Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Junior Senator from the Trick or Treat State.

John Ensign is apparently only capable of speaking the truth when he thinks he's lying for effect.

John Ensign Scandal: Senate Republicans Decline To Defend Colleague: "'I have a little alert to tell Washington,' Ensign said during the televised hearings. 'The people don't trust us. They don't trust us to make these decisions.'"
It is the usual tranparent appeal to the prejudices of the wingnut social conservative fringe, who can be depended upon to take the assertion as gospel. On the other hand, it's a pretty moronic idea for a Senator be flinging around - because there is no more important thing than having a government that you CAN trust to "make those decisions." That is, after all, the job.

The man often referred to as "the Hairdo" by his critic is not the sort of man that it is wise to allow to take the point on the rather critical issue of the honor, honesty and credibility of the US form of Representative Government. One would think, at any rate, for the sad truth is there is no-one able to make that statement with greater unintended irony than John Ensign of Nevada. Or so I hope.

Nevada is a place where people come to get rich or get lost. It's politicians and business people tend to be of the former sort, but in some particular cases the latter happens - because fast buck artists don't tend to be drawn from the classes of "The Best and the Brightest." It could well be called the "Trick or Treat State;" it gained statehood on Oct. 31, 1864, with the issue of slavery being a trick or a treat, depending on which side you were on. Things pretty much continued in that vein thereafter. The Hairdo Himself tends to underline the importance of a good costume in getting the biggest haul of candy. I think this explains his membership in Promise Keepers®, a conservative Christian movement with the motto, "Men of Integrety."

Central to Promise Keepers® membership is a pledge to keep the Seven Promises, among them:
PROMISE 3: A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
PROMISE 4:  A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.

Why go to all that trouble actually doing the right thing, when you can simply join an organization that says you are above reproach for a modest annual fee?

On both sides of my family tree, the sagas and tales of my axe-flinging ancestors whisper to me that there is no greater offense to Odin Skyfather than the unspilled blood of an Oathbreaker. Me, I do try to keep such intemperate reactions in check - particularly since the only thing Ensign did that would be of concern to my forebears was that he broke an oath - a bond precisely as sacred to them as a gambling debt.

Speaking of Nevada politics.

I advocate no violence; I merely find it hilarious that my ancestral collection of reprobates, raiders and remittance men would be offended by the man's offense, for, in a literary sense, it is exactly the sort of arrogance that the Gods, we are told of in the sagas, hero-tales and morality plays find remarkable enough to correct personally. So beware of doing harm to Ensign and his ilk.

It's imprudent to deprive a Ceiling Cat of it's mousie.

The New York Times published an overview
of the sorry tale of presumption, adultery, deceit, deception, corruption and malfeasance that in the end led to the scuttling of John Ensign's presidential ambitions.

Mr. Ensign allowed Senator Tom Coburn, a friend and fellow conservative Christian, to serve as an intermediary with the Hamptons in May in discussing a large financial settlement, to help them rebuild their lives. “John got trapped doing something really stupid and then made a lot of other mistakes afterward,” Mr. Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said in an interview. “Judgment gets impaired by arrogance, and that’s what’s going on here.”
No doubt that we are supposed to presume that Sen. Coburn - fellow conservative Christian and close friend - was as suprised by this behavior, this abuse of his trust as was the husband of his paramour (and campaign treasurer), close friend Douglas Hampton. Goodness, how could anyone have possibly foreseen such a thing?

But, man, he does look fine in public; the looks of a George Clooney, albiet with the eyes of an inbred Cocker Spaniel.

His capacity for looking good in public, coupled with his inability to avoid causing problems that could indebt him to those who make problems go away for a price made him the perfect candidate to place into high office, from a certain cynical perspective.

It's no wonder at all to me that he was seen as being a likely heir to Ronald Regan.

Whatever the motives of those who knew Ensign of old and supported him for office anyway, they certainly got exactly what they paid for. But like many superficially attractive investments, he depreciated rapidly. There is an axiom referred to as Hanlon's Razor which states that one should never presume malice when stupidity alone is sufficient to explain the situation - but to presume such comprehensive stupidity on the part of his backers is so insulting that I prefer to err on the side of charity.

John is a man who's character is made evident by his behavior. My primary impression comes from constituent correspondence. I wish I had copies - but I shredded them with extreme prejudice.

They revealed a breathtaking arrogance coupled with the complete absence of any thought put into the issue I had raised. Since they were form-letter responses to common questions and he has a staff who are actually paid to be smarter and better-informed than he is, there's simply no excuse for headpatting platitudes as a response to a constituent's concerns - most especially when you wish them to be reassured in their complacent presumption of your competence.

It was not difficult to find an example of the Ensign Style of Communication in the public record. Indeed, he communicated it to the Editors of the New York Times.

Published: October 8, 2007
To the Editor:

Your Sept. 27 editorial “Let the Sunshine In” left your readers in the dark on the issue of transparency in the Senate. I support electronic filing of fund-raising reports in the Senate because, as we probably agree, disclosure leads to more transparency in government. I have never had a secret hold on this bill.

In the same spirit of transparency, I requested a vote on my amendment that would require groups filing ethics complaints against senators to reveal who is financing their efforts. Light needs to shine on this increasingly abused process, but Democrats are clearly afraid of voting on my amendment.

Your editorial compared the House and the Senate, but on this issue there is a big difference. In the House, a member of Congress has to file a complaint. In the Senate, there are no requirements — anyone can do it anonymously, without even a signature. The result of the Democrats’ blocking my amendment is that people can continue to hide in the dark to lob partisan attacks against senators.
John Ensign

U.S. Senator from Nevada
Washington, Sept. 28, 2007
See how it gives the dual impression of impervious arrogance while revealing an inability to comprehend that there might actually be a principle at stake?

It's long been a GOP meme that ANY ethical question directed at a Republican is merely a "partisan attack." And they should know. They'd pioneered that style of political action with their attacks on Bill Clinton. So, we should all understand that when ethics complaints are being made, they aren't really ethics complaints. They are just attempts to replace one sumbitch with another, equally corrupt sumbitch who owes his loyalty to different backers and gets his political support by pandering to a different segment of the credulous public.

But - even if that WERE true - it is still a strange position for a Senator who comes from a state where "none of the above" is one of the options on the ballot.

But the objection to autonomous complaints - well, I do understand that completely. Those who casually cause offense, outrage and harm do like to know if those "little people" are banding together to get themselves some even. The idea that a complaint might be based in some legitimate concern for, say, national security or the rule of law can be dismissed as fantastical.  Concerns about personal safety, or other forms of retaliation? Absurd! Paranoia!

Anyone making a complaint would OF COURSE be employed by or funded by some political action group. That's how things "really work." That is the assumption made when Republicans attack ACORN and the ACLU. Whatever these groups say, or even actually achieve, their only real agenda is to make make it difficult for Republicans to hold on to political power.

As patently absurd as that statement is, I do think those people best placed to influence the Republican party and the Social Conservative Base actually believe that politics is the primary motivation of critics, that their opponents see ethics, law, justice, civil rights, gun laws, health care, global warming, church and state issues, marriage rights and every other issue as simply sharp rocks to pelt the GOP - and that there could not possibly be any larger motivation - like, say, moral indignation, or a sincere appreciation for the economic, social and environmental impact of heedless social, environmental and foreign policy.

That is not because of a fundamental difference in political philosophy. It is because that sort of blindness is required if you are a corrupt sonofabitch belonging to a club of corrupt bastards, for in order to look in the mirror, you must embrace the faith-based doctrine that all persons of your walk and station are no better than you. 

When you offend a large enough number of people over a long enough period of time with the expressed attitude of "whatcha gonna do about it," - well, sooner or later, one of those people will be in a position to do you a grave injury. Meanwhile, even those you helped - well, they probably had to pay a great deal for the help that should have come as a matter of course - so when you lose your ability to deliver the goods there is no bond of loyalty or gratitude, no debt of honor or genuine friendship to presume upon.

Now, I have no idea whether Sen. Ensign's ethics amendment passed, but regardless, it is ironic to note that if we were to trace the source of the funding for the complaint against him - well, it would come from "Ensign, Inc." Literally. But it is reasonable to question the motives and the character of people bringing complaint, as a matter of significant interest that should be independent of the facts of the complaint.

It is a sad fact of human nature that most crimes are solved with the help of other criminals. 

To put up with Ensign, and people like Ensign - you have to take him as being the very model of a modern Statesman. You have to be able to dismiss every hint that he's less than intelligent, less than prudent, less than honest and certainly FAR less than what he seems. You have to somehow continue to accept him at face value and at his word. That makes you either very stupid indeed, or very willing to look the other way in return for some personal benefit. For the latter case, we have Douglas Hampton to illustrate the matter. The Ensigns and the Hamptons were said to be very close, over a very long period of time. It's difficult to credit the idea that people who are so close are truly unaware of the essential nature of their bedfellows. 

When you choose to be friends with someone like John Ensign - well, it's kinda like inviting a loaded skunk into your home. Sooner or later, the damn thing is going to go off. It's in the nature of skunks and narcissists to do that when every little thing fails to go their way.  A narcissist may be charming - may indeed charm your pants off. But if you permit that to happen more than once - it's a consensual relationship with a very predictable story arc leading from "ohgodohgod" to "owfuckOW!"

This story will no doubt be fodder for playwrights and novelists for generations to come. It is a story that in it's improbable degrees of arrogance, theatrical details and breathtaking contempt for the standards of moral behavior may be in all seriousness be compared to great tragedies such as Antigone, Oedipus Rex and Othello. 

But I must confess that there is a distinction between the real-life clusterfuck that is Ensign and a classical morality play. Mark Twain famously observed that the difference between truth and fiction was that fiction had to make sense.

It will take a great deal of literary hagiography to transform Ensign into a plausible vehicle for an actor of stature greater Will Ferrell or Pauly Shore. Othello was not merely a jealous prick. Oedipus was not just a fool who stepped on his own dick. The tragedy of Antigone is that all involved were genuinely mistaken in their attempts to honor Family and Gods.

Ensign - well, if there is a God that would be caught dead in the C-Street church - it's the one that appears every time in the mirror when we brush our teeth. But then, to people like Ensign - no higher power exists.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bloomburg Dodging Rogue Elephant Shit

I don't know if you've noticed this, but within the ungentle confines of political reality within The "Untied" States, the only way to run for office as a well known conservative is to run away from the GOP.

New York City's generally well regarded and quite conservative mayor has "shaken the dust from his feet," in a way that can't have made him any friends within the GOP. But then, his political calculation is pretty much summed up as "And your point would be?" (

Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn't know who the GOP candidates for citywide election are, but he says they've got no chance at winning – an interesting comment from the guy who, ahem, is running for mayor on the Republican line.

"They have no chance whatsoever … whoever they are," the mayor said at a press conference today.

Suffice it to say, Bloomie's probably not making any new friends in the GOP. Last week he said he didn't even know the names of the Republicans running for citywide offices, reports the Daily News.

The New York GOP probably won't be happy about Bloomberg's latest comments, considering his name is at the top of their ballot in November. But perhaps the mayor may be deliberately saying things that annoy the GOP in order to court the city's Democratic voters, who outnumber Republicans by four or five to one.

This situation has been brought to you by our good friends, Cause and Effect. Literally years of increasingly delusional and counter-productive stupidity have created a situation whereby genuine conservatives must distance themselves from the movement radicals who have taken the party hostage. The political process requires credibility. It requires the ability to compromise, to negotiate, to contribute to the debate above a standard found on a grade-school playground.

Practical politics requires a willingness to work in concert with people who have differing agendas, different priorities, different needs. That politics is "the art of the possible" and being held hostage by ideologues and simpletons makes politics impossible and conflict inevitable.

By contrast, I give you an example of ideological generated stupidity in action.

Erick Erickson, the managing editor of and a city councilor in Macon, Georgia, has called for the abolition of Macon’s police force if it votes to unionize.

The Macon Telegraph reported on Monday that some 130 police officers on the city’s municipal force want to unionize because of “officers bearing the burden of rising insurance costs, a loss of incentive pay and the city not having a pay scale.”

Then there's this:

New Orleans newspaper takes Rep. Steve King to task for his ‘heartless’ contempt of Katrina victims.

In an interview with The Hill this week, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) boasted that “the best vote” he ever cast while in Congress was to deny $52 billion in aid to Hurricane Katrina victims. Yesterday, the Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ award-winning newspaper, calls King’s comments “heartless” and “appalling,” especially because he is from “a state that’s also vulnerable to flooding

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is one of Think Progress's favorite topics. Every time he opens his mouth, it's a freakin' gift to whoever says something vaguely sensible in opposition.

Let me diagram the political calculation for you.

Stands like this will please only the hardcore fringe of the social-conservative right. They will make more moderate and better informed conservatives uncomfortable, for whether or not they specifically disagree - they are certainly aware enough of the social context to realize there's a price to be paid for standing next to shrill idiots.

Independent voters will see no political or social advantage to being identified with such an obvious tool, even if they have particular issues in common - and the major indicator for those left of center is how badly they want to kick him in the nuts.

But center-progressive political operatives must view this conspicuous lunacy as a gift from God on High. It's not even so much the politics any more, or the absence of any critical thought that might actually contribute to the dialoge. No, it's the obviousness of the complete, smug, impervious armor of utter ignorance and incompetence - and an increasing awareness of how dangerous it is to let such icons of confident incompetence anywhere near the levers of power.

People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

"I began to think that there were probably lots of things that I was bad at and I didn't know it," Dunning said.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it," wrote Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dunning.

The deficiency in "self-monitoring skills," the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and repeatedly lose out -- and the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

Recognize anyone?

"Going Rogue" must be the all time most stupid title for a political memoir. It could only have come from the woman who stumbled through an interview with that hard-boiled journo Katie Couric, stood in front of a turkey slaughter for a photo op, winked at us during debates and said the word "maverick" often enough not only to inspire a drinking game but also to ensure that the entire nation was completely obliterated by the time she was done speaking.

And that brings us to "rogue." It's almost like she just decided she couldn't call the book "Maverick," because that was McCain's word, so she used a thesaurus. Except look more closely at the definition, governor.

According to the New American Heritage dictionary (figure that would appeal to her more than Mirriam Webster) there's this: "a dishonest or unprincipled man."

And this: "an elephant or other large wild animal driven away or living apart from the herd and having savage or destructive tendencies."

This: "a person or thing that behaves in an aberrant, faulty, or unpredictable way."

And finally this: "an inferior or defective specimen among many satisfactory ones, esp. a seedling or plant deviating from the standard variety."

Is it any wonder that Mayor Bloomburg is saying what he's saying? He has the advantage of having demonstrated his competence in a notoriously difficult political job. But the other candidates on that slate have no such advantage - and furthermore, in order to get on the slate, they need the backing of core, committed, doctrinaire republicans who are in charge of the party right now. People like Palin. People like Representative King. People like those who support them with time and money. The people who nominated them. The people who think these folks are appropriate representatives.

Bloomburg and other rational conservatives know that even if these factors fail to screen out competent, qualified candidates, hardly anyone could be expected to believe it.

And that, gentle readers, is why they have no chance, and why Michael Bloomburg is perfectly willing to say so.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On the value of minding one's own business.

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There's a fundamental principle of fiscal and, yes, even social conservatism, which may be stated as follows:

"Don't sweat the small stuff."

If you would like it in more Biblical terms - and I do, for it proves just how obvious and old the precept is, it can also be summed up as "straining at gnats and swallowing camels."

That is to say - for explaining the obvious is my lot in life - a fixation on a trivial detail can distract you from large and critical matters. Most of life amounts to doing the best you can with what you have for the largest net effect. This applies to everything, from heating your home to keeping a community running to the essential goal of keeping people as healthy as possible - because plague is a bad thing, and almost always plague comes due to the mistaken assertion that "those people" don't deserve "luxuries" like sewers and access to clean drinking water, and certainly "taxpayers" should not be forced to "subsidize" these "useless and unproductive" people.

Well, if you see sewage-treatment, garbage collection, roads and firefighting to be "luxuries" that should be "means-tested," you really need to go and make your own way in some remote mountain valley. In any urban area, it's irresponsible - and prohibitively expensive - for anyone to maintain a sole-use infrastructure for these basic requirements. The principle here applies to all the general needs of any large collection of people who got there however they got there to do whatever it is they do to become part of that community.

I illustrate this with two different issues, two differing ideological viewpoints, both illustrating the beam in the other fellow's eye - while doing nothing about the mote. So to speak. Both are cases of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Mich. woman warned to get license for babysitting kids until school bus arrives A Michigan woman who lives in front of a school bus stop says the state is threatening her with fines and possibly jail time for babysitting her neighbors' kids until the bus comes, WZZM reports.

Lisa Snyder of Middleville, Mich., says she takes no money for watching the three children for 15-40 minutes each day so that the neighbors can get to work on time.
The Department of Human Services, acting on a complaint that Snyder was operating an illegal child care home, demanded she either get a license, stop watching the kids or face the consequences, WZZM says.

Snyder calls the whole thing "ridiculous" and tells the Grand Rapids TV station that "we are friends helping friends!"

A DHS spokesperson tells the station that it has no choice but to comply with state law, which is designed to protect Michigan children.
Now, we are missing a big chunk of information here - how much a license would cost under these circumstances, and what meeting the requirements to be licensed in the first place would be. But that is almost beside the point. It's what triggered the action in the first place, a complaint. A citizen, using the power of government to interfere in the lives and arrangements of people who were meeting their own needs without having "gotten proper permission."

Perhaps the complaint was triggered by something important, perhaps the investigation found things that the agency - once they were forced to investigate, were legally obligated to address. Perhaps there were even significant, real issues regarding child safety. We should be able to assume that, for DHS should never be wasting their time on matters of less critical urgency, and it should be staffed by people trained and experienced in making these calls for the benefit of children and the community as a whole, empowered by regulations that tell them within what circumstances they may act and to what degree - not authoritarian checklists designed to restrict discretion and ensure that the "wrong people" are not gaining an "undeserved benefit."

You know, like free childcare from someone willing to provide it, and probably no less qualified than they are themselves.

This has the stench of the doctrinaire liberal - who's quite sure that no-one is qualified to wash their own hands without having been forced to read and initial a seventeen-page "training" written in such a way as to ensure that no-one who actually needs to know the information will be able to read it.

And on the other end of the spectrum...
t r u t h o u t | Denying Health Care to Immigrants Would Be Harmful to America: "A 2007 congressional study of procedures used by six states to verify citizenship eligibility for Medicaid discovered that the six states spent $8.3 million to verify applicants' immigration status, only to apprehend eight undocumented people trying to game the system. How many physicals could have been purchased with that money? Our immigration laws prohibit the entry of any person with a contagious disease, or a physical or mental disorder that may pose a threat to others, and deny residence to those who have not received vaccinations against vaccine-preventable diseases."
This is such an obvious issue that I've hesitated to bring it up. It's contentious. It has all kinds of racial implications. It involves illegal immigrants - who are Mexicans, probably Catholic, and who - if not properly restrained - might expect some social recognition. If left unchecked, can full-scale multiculturalism be far behind?

I wax sarcastic - and I do it to illustrate how easy it is to forget the essentials while having a food-fight over trivia. If you do not happen to care for Mexicans or Appalachan Yankees, nobody is forcing you to mingle socially. That's up to you. Mind your own business and allow others to mind theirs. Do not demand that an accounting be made to prove that "those people" are not gaining some diffuse benefit they "don't deserve." Why? Because the accountants have to be PAID. You don't want "your tax dollars going to illegals." Well, if a few dollars pains you, doesn't a million per illegal found pain you more? And if to you "cost is no object" to "ensuring the law" - I reserve the right to kick your ass until your brain is restarted - because that sets the intent of the law on it's head.

If someone is flipping my hamburger or picking my collards, I would very much prefer that they did NOT have tuberculosis or hepatitis or meningitis. I would very much prefer that if their children attend school with my children - and let's not argue the importance of them doing so - I don't want my kids bringing home easily preventable diseases, much less "critters." And I frankly do not care about their immigration status, or even if they are one of the vanishingly small number of illegal immigrants who have gotten welfare benefits (such as they are in the US of A) by means of fraud.

My immune system is not set up to check passports, and neither is yours, so shut the hell up and stop sweating the small stuff.

So health care legislation that is designed with conspicuous malice to deny health-care to "illegals" makes about as much sense as making head-lice mandatory.

I rather hope that I do not have to explain these two cases have in common, but I'll do so anyhow, so that I can tie it to things you can point to when you wish to agree with me in public. As of course you will...

It's Authoritarianism - the distinct and often odious need of a certain fraction of the population to be In Charge and In Control. People - in general - have been so conditioned to respect and defer to Authority that we barely even question whether that authority is qualified - even though our ability to suspend judgment is challenged with every encounter with government or corporate paperwork. One theme that runs through it all is a surprising willingness to spend ten dollars in a probably futile effort to prevent one dollar from reaching the "wrong hand."

But any successful enterprise - public, private, communist, socialist, collective, co-operative, faith-based - whatever their political, economic or social structure and whether their efforts are valued in cash or on some theoretical Social Utility Index - ALL succeed or fail by keeping their eyes on the intended goal and being internally quite ruthless about ensuring that the process doesn't preclude the prize.

This requires a good deal of personal discipline, a willingness to review and revise procedure as advised by experience and above all, never letting the need for control over others to become the primary motive for people to belong to the organization.

The key to maintaining a lawful and orderly society is to have as few laws as possible and a social consensus about "order" that is as inclusive as possible. It's not hard to find operational definitions of what "law and order" look like, definitions that in their origins predate even English Common Law. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is one such expression - but I may not actually want you to do unto me as you would have me do unto you. Indeed, I might find what you want me to do unto you to be challenging or even distasteful. So I prefer the more individualistic "And it harm none, do as you will."

For really, that's what a civilization must require - that it's members agree to conscientiously avoid doing harm, and be accountable for those occasions when they fail to avoid harm. All else is details and window-dressing that is very appealing to those who aspire to large offices in high-status locations. And we should not have any particular objection to rewarding those with such needs in such coin so long as their efforts are responsible and professional.

But when they clearly see their privilege as being defined by the ability to screw with other people without a single thought to what direct or indirect consequence that interference may bring, it's time to renegotiate the power exchange, by means as peaceful and nonviolent as possible. But clearly, it's time to stop suggesting and to start insisting.

For right now, not only does the US social dialog amount to "sweating the small stuff," it's clear that "sweating the small stuff" has become the definition of every aspect of it's government. A government, I should point out, that is a faithful and quivering slave to the sort of people who pay for it's "services" and demand it's sops and token legislation aimed at the habits and liberties of others, with no beneficial outcome other than annoying the hell out of society as a whole. This has the predictable outcome that most people are breaking or ignoring many laws most of the time - often without any idea that there is, or could even possibly be such a law in the first place.

I am a classical, small government fiscal conservative. I temper my Jeffersonian idealism with a foundation solidly resting on the conservative pragmatism of Edmund Burke. And frankly, I favor the rights of the individual over the rights of any group of people, because it's the efforts of individuals that matter, when you get right down to it. Any large group of people - be it Greenpeace or the Tea-Party movement - is motivated by and empowered by individuals. Take away two or three key individuals and the rest will wander off, confused, searching for a new cause or a new Leader.

Well, we need to expect a lot more of those Authorities - and permit them a good deal less of our power in exchange for their services. Clearly, they've been operating at a level that exceeds their executive competence.


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