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Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Not Stingy

What does it say that in two days, Amazon has raised almost 10% of the paltry sum our President has pledged to Tsunami aid?

It says a lot about Americans--and about our President, too.

By the way, clicking the above link gives you the opportunity to donate yourself. I suggest you do.

White People Are Better Than You

No, I don't believe that, but evidently the SCLM does....

Because Words Speak Louder Than Actions

Okay, I've held off trying to score political points with regard to the crisis in Asia because, quite frankly, it would be unseemly. Yes, I thought the initial offer of $15 million in US aid was pathetically low, but I kept quiet about it because I felt that we should give the administration time to react.

But of course, no administration in American history has been more interested in turning death into political capital. And I suppose I should be unsurprised at this bit of crud:

Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.' "

Many Bush aides believe Clinton was too quick to head for the cameras to hold forth on tragedies with his trademark empathy. "Actions speak louder than words," a top Bush aide said, describing the president's view of his appropriate role.

Now, let's leave aside for a moment the discussion of this administrations words to action ratio; is it in any conceivable universe appropriate for the White House to react to a cataclysmic tragedy by taking verbal swipes at former Presidents?

This is sickening and disgusting. And sadly, no more than we've come to expect.

So I guess that's it; if the administration thinks it's okay to score cheap points based on the deaths of 60,000 people, well, fine.

So here's a hint, Mr. President: I don't give a tinker's Damn whether you feel the pain of these people or not. But $35 million is still pathetically low. We're the Goddamn United States of America, and if we can't come up with $100 million to help out these people, we're not even trying.

As far as I can tell, you don't know what pain is. So visualize this, Mr. President: visualize swimming on a Texas beach with your twin baby girls, and visualize a wave ripping them out of your arms and carrying them out to sea while you watch, helpless. Then, your heart broken and your spirit crushed, walk inland to find your house, your town, your entire way of life destroyed.

Then multiply the devastation by 30,000.

If you could experience empathy, you might actually embrace your role as leader of the Free World and try to do something. You might try to pony up actual money, not just dispatch a destroyer and give out the kind of money Halliburton spills every day.

But of course, it's more important for you to poke fun at former President Clinton.

Every time I doubt whether I should be as strong in my opposition to this administration as I am, they confirm for me why I am. They have taken a moment that should have drawn bipartisan support and used it to try to further their political goals. Not the first time. Won't be the last, I suppose.

The 2004 Feckes

My annus horribilis has almost come to a close, and good riddance. To say the year 2004 was the worst of my life is to say that George W. Bush might make a mistake once in a while, or that occasionally Michael Moore is sort of annoying.

But it is what is was. So in a tradition three years old, I'll present to you my 2004 picks and pans.

Rick Kahn Award (for worst political speech)

Previous award winners have included Rick Kahn for his "Rallemorial" speech, and GDub for his "Mission Accomplished" address. The 2004 nominees are:

George W. Bush, First Debate

It's easy to forget that before the first debate, George W. Bush was cruising to victory over John Kerry. Yes, he went on to win, but his petulant performance brought Kerry back into the race, and almost set the stage for Bush's defeat.

Joe Lieberman, "Joementum"

After finishing fifth in New Hampshire, Lieberman declared he was in a "three-way tie for third" and had "Joementum." His Joementum carried him all the way to Delaware.

John F. Kerry, "Reporting for Duty"

At the time, I thought the speech was okay. But like much of the Kerry campaign, it was too heavy on Vietnam and not strong enough on today. And in the end, it was not impressive enough to oust a wartime leader, however weak he may be.

And our winner is....


What a difference a speech makes. Lest we forget, Dean was on the ropes before he let loose his primal scream; his sudden and precipitous fall in Iowa would've certainly hurt him in his quest for the Democratic nomination. He was no lock to win.

But after his concession speech that fateful night, there was no question: Dean was done for 2004, and probably forever (at least where the Presidency was concerned.) Not since Ed Muskie cried had a candidate self-immolated so completely. Dean soldiered on for too long afterward, but his fate was sealed before he said "si su puerde!"

Biggest Loss for American Politics


I am not naive enough to think that there was a magical time when all Americans trusted each other and worked together. But certainly the level of rancor has grown to a fever pitch--one which would have done so no matter the victor in November. The "red/blue" divide has reached a point where adherents to the Democratic and Republican parties now resemble more fundamentalists and atheists than differing parties--it's not that we don't talk to each other, it's that we almost don't know how to talk to each other.

Both sides are at fault for this, but truthfully, only the party in power can start to thaw the ice. If the GOP was going to be magnanimous in victory, I've yet to see it. I hope in my lifetime to see more McCains and fewer Santorums--but I'm not gonna hold my breath.

Honorable Mention: Colin Powell ca. 1998

Biggest Loss for Minnesota Politics


Once upon a time, there was a little party. It wasn't the biggest or most powerful party, but it had a good idea: try to split the difference between the warring parties by presenting a sensible, pragmatic, independent voice.

For years, the party grew slowly, until one magical November, it actually won the Minnesota Governor's mansion. For a brief, shining moment, it seemed an independent party might take root.

But of course, we know what happened next. A group at the national level, more interested in making headlines than policy, settled on crackpot facist Pat Buchanan as their standardbearer; the Minnesota party opted to go it alone. Then, the party's Governor turned out to be to self-absorbed to govern to his potential. Finally, in 2002, when the party had the opportunity to run a sensible, centrist, former Democrat, they managed to run an amateurish, ham-fisted campaign that led to utter defeat.

Now, in 2004, with Democrats and Republicans polarized, the Independence Party's raison d'etre is gone. It was a great moment. But its moment has passed.

Honorable Mention: The Continued Existence of the Taxpayer's League

Best Year Politically (America)


Yeah, yeah, Bush won. But his victory was all Karl. Smear campaign? Check. Divisive social issues? Check. Pure evil? Check.

We all hate Rove, but there's no questioning his talent. I've no doubt when Lucifer takes him, he'll appoint him to be His personal spinmaster. Perhaps in a millenium, Satan will be viewed as having strong convictions. If anyone could pull it off, Karl Rove could.

Can he succeed with Bill Frist instead of Dubya? Time will tell. But I wouldn't bet against Rove. Unlike the operation on the left side of the aisle, he knows damn well that in politics, you fight to win, and not God or Floods or Truth can be considered in your pursuit of victory. It may not be moral--but it is good strategy.

Honorable Mention: George W. Bush

Best Year Politically (Minnesota)


Full disclosure: I was unimpressed when the Democrats tapped Entenza to be House Minority Leader. Entenza had never struck me as a particularly adept politician, and I feared that his selection would cement the DFL in the minority for years to come.

Boy, was I wrong. Under Entenza's leadership, House Democrats have pulled to within two seats of the GOP majority, and have dramatically weakened the hand of Gov. Timmy. Now, Pawlenty faces a restive House majority, with more than a few members willing to look at raising taxes to fund roads and schools and (Heaven forfend!) trains. And he gets no help in the Senate, where the DFL's thin majority was helped by the lame-brained minority's plan to push Sen. Sheila Kiscaden (IP-Rochester) into the arms of the majority. Good work, Matt! Now don't forget what got you there.

Honorable Mention: Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson

Worst Year Politically (America)


Has the leadership of any party ever been shown to be more out of touch with the rank-and-file as the Democratic party's chattering class? Has any group proven more tin-eared? Has any group of people (save the Chicago Cubs) shown more of a reverse Midas touch?

It is wholly appropriate that in the waning days of 2004, the House and Senate minorities are planning to back a wishy-washy, pro-privatization candidate for DNC chair because it will help the House and Senate minorities gain money from the DNC. I'm a moderate in this party, but let's face it: if it's broke, you've gotta fix it. And the people running the party right now are, flatly, the wrong people.

Honorable Mention: John Kerry

Worst Year Politically (Minnesota)

Gov. Tim Pawlenty

What do you call it when your party gets swamped in the mid-terms? Starts with an R...republic? No....reference? No....

Oh yeah, that's it: repudiation. Tim Pawlenty ran an ambitious, Taxpayer's League-friendly administration. And the people have spoken: they hate it.

This is not to say that Pawlenty is without skill, or that everything he says is automatically wrong. But by refusing to raise taxes ever, because taxes are bad, M'kay, Pawlenty proved something to a large swath of Minnesota: you know, roads and schools and snowplows are good things!

Honorable Mention: The Taxpayer's League

My Big Prediction for 2004 in Review

My big prediction for 2004 wasn't far least, when you don't look at the election:

Things will continue in Iraq much as they are now, even with Saddam's capture. Osama will remain free. al-Qaieda will strike elsewhere in the world, but not in the United States. Iraq will destabilize after America tries to pull some troops out in June, causing us to delay the transfer of power to Iraq.

Well, we did have a soi disant transfer of power, but not really. Iraq didn't destabilize because we never were able to pull troops out--because Iraq has yet to stabilize. Osama is free. al-Qaida hit Spain, and the cowardly Spaniards turned against a government that tried to pin the blame on somebody else. Unfortunately, I was pretty much right on the money here.

My election prediction...not so much:

Howard Dean will gain the Democratic nomination, and select former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) as his running mate. Ralph Nader will run for President. The Democrats will narrowly retake the Senate, but the GOP will continue to hold the House. And the Presidential election? That will be as follows:

BUSH/CHENEY [I](R) 49% 255
DEAN/CLELAND (D) 49% 283

I wasn't that far off in the general. But oh, just far off enough.

My Big Prediction for 2005

Social Security "Reform" will be to George W. Bush as Health Care Reform was to Bill Clinton: an albatross. The GOP will pull apart as the public decides that some Big Government Programs are a-okay. Bush's proposals will fail to be enacted entirely, presaging bad things for the GOP in the 2006 mid-terms. Meanwhile, in Iraq, elections will go off in January, but the resulting diminutive Sunni share of the government will fuel sectarian violence in Iraq. Osama bin Laden will continue to survive, spitting out occasional bits of bile. al Qaeda will not hit the United States, but will pull of something spectacularly evil overseas.

Headline You Will Never See

CBS News Ceases Operations

And Finally: The Vikings will make the playoffs, beat Seattle, and lose to Atlanta; the Minnesota Timberwolves will lose in the first round of the playoffs; the NHL will not resume operations before January 1, 2005; the Twins will lose the Central Division to the Cleveland Indians; and finally, Cubs fans will rejoice as Carlos Beltran leads them to...a World Series loss to Boston in six games. But at least we will have been there.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Goodness and Love

The death of one person is terrible. Ten, a horriffic tragedy. A few thousand is beyond belief.

The death of over 60,000 people is beyond our comprehension.

You can try to quantify it: twenty 9/11s. You can try to visualize it: the entire cities of Lakeville and Farmington snuffed out. But it's just too big, too terrible to imagine.

60,000 people. If we were to run photos of the faces of each person killed, spending just one second on each, we would be watching for sixteen hours, forty minutes. Each one a human being with stories to tell, loved ones left behind, connections permanently severed.

It is enough to cause some to question their faiths. That is understandable and, in some sense, proper. It is difficult to reconcile a God who would heal Reggie White's hamstring but drown 20,000 children. Conundrums like that drove me to Unitarian Universalism long ago, and I feel quite comfortable there; I doubt seriously that God would care whatsoever about whether a Defensive Tackle could suit up, even for a great player and nice, if loopy, guy like Reggie White. I do not doubt that God cares about the deaths of 60,000 people. My faith, such as it is, compels me to believe that God does not suffer the losses lightly, but that He (or She; we Unitarians keep our options open) cannot interfere to save them.

I will not blame God for this; we know what a capricious beast Nature is. This tragedy is the worst of my lifetime, yet pales in comparison to near-millions killed by prior earthquakes. That is cold comfort, yes, but it is a reminder to us all: the only thing between us and the grave is a very fragile, wanton, and capricious world that can turn on us in a second. And all our technology and society and morality is still powerless against it.

As with 9/11, we must go on; we have no choice. The people of Sri Lanka and Indonesia and Thailand and India and Bangladesh will mourn, and then they will rebuild; with a little help from those of us not currently going through a crisis, they may yet emerge stronger than before. As time goes on, the memory of loss will fade, and new generations will carry forward.

But that is in the future. Today, we grieve. Tomorrow, we lend a hand. That is where we are, and what we must do next.

Thursday, December 23, 2004
When I Say Happy Holidays, This Is What I Mean

Happy Festivus, everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Mr. Cleanface

Harry Reid might be a more interesting Minority Leader than I thought:

[H]ere's another story from Reid's tenure as chairman of the gaming commission: A man named Jack Gordon, who later married LaToya Jackson, tried to give Reid a $12,000 bribe. Reid let the FBI videotape Gordon offering him the bribe, and then, according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal account, he "put his hands around Gordon's neck and said, 'You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me.'" That's right, Senate Democrats are being led by a man who once tried to strangle LaToya Jackson's future husband-manager.

That, in and of itself, might make Reid one of the best men living.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Solstice is the Reason for the Season

Happy Holidays. Yes, I know by saying that, a certain subset of the Christian Right thinks that I'm attacking them; I say poppycock.

Jesus of Nazareth was almost certainly not born on December 25, 0 AD. If the historical record of the Bible is correct, then Jesus was probably born in early October of 4 BC. Since much of the birth myth of Jesus seems to be cribbed from the story of Mithras' birth myth, we can't even be certain of that.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 for entirely political reasons. The Church wanted to end the pagan rituals of the Saturnalia, a popular holiday, but knew that the people would never give up their drunken revelry. Instead, the Church simply declared, ex cathedra, that December 25 would be Christmas, and many of the pagan rituals were folded in.

Of course, this simply meant that people drank and carroused to celebrate the birth of the Son of God--hardly pious. Not for nothing did Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans outlaw the celebration. But of course, that had little effect; people are fond of drinking and carrousing, and this tradition continued for approximately 1850 years after the death of Jesus, when Victorian sensibilities--and an epigram about a Saint who gave gifts to children--transformed the holiday into the convivial family affair we now associate with it.

And so when I wish you Happy Holidays, I do it fully aware of what the history of Christmas is, and its almost tangental relationship to the Christian faith. Christmas is what the Victorians made it: a holiday about giving gifts to loved ones and celebrating family. The consumeristic streak we decry in Christmas was, in fact, built into its present incarnation.

It's a good holiday, one that has enough secularism in it that even a devout Unitarian like myself can celebrate it without irony or guilt. (As a good Unitarian, I even accept that it may all be true, and of course, that it can be True without being true.)

The Saturnalia was about the solstice, the time when there is the least light of the year. In these northern latitudes, that makes for a short day indeed; the Romans celebrated the end of the diminishing light and the return of the sun. Our year ends when it does for the same reasons. And so it can be said, more even than Jesus, that the winter solstice is the reason for the season.

And so, today, on the solstice, I wish you all a Happy Holiday, Merry Christmas, Good Solstice, or whatever holiday you wish. Our time together is too short to fight about the detalis; I don't know much, but I believe that whatever God is, She would like us to play nice and not fight amongst ourselves.

And in the end, that's what this time of year should be about.

Friday, December 03, 2004
In Defense of the Dash

Brad Plumer, apropos of nothing, comes out against the Dash.

Ezra Klein Defends it.

As for me--well, anyone who's read this blog more than a minute or two knows I couldn't write effectively without the dash. It's an ingrained tic--but it does such a good job pointing out things!

That's it, I'm going out and buying Eats, Shoots, & Leaves.