March 07, 2008

Staying Too Long at the Fair

I tried to warn W to leave when Karl Rove did, while the getting, while not good, was at least almost tenable; it's because, beneath all the sarcasm, I feel sorry for George W. Bush. I can't help myself - I'm simply a compassionate guy. It's along the lines of Atticus Finch's admonition to the children in Harper Lee's unforgettable "To Kill A Mockingbird." He told Scout and his son not to make fun of Boo Radley, and used the simile of killing an innocent bird to block any prosecution of Boo by the sheriff. What was the point of punishing Boo for his heroic act in saving Atticus's children from their tormentor? Boo was simple, in the sense the word is used in the Deep South. Not quite right in the head, but well-meaning. Like a dumb bird.

I know that there is something psychologically amiss with George that makes him appear indifferent to all his monumental screw-ups. It's an illusion. All his striving and ambition to live up to standards he perceives as the family destiny belie this casual disregard of his epic incompetence. He knows what he's done; his bravado is in direct proportion to the agony of recognizing he can't do anything right. Every sane person in the country whose salary does not depend on being a Bush partisan knows that he has screwed up in ways that are almost unimaginable, that seem the stuff of fable or science fiction. How can anyone surrounded by so many advisors, with so many resources to help with what is essentially a figurehead job, create so much destruction and havoc? He has broken the back of the military, the national treasury and now, at long last, the American economy. It's breathtaking, really. In a little over 7 years. And every single piece of the catastrophic destruction can be traced to a single cause: his phenomenally bad personal judgment.

It is Bush's particular form of genius. Forget all talk of IQs or personality disorders for the moment, as diverting as those can be while trying to solve the riddle of this strange and simple bird who has presided over the destruction of the United States of America. It is almost impossible to be as bad at being President as George W. Bush has been. Probabilities, aleatory considerations, the laws of chance, dumb luck -- these usually mitigate the effects of the maladroit. Not in Bush's case. "Call it," said Anton Chiguir in "No Country for Old Men," as he put his victims to the test. "What am I playing for?" the old guy asked. "Everything," Anton calmly answered. Every time Bush calls it he's wrong. Every single time, about everything.

He was wrong to ignore the al-Qaeda warnings, allowing the worst terrorist attack in American history to occur during his presidency. He was wrong to invade Iraq, the most colossal foreign policy blunder in that same history. He was wrong to declare "Mission Accomplished" at a ludicrously premature point in the war. He was wrong to persist in the occupation, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, thousands of American lives (more, now, than were killed on 9/11), and literally trillions of borrowed dollars. He was wrong to cut taxes and run huge deficits, wrong to run the national debt to over $9 trillion, wrong to mortgage America's security to an increasingly hostile Chinese government, wrong to allow Greenspan to create a Potemkin housing bubble with that borrowed-and-recycled money, wrong to resist the transition to nonrenewable energy, wrong to hamstring efforts to deal with climate change, wrong to introduce torture into American foreign policy, wrong to engage in routine violations of the Fourth Amendment against American citizens, wrong to hollow out the regulatory agencies to the point where Americans now eat downer cattle and lose entire cities to weather catastrophes.

Sure, I know. You think such effects can be produced through simple neglect. Not at all. However perverse it may be, this is talent, pure and simple. The merely incompetent could not produce the skein of catastrophes listed above. They are, for better or worse, the stigmata of a rare and perhaps incomparable gift. A man so lousy at what he does that it rises, in the last analysis, into the realm of art.

March 05, 2008

Hillary's Tax Returns

First off, a little street cred. I'm not a Hillary Basher. Or in the cyber age, a HillaryBasher. Once, in a fey and whimsical mood, I betrayed my own egalitarian principles by pointing out that Hillary's substantial (massive, really) undercarriage could be used to good effect by comparing it favorably to Obama's (or, a fortiori, Kucinich's) lower body strength by mounting the debate stage a little more dramatically. To wit, Hillary would bound onto the platform, charge a blocking sled and drive, drive, drive that sucker all the way over to Tim Russert's podium, where it would up-end that blowhard and his clipboard of "gotcha!" questions. Those short, chunky legs pumping, muscles straining the seams of that burnt-orange pantsuit -- what a moment! A great visual, but, of course -- such a suggestion casts enormous discredit on me, and I'm deeply ashamed I ever thought of it, especially when it still doubles me over with helpless laughter.

Anyway, things between Barack & Hill are going to get wild enough as it is. You can feel it coming. The other night Hillary answered a question on "60 Minutes" about Barack's religion by saying he was not a Muslim "as far as I know." Oh man, this is gonna get ugly. It's good they're not debating anymore because I don't think they could stand the proximity to each other. But back to my street cred: there is no question that I would (a) vote for Hillary vs. McCain and (b) even send Hill some money to help her cause along. Whatever else happens, I don't want the Supreme Court nominations to be in the hands of the Republicans for another 4 to 8 years, because people like Stevens, Ginsburg and Kennedy are not going to last that long on the bench. So imagine Scalia, Thomas, Roberts & Alito augmented by another three legal Neanderthals for another twenty years. Bye-bye, Roe vs. Wade. Hey, Bill of Rights! Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way to the dump. Hillary will be okay. Stop whining, Obamaniacs. Anyway, pull your socks up and get to work. If you can't stand up to Hillary, how do you plan to face down the Chinese Colossus when you're in the Oval Office? America's taking a good hard look to find out.

What we can't take a good, hard look at to find out concerns Hillary's tax returns, on account she ain't showin'. This is a mess. As about so many things, I have a theory about this which may be just beneath the surface of what you've heard so far about the reasons for her reluctance. She has said she would release them "if she gets the nomination." The blow-dried, room-temp IQs on cable news (nota bene, there's a blog title: The IQs of Cable News) of course think this has to do with the practical necessity of disclosure (technically, it's never required, since they're privileged documents for her and everyone), but I suspect it has to do with timing. By waiting till then, she'll release her 2007 tax return, not 2006 or earlier. I further suspicion (as my Southern ancestors usta say) that earlier years may have been joint returns with Bill the Horndog, which must be enormously complicated 1040's, and which probably have a huge number representing adjusted gross income, since the story is that Bill routinely pulls down $100,000 + every time he addresses some group like the Allied Magneto Importers of America (the manufacturers having been disbanded for failure to achieve a quorum). But a 2007 return just might be a separate 1040 of Hillary alone, because she (and Slick Willie) have anticipated this moment for a long time. I think Bill does a ton of business with people you might associate with so-called Petro States (or PetroStates; see above) and other unsavory characters, and the inference drawn even by the emaciated intellect of the American Booboisie (op.cit., Mencken) might be unfavorable.

A separate return shields Bill from unwanted publicity and makes it more difficult for forensic accountants to figure out where, for example, Hillary got that $5 mil she loaned her campaign a few weeks ago. Reverse engineering of capital gains, dividend and interest income will suggest (but not definitively reveal) her holdings of stocks, bonds, real estate and foreign investments, but not necessarily spell out the principal amounts nor the identity of income sources. And with careful money management in 2007 (i.e., avoiding liquidations or income recognition), Hillary could conceal a lot more, confining things as far as possible to her Senate salary (which for her is lunch money).

Hey, that's okay. It passes for candor and good faith in this sullied age. The main, overarching thing that Hillary didn't want all those laid-off factory workers in Ohio to find out, like the guy who can't afford to pay for his wife's multiple scelerosis palliative treatment because his job went to China and he's uninsurable, is how frigging rich she is. Because then those tears coursing down those magnificent cheek bones (a little self rehab there) would seem, well, vaguely unconvincing. Bill & Hill, remember, like summering at Martha's Vineyard and starting the New Year off right at the Renaissance Weekend with all the other glitterati (op.cit., Herb Caen). They feel your pain, all right; they just don't want any part of it.

March 03, 2008

Two birds with one stone

I think one of Hillary Clinton's major difficulties in her campaign is that, inevitably, her major strategists tend to be old farts who are way out of touch with the way America really is these days. They just don't get it. I've written about it before (and thought about it a lot more than I've written), and it runs along the lines of what the psychiatrists call our "trance of everyday living" which governs what we see and how we see it. Phenomena assault the sensory apparatus every whichaway, and a consciousness perforce orders those phenomena according to Gestalt frames of reference. In turn these frames of reference are ordered by the formative experiences of childhood. I understand Hillary's frame of reference because it's the same as mine -- the United States as a major industrial power, possessed of a mighty military and the world's fiat currency, international leader in innovation and cutting edge technology, with the world's best health care system and a highly-educated populace. Hillary's mental picture of America is a Caucasian fantasy of emerald green lawns, kids dressed neatly for school and Dads going off to their well-paid jobs at Acme Manufacturing where they've worked as white collar execs for the last 20 years, with good bennies like health insurance and stock options. Most of this stuff isn't true anymore. America, as a nation, is like a couple in their eighties who are subsisting on a reverse mortgage, flipping through old photo albums and hoping they die before the money runs out.

Although Hillary & Bill strive mightily, like all Baby Boomers, to be as hip as the kids, to dig iPods, FaceBook and text messaging, to use numbers in the place of vowel sounds so they really reson8 with Gens x,y & z, it's actually all a little pathetic. They belong to an obsolete culture in Washington D.C. where they spent their primes and which they still see as the answer to America's many ills. Hillary has no ideas. She offers bromides instead. Faced with the lamentable state of American manufacturing, the export of jobs to China and Mexico, she suggests a "time out" on NAFTA and other trade deals, like an exasperated mom trying to impose order on a group of unruly three year olds. Take all the time you want, Hillary. A much smarter take on the situation was offered to me recently by a 90 year old veteran of the war in the Pacific. He said that jobs would flow back to America when China's wages were the same as in the United States. Why don't you talk like that, Hillary? It sounds like you're going to have to take a lot of time out.

On health care she wants to subsidize private insurance. Big whoop there. Does Obama have better ideas? Hell no. The point is that a race for the White House by a serious contender entails the abandonment of empirical solutions to empirical problems. Once a candidate strays into Reality, his prospects are finished. It would take much more space, and a higher IQ than available here Pondside, to spell out definitively why this should be the case in modern America, but we all know it's true. You cannot propose something truly useful, as measured by objective criteria, and have any hope of election.

Ideas such as? Easy, really. Tell the world we're no longer Globo-Cop. You got a problem with your local despotic immam, you deal with it. Is this "isolationism?" Who cares what you call it? It's a practical recognition of our fiscal limitations. No more Garrison Earth. This approach will allow us to reduce the military budget by 75%, maybe 90%. We retain enough to protect ourselves against nuclear attack and terrorist threats. Period. We invest the difference in socialized medicine, a national rail system and mass transportation, and an energy grid which is 100% renewable, such as a 200 square mile solar electric array in the Mojave Desert. All roofing materials will incorporate integrated solar panels. The sludge problem of desalination will be solved, and the process made cost-effective. The entire country will give up beef so that feed-lot culture will disappear, and with it its devastating impact on climate change. No more "improve gas mileage by 5 mpg by the year 2020," which the stegosauruses in D.C. see as a huge breakthrough.

The ossified Democratic and Republican Parties cannot talk like this, which is why they nominate candidates without ideas responsive to the real world. But Barack has two main advantages which are decisive for me: he would be the first President not of Northern European Christian stock, AND the first President whose last name ends in a vowel. Hey, that's what we're down to in this clown country, but at least I'm voting my principles.