, ou comme la soif croit a l'orange, ou comme l'ane croit au fouet.

Roughly - You can believe in God in two ways, like thirst thinks about an orange, or like the donkey thinks about the whip.

And we know how American evangelicals think.

See this -
And while we’re in the business of being pissed off, how about those fun folks at Disney/ABC? Who, last year, wouldn’t run ads from the mainstream Protestant denomination the United Church of Christ, because their ads referred to the church’s welcoming attitude toward homosexuals. And who, this year, are happy to run ads from James Dobson’s far-right extremist Focus on the Family group promoting their “Focus on the Child” program built around Dobson’s bestseller Dare to Discipline.
As Digby over at Hullabaloo summarizes -
It seems [James Dobson] thinks of children as animals and he believes that animals and children should be beaten. He believes that nine month old babies should be switched on the bare legs. He believes they should be pinched hard, on the neck, so it will hurt. He believes in things that could get parents arrested in many states in the union. Yet his program is considered to be more wholesome and less controversial than a church that allows gays to be a member.
Well, God slaughters folks, is vengeful, does some evil, defiles, destroys and creates woes, when he’s not busy - Exodus 32:14, Numbers 31:1-18, Deuteronomy 2:30,34, 7:2,16, 20:10-20, 1 Samuel 6:19, Job 42:11, Isaiah 45:7, Jeremiah 18:5,8,11, 26:3,13,19, 42:10-11, Lamentations 3:38, Ezekiel 6:12-13, 20:25-26, Amos 3:16, Nahum 1:2, Jonah 3:10 – and so on and so forth.

And as God is father to mankind, so is any worldly father to his own family. My God is a vengeful God, whose "mission is to spread, not peace, but division." - Matthew 11

Dobson and his kind are working on it.

This is going to be an interesting theocracy.

__

As noted in the pages here Christianity is now only for the medievalists – as much as the National Council of Churches protests and the United Church of Christ kicks and screams (in a loving way). Heck, even the Unitarians are learning that what they have isn’t a REAL religion. And here – “A state religion? It would not be the Unitarians.”

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta –
Yes! What a great compromise! Tell the Frist Brigade the good news, that (a) we, the secular left, have finally agreed to allow a theocracy ... but then the bad news is, (b) the state religion has to be the Unitarian Universalist Church!

So we pause just long enough to watch them shit bricks, then we say we were just kidding and make a speedy exit, narrowly escaping arrest by the Capitol Police.
Hey, it could happen.

___

Oh yes, this summary of the comments of another evangelical leader from a fellow in Portland Maine ?
Much has already been written on the whoppers told by the Rrrrrrreverend Pat Robertson during his interview on 'This Week with George Stephapalooza.' Like federal judges being a bigger threat to America than al Qaeda or Nazi Germany. Or Muslim-Americans not being worthy as judges or high-level politicians in this country. Or Bill Frist not having a future at 16 Pennsylvania Avenue. Okay, so we'll give him half a point for that last one.

But Cheers and Jeers caught Robertson with his pants on fire over a comment that didn't get much attention at all. When asked why God allows bad things to happen to huge numbers of people -- specifically, the tsunami that hit Asia in December -- Robertson batted it aside, saying, "The reason for that tsunami was the shifting of tectonic plates in the Indian Ocean. I don't think [God] changes the magma in volcanoes and I don't think he changes the wind currents to bring about hurricanes. So, I don't attribute that to God..."

Which got us to thinking about this little comment he made about God's wrath on June 6, 1998: "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those [rainbow] flags in God's face if I were you... But a condition like [Gay Day at Disney World] will bring about the destruction of your nation. It'll bring about... earthquakes, tornadoesa meteor."

But never a tsunami. That would be silly.
Geez, if we?re going to have a theocracy, can?t we have one the keeps things straight?

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, adds this comment -
I find the Disney part of that equation a bit of a turnabout, since just a few years ago, the company famously stood up a Baptist boycott, I think for allowing gays to schedule meetups in their theme parks. Analysis at the time was that Eisner felt he needed to keep his animators happy, many of whom were gay.

Of course, what with Pixar having pushed out the old time hand-drawn Disney animation in recent years, the classic animators have been squeezed out of a job. Then again, as has Eisner himself, I guess.
Well, for whatever reason, Mike did the right thing.

But wait! There?s more!

Here University of Michigan Middle-East expert, professor Juan Cole, has some words about Pat Robertson and the current debate regarding religion and judges.

His bilious venomous lips? Say what?
John Aravosis argues that Pat Robertson should be a political pariah after his remarks on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that Muslim Americans are not fit to serve in the US cabinet. It is actually much worse than that. Robertson also implied that Jews are unfit to serve on the Supreme Court because some of them defend the ACLU, which he equates with defending Communism. The anti-Jewish bigotry among some evangelicals that codes Jews as a "cultural elite" promoting non-Christian values just drips from his words. I give the relevant parts of the interview below.

? Robertson knows nothing about the Koran or Islam. He can cite some extremist medieval jurist such as Ibn Taymiyyah, but who couldn't come up with extreme statements by medieval Christian leaders? The Christians did give us the Inquisition, after all, not to mention the Crusades. As for Islam, here is what Koran 5:82 says about Christian-Muslim relations, after it describes tensions with pagans and Jews: "You will certainly find that the nearest in love to those who believe [the Muslims] are those who say: 'We are Christians.' This is because there are priests and monks among them and because they do not behave proudly." Somehow that one never gets quoted. "Nearest in love" is something we need to get back to.

American Muslims are Americans. They have all the same rights and duties as all other Americans. Period. Likewise Jewish Americans. Robertson's religious bigotry flies directly in the face of Thomas Jefferson's thinking on religious liberty, which he dares sully by passing it through his bilious venomous lips.
A bunch of citations from Jefferson follow, and a bit from John Locke?s ?Letter on Toleration? ? and then Cole quotes from THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (10:30 AM ET) ? ABC - May 1, 2005 Sunday ?
PAT ROBERTSON

Well, you know, Thomas Jefferson, who was the author of the Declaration of Independence said he wouldn't have any atheists in his cabinet because atheists wouldn't swear an oath to God. That was Jefferson and we have never had any Muslims in the cabinet. I didn't say serve in government. I said in my cabinet if I were elected president, and I think a president has a right to take people who share his point of view, and I would think that would be ...

? Right now, I think people who feel that there should be a jihad against America, read what the Islamic people say. They divide the world into two spheres, Dar al Islam Dar al Harb. The Dar al Islam are those who've submitted to Islam, Dar al Harb are those who are in the land of war and they have said in the Koran there's a war against all the infidels. So do you want somebody like that sitting as a judge? I wouldn't.
Ah, you?d want a Crusader from the tenth century? It?s a thought.

And then there is this on those evil Jews now wearing black robes in Washington -
Justice Ginsburg served as a general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU. That was founded, as you probably know, by about three members of the Communist Internationale. Their leader, Baldwin, said that he wanted to be a Communist and wanted to make this ... to make America a workers' state, breed Communists.

? she was the general counsel for this organization whose purpose right now is to rid religion from the public square. That's they are announced. We've Nadine Strasser down here to our university in a debate. She's a very pleasant lady but that's what she said was her avowed goal, to take all religion from the public square. That's their initiative and Justice Ginsburg served as their general counsel, so ...
So what? Unfit for the bench, then? Seems so.

This gets more interesting every day.

Posted by Alan at 20:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 4 May 2005 09:01 PDT home


Topic: The Media

Media Notes: The Run-Away Bride and Michael Jackson’s Urges – Not the Only News

They’re having a bit of an election in the UK this week, and there is a smidgen of that on the national newscasts on this side of the pond, and a few column inches in the press here and there. And over the weekend Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London broke a story concerning Tony Blair and George Bush that was curious – but the Times story broke almost exactly when the first lady was addressing the annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner, so her comedy routine got the airtime on the news and key real estate in the papers over here. There was no room left for the Times story – given the reluctant bride and the naughty First Lady and Michael Jackson and whatnot.

Too bad. That London paper got their hot little hands on an odd document - what appears to be a memo from the Blair and Bush discussions in the summer of 2002, and that would be some months before Colin Powell made his presentation to the UN laying out the clear evidence of the reasons the UN should join us in a war. You remember – all those facts about all those weapons of mass destruction. The memo - dated 23 July 2002 by Matthew Rycroft, a former Downing Street foreign policy aide? The Brits understood that the Bush administration had decided to invade Iraq and toss out the government there – but Bush just hadn’t yet decided why. The war came nine months later. So the Brits decided they’d jump on board. Why not?

Was this news? No. History. Not much coverage.

We did it and it’s over, sort of.

Other non-news? Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen introduced what he calls his "ban gay books" bill down South. A local story, of course. But CBS covered it and one or two columnists also commented on it, like Andrew Sullivan here.

What is this about?
No public funds or public facilities shall be used by any state agency, public school, public library, or public college or university for the purchase, production, or promotion of printed or electronic materials or activities that, directly or indirectly, sanction, recognize, foster, or promote a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws of the state of Alabama.
Fine. The wider implications are discussed here - no more Auden, Wilde, Proust or Whitman… in Alabama.

This gives new meaning to “The Importance of Being Earnest.” One should be earnest, and straight. And we all know how Wilde ended up – dead in a hotel room on the Left Bank in Paris. Serves him right.

But not a bad way to go. Better than Birmingham.

And one supposes CBS covered this as one more look-at-those-yahoos-down-south fillers – for the liberal elites up in New York City. Tisk, tisk….

Was this news? Nope. Filler.

Your editor’s favorite minor news story? That would be this spottily reported curiosity – the hearings opening Thursday in Kansas.

Here is Reuters on the beat -
Evolution is going on trial in Kansas.

Eighty years after a famed courtroom battle in Tennessee pitted religious beliefs about the origins of life against the theories of British scientist Charles Darwin, Kansas is holding its own hearings on what school children should be taught about how life on Earth began.

The Kansas Board of Education has scheduled six days of courtroom-style hearings to begin on Thursday in the capitol Topeka. More than two dozen witnesses will give testimony and be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution.
Cool! Another Scopes trial.

As mentioned previously, over the last several weeks on one of the HBO secondary feeds one could catch the old movie about the Scopes Trial, Inherit the Wind (Stanley Kramer, 1960) – with Gene Kelley, of all people, playing the role of the character based on H. L. Mencken (really!), and Spencer Tracy trying to be Clarence Darrow. It’s a hoot!

And we DO get a replay in real life – updated! With a new cast!

And the conflict seems the same too!
Many prominent U.S. scientific groups have denounced the debate as founded on fallacy and have promised to boycott the hearings, which opponents say are part of a larger nationwide effort by religious interests to gain control over government.

"I feel like I'm in a time warp here," said Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray who has agreed to defend evolution as valid science. "To debate evolution is similar to debating whether the Earth is round. It is an absurd proposition."

Irigonegaray's opponent will be attorney John Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, a Kansas organization that argues the Earth was created through intentional design rather than random organism evolution.

The group is one of many that have been formed over the last several years to challenge the validity of evolutionary concepts and seek to open the schoolroom door to ideas that humans and other living creatures are too intricately designed to have come about randomly.
You have to love it!
… Kansas School Board chairman Steve Abrams said the hearings are less about religion than they are about seeking the best possible education for the state's children.

"If students... do not understand the weaknesses of evolutionary theory as well as the strengths, a grave injustice is being done to them," Abrams said.
Let the fun begin!

And Newsday sets up the players in this little drama …
… at Blue Valley Northwest High in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, teachers do not have to mention alternative theories, but biology teacher Jeremy Mohn did so anyway this spring, in addition to spending a month talking about evolution, including why peacocks have long tails.

At Topeka West High, Stephanie Bailey, a 14-year-old who previously attended a Lutheran school, is skeptical of evolution, particularly the notion that man and other animals have common ancestors. "Scientists don't have all the answers," she said.

But Emily Hane, a 17-year-old in Volland's class, said: "If you don't understand evolution, you don't really understand biology."
Wait! The roles are all reversed! Jeremy Mohn is the anti-Scopes, it seems – a teacher daring to go against what society says and discuss intelligent design as being, one presumes, and good a theory, and as valid a theory, as evolution. And this student, Emily Hane, is lining up with Gene Kelley and Spencer Tracy.

This is going to be good.

Sometimes the best news stories are the minor ones.


Posted by Alan at 08:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 3 May 2005 08:33 PDT home

Monday, 2 May 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Things fall apart, the center will not hold… and people are buying gay cars!

Over the weekend in Just Above Sunset you could find an item discussing last week’s primetime presidential news conference. That was under the heading Worms Turning and suggested George Bush’s relatively free ride with the media seemed to be coming to an end – the days of softball questions, and suggesting he was extremely popular and politically devastating, and charming in a cute boyish way, were giving way to something else. Something else? That would be calling him on what he actually says.

And now that the press conference is a few days in the past there is even more of this “calling him out” than noted in the first few days.

The only thing that was fresh in the press conference (most of it was the usual platitudes about this and that) was the new Bush ideas on Social Security – a proposal for "progressive price indexing" that would lock-in and assure the current level of benefits for those who earn no more than twenty grand a year, and dramatically reduce benefits for those who were in the comfortable middle class – those who earn twenty-one to ninety grand. And of course those who earn above that, who don’t have to pay any payroll tax once they reach that level, don’t matter.

This is the "Pozen Plan" – see Robert C. Pozen, "A Social Security Plan for All," paper prepared for "Saving Social Security", The Brookings Institution, 4 Jan 2005. (Summary and analysis here.)

The reaction to all this? The White House was reported to be very angry that the new “plan” was reported as cutting benefits. No, they said, it was just a way to carefully manage benefits due to those better off, and to help the really needy.

Buy that? No?

Don’t worry. No one does.

The week opened with an assault Monday by Paul Krugman in the New York Times - A Gut Punch to the Middle. Catchy title, isn?t it?

A little of that?
Sure enough, a close look at President Bush's proposal for "progressive price indexing" of Social Security puts the lie to claims that it's a plan to increase benefits for the poor and cut them for the wealthy. In fact, it's a plan to slash middle-class benefits; the wealthy would barely feel a thing.

... The average worker - average pay now is $37,000 - retiring in 2075 would face a cut equal to 10 percent of pre-retirement income. Workers earning 60 percent more than average, the equivalent of $58,000 today, would see benefit cuts equal to almost 13 percent of their income before retirement.

But above that level, the cuts would become less and less significant. Workers earning three times the average wage would face cuts equal to only 9 percent of their income before retirement. Someone earning the equivalent of $1 million today would see benefit cuts equal to only 1 percent of pre-retirement income.

In short, this would be a gut punch to the middle class, but a fleabite for the truly wealthy.

Beyond that, it's a good bet that benefits for the poor would eventually be cut, too.

It's an adage that programs for the poor always turn into poor programs. That is, once a program is defined as welfare, it becomes a target for budget cuts.
And driving around Los Angeles Monday afternoon that last idea, or the new meme ? this is no more than turning Social Security into a welfare program so it can wither away and we?ll have it no more ? is what I heard on the radio. And not just on NPR and CBS.

On the web? Dave from New York says this on the lefty Daily Kos -
This so-called "Pozen plan" is a real Bush two-fer: Sock it to the middle classes now, while setting up a long-range plan to truly hose the poor later. Given how badly Bushco stumbled in trying to destroy Social Security with private accounts, I wouldn't be surprised if means-testing has become the new avenue of attack because it polled better.

And oh, it's a wily plan, alright - if Democrats oppose it, we can rely on our whore media to paint us as benefactors of the wealthiest. (The GOP will get a good chortle out of that.) Not means-testing Social Security has been one of the main reasons it's endured so popularly for 70 years. Private accounts would eviscerate Social Security quickly; means-testing is a slower death, but I am sure a patient GOP would be content with that.

If we're lucky, Bush's extremely low credibility on Social Security in general will keep this latest plan from ever getting out of the starting gates. But if not, we better have some clever jiu jitsu of our own to deflect this latest scam.
Did he say scam? Yes he did.

Over at Obsidian Wings someone named Edward thinks of his father and gets a little exited ? as we see here:
The men in my family of my father's generation returned home after serving their country and got jobs in the local steel mills, as had their fathers and their grandfathers. In exchange for their brawn, sweat, and expertise, the steel mills promised these men certain benefits. In exchange for Social Security taxes withheld from their already modest paychecks, the government promised these men certain benefits as well.

... These were church-attending, flag-waving, football-loving, honest family men. They are rightfully proud of providing homes and educations for their children and instilling the sorts of values and manners that serve them well as adults. And if I have to move heaven and earth, now that they've retired, the Republican Party is NOT going to redefine them as welfare recipients.
So there!

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly carries the historical thing forward reminding us of Roosevelt?s concepts -
? when his aides presented him with their initial Social Security proposals 70 years ago, FDR balked: "No dole," he said, "mustn't have a dole" ? because he knew instinctively that welfare programs are both fundamentally unpopular as well as corrosive to the human spirit. Conservatives understand this better than liberals, and know perfectly well that the best way to kill something is to convince the public that it's actually a welfare program.

But that's not what Social Security is. It's a modestly progressive social insurance program that's paid for by everyone and that benefits everyone. If it ever stops being that, if it ever stops being universal, it will eventually cease to exist. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.
Okay. We are all on guard.

And Mark Kleiman, the UCLA social policy professor, adds a comment with a great title I knew Robin Hood. Robin Hood was a friend of mine. And you, Mr. Bush, are no Robin Hood. (Well, it worked on Dan Quayle.)
In fact, Social Insecurity version 2.0, as announced by the President at his press conference, would reduce retirement incomes much more for the middle class than for the rich, simply because the rich don't rely much on Social Security in the first place. Middle-class retirees in 2075 (people earning the equivalent of $35,000-$100,000) would have their retirement income cut by 10-13%. For the people who got the most out of the tax cuts which blew the Social Security surplus, the hit would be much smaller, down to 1% at the million-dollar-a-year level.

Yes, it's true that the bottom of the income distribution (among those with enough time in the labor force to qualify for Social Security) would fare better than the middle class. But since when is hammering the middle class while doing nothing for the poor in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich "Robin Hood" behavior?
Yeah, one senses Bush?s folks wanted to position him as a sort of Robin Hood. But it is obvious, and to thoroughly mix metaphors, that dog won?t hunt.

The jig is up? The game is over? Les Jeux Son Fait?

The man cannot catch a break? Seems so.

As widely reported, over the weekend at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, his own wife delivered a monolog that was intended to lighten things up, but perhaps only made things worse ?
"I am married to the President of the United States and here is our typical evening. Nine o'clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I am watching Desperate Housewives. With Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentleman, I am a desperate housewife. I mean if those women on that show think they're desperate, they ought to be with George. One night after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales....I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secret Service code name is now Dollar Bill."

"George always says that he's delighted to come to these press dinners. Baloney. He's usually in bed by now. I'm not kidding. I said to him the other day, George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later."

"The amazing thing is that George and I were just meant to be. I was a librarian who spent 12 hours a day in the library, yet somehow I met George."

"People often wonder what my mother-in-law is really like. People think she's a sweet, grandmotherly Aunt Bee type. She's actually more like Don Corleone."

"I'm proud of George. He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse."

"George's answer to any problem at the ranch is to cut it down with a chainsaw. Which I think is why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well."
That last one is a tad troubling. (Transcript here.)

So he?s no Robin Hood. Try Rodney Dangerfield.

But it gets worse. See Conservative Christians Not Laughing at First Lady's Comedy Act - where it seems these folks are NOT pleased. [See the FOOTNOTE below on the authenticity of what follows... ]

According to one Russell D'Arby (with my emphases) -
The First Lady may have stolen the show with her surprise comedy routine at the 91st White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, but not everyone appreciated her jokes and one-liners poking fun at President Bush. At least one organization of conservative Christians quickly lashed out at Mrs. Bush's performance, warning that her remarks at the President's expense were a public refutation of the Biblical command that wives should respect their husbands.

According to an official statement released over the weekend by the Coalition for Traditional Values, an organization that seeks a more flexible relationship between church and state, Mrs. Bush's jokes at her husband's expense amounted to a public emasculation of the President.

Pastor Roy DeLong, the statement's author and chair of the group, warns that the First Lady's performance comes at a time when the Mr. Bush's "manliness is already under attack."
Oh drat! Sometime you can?t win for losing, particularly when you forget your Ephesians, as some of us do from time to time.
"As a believer, President Bush is no doubt familiar with the passage from Ephesians that says 'Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord,'" says Mr. DeLong. "That means that just as Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. ?"
Right. Forgot that. No wonder I?ve been divorced twice.

And then there is Proverbs -
"One of the Proverbs says that 'a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband, but she that maketh him ashamed is as rottenness in his bones," notes Mr. DeLong. "I bet President Bush is feeling pretty rotten today."
Perhaps he is feeling rotten. Laura rags on him, in public, and the evangelical right get all hissy about her and calls HER out ? after one really bad week?
The rebuke to the First Lady's stand-up act comes on the heels of mounting concern about the President's image. Last week, Mr. Bush was seen holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Then the President raised eyebrows anew when he asked a crowd of supporters in Galveston, TX if they celebrated Splash Day, an annual gay pride event in that state, best known for attracting tens of thousands of buff men, wearing little more than suntan oil.

Even some members of Mr. Bush's famously loyal party looked askance at his recommendation during a speech on the nation's energy needs last week, when he encouraged Americans to consider driving hybrid vehicles, widely believed to be 'gay' cars.
What? GAY cars? (Actually, you could look that up. The Prius was recently identified by listeners to the National Public Radio show "Car Talk" as ?the ultimate gay and lesbian car.? And asked to choose between a Prius and a 2006 military-style, Duramax turbo-diesel V-8 Hummer H1, members of the far right site Free Republic dismissed those hybrid things as ?vegan-weenie cars.?)

And too, Laura Bush compared herself to a desperate housewife, a reference to the wildly popular and rather risque ABC show. (It is risque within the bounds of broadcast standards, of course.) And of course this "Desperate Housewives" show has been a big target of the pro-family groups. The American Decency Association has called for a boycott of ABC for airing this "degraded" show. And the vice president?s wife, Lynn Cheney, six months ago, called for the federal government itself to intervene and protect all of America?s children from this very show.

How odd.

So, do we have a free-fall here? Nothing seems to be working.

Consider this in the Washington Post as the week started ? an item on Bush?s ?madate? -
The day after he won a second term in November, President Bush offered his view of the new political landscape.

"When you win there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view," he said, "and that's what I intend to tell the Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as president . . . and the people made it clear what they wanted, now let's work together."

Six months ago, this comment was widely viewed as more than just a postgame boast. Among campaign strategists and academics, there was ample speculation that Bush's victory, combined with incremental gains in the Republican congressional majority, signaled something fundamental: a partisan and ideological "realignment" that would reshape politics over the long haul.

As the president passed the 100-day mark of his second term over the weekend, the main question facing Bush and his party is whether they misread the November elections. With the president's poll numbers down, and the Republican majority ensnared in ethical controversy, things look much less like a once-a-generation realignment.
No kidding.

Digby over at Hullabaloo says this -
Where do they come up with this stuff? Of course he has a mandate. Of course it's been a sweeping realignment. He won 51-49, a completely unambiguous indication of huge popular support, particularly for the centerpiece of his campaign, his social security plan. Why would anyone think otherwise? I thought we all understood that the vast majority of the country are social conservatives who support overturning Roe vs Wade, a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and remaking the courts in the image of Tom DeLay. Nothing could be clearer.
Ah, sarcasm. But it works here.

But Digby actually is worked up about the press that was previously reporting ?
? that Bush could claim support for anything he chose to do, given his "impressive" victory in November (which was impressive only in comparison to his previous "impressive" showing.) And the Democrats, properly chastened by their embarrassing defeat would support it also, because they are losers and wouldn't have the nerve to stand up to the codpiece collosus.
Well, that was the conventional wisdom, and the word in the corporate-owned press is follow-the-meme, report what is the conventional and preserve those rating or that circulation. Understandable.

But it hasn?t happened.
? it hasn't worked out that way. And the press is scratching their little noggins and wondering if maybe Karl Rove's talking points didn't quite capture the limits of Bush's victory. Certainly, one could have interpreted a 2% win in the presidential race as something less than a validation of the president's most extreme positions, but why dwell on the negative?

Nobody in the mainstream press bothered to consider for even one moment that Bush might not be able to get support for the destruction of what was up to now known as the third rail in politics or that the public did not support the notion of fundamentalist preachers involved in the government. They just assumed it would be so.

Among the press it has been as if Bush has magical powers. He and Uncle Karl are thought to be so spectacularly gifted, in ways that they can't even comprehend, that they can accomplish the impossible.
Well, the magic is gone, it seems. So it is time to report that.

Previous reporting?
After 9/11 (or maybe even before, when they anointed him in 2000 and told the rest of us to "get over it") they never once gave up the idea that Bush was a popular, extraordinary leader who only a few hippies in Hollywood and a couple of stiffs in New York didn't like because he talked funny. We had to fight that every step of the way in 2004 and still we came extremely close to winning.
And the probable truth?
There is no realignment. We are in a period of pure political combat in which the power could change dramatically in each election. There is no real middle, there are only two opposing forces. Nothing is predictable and anything could happen. The Republicans hold institutional power by only the most tenuous means, despite all their bluster about political dominance. And their biggest Achilles heel - as it has been forever - is hubris. Clearly, that is the story that one would have thought the press would see from the beginning; an administration that overreached its non-existent mandate in an intensely polarized political climate.

... For reasons I will never understand, the Washington press corpse invested itself in Junior's success early on. It's past time they woke up and realizes that the Republicans aren't political wizards.

Without 9/11 Bush wouldn't be president today. It's all he has, and all he ever had. No mandate, no realignment. No nothing. Karl Rove is not a genius.
And that is coming out. As Digby says, well, better late than never.

So, do we have a new meme?

___

FOOTNOTE:

From TraditionalValues.Org ?

TVC Victimized By Phony Press Release Criticizing First Lady Laura Bush
May 5, 2005 ? Last weekend, an anonymous individual created a phony letter with an altered TVC logo on it, to criticize First Lady Laura Bush at the White House Correspondents? Association Dinner on April 30th.

The bogus group called the Coalition for Traditional Values, issued its letter supposedly written by a Rev. Roy DeLong. The phony letter was picked up by the Drudge Report and reported it as fact instead of satire.

TVC?s phone has been ringing off the hook from reporters asking for more information. MSNBC was conned into thinking this was a real group. They called TVC to book a spokesman as a guest based on this satirical letter.

In her satirical statements at the correspondents? dinner, the First Lady surprised the audience with her hilarious comments and many press reports indicate that she stole the show.

The Washington Times covered her comments and headlined the article: ?Laura leaves ?em laughing, gasping.? According to the Times, ?she worked the ballroom like a seasoned stand-up comic.?

In her humorous remarks, she said: ?George always says he?s delighted to come to these press dinners. Baloney. He?s usually in bed by now. I?m not kidding. I said to him the other day, ?George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you?re going to have to stay up later.??

Rev. DeLong said in his satirical letter: ??we saw our President undermined, mocked and emasculated by his own wife on the most public of stages, and at a time when his manliness is already under attack. We saw the leader of the free world seemingly unable to lead his own family.?
Ah, too bad.

Posted by Alan at 20:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 5 May 2005 09:12 PDT home

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