October 2004

Team America: World Police

America, Fuck yeah!

The chorus from the movie’s most memorable song pretty much says it all, encapsulating the movie’s love-it-and-hate-it attitude towards the USA. The movie manages to be political without being partisan, insightful without being dull, and completely fucking hilarious. Go see it now.


Bush made another campaign speech in which he came up with yet another post-hoc rationale for the war:

If Zarqawi and his associates
were not busy fighting Iraqi and American forces in Iraq, what does Senator
Kerry think they would be doing? Peaceful, small business owners?
(Laughter.) Running a benevolent society? (Laughter.)

Let’s get this straight: Bush is suggesting here that we’re using Iraq as a decoy, to fight terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them on U.S. soil. So what are we supposed to say to the people we were supposedly liberating from a tyrannical dictator? “Sorry about all these explosions, but better you all than us?”

Say “quack,” Iraq.

I actually think Bush is partly right here: Iraq is clearly a magnet for terrorists now, and it is quite possible that it has attracted some terrorists who might otherwise be plotting attacks against the USA, ironically having created after the fact another one of the justifications he used for the war (the supposed link between Iraq and al Qaeda). Of course, it’s also a breeding-ground for new terrorists, and we learn today, a handy munitions depot for terrorists, who have apparently scooped up extremely dangerous explosives, previously under UN seal, that our troops (perhaps directed by Rumsfeld to attend a rose-petal-throwing ceremony) were not guarding.

In any case, to the extent that the war on terror can be clearly won, it will ultimately be won by getting as much of the world on the same side as possible–and being on that side with them. Extremists will always exist in isolated pockets, but their ability to rally large groups against Americans would be limited. Invading a country and then using it as a terrorist decoy is not an effective way to get the world on your side.

Us vs them

The NY Times recently ran a long, interesting article on the Bush presidency–if you haven’t read it already, I encourage you to print it and read it at your leisure. It’s been widely cited in other blogs, especially for the stunning, arrogant “reality-based community” comment.

There’s something else that stood out for me in the article, something that relates to something I’ve been wondering about for a long time.

Bush has very strong support among a lot of people who identify themselves as traditional, conservative Republicans–but Bush is not traditional or conservative, his rhetoric notwithstanding. He has presided over a huge expansion of the government, adding employees as quickly as possible (perhaps to offset the disastrous private-sector job losses the economy has seen) and expanding non-defense discretionary spending faster than any of the last five presidents, dramatically extending government intrusiveness in a way that should–but doesn’t–set off alarm bells for 2nd-Amendment absolutists (though the 2nd Amendment itself has remained sacrosanct), screwing over the military even as he calls upon it for his misguided adventure, and of course passing lopsided tax cuts that benefit the very wealthy.

So why do salt-of-the-earth regular folks like him so much? Well, he certainly has that homespun image down. The way he talks about his record certainly makes him seem like a better president than he is. He’s a hardass on social-conservative issues. So those might all be enough, but perhaps there’s something else:

…Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. “You think he’s an idiot, don’t you?” I said, no, I didn’t. “No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don’t care. You see, you’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don’t read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!”

What I’ve been wondering is whether all those dirt farmers in flyover country know that the effete liberals on the coasts hate G.W, and so they embrace him–“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. If so, G.W. isn’t the catalyst for our current polarization, he’s the mirror of it. This quote suggests that maybe it’s so. But the enemy of your enemy may just be a different kind of enemy.

All System Whoa

If you live in Austin and keep half an eye on the news, you know that Cap Metro is contemplating a commuter-rail line linking the convention center to Leander, something that needs voter approval. Normally, I’d be in favor of this. I’d reflexively think “public transit good.”

Mike Dahmus has been blogging for some time trying to explain why, in this particular case, public transit not good. He’s convinced me. Check him out. Kudos to Mike for beating the drum and raising awareness on this.

Debate moment

There were plenty of moments that got me yelling at the TV during the second debate, but this one took the cake:

MICHAELSON: Mr. President, if there were a vacancy in the Supreme Court and you had the opportunity to fill that position today, who would you choose and why?

BUSH: I’m not telling.


I really don’t have — haven’t picked anybody yet. Plus, I want them all voting for me.

On reflection, it’s clear Bush means that he wants any prospective justices to vote for him in the election. But at the moment, it just reminded me of the only 9 votes that counted in the 2000 election.


My house went on the market yesterday. The sign went up in the yard today.

I’ve been in this house since 1997, a long time for some people. But I spent the first 18 years of my life at the same address, and I think this has shaped my attitude towards moving (in a word: don’t). There are a few reasons for this move, but economic ones are probably foremost: Gwen and I have some debt, and the property taxes on this place are just not affordable. And there’s a huge amount of equity tied up in the house, because it has roughly doubled in value since I bought it. We expect to sell the house for a pretty good chunk of change, pay off most of our debt, move into something cheaper and still have a lot of money in the bank. I like this house, and I love this neighborhood–wherever we move next, it’s almost certain to hurt our quality of life in terms of neighbors, ready access to places we like to go, etc. So I feel a bit cornered into making this move, and I have a diffuse resentment at the circumstances that have me cornered.

But I’m not all negative about this. The move is also an opportunity to start fresh, which is good. The part of town we’re looking at most closely (78702) is on the leading edge of an intense revitalization, so it may turn out pretty nice in a few years, and will probably prove to have been a good investment. Gwen and I do not know what our next home will be–we’re considering a few options, including buying an empty lot and building a new home on it. This, obviously, would be a big step into the unknown, and if any members of my adoring public have specific advice, I’d appreciate it.

Gwen and I have talked about the whole issue of gentrification. We’re being gentrified out of our current house–not that this neighborhood was remotely undesirable before, but our incomes have hardly kept pace with the increasing property values and property taxes. We may well be the gentrifiers rather than the gentrifiees at our next place. Is that ethical?

Debate reaction

I wasn’t thrilled with Kerry’s performance, but he did a better job than Bush. Bush was frequently agitated and occasionally at a loss for words. Kerry, who is usually at a loss for brevity, was cool and reasonably concise. Since the value of these debates is as much in the visceral reactions that people have as in the policy points scored, Bush lost ground.

In terms of policy points, commands of facts, etc, one’s analysis almost gets reduced to a question of “who do you want to believe?”. This is, of course, ridiculous–as if there is no objective reality–but partisans will believe who they want to believe, and undecideds will make up their mind based on gut reactions. Both sides exaggerated or mis-stated numbers. The post-mortems have not taken the president to task for the bigger problems in his points–his continued insistence on the Iraq/Al Quaeda links, though Kerry did. Kerry missed an obvious scoring opportunity when discussing the run-up to war: Bush repeatedly insisted we needed to go into Iraq to remove the WMDs. Kerry never asked “what WMDs?? (in The Daily Show’s wrapup, Jon Stewart did ask). Bush has to run on his record–talking about what he will do invites the question “why aren’t you doing it now?”. Kerry has the luxury of talking about what he will do without really being held to account. The tack that he took, of engaging more closely with allies, doesn’t seem likely to gain traction with most people.

The post-debate wrapup (we watched the debate on NBC) struck me as absurd: the network invited each side to give its own spin. This is not acting as a news organization: this is acting as a clearinghouse for press releases.