Congratulations to Michelle & Nikheel and Russ & Emily

Taking a couple of days off for the wedding of two very good friends, Michelle & Nikheel, and wishing that cloning technology would advance just a little more rapidly so we could also be at the wedding of our friends Russ & Emily. Congratulations to both couples, and may happiness be your companion as you travel through life.


Fox News Shocker!

The ever-vigilant newshounds at Fox have sniffed out yet another shocking and scandalous story: property taxes across the country are skyrocketing! After much digging, which basically appears to consist of interviews with a Milwaukee homeowner and representatives of grassroots anti-tax organizations with catchy names like the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens for Responsible Government Network, Fox has learned that "many states are still struggling with the hot-button political issue" (of escalating property taxes). But why? What's driving these tax-happy local governments to place such a burden on property owners? For an answer, they turn to an actual "tax policy specialist" from the National Conference of State Legislatures, who notes that local governments have few options when state funding for local services like schools, police and fire departments dries up. And that's where the story ends.

Here's what Fox missed, and what also seems to escape the grasp of the fine folks at the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens for Responsible Government Network: dwindling state contributions to local governments and rising property taxes are directly and inextricably linked to diminished federal contributions. These morons have yet to figure out that federal decentralization has not only shifted greater responsibilities onto state and local governments, but also greater financial burdens. Take Medicare, for example. States have always contributed a portion of the funding for Medicare services, in spite of the fact that this is a federal program. As the federal government reduces its share of the expenses, states are forced to make up funding shortfalls, or to cut services. Cutting Medicare services is neither politically popular nor particularly feasible from a public health perspective. Accordingly, larger shares of state budgets are dedicated to covering this funding gap, leaving fewer and fewer state dollars to be kicked down to local governments. You see how this works. As Republicans and other not-so-bright folks celebrate federal tax cuts, they fail to realize that they're still paying for it on the back-end through property tax hikes. Why? Because nobody wants to do without things like schools, or police, or fire departments, or sanitation, or public health services. They don't want epidemics breaking out because only the very wealthy can afford private healthcare. They don't want to give up things like public infrastructure and civil services. And yet, they don't want to pay for these things either. So, at the federal level, a Republican President assures them that they can have their cake and eat it too. The federal government passes the burden of paying for these things onto the states, and the states in turn pass it onto local governments. In the end, the bill is the same, and citizens are still the ones paying. Only now, instead of sharing the burden and services more or less equally, those communities with low property values (which, of course, results in lower tax revenues) receive fewer and fewer of the public amenities (like schools, police, fire departments, etc.). This is how social and economic inequality is reinforced and perpetuated.

Needless to say, Fox didn't quite dig down far enough to figure any of this out.


And they call this the ETHICS COMMITTEE

From today's Washington Post:

"House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is leaning toward removing the House ethics committee chairman, who admonished House Majority Leader Tom DeLay this fall and has said he will treat DeLay like any other member, several Republican aides said yesterday."

Yes, you read that right. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, third highest-ranking member of the government, is planning to remove the chairman of the House ethics committee because he has announced his willingness to treat House Majority Leader Tom DeLay like any other member of Congress. Just gnaw on that for a minute. Let the words roll around in your mouth before you try to choke them down. The chairman of the House ethics committee is going to lose his job because he refuses to show favoritism to Tom DeLay. And the source of this flabbergasting revelation? REPUBLICAN aides. This isn't some conspiracy cooked up by Democrats, although, as the Post article points out, these same Republican aides acknowledge that, "the stated reason for Hefley's removal is likely to be that it is time for him to rotate off the committee after serving as chairman since January 2001."

Well, OK. Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that this isn't simply self-serving retribution for chairman Joel Hefley's (R-CO) refusal to handle DeLay with kid gloves. Let's consider the possibility that this isn't a Republican-engineered maneuver designed to maintain DeLay's leadership position in spite of the Texas grand jury indictment hanging over his head. Let's give Hastert the benefit of the doubt, because he's just got to be smart enough to realize that this move smacks of corruption, right? Think again. According to the Post, the likely replacement for Hefley is Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX). Smith is not only a fellow Texan, and therefore part of the DeLay political machine, but he actually made a financial contribution to DeLay's defense fund last year. Moreover, Smith held the ethics committee chairmanship from 1999 to 2001, immediately prior to Hefley's term, throwing the whole time for a rotation justification into serious doubt (one typically thinks of a rotation as involving more than two people). In other words, Hastert isn't even trying to make this move seem like anything other than what it really is: blatant, shameless cronyism. You can pretend otherwise, but you're only fooling yourself if you believe this isn't political chicanery of the worst kind.

The really depressing part of all this is that Republicans are no longer even bothering to conceal their shenanigans. There was a time when self-respecting politicians of all stripes at least tried to maintain the illusion of propriety. Not anymore. Now, it's anything goes, and everything does. How much longer before they're whacking their political enemies mafia-style on the steps of the Capitol building? Tom DeLay is a brute and a thug, Dennis Hastert is his boot-licking toady, and they don't care who knows it. They are definitely men of the times.



I'm stealing this scoop straight off of Anna's blog, but it seems like the kind of thing that ought to be as widely distributed as possible. We all know Ann Coulter is evil, even more so than Peggy Noonan. But this takes the fucking cake. From her website, which I can't believe I'm actually recommending you visit:

To The People Of Islam:
Just think: If we'd invaded your countries, killed your leaders and converted you to Christianity YOU'D ALL BE OPENING CHRISTMAS PRESENTS RIGHT ABOUT NOW!
Merry Christmas

Unfuckingbelievable. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. And if you don't believe me, check it out for yourself. This gal needs to be strung up by the short hairs and beat like a pinata.


Your government at work

The House ethics committee is set to launch an investigation of Representative Jim McDermott (D-Wash) for alleged ethics violations stemming from the 1997 leak of an illegally recorded cellphone conversation between Congressman John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House Republicans, including then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, at the time himself the subject of an ethics committee inquiry. Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered McDermott to pay restitution to Boehner for willful and knowing misconduct rising to the level of malice, for an amount estimated to be in the neighborhood of $600,000 ($60,000 in damages, $540,000 in legal expenses). The judge (U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan) rejected McDermott's First Amendment defense, according to which the Congressman argued that he supplied the recording to The New York Times in an effort to uncover Gingrich's attempts to mount a counter-offensive against the ethics committee in order to maintain his position as Speaker of the House.

McDermott, while serving as the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee, received a tape recording from a Florida couple who intercepted the conversation on their police scanner. The couple later pled guilty to illegally intercepting and recording a telephone conversation; each was fined $500. McDermott admitted in May 2002 to leaking the documents to the Times. According to McDermott's filings in the suit by Boehner, "Congressman McDermott believed that the conversation recorded on the tape, in which the third-highest elected official in the federal government and others were discussing the settlement agreement, the accompanying sanctions and their plans to engage in the type of 'spin campaign' that the settlement was supposed to forbid, was of significant public interest." As such, McDermott has held that his disclosure was protected by the First Amendment. Judge Hogan disagreed.

So, instead of joining the slew of legal investigators looking into the shady financial dealings of Tom DeLay and his cronies, the ethics committee has turned its attention to a well-intentioned lawmaker trying to reveal the even shadier dealings of another high-ranking Republican Congressman. In what universe does this make sense? Oh wait....perhaps there's something more to this case than just a vigilant desire to protect the privacy of law-breaking politicians. You might recall Jim McDermott from his interview with Michael Moore in the film Farenheit 911. McDermott was the only Congressman willing to sit down with Mr. Moore and speak candidly about the fear tactics employed by the Bush administration against the American public. A psychologist by vocation before entering Congress, McDermott didn't pull any punches in his assessment of the Bush II regime's tactics of mass manipulation. Is it any wonder that he has become the target of a Republican-dominated Congress as it visits retribution on its enemies? This is your tax dollar at work. Could you be any prouder?


I got your act of compassion right here...

In the spirit of the season, and because I've got better things to do today than vent my hostilities by pointing out the obvious, I'm letting this one go. Merry Christmas, Mr. Bush, and may everything you dish out be returned to you ten-fold.


Snowball just leads elves on...elves & Santas

Nothing so poignantly captures the spirit of the season as David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries. Sometimes you just need a disgruntled department store elf to put things into perspective. And if you haven't heard this before, you seriously need to crawl out of whatever cave you're living in.


"We had to destroy Ben Tre in order to save it."

Four months after hearing arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the release of information concerning allegations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and other overseas detention facilities. These records suggest a pattern of abuse that is inconsistent with the Bush administration's attempts to dismiss the highly publicized tortures at Abu Ghraib as isolated and aberrant incidents. Moreover, the records indicate that the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) and other high-ranking military personnel are actively involved in efforts to conceal these wrongdoings. I can't decide which revelation is more disturbing, but I'm not surprised by either.

The War on Terror is fought on many fronts, at home and abroad. Even in the U.S., encroachments upon the civil liberties of U.S. citizens are tolerated in the interest of preserving "national security." It should come as no surprise that more extreme and disturbing violations of human rights are accepted as unavoidable collateral damage in the war abroad. The American military learned in Vietnam that a war against non-traditional combatants necessitates the abandonment of the distinction between enemy soldiers and civilian non-combatants. The hamlets of Vietnam were not populated by families, women and children, fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, but by gooks. The massacre of civilians at My Lai and the destruction of Ben Tre were not examples of a war machine out of control, but the logical and inevitable consequence of the blurring of the line between soldier and civilian. In today's War on Terror, this disturbing logic has transformed the globe into a battlefield, and the systematic dehumanization of Muslim peoples has made possible the sacrifice of entire populations. There is an inextricable link between the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the prosecution of this war. They are inseparable events, two sides of the same coin, and the resolution of one problem cannot be accomplished without radically altering our beliefs about the other. Unless and until we recognize the madness of our pursuit, incidents like these will proliferate, and our collective security will be further undermined, along with our international credibility, and our very humanity.


And sometimes, there's good news...

"Bush Monkeys," by Chris Savido (acrylic on canvas) Posted by Hello

For those of you who haven't been following this story, here's a quick recap: the manager of the Chelsea Market public space in New York had a conniption fit when he saw this piece by artist Chris Savido - a portrait of Bush II comprised of monkeys swimming in a marsh - part of an installation featuring work from an upcoming issue of Animal Magazine. The offended manager ordered the removal of the entire installation, cancelling the show which was scheduled to stay up for the next month. Fortunately, the rest of New York is not quite as uptight and ill-humored as the aforementioned manager, and now a group of anonymous donors has ponied up the funds to have the work displayed on a giant digital billboard above the entrance of the Holland Tunnel. Thanks to one man's cretinous tirade, 400,000 motorists will see the digitized image every day for the next month. Moreover, Savido is putting the piece up for auction on e-Bay, with a portion of the proceeds going to the parents of soldiers in Iraq who want to equip their sons and daughters with body armor they desperately need (see below). Sometimes, the good guys win.


Only 3 more shopping days til Christmas!

12.21.04 (AFP) [White House spokesperson Scott] McClellan also downplayed an ABC News/Washington Post poll out Monday that found that more Americans than ever, about 56 percent, say the war in Iraq is not worth fighting.
"The president has never been one to govern based on polls. I mean, polls are snapshots in time, and we are working to continue to build upon the progress being made in Iraq," the spokesman said. [AP photo] Posted by Hello

PROGRESS? PROGRESS!? Early reports indicate 24 people died in an insurgent mortar attack on the mess hall at FOB Marez in Mosul on December 21, 2004. Meanwhile, back home in the states, a panicked George Bush realized he still hadn't bought anything for Karl, and he didn't have any idea what to give the man who snatched election victory from the jaws of defeat. "Maybe one of them I-Pods," he thought.


Thankfully, someone was looking out for the animals

from Yahoo!'s Most Emailed Stories file, 12.20.04:

LONDON: British television watchdogs ruled that a pig which was sexually pleasured on camera by a minor celebrity did not feel degraded by the experience. Dozens of viewers had complained about an episode of a reality television show in which the audience were treated to the sight of Rebecca Loos, the self-proclaimed ex-lover of England football captain David Beckham, stimulating the boar for 10 minutes to produce a flask of semen. An animal charity condemned the scenes as "morbid and sordid" but the broadcasting standards body said the procedure was perfectly normal on a farm. "We don't believe that the scene was degrading or harmful to the boar," they ruled.

Well, thank God the boar wasn't degraded.


Someone needs to muzzle Peggy Noonan

Special Assistant to President Reagan, chief speechwriter for Bush I during the 1988 Presidential campaign, contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal, conservative lapdog; Peggy Noonan is many things, but she is neither a scholar, nor a particularly insightful social critic (Exhibit A). She has a more impressive resume than most of her slack-jawed, neoconservative colleagues, but her ideas aren't exceptional or original (Exhibit B). Her schtick is Right Wing apologetic, inflected with familiar over-tones of self-righteousness, a misplaced sense of entitlement, and a retrograde cultural sensibility. Think of her as Ann Coulter's older, slightly less obnoxious sister.

Before I say anything else about Peggy, I want it known that I don't actually make a habit of reading her narrow-minded tripe. In spite of the ubiquity of conservative prattle, I generally do a pretty good job of avoiding it. I have somehow managed to expend very little cerebral capacity contemplating the ideas propagated by Ms. Noonan and others of her ilk, and I feel that I am better off because of this. But every so often, she pens something so infuriating that I'm compelled to respond; to wit, Noonan's WSJ op-ed piece from last Thursday.

In "It's Policy, Not Poetry," Ms. Noonan addresses Democrats' vexation over the successful manipulation of symbols (religious imagery, the flag) by Republicans, arguing that the very allegation of symbolic manipulation indicates a "kind of crazy and paranoid way of looking at rhetoric." She asserts that there's no hidden agenda behind Bush II's frequent religious references, and contends that the success of Republican messages isn't due to the secrets encoded therein. As Bush's chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, explains, "the president's references to God are both carefully considered and well within the traditions of presidential rhetoric...they're not code words, they're our culture." Noonan adds that the "real secret" is that "the most successful phrases are not imposed top-down from the candidate to the people; they bubble up and emerge and are used by the candidate." In other words, Republican rhetoric works not because politicians and speechwriters cynically manipulate religious or patriotic images, but because it corresponds to the essential, underlying truth of the world: the American public, that ephemeral, chimeral heart of democracy, is religious and patriotic...and Republican.

Noonan's relevance and reputation are closely tied to the ascendance of conservative cultural and political influence over the past half-century. She excels in her role as a cheerleader for the winning team, primarily because she truly believes in the righteousness of its triumph. Conservative dominance is Just because it accurately reflects the beliefs of the majority of Americans. It is the Public Will. To think otherwise is, in her words, crazy and paranoid. Republican rhetoric works because it coheres with the vision of the world shared by a majority of Americans. As such, Noonan suggests that Democrats are doomed to fail, unless and until they quit worrying about symbolic manipulation and start speaking in terms that resonate with the majority. She concludes her essay with these words of advice for the Democratic Party:

"I know something the Democratic Party can do right now that will improve its standing and increase its popularity. It can be done this week. Its impact will be quick and measurable.

It is this: Stop the war on religious expression in America. Have Terry McAuliffe come forward and announce that the Democratic Party knows that a small group of radicals continue to try to "scrub" such holidays as Christmas from the public square....Have Terry McAuliffe announce that from here on in the Democratic Party is on the side of those who want religion in the public square, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall for that matter. Then he should put up a big sign that says "Merry Christmas" on the sidewalk in front of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters on South Capitol Street. The Democratic Party should put itself on the side of Christmas, and Hanukkah, and the fact of transcendent faith.

This would be taking a stand on an issue that roils a lot of people, and believe me those people don't think conservatives are scrubbing America of Christmas, they think it's liberals; and they don't think it's Republicans, they think it's Democrats. Confound them, Terry! Come forward with a stand. It is the stand that is the salvation, not mysterious words or codes or magic messages.

Do this, Democrats. Announce you will apply pressure to antireligious zealots throughout the country. You have nothing to lose but a silly and culturally unhelpful reputation as the party that is hostile to religious expression. What you could gain is respect and gratitude. Pick up that Christmas tree, Terry, take it outside and put a star on top, stand next to it, yell Merry Christmas and ring a bell. That's a manipulation of symbols that would actually make sense."

There are so many problems with this passage that I'm not even sure where to start. First of all, we already have a party that stands "on the side of those who want religion in the public square," thank you very much. These are the same folks who are working hard to impose their religious perspective on public policy and law in the name of religious freedom. We call them Republicans, and they're the ones we're fighting against.

Secondly, and this always kills me, notice how Noonan tries to minimize her Christian-centric perspective by aligning support for Christmas with "Hanukkah, and the fact of transcendent faith." Classic move, and one that only serves to highlight her obvious bias: she doesn't demand that McAuliffe light a minorah in a window of the DNC headquarters, nor does she even pretend that Jewish religious symbols will ever be on display on the courthouse walls. Religious freedom is convenient cover for the imposition of a Christian theocracy, at the expense of the freedoms of Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians. Again, thanks for the advice, Ms. Noonan, but I think you miss the point.

Finally, this essay exemplifies a fundamental misunderstanding of democratic politics, the glaring lacuna at the heart of conservative ideology: the point of government is not to blindly serve the interests of the majority, but to balance majority desires and the minority interests against which they are often aligned. In Peggy's world, politics is reduced to the blunt force will of the majority, and there is no room for those that refuse to get on board. It's not unusual for Noonan to spew insipid nonsense, but this kind of thinking is downright dangerous. Noonan offers a prescription for politics of the lowest common denominator. This is the strategy employed by Rove, and it is fucking genius - evil genius. Democrats didn't lose the election because the youth vote didn't turn out, or because a majority of Americans think Bush is doing a bang up job. Democrats lost because rednecks, bigots and religious zealots turned out in droves to support state initiatives barring gay marriages. This is the majority Bush taps into every time his rhetoric drifts into the realm of religion, the majority Noonan champions as fundamentally American. And as long as politics is played according to their rules, the meaning of freedom and justice will be narrowly circumscribed to fit their religious beliefs.


Like you've got better things to do...

Welcome to Distress Signals. These troubled missives are inspired by my daily encounters with the Obscene and the Absurd: Black Republicans, NASCAR fathers, televised competitive surgical body modification, Nicolas Cage's career after Raising Arizona. Considered individually, these are disturbing but innocuous bits of cultural detritus, and nothing more. Taken together, however, they signify a more pervasive rot, a systemic necrosis of the body politic. Sometimes the stench of decay is overwhelming. Or maybe the dogs just need a bath. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'm not afraid to hazard a guess. In this case, I don't think it's the dogs.

It's hard not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of this collective madness. I've yet to fully wrap my mind around the brutal fact of Bush's re-election, much less the longer-term prospect that this Republican juggernaut could pave the way for Arnold's Presidential run as early as 2008. Something deep inside me knots up when I think about Scalia's imminent promotion to Chief Justice, and it's hard to drag myself out of bed knowing that every day of the next four years will be filled with the self-congratulatory prattle of conservative pundits, drunk on the delusion of righteousness. These are tough times for liberal malcontents, even those of us armed with enough vitriol to keep us warm through several more winters. Hopefully, it will be enough to sustain us through the four lean years ahead.

But if it's as bleak as all this, why write at all? "Fiddling while Rome burns," the activists hiss. Pissing and moaning, my dad would call it. Sure, it's cathartic, but is this going to amount to anything more than a collection of random rants and ramblings? Probably not. But never underestimate the value of catharsis. It's what keeps us going, in spite of it all. If nothing else, consider this an archive of the iniquitous goings on in this modern asylum of a country.