Thursday, April 27, 2006
FEMA was started in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. The goal was to unify the nation’s federal disaster preparedness programs. In 1993 President Bill Clinton elevated FEMA to a cabinet level position. The first director, James Lee Witt is instituted reforms that helped streamline the agency. In 2003 FEMA was absorbed into the new Department of Homeland Security, and there, at some point, it simply died.
Although it had “weathered” a few trial runs, its big DHS unveiling was the Hurricane Katrina response. Americans watched with shock and disbelief as the dysfunctional agency pinched out a lame response that couldn’t even float to the top of the bowl. Who would ever have thought that the new and improved post-9/11 FEMA would be so unprepared for a national disaster?
Former FEMA director Michael D. Brown warned that the absorption into the DHS would “fundamentally sever FEMA from its core functions.” He also warned that the reorganization of 2003 would lead to “an ineffective and uncoordinated response” to a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
Ah, what did “Brownie” know anyway? While his prognostication may have proved alarmingly accurate, he himself provided a more effective role for high-level bureaucrats: the scapegoat. We all remember how he was paraded up Capital Hill to be mocked and scorned at the hands of congressional leaders and then led out to alter to die for their sins. Sad, really.
Even today officials at the DHS did not seem moved by the Senate committee’s findings. Russ Knocke, the department press secretary commented, "It is time to stop rearranging organization charts and start focusing on how governments at all levels are preparing for the fast-approaching storm season.”
Oh yes, it’s the tried and true “No Hindsight” defense which has been employed numerous times after subsequent disasters. But what officials don’t seem to realize is that maybe what is needed is a massive overhaul of agencies like the DHS. Was that not the same conclusion a recent investigation into the government’s intelligence agencies found?
I think it unfathomable that Republicans, the party espousing smaller government, have allowed things to grow so large and out of control. That is one thing but key agencies seem to have been left out of the feeding frenzy. It was cited that years of under-funding and failed leadership have left FEMA beyond repair.
Where has all this money gone? Let’s rewind the clock back about four years. What if we had never gone to war in Iraq? What if we had just left Saddam crippled under UN sanctions? How much better prepared would we be for hurricane season if some of that $350 billion spent on Iraq was spent on FEMA? Or, while I’m at it, if just a fraction of that were spent on social programs to equip those caught in poverty; those “refugees” displayed so dramatically after Katrina blew our blinders off.
We can’t go back, but maybe we can learn. FEMA, like homes in New Orleans, is so rotted that it should be torn down and rebuilt. As the report said, “We propose to abolish FEMA and build a stronger, more capable structure within (the Department of Homeland Security).” Yes, perhaps one that can withstand a hurricane, or a terrorist attack. Good idea. And sadly, FEMA's decay is right on pace with the rest of our government.
The Republicans are like a badly behaved child, leaving us with the role of parental response. But we are caught in the dilemma: do we give negative behavior attention? Or will that just reinforce it? There’s a principle that says to criticize is to only to give the ineptitude dignity. This is the bind Democrats are caught in. How to they plot a course for the future without addressing all the myriad of problems Republicans have gotten us into? It’s a catch-22.
It’s hard for me to have any faith government. What are you guys doing up there anyway? Did you notice it’s not just the President people loathe, it’s also congress? When the best idea is to give FEMA a new name and rebuild the whole thing, you know we’ve got serious problems. But fear not! DHS director Michael Chertoff, after flushing “Brownie” out to sea, is now busy coming up with a plan to “retool” FEMA. Why do I have zero faith in this?
Perhaps it’s apropos that these findings have been released around tax season. Here’s a word to the government: people aren’t complaining that our taxes are too high, it’s that we can’t see any positive results for all the money we give. We all want effective government. That’s how the Republicans won in 1994. Twelve years later I’ve funded FEMA, the DHS, and all the various congressional committees formed delve into national failures. Things seemed to be stopped-up up but my vote this year will be full of Liquid Plumr. It’s time to clean the refuse out of government pipes. After watching for the last six years I have reached similar findings to the FEMA committee: remove the dead weight and start over from scratch.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
It's called Administrative Professionals Day! And it's an extremely precarious minefield us office workers must now carefully traverse. One wrong move and spirits can be crushed, the flame of motivation snuffed out, emotions laid bare. But fear not, I am here to help. Have you told your administrative professional that you love him or her? Today is the official day to do it. And I will help show you exactly how.
For starters, where did this day come from? Is it sanctioned in some way? "Administrative Professionals Day" is indeed a registered trademark, and the resistant is the International Association of Administrative Professionals.
This is the real deal, people. OK?
The day even spawned an unofficial dance jam. You can listen to it here but keep your sound down, lest you inspire the ire of your nearby administrative professional.
The first Secretary's Day was held back in 1952 when secretaries were curvy women in short skirts. Ohh, the 50s. You'd better believe it, boy! Gifts were given largely in the form of lunches, flowers, and sexually charged comments. But those days are long gone. Men have torn down the secretarial gender barrier and many proudly do what once only women were allowed to do.
In 1998 the name was changed to better represent the full range of administrative positions. Even though this was also an attempt at gender neutrality the most popular gifts given are still flowers, candy, lunches, and sexually charged comments.
According to the IAAP the best way to celebrate Administrative Professionals Day is: tuition reimbursement, membership in professional organizations, training reimbursement, or supporting the attainment of professional certification. In other words: all things to help your administrative professional cease being an administrative professional.
If those ways are not acceptable additional gift suggestions include: personalized business cards, a desktop name-plate, a gift certificate, ergonomically correct accessories, a computer hardware/software upgrade, or a monetary bonus.
I know what you're asking: what about flowers? What about lunch? Well, those are definitely OUT. Those are condescending and antiquated. Those are for Keith Hernandezs only, OK? Your AP is your peer, got it?
Gifts like that also lead to conflicts and inter-office jealousy. What if one AP is taken to a posh Italian restaurant while another is treated to cheap buffet? What if one gets a nice vase of flowers but is a man and feels a little emasculated? What if he secretly thinks, "I should have been a flight attendant, they don't have a special day" and then he quits?
That all goes against the spirit of Administrative Professionals Day which is, namely, to boost an AP's morale by providing perfunctory gratification under duress on a given day. And, so as not to offend anyone, the best policy is probably to keep things as neutral, and uninteresting as possible. This is also the officially sanctioned approach.
In fact, probably the best thing you could do is to treat your AP with class and respect all year round. Treat every day like Administrative Professionals Day and we wouldn’t need an official day, would we? But that’s not how we do things in America. We just celebrated Earth Day, we’re moving to Administrative Professionals Day, and next is the vaunted Mothers Day. (Mom, is that you? Did you get my card? Great, I gotta run.)
I do have one comment to make about the IAAP website. I only see one male AP on the entire front page. What is this? By the way, how would you like to be that dude? Don't let Keith Hernandez find out or he'll come down and have to do some hazing.
And so, to sum up...
Do: keep gifts gender neutral and professionally oriented
Don't: heckle your male administrative professional
Do: treat your AP like a peer
Don't: let one day excuse you from treating your AP like crap the other 364 days of the year. Do: Keep it real. Keep it 2006.
Don't: Stay out of the 50s, man. That's so 1997.
And don't worry, if you didn't do ANYTHING (you imbecile) for your AP today, the official event lasts all week. You still have tomorrow, and Friday, and maybe Saturday if you're making your AP work this weekend.
If you are an AP and work in an office that does not celebrate Administrative Professionals Day please contact the IAAP so a administrative professional sensitivity trainer may be dispatched to your office.
Sitting in the broadcast booth Hernandez spotted San Diego Padre’s trainer Kelly Calabrese high-fiving Mike Piazza after he hit a home run.
“Who is the girl in the dugout, with the long hair?” He asked. “What’s going on here? You have got to be kidding me. Only player personnel in the dugout.”
He could have stopped there and just sounded foolish. But, after being informed that Calabrese was player personnel, he persisted. “I wont say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don’t belong in the dugout,” he said.
What’s going on here? Who’s the fool in the broadcast booth? You’ve got to be kidding me. Hey, Keith, welcome to 2006 where women can not only vote, own property, but even get paid to play sports! Holy cow!
“You know I’m only teasing. I love you gals out there – always have,” Hernandez added.
Strike three, you're out!
What a stud. You too could date an ego-driven ex-athlete! The only difference between him and most other men is the “ex-athlete” label, which has probably given him license to act all sexist and cavemanish for the better part of thirty years. Oh, did I just stereotype? I'm only teasing.
It has to be hard being a woman. I hear horror stories about bad first dates and now I think I know why.
Keith: So, uh, you played softball in college.
Woman: Yes, I did, third base.
Keith: Cool. I’ll bet you didn’t throw like a girl, huh? Hey, did I mention I was a baseball player? 1979 MVP?
Woman: Yeah, you did, twice already…that’s a nice rookie card.
Keith: How much time do you spend in the kitchen? Just curious…not that I care.
Personally, I think if a man can dye his hair, as Hernandez does (ironically he sells ‘Just For Men’) women should be allowed to have careers that place them in a dugout. Maybe someday they’ll even sit on the Supreme Court. Oh wait…wow, they’ve done that too? Someone take a memo.
Padres manager, and contemporary of Hernandez, Bruce Boche commented, “I didn’t think gender was even an issue anymore.” Sadly, it is.
In contrast to Hernandez’s comments, Calabrese was extremely articulate and thoughtful. “It amazes me that somebody of that caliber that has obviously played the game before and is in front of an audience of millions of people would say something like that,” she said. “He not only discredited me as a person, but he discredited women.”
I think 'Just For Men' has the perfect man for the job. And if they don't bench him, I think he should stick to hawking the hair dye, and strick to the script as written. Just smile and look pretty, Keith. Atta boy, just like it’s 1979 all over again, baby.
Start Date: When filled
Location: White House
The President of the United States of America is seeking an energetic, experienced, and pro-active Press Secretary to manage day to day press outreach for busy Washington D.C. office. Responsibilities include writing press releases, OPED pieces, and aggressively pitching national media.
Qualified candidates will have significant political experience, a creative approach to pitching press ideas, a team-player attitude, and top-notch communication skills Will receive presidential policy, disseminate it to the Press Corps in a timely manner, and field ensuing questions. Ability to take questions and respond with policy is essential. Ability to put a positive spin on negative developments is essential. Grace under fire is essential. Excellent grammar is a plus, but not a requirement.
--At least a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Public Affairs, Philosophy, English, Journalism, Radio TV and Film, Communications, Theater.
--At least 10 years experience in government, politics, journalism, theater, television or some combination of these.
--Either related to, or close friends with someone in the White House Administration
--Excellent verbal and written communication skills
--Authorized to work in the United States
--Prior work experience with the Bush family
--Clean federal record
--Fox News Experience
Please FAX a cover letter, resume, and two brief writing samples to the following number. Or, e-mail the same to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congratulations, Tony Snow! Good luck!
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
But now, I just don’t know what to think, honestly. I’m as confused as anyone. I’m no professor, I’m just a simple man. I worked with my hands my whole life, struggled to own a home, and raise a family. Life is complicated enough every single day, and I can't make heads or tails of the news or financial forecasts or none of that stuff.
I read in the papers that the President’s approval ratings are at an all-time low: 33%! I could have sworn that just last year they were up in the 40s, right? And before that he was re-elected, right? What’s happened? This thing started off so promising and now it seems so lost, like seed scattered to the wind.
I live in a nice, quiet town. We love America here. We put our flags out and we believe in service to this great nation. But I admit I’m troubled by Iraq. Oh sure, it really has nothing to do with me. I have not been asked to sacrifice my time or my money or my resources to fight this war on terror. I served in my war, and now our boys carry the torch in this one. And I can wave my flag and support those troops and cast my vote.
War is always crazy and messy. If it weren't it wouldn't be called "war." I just keep returning to one plain fact: Saddam was an evil man, and this country was founded to battle tyranny. Simple as that. We went in there and struck back at those terrorists, didn’t we? And now they want to blow themselves up to try to stop us? Ha! Good plan! That’ll save us the bullets I suppose.
But I just don’t know. Even though I really want to destroy terrorism, I still am not sure how I feel about Bush. I hear he’s involved in some kind of leak, or scandal? I don’t really understand it though. I hear maybe he’s spying on us? Well, he can spy on me all he wants. I have nothing to hide. In the process maybe he’ll catch some of those terrorists. As far as I’m concerned he can spy and fight terror all he wants as long as he keeps “it” in his pants.
Who are these people who don’t think we should be spying on terrorists? The Democrats? Ha! Don’t get me started about the Democrats. I never did meet one I could stand. You say “Ted Kennedy” and I say “Chappaquiddick.” You say “Bill Clinton” and I say “Ronald Reagan.” And look at Clinton. What did he give us? A sex scandal? I’m not surprised really. They’re all in bed with Hollywood and California and New York—immoral, left-wing, communistic company. Ask them to fight terrorism and they'd ask for the script.
And what do you know, they’re the ones that want to hand marriage over to the gays. Yeah, right! Keep that stuff out of my town. I went right down to those polls in 2004 and cast my vote against it. Stopped it dead in its tracks. That’s right. A whole busload of us went down and voted against that and voted Bush back into office. If he’ll keep it clean, he’ll get my vote. Damn right.
You know what? The more I think about it, the more I support Bush. The other day I was thinking of getting a putty knife and scraping my Bush / Cheney sticker off the tailgate of my Ford F-150. I mean, I wont say I like the guy, but I’ll take him over John Kerry or Jessie Jackson, or that guy with the fancy pants. Not in my America. My America was built on humble pants; blue jeans and work boots.
I do believe I’ll stick with that Bush. I’ll gladly be in the minority. Hell, all true believers are persecuted for their faith, right? We’re going through some dark times, and Bush is going through some tough tests. Those Democrats will throw everything they can at him, I’m sure. That’s how they do things, right? Smear tactics and sex scandals. But we will come through this better off. It starts with morals and ethics. If you don’t have that you don’t have anything. Isn't that what the good book says?
Happy birthday Al Pachino, 66 today. You, of course, reached perfection in 1992 playing slick salesman Ricky Roma in "Glengarry Glen Ross"--for which you received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. That same year you won best actor your role in "Scent of a Woman" which includes one of my favorite lines:
"Women! What can you say? Who made 'em? God must have been a fucking genius. The hair...They say the hair is everything, you know. Have you ever buried your nose in a mountain of curls and just wanted to sleep forever? Or lips...and when they touched yours were like...that first swallow of wine... after you just crossed the desert." - Lt. Col. Frank Slade
All said, you have been nominated seven times for roles in those and these movies:
The Godfather I, II
Dog Day Afternoon
...And Justice for All
Happy Birthday Rene Zelweger, 37 today. You have been nominated three times for an Oscar, winning in 2004 for your role in "Cold Mountain".
And last but not least, happy birthday today to Hank Azaria. We remember you from such voice-overs as bartender Moe Szyslak, Police Chief Wiggum, Quickie Mart clerk Apu, Comic Book Guy, redneck Cletus, and Prof. Frink--all characters on "The Simpsons." You were also The Blue Raja in "Mystery Men."
Monday, April 24, 2006
There’s a group in America that feels misunderstood and persecuted. They have been waiting for one of their own to lead this country in a revival. They pray about it, they organize for it, and they believe it is their destiny.
For many conservative Christians, President Bush has always represented a type of messianic figure: a president who will return this country to its faithful origins. For many, he is the fulfillment of a dream. After years of post-sexual revolution morality, culminating in Bill Clinton, Bush is the one chosen to start returning this country to more conservative ideals.
For many who have believed, and waited, and prayed for a conservative Christian president, they will never accept anything less than George W. Bush as an answered prayer. This, of course, gives Bush all kinds of political capital to expend. He has been largely held unaccountable by his strongest supporters. How he governs and the results of his policies are irrelevant questions. Bush’s opinion polls continue to drop lower and lower, largely revolving around the answer one key question: whom do you say he is? Is he a crusader masked carefully in political rhetoric? Or just a man to be judged by his actions?
Criticisms and questions of Bush are met with zealous defense. The arguments from the faithful usually amount to something like one writer praising Bush as someone “who actually acts on his deeply held beliefs” as if that were the key measuring stick for presidential success. By that logic Hitler was a pretty good leader too.
Like the taking of Masada, perhaps the 43rd presidency will serve more for what it symbolized than what was actually accomplished. Indeed, it already feels like a Pyrrhic victory. For millions, there is just no way they can admit that Bush is doing a poor job. That would collapse an entire belief system. We’re back to the problem of cognitive dissonance, where reality confronts belief, and reality is ignored.
But blind obedience is not what Jesus asked for from believers. He said it himself: if a blind man leads a blind man they will both fall into a pit. The meaning is that some who claim to lead the faithful have no idea what they are doing, and the faithful should be discerning enough to know the difference and not follow.
And it seems like many have deserted Bush already, denying him three times and moving on with their lives. Perhaps they are like me, people who put their faith in the man, only to have it abused. Perhaps they are like Cindy Sheehan, asked to pay the ultimate sacrifice for a mishandled war. Maybe they are like so many other Christians who have been asked for blind faith and have received only promises.
But it is time to move on. It’s not about whom you think Bush is, it’s about what he does and what the results are. Anyone can claim to be anything, it’s the actions that count. That was Jesus’s entire defense against his contemporary religious leaders. He urged his followers to consider not what they said but how they lived. His was a pragmatic faith, grounded in action and he was recognized by the fruits his life produced.
And what has been produced from the White House? War, debt, lies, abuse of power, ruined careers and lives. These are the answered prayers we’ve been waiting for? I really hope not. I think we would represent Christ better if we tried to help the poor, and worked toward peaceful solutions to problems. These are ideologies, ironically, more closely aligned with the very un-religious countries of Western Europe which abandoned spiritual rhetoric and moved on to human action.
I think a few lessons will be learned from all of this. Clinton’s free-wheeling personal life in the Oval Office led to the election of a man determined to lock down behavior and restore good old-fashioned Christian virtues to the White House. Six years later George W. Bush has abused that trust, obvious to all but the most fervent remnant. Maybe the reaction will be to elect a president whose actions produce the kind of positive system most people are hoping for.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
So, he’s out.
And Rove has been demoted.
Yeah, that too. New Chief of Staff John Bolton has wasted no time asserting himself by going after the Master himself, and reassigning him to do what he does best: mastermind an election campaign rather than tinker with policy development.
Both of these moves are seen by experts as a move to circle the wagons for the 2006 election defense.
Meanwhile, Donald “Call me Don” Rumsfeld is still in. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. I’m willing to bet he will be there until the fall of the empire. Why? Because he is one of the inner circle. He was on the “right” side of the administration during the run up to the
And it all comes back to Bush, the head cowboy, locked in a winner-take-all game of poker in-which the lives of our military, our economy, the face of the
The stakes keep getting raised, and Bush keeps getting dealt bad cards. We have the botched pre-war intelligence on Iraq, the misleading justification for war, the bungled post-victory occupation involving-among other things-inadequate troop armor, terrorism where there was no terrorism before, FEMA, a rising deficit, Plamegate… and still the President is holding onto the belief that the next card dealt will complete that royal flush he has been waiting for.
And, you know what? Sometimes you get lucky in poker. Sometimes that missing card is dealt to you and you just can’t lose. But, it’s usually not a good policy to bet on cards you don’t have. That’s just a general rule of thumb of course. Gambling types with a lot of faith, people like the President, are above such rules. We’ve watched as he has stridently pushed all of his chips into the middle of the table and declared “I’m all in, bring it on.”
And “it” has been brought.
Don’t expect Bush to back down, or change playing style in any way. He’s “the decider” like he said yesterday, and he loves every minute of it. He stands in no man’s shadow anymore and he is center stage in one of the biggest games in history.
This game is played according to unwavering principles that will not change even if situations call for it. His is not an on-the-fly strategy, like a chess player or a quarterback. It’s more like a pre-game plan that will not be deviated from. And while that style might make for some exciting television, it may even generate lots of votes, the results are often disastrous.
Those who can’t bend usually end up breaking things and blowing it. I have to admit, if it were me holding those cards I would be worried. I guess I just don’t have ice flowing through my veins. Playing a game is as much about adapting to the situation as it is to following your pre-game strategy. We, of course, have seen no such hindsight over the last six years.
I suppose that’s probably another reason why Bush is so compelling for some. What you see is exactly what you get. That’s why I’ve always been mystified by those who are undecided about the man. What are you confused about? Either you like the “all in” and “never fold” strategy, or you prefer a more reasonable and less zealous approach to policy. But, like poker, most people talk a good game, they think they want to play tough, until their faith is wiped off the board by sloppy playing. Personally, I think it’s better to play smart and keep your chips then end up in a terrible position due to sloppy play.
This is a game never stops. When the president is done playing he can ride off into the sunset and someone else will take over, much like it will be someone else’s responsibility to handle
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The White House deftly changed the Defense Secretary’s name to “Don”, Tuesday, to avoid confusion with the embattled Donald Rumsfeld who has come under sharp criticism from critics and military generals. President Bush unveiled the new name today in a press conference.
“I stood up and said, ‘I don’t appreciate this speculation about Don Rumsfeld; he’s doing a fine job; I strongly support him,” the President said. And then he added, “I listen to all voices, but mine is the final decision and Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job.”
Bush then mentioned in consecutive sentences that “Don” Rumsfeld was helping America fight a war on terror, in-case anyone hadn’t known. This is not Donald Rumsfeld oft criticized for ignoring advice and sending too few troops dressed in inadequate body armor to maintain peace in Iraq. This is "Don" Rumsfeld, a military transforming maven conquering evil world-wide.
“He’s fighting a war on terror,” The president said. And then to clarify, “He’s helping us fight a war on terror. I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.”
A forgiving Don Rumsfeld gave comments at the Pentagon after Bush’s spirited defense. “With all of those challenges to try to get from the 20th century, the industrial age, into the information age, to the 21st century, from conventional warfare into a regular and asymmetrical warfare, is a difficult thing to do. And, by golly, one ought not be surprised that there are people who are uncomfortable about it and complaining about it.”
Rumsfeld seemed comfortable in his new, albeit minuscule, name change.
But on small things do larger things rest! Will this bit of slight-of-hand fool others from criticizing Don Rumsfeld? Is the Donald Rumsfeld of old--the grumpy, haughty, war hawk--gone forever; replaced by an old, southern slang-speaking, forgiving "Don" character? Will this name change, released in the wake of introducing new cabinent member Robert "Rob" Portman, quietly take hold in people's subconscious? Only time will tell but you can bet the new stage name is no accident.
Historians are already pointing to the echoes of 1967 when President Lyndon Johnson suddenly began referring to Robert McNamara, his embattled Secretary of Defense, as “Bob”. Robert “Bob” McNamara resigned in 1968. In 2003 he was the subject in the documentary “Fog of War” explaining eleven lessons he had learned from his life, mainly focusing on hindsight gained from high-level mistakes made during the Vietnam war. It is unsure if Donald “Don” Rumsfeld has seen the film.
Congratulations, Mr. Ryan. You were just convicted on all counts in a wide-ranging corruption case. Though you were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for commuting all Illinois death sentences, you also exchanged state privileges and jobs for cash and gifts! A marvelous dichotomy that once again proves fact is crazier than fiction. But who knows, in your mind you probably thought you were entitled to do such things because you were such a great humanitarian. Maybe this is why you said, "I believe this decision today is not in accordance with the kind of public service that I've provided the people of Illinois over 40 years."
Unfortunately, one of your jobs for bribes schemes put an unqualified trucker behind the wheel. He later caused a highway accident that killed six children. This set off an eight-year investigation that eventually led to your door and brought you down. Political scientists are weighing in on the impact of your conviction, how it will affect the upcoming state-wide elections, but none more succinctly than John Jackson of the University of Illinois - Carbondale who said,"We can't have too many more of our governors going off to jail. It's bad for democracy."
We have another winner.
Thank you for playing I Was Once a High-Powered Politician. Now take your place next to former Land of Lincoln leaders convicted.
Monday, April 17, 2006
The Contract with America became a lightning rod for Republicans and showed America that at least one group in congress wanted change. The Contract promised to implement ten bills to reform government, largely dealing with fiscal responsibility, welfare reform, and crime, all designed to ultimately help low and middle class Americans. Most people who voted the Republicans into power did not even know what was contained in the Contract. What was more important was that it served as a rallying cry for conservative voters.
Will the Democrats issue a similar strategy in 2006? Most experts agree that the Contract With America was a moment in history, likely only to succeed once. And even its track record is often debated. But there is no doubt about its historical significance, vaulting the Republican Party into power in congress. After-which Republicans tried to implement the contract, as promised, within the first 100 days.
The most successful item was arguably welfare reform, eventually signed by President Bill Clinton. A $500 per child tax credit was also approved, which has since been doubled, and defense spending has increased. But the contract also exacerbated partisan tensions. The balanced budget amendment was not approved and the federal deficit is higher than ever.
The Contract stood for things most Americans believe in: responsible government, responsible lives, helping out businesses and families, but in the end did it reach these goals? Did the Contract help out those mid and low income families it promised to?
Cutting welfare and raising crime punishment seem only encourage a problem. Many experts believe that poverty and crime are strongly linked. As stated on www.crime.org, "Poverty often leads to the problem of homelessness. Those who live on the streets often experience hunger and disease making them more likely to resort to committing theft and burglary as a means to eat or obtain medicine." And later it says, "Education can help eradicate poverty, which will in turn reduce the crime rate." And so, the legacy of the Contract is very debatable. Want to be tough on crime? Those who study it suggest trying more social programs, not less.
There is no doubt that a better economy and good social programs help eliminate inequality and crime, so is our economy better off with ballooning spending and selling off America to foreign investors to pay for it? It being tax day, I want to know, would you rather have your tax money spent on Iraq or helping out fellow Americans like those in New Orleans, which is one small section of the disparaging conditions existing across our country, conditions which cut at the American dream for many.
Twelve years later the Contract has largely been forgotten among the general public. But one thing that is assuredly agreed upon is it served its purpose in getting Republicans into power, and they have never looked back.There are, of course, more than a few signs that history may be about to change. The exiting of Tom DeLay for campaign finance issues is a major blow not only to Republican power but to their claim of being the more responsible of the two parties. This was a major tenant of the Contract, and many cite DeLay as an example of what has gone wrong with the Republican majority, to say nothing of the values of the Contract.
And then there is President Bush, who has expanded the size of government rapidly. He has not vetoed a single bill as president. Republicans used to point fingers at Democrats for their “tax and spend” policies, now many Democrats cite the Republicans for just spending, while granting tax cuts. Indeed, with Republican controlled legislative and executive branches, the ideals of small government have long been forgotten. Many point to the sluggish response by FEMA as the byproduct of this. Critics call FEMA bloated, a massive entity unable to perform the very functions it was created for. Do conservatives long for their small government ideals now? It doesn’t appear so. Many seem happy with whatever keeps them in power; small government or large government.
Many are talking about the Contract with America, and wondering if the Democrats will produce a similar document to bring disparate ideas together under one banner and solidify their base. But the Contract was simply the response to a specific situation, a chance to seize a political opportunity. In the end its actual positive results are debated, and many see it as having lost its way once the Republicans gained power. Many want the Democrats to do the same thing: seize an opportunity. But the question to be asked is what is best for the country? Are the answers found in political power games?
Darwinism applies in the arena of politics: the party that adapts to conditions the fastest wins. This was the case with Republicans in 1994, and in every election year after. They have simply been the better animal, stronger and quicker. Ironic that in the party where many do not believe in evolution, that process has been the secret to their own success. The Democrats continually lag behind. But maybe the Republicans have gotten too big, and thus too confident and slow, political Dinosaurs. Some of us pray for a metaphorical asteroid to bring about some real, positive change.
Friday, April 14, 2006
What’s your tax refund going to be this year? If you’re Vice President Dick Cheney you’ll be receiving a check for $1.9 million dollars. That’s a lot of zeros. The Cheney’s adjusted gross income for 2005 was just over $8.82 million and they paid $2,468,566 in taxes. They overpaid and are entitled to a refund of $1,938,930.
The Bushes income was $735,180, $187,768 went to taxes. The presidential salary is around $400,000 per year.
It aint me
It aint me
I aint no fortunate son
Happy Birthday today to Sarah Michelle Gellar (that's geh-LAR, people!), 29 today. On your birthday we mourn the loss of your career, fatally wounded after making "Scoobie Doo" and "Scoobie Doo 2". You did give us many fine TV moments as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a nice performance in "Cruel Intentions" and a Daytime Emmy award for your work in "All My Children."
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons? They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them. -- George W. Bush, June 2003.
In late May of 2003, I was in the Air Force and I remember feeling very dismayed 50 days after we had invaded Iraq. I wanted to know where the WMDs were. Had my trust and support for this war been misplaced? But then, magically, two small trailers in were discovered in Iraq.
“Did you hear about the trailers?” a fellow airman asked me.
“We’ve got them now,” another said confidently.
They had heard the president’s claim that the trailers seized were actually mobile biological laboratories. For the nation it was post-war justification. For the administration it was much needed proof that the carefully scripted cause for going to war, Iraq’s assumed possession of weapons of mass destruction, was for real.
Small trailers like this, and aluminum tubes bought by Iraq for its alleged nuclear weapons program, were the primary evidence the Bush administration used for its contention that Iraq was making WMDs and should be stopped. But a new Washington Post article by Joby Warrick reports that administration officials asserted that the trailers were used as biological weapons factories even after a Pentagon mission ruled that possibility out.
After the mission a report was filed on May 27, 2003 claiming the trailers were not used in the production of biological weapons. On May 28 the CIA publicly issued an assessment saying that the trailers were used to produce biological weapons and soon after the administration was off to the races, with the press in-tow, upholding those trailers as proof of pre-war WMD activities by Iraq.
Did the president know about that the trailers were totally harmless before he told us of their WMD making capability? I suppose we will never know. Millions are confused about the state of Iraq, the war, the cause for war, the exit plan, because of similar rhetoric and spin about Iraq that we have lived with for years.
In June of 2003, shortly after the president’s speech, a poll found that 33% of Americans believed we had found WMDs in Iraq. 22% said Iraq had used chemical or biological weapons. Other findings showed that before the war 50% said that Iraqis were among the 9/11 hijackers (in-fact none were).
Steve Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, which conducted the poll, was startled at the findings. "Given the intensive news coverage and high levels of public attention, this level of misinformation suggests some Americans may be avoiding having an experience of cognitive dissonance" he said.
“Cognitive dissonance” is the uncomfortable tension of holding two conflicting beliefs in your mind at the same time. What Kull is saying is that many Americans prefer to go on believing lies than having to adjust their thinking. Case-in-point: Kull noted that the mistaken belief that weapons had been found “is substantially greater among those who favored the war.” Confused, rather than admit a mistake, or change a belief, Americans continue to support positions that have long since been falsified.
Thomas Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution cites the media and administration for confusing people. “There have been a lot of conflicting reports on the weapons [WMDs]," he said.
Indeed. Before the war Bush administration claims about Iraq’s illegal weapons stockpiles were reported as veritable fact by the U.S. media. After invasion possible WMD discoveries, like Bush’s claim above, were top stories. Ensuing stories countering those claims with truth received far less press.
Facts? Who needs facts? Or, as Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus, “What is truth?” The Bush administration must understand this axiom of rhetoric better than anyone, for they have certainly employed it to maximum effect. I find it interesting that so many Christians who claim to believe in facts and absolutes support an administration so far removed from either. They lend their support and trust to an administration that deals on the shadowy edge of reality to accomplish its goals. Facts? That’s the last thing The White House cares about.
This is the administration that described the attack on Iraq as “one victory in the war on terror that began on Sep. 11.” Never mind that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. I wonder how many Americans believe that fact? Even now, after three years of evidence against the very claims used to go to war, people believe. Rather than deal with the cognitive dissonance it’s easier to accept lies. In such a God fearing country, how can we be so comfortable such ambivalence?
In America belief really does run high, but not necessarily in truth. The war started under the guise of National Security. The administration latched on to any whiff of evidence to support it and people believed it. When statements about WMDs became laughable we were told we went to war for humanitarian reasons. Is our attention span that short? Do mistruths and lies resonate for that long? Iraq was a war built on innocuous trailers and aluminum tubes. They’re hollow, and long gone; propped up and blown away with shock and awe. It turns out the real danger is our own lazy and frail beliefs.
There are so many reasons to love American Idol, but probably none more so than seeing former celebrities mine around on stage and show off their newly remodeled faces.
Begin the thawing of Jim Nabors!
One week it was none other than The Gambler himself, Kenny Rodgers. His visage was spread across his skull so tightly that the ensuring reflection scared little children and sent people into seizures.
And Barry Manilow two weeks before? He’s been hard to watch for years.
I'm really curious to see which celebs do come on the show. It almost certainly symbolizes the end of a career, even if they are out there to hawk an album. Does anyone really care if Lionel Richie has been in the studio for the last eight years?
The day I see Niel Diamond on there is the day I die though. Please, Neil, don't hurt 'em. For the 2007 celebrity line-up I'm predicting Phil Collins, Duran Duran and Hootie and the Blowfish.
Personally, I think we should really open the competition up by having impersonators stand-in as guests. Get an Elvis impersonator up there so we can have Elvis night. He sings and dances, he is therefore as qualified as Paula to critique. Plus, he'll look more alive than these living stars. And I want the fat Vegas Evlis, not the young Memphis one. OK? OK.
This week it was the remaining members of Queen, assembled on stage with Idol contestants whose first introduction to their music was probably “Wayne's World.” Well, except for maybe that old guy with the grey hair, what ever his name is. He probably remembers, as I do, that WWF wrestler Junk Yard Dog’s theme song was “Another One Bites the Dust”. Or, even better, that Queen did the entire score to the bloated space opera “Flash Gordon.”
You do know that song, right?
Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum
Flash! Augh! Savior of the universe!
In case you haven’t seen the movie, Flash Gordon is the quarterback of the New York Jets pitted to save the earth from the terrible Emperor Ming, who also wants to steal his girlfriend.
Come to think of it, many of the stars formerly known as celebrities on American Idol resemble Ming (played by the great Max von Sydow) from that ill-fated movie. He too wore a tight expression on his face as if to say “I’d smile but it hurts”, with shiny costumes.
You're 59 years young today and over the last 24 years (Oy gevalt, has it been 24 years?) you've changed late night talk show history. Sure, Jay Leno may win ratings wars but when have ratings ever proven anything? We know, Dave, you are where "it" is at. You gave us viewer mail, elevator races, the Thrill Cam, Tiger Cam, Monkey Cam, Stupid Pet Tricks and Stupid Human Tricks, and, of course, top 10 lists. Yes, Dave, yours is Late Night, and everything in it.
I also want to send a shout out to my girl Shannon Doherity, 35 today. Your work on "Beverly Hills: 90210" inspired a generation, my generation.
This reminds me of the time Letterman introduced a member of "90210" to his show. It went something like this...
Dave: And now, the lovely and talented actress from the hit show Beverly Hills: 90215364189ZX51-2....
(insert Dave's high-pitched cackle)
And now my Top 10 Late Night moments.
10. Donning a suit covered in Rice Crispies and plunging into a giant vat of milk.
9. Crushing things with an 80-ton hydraulic press.
8. Johnny Carson coming on the show with his own desk
7. Will it Float?
6. Donning a suit covered in Alka-Seltzer and being lowered into a giant vat of water.
5. Arguments with "American Splendor" creator Harvey Pakar.
3. Interrupting the Today Show with a bullhorn to announce you were not wearing any pants.
2. The Andy Kaufman / Jerry Lawler fight.
1. The time you brought a fruit basket to NBC owners General Electric and were kicked out of the building.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Vice President Dick Cheney was greeted with loud boos and a few cheers today as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington National’s home opener. Cheney became the eighth sitting vice president to throw out the first pitch for a Washington team, and the first to receive boos. He went into his motion and hurled the ball which sailed up and landed in the dirt in front of home plate. Nationals catcher Brian Schneider scooped it up in a nice save.
watch it here!
Cheney declined to drop the F-bomb when asked about the booing crowd. Republican spin-doctors claim that the crowd was not really booing but simply saying "boo-urns", "boo-urns".
Last year President Bush tossed out the first pitch but many fans were late to their seats because of security lines at metal detectors—installed for the president’s visit. Another failure in logistical planning, but no one expected the event to be run smoothly.
This year Bush was in Cincinnati to throw out the first pitch of the 2006 baseball season. Ohio has been a focus for the administration because of its sagging poll numbers and potential 2006 swing-state status. Bush's attempt to raise poll numbers was quickly offset by Iran declaring they can now enrich uranium. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Yeah, OK, so, according to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, your president authorized the leaking of classified material on Iraq. So he may have been behind Libby briefing a reporter about intelligence information and Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who criticized Bush’s Iraq policy. The name of Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame, was also leaked, probably as deliberate retribution for his attacking the administration. So what?
Big deal. I’m sure Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh will have a perfectly good explanation. Why should Scott McClellan have to comment at all when millions are ready to listen and accept the opinion of conservative radio and television personalities? They’ll simply say that Libby's is the word of a man who perjured himself. Yes, professional doublespeakers will use that defense. Rush Limbaugh once wanted junkies put away too.
And before we all over-react, let’s keep in mind that things could be worse. Bush could be getting sexual favors from an intern. Luckily he has kept it in his pants, choosing instead to lie his ass off about Iraq and the leaking of information. Isn’t Bush the one who said he vowed to fire anyone found to have leaked Plames name? Oh, I guess he can’t fire himself can he? The joke is on us. Good one, Mr. President!
Tell me again, how does it go? That old saying from Tennessee? "Fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me...you can't get fooled again."
Yeah, that's it! That is exactly how I feel. To think like the president is to understand that old axiom: you can't get fooled again. I have entered the strange and quirky mire of Bush's reality. I can't get my head around how obvious injustices and inexplicable mistakes can be so easily shrugged off. I can hardly chronicle this president's failures fast enough, and the more I think about it the more I end up feeling like the one normal guy caught in a Twilight Zone episode. Why fight it? It's just too much.
Yeah, OK, it’s a dark day in modern American history. Yeah, maybe this is the capstone in a long series of bungled ideas and misadventures. But, look on the bright side, Saddam Hussein is out of power. That old meanie will never be an imminent threat to American security ever again. I know I sleep better at night armed with the knowledge that he is in prison and President Bush is leaking sensitive information and misinforming the public.
You see, mine is a simple, naive belief. It is the same belief that keeps me going to church, trusting that my minister actually knows what he’s talking about. It’s the belief that no matter how bad things get they will somehow be OK because the President’s heart is in the right place. I get warm fuzzies just thinking about it now. No one who proclaims Jesus could be capable of evil, right? No mud-flappin’, hard-hattin’, flag-wavin’, fun-lovin’ president could possibly be inept or immoral, right? Ah yes, this feels better, number; I feel more sedated and accepting. He's a sincere man, a confused and foolish man, but a sincere man, and that is what counts.
So, everyone calm down, ok? We have bigger problems and they will assuredly appear on the ballots in 2006. These problems include: banning gay-marriage and upholding school-prayer. While the President certainly wont throw his hat in the ring on either volatile issue, you know by extension he’s secretly praying that those who love Jesus will come out in mass-numbers and render a blow for righteousness everywhere. Bush makes all this possible. How do you think the man stays on top? If he has to leak names and fool the public to stay there, then God speed.
This will all blow over, trust me. Katrina did, right? Poverty? A fad! No one talks about that anymore. And Iraq? That’s academic. I’ve spoken to troops who believe wholeheartedly that the hell they are going through in Iraq is for a good reason. It couldn’t possibly all be a bad dream could it? It couldn’t possibly be the overflow of a man and an administration with no judgment or no mooring to solid principles could it? That would be just too much to accept.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Have you heard what Big Brother does while he’s watching you? Apparently it involves seducing a 14-year-old girl. At least that’s what Brian Doyle, deputy press secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was charged with doing on his computer. He sent the girl pornographic movie clips and photos. One photo shows himself in what looks like DHS headquarters while wearing a Homeland Security pin and his Transportation Security Administration lanyard. Reading the story my terror alert level went into the red, or "severe." The 14-year-old girl turned out to be an under cover FBI agent and Doyle was arrested.
All of this makes me wonder: Where are the real threats to marriage and family coming from?
According to many currently in power, marriage needs protecting from those gays and lesbians, and is better left in the hands of safer, God-fearing types. But what they think you don’t know can actually hurt other people. Those claiming to defend marriage have reaped a sad track record of broken lives.
What ever happened to Tom Delay? The man who said that "marriage and the nation are under attack by those who seek to impose their political agenda on an immutable moral truth" has been wiped off the political map for campaign finance fraud. And I wonder who has caused more damage: Tom Delay or gays and lesbians? That's a no-brainer. I have nothing against people trying to give advice, but if you lack the moral or ethical judgment in your own life you have no right to try to limit someone else's rights. That's hypocritical. And you know how Jesus hated hypocrites, don't you?
And yeah, I do have a point to all this. I’m happy to report the Minnesota senate judiciary committee rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. The proposed amendment wasn’t directly overturned, rather an updated version prohibiting the judicial branch from being able to define marriage. So, the debate is not over, but a small victory has been scored for civil rights.
The hearing involved 90 minutes of testimony in front of a packed house. Gay rights supporters pointed out that the constitution is not a place to deny people’s rights. Those in favor of the ban claimed the constitution is the only way to ensure the judiciary won’t overturn the current Minnesota law banning gay marriage.
While backers have been trying diligently to protect marriage by keeping others from getting married, the institution has been eroding while in the hands of those trying to protect it. Marriage is not under attack by the judiciary, if anything it is under attack by those who wish to limit its scope while neglecting it along the way. Anyway, you can’t blame gays and lesbians for the rising divorce rate starting in the 1950s. If anything you can blame economic security and advances in birth control. If anything you can blame a prevalent attitude among those in power, those who claim to defend marriage, that the ends justify the means; that what they do behind closed doors does not matter at all. What kind of an example is that?
Is marriage in trouble? It certainly is. We are surrounded with selfishness and sleaze and corruption and gays and lesbians have nothing to do with it. When's the last time you heard of a divorce filed on the grounds that "Will and Grace" eroded the marriage? Or the same-sex couple you saw in the grocery store led you to neglect your spouse? No, take responsibility. Don't blame anyone else. Marriages rise and fall based on the two people in the marriage. If you've ruined one it's your own fault.
I’m proud that Minnesota has turned down an attempt to ban civil rights. We’re all imperfect people, even those we elect to lead and protect us. How can I, as a Christian, limit someone else’s right to choose when Jesus himself did no such thing? You don’t make a difference by banning behavior; you do it by living a sincere life, free of the shadows. If your ways have merit I trust that people will inherit them. But that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? Who do you trust? Who do you want running your life and making your decisions: You or Big Brother? Personally, I think we have more to fear from those telling us how to live, than those who want to live and be left alone.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
It is opening day for baseball, annual symbol of renewal. Winter is over, spring is here, we’re born again and there’s new grass on the field. This perspective is a legacy carefully handed down to me by my father. Last season brought me something he never got to see: a White Sox’s World Series championship. All post-season long I waited for those south-siders to collapse and return to the mire. Instead they rattled off a clean sweep against the Houston Astros. You’ve gotta love it.
You love it unless, of course, you’re from Houston. Who outside of Houston could love the Astros anyway? They play in that terrible stadium, Minute Maid Park, known affectionately as The Juice Box. It is indeed a boxy structure, large and metallic, built into the side of an old railway station, complete with a hill and flagpole jutting out of center field, and a crazy home run line scrawled along the left field wall. I hate the stadium and by extension it adds to my disdain for the Astros. Words cannot describe the joy I felt when Albert Pujols rang one off the back wall of the stadium, above those goofy train tracks, off of a Brad Lidge slider, to give the St. Louis Cardinals new life in the National League Championship Series. The Cards lost two games later and the Astros went on to meet the White Sox in the World Series. The rest is history. The Sox broke their 88 year old curse by felling the history-plagued Astros.
That is baseball.
This year Barry Bonds will attempt to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. He only needs seven more to break it. If he mounts a typical year he may even pass Hank Aaron and become the greatest home run hitter of all time. Unfortunately the source of his amazing late career power is now under considerable scrutiny thanks to the book “Game of Shadows” which closely chronicles Bond’s alleged usage of steroid and other enhancing drugs.
This too is baseball.
Ever since Jose Canseco’s tell-all book on illegal drug use in baseball, and Congress’s investigation, and Mark McGuire’s shameful “testimony” and Rafael Palmero’s 180 degree turn from hall of fane shoe-in to failed steroid test holder, baseball has been forced to cope with the method for its own recent success. People clamored to see more and more home runs, and what they got was a bunch of cheaters. For too long baseball turned a blind eye and ignored obvious questions because the game’s attendance was swelling, even if its pride was being compromised.
But, that is the beauty of spring, isn’t it? The cold winter gets washed away, rain brings green grass, and everything has a chance to start over. I have a strange suspicion that baseball will have no trouble moving out from under the shadow of steroid use. The game will benefit by being purer, faster, and smarter. If the World Baseball Classic has taught us anything it is that solid fundamentals are both more enjoyable to watch, and more successful, than bland powerball.
And so, here we go, the 2006 baseball season. The young, pure hitters are already ringing the opening bell. Albert Pujols hit two home runs opening day, Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam. It’s a new year, and a younger player’s game.
Last year the White Sox won the World Series with defense (Joe Crede), speed and clutch hitting (Scott Podsednik) strong starting pitching (all four aces), relief pitching (Bobby Jenks) and some long-ball (Paul Konerko). It was a throwback to a more sincere and capable era. Home runs are just one part of the game. But when baseball is played on every facet, as Japan did in the World Baseball Classic, as the White Sox did last fall, it is a thing of beauty.
I will cheer the Sox on again this year, as an old childhood friend. I will cheer for the Cubbies too, because my mom loved the Cubs and they need a World Series title. And I will cheer for the Cardinals, the way I support an old college roommate. St. Louis was the start of wonderful things for me, and so they are also my team. I’m glad to have them all back for another year. Maybe there's even enough room in this big heart of mine for the Astros.