America’s Favorite Pastime: Procrastination

Americans, when we finally commit ourselves to someting, close the deal.  Take a look at our entry into the Second World War.  Couldn’t have come a day sooner for the likes of Winston Churchill, but we finally got our asses into gear and wiped the continent of Europe free of Nazis in three and a half years (with a lot of help from the Soviets).  It took us a while to get ourselves into action, but once we did, we were unstoppable.

Well, Americans are much like that in a number of areas.  Basically, we’re not a very proactive people.  We act, usually, at the last possible minute, usually much more from a reactive stance than a proactive one.  And this time around with the debt negotiations for the federal government is no different.  Negotiations surrounding a topic as complex and tedious as the United States federal debt ceiling is part political theater, part political posturing and part plain indifference to something that is unpleasant and much better avoided (so goes the mindset).  Even as I type this, I’m yawning, and I’m a political junkie.  That’s how boring this topic is when you get down to the details.

To go along with a proposed hike, Republicans want spending cuts.  Shocking.  Democrats want to raise taxes.  You don’t say?  And likely, there’s going to be a compromise package to which both sides are going to grudgingly agree.  It’s going to contain elements that are obnoxious to both sides, but, that’s the nature of the beast that drives American politics (or at least should): compromise.

And that compromise is likely to do little to actually solve the problem.  With deficits topping a trillion dollars a year stretching into the future for as far as the fiscal eye can see, the idea that our venerable Congress will either cut enough spending or raise taxes enough is highly, highly unlikely.  Expect them to punt on this one.  I expect that they’ll fix it just enough to get by, but not enough to really fundamentally alter any of the fiscal underpinnings of our federal government.  What’s much more likely, is that it’ll take a crisis to get Americans to close the deficit.  I know that we’re capable of it.  But, as history’s demonstrated, it’s that we, as a nation, like to wait until the last minute humanly possible to jump in and solve problems.  Honestly, sometimes it takes a crisis to finally galvanize this nation.  And when that happens, we’re fairly formidable.  Until then, lower your expectations.

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Flavor of the Week: Michele Bachmann

Politics, like most human beings, are notoriously fickle.  Washington is such that someone’s political fortunes can rise to epic proportions only to come crashing down by the time the next news cycle comes through.  The Washington Post outlines the fundraising prowess of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN), tea party favorite and 2012 presidential contender.  Her recent political fame has surprised many, but she has quite an effective tactic.  Make an outrageous claim or statement, and just watch the dollars (and attention) flow in.  Veteran politicos call it a ‘money blurt,’ an intentionally provocative statement designed to achieve maximum impact on fundraising activities.  For example, Bachmann accused the President of harboring ‘anti-American views.’  At the time, she wasn’t particularly well known, and she made over $1 million in the ensuing days.

But, just as her fundraising, name recognition and status as the tea party favorite is being cemented, she may soon be running into some ethical problems.  Roll Call reports that she used taxpayer money to stage a political rally on the steps of the capital, a federal and electoral no-no.  Bachmann’s office considered the expenditure appropriate, and deemed the event a ‘press conference,’ despite the fact that there were no questions taken from the press.  For many politicians, that’s probably going to be the best press conference ever.

Bachmann’s riding high.  But she can, just as easily, crash and burn.  It’s a fact of life, and it’s particularly pronounced amongst politicians.  And for wacko as crazy as Bachmann, the crash and burn part is likely to be pretty dramatic.  Lucky for us, as long as they don’t represent us, it’s fun to watch.

Next Stop on the Deposed Dictator Express: Syria

This year has seen a momentous amount of upheaval in the Arab world.  Every* country wherein there have been prolonged and sustained struggles against incumbent government have seen the status quo establishment eventually fold.  They simply don’t have the institutional strength or the support necessary to weather a long running, low scale rebellion.  And I don’t think that Syria is going to be any different.

But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is holding firm, because that seems to be a tactic that’s worked wonders in quelling these uprisings, yes?  Not so much.  My father has a saying.  When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  And when you’re a dictator, guns and tanks always seem to be the proper response, not compromise.  They just can’t bring themselves to do it, at least not until they’re a day late and a buck short.  What I mean is that dictators are, by their nature, not used to compromise, discourse and the democratic process.  Their reflexive response is violence and body bags.  And tyrants are willing to compromise only once that ship has since long sailed and their actions have made said compromise totally impossible (read: they killed too many for demonstrators to be in a mood to share power).

So, I think that Assad will eventually end up in exile, probably in Iran (not Saudi Arabia, they don’t have very good relations) and that another neophyte government will take his place.  It’ll be ‘interesting’ to see what comes out of these fledgling regimes.  But for now, it’s far, far to early to tell.

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* The only exception to this being Libya, where Col. Muammar Gaddafi is still in ‘power,’ albeit only nominally.  He controls a portion of the eastern half of the country, and I think that his days there are numbered.

Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Rabbis Condemn Dog to Death by Stoning

Yes, a dog.  We in the west are used to reading about such delightful antics in this area of the world in connection with women charged with adultery or perceived homosexuals.  But this time, it’s Sparky.

According to the BBC, the presence of the dog reminded the rabbinical court* of a curse it put on a now dead attorney for his spirit to enter the body of a dog.  And now that dog entered their court, and it refused to leave.  So what’s the logical thing to do?  Assume that it’s the reincarnated soul of said attorney, and order it to be executed.  Right?  Predictably, a hubbub has erupted, with animal rights groups arguing (sanely) that this kind of decision is wacko and a horrid example of animal cruelty.

Yet another example of what  happens at the intersection of Religion Lane and Politics Avenue.  There’s always going to be horrific pileups.  And they’re usually going to be preventable.

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* For those of you that don’t know what rabbinical courts are, imagine a court only for Catholics or Methodists.  Well, switch those guys out for Jews, and you have yourself a rabbinical court with the presiding judges being rabbis.  Sounds like an awesome idea, right?  Not really.  The question then arises, why do be people submit to their authority?  Idiocy, I suspect, is the prime cause.

Maryland County Tickets Lemonade Stand Outside US Open

Many of us had a lemonade stands as children.  I did.  I’m not sure why, as there was virtually no traffic in the subdivision in which I grew up, but I was a bit of a dunce at the time, so it seemed to make sense.

Well, that tradition is alive, but not well in Montgomery County, Maryland, the site of the US Open at the Congressional Country Club.  A group of children set up shop outside the US Open, only to be shut down, hours later, by county authorities.  The reason?  No permit.

But wait, it gets better (it seems it usually does).  These kids, it seems, had some rather well connected sponsors, namely, Norman Augustine, the former head of Lockheed Martin and the American Red Cross.  Whoops.  Augustine, whose grandchildren were participating in the fundraiser, was the one who received the ticket.  Bigger whoops.  And some of the Marriott heirs (as in those people who own all those hotels) were present as well.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  It’s that if you’re going to be a jackass and shut down childrens’ lemonade stands, make sure the kids involved aren’t the offspring of some of the richest, most powerful people in the country.  Those people have some clout, and aren’t likely to take these kind of antics lying down.  Even better, don’t be a jackass and shut down childrens’ lemonade stands.  That just circumvents the entire problem.

Newt: In It To Win It?

I don’t think so.  At least, when it comes to Gingrich’s bid for the White House.  I respect Gingrich’s staying power as a politician and his intelligence, but my admiration for him stops there.  I don’t think he has a moral center, and will stop at nothing to advance himself or his career.  Case in point: he doesn’t have a chance in hell of ever becoming President.  He had a better chance in the 1990s of becoming President by succession when he was Speaker of the House than being elected in his own right.

And today, I think his staff realized it, and more.  Why?  Well, they all quit.  Together.  At once.  Whoops.  That doesn’t bode well, nor are mass defections (particularly of that scale) common in politics.  He wasn’t doing well in the polls, but I don’t think that’s telling in and of itself.  Take Ron Paul, for example.  He places similarly in polling for the White House.  But he’ll never be elected President.  Paul,however, has a hardcore cadre of supporters who would fight to the death if he asked them to do so.  Gingrich, apparently, does not.  That’s a kind of barometer, not only about the Gingrich campaign, but also the man.  I don’t expect politicians to be saints.  If you do, you’re an idiot.  But for experienced political operatives to get sick of the bullshit from a politician?  Now, that’s telling.  These people are used to the scent of it.  And for them to get so sick of it that they resign en masse?

From what I know about Newt, that’s par for the course.

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Scorned Elizabeth Edwards

It’s true.  She may be dead, but she’s still giving her husband, onetime presidential candidate and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) headaches from the grave.  Mrs. Edwards died this past December after a long running battle with cancer.  And before she died, she issued a new will, effectively cutting her husband out of her estate, and legally separating from him after it was revealed that he had not only cheated on her, but fathered a child with his mistress, Rielle Hunter.

So how is she making Sen. Edwards’ life worse?  She taped a conversation with him on her deathbed, wherein he basically told her everything that he had done (and how he did it, the interesting parts for prosecutors).  I don’t know if he wanted absolution, or was trying to make amends to his dying wife of 33 years, but that crafty woman caught it all, on tape, and gave it to a friend, with the instructions that after her death, it should be forwarded to federal prosecutors.  And it was, apparently figuring prominently in the minds of prosecutors.  The tape apparently is central to the prosecution’s case.

So, before you want to make a heartfelt confession to anyone about past transgressions, make sure that it’s not being filmed.  Because if it is, you have a whole world of hurt coming to you.  Just ask John Edwards.