Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Liberal Lighthouse - Maureen Dowd makes a good point in her NYT editorial today. Whether she really does believe that the pro-war discourse is legitimate is really beside the point. My read of her piece is that she is more focusing on the hypocrisy of the Bush/Cheney administration wrapping the war with Iraq in language of principle and moral correctness while pursuing an immoral and unprincipled policy of support for the Saudi regime, which in many ways is just as dangerous (if not moreso) to the security interests of the US as is Iraq.

Lagniappe - All around the border lands, the monkey chased the weasel; the monkey thought it was all in fun - Pop! Goes the weasel.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Lagniappe - State Department coaching of Iraqi dissidents in how to write op-eds in favor of the Bush Iraqi war strategy smacks of Otto Reich and his State Department stint in the Reagan Administration in the Office of Public Diplomacy. Well, at least this time, for what it's worth, the fabrication and conditioning is out in the open - which is more than can be said for the covert, illegal publicity campaigns of Reich's Office of Public Diplomacy back when.

Liberal Lighthouse - Paul Krugman is one of my all time favorite columnists, precisely because he rankles soooo many conservative pundits (even if his arguments are at times specious). Any person that can consistently get under the skin of Mickey Kaus AND Andrew Sullivan, two conservative-leaning webloggers for whom I have a healthy respect and admiration, deserves some kudos. And it's not just that he gets under the skins of pundits, but that he elicits such uncharacteristic outrage from these normally even-keeled pundits, that makes me take note and ALWAYS read his column. Anyway, Krugman's latest editorial in the New York Times discusses the Bush plan for fighting forest fires - which, I must agree with Krugman, amounts to a weakly-fashioned excuse for corporate welfare - which is a theme of non-market based upwards redistribution of income that I have harped on before. I normally wouldn't take much of an interest in this topic, except that I have recently heard (admittedly through the rumor grapevine) that when Bush and his entourage travel through the forest areas most susceptible to brush fires, the "no smoking" ban in these fire-prone areas is lifted to accommodate the filthy habit of the smokers in his crew. This little bit of news comes to me from an employee of the National Forest Service who works in these forest areas currently burning. Who knows, perhaps the Tobacco farmers (who love and need the government welfare program of federal subsidies) are bribing some ciggy-butt-heads in the Bush administration to flick still-burning cancer sticks in fire-prone forest areas to help out the Timber farmers (loggers) ( - who also thrive on federal corporate welfare - ). Just a thought that some "independent, non-partisan" journalist or blogger - a la Mickey Kaus or Andrew Sullivan - might want to explore.

Monday, August 26, 2002

Blog Banter - Don't miss Bryan Curtis's Bushisms in today's Slate. They are classic. It amazes me that Bush continues to fire them off. I have to say that I admire the fact that his gaffes never dissuade him from continuing to speak. Besides which, it makes for great, belly-aching laughs.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano (?) - Well, well ... It appears that the Taco Bell Chihuahua is back! However, only this time, he's out of a job and in search of work. I can only imagine the outrage that is going to surface. Just one more new stereotypical image to add to the mix. Watch the reaction and mark my words!

Liberal Lighthouse - William Raspberry has a very thoughtful column on the issue of reparations for slavery. I personally think that reparations will rightly have its day - even if not in the form that some of its most vocal advocates would like. I think that William Raspberry probably agrees with this. But, Raspberry does one even better by looking beyond reparations and by focusing on what it is that reparations is meant to accomplish -and then by suggesting that there are other ways to get there besides reparations. Again, a very thoughtful column on a very emotional and controversial topic.

Lagniappe - When the Bush Administration moves beyond a discussion of terrorism and taxes, there seems to be no coherence or backbone to its policy. With regard to steel production and steel imports, the Bush Administration this past March imposed some anti-free market, protectionist policies to appease domestic steel producers. Now, apparently, this same adminstration is backtracking heavily. While I must say that I think the new direction is more beneficial to the US economy in the long run, the inconsistency (and obvious pandering) that comes from such policy flip-flops makes the Bush Administration look undisciplined and unprincipled. Conservatives complain about Clinton's penchant for policy-driving public opinion polling, but it seems to me that Bush is no better.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Lagniappe - To my faithful one or two readers, I should warn you that my ability to provide in-depth commentary and reaction to headline news and punditry will most likely be curtailed significantly. This week starts orientation and the first week of classes at the University where I teach and work, so this hobby of mine will get attention only when I can spare the time for it. Rest assured that I will post at least something here every day, even if a quick link to an interesting story or editorial, but just don't expect too much.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - Seems that my earlier thoughts on the impact of a prospective Foster challenge to Landrieu for a seat in the US Senate is shared and confirmed by others. Like I said, Foster was the GOP's only real chance at unseating Landrieu. And though no one else has said it yet, Foster's endorsement of Cooksey did even more damage to the GOP's hopes. Well ... so much for one small drama in Louisiana politics ... but if you want to read a doozy of another, sink your mental teeth into this jem of a story in which Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, another colorful character in Louisiana politics, has his own little family spat over an inheritence to deal with.

Liberal Lighthouse - Maureen Dowd relentlessly pounds GW Bush again in her most recent column. This isn't her best work, but its acerbic cynicism of the substance of Bush's presidency and his fixation on a good jog and regular exercise makes for good sidebar reading for those of the liberal persuasion.

Lagniappe - I don't quite know what to make of the sudden vocal presence of Bush I's cronies in the debate over Iraq. A week or so ago, Brent Scowcroft wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that has been painstakingly analyzed and discussed as proof of a fissure in the conservative camp over what the Iraq strategy of the U.S. should be. Today, in the New York Times, James A. Baker III, another of Bush I's intimates, has added to the mix, only this time seemingly to undo what Scowcroft had earlier done. What does it all mean? Well, I'm not sure what this back-and-forth among conservatives portends for the ultimate Iraq policy of the U.S., but what it does tell us more and more clearly is that Bush I is unwilling to let Bush II do his own thing on this issue. Daddy is setting the tone on this debate, for good or ill; and I just don't like the odor of this leadership "behind the throne." Most of the country didn't bargain for Bush II, and we certainly shouldn't be subject to the shadow presidency of Bush I, though it seems, unfortunately, to be shaping up this way.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - Edwin Edwards, perhaps Louisiana's most notorious and colorful governor since Huey Long, is headed for the slammer. Quite frankly, I don't know how he's avoided prison time for as long as he has. At his age, this sentence probably does amount to a life sentence. I can't say that I am surprised about this; but I have to admit that I do feel somewhat sympathetically and sorry for the man. I know that I shouldn't feel this way. There is no question in my mind about his crookedness and his culpability, but I just can't seem to shake that inexplicable feeling of loss. His inability to beat the system one last time marks a certain end to a long (and dare I say proud) tradition in Louisiana politics which many, though ultimately glad, will no doubt also lament.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Cuaderno Latinoameriano - The Golden Arches continues its creep into Mexico. And Mexicans again are faced with the debate over investment and development versus the loss of a rich native culture to the fast-food snacks of gringolandia.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - The GOP loses its best (and only, in my mind) chance of defeating incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. Tax-n-spend Republican Governor Mike Foster has decided not to run for the US Senate seat. The most surprising aspect of Foster's decision, however, is its coupling with an endorsement of John Cooksey. With this endorsement, not only has Foster's considerable popularity been placed behind a losing cause, it also gives Mary Landrieu the possibility of winning outright and avoiding a runoff as Republican voters will just not get enthused about this election. Of course, I couldn't be happier, because I think Landrieu has served well, even though I think she has caved too often to the pressures of misplaced conservative policy regarding the environment and the energy sectors of the economy. While Landrieu, it is true, votes with Bush nearly three quarters of the time, it's that 25% when she doesn't vote with Bush that's the critical difference. With Landrieu in office, Bush's more conservative judicial nominations will have one less vote of support, and a woman's right to choose will be defended and upheld. Thank you, Foster, for not running - and double-thanks for endorsing Cooksey.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

School Board - The Washington Post has a wonderful little editorial about the University of North Carolina's selection of a book on the Quran for its new student orientation program. I couldn't have said it better.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Even though former Mexican President Luis Echeverría has now refused to testify about institutionalized violence perpetrated by the state in the late 60s and early 70s, the fact remains that the Mexican judicial system is developing some independent muscle by forcing him to assume such an intransigent posture in front of the law. This is a good thing for Mexican democracy, even though Echeverría's recalcitrance is a major disappointment for human rights activists who desire some accountability and recognition of wrongdoing. I encourage Mexicans not to lose heart, but to keep up the pressure. Change always brings with it some disappointments, but Mexico for the most part is changing for the better.

Lagniappe - Although the recent Katherine Harris resignation imbroglio is an old story by now, every time I think about it, I find it to be more and more ironic. Here we have the Florida Secretary of State, responsible for managing and enforcing election laws, either (1) ignorant of the very laws she is responsible for administering, or (2) contemptuous of this law, or (3) just plain stupid, or (4) all of the above. Sour grapes about her role in the 2000 Florida recount aside, she is a joke - and a bad joke at that. I mean, listen to the absurdity of her reality: she forgot to resign as the law demanded, so she resigned retroactively; only, she didn't really resign because she was still "de facto" Secretary of State after she quit. Can any rational human being make any sense of this tomfoolery? Well, for the sake of argument, let's just assume that her resignation really wasn't a resignation (very Clintonian of her, don't you think?), and that she still was Secretary of State during the interim period between her surreal resignation date and the real resignation of her duties two weeks later. (If you're interested, you can read her resignation letter.) The most hilarous apsect of this scenario, which is what she herself has designed, is that, as "de facto" Secretary of State during the interim period after her retroactive resignation date and the real termination of her duties as the chief implementer and enforcer of electoral law in Florida, she herself should have invalidated her own candidacy for not having resigned on time as the electoral law required. I'd like to see any Republican with any shred of intellectual dignity try to justify Katherine Harris's behavior on this one, especially after having been so publicly insistent on observing the letter of the state's electoral law during the 2000 Florida recount. Katherine Harris screwed up. Forget that, as a screw up, she's unfit for office. The simple reality is that, by law, she shouldn't be permitted to run for office. Period. As "de facto" Secretary of State, I hope she signed and mailed a certified letter to herself to that effect. And if she's not happy with the contents of the letter, perhaps she can sue herself in court.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Liberal Lighthouse - The conservative position on the welfare state baffles me and angers me. I am baffled because conservatives despise the thought of a government handout to the poor, but expect a government bailout when their businesses reach dire straights. I am angered because of the duplicity of this attitude. My big beef on this point has been the extortion by millionaire sports franchise owners (largely conservative in ideology and Republican in party affiliation) of state and city coffers to subsidize and guarantee their profit margins. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. One can point to plenty more big business, corporate welfare schemes. It seems I am not alone in noting this irony. The New Republic has commented on this trend, as I've pointed out below. And now Slate's William Saleton writes about this phenomenon as well with regard to the conservative positions in favor of cutting the capital gains tax while also advocating the allowance of greater deductions against tax liability of investment losses. In a nutshell, the gist of Saleton's argument is that "if investors are entitled to keep every dollar they gain in the stock market, it's hard to see why they shouldn't cough up every dollar they lose." Some people are willing to suck it up and take the hit when their investments tank. Others, like sports franchise owners, cry to the government for some relief. Where is the outrage among conservatives regarding this aspect of the welfare game?

Kingfishery & Kingcakery - The Republicans in the State of Louisiana finally wake up and propose the ONLY effective GOP challenge to Sen. Mary Landrieu. I still think Mary's got the goods, the smarts, and the benefits of incumbency that will lead her to victory; but Foster (even moreso than Suzanne Haik Terrell) can make it an interesting race. But Foster risks his fairly positive legacy as Governor if he takes the plunge, which is something he might think twice about before doing.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - As expected, the Times-Picayune has a follow up story on the Lynn Dean affair. (See below.) The backtracking and guffawing is par for the course in these sorts of snafus, but what interests me most about the article is that it appears to be softening the whole affair by once again painting it as typical (and hence forgivable) for the eccentricities of Louisiana's strange politics. The balmly breeze of Louisiana politics is again beginning its ascent!

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - State Sen. Lynn Dean, R-Caernarvon, in a moment of candor, publicly admits what everyone familiar with life "down the road in the Parish" knows all too well: racism "in the Parish" is the rule of thumb. Dean claims that "recreational" use of the "n" word is just fine and dandy. He boasts that he voted for David Duke, the Klansman, in the 1991 Governor's race, as the "lesser of two evils" - the other "worse" evil being Edwin Edwards (a crooked politician in the Huey Long mold, but one admired by a very high percentage of the black people of the state). But, incredulously, he still believes that the black folk in "the Parish" and their interests are adequately represented by their all-white leadership. While Dean's racist attitudes are not all that surprising, his public utterance of them is. But I wonder whether this seasoned politician didn't know exactly what he was doing. I think I know enough about Dean's turf to say that for every person in "the Parish" who is bothered by his comments, there are 10 who are nodding their heads in agreement. The sad reality is that, with his racist "coming out," he's almost definitely secured his position in the State Senate as representative of this particular district for as long as he lives. I fondly jest about the state of Louisiana politics, but things like this really do drive home the unfunny side of Louisiana's perverted politics; and they sincerely dishearten and sadden me.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - It seems as if the peace in Guatemala is fading. What a tragedy. It is shameful and heartbreaking that the legacy of the Cold War in this Central American country still lives on. Ronald Reagan, the victor in the Cold War??? Rubbish! What a hollow and empty "victory" for these exploited peoples (both victims and perpetrators) in a global conflict that was essentially not of their own making.

Lagniappe - An interesting take on the Scowcroft flap by Martin Schram. The non-judgmental nature of Schram's piece gives his speculation on the reasons why Scowcroft acted some credibility and believability - at least in my opinion. Regarding this whole situation, there does seem to be a consensus gelling among pundits that a bit of daddy's counsel, either for good or for bad, is somehow at work here.

Liberal Lighthouse - The New Republic has just posted online the Notebook article I referenced and cited in full below entitled "The Sheriff-of-Nottingham Party." No new commentary to add here, just to say that I think the title of the weblink to this article on The New Republic's website is classic: "The Hood Robbin Party". As The New Republic says: "Who says Republicans don't believe in redistribution of wealth?" Amen!

Liberal Lighthouse - Paul Krugman's editorial in today's New York Times takes aim at the "fake populism" of GW. According to Krugman, Bush is all smiles, back-slaps, and photo-ops with the humble jane/joe, while wielding a scalpel behind his/her back. Krugman's partisanship is obvious, and maybe ALL politicians are like this - so perhaps Bush shouldn't be singled out; but Krugman's argument resonates as valid.

Monday, August 19, 2002

School Board - I cannot refrain from commenting on the recent uproar surrounding UNC Chapel Hill's Summer Reading Program. (The details of UNC's Summer Reading Program can be found at the University's Summer Reading Program website.) The issue concerns a requirement that all incoming first year students read a book on the Quran for an orientation discussion. For some background on public reaction to this program, you might want to consult this article and this article from the many in North Carolina's The News & Observer. The Washington Post ran an excellent piece on the controversy about a week and a half ago. The complaint lodged by some critics of this year's selection is that requiring such a book amounts to the promotion of religion (Islam) in a state university, which these critics claim is unconstitutional. Some other critics have taken the issue even further, complaining that the requirement amounts to religious indoctrination in the faith of America's "wartime" enemies. (And here we see the use of that nasty, omnipresent slogan "America at War" to stifle academic freedom.) But students can opt out of reading the book if it offends their faith, and can instead complete an alternate writing assignment explaining why they chose not to do the reading. Advocates of the program (and this year's book selection) see this as an academic exercise of exploring and learning about differing worldviews and religious cultures, rather than an evangelical exercise in the promotion of a particular faith. Additionally, some supporters of the program have made the issue one of constitutionally protected free speech and overall academic freedom. My point of view, knowing the academic world as intimately as I do, is that this academic exercise is about as far from religious proselytizing as one can get. I am certain, especially after having read the actual assignment, that the purpose of the reading program and discussion sessions is to deal with the subject of the book as a critical thinker and to stretch the expanses of knowledge. It is not a "bible study" whose purpose is to inculcate, reaffirm, and/or strengthen faith in Islam. In the same vein, I would consider the study of the Catholic doctines on sexuality and celibacy in light of the recent scandals an equally appropriate exercise in critical thinking about a timely and relevant controversy. Such a study does not advocate religious indoctrination. Looked at in another way, refusing to discuss Islam in an objective and critical way at this moment in our country's history is not only antithetical to understanding a worldview that millions of people embrace, but is also dangerous in that it encourages ignorance about that very same worldview which some have used to harm us.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - A recent poll conducted by Latinobarometro, a Chilean polling firm, shows that Latin Americans are very patient with the United States and ultimately positive about their northern neighbor - in spite of the benign neglect (and sometimes even a bit of arrogant disdain) shown the region by the Bush Administration in recent months. Andres Oppenheimer weighs in on this new data. Not surprisingly, most Argentineans view the United States in a negative light according to this data. Does this give Bush a mandate to pursue a hemisphere wide Free Trade Agreement? Perhaps, but as Oppenheimer notes, the approval ratings, though high, are trending downward, which means Bush needs to act soon before it's too late.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Mexico is inching along towards constitutional reform that would open up the energy sector of the economy to greater private investment and management. If Mexican President Vicente Fox can finesse this issue, I would argue that the economic nationalism characteristic of the Mexican Revolution is two feet in the grave. See Elisabeth Malkin's piece in The New York Times for a thoughtful summary of current reform efforts in Mexico's energy sector.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Lagniappe - Can what Bob Herbert reports in his column for The New York Times really be true about the manslaughter conviction of three mentally-retarded black folk for having admitted to killing a baby that never existed? If so, it's truly unbelievable and absurd.

Liberal Lighthouse - Maureen Dowd's editorial today in the New York Times takes aim at the Bush-daddy/Bush-son relationship. This time, however, instead of the typical "like father, like son" angle on this relationship, Dowd senses a bit of a family dysfunction brewing. (You gotta love the column's title: "Junior Gets a Spanking.") The best snippet from this column, in my opinion, is the following: "It must be galling for Bush père to hear conservatives braying that the son has to finish the job in Iraq that the father wimped out on. His proudest legacy, after all, was painstakingly stitching together a global coalition to stand up for the principle that one country cannot simply invade another without provocation. Now the son may blow off the coalition so he can invade a country without provocation." One may be able to argue the point about whether or not Saddam is currently "provoking" the US response; but Dowd's point carries enough weight to merit some consideration.

School Board - Barry Siegel, an LA Times staff writer, tells the story of honor student and star swimmer Taylor Hess's year-long expulsion from his High School because his grandmother's bread knife was found in the bed of his pick-up truck after accidentally falling there while Hess was helping to move his grandmother and her belongings to an assisted-living facility. The story has a happy ending, but shows the absurdity of zero-tolerance policies gone too far. For me, the most disturbing and frustrating element of the story is that School Administrators were afraid to act on the basis of good common sense because they feared future charges of discrimination. This is what gives liberal efforts at promiting social equality through legitimate anti-discrimination efforts a bad rap - and what also gives conservatives the ammunition they need to protest all anti-discrimination efforts.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

The Weak in (National) Review presents: "Impromptoupees", where we look at whether there is any cranial substance to the zingers written by Jay Nordlinger "off the top of his head" in his self-described "breezy" column. In his 8/16/2002 column, Nordlinger refers to a George W. Bush quote that just fills him with admiration for the man. Bush said: “Most Americans don’t sit in Martha’s Vineyard swilling white wine.” Then Nordlinger writes: “Ouch. This, no doubt, was an allusion to Bill Clinton, who loved to relax (and other things) [What “other things,” pray tell? Does Nordlinger know something from personal experience that we don’t?] among the Beautiful People, except during reelection year, when Dick Morris’s poll told him to go camping out West.” And with a proudful flourish (I can see his manly chest bursting out of his shirt), Nordlinger concludes: “George W. Bush is not the kind of president who takes a poll to find out where he should vacation with his family. Say that for him, and more.” Hmmm … Yes, it’s true that most Americans don’t sit in Martha’s Vineyard swilling white wine, but neither do most Americans go boating in Kennebunkeport or eat barbeque at Crawford Ranch. So what? I wonder how G.W. knows that, when it comes to vacations, Americans wouldn’t prefer to be sitting in Martha’s Vineyard swilling white wine with the Beautiful People as opposed to sitting in Crawford Ranch eating barbeque. If Bush is implying that Clinton’s swanky vacations were “out of touch” with ordinary Americans, and, by contrast, his “rustic” vacations are not, who should we assume is the one really pandering to public opinion? And, finally, I’ll be paying very close attention to where Bush vacations during reelection year. My money says that Bush will be conveniently vacationing with little brother Jeb in Florida. …

Moving on to the question of the prospect of an African-American museum on the national Mall. Nordlinger deplores the further “balkanization” and “racialization” of our society that would come with such an initiative. I invite Nordlinger to come to New Orleans and make the same argument against the preservation of the Confederate Museum as an independent and separate collection. In my mind, there’s no difference between the two in principle. …

And last, Nordlinger’s “smallish point” regarding the TIPS program as a means to encourage an “engaged” citizenry forces me to make my own “smallish point.” There’s a TIPS program in Cuba. They’re called CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution). We all know what these neighborhood watches do. Good intentions aside, TIPS is bad, bad, bad policy. There are better ways to “engage” citizens than to encourage them to be suspicious of their neighbors, instead of trusting of them.

The Weak in (National) Review presents: "Halo K-Lo" - comments on the “ex cathedra” pronouncements of Kathryn Jean Lopez. This week, K-Lo gives us a lesson in Politics 101. And believe me, it’s certainly at the 101 level of sophistication. The basic gist of her article is that “political discourse in America is pathetic” because all issues tend to boil down to “Right-vs.-Left.” As K-Lo says: “The real stupidity comes when the pundit game becomes Right-vs.-Left.” And then, perhaps unwittingly, K-Lo herself writes for us a perfect example of this “real stupidity” (her words) as she composes the rest of her article, complaining about how the “Right” is always treated cruelly and unfairly in this game. I guess this wouldn’t be so bad except that all the while K-Lo bemoans the fact that conservatives are often labeled as “just plain dumb” and “ugly” (i.e. Linda Tripp, Katherine Harris, etc.) and of the “extra-chromosome right wing,” etc., she dishes out her own petty meanness towards leftist liberals. For instance, K-Lo writes of Ann Coulter’s “laser-like ability to home in on the hypocrisies and cruelties and stupidity of the Left” as if hypocrisy, cruelty, and stupidity were natural and universal character traits of everyone on the Left. And later, K-Lo, the intellectual giant she is, essentially calls leftist partisan rhetoric “terribly grade-school in its intellectual level.” (Aside: I wonder if K-Lo has ever REALLY watched and read Rush Limbaugh’s "stuff" with the same intellectually discerning lenses.) And again, K-Lo just can’t help but talk about those “hateful” and “snippy” “liberal media types.” When it comes to the “real stupidity” in the pundit game, at least in the way that K-Lo describes it, there is no better example than K-Lo herself.

School Board - I'm still baffled and angry about the pulling of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, from Parish School library shelves by Plaquemines Parish School Superintendent Jim Hoyle. What is objectionable is not anything in the book or the movie, but that anything could potentially be censored at the drop of a complaint. Again, I see an attitude here that once again absolves parents from any responsibility for encouraging mentally astute and critically-thinking behavior in their children. Sure, I don't want my children to see evil in the world, to hear profanity, and to suffer through morally difficult moments; but life is not so kind. What's important is for me, as a parent, to walk through such moments of exposure with my children, when I can, to help them think through things, to help them build their own sense of right and wrong, to help them develop a sense of correct moral action that they can call their own. I firmly believe that censorship short-changes the mental and moral strengthening of children, not the other way around.

Liberal Lighthouse - In the "Notebook" section of The New Republic (page 9 of the August 19 & 26, 2002, issue), there is a little gem under the heading "The Sheriff-of-Nottingham Party" which does not appear in the Online version of the magazine (at least, I can't find it), but which bears repeating in full: "At last the results of the Republican revolution are in. When the GOP took control of Congress in 1995, it promised to scale back government across the board - 'shared sacrifice,' as then-Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich put it at the time. Well, this week the Associated Press studied the changes in federal spending that have taken place under Republican control, and the outcome turns out to have been neither shared nor, from the point of view of Republican constituents, sacrifice. Rather, Congress mainly shifted programs away from Democratic districts and toward Republican ones. In the 1995 budget - the last one written by a Democratic majority - the average Democratic district received $35 million more than the average Republican district. By 2001 the average Republican district received a whopping $612 million more than the average Democratic one. This turnabout might seem like fair play but for one fact: Democratic districts tend to be poorer and thus in greater need of help from the federal government. These days they're not getting it. For six years Republicans have cut programs that help the struggling - such as child care food programs and public housing - and raised spending on programs that help the relatively well-off, such as farm subsidies and business loans. House Majority Leader Dick Armey offered this gloating explanation for his party's efforts at upward redistribution: 'To the victor go the spoils.' Now there's a moral basis for government."
Comment: So, not only does the party of George Bush want to give more federal tax money directly back to the rich through tax cut after tax cut, but the party of greed (I don't know how else one would describe it) also has made sure that wealthier Republican districts still get the much larger slices of a much smaller pie.

School Board - Censorship rears its ugly head in the Plaquemines Parish school library system. Apparently, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is offensive to one parent, so all have to suffer by having it pulled off the shelves. The Times Picayune has weighed in with a thoughtful editorial. More commentary from yours truly to follow shortly.

Friday, August 16, 2002

School Board - Just a quick point to ponder about the School Voucher debate: It's a very nice thought that School Vouchers equals School Choice - but does it, really, provide for such a choice - or at least a meaningful choice? Would highly-regarded suburban public schools and urban private/parochial schools (or should I say the students and the parents of the students in these schools) welcome inner-city voucher students to their learning communities? Putting a voucher in someone's hand doesn't neatly translate into supporting REAL school choice. In order for school choice to mean anything, voucher students must have the option to REALIZE their choice, which is something most voucher advocates haven't really thought much about. To use a common metaphor, it's as if someone were to hand me a fishing pole, some bait, a boat, and even give me fishing lessons; but then tell me that the lake with all the good fish in it that he fishes in was, ahem, off limits.

Liberal Lighthouse - The latest from Molly Ivins on the Bush Economic Forum. The column's everything you might expect it to be; but hidden away in it is a great little joke that I just have to share with you: "... Bush, Tony Blair, and Jacques Chirac are holding an economic summit. While Chirac maunders on about something, Bush leans over and says to Blair, 'The trouble with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur.'" Get it?? Entrepreneur IS a French Word! Poor Bush! Will he ever be able to shake off the dunce image?

Liberal Lighthouse - Just got around to reading Maureen Dowd's latest opinion column, printed a couple of days ago. There are very few writers who can match the delightful, biting sarcasm that underlies Dowd's columns. One can find her politics distasteful, but one must admire her style.

Liberal Lighthouse - Well, actually, I'm not going to shine the beacon on penetrating and thoughtful liberal commentary with this post; but the delectable and juicy Bushisms offered up by Bryan Curtis on Slate today are just too good to pass up. Liberals (and even good-spirited Conservatives, I think) will certainly get a chuckle out of reading them.

Lagniappe - Will the impending baseball strike hurt Bush and the Republicans at the polls this November? At least one conservative columnist thinks so. As for me, I think fans will paint Baseball team owners as greedy corporate CEOs whose bottom lines often benefit through extorting state tax monies for better stadiums and doubly insulting fans with skyrocketing ticket prices. And guess who was once one of these baseball franchise owners? Bush better call in the Rangers on this one.

Lagniappe - The Flying Monkey, a faithful reader of The Huck Upchuck, writes: "I want to throw out the following quote for your commentary: 'I agree perfectly with those who wish to relieve the small taxpayer by getting the largest possible contribution from the people with large incomes. But if the rates on large incomes are so high that they disappear, the small taxpayer will be left to bear the entire burden. If on the other hand, the rates are placed where they will produce the most revenue from large incomes, then the small taxpayer will be relieved.' Bonus question: Who said it?"
Response: Even though I find this quote to be quite confusing, I'll try to respond. The fact that it is somewhat confusing to me leads me to believe (especially since I consider myself to be a fairly bright chap) that the author of the quote is either an accounting charlatan and/or a shifty politician prone to double-speak - and probably a partisan of high income earners of times before the New Deal, but after the Industrial Revolution. My guess at the bonus question: Calvin Coolidge. Now ... my reaction: What the quote seems to be saying is that high tax rates on large incomes serve as a disincentive to earn large incomes. Unless the tax rate exceeds 100%, and even if people work ONLY for the money, the chance to add any amount of additional income to the pocketbook - even 1 cent on every dollar earned - may be incentive enough to work. Of course, opportunity costs factor in, and good chances are that not very many people would do this. However, the next question has to do with the non-$$$ value of work. The author of the quote assumes that if tax rates go too high, people's energies will shift to activities other than income-producing work - that is, activities whose (non-$$$) intrinsic value (i.e. having a picnic in the park and reading the latest trash novel) exceeds the $$$-compensated value of this picnic time that could have potentially been spent at work earning an income. But what if WORK's intrinsic value is such that one will do it regardless of $$$. This is not such a far-fetched notion. There are plenty of people who work for the love of it, and not for the money. Just ask any teacher. The author's implied attitude is one in which work is a necessary evil, not a source of personal fulfillment. An additional question must also concern the value one attaches to the use of the tax revenue. If I earn 1 cent on the dollar, but I think that the 99 cents given in taxes is being spent wisely, efficiently, and for good cause, then I might just not mind it so much. Again, there's a threshold here, but it varies from one person to the next. Finally, where would the author have such "rates" placed on high incomes that would produce the most revenue? This part of the quote would be laughable, if it weren't so pathetic. I didn't know you could squeeze out of a 40% rate applied to high incomes any more or less than 40% revenues from the income amount in question. And I certainly don't see how giving a break to large income earners relieves anyone other than the large income earner - unless, of course, there's some "fuzzy" math at work here.

Lagniappe - I must admit, I am getting a bit tired of the slogan "America at War." You see it all over the place. Newspapers, television networks, websites, etc., have special sections dedicated to "America at War." I have to say, I just don't see the "War" anymore. I see intensive counter-terrorism action, low-intensity conflict, detentions and questionings, etc., but I don't see the "War." Now don't get me wrong. There is no doubt that we are contending with evil people that have done us grave harm, and would like to continue doing so. But hasn't it basically always been this way - at least since the post-WWII global primacy of the US has been unquestioned? In that sense, we've always been at war. But, until now, our leaders have been circumspect with the language of "war-mongering" and have never used such language so cavalierly - and for good reason. Being "at War" brings with it all kinds of challenges to some of our most cherished principles. Being "at War" gives special powers to leaders that we may grudgingly sacrifice, but which go against the grain of our sense of individual freedom, not to mention our tenacious desire to hold public officials and public policy in some way accountable to the public! My fear is that if we, as a society, become desensitized to what being in a "state of war" means, we will become unwitting dupes to the use of "war powers" in situations that actually have very little to do with war. There is an ominous and dangerous trend these days among our politicians of all political persuasions to claim that every little special piece of pork legislation, or every little budget item, or every little grab for power is necessary given an "America at War."

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Mexico's strengthening of the judiciary and the "humbling" of executive privilege takes another positive step forward. Democratic reform keeps rolling along in Mexico. The more difficult test will come when the Mexican courts are forced to challenge the authority of a sitting President (and his family beneficiaries) for legally questionable behavior.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Vicente Fox is finally learning from his good friend George Bush. Tough talk against the bully abroad scores more points where it counts at home. Let's watch as Fox's stock rises in the polls at home and how he converts this, at long last, into some productive domestic policy. Fox should thank Bush for this golden opportunity - now maybe the Mexican Legislature will let Fox leave the country and take that extended European "working" vacation.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - State House Rep. Kyle Green defends himself in a letter to the editor of the Times Picayune. As if! Note to Rep. Green: Stop, before you dig it deeper and the pile gets higher. There is no defense. All you can do is say that you're a Louisiana politician. And you know what? That may just be all that we need to hear. ... Wait!!! ... Ah! I feel the balmy breeze of Louisiana politics washing over me now. Doesn't it feel soooo nice!

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Lagniappe - Don't forget to take your daily dose of Huey Freeman, the anti-Hero of Aaron McGruder's fabulous comic strip The Boondocks. Too bad the Times Picayune hasn't picked it up yet (or is afraid to do so). But the good thing is that you can have it emailed daily to your inbox. Don't miss it! ... Shifting gears ... Coming soon on The Huck Upchuck... The Weak in (National) Review, where you'll be introduced to, among other things, "The G-String" - where we'll strip down the skimpy threads of Jonah Goldberg's "columns"; "Impromptoupees" - where we'll look at whether there is any cranial substance to what Jay Nordlinger is writing about "off the top of his head" in his self-described "breezy" column; and "Huh?" - where we try to make sense of William F. Buckley Jr.'s conservative version of post-modernism's literary mumbo jumbo. ... Stay tuned!!

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Andres Oppenheimer seems optimistic about the possibilities of economic revival in Latin America following the recent vote in Congress granting Bush fast-track trade negotiating authority. I'm not so hopeful. For one thing, the Bush Administration had ample opportunity to exercise leadership in resolving the economic crisis in the region before the fast-track vote by influencing the IMF, the World Bank, and other international lenders to help Argentina weather its economic storm. The Bush Administration let Argentina down and hung that desperate country and its people out to dry. (Larry Rohter has a very good take on this story.) Now, it has come to Brazil's and Uruguay's aid in ways that it wouldn't (apparently still won't) do for Argentina. But it is interesting that the change in attitude towards Brazil and Uruguay took place only after fast-track approval got the Bush administration drooling over the prospects of greater access to Latin American markets, and specifically to the significant Brazilian market. Free Trade deals, which offer more tangible and immediate $$ benefits to the US, are not the only way to stabilize economic woes in the region. Leading multilateral bailout and relief packages for the sake of helping a neighbor in crisis is another way - though the tangible benefits to the US in such a strategy are not as immediately obvious. I'm all for free trade; and, like Oppenheimer, I am glad to see the Bush Administration with the authority to pursue this means of helping to resolve Latin America's economic difficulties. But a fair-weather friend is not necessarily a good friend, nor is a fair-weather friend an apt leader to rally and unify the region. At this point, the recent economic legacy of the Bush Administration in Latin America, in spite of the hot-air puffery regarding the region that came with the fast-track approval, is certainly not worthy of my hopeful optimism. And it will take more than just a hemisphere-wide free trade agreement, if Bush can even pull that off, to change my mind.

Blog Banter - The evaluation of Bush's Economic Forum by the administration's critics has been pretty consistent across the mainline web medium: that it was scripted and vacuous. Slate's William Saleton, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait, and The New York Observer's Joe Conason are just a few typical examples. But this is to be expected. What is surprising and revealing is the painfully obvious absence of commentary on the event from Conservative bloggers and pundits. For example, the National Review Online has posted very little analysis or reaction to the Economic Forum. Andrew Sullivan is on vacation. (This is unfortunate, because surely the venerable AS would not skirt the topic.) Mickey Kaus and his Kausfiles are more concerned with squeezing out corrections of errors in news stories and opinion columns. Where are these supporters? Silence speaks loud and clear - and the message is: Bush's Economic Forum was all it was not supposed to be.

Liberal Lighthouse - I just have to point in the direction of one of my recent favorites from Jonathan Chait at The New Republic. How Clintonian is Bush?!?

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - This fresh off the AP newswire about the Bush Administration reaction to fallout from the Suárez Medina execution. It seems that Mexican President Fox's snub came as a "surprise" to the Bush Administration. It wouldn't have surprised me. Just goes to show you that you can live next door, talk the talk, and still not get the point. Can Bush, a professed Latino-phile and great friend of Mexico, be this dense?

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Much is being made of the execution in Texas of one Javier Suárez Medina, especially in terms of its effects on U.S.-Mexican relations. The conflict seems to revolve around two issues: (1) that Mexico doesn't have the death penalty and considers the exercise of such illegal; and that (2) Suárez Medina was a Mexican citizen who was not advised of (and thus denied) his rights to legal support from the Mexican government under the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations. On the first point, it is technically incorrect to state unequivocally that Mexico doesn't have the death penalty. The death penalty is constitutionally provided for in Mexico, though it is true that the death penalty in Mexico is applicable only to specified crimes, such as treason, and would not apply to the case of Suárez Medina. Furthermore, this "de jure" provision is hardly ever exercised. It has been a long, long time since someone was put to death in Mexico under this law; and there is a real sense in Mexico that the legal death penalty as exercised with some regularity in the U.S. is morally unconscionable. The second claim is more troubling, in the sense that due process under international law seems to have been circumvented. This will not do much to convince other governments to act with such respect for international conventions when it comes to the case of Americans subject to execution via the death penalty in another country. To run roughshod over the expressed desires of a "friendly, neighboring" country under the mantra that "Texas/US law and sovereignty" trumps Mexico's request for due process under international conventions is simply bullyish.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - Louisiana politics ... need I say more. About three weeks ago we witnessed the start of a ham-handed, media-splashed, (but extremely popular) anti-corruption crusade of the newly-elected mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, as he took on the dreaded and politically formidable (ha!) Taxicab Bureau and some front-line workers at what we know here as the Brake Tag Stations (vehicle inspections). Recently, Nagin has extended his campaign to include a (less media splashy) corruption investigation into the Department of Safety and Permits. Guiliani-time has arrived in the Nawl! And just over the past few days, while the Nagin-inspired ruckus still hasn't quite settled down, - Ah! Louisiana - we have this amazing story of a lawsuit filed by State Rep. Kyle Green, D-Marrero, against Republican Governor Mike Foster for breach, apparently, of a "money-for-vote" secret deal. The absurdity of the Nagin crusade on the one hand and the Green lawsuit on the other is obvious. But the real kicker is that such absurdities wash over us Louisianians like a titillating, but soothing balm. We read about such things over our morning coffees, we chuckle at them on local radio talk shows, and we might even raise some light cane about them in the Letters to the Editor section of the Times-Picayune, but at our core we accept them as who we are - and, in the end, we really don't seem to mind it all. Only in Louisiana, and only in the 'Nawl, and doesn't it feel nice!

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

My foray into web-logging owes much to Andrew Sullivan, who I consider to be THE pioneer of the medium. However, in spite of my admiration for Andrew Sullivan’s sharp mind and lovely prose, I find myself regularly at odds with his conservative viewpoint on many subjects. In fact, I have found that blogging tends to be dominated by conservative voices (much like - gasp! horror! - print media tends to be dominated by liberal voices). But I think that lib-blogging has its place in this exciting new world; and my desire to engage the blogosphere, in part, is an attempt to carve out a tiny space for independent liberal thought in this medium. So, here I am, ready to give it a shot.

In the interests of giving some coherent organization to this effort, I have decided to structure my blogs in a topical format according to my own personal interests, which will become evident from the blog categories which are listed below:

Cuaderno Latinoamericano – Random thoughts on things Latin American.

The Weak in (National) Review – My weekly reaction to the stuffiness of Bill Buckley and to the shenanigans of Jonah Goldberg and crew at the conservative standardbearer National Review Online.

Liberal Lighthouse – An illuminating beacon on any intellectually sharp lib-blogging or liberal punditry I can find.

School Board – Commentary on education, learning, and the Ivory Tower.

Blog Banter – The space where I “raze” or “praise” my favorite bloggers.

Going Mental – The occasional “column” in which I will attempt to craft a well-informed, passionate, and extended opinion on an engaging, timely topic.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery – Remarks on the absurdities and charms of the culture and politics of Louisiana generally, and New Orleans particularly.

Lagniappe - A little extra of this-n-that.

Who knows how this will all work out, but I sincerely hope that you will enjoy and appreciate whatever it is that emerges. Stay tuned …