Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Cynic's Endorsement of Obama

I don’t mean to upstage Colin Powell or Warren Buffett or Matt Damon, but Barack Obama has now earned perhaps the most important endorsement of his political career. After a long and agonizing debate with myself, in which I’ve employed every dirty trick in the book to win me over, I’ve decided to end my campaign for the presidency. I’m releasing all my delegates as soon as I can find the key to their leg irons. In addition, I’ve decided to stop urging my readers to vote for a third-party candidate or, for those who can spell, to write in their own names. I hope that, like me, they’ll lend their support to Barack Obama.

I’m not completely happy about this decision. Obama strikes me as a spineless Machiavellian liar, not unlike almost every other person in Congress, particularly the current breed of Democrats who, for political expediency, chose not to try to impeach a pair of known dangerous criminals. As I’ve written here often, many of Obama’s ideas and policies make me gag. I’m disgusted by his intertwining of religion and politics, and I’m dead-set against faith-based initiatives, which he gleefully supports in flagrant disregard of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. I’m still pissed off about his vote giving telecoms immunity against prosecutions for the spying they did on American citizens, acts which flout the Fourth Amendment. I’m frightened by his saber-rattling against Pakistan, an alleged “friend” of the United States, and his knee-jerk support, without any substantive explanation, of Georgia against Russia. I’m uncomfortable with his wishy-washy stands on abortion, gun control, and the death penalty. And I hate that he was one of the loudest voices in favor of the sucker-punch known as the “bailout.”

But, in the total picture, I think that Obama is at a moral level so far above John McCain as to make it imperative that he win. For one thing, a world increasingly at odds with – and afraid of – America will breathe a sigh of relief if the “Country First” candidates fail. The McCain/Palin campaign, with its constant thuggish chant of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,” has been exploiting the worst crypto-fascist instincts in the jingoistic portion of our citizenry. And, while Obama’s overwhelming support among blacks is an indication of a kind of racism, it’s definitely not the same kind to which the Republicans have been playing. With its demonization of Obama, right-wing speechifying often sounds, to my ears anyway, like a veiled encouragement of lynch-mob mentality: He’s not one of us. They can throw hundreds of cute winks, adorable smiles, and thumbs-up gestures into that rhetoric; they can intone, over and over again, the falsely amiable my friends and the phonily homespun doggonit, youbetcha all they want; they still convey one message: He’s not one of us. The implication? Run him out of the neighborhood.

After eight years of monkey government, we clearly need a leader now. One of the best yardsticks we have for measuring a candidate’s ability to lead is the kind of campaign that he or she runs. McCain’s campaign seems as if it’s being conducted by people who have ADD; it lacks focus, and constantly shifts its tactics in reaction to the polls. Obama’s campaign, on the other hand, has stayed on-target since the first: It’s my time, now. That was the strategy when he announced his candidacy, and it hasn’t wavered. His people have been throwing around that extremely effective bullshit for almost two years, and it has resulted in unheard-of contributions – both from the usual favor-shoppers and the so-called “little guys.” A seeming nobody has successfully taken on the power brokers in both parties; can anyone doubt that he knows how to lead?

Normally, that kind of leadership, built on empty promises, would be chilling. Under usual circumstances, I’d look at it as potentially dangerous, the bedrock of a tyranny. But Obama’s calculatedly anti-divisive speeches have taken off some of the edge. With the exception of the Democrats’ usual bugbear, big business – and, of course, the obviously crooked and incompetent Bush administration – he singles out no group for scorn, blames no one for our two wars (three if you count the bogus “war on terror”), our economic fiasco, our catastrophic energy policies, and our infrastructure disasters. In America, big business can always take care of itself; it needs no help from presidents, or the congress, or my wallet. I don’t have to protect it through my vote. And the Bushies, as far as I’m concerned, should be brought to justice for their crimes against the state and humanity.

My final reason for throwing my admittedly trivial support behind Obama is the specter of a Sarah Palin presidency. John McCain’s age, in and of itself, doesn’t put me off. But, clearly, he has health issues; anyone who has watched his performances during the entire campaigning process can’t fail to be aware that he’s not as well as he should be. He dodders, hems and haws, spouts words that he has to weasel out of sometimes only hours later, exhibits an impatience that may well be generated by the slowly failing workings of his body. If he’s elected, and if he dies or becomes unable to perform the duties of his office (two possibilities that seem unnervingly likely to me), a proudly ignorant, unworldly, religious fundamentalist hockey mom will take over in the White House. She’ll bring her “go team” sports mindset with her. Everything she does will be filtered through her glib us-against-them vision. When issues arise that can’t be divided simplistically into two sides, she’ll do so anyway, and take one of them quicker than you can say “Joe Sixpack.” She wouldn’t be a president to inspire national trust at a time when we so badly need to feel that; she’d be a hometeam fanatic, rooting unreasonably for Americans who are “one of us.” I’m not – and neither are you. By definition, no freethinker is.

Do I agree with everything Obama says? Nope, not by a long shot. Do I believe that he’s honest? Hardly. Do I think that he’ll solve all our problems – or even most of them – in four years? Give me some credit for not being a moron.

But the alternative is so horrific, so unthinkable to me, that I will vote for him. I hope you will, too.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Solutions to Non-Existent Puzzles

  1. The Hindu drank the chai, the Christian had the iced tea, the Wiccan purchased the pumpkin frappuccino, the Muslim ordered the nonpork vanilla latte, and the Jew asked for just a free glass of water. Therefore, it was the atheist who stole the caramel macchiato.

  2. The two words are “numnuts” and “fuckwad.”

  3. 666 [number of hypostases of God (3) x total number of episodes of Highway to Heaven (111) x number of brachiosauruses that Noah invited onto the ark (2)]

  4. Graham, Robertson, and Warren are the liars.

  5. Buchanan = c. (homosexual); George W. Bush = b. (moron); Jefferson = f. (atheist); Kennedy = a. (womanizer); Madison = e. (midget); Obama = d. (Muslim terrorist liberal)

  6. SNEEZUS has a runny nose, PLEASUS is winking his left eye, TWEEZUS has no eyebrows, BREEZUS has unkempt hair, FREEZUS has an icicle hanging from his right earlobe, and CHEESUS is grinning. So, SQUEEZUS and JESUS are the two who are exactly the same.

  7. God [Note: Other solutions may be possible.]

  8. seven [one to notice that it’s dark, one to ask the Lord to show them the way to the light, one to collect donations to buy supplies for doing the Lord’s work, one to drive the truck that says “Jesus Loves You” to WalMart, one to preach the gospel to other shoppers, one to change the lightbulb, and one to shout “Hallelujah.”]

  9. In order, from left to right: Deuteronomy, Revelation, Leviticus, 1 Chronicles, Casey at the Bat, 2 Chronicles, Bambi, and Wasilla

  10. a. (none of the above)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Do Words Matter?

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

George W. Bush
The only thing we have to fear is ... you know ... being scared. In other words, don’t be scared.

Nancy Pelosi
I've said it before and I'll say it again. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, fear will be off the table.

Barack Obama
Well, so here’s. What I would say. The only thing we have to fear. Is four more years. Of the same. Failed. Uh. Economic policy. And fear. Uh. Itself.

John McCain
The point is, the only thing we have to fear, my friends, is — as I found out years ago in a prison cell — fear itself.

Joe Biden
When I walked through the streets of Scranton, a senior citizen, an ex-millworker named Bob Pastaverde, living on social security and a small pension, he stopped me and he asked, “Senator Biden,” he asked, “do we have anything to fear?” And I told him, “No, Bob, nothing. The only thing we have to fear, you and me, is, as my mother would say, God bless her, fear itself.”

Sarah Palin
With a team of mavericks like John McCain and me, and also the strong American workers in those small towns just like Wasilla all over this great country of ours, also, well, doggone it, the only thing we have to be afraid of is just plain ol’ bein’ afraid, youbetcha.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Questions for Obama – or His Cheerleaders

Although, I would never even consider voting for the intolerable and untenable McCain/Palin ticket, I’m finding it extremely difficult to work up any enthusiasm for – or trust in – Obama/Biden. I’m trying to do so, though, because I live in Florida, where my vote will matter much more than it would if I still lived in New York.

Yes, the Democrats’ platitudes are articulated better than the Republicans’, and, superficially, sound far more appealing. But even a cursory reading of the transcript of last night’s tea party (only an idiot would refer to it as a “debate”) demonstrates that Obama’s words are just as meaningless and empty as McCain’s.

So the following, organized by category, are some questions that I’d like to hear Barack Obama answer. I even invite any reader who's a member of the "We Love Obama" fan club to stand in as his proxy, as long as you can provide some cogent evidence that you're speaking for him. Please don't waste your time telling me how bad McCain would be; I already know that.

Economic Policy

  • You’ve spoken a lot about wanting to “fix” our energy system. Can you tell us about five specific actions toward such an end that you would either take directly as president or push Congress to adopt? Can you give us an estimate of the cost of these actions, and give us particulars about where the money and manpower would come from? If any of these actions would require a degree of government administration and/or oversight, can you explain in detail how that would work?

  • Same questions about fixing our health care system. Again, please be specific rather than speaking in generalities.

  • Same questions about our educational system, with the same requirement for details.

  • How, exactly, do you plan to prevent lobbyists from influencing government actions? What do you mean when you refer to “special interests,” and can you name any interests that aren’t special?

  • You’ve said over and over again that you would cut taxes for the middle class, and raise taxes for those making more than $250,000. Are you talking about gross or net income, and how would you specially ensure that there isn’t a huge loophole disparity between those amounts? What kind of dollar figures are you talking about for those cuts and those raises, and what will be the end result in total revenues collected each year through federal taxes?
Constitutional Issues
  • How will you go about deciding whom to appoint as a Supreme Court justice, should a vacancy occur. Without speaking in vagaries, what criteria will you use?

  • Assuming that a pregnant woman is healthy both mentally and physically, at what point does her fetus’s potential future trump her right to choose? How would you justify, constitutionally, ever denying a woman the right to make decisions about processes occurring within her own body?

  • Can you explain, exactly, how the faith-based initiatives you’d propose would work? Can you also explain how such initiatives would not conflict with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

  • You voted to give telecoms immunity from prosecution after they had colluded in spying on American citizens. Can you explain how you justify that vote? If your answer is related in any way to realpolitik, can you clarify why that should take precedence over the Fourth Amendment?
Foreign Policy
  • What specific advantages in “the war on terror” do you think will be gained today by killing bin Laden? What specific advantages will be gained by capturing him and not killing him? Are there any other persons whom you would like to kill or capture? Why or why not?

  • Which countries do you currently consider America’s friends? Explain. Which countries would you like to bring into America’s circle of friends, and how would you do that? Explain. Which countries are most dangerous today to America, and how would you make them less dangerous? Using specific details, please explain that answer as well.

  • How do you envision an Iraqi democracy working? Can you support your ideas with examples drawn from Iraqi history, culture, or religious beliefs.

  • The Palestinians democratically empowered Hamas. Is that OK with you? Why or why not? Should the United States be more committed to worldwide democracy or worldwide freedom? Can you elaborate on the distinction between democracy and freedom?

  • Do you believe that all Jews worldwide are represented by Israel? If so, how? If not, then given that Israel is a quasi-theocratic state and not representative of an entire ethnic or religious group, how can you justify using the loaded phrases “never again” and “Holocaust” in statements supporting that country?

  • Do you agree that many of the problems in the 21st century world are caused by religious extremists? Why or why not? In what way are the beliefs of religious extremists different from the beliefs of other theists? What steps would you take to curb religious extremism around the world and in our own country?
Other Relevant Matters
  • Using as an example at least 25 votes during your years in the Senate, in what ways have you personally stood up to the Bush Administration? What was your own reasoning for casting those votes? Again, using as an example at least 10 votes during your years in the Senate, in what ways have you personally stood up to the majority of your own party? What was your own reasoning for casting those votes?

  • Under what circumstances would it be all right for a president to lie to, or mislead, the American public? If you answer “never,” then under what circumstances would it be all right for a presidential candidate to lie to, or mislead, the American public? If again you answer “never,” then can you explain your pro-FISA vote and your decision to bow out of the public campaign financing system, both of which you'd promised not to do.

  • As president, will you represent atheists as well as theists? If you agree to get advice from, and/or speak privately to, religious leaders, will you also seek advice from, and/or speak privately to, avowed atheists? Have you consulted on public policy with any representatives of atheist groups, or appeared at any atheist functions? If so, with whom, where, and when? What was your rationale for agreeing to appear at a public circus sponsored by Saddleback Church and hosted by its pastor, Rick Warren?

  • Whom are you thinking about for various cabinet and advisory positions, and whom are you considering for your presidential staff? Again, without speaking in vagaries, what criteria will you use to select these men and women?

  • Under what circumstances should a president seek evidence from experts rather than consulting opinion polls? Do you think the majority of the American people have ever held "wrong" opinions? What opinions are those, and why, in your view, were they wrong?
Those are 20 straight-talk opportunities. I’d be satisfied if Obama addressed himself to any four of these items — a mere 20% — in the next month. But I’ll bet he won’t. Any takers?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sarah Palin Haiku

Sarah’s running against the Democrat’s highfalutin eloquence by speakin’ in homespun haikus.
Maureen Dowd, "Sarah's Pompom Palaver"
The New York Times, October 5, 2008

So nice ta meetcha.
I heard a lot aboutcha.
Can I call ya “Joe”?

Are things bad or good?
I went to a soccer game
to find out from moms.

You know what I heard?
Fear about their investments.
“Goshdarnit,” I said.

Did I mention yet:
John McCain is a mav’rick.
I’m a mav’rick, too.

I’m from Wasilla,
in middle America!
It's right near Russia.

Some of my best friends
Are homos or Democrats.
Don’t let ‘em marry.

Global warming’s bad,
but don’t blame Americans.
It's Roe v. Wade's fault.

Corruption, darn it.
I saw that in the paper.
Don’t ask me which one.

Our third-grade students
are the strongest in the world.
Too bad they can’t vote.

Two years ago, there,
John McCain sounded a bell.
What a mav’rick, hey?

He carries that bell,
ringin’ it real loud for change
wherever he goes.

May I say something
more about bells and taxes?
Is that all right, Gwen?

If I had a bell,
I would never ring it for

And we must make sure
Eye-ran doesn't get a bell,
'cause they're not mav'ricks.

As for Israel?
I won’t second-guess my friends.
Jesus will do that.

Gen'ral Petraeus.
Have you ever heard of him?
Well, I have also.

I’ll say it again:
We are a team of mav’ricks.
I’m from Wasilla!

Just remember that.
Youbetcha, America.
Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Sometimes my eye hurts
from all this winkin’ I do.
Mav’rickin’ is hard.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Lend Me Your Earmarks: A Quiz

The 451-page bailout bill is loaded with earmarks. Earmarks are governmental gifts, either through the direct dispersal of funds or the granting of tax exemptions. Even our simplest bills are chock full of these little presents to companies, states, and groups of people.

In a more honest country, the insertion of earmarks would be seen for what it is: blackmail. A senator or representative says to his or her colleagues: “Gee, I’d really like to vote for the bill authorizing the funds needed to explode that asteroid hurtling towards Earth. But, golly, I can’t do so unless you let my friends in the toilet bowl industry get a tax break on their kids’ Halloween costumes.”

All of our congresspeople claim to despise earmarks. But the extortion continues. Why?

I think it's because references to earmarks permeate our culture. In the following quiz, for example, I’ve isolated ten products, services, places, or groups for whom earmarks were sneakily entered into the bailout bill. Your job is to correctly identify the earmark recipient in each quote. As an extra help, I’ve given the source of each item, plus the page number on which the earmark appears in the bill. (Warning: not all the earmarks in the bill are referred to in the exact same words I’ve used.)

Just one answer per comment, please. And no more than two answers in total per commenter.

  1. Bring me my earmarks of desire!
    (William Blake – p. 300. Sec. 503)

  2. If such as came for earmark, sir, went home shorn,
    Where is the wrong I did them?
    (Robert Browning – p. 295, Sec. 325)

  3. De Camptown earmark five miles long
    Oh doo dah day.
    (Stephen Foster – p. 290, Sec. 317)

  4. There’s nought, no doubt, so much the spirit calms
    As earmark and true religion.
    (George Gordon, Lord Byron – p. 279, Sec. 308)

  5. No one ever went broke in earmark underestimating the intelligence of the public.
    (Elsa Maxwell – p. 298, Sec. 502)

  6. In a cavern, in a canyon,
    Excavating for a earmark
    (Traditional – p. 280, Sec. 310 & 311)

  7. The earmark [2 words] is miles away,
    And the day is loud with voices speaking
    (Edna St. Vincent Millay – p. 289, Sec. 316)

  8. I could never tell for sure whether I was in America or Earmark.
    (Paul Theroux – p. 279, Sec. 309)

  9. One little, two little, three little earmarks
    (Traditional Children’s Song – p. 288, Sec. 314 & 315)

  10. She stood in tears among the alien earmark
    (John Keats – p. 182, Sec. 202)
I'm hoping you don't bail out on this quiz. So, I'm promising all correct answerers a tax exemption — as soon as I'm elected to Congress.

[Update (as of 10/06/08, 1:15 p.m. EDT): Fictional Treats from the Federal Treasury for — Gareth McCaughan (#1); DB (#3); yinyang (#4); yunshui (#5); Chicken Girl (#6); yinyang (#8); 1minionsopinion (#9); Gareth McCaughan (#10)]