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June 28, 2007

being allowed to yell “fire” in a crowded election

In a dangerous precedent with far-reaching implications, the Supreme Court this week vastly expanded the free-speech rights encompassed under the Constitution to include not only the expression of opinions (which is bad enough), but the expression of opinions that might influence voters before an election.

That’s right, before an election, when it can still do the most harm. Surely this is a Supreme Court run out of control.

Prior to this ruling, the airing of opinions by advocacy groups regarding where candidates for political office stood on the important issues of the day were carefully restricted by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in an effort to ensure that the electorate was not unnecessarily confronted with ideas that might seem strange and unfamiliar. The prohibition on such ads running within 60 days prior to an election was thought to provide ample enough time for an attractive young white woman to go missing somewhere, the better to help voters forget about the potentially disruptive viewpoints.

With this decision now in place, we face an uncertain future in which people are free to express any opinion they want, whenever they want, much like a pack of wild animals. Senator John McCain, co-author of the law, pointed out that groups will now be able “to target a federal candidate in the days and weeks before an election.”

Days and weeks! What are the chances that an attractive white woman will go missing just days before an election? What if Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan decide to go out in public wearing panties and then turn in early for a good night’s sleep?  What will cable news cover then?

Only chaos can ensue. In fact it is quite possible that we are facing a future in which incumbents will fail to be returned to office year after year the way our Founding Fathers had always intended.

Naturally, the decision was widely derided: "This is a big win for big money," said League of Women Voters President Mary G. Wilson, “Chief Justice Roberts has reopened the door to corruption."

Which clearly had been slammed shut with this law.

With these safeguards removed, “special interests” will now be able to air ads naming specific candidates right up to the day of the election. And just who are these nefarious special interests attempting to wreak havoc with our electoral process? Unions, environmental groups, gun-rights enthusiasts, pro-life organizations, civil rights groups… 

In other words: You. 

And do you really feel qualified to band together with like-minded citizens to fund ads in support of candidates you favor? Don’t you think that’s a little selfish, particularly when we have highly experienced professional politicians to handle all that complicated governing stuff for you already? As Ellen Miller, a long-time supporter of campaign-finance laws, put it, the ruling “could take the outcome of the elections out of the hands of the candidates.”

Think about that. Elections taken out of the hands of experienced candidates and placed into the grungy calloused hands of the masses.

So much for getting a good night’s sleep.

But it is not hopeless. You, as a concerned citizen, can refuse to take part in the coming melee of opinion mongering by adhering to the spirit of the original regulations and in so doing raise your hand as Lady Liberty has done all these years and ask yourself the questions that once stirred a nation to cast off the yoke of oppression:

  1. Is what I am saying the functional equivalent of express advocacy?
  2. Will I be party to the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth?
  3. Is the statutory standard I am applying impermissibly vague?

Don’t be embarrassed. We get goosebumps thinking about it too.

J.

June 28, 2007 at 12:06 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2007

cleaning out my father’s basement part 1

There was a point in my life, not too long ago, when I pretty much still owned everything I had ever owned, from grade-school lunch boxes to college history notes to grunge-era flannel shirts. Does that make me a pack rat? Maybe. Emotionally immature? Perhaps. Desperate to cling to the comfortable certainties of an over-romanticized past rather than deal with the unsettling notion of an unknowable future? Possibly. A sad, pathetic commentary on… wait, where was I going with this?

Oh yeah, short of purchasing another house just to store my stuff (I did work the numbers) I’ve had to start throwing things out. Currently my most pressing mission is to help clean out my father’s basement before he sells the house.

I arrived on a sunny Friday, a little before 6PM. My father had left me a note: “Call as soon as you get in!” with an unfamiliar number written underneath. The exclamation point meant one of two things as far as I was concerned: The hospital or the morgue. Okay, so the morgue seemed unlikely since he had written the note but still, that would have been some impressive foresight.

The number got me the answering machine of his fiancé and I remembered they were out having dinner with some friends. It still being early I could have plunged into the dark basement and started working but I like to think of myself as a live-in-the-moment carpe diem kind of guy (which sounds way better than a self-centered narcissistic jerk kind of guy) so I went to the refrigerator in the garage and grabbed a very very bad Michelob Ultra. My brother had purchased a case of this unfortunate brew a couple of trips ago in a moment of madness and we’ve been choking it down ever since. (It’s a moral obligation I explained to my father later.)

I brought a chair out to the back patio, lit a cigar and opened up “A Farewell to Arms” having gotten on a Hemingway kick after finding a copy of “The Sun Also Rises” on my first trip to the basement a month earlier. I then spent the remaining daylight hours immersed in the tale of an American officer serving in the Italian army during The Great War, my reading interrupted only by occasional gagging fits as I worked my way through the detestable Michelob. 

I should point out here that in order to fully appreciate the motivations driving the characters in a Hemingway novel (if not the author himself) it is important that one consumes alcohol in quantities commensurate with the historical context of the work. 

So, you see I’m not just sitting on the back patio getting drunk. I’m being literary. (God bless you Ernest Hemingway.)

After a couple of hours I decided to go get something to eat. Fortunately there is a local convenience store a ten-minute stagger from the house. 

I studied the menu board by the sandwich counter carefully looking in vain for an Italian sub. Well, fine, I thought, they have a bunch of cold cuts. They could improvise. Actual conversation with sandwich lady: 

Me: I want something like an Italian sub.
Sandwich Lady: We have Italian subs.
Me: Well then, that would work.

Of course, this being central Pennsylvania I was required to specify provolone over American, but the sandwich was quite good (as you will usually find in PA) and hit the spot. 

Back at the house, I had had enough of the Michelob Ultra for the evening and wanted something else. Now, my father doesn’t really drink (he’s not as “literary” as I am apparently), but for the occasional wine or beer, but he is of that generation of men for whom a perfectly acceptable (if not outright expected) holiday gift was a bottle of whiskey.

And that, my friends, is why they call it “The Greatest Generation.”

Among his collection was a bottle of Canadian Club that had already been opened. The label read “aged 6 years.” More like 26 I’d guess but it had a fine, familiar aroma. Naturally the house was not well stocked with mixers, but there is always some ginger ale on hand which meant I had the makings of a fine whiskey highball.  Now all I needed was ice.

No ice. The ice maker in the freezer was empty. The ice cube trays were empty. What kind of insanity was this? I felt as if I’d been brutally shorn of the trappings of civilization, standing there as my ancient ancestors must have with little more than bear skins, crude flint tools, and a bottle of aged Canadian Club blended whiskey.

But no, I would not allow circumstances to strip me of my humanity. I went to college, after all. I had an education. I’d think of something.

I left out the ice.

Later my father came home and turned on the icemaker (I never said I was an “A” student) and a short while later I heard the familiar “plunkety-plunk-plunk” and had ice for my last drink of the evening.

0616071759 How did my basement expedition go the next day? Well, In Part 2, I’ll have some of the items I found, but for now I will point out with no small measure of pride that I successfully polished off the last of the justifiably maligned Michelob Ultra. “Our long national nightmare is over” my brother texted me.

Indeed it was. And yet another one was just beginning.

He had bought some Rolling Rock too.

J.

June 22, 2007 at 09:42 AM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 13, 2007

We Can Fool Them All Again

Sung to the tune of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

We’ll be dealing in the aisles
With the lobbyists all smiles
And the morals we campaigned on will be gone
And the voters who spurred us on
Will have gone home, been long gone
They decided so now we get to sing the song 

We’ll tip our hat to the old constitution
Act like we’re part of a new revolution
Smile and grin at the sameness all around
Pick up our phones for pay
Just like yesterday
Then we’ll get down on our knees and pray
We can fool them all again

The change would never come
We knew it all along
We’ve got campaigns to fund, that’s all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed
Cause the donors we need all the more 

We’ll tip our hat to the old constitution
Act like we’re part of a new revolution
Smile and grin at the sameness all around
Pick up our phones for pay
Just like yesterday
Then we’ll get down on our knees and pray
We can fool them all again
Yes, yes!

We’ll move our ethics and our principles aside
If they happen to be left half alive
We’ll get our earmarks and smile at the sky
‘Cause we know that the subsidized never cry
Do ya?

There’s nothing in the these sheets
Looks different to me
Just the names have been replaced, by-the-bye
And the crying from the left
Is now crying from the right
And the earmarks have all grown larger overnight 

We’ll tip our hat to the old constitution
Act like we’re part of a new revolution
Smile and grin at the sameness all around
Pick up our phones for pay
Just like yesterday
Then we’ll get down on our knees and pray
We can fool them all again
Yes, yes!

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss 

J.

June 13, 2007 at 02:48 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 04, 2007

an apple a day keeps obama away

As part of an effort to address critics who claim that he lacks substance, presidential candidate Barack Obama laid out a broad and detailed universal health care plan last week that embodied two key innovations: 

  1. Tax the rich
  2. Give stuff away for free.

While it is not clear how traditional Democrats will feel about this bold departure from party orthodoxy, his plan was well received by supporters, few of whom are rich and most of whom really like getting stuff for free.

Part of the funding for his plan will come from government-mandated cost efficiencies because when you think “cost efficiency” you think, “United States federal government.”

With these efficiencies in place, the plan is projected to cost between $50 and $65 billion per year. While such estimates are notoriously difficult to make, it is probably a safe bet that it will take at least a couple years for that amount to double.

The plan does not mandate that everyone purchase health insurance, but rather assumes, according to the Senator’s aides, that “everyone would buy health insurance if it were affordable enough.” The fact that between one-quarter and three-quarters of all those currently not insured could in fact afford to purchase health insurance but choose not to seems to have escaped their notice. But it’s perfectly understandable given that the thought that anyone would make a decision other than the one they would make is beyond comprehension. It’s as if most of the public doesn’t even know who Michael Moore is!

Perhaps the biggest innovation of the Obama plan would be a focus on prevention: “Preventive care only works if Americans take personal responsibility for their health and make the right decisions in their own lives – if they eat the right foods, stay active, and stop smoking.” 

And in order for Americans to make the “right decisions for their own lives,” they must first be told what those “right” decisions are. And then make those right decisions. For themselves, of course (It’s still a free country!). In this way, the decision of what to have for dinner, often a chaotic affair of individual desires, unique circumstances, and free will is elevated from a purely self-indulgent personal choice to an act of national policy.

In other words, if you have the french fries, the terrorists win. 

To further the making of these right decisions, “healthy environments” will be encouraged such as “local grocery stores with fruits and vegetables.”  

Fruits and vegetables? In grocery stores?  

It’s so crazy it just might work.

What if Barack Obama wins the presidency and implements his plan? Our projected timeline: 

2010: Universal Health Care Established. Public service announcements urge Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables.

2011: Costs unexpectedly outrun expectations. Taxes are raised to support increased expenditures but only on the “top 30% wealthiest Americans.” The consumption of fruit and vegetables is further encouraged though a combination of public service announcements and the mandate that businesses pay 5% of their wages directly in fresh produce (with the exception of corn, which due to government ethanol requirements now goes for $1 a kernel on the burgeoning black market). 

2012: Additional taxes are raised to support continually increasing program costs, but only on the “top 55% wealthiest Americans.” Police are empowered to set up traffic stops to search vehicles for unauthorized pastries.

2012: Having easily won re-election against a GOP torn apart over the independent candidacies of John McCain of the “John McCain Party,” Rudy Giuliani of the “Anti-Ferret Party,” and Jenna Bush of the “Party Party,” President Obama denounces the increasing grumbling about high health care taxes as a perfect example of the greed and avarice of the “top 75% wealthiest Americans.”

2014: A hospital in West Chicago paints the walls in its waiting room for the first time since profit caps were put in place. Patients approve noting that, “it’s like the months just fly by now.” Restaurants begin implementing a recently enacted law that requires they only serve dessert to patrons who finish all their vegetables first.

2015: While the “top 90% wealthiest Americans” struggle under a crushing tax burden, the Obama administration works frantically to reduce health care costs by enacting the “Hat & Mittens” law making it a felony to go outside in the winter improperly attired lest you “catch cold.”   

 2016: As costs continue to skyrocket, President Obama is seen running down Pennsylvania Avenue shoving carrots down the throats of random pedestrians shouting “it’s good for you, dammit, it’s good for you” before Secret Service agents whisk him away.

2017: President Obama is succeeded by his former Vice President, Jose Ortiz, a beneficiary of the 2011 McCain-Kennedy Immigration Reform Act that extended American citizenship to all Mexicans and Central Americans including those still living in Mexico and Central America. At his inauguration, President Ortiz pledges to fulfill his campaign promise of bringing fiscal health back to the country’s universal health care program and begins by leading the country in its newly mandatory daily calisthenics and vegetable colonics…

J.

June 4, 2007 at 11:48 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 02, 2007

define “problem.”

According to the experts at Alcoholics Anonymous, I do not have a drinking problem:

Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so but only lasted a couple of days?
No:
I have never decided to stop drinking. 

Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking --- stop telling you what to do?
No:
Fortunately, it’s very hard to tell someone what to do when they are passed out. 

Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
No: I have never wanted to keep from getting drunk.

Do you ever need a drink to get started in the morning or to stop shaking?
No: I’m usually still pretty buzzed from the night before. 

Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
No: It’s hard to get in trouble when you sit in your kitchen alone getting drunk. Why, is that a problem?

Have you ever had problems connected with drinking during the past year?
Yes: I ran out of gin once.

Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
Yes: That time I ran out of gin.

Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks at a party because you don’t get enough?
No: I only go to parties where I know I’ll get enough.

Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking anytime you want to even though you keep getting drunk when you don’t mean to?
No: I always mean to get drunk. 

Have you ever missed days of work or school because of drinking?
No: If I don’t go to work, I can’t afford to buy gin. 

Do you have blackouts?
No: I remember everything. It’s a curse. 

Have you ever felt your life would be better if you did not drink?
Now you’re just talking crazy talk. 

RESULTS: 

“Thanks for taking our quiz.

You answered yes to 2 questions.

People who answered yes four or more times are probably in trouble with alcohol. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol, see your doctor right away.”

Science: Is there anything it can’t justify? 

J.

June 2, 2007 at 01:24 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack