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Saturday, November 15, 2003
Somebody get "Richard" a dictionary!

I was watching TV earlier today when a Road Runner (Cable Modem Service) ad came on. It is one of those "candid" talking head ads, where a supposed customer speaks frankly and sincerely about how great whatever product s/he is being paid to shill is. So what does "Richard" have to say about Road Runner? "I would say to people, without equivocation, that it sort of changed my life . . ." Um, yeah. Sounds unquestionably terrific. Maybe.

New Weblog Showcase

And the votes go to . . .

  • Late Night With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for Best Political Entry of the Week
  • Let's See Some OUTRAGE!!!for Best Punchline in a Political Entry this Week
  • A Blessing and a Curse for Best Non-Political Entry of the Week

  • And an honorable mention (but no vote) goes to The Shekel, who apparently thinks coin-collecting is a political thing.

    Ugarte's Reading Circle

    Heaven of Freedom
    by Rabindranath Tagore

    Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
    Where knowledge is free;
    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
    Where words come out from the depth of truth;
    Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
    Where the mind is led forward by Thee to ever-widening thought and action –
    Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.

    The Cost of War

    Due to what I trust is a fairly obvious change in the site's layout, I have removed the Cost of War counter. The counter, scripts for adding one to your own site, and data concerning what else that money might have been used for can all be found at www.costofwar.com.

    Friday, November 14, 2003
    What Would Make Me Vote For Dubya?

    The "recall" of Paul Bremer and other recent moves by the Bush administration seem to suggest a new willingness to sit down and figure out just how to not make a further mess of Iraq. However, many (including many congressmen) have suggested that Bush's policy is now being dictated, at least in part, by what will yield the most positive spin by next November. Such short-sightedness spells disaster with this administration, which took us to war with suspect (or, more charitably, "dynamic") justification(s), a controversial and poorly-thought-out entry strategy, and no exit strategy. The goal now must be to avoid the mistakes of the past (hasty, misinformed decisions made in the interest of short-term political gains) and find the best way to bring about a stable, self-governed Iraq while minimizing casualties and other costs. I think this can be done, but it requires bringing in and listening to the right people -- and this is where the President must take immediate and decisive action.

    Many of the mistakes this administration has made in the Iraqi campaign are the result of placing undue reliance on the wrong people or information, often to the exclusion of potentially invaluable information. Bush relied (or purported to rely) heavily on highly suspect intelligence reports in assessing Saddam's nuclear capabilities and the need to go toward. He let Donald Rumsfeld orchestrate the invasion, even though the uniformed military (whose objections he overrode) thought he was wrong (he was). Rice and Rumsfeld ignored State Department and CIA experts on post-war planning, including State’s “Future of Iraq” report (why plan for the post-war at all, when the Iraqis are going to welcome us with open arms?). Jay Garner’s appointment of Tom Warrick was blocked for political reasons. The future of Iraq was put in the hands of Dick Cheney’s fair-haired boy, Ahmed Chalabi. Oops!

    This is perhaps George W. Bush's greatest weakness as a president, and it is not limited to Iraq: he consistently, intentionally and unnecessarily limits himself to the input of a few chosen trustees. More’s the pity, many of these trustees (who by virtue of their privileged access to and influence on the president have tremendous power) are either lunatic ideologues (Ashcroft), cripplingly beholden to powerful corporate interests (Cheney), or both (Rumsfeld). Possibly the most egregious example of the president's dangerous preference for blinders is his recent proclamation that he would no longer be taking questions from democrats.

    I can posit two reasons for this tendency. First, it is the way he was raised. Bush himself advanced not necessarily by merit, but as a result of connections, favors, and concessions. And as the son of George and Barbara Bush, a born-again Christian, and a Texas governor, Bush is quite used to being led by the nosering. He seems most comfortable when he’s “running on faith”, and understands that, as Molly Ivins is fond of saying, “you got to dance with them what brung you.” Second, while he is neither stupid nor lazy, Bush has made no secret of the fact that he does not like either reading or policy, and he sure as hell doesn’t like reading about policy. This distaste for what should be a large part of his job makes him even more beholden to the advisors who spoon-feed him his policy decisions.

    So, what’s my point? My point is, for the good of Iraq, and for the good of the nation, it is time for George W. Bush to take off the blinders and the nosering. He has shown he can talk the talk of leadership, and people do respond to this guy. He’s not dumb and he’s a consummate politician. Remember, he convinced almost enough people to vote for him by calling himself a “compassionate conservative” and a “uniter, not a divider”. It is time to make good on those promises. Here is my proposal: George W. Bush must stand up and take charge. He must trust himself to read, hear and understand policy discussions with more than one view. After all, if our leader can’t trust himself to make tough decisions, how can we? In order to prove to his constituents and to the world that he is not a lazy(he’s not), stupid (he’s not) whore to big business (he is), I suggest two major steps:

    First, campaign finance reform. Bush himself must take the lead in ending the stranglehold moneyed interests have on our democracy. His policy decisions, including those in Iraq, are primarily and consistently determined by the interests of big business. Second, clean house. Get rid of the dangerously one-sided advisors and administrators who currently occupy the highest positions in the Executive Branch. It is impossible for our president to see the full picture and make informed decisions when the information he is getting is so heavily filtered and influenced (particularly by people with a track record of making bad decisions). Bush must make every effort to get the whole picture, and to surround himself with advisors who will give it to him.

    He must also get rid of the captive heads of the major agencies. Imagine a government in which the head of the Environmental Protection Agency actually cares about Protecting the Environment! What if the USDA cared more about saving human life than saving meat packers money? Rewarding loyal supporters and party members is one thing. Stacking the governmental deck against the people by subverting the purpose and independence of federal agencies is quite another.

    It is a tall order, I know, and I have little hope that it will happen, but here’s the payoff: If the president were to do this – if he were to show me and others who have criticized him in the past that he is willing to stand up and lead this country in a fair and intelligent way, I would vote for him in 2004. I really would, and I think enough others might that he wouldn’t have to worry about re-election.

    So that’s my request, as one citizen to his president: Mr. Bush, don’t compound the policy mistakes that have already been made by making life-and-death decisions based on what your advisors think will get you re-elected (and help them keep their jobs), or what big business says is best. Fire your advisors, replace your appointees with honest, principled people, start listening to all your constituents, and take charge. After all, we elected you, not them. OK, we didn’t elect you, either, but you could still be the leader of the finest democracy in the world, if you wanted to.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2003
    Bush Honors Veterinarians at Arlington


    Under overcast skies, brimming with gravitas, President George W. Bush addressed the crowd of people who had come out to see him at Arlington National Cemetery. "Members of the Cabinet, members of the Congress, members of our military, veterinarians, Commander Berger, representatives of veterinarians organizations, and fellow Americans: Laura and I are proud to join all of you and citizens across our country as we honor the service of America's veterinarians."

    The crowd was silent, even somber, as Bush continued. His eyes narrowed with concentration as he summoned as much empathy as he could manufacture. "Our veterinarians have borne the costs of America's wars and have stood watch over America's peace. And, today, every veterinarian can be certain: The nation you served and the people you defended are grateful." This last was met with scattered applause. Some in the crowd had begun to look uncomfortable, as if stunned by the compassion this conservative President was capable of. A staffer, looking concerned, tried to catch Bush's attention from behind the podium, but Bush -- clearly just reaching his oratorical stride, shook him off.

    Then, in a classic display of the down-home, talk-to-the-people style we have come to expect from this ridiculously wealthy and privileged graduate of Andover, Harvard and Yale, Bush leaned forward, rested his forearms on the podium, and spoke, clearly ignoring the teleprompters, and the several staffers trying desperately to catch his attention. "My people, they wrote me a nice little speech for today. Smart people. Good speech. Sure it is. Betcha even Condi wrote a piece of it. She's a smart girl. Anyway, y'all didn't come here to hear me speechify, did you? Of course not. You go to ask yourself, what's he saying? What does the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, the will of God made flesh, have to say to me?"

    By now, one clearly deranged staffer was trying to physically pull President Bush away from the microphone, and had to be restrained by the Secret Service. Bush only smirked. "Thinks I can't do it. They always get antsy when I stray from the script. But I've been misunderestimated before. Osama bin misunderestimated me. Saddam misunderestimated me. And where are they now?" A murmur rushed through the crowd as Bush's question was repeated by many present. "Where are they now?" The President continued, "Let me tell you a story.

    "As some of you may know, Laura and I have many animals we dearly love. Spotty, India, Barney, and maybe another one. I've got cattle on my ranch, and other animals, but lots of those are the ones we kill for sport or profit, not the cute cuddly ones. You know. Well, a few weeks ago -- and it pains me even to think about it -- Barney was injured.

    "Yes, it was a Saturday afternoon, and I had just given him a bowl of beer -- just to see if he liked it, you know -- and I was laughing so hard at the way he was stumbling around that I didn't notice when he left the room. Well, pretty soon I got woked up from my nap by Jerry-boy (one of the Marines I keep around the place -- I call him Jerry-boy, but his real name is Kraus or Kraut or something), who told me that the State Department had some advice they wanted to share with me about the war on Iraq. It was then that I noticed that Barney was missing.

    "'Tell State I'm not taking advice from them today', I told Jerry-boy (Dick and Rummy tell me State don't know what they're talking about, so I never read anything they send me). Where's Barney? Well, I soon found out that Barney had fallen down a flight of stairs and hurt his little paw. Well, you can probably guess what we did. We called the White House veterinarian, and he came right away -- even though it was nap time! -- and fixed Barney up as good as new!" Here the President's eyes tightened almost to slits, and his lips were pressed together in a paper-thin line. "So," he said meaningfully, nodding his head slowly, "I know first-hand just how important the services are that you provide, and the sacrifices you make for your country every day. And we must recognize, as a country, that it is not just the White House who needs veterinarians, but each and every one of us who owns a animal. This great nation owes you all a debt of gratitude, and to show our appreciation for your higher calling, I am announcing that I will sign an executive decree today granting veterniarians a complete tax exemption for the next six years."

    Here, taking advantage of the stunned silence of the crowd, Bush turned to a nearby advisor and said "We can do that, right? Let's just take the money from the veterans. They're just a drain on the economy, and we're going to have a lot more before we're through." As if a spell had been broken, the crowd -- no doubt stirred by the President's generosity -- erupted.

    President Bush had to be quickly ushered away by the Secret Service for his own safety.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2003
    A Fresh Perspective

    "[O]ne of the problems with the . . . administration's stewardship of the military is that it has overextended the armed forces, sending American troops all over the world 'with no clear mission.'"

    “The mission of the U.S. military is to be ready to win and fight wars, and, in that way, prevent war from happening in the first place. . . . The job of the military is not to solve all the difficult diplomatic problems in the world.”

    Visit A Marine's Girl to find out who said these things. It just might surprise you!

    My response to NZ Bear (and about a hundred others)

    I am glad Saddam Hussein is no longer in power in Iraq, and I hope that, in the long term, this turns out to be a positive development for the people of Iraq. This is by no means a sure thing.

    History shows us that a power vacuum is often filled by someone equally bad for the people. In Latin America, for example, the United States worked hard to replace repressive communist dictators with oppressive fascists who were better for (American) business. Good for us (for a time), bad for the people in those countries. I could go on an on about the mistakes this country has made in its foreign policy, both on a moral level and on a purely pragmatic, U.S.A.-centric, results-driven one. However, the pragmatist in me recognizes that the only relevance past mistakes have is for us to learn from them. So, if I bring up other regimes we have supported or toppled from time to time, it is not so much to indict those who made that decision, or to smear our country (which I love), but to point out that it didn't work then, so why do we think it will work now?

    Toppling Saddam was a good thing, but it will take unknowable resources (political, financial, temporal, physical . . .) to make sure that the power vacuum in that country is filled with a representative government that can effectively and humanely govern. This took years to accomplish in Panama, which is NOTHING like Iraq (for starters, Panama had a more or less stable infrastructure and a stable economy pegged to the Dollar, not to mention the presence of U.S. Southern Command) and there wasn't nearly the resentment toward the U.S. that we find in Iraq. All this by way of saying that I think we bit off far more than we could chew, and we did it at a time when we should have been focusing on national security, specifically the holes in our visa and intelligence systems.

    A word on perspective: Terrorism is not nearly as big a threat to the lives of U.S. citizens as automobile accidents, pollution, or suicide. I believe our outrage and resources would be better devoted to tackling these problems. If you accept that counter-terrorism should be our number one priority, Saddam was less of a threat to the U.S. than Osama, and less of a threat than homicidal traitors like Timothy McVeigh, and less of a threat than Pakistan or North Korea. The risk of Saddam getting WMDs and passing them on to terrorists who would use them against US citizens was less than that of terrorists getting their hands on weapons-grade uranium from former Soviet republics. So I don’t think it was worth it there. And if you believe that our first priority should be liberating oppressed people, well, I’d like to agree with you but I can’t.

    But what is done is done. We have just put our foot through a very expensive door that opens up on a very, very long hallway, and I think the chances of true success are slim. We're in, though, and probably have no better choice than to keep moving forward -- but let's do it with serious reflection and concern for the short and long-term effects. The short-term effects of the tax cut and the war may have been to topple a despicable regime and boost a staggering economy -- but what will the long-term effects be? Will they be increased hatred of (and therefore terrorism against) the US? Years of guerrilla warfare and instability in Iraq? A devastating national debt? A draft? Inadequate military resources for our own defense? Or will it be increased stability in a notoriously unstable region? The foundation for a new world order in which American intervention is welcomed by suffering people?

    I believe that the answers are still being written, and much depends on the actions of our government in the coming months and years. What troubles me – and the reason that I am no supporter of the current administration – is that I have little confidence that the team in charge will move forward with the sort of perspective and thoughtfulness that I would hope for.

    I am concerned that the ‘needs’ of big business will outweigh the needs of the Iraqi people just as they currently outweigh the needs of the American people (I do not reserve this indictment for the Bush administration alone, although I think that where for others it was a cynical self-interest, for George W. it is almost a matter of religious faith in the corporate hegemony). I fear that this administration’s leadership will continue to act without consideration of long-term consequences – even in the face of advice, intelligence or research provided by other segments our own government. I fear that our President will continue to rely too heavily on a heavily filtered and slanted view of the world. And I fear that we will expend too much political and actual capital, leaving us unable not only to defend against outside forces, but to avoid internal collapse under the corpulence of our very few most wealthy. I fear that we do not understand the people we are purporting to help, and will continue to make that a low priority.

    But I still trust the system – barely. I trust that if things get too much worse at home, there will be a regime change here at home. I trust that, thanks in large part to the internet and people like N.Z. Bear and the various “alliances” (insert gratuitous plug here), the truth will out – much more quickly than it used to. I trust that, if we can rise above the current campaign finance structure, we can truly make great strides, and lead the rest of the world into an era of new stability. We have great power, we have great resources, and we have the greatest system of government in the world, but we are not invincible (and we are not the chosen people).

    In my view, the current administration is not doing right by its constituents. I have repeatedly invited those who disagree to tell me why and try to convince me otherwise. In the meantime, I will do my best to figure out how to make our government as good as it can be, and to do what I can to bring that about. Right now, the way I see it, a big part of that is regime change here at home. A bigger part is real campaign finance reform, and I believe the internet represents the best way for candidates to compete on a level playing field, with little expense, and reach the largest number of people, without selling our government to the highest bidder. But that’s another post.

    Congratulations (Again)

    Hooray for Clarefied, winner of the New Weblog Showcase Political category by a landslide!!!

    My Jerry Springer Moment

    My wife and I were in London this weekend, so we took the opportunity to take in some theater in the West End. So, being at the centre of British theater, what did we see? Romeo and Juliet? Betrayal? Nope. We went for full-on cultcha: Jerry Springer, the Opera.

    The first act is essentially a Jerry Springer show set to music (everybody sings their lines except Jerry -- it's an opera, duh.). I would call it a hilarious send-up, except it was often hard to distinguish from an actual Jerry episode (except for the singing). Still, it's hard to top Jerry for sheer absurdity. The singing was good all around, the music was often catchy (I still have "What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fucking fucking fuck?" stuck in my head), and there is something truly sublime about seeing two dozen British opera singers dressed like trailer trash belting out, with Wagnerian fury, American (and specifically day-time-talk-show-American) phrases like "talk to the hand" (or, in the case of the housewife who dreams of being a poledancer, "talk to the ass") or "whatever". The high point of the first act (other than the fake commercials, which are brilliant, dead-on zingers like: "Give in to Jesus. Or, alternatively, die.") is the big dance number at the end. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that it involves the Ku Klux Klan in tap shoes and a black man in a diaper. For the more sentimental, worry not: "Chick With a Dick With A Heart" is a real tear-jerker.

    I won't be giving anything away by telling you that Jerry gets shot at the end of the first act, which leads to the second, even more absurd act, in which Jerry goes to Hell, where he is forced by the Devil to host a show featuring Jesus, Mary, Adam & Eve. Satan, you see, is looking for an apology, and figures Jerry can facilitate it (or spend eternity being "Fucked. Up the ass. With barbed wire." -- imagine that sung in high operatic style, and you start to get the flavor of this naughty little show). When Jesus brings up the crucifixion, Satan tells him to "get over it".

    Perhaps the most interesting thing about the show was seeing a British take on a quintessentially American phenomenon. Jerry is compared to God, and the parallels, while neither deeply explored nor terribly clear, expose an unwillingness on the part of Americans (at least those who watch and appear on daytime TV) to take responsibility for their lives or their failures. While it works overtime to offend (don't even bother trying to count the number of times the word "fuck" is used, to say nothing of bizarre sexual practices, graphic violence, and a burning cross; oddly, there was no nudity), and -- particularly toward the end -- it often seems to be on the verge of having a point, the show is just good, irreverent fun provided by a very talented cast. Particular kudos go to Alison Jiear (Shawntel/Eve), whose voice and beauty are a powerful combination, and David Bedella (Warmup Guy/Satan) who absolutely stole the show.

    In case you are wondering . . .

    . . . where the numbers come from in the counter up there, click on the counter to find out. The site will also tell you what else that money could have been spent on.

    Monday, November 10, 2003

    Three days is a long time to be away from this blog thing. Jetlagged and overwhelmed, I can barely see these words as I type them, but I felt I needed to put in something, even just a placeholder. So, COMING SOON:
  • My Jerry Springer Moment (or, How I Became a Crack Whore)
  • McCain for president?
  • Is the Internet the Key To Fixing What's Wrong With our Political Process?

    Oh, and -- yes, I know about the flickery thing, and it may be the counter. I'll move it and see what happens. Also, sincere apologies to Grateful Dread who is NOT A GUY. Sorry!

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