Mad Hatters of the Tea Party

It’s not that big of a secret that the real movers and shakers in the Republican Party are not Joe Miller, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharron Angle, or even Jim DeMint or Sarah Palin.

Well, I think it is to the Tea Partiers.

Listen to this comment by Trent Lott, Svengali of the Republican Establishment, now a lobbyist just raking in the dough, as was always his purpose as a Republican politician (if you receive the money afterwards, is it still a bribe?): “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them”.

“They” are the tea party. It won’t be difficult– “they” are Republicans. They actually believe that in America, the goal of government is to provide a level playing field so that companies can battle it out among each other to provide consumers with the best products at the best price. They are in for a shock. The first thing they will learn, from Trent Lott, Karl Rove, and the others, is that the purpose of Republican government is to pin down the young, the poor, the middle class, and entrepreneurs so that the corporations can ransack their pockets with impunity. The rich, powerful corporations actually control the legislative process through lobbyists who lob millions of dollars at every politician in the firm belief that their votes can be influenced.

What Lott is afraid of– and it’s an amusing scenario– is that some of these tea party candidates are what I call “true believers”. What if they reject the money and vote their conscience? Oh my! The horror! At what point will Sharron Angle realize that she is not voting to “level the playing field” on most legislation– she will be voting to confer fabulous favors and benefits upon powerful interests who will gladly, in return, pay for the expensive negative ads she needs to run in her next election campaign when, undoubtedly, she will be running “against” Washington.

Jon Stewart hilariously showed us John McCain, in a recent campaign ad, declaring that Washington was “broken” and needed to be fixed. Then he showed us McCain using the same line over and over and over again going back to his first election campaign 30 years ago.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…. three times… eight times… ten times… uh… doh!

For all the media hype, how much influence has the Tea Party had on this election? Well, name a single Tea Party candidate who won a seat that the Republicans would have lost without him or her?

That’s right– not one.

Why? That’s pretty straight forward: a “movement” unconnected with a particular idea is always going to fizzle. The Tea Party doesn’t really have a single coherent idea that isn’t

  1. already held, in emasculated form, by the Republican Party,
    too whacko to ever be implemented,
  2. too generalized and idealistic to have any real application.
  3. In August, CNN revealed that the percentage of Americans who actually call themselves members of the Tea Party? 2.

That said, what a shame that we won’t have a real tea party victory. A victory by the Tea party– by the true believers– would be as devastating to corporate interests and old guard Republicans as it would be to the Democrats. If Tea Party Candidates came in and cleared out the lobbyists, the backroom deals, the earmarks, and so on, we might all be better off than we would be under a victory by so-called moderate Republicans.  That is, if they do what they say they will do.

It’s a little puzzling that so much mainstream media– allegedly “liberal”, of course– have given so much coverage to the Tea Party, which, as the Washington Post discovered, is actually quite small and really insignificant.

Why why why? I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, so it must be because conflict and anger and spectacle make good news.

“Look at Lott’s lobbying clients: Citigroup, General Electric, Raytheon, Entergy and other Beltway bandits, subsidy sucklers and regulatory robber barons. These guys live off of bailouts, massive government spending, and earmarks. These are exactly the policies Republicans are supposed to oppose, but don’t. They’re also the very things Tea Partiers and Jim DeMint rail against most.”

Read more at the Washington Examiner.  [dead link: sorry.]


The picture, at the top, is of my feet, 1976, Calgary, Alberta, sitting in a basement apartment we rented for the summer while working for the United Grain Growers.

Portugal Ends its War on Drugs

Apparently, we crazies are right.

Portugal legalized all drug use in 2001, reasoning that:

  • it was more expensive to incarcerate drug users than to treat them
  • interdiction was a waste of money and resources that could be better allocated elsewhere
  • it’s very expensive to build prisons and hire police officers to enforce the law

So they abolished most criminal penalties for possession of drugs.

A nightmare was forecast.

It didn’t materialize. In fact, there were a number of positive developments. No miracles, really, but some positive developments, including a huge increase in the number of drug addicts willing to enter programs to address their dependencies.

From Time Magazine:

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.

Wow. Pretty impressive.

It has long been my opinion that drug abuse in Canada and the U.S. should be treated as a public health issue, not as a criminal issue. With the vicious gang wars in Mexico making the news the last few years, the massive increases in costs of prisons and law enforcement, and the stunning persistence of large scale drug abuse, one wonders what it would take to prove to people that our current drug policies are ineffective.

We have no excuse– a vast majority of citizens already believe that prohibition (of alcohol) was a monumental failure, and help incubate the development of powerful criminal organizations. The only reason large numbers of citizens continue to believe that marijuana and cocaine are different from alcohol is because alcohol was the drug of choice for “respectable” middle-class citizens. They didn’t mind feeling righteous about telling “others” that using intoxicants for pleasure was wrong– as long as it wasn’t their intoxicants.

The same hypocrisy is applied today to psychotropic drugs which provide similar but milder effects, can also be addictive, are often revealed to be ineffective at treating various alleged neuroses, but earn millions for drug company shareholders because they can be patented.

Without a doubt, legalization would result in many people continuing to abuse drugs. How is that a different result from spending billions on interdiction?


In a very recent poll, only 3% of American voters considered the war in Afghanistan the “most important” problem facing the country. Now, you may say, well, that doesn’t mean a lot of voters don’t consider it somewhat important. I would suggest that the fact that only 3% consider it the most important (consider that way more people think there really are witches), that it is a dead issue.

So, ten years after this war was considered so urgent, so important, so vital to the security interests of the United States that thousands of people would die for it, and billions of dollars of weapons would be deployed for it, it now doesn’t even register on the radar. Is there a lesson here?

Sure there is.

  • Americans have a very, very short attention span. If you can distract them for a few days, you too can be a Senator or Congressman or president. Do not worry your pretty little head about the consequences of your decisions five years down the road.
  • Number 1 explains why so many state and city pension funds are bankrupt. Apparently, American politicians are almost uniformly irresponsible or stupid or both. Don’t blame them: the same voters keep putting them back into office because they promise to be patriotic, religious, and heterosexual.
  • Americans can be fooled over and over and over again. We are about to see an entire new crop of idiots thrust into political office where, God help us, they may get their hands on Social Security, Medicare, and the Education system. God help us again.
  • Those large segments of America’s deeply religious communities who claim to be pro life? Shameless liars, all of them. Life is cheap. Life is shit. People are dying in a war no one cares about. These people never actually save anyone’s life, but they are more than happy to kill for cheap oil.
  • Those nations who sign on to America’s wars? Do you realize that your soldiers are also dying for a war that barely registers in the consciousness of the population of the country that talked you into this?
  • Obama, I guess, would love to walk away. The fact that Karzai is now talking to the Taliban about an accommodation of some sorts speaks volumes about where this is going. How lovely to be a Republican: you convince Americans it will be clean and simple and decisive, you start the war, you wage the war, you lose the war (make no mistake about it: it is lost), you borrow the money to finance the war, you reduce taxes on the rich so they don’t have to pay for it ever, then you walk away from the disaster. Then, in the next election, you run on a platform of a government that is less intrusive and more fiscally responsible.

Secured Confessions

“Still, our team pressed ahead and, together with agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, we tracked down many of the Qaeda members responsible for the attack, secured confessions from them and prosecuted them. We were aided by courageous Yemenis from the country’s security, law enforcement and judicial services who shared a commitment to justice and an understanding that ignoring Al Qaeda would only embolden it. We left Yemen with most of the terrorists locked up. ” Ali H. Soufan in the New York Times, October 11, 2010

Isn’t that amazing? They “tracked down” the terrorists who then “confessed” to the crimes, were prosecuted and imprisoned. Case closed, Perry Mason. On to the next injustice!

Listen to the glibness of “secured confessions from them”. What do you think that means? I guess Al Qaeda is not as hard-nosed as some people make them out to be! They were arrested. They were put in cells. The interrogator from the CIA or FBI said, “all right now — tell us the truth!” And the Al Qaeda member wept. Do I have to? All right…

I’m guessing that most people don’t pause at that “secured confessions” and wonder just what that means. I’m guessing that most people would just assume that the evidence that these men were responsible for the attack on the Cole is overwhelming and definitive.

I’m guessing that most people don’t wonder why confessions were necessary if this gentleman, identified as an FBI agent, had clear and convincing evidence.

I’m guessing that most people don’t wonder how the confessions were obtained– these men were held in Yemen, a Muslim state governed by Sharia law, whose elections are rated as “partly free” by international bodies.


There is a grave flaw in the conservatives’ argument that the government should stay out of our lives as much as possible. Or maybe it isn’t a flaw. Maybe it is the real essence of conservatism.

If our world is a school yard, big corporations and the rich are like the bullies. Conservatives want the government to stay out of it: the bullies knock you down, kick you, and take your lunch money. They abuse the girls, toss their garbage wherever they like, and when the ice cream man arrives, they take all the ice cream, drive off the ice cream man, and then resell it to the rest of the kids at twice the price. Oh wait– the school yard does have an army. It’s role is to go to other school yards and bully those kids and take their lunch money. They bring it back and have a parade commemorating their success, and then keep it all for themselves. Every day, they remind you that the bullies in the other school yards are all plotting to steal your lunch money, or worse. They make up songs praising themselves and force everyone to sing them.

If George Bush runs this school yard, then the bullies take your credit cards and run up a huge bill buying weapons with which to go invade other school yards. They buy these weapons from themselves and make huge profits. Most of the weapons cost a lot but they don’t work properly and eventually get tossed. Then they hold solemn parades on the basketball court. “If only,” they tell us, “the other bullies would stop trying to take our lunch money, we could have peace!”

In Glenn Beck’s and Sarah Palin’s ideal world, that’s the way it should be. If you’re not big enough or tough enough to stand up to the bullies, too bad for you.

They look solemnly at the faces in the school yard: you don’t want the government telling you what to do, do you?

George Carlin’s Wheezy Tribute

Okay, there is one thing– Stewart’s disingenuousness about the bleep. There is another, and this one really makes my blood boil.

Who the hell does the government think it is, telling me that I am not allowed to hear certain words?

The government hides behind a fig leaf or two: it will claim it never “censors”. No, it doesn’t. It merely fines violators after the fact. It asks you to simultaneous believe that the government is effective at enforcing the law, because of the fine, and that the government is ineffective at controlling free speech (because the fine is levied after the offense, it has no deterrent effect.) That’s obviously a load of hogwash and they know it.

So the networks self-censor. So a tribute to George Carlin, who became famous because he had the moral courage– yes, it was– the audacity, and the intelligence, to tell us what the seven words were, that you couldn’t say on television– so this tribute proceeds with a nod to his most famous joke, and they bleep out the words.

What was the joke? The joke, unintentionally, was on the mediocre minds who conceived of the idea of celebrating a man– now safely dead– who had nothing but contempt for their kind of minds when he was alive. The kind of minds who go, well, that’s very funny, but of course, we can’t actually say those words aloud. Then what’s funny about it? What’s funny about it is that mediocre, constricted, terminally repressed minds like yours can’t envisage a world in which people have the courage to believe anything in the first place (that isn’t first homogenized and castrated and presented to them on a platter), and, secondly, in which some kind of “authority” isn’t going around telling you what you are or are not allowed to hear.

Michelle Shocked — I just found out she is now an enthusiastic member of a Pentecostal church.

Jon Stewart’s Compromise

How anti-establishment, really, is Jon Stewart? He sounds independent. He seems to be authentic. He sounds like he thinks he is saying exactly what he thinks we think he thinks.

Then why the hell is there bleeping?

No, I don’t believe Jon Stewart is being naughty. Genuinely naughty people do not appear on Oprah, or host the Oscars. Genuinely naughty people don’t get tv shows, with the enormous costs underwritten by Time Warner, one of the most “established” media companies there is.

He is not exploding with righteous indignation, so overwhelmed that he must use the strongest word he can think of to express his outrage. No, he isn’t. If he was, there would be no bleep, because the bleep is not what most people think it is– it is not a network censor alertly snuffing an obscenity while monitoring a live broadcast. The bleep is done by an employee of Time Warner.

So you have to ask yourself, why doesn’t Time Warner simply tell Jon Stewart to stop using words that it has decided should not be allowed on television? Why not? Come on– think seriously about it. Forget the drama that plays every night on “The Daily Show” and consider the reality instead: why not? And why, if Jon Stewart has such high personal standards for honesty and integrity, does he allow them to do it? And since he allows them to do it and they keep doing it and he keeps doing it — isn’t what we have here actually a little “drama”? A shtick?

The idea Stewart wants to believe is that Stewart authentically wants to be himself but the deep, dark forces of repression prevent him.

I don’t believe he wants us to hear anything quite so much as the bleep itself, to imply that he is so naughty, so out-of-control free-spirited and independent, that he just says whatever he thinks, even if some weird authority– who is not stopping him from criticizing politicians– has to bleep it out. So, are we to believe that these authorities who are protecting our delicate moral fiber from being sullied by foul language, don’t care when he criticizes the government?

Or is the bleeping intended to give us an illusion? We are so cool because we listen to a guy who is so toxic to the government, that they have to bleep him? It doesn’t make any sense. The network (HBO, which is owned by Times Warner) pays Jon Stewart a lot of money to be on their tv show so they show him to as many people as possible and make lots of money selling advertiser dollars. If Stewart was really subversive or dangerous in any way, the government would express its displeasure to Times Warner’s Board of Directors (rich, anonymous bastards, who have dinners with politicians) and the Board of Directors would call in the producers and the producers would tell Jon Stewart not to go there.

If Stewart, like Bill Maher before him, decided to “take a stand”, don’t think for one second that Times Warner would hesitate to fire him. You think Jon Stewart’s too popular for them to do that? He’s not too popular to be bleeped. He’s not too popular to sit in that same seat night after night knowing full well he will get bleeped again and again.  He’s not too popular to consent to the bleep.

It makes me wonder what a real rebel would sound like. Probably something like Pete Seeger.

We know that. A real rebel says things like this: you can say what you want about the terrorists who crashed their planes into the twin towers but one thing you can’t call them is “cowardly”. A real rebel says that and the real rebel gets fired from a show that claimed to be “politically incorrect” .

It was a magical moment of transparency for television that nobody seemed to even notice. A television program billing itself as “politically incorrect” and ostensibly containing the free, independent expressions of opinion and ideas, was obviously a charade, a hoax, a fraud. The first time someone on the program expressed an opinion that was really at odds with the powers-that-be, the establishment shut him down. And barely anyone complained. They were too busy protesting Janet Jackson’s nipple.

So what’s the point of the show? Why did they bother to let it on the air if they were only going to shut it down if it ever actually was “politically incorrect”? Obviously, the point is to give the illusion to everyone that we have freedom of speech. We are free country. Nobody is telling you what to think.

So the fact that Jon Stewart is still on the air is somewhat distressing to me. It makes me suspect that Jon Stewart is on the air to convince the American public that they have been regularly exposed to the full range of intelligent opinion about serious matters social, economic, and political. All they have to do to exercise their freedom now is choose between, for example, John McCain, who wants to continue to use rendition to deal with suspected terrorists, continue to abridge the civil rights of all Americans, continue to use torture on the illegal prisoners, keep health care in the hands of private, for-profit insurers, and continue the war in Afghanistan, and Barack Obama, who wants to continue to use rendition to deal with suspected terrorists, continue to abridge the civil rights of all Americans, continue to use torture on the illegal prisoners, keep health care in the hands of private, for-profit insurers, and continue the war in Afghanistan.

I think most Americans don’t think the idea of consuming less, for example, is a serious opinion. Or the idea of self-restraint. Or putting part of your wages aside into a savings account. Or waiting until you have a legitimate down payment before buying a house. These are opinions even Jon Stewart will not express. It is one thing to attack them– the big banks, the Bush Administration– because everyone can still feel innocent. Attack the real cause of the economic meltdown– the utter credulousness of the American consumer along with his passionate greed– and you will be regarded, decisively, as politically incorrect.

In “Ladies and Gentleman, Mr. Leonard Cohen”, Cohen is shown about to do a recording in a studio. A producer reminds him, just before they start, not to use any “dirty” words. Cohen, who is normally the most sanguine of poets, is briefly visibly annoyed, and says: There are no dirty words, ever.

Years later, Cohen bleeped himself in performances of “The Future” substituting “careless” for the word “anal” in this line:

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that’s left
And stuff it up the hole in your culture

Vertiginous Spectacle

“Who could object to being tricked in this way? The audience, knowing more than Sugar does, is rendered dizzy by the vertiginous spectacle of one movie star so shamelessly “doing” another. ” New York Times article on Tony Curtis as Josephine being “seduced” by Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot”, directed by Billy Wilder.

In the scene referred to above, Tony Curtis, who recently died, is pretending to be a wealthy playboy named Shell Oil Jr. He has convinced Marilyn Monroe that he is impotent. Good sport that she is, Monroe is determined to end his agony and “cure” him. But the “doing another” reference above is not actually a comment on the seduction– it’s a comment on Curtis deliberately playing Shell Oil Jr. as Cary Grant.

I don’t think it’s a mean-spirited parody. It just, probably, seemed like a fun thing to do, and Billy Wilder, a very good director, obviously decided to go along with it.

I’m more interested in the word “vertiginous”, which means, according to Wiki, “characterized or suffering from dizziness or vertigo”. So I guess the writer, above, means that Curtis’ performance is so exciting that the viewer may be left dizzy, which, in fact, he suggests in an earlier phrase: “rendered dizzy”, making the entire sentence sound like “the audience was rendered dizzy by the dizzying spectacle of Tony Curtis” blah blah blah.

I like the word and I will try to remember it the next time I need to describe someone or something that causes me to feel dizzy. There was a staff member last week— shall I? “Last week I had the vertiginous experience of attempting to correlate B’s specifications for a web site into actual html and css code.”

I just ran into another word: anodyne, in reference to the names of various associations in the U.S. which are fronts for conservative donors and which run ads in various districts attacking the Democrats. Anodyne means “not likely to cause dissent or offense”. Such as “American Growth Fund” or “Keep America Strong Foundation”.

Most of politics, in the U.S., and elsewhere, consists of providing anodyne expression of vertiginous debacle.

Upstairs, I hear K. D. Lang’s collection of Canadian classics playing. So far, without exception, they are terrible.

K. D. Lang has a voice, a technical instrument of great virtuosity. If that’s what you listen for in a piece of music, by all means, she’s your man. But “Helpless”, for example, is about a feeling of desolation, of disconnect, and vulnerability. You can’t make a song sound like that by showing off your pipes, but Lang can’t resist doing it because that’s what she does.

Meg Whitman in California has spent close to $130 million of her own money on her campaign so far (for governor). Jerry Brown, her democrat opponent, has spent about $4 million. They are tied in the polls.

[added December 6: Brown won.]