•January 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Porkalulu. Porkland. St. Pork.  Call it what you will, we all live there. Here are a couple of gems from our latest Omnibus Bill.

Robert Novak, 12/22/2007 “One of the largest among 10,000 new earmarks in the omnibus bill is $1,645,000 to purchase bulletproof vests for the city of Bastrop, LA, though vests for the entire police department are estimated to cost only $700 to $800. The earmark was requested by Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Rodney Alexander, both Louisiana Democrats.”

Paul Jacob, 12/23/2007 “House Majority leader Steny Hoyer is supporting earmarks totaling $96 million, including a $438,000 grant to the California-based InTune Foundation Group, to provide music education. InTune officials say they aren’t sure what they are going to do with the money. The group’s director offered that, “It might be music camps. It might be lessons. It might be how to be a DJ. It might be how to create a television show.”‘

Pork well, m’hearties. Dig deep, darlings, and gorge till your britches won’t button up tall. I’m not out to chastise anyone. There are scads of outrageous morsels in this bill, from Post Office Museums, to the Alaskan Ferry to Nowhere (replacing the Bridge to Nowhere). They cut across all demographic lines. They cut across party lines.

Two things disturb me. First, earmarks by definition circumvent the competitive allocation process. So there’s no debate. There’s not even a cursory glance. Ten thousand of these buggers in a single appropriations bill, and all we can do is keep count.

Secondly, once begun, there is no way for a politician to stop earmarking. They’ll hear, “Oh, it was fine when your party was in power,” or, “So you supported decorative tassels on bridges, but you can’t support The Children?” The fact is, once you sponsor an earmark, however ridiculous or deserving, you’re stuck forever. You might as well swan dive into the trough.

US Representative from Minnesota, John Kline, has recently decided to stop seeking earmarks, period. He is traveling from County Board to County Board within his district, and he is getting eviscerated. Kline has carried the nuclear football for President Reagan, so he knows something about pressure. It’s the single most heroic act I’ve seen this election cycle. Vaya con dios, sir, and a safe return from the gauntlet of commissioners.


Quien es mas conniving?

•January 14, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. A month ago, we had that crazy dude with a bomb strapped to his chest taking six hostages at Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign headquarters. Turns out the “bombs” were highway flares, and the looney is whisked away before anyone can ask him any questions. Resolved without incident, and HRC gets all those photo-ops with the FBI and Secret Service, looking strong and presidential.

Then we have the crazy dude with the “Iron My Shirt!” poster at one of her recent campaign stops. And Hillary fires off the perfect impromptu retort. It’s funny that she never puts herself in an impromptu situation with the press corp.

Next comes the “Stop the Presses: Hillary Goes Verklempt!” incident during a rare quiet moment on the campaign trail. And Hillary is seen as human, and vulnerable, and strong, and feminine, and all the rest. If ever a candidate was asked a fawning, softball question, that was it. Advice to HRC: tear up judiciously. If you are elected president, sniffles and doe eyes will not serve you well in foreign affairs. They have a saying in Mother Russia: Crimea River.

Now we have Ms. Clinton making a simple statement: “Martin Luther King’s dream became a reality after Lyndon Johnson passed it into law.” Obama suggests that the statement may have been a mistake, and asks her for an explanation. And HRC goes into full foaming mode, saying that Senator Obama has introduced a racial element to the discussion. We have spokespersons for both candidates going off half-cocked, without authorization, as such a situation is bound to produce. Please ask yourselves who is the catalyst here.

Hillary is playing a dangerous game these days. Her trick is to generate just enough anger and mistrust toward Obama to sway a large number of his supporters, but not so much as to render them dispassionate. Good luck with that. Dick Morris might be able to pull it off, but that doesn’t help Hillary, does it?

Now go back to the year 1864. The Civil War had finally taken a positive turn toward the union. President Lincoln was asked a question about the fate of the rebel army, and didn’t we need to destroy every remnant? His response: “Do we not destroy our enemy by making him our friend?”

The party that heeds that advice will take the oval office next January.


•November 19, 2007 • Leave a Comment

No, not Alien Life Form.  Al Franken.  Is there a difference?  You be the judge. 

This from Monday’s Star Tribune business section:  “There’s more truth in 10 seconds of satire than all the Sunday morning news shows put together.  Satire has a way of cutting to the truth.” 

Vintage ALF.  It’s the easiest thing in the world to write cheap satire.  It doesn’t take any knowledge.  It doesn’t even require a point of view.  It’s scary to think that a generation of Americans have gotten their political news from The Simpsons, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, MAD TV, SNL, American Dad, and Family Guy.  That’s just me.  It’s all good, according to ALF.  

But good satire, the kind that survives the generations, is written out of love.  Swift did not hate the British; in fact, he alternated between Whig and Tory throughout his life.  Just as Twain did not hate America.  But both men were extremely informed of the issues of the day, and wanted us to know how embarrassing we could be.  Dickens wrote, “Even the finest steel must be tempered by the flame.”  To these great writers, we are the steel, and satire is the flame.  They wanted us to rise up, shinier than the day we were forged.   

In short, they wrote out of love.  Not bitterness, spite, or political expediency.  Satire CAN have a way of cutting to the truth.  But only if it’s done with a base of knowledge and love. 

Oh, just one more thing.  Swift, Dickens, and Twain didn’t wait for their scriptwriters to return from the picket lines.  ALF, take note.     


•November 13, 2007 • Leave a Comment

We’re two years out from Katrina.  Mississippi and Louisiana casinos are setting all-time records.  And why not?  So far, the Feds have managed to spend 127 billion on Katrina.  Even if we accept the highest estimate of displaced families (200,000), that shakes out to $635,000.00  per family.  Since very few new homes are going up, the money has to go somewhere.  Read about your tax dollars at work.

By GARY RIVLIN, New York Times:  BILOXI, MS – “This seaside gambling resort along a stretch of the Gulf Coast, sometimes called the “redneck Riviera,” has 40 percent fewer hotel rooms and only two-thirds as many slot machines as it did before Hurricane Katrina.  A major bridge that connects the casinos in this popular tourist destination to Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and other points east remains closed, and Mayor A. J. Holloway estimates that as many as 15 percent of the city’s pre-Katrina residents still have not returned. 

“Yet business in the gambling halls of Biloxi has reached all-time highs in recent months, so much so that Larry Gregory, the executive director of the Mississippi Gambling Commission, has half-jokingly barred his staff from uttering the phrase, “record-setting,” because “it was becoming too redundant.”  A similar story has been unfolding in New Orleans, where tourism is still in the doldrums and only 60 percent of the pre-Katrina population has returned two years after the hurricane and flooding devastated the area. 

“Indeed, the casinos there seem to be faring even better than their Gulf Coast cousins.

“Harrah’s New Orleans, the largest casino in the city, is on pace for its best year ever:  gambling revenue is up 13.6 percent through the first six months of 2007, compared with the same period in 2005, pre-Katrina.  The casinos in the region are generating more revenus – from significantly fewer players – in large part because of the extra money that many area residents have in their pockets and fewer alternatives on where to spend it, casino executives and others in the region say.”

And here I was worried.    

The Greatest Actor

•November 8, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Who was the Greatest Actor in history in a Single Calendar Year?

I nominate Peter Sellers, and the year 1964.  The following movies were released in 1964:  A Shot in the Dark, The Pink Panther, The World of Henry Orient, and Dr. Strangelove.

No one in the history of cinema had a better single year.  Honorable mention goes to Jacqueline Bisset for her performance in “The Deep,” 1977. 

The Indies

•November 6, 2007 • Leave a Comment

“They are unhappy Democrats, they are unhappy Republicans; they would rather not associate with a party, but they would like to either do damage or anoint.  They don’t like big government, they don’t like big church, and they don’t like inevitable.”  So says Arnie Arnesen, former Democratic candidate for governor in New Hampshire, speaking of the huge Independent population in the Granite State.

New Hampshire, the first primary in the nation (by state law), has an Independent population of 44%.  Republicans are at 30%, Democrats are at 26%.  There is a further breakdown of the Indies into “trending Democrat, trending Republican, and trending Independent,” but does it matter?  Pinning them down is impossible. 

I do not understand the lifelong Independent voter.  Each of us must take an account of our life experience.  That process must steer us toward either the Democratic or Republican party, as we come to understand their central themes.  And of course, we may go through a Dark Period where we are convinced that our party has betrayed its core values.  In extreme circumstances, we may switch.  But we remain partisan fighters.  It’s the American way.

Back in the late 1970’s, I attended one of Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative” lectures at Macalister College in St Paul.  It was an epiphany.  If that had been a Billy Graham rally, I would’ve run to the railing.  I guess I knew my bent before then, but that galvanized it.

I was impressed by his message – that we have a political conscience which is a cornerstone of our overall moral conscience.

So what is it with the folks who label themselves “Independent” election after election?  Have they not spent the energy to decide the direction of their compass?  Are they pleasers?  Do they lack the fortitude to fight for a partisan cause?  Enquiring minds want to know.

Pakistan Whither?

•November 5, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Condoleezza Rice assures us that the United States has not “put all its chips on Musharraf.”  Hmmm.  It certainly appears that we have done just that.  We currently provide 1.8 billion per year in foreign aid to Pakistan.  1.8 billion buys a lot of chips.  Of that amount, less than 10% is going to economic and social projects (August report of the Center for Strategic and International Studies).  The rest goes to military hardware and budgetary support.  If Ms. Rice believes that these funds are being allocated by coalition or committee, then she should advise us as to the makeup of this body.

In 2001, Musharraf made a decision to align with the US after the 9/11 attacks.  It was a commendable decision on his part.  And it needed to be acknowledged and rewarded.  At the time, one could understand our singular enthusiasm for the man.  But Pakistan is a country of 140 million.  And many of these folks are strict Islamists.  As our embrace of Musharraf grew more amorous, the rift between his secular leadership and the fundamentalists has grown wider.

Beginning on Saturday, 11/3, the Pakistani military has carried out a nationwide crackdown on the political opposition, the news media, and the courts.  At least 500 people have been arrested for their political views.  And of course we are shocked, SHOCKED, that our friend would behave in such an un-democratic way.

At risk is the control of a serious nuclear arsenal.  Estimates range from 24 to 90 nukes.  The issue is, should these weapons lie in the hands of a (until now) benevolent dictator, or do they properly belong in the hands of a popular government?  Even if said government is a fundamentally Islamic state?

My Yankee nature bristles at the thought of any government that is not derived from the people.  But I have a friend in Pakistan who works for a non-profit agency, rebuilding homes after the 2005 earthquake.  He has a different read.  He believes that if there is a true and fair election next year, the Islamists will take over.  And that will be the last true and fair election the country will ever see.

So the question becomes, does a nation have the right to vote for a religious regime that will strip itself of many of its basic human rights?  And in the process, grant said regime control of a broad nuclear arsenal?

Also:  how much of this did Musharraf bring on himself, and how much blame do we share through our foreign policy over the past six years?