Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oh, shit! My legacy!?!?!?!

By Carl

The joys of watching the
president's final year will be enormous:

Over the past few months, Mr. Bush has sounded more like the national Mr. Fix-It than the man who began his second term with a sweeping domestic policy agenda of overhauling Social Security, remaking the tax code and revamping immigration law. Now, with little political capital left, Mr. Bush, like President Bill Clinton before him, is using his executive powers — and his presidential platform — to make little plans sound big.

He traveled to the shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to announce federal protection for two coveted species of game fish, the striped bass and the red drum. He appeared in the Rose Garden to call on lenders to help struggling homeowners refinance. He came out in favor of giving the Food and Drug Administration new authority to recall unsafe foods.

Just this weekend, thanks to an executive order by Mr. Bush, the military is opening up additional air space — the White House calls it a “Thanksgiving express lane” — to lessen congestion in the skies. And Mr. Bush’s aides say more announcements are in the works, including another initiative, likely to be announced soon, intended to ease the mortgage lending crisis.

Well, apart from the opening up of military airspace to passenger flights to help ease congestion in the peak periods --and credit where credit is due, this was a novel suggestion -- what's wrong with this picture?

He traveled to the shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to announce federal protection for two coveted species of game fish, the striped bass and the red drum... instead of gutting the EPA and Department of Interior budgets, meaning he could have done this years ago.

He appeared in the Rose Garden to call on lenders to help struggling homeowners refinance... instead of artificially keeping the prime lending rate low, thus igniting the sub-prime debacle in the first place, or hell, even listening to his first Secretary of the Treasury!

He came out in favor of giving the Food and Drug Administration new authority to recall unsafe foods... instead of not turning the agency over to the lobbyists, particularly from the cattle industry, so it's no surprise that beef has been a killer in this country over the past seven years.

Starting to see a pattern? Now that he's allowed his cronies (puns intended) free range to gut and scale back on oversight and regulation in their own interests, suddenly in the last year of his administration, when it will be his name in the ledger books, he's decided to become the Lord High Protector.

Bush wouldn't even make a good pocket protector.

Yet some of Mr. Bush’s new initiatives have had little practical effect. Fishing for red drum and striped bass, for instance, is already prohibited in federal waters; Mr. Bush’s action will take effect only if the existing ban is lifted. And the Federal Aviation Administration can already open military airspace on its own, without presidential action.

Democrats, like Senator Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, who runs the Senate’s Democratic Policy Committee, dismiss the actions as window dressing. “It’s more words than substance,” said Mr. Dorgan said, adding he was surprised to see a president who has often seemed averse to federal regulation using his regulatory authority.

“He’s kind of a late bloomer,” Mr. Dorgan said.

You have to think the policy shop in the White House is scraping hard at the bottom of the barrel in order to come up with some of these.

I have a list of things Mr. Bush can fix, so long as he's interested in making a difference to the common folk.

1) Get American Idol off the air.

2) Mediate the writer's strike in Hollywood.

3) While you're at it, the Broadway stagehands' strike seems to be at an impasse.

4) The filtration system in the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial needs to be cleaned out.

5) You could reglaze the windows in the Capitol. My sources tell me some of the Congressmen have to actually wear sweaters for the drafts.

6) My car could use a waxing.

7) Take out the garbage.

8) Clean ThumbPer's litterbox.

9) There's a pothole at the intersection of Union Turnpike and Francis Lewis. Senator D'Amato used to be really good at getting those filled. Are you saying you're not as good as a Senator?

10) I need someone to climb down into the septic system and scrape the solids out.

11) You could just resign, and admit you're a fuck up.

Other suggestions are welcome in comments. What
should Bush do while he waits for the inevitable escort off the grand stage, with a large hook?

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Oh yeah, that's the good stuff!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm a huge Family Guy fan, and I've been watching it more than ever recently -- the new episodes, in syndication, on DVD. This is perhaps my favourite scene of all. It's Stewie performing Elton John's "Rocket Man" -- extremely funny in and of itself, but even funnier when you consider that it's based on a hilarious William Shatner interpretation of the song.


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Start spreading the news

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I should let our two New Yawkahs, Creature and Carl, comment on this -- and they may yet -- but, hey, I'm a former resident of, well, New Jersey, Morris County to be precise, Mendham to be more precise, west of New York, along 80 to Parsippany, down 287 to Morristown, then west, and so, credibility established (or not), I thought I'd take this opportunity to pass along some good news:

New York City is on track to have fewer than 500 homicides this year, by far the lowest number in a 12-month period since reliable Police Department statistics became available in 1963.

But within the city’s official crime statistics is a figure that may be even more striking: so far, with roughly half the killings analyzed, only 35 were found to be committed by strangers, a microscopic statistic in a city of more than 8.2 million.

So. New York is getting safer, or, rather, less lethally violent. Which is great, of course. But what do these statistics say about one Rudy Giuliani, you know, the Mayor of America, 9/11-9/11-9/11, who is running not just on his supposed leadership in the wake of those terrorist attacks on the WTC, 9/11-9/11-9/11, but on his supposed success in reducing New York's violent crime rate (and indeed in turning the city around, from a deadly sewer to a shining light)? Here's Matt Yglesias:

The New York Times has an article that takes a look at the continuing declines in New York City's murder rate over the past few years. I think understanding this is, among other things, an important part of how we understand Rudy Giuliani's legacy. Before 9/11, of course, his signature accomplishment was his association with the massive crime drop the city experienced during the 1990s, a tumbling in the murder rate that was paralleled in most other major American cities, but that happened to a much greater extent in New York than elsewhere.

Giuliani and his supporters would tend to argue that certain apparent black marks on his administration's record -- Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Rudy's generally horrible relationship with the African-American community -- were all just part of the price you had to pay for his super-effective anti-crime measures. But then Bloomberg came into office, kept much of the same policy framework in place, but went out of his way to try to be a bridge-builder who got along with all sorts of people. And the poof is in the pudding -- this works just fine. Nothing about sound crime control policy required Giuliani to be acting like a jerk or a madman, he just did that stuff because that's who he is.

A sound analysis. But let me add this:

As the Gothamist notes, "[o]ne can see a pattern of decline that is a continuation of an even more serious drop in murders that began in the early 1990s. Those reductions began with the institution of policies under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who then served in the Dinkins administration." That's right: Dinkins, not Giuliani. The murder rate declined dramatically under Giuliani (1994-2001), but the decline actually began under Dinkins (1990-1993). The rate flattened out during Giuliani's last few years in office but has declined again under Bloomberg (2002-present).

Giuliani may want to take all the credit for New York's turnaround -- on this and on pretty much everything else, arguing that his "success" as mayor qualifies him to be president -- but both his predecessor and his successor deserve much of the credit, too. Indeed, Dinkins could argue that he started the decline and Bloomberg could argue that he has been able to reduce the murder rate without being "a jerk or a madman," that he has been able to do so without alienating (and turning against him) much of the city, including those communities that justifiably feel violated and vulnerable.

Simply put, Bloomberg seems to have brought the city together (and made it safer) in a way that Giuliani never did -- and, given his personality and politics -- never could.

New York's recovery has been remarkable, but it wasn't all Giuliani's doing, whatever his self-congratulatory spin, and, behind the statistics, much of his supposed leadership was fraudulent and, worse, brutal.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Brain damage

By Michael J.W. Stickings

What more can be said regarding the human costs of Bush's wars? Thousands of Americans dead, many more thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis dead, countless wounded, countless lives ruined... And all for what? Iraq has been a disaster, a lost war, and Afghanistan has been badly neglected, so much so that the Taliban are well on rise again.

Well, you know what else can be said? It's all much worse than we thought. Consider this:

At least 20,000 U.S. troops who were not classified as wounded during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have been found with signs of brain injuries, according to military and veterans records compiled by USA TODAY.

The data, provided by the Army, Navy and Department of Veterans Affairs, show that about five times as many troops sustained brain trauma as the 4,471 officially listed by the Pentagon through Sept. 30. These cases also are not reflected in the Pentagon's official tally of wounded, which stands at 30,327.

As Steve Benen puts it, "the discrepancy comes as a result of time. Troops whose wounds are discovered after they return home are not added to the official tally."

Fair enough. Maybe the Pentagon isn't willfully hiding this from us. Still, these revised numbers reveal something that is deeply troubling, namely, that we are only beginning to learn of the true human costs of these wars.

And, of course, these numbers reflect only what has happened to U.S. troops. What about the suffering of the Iraqi and Afghani people themselves. Not to say life for them was better under Saddam and the Taliban -- no, I would suggest nothing of the kind -- but how many of them have been killed? been injured? had their lives ruined? lost loved ones? suffered brain damage?

Maybe one day those numbers will be revealed -- if they can ever be known with any degree of accuracy. And then... then... maybe then... a fuller perspective on these horrendous wars can be achieved.

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The underwhelming president

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe George W. Bush, I'm just not sure underwhelming quite captures the essence of either the man or his presidency. It's sort of like calling the New England Patriots' high-octane offence "pretty good" -- in other words, a gross understatement.

At a speech in Chattanooga earlier this week, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the Republican who defeated Harold Ford last November, remarked, to much discomfort in the room, that he "was very underwhelmed with what discussions took place at the White House" on Iraq. In response to a question, he offered this ambiguous clarification:

Let me say this. George Bush is a very compassionate person. He's a very good person. And a lot of people don't see that in him, and there's many people in this room who might disagree with that... I just felt a little bit underwhelmed by our discussions, the complexity of them, the depth of them. And yet in spite of that, I do believe that the most recent course of action we've pursued is a good one.


I'm just telling you that at that moment in time I felt very underwhelmed, and I'm just being honest. I've said that to them, and to him, and to others. I kind of in a way wish I hadn't said it today.

Sometimes politicians say the darnedest things, don't they? Here's this senator, opening up, speaking the truth, however euphemistically, and then catching himself and trying to gloss over it with some partisan happy talk.

Let's give Corker the benefit of the doubt -- which I know we shouldn't, but still. Maybe Bush is, in Corker's view, a good and compassionate person. He may in truth be a jackasshole (just made that up) hiding behind a mask concocted by savvy political handlers, but maybe he's been nice to the freshman Corker, a man likely in awe of presidential authority. Even granting this, Corker nonetheless repeated himself when given the chance -- he was not just underwhelmed, he was very underwhelmed. Very underwhelmed not by Bush's goodness or compassions -- which, again, are not at issue here -- but by his depth, by his knowledge and understanding of what is obviously a complex issue.

No wonder Corker added the gloss. He admitted to telling the truth but then immediately stated he wished he hadn't told the truth at all. In other words, he wished he'd remained silent. The truth his, the president isn't very bright... D'oh!

Some of Bush's supporters no doubt think he's genuinely intelligent, so delusional are they, so attached to the bubble. Others evidently know that he isn't but keep up the charade nonetheless -- the image, the spin, the lie.

Corker, for his part, has placed himself in the latter group.

There are exceptions -- Chuck Hagel, for example -- but, for most Republicans, honestly just doesn't come into it when talking about Bush.

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Four Freedoms

By Capt. Fogg

Thanksgiving -- another festival of myth and self-delusion; a day when we overeat and tell ourselves we're thankful to some supernatural entity who has favored us with liberty. I'm often less thankful for friends and family on such days than I otherwise would be and certainly on those times when I reflect on Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms rendered forever into kitsch by Norman Rockwell, I'm more fearful than thankful for how they are being taken away and given to the unaccountable and powerful.

Freedom of speech isn't something something I feel grateful for as much as something I demand and am guaranteed as my birthright. We still have it, but the ability of the ruling corporations to bury our words under an ocean of propaganda increases.

Freedom of every person to worship in his own way, has always been conditional although guaranteed and every person who adheres to an unpopular religion or no religion at all knows it. It isn't the government, even this government, leading the crusade for Christian supremacy, but the private agents of that government: corporate religion. Year after year, it seems that our ability to resist acknowledging a god we don't believe in declines and the fight to incorporate religious taboos into our laws continues.

Freedom from want isn't something guaranteed us, it's something we may or may not have and it's something our government has fought to excuse itself of providing for, whether it's want of food and shelter, medical care or enough income to support us if we're too old or sick to work.

Freedom from fear in a culture of fear is a personal thing. One can choose to ignore the panic pushers and fear mongers in the government. One can choose not to be afraid of the bottomless corruption, incompetence and dishonesty of our government; of the swashbuckling information gatherers who tap your phones, read your mail and track your movements and your finances and your purchases electronically almost at will. It gets harder every day. Many of us live in dread of injury or sickness, knowing they can't pay the increasingly huge costs of treatment and medicine; knowing that they may not even have the benefit of bankruptcy protection in a land where the laws are written by the credit card companies and the corporate hospitals and drug producers. Many of us fear that the wanton borrowing, reckless warfare and corporate welfare and shifting of the tax burden will erase any freedom from want our grandchildren might have.

We don't have the freedom of being able to elect a government that considers itself answerable or accountable, we don't have the freedom to be left alone in our homes or in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness in the expectation that we're not constant suspects for crimes yet to be committed. We have an increasingly disdainful government of which we are increasingly afraid.

We don't have the freedom of information we used to. We don't have a government that feels obligated to allow us to know their mistakes, failures or crimes. We have a government that will ignore us and the courts and refuse to tell us who is making policy. We have a growing possibility that the government can declare us outlaw without telling anyone why; to make us disappear without a trace, to be tortured and imprisoned indefinitely. We don't have the freedom from reckless and extravagant government expenditures or hand-overs of our property. We don't have the benefit of knowing that the people who are supposed to watch over us are accountable to us and our courts and not to private and perhaps secret organizations, whether those people be police, jailers, soldiers or intelligence agents. The more cynical of use have begun to doubt that we even have the freedom to elect people to at least pretend to be public employees and not representatives of vast corporate interests. The more paranoid fear that next November we will be told to be thankful that George will remain in office to protect us from fear and want and terrorists.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Freedom from fear

By Carol Gee

"President Franklin D. Roosevelt, wearing his naval cloak, on the deck of an American warship, July 14, 1938."

People have until the end of the year to to see this exhibit, "Freedom From Fear," at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. Edward Rothstein, New York Times exhibit reviewer, made the exhibit sound like something very worthwhile as he described the beginning of the exhibit. To quote:

[the display of] . . . Roosevelt's typed draft of his famous speech to Congress delivered the next day: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941," it begins, "a date which will live in world history. ... "

But the words "world history" are boldly crossed out, while above, in F.D.R.'s distinctive hand is their substitute: "infamy."

Without that slight change, the Japanese attack might have seemed like something out of a textbook, a completed and inevitable event in "world history" — not as something that demanded response in the present, and led, terrifyingly, into an unknown future.

Seeing that draft has the same effect. History starts to seem less like a "rendezvous with destiny" — to use one of Roosevelt's other famous phrases — and more like something contingent, something struggled through, something messy, that could have turned out very differently.

The reason things turned out as they did during the course of the war was in part due to leadership, FDR's leadership of the American people during those very fearful times in the 1940s. Rothstein's well written piece ends with this very interesting paragraph from which he quotes the humble wisdom of another great leader, Winston Churchill:

The day before he died, Roosevelt worked on a speech about the postwar world, reminding the country "that great power involves great responsibility." I like that the exhibition also shows the pulp mystery found on his night stand: "The Punch and Judy Murders" by Carter Dickson. Human beings, not icons, are at work — something that is always humbling. As Churchill somberly put it, "Stupendous issues are unfolding before our eyes, and we are only specks of dust that have settled in the night on the map of the world."

Fast Forward to Fear -- November 8, 2007 brought this catchy headline: "How to profit from a police state" refers to a Jon Markman story, written for MSN Money - (Hat tip to "betmo" for this story). The story begins:

In the midst of a six-year war on terrorism, widening income inequality and a growing fear of immigrants, America has become something of a police state, according to a new study, with as much as 25% of our entire labor force focused on protection rather than production.

The evidence is all around us, from the 47% increase in U.S. workers classified as security guards since 2002 to the sharp advance in the number of men and women under arms in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The author's point is that there is money to be made by investing in the security business, and he is not referring to the securities that are traded on the stock exchange. He terms it "The Age of Nefarious." To quote further:

. . . The study by noted Santa Fe Institute and University of Massachusetts economists Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev, called "Garrison America," suggests that one in four Americans are now engaged in "guard labor," which means they either provide security for people and property or impose work discipline at factories, farms and retailers.

Similar calculations of guard labor for 18 other countries suggest that the United States is pretty much the leader in this category, slightly trailing Greece, a former military dictatorship, but well ahead of Western democracies such as Switzerland, which has just a 10th of its labor force devoted to guard labor.

More good news on the fear front -- Many of the clients with whom I worked before my retirement were unable to deal with their fears. The key for each of us to to correctly ascertain whether our anxiety or fear is rational or irrational. From we see this Halloween headline discussing the scientific progress made in the treatment of debilitating anxiety and panic disorders: "Scientists Note Brain's Reaction to Fear." To quote the author, Seth Borenstein:

Science is getting a grip on people's fears. As Americans revel in all things scary on Halloween, scientists say they now know better what's going on inside our brains when a spook jumps out and scares us. Knowing how fear rules the brain should lead to treatments for a major medical problem: When irrational fears go haywire.

. . . About 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A Harvard Medical School study estimated the annual cost to the U.S. economy in 1999 at roughly $42 billion.

Fear is a basic primal emotion that is key to evolutionary survival. It's one we share with animals. Genetics plays a big role in the development of overwhelming — and needless — fear, psychologists say. But so do traumatic events.

Overcoming irrational fears -- the product of irrational thinking. The author concludes with this, from which I quote:

. . . To help overcome overwhelming fear, psychologist Carbonell, author of the ''Panic Attacks Workbook,'' has his patients distinguish between a real threat and merely a perceived one. They practice fear attacks and their response to them. He even has them fill out questionnaires in the middle of a fear attack, which changes their thinking and causes reduces their anxiety.

That's important because the normal response for dealing with a real threat is either flee or fight, Carbonell said. But if the threat is not real, the best way to deal with fear is just the opposite: ''Wait it out and chill.''

And that is the trick, dear readers. "Wait it out and chill." Some citizens wonder who of all the presidential candidates will be able to best protect the United States. Such anxiety is their prime consideration. In my opinion these folks have become victimized by fear-mongering. Others of us are civil libertarians who have our own fears. We worry about the loss of constitutional protections of privacy in the administration's current pursuit of what is called national security. Are we, too, victims of irrational fears? Should we just wait them out and chill?

Or should we be worried about the recent court decision in San Francisco, that some see as a partial victory for the administration's domestic surveillance programs? The story is headlined, "Court Bars Secret Papers in Eavesdropping Case" -from the New York Times of 11/17/07. To quote:
A federal appeals court said Friday that secrecy laws had forced it to exclude crucial evidence about the government’s wiretapping of an Islamic charity, making it far more difficult for the charity to proceed with its challenge to the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program.

But the court did please critics of the program in finding that the government’s “cascade” of public statements had made the program anything but a secret, defusing one of the administration’s main arguments for throwing all such lawsuits out of court.

The complex ruling was a partial victory for the Bush administration and signaled possible trouble for those trying to prove that the eavesdropping program was illegal and unconstitutional.

The jury is still out on the rationality of public fears in 2007. Leadership is needed. Are you fearful or chilled? Anxious or relaxed? Vigilant or at ease? Think about it.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Headline of the Day (Russian politics edition)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This is not a good time for Russian liberals:


An opposition politician running in Russian parliamentary elections was shot and seriously wounded on Wednesday as he entered his house in the southern Russian region of Dagestan, Russian media reported.

Farid Babayev, who will lead the regional list for the liberal anti-Kremlin Yabloko party was in a serious condition in hospital, RIA novosti news agency reported after an unidentified gunman fired on him in the regional capital Makhachkala.

The Reuters article implies that separatists may have been behind the attack: "Dagestan is in the North Caucasus, next to Chechnya, and has been hit by an upsurge in separatist attacks in recent months and crime."

But, of course, given that it was a liberal who was shot, speculation turns to Putin. At least, mine does.

But, to be fair to the Kremlin's latest tyrant, Babayev is hardly Kasparov and his party is too small to secure representation in Russia's parliament. Would Putin trouble himself with Babayev and Yabloko? Would his extremist supporters take it upon themselves to go after such a minor threat to Putin? Likely not. Maybe it was separatists after all.

Still, this is what Russia has become, an autocratic state with Putin at the helm, cracking down on dissent and opposition and otherwise seeking to remain in power indefinitely, a state in which the shooting of a liberal politician seems like something that would be ordered at the highest level, or at least undertaken by those who ultimately take their orders from the highest level. If Putin is capable of banning liberal parties and using the police to crush the pro-democracy movement, which he clearly is, and if he is capable of ordering (or at least in some way of being behind) the murders of some of his critics, which he may very well be, then he is surely capable of this. At the very least, he has created a political culture in which this sort of thing can happen.

Is that unfair to Putin? Am I making too much of this?

Bush can look into his heart and see what he wants to see, but it doesn't take much to look at the facts and to know what he's really all about.

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Chaos in Afghanistan

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A troubling report from Reuters:

The conflict in Afghanistan has reached "crisis proportions," with the resurgent Taliban present in more than half the country and closing in on Kabul, a report said on Wednesday.

If NATO, the lead force operating in Afghanistan, is to have any impact against the insurgency, troop numbers will have to be doubled to at least 80,000, the report said.

"The Taliban has shown itself to be a truly resurgent force," the Senlis Council, an independent think-tank with a permanent presence in Afghanistan, wrote in a study entitled "Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the brink."

"Its ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt," it said. "The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, some district centers, and important road arteries."

Senlis said its research had established that the Taliban, driven out of Afghanistan by the U.S. invasion in late 2001, had rebuilt a permanent presence in 54 percent of the country and was finding it easy to recruit new followers.

It was also increasingly using Iraq-style tactics, such as roadside and suicide bombs, to powerful effect, and had built a stable network of financial support, funding its operations with the proceeds from Afghanistan's booming opium trade.

"It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when," the report said.

"Their oft-stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever."

Yes, Afghanistan. The forgotten war. The neglected war. The abandoned war.

Certainly not by Canadians. Certainly not by those who are over there doing the fighting and trying to make something of that oft-abused country.

Rather, by Bush and the Iraq- and Iran-obsessed warmongers around him. For them, what was the Afghan war? Something to do in response to 9/11, an attack on Taliban and al Qaeda, a declaration of American military might. (There was the high-falutin' rhetoric of naton-building, too, but they were hardly serious about it.)

But then... what? Then it was Iraq, with almost all hands on deck for that disastrous misadventure. The Taliban was removed from power, but it is back, and powerful once again. Al Qaeda was weakened, pushed back into the mountainous border region with Pakistan, it too is still powerful. Simply put, the job was not done, not nearly completed, and the U.S. withdrew its interest and attention and launched a new war in the Middle East. NATO is in Afghanistan, and the U.S. with it, but clearly the war is not going well.

And it's not like any of this is new.

I wrote about the coming anarchy back in July of last year. At the time, the top British commander in Afghanistan described the situation as "close to anarchy". Well, chaos and anarchy may well be at hand. And, before long, the Taliban may very well be back in power in Kabul.

There has been much talk, and rightly so, of Bush's failure in Iraq. But what of his failure in Afghanistan?

It was a convenient war to wage, until it was more convenient to move on. Karzai may still preside over Kabul, and the Taliban and al Qaeda may not have quite the sanctuary they had before, but, otherwise, what exactly has gone right, in the long run, in Afghanistan?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Experience v. Judgment

By Creature

Primary Politics Rule of Thumb:

When bragging about foreign policy experience always subtract the experience touted by the number of foreign policy disasters initiated based on said experience. Only then can you get a real sense of how many people have been fucked.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Et, vOILa!

By Carl

I wonder if it's coincidence that
this is happening ahead of what is effectively a media blackout for four days...

LONDON (Reuters) - Oil held above $98 a barrel on Wednesday, after closing in on the $100 milestone as the dollar hit new lows and cold weather in the United States, the world's biggest fuel consumer, stirred anxiety over winter supplies.

U.S. light crude surged to a record $99.29 early in the session, but then edged down from this peak to stand at $98.39, up 36 cents at 8:04 a.m. EST.

Prices blasted past the previous $98.62 record, extending a rally that has lifted oil by 45 percent since mid-August as speculative investment rises, supplies tighten and the dollar weakens.

I'm going to speculate for a minute here: if oil passes $100 before next Monday (there are three trading days, if you count time differences in the Asian markets), it will spike over $150 by the end of next summer.

Crude has risen 45% just in the past three months, so a further fifty percent increase ahead of the Beijing Olympics would not be impossible. And none of this is with any reference to Hugo Chavez's rant the other day.

Coupled with the dollar dropping to
record lows against the euro, it's gotten so that even the Saudis are making noises about the weak US economy.

Heading into the holiday shopping season,
people are understandably edgy. Who wants to choose between Junior's iPod and heating the house for a month?

And where's the President's leadership on all this? Is he more concerned with
covering his ass or with helping poor Americans to keep from freezing in the long cold winter ahead?

In 1979, if you're old enough, you may recall that Jimmy Carter was at least concerned enough to speak to Americans nearly weekly, recreating FDR's fireside chats, during that tragic economic period in our history. Carter instituted price controls when oil hit
$15.35 a barrel, well before it hit its all-time peak of over $39 a barrel (adjusted for inflation, that would be $101 today).

Bush? Nothing. Not even asking us to turn our thermostats down and wear a sweater. No lowering of Federal speed limits. Bush is less effective than Jimmy Carter. There's your legacy, sir.

We're heading for a very nasty period in American history. We can't lower interest rates for fear the dollar will plummet further, yet we can't maintain them as more and more Americans default on their home mortgages. Neither can we raise them. The Fed's hands are tied, pretty much.

This nation has been destroyed by men (and a few women) hellbent on ideological concretization, with no regard to the one true fact of life: there is no "one right way".
Frederick Winslow Taylor is an extinct dinosaur, and rigid dogma will always lose out in the end to the chaos of life and the planet.


(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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What Happened

By Capt. Fogg

What a revelation! Scott McClellan, the guy who used to stand in front of reporters and the minority of Americans not watching Britney and Anna Nicole and "da game" and spout lies, has now revealed that he told us a lie - unwittingly, of course. It wasn't his fault that he failed to check the facts. He wasn't paid to question; he was paid to sneer dismissively at reporters who did.

Scott has a book coming out in April, titled What Happened.

"So I stood at the White House briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. There was one problem. It was not true."

And guess what Scott, you didn't win the Kyrgyzstan Lottery either and the guy trying to get his millions out of Nigeria isn't any more honest than your ex-boss -- and of course there's been a lot of blood under the bridge because of the crime family you covered up for. I don't mean to be cruel, but it's your turn to be sneered at. I really hope you don't make any more money from it than OJ did from If I Did It and I hope you soon get to hear the current mouthpiece defame you with the same sneer and condescension as you used from the same podium you told your lies from.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Give Iraq back

By Libby Spencer

Cernig flags an underreported aspect of what's holding up any chance of political reconcilation in Iraq.

That's the rift between nationalists - those Iraqis who, like most of their countrymen, oppose the presence of foreign troops on the ground, the wholesale privatization of Iraq's natural resources and the division of their country into ethnic and sectarian fiefdoms, and Iraqi separatists who at least tolerate the occupation - if not support it - and favor a loose sectarian/ethnic-based federation of semiautonomous states held together by a minimal central government in Baghdad. [...]

The key ingredient to understand is this: The Iraqi executive branch - the cabinet and the presidency - are completely controlled by separatists (including Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and secular politicians). But the parliament is controlled by nationalists - nationalists from every major ethnic and sectarian group in the country - who enjoy a small but crucially important majority in the only elected body in the Iraqi government.

The Bush administration, aided and abetted by some our Congresslizards are trying to do an end run around the Parliament and the UN appears to be willing to allow them to do it. Am I the only one who remembers that we allegedly turned over sovereignty to the Iraqis years ago? I cringe every time I hear a US politician making pronouncements on the appropriate agenda for the Iraqi government. Either we just spent our blood and treasure for the last five years to give them a democracy or we should admit that we're an occupying force that is dictating their policy. As the linked piece puts it:

It's time to force the issue: The Iraqi parliament, the only body elected by the Iraqi people, wants some say over the continuing presence of foreign troops on its soil, and a majority of its lawmakers, like a majority of both Americans and Iraqis, wants a timetable for ending the occupation.

Really, if all those purple fingers meant anything more than a photo-op for Bush, then it's time to let Iraqis decide what should happen to Iraq. The only ones being fooled by the current machinations between the Bush administration and their toady Maliki are Americans. The truth is glaringly apparent to the rest of the world.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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DoD demands injured vets pay back bonuses

By Libby Spencer

In their desperation to meet quotas, the military gave out enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 to get kids to sign up. Now, in some perverse twist on the Pottery Barn rule, if the soldiers were so broken by war injuries that they can't complete their full term of service, the DoD is demanding they give the money back. We're talking about thousands of soldiers who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and brain function.

Jordan Fox is one of them. He lost all vision in his right eye and suffered a back injury three months short of his contract and will be unable to return to active duty. His mother started a care package program for soldiers in Iraq, "Operation Pittsburgh Pride which has sent approximately 4,000 care packages." Bush met with her personally to thank her and sent her a note expressing concern when Jordan was injured. Then Jordan got a letter from DoD asking for $3,000 of his $10,000 signing bonus back.

Words can't begin to describe my outrage at this callous treatment of those who served and sacrificed their future for the neo-con folly. But this is just one injustice among many betrayals our injured Iraq vets are suffering. Bush's budget proposal wants to cut the federal deficit on the missing limbs of our war wounded. His proposed budget would decrease veterans healthcare spending in 2008 -- and continue the cutting in successive years, just as the returning troops are going to need the most care.

There is a time when incompetence becomes sociopathic, and I think we've reached it in this administration. They have used the troops as props and pawns in their power ploys and they don't even have the human decency to look after those who survived their war games while they take great care to pad the pockets of their corporate cronies. These people should be rotting in jail, not running the country.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Reaction to the News (11/21/07)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here are some interesting stories you might want to check out:

1) San Francisco Chronicle: "California Secretary of State Debra Bowen sued a Nebraska voting machine company on Monday, seeking fines and reimbursements of nearly $15 million from the firm for allegedly selling nearly 1,000 uncertified machines to San Francisco and four other counties."

pse·phol·o·gy (sē-fŏl'ə-jē) n.

The study of political elections.

[Greek psēphos, pebble, ballot (from the ancient Greeks' use of pebbles for voting) + –LOGY.]

Yes, that's how the Greeks voted, by dropping pebbles into urns. The modern equivalent is the paper ballot and the ballot box. And what's wrong with that? There's something to be said for marking an X next to the candidate of your choice, is there not? This is one case, I would argue, where technology has not made our lives any better. The count may be quicker (and, arguably, more accurate, assuming no funny business, which is not something it is wise to assume) with voting machines, but consider what we give up as voters and what the democratic process itself loses in abandoning the older, and ultimately more fulfilling, method of voting.


2) TPM Muckraker: "The Center for Public Integrity's brand-new report on Iraq contracting, Windfalls of War II, identifies at least $20 billion in contract money that has gone to non-U.S. companies that it cannot identify."

War is hell. War profiteering is eternal.

This war just keeps getting better and better, eh?


3) SCOTUSblog: "After a hiatus of 68 years, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to rule on the meaning of the Second Amendment — the hotly contested part of the Constitution that guarantees "a right to keep and bear arms." Not since 1939 has the Court heard a case directly testing the Amendment's scope -- and there is a debate about whether it actually decided anything in that earlier ruling. In a sense, the Court may well be writing on a clean slate if, in the end, it decides the ultimate question: does the Second Amendment guarantee an individual right to have a gun for private use, or does it only guarantee a collective right to have guns in an organized military force such as a state National Guard unit?"

Who am I to disagree with Balkin? "I predict that the Court will hold (1) that the 2nd amendment protects an individual right, (2) that this right applies against laws in federal territories like the District of Columbia, (3) that a relatively deferential standard of reasonableness applies, and (4) that, even under this relatively deferential statute at least one part of the D.C. gun control law is unconstitutional. That is to say, I predict a decision that tries to split the difference and is aimed roughly at the middle of public opinion, even if not the exact center."

In other words, the fight will continue, with crazy gunmongers claiming a right to own anything and everything and fare more sensible people arguing that compromise is desirable. As for me, I would prefer to have the Second Amendment struck down altogether.

(See also The New York Times and The Washington Post.)


4) Examiner: "Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay may not be in a leadership position on Capitol Hill anymore, but that doesn't mean he can't weigh in on the current GOP leadership.DeLay told Yeas & Nays that Republicans in Congress are "looking for something to believe in" and "they're not getting it out of this Republican leadership... The leadership just isn't getting it."

By "getting it," I assume The Hammer means leading sex-obsessed crusades against the opposition, gerrymandering electoral districts for partisan purposes, promoting violence against judges, befriending and working with disgraced lobbyists, turning K Street into an organ of the GOP, and vice versa, taking money from Russian oil interests, misusing federal agencies, violating campaign finance laws...


And last, but certainly not least:

5) MSNBC: "Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan blames President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for efforts to mislead the public about the role of White House aides in leaking the identity of a CIA operative."

Big news, but hardly surprising. It was Bush and Cheney and Rove and Libby and Card -- all of them pushing the lie and lying to Scotty McC.

Olbermann responds. See Crooks and Liars. (And see also Benen, who asks the right questions.)


That's it for now. More posts to come.

Good night, everyone.

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"We are going to follow him around and tell the true story of what happened on 9/11"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The "him" is Rudy Giuliani. And who is speaking? Who is telling the truth about 9/11? Some crazed left-wing lunatic with a particularly nasty grudge? A conspiracy theorist? No, it's Jim Riches, the deputy chief of the New York Fire Department.

You've seen Rudy, like so many others, with an FDNY or NYPD cap, talking up the fire department and the police department and the other 9/11 heroes but basically using 9/11 to prop up his political ambitions? Well, here's a top official with the FDNY telling it like it is, exposing Rudy's performance on 9/11 for what it was.

Crooks and Liars has the MSNBC video, along with this:

What the Giuliani campaign is now outwardly touting as his strength could very well become his achilles heel. This is not the first NYC firefighter group to take on Rudy over his mishandling of 9/11. NYC has just launched an investigation into “how the FDNY ended up using faulty equipment during the terrorist attacks and why Giuliani gave a no-bid contract to Motorola for that equipment.” And it’s not like the Kerik indictment doesn’t strike right at the heart of his 9/11 hero claims too.

And here's part of what Riches told the Gothamist in an interview this past 9/11:

We will protest around the states to let everyone know the Rudy failed to prepare for the WTC attacks. He failed miserably before, during and after 9/11. No drills at WTC from 1993 to 9/11/01. Radios failed in 1993 and again in 2001. Command center at 7 WTC. No unified command, No interoperable radios FD and PD. 911 operators telling people in South Tower to stay put even before plane hit South Tower, yet FD commanders at scene were calling for its evacuation. Lying about quality of air, and not obtaining proper face fitted respirators until Nov 2001 leading to 70% of 1st responders with 9/11 illnesses while Rudy was too busy to lift a finger to help them because he was making tens of millions of dollars capitalizing off 9/11. His legacy will be thousands of sick and dying first responders.

It is increasingly obvious that there was 9/11 and there was 9/11 according to Rudy, that is, there was what really happened (before, during, and after) and what Rudy claims happened, the latter being far, far from the truth, all for the sake of Rudy's shameless self-glorification, the engine of his White House bid.

Rudy Giuliani has constructed a bogus mythology out of 9/11, using and abusing America's darkest day to promote a personal political agenda, essentially spitting on that which has become sacred, day that shall truly live on in infamy.

Thankfully, there are people who were there on that horrible day, who know the truth, and who are speaking out.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Teaching us about borders

By Carol Gee

We are going into the 2007 holiday season this week. Thanksgiving is not a holiday that necessarily cuts across borders, yet our blog friends will still wish us a Happy Thanksgiving.

Today I was struck by how little wisdom and understanding we Americans have about borders. The illegal immigration question threatens to throw the country back to terrible "Us and Them" times again. No one can figure out what the ultimate borders should look like in Iraq. We have absolutely no clue.

One thing we do know is that the earth is smaller and smaller. Devastating storms know no borders: when such a bad one happens the international community is learning to mobilize in increasingly effective ways. It is often our military that has the capacity to offer effective help in a hurry.

Bangladesh -- a terrible storm: By Sunday at least 2300 people had died in a low-lying country about which we know very little. MyWay News published a story about the huge relief effort that will be needed as a result of this very deadly cyclone. To quote:

The death toll from Bangladesh's most devastating storm in a decade climbed to at least 2,300 on Sunday and relief officials warned the figure could jump sharply as rescuers reach more isolated areas.

Teams from international aid organizations worked with army troops in a massive rescue effort that drew help from around the world. Rescue workers cleared roads of fallen trees and twisted roofs to reach remote villages, but tents, rice, water and other relief items were slow to arrive. Hungry survivors, thousands of whom were left homeless, scrambled for food.

Ireland -- a case of borders broken down. The problem of the war in Northern Ireland seemed insoluble for decades. But in the 1990's the psychological borders began to soften between Catholics and Protestants. Next month the living proof of how much they have softened will appear at the White House. President Bush will welcome formerly warring Irish leaders to the White House on December 7. To quote from this amazing story in MyWay News:

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, who put aside years of bitterness and Northern Ireland bloodshed to form a historic power-sharing administration, will be welcomed to the White House on Dec. 7 by President Bush.

Paisley leads the Democratic Unionist Party, which represents the British Protestant majority in Northern Ireland, while McGuinness is deputy leader of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party that represents most of the province's Irish Catholics. After being at odds for years, they have been running Northern Ireland's cabinet together since May, with Paisley as first minister and McGuinness as his administration's deputy leader.

Dr. Jane Goodall -- a world citizen: China Daily announced that the "Mother of Chimpanzees," Jane Goodall will be spending a week in China. While retailers scramble to find non Chinese children's toys to sell during the Christmas shopping season, Dr. Goodall will be inside Chinese borders converting kids to practice environmental and chimpanzee support. To quote from the story:

Members of Roots and Shoots groups from different parts of China demonstrated their achievements to Dr Goodall at Beijing City International School. During her week-long visit, Dr Goodall will give lectures to Chinese students and raise money for her China-based non-profit programs and activities, in particular for the Roots & Shoots environmental protection program.

If we were to just stand and observe the world on a regular basis we might find ways to better integrate ourselves into it. We still have a way to go because in recent years we have forgotten in so many ways that we are part of a larger world order. Through learning from others' examples to be far less conscious of artificial borders, we can become better citizens of the world.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Collateral damage; or, what happened when my father impregnated his sister-in-law and called me his nephew

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I was (virtually) flipping though The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier today -- I like its political cartoonist, Mike Luckovich, and in general it's a pretty good paper -- and I came across what looked like yet another story of fundamentalist Christian hypocrisy, specifically, yet another sex scandal at yet another church. And this one, it seemed, had all the makings of a Jerry Springer show:

The 80-year-old leader of a suburban Atlanta megachurch is at the center of a sex scandal of biblical dimensions: He slept with his brother's wife and fathered a child by her.

Members of Archbishop Earl Paulk's family stood at the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church a few Sundays ago and revealed the secret exposed by a recent court-ordered paternity test.

In truth, this is not the first — or even the second — sex scandal to engulf Paulk and the independent, charismatic church. But this time, he could be in trouble with the law for lying under oath about the affair.

The living proof of that lie is 34-year-old D.E. Paulk, who for years was known publicly as Earl Paulk's nephew.

"I am so very sorry for the collateral damage it's caused our family and the families hurt by the removing of the veil that hid our humanity and our sinfulness," said D.E. Paulk, who received the mantle of head pastor a year and a half ago.

D.E. Paulk said he did not learn the secret of his parentage until the paternity test. "I was disappointed, and I was surprised," he said.

Surprised? Disappointed? Makes sense. How would you feel if you found out your uncle was really your father. How would you feel if the founder of your church had committed adultery with his brother's wife, fathered you, and then lied about it -- for decades? I can think of a few words stronger than surprised and disappointed. And I'm not sure I'd use the phrase "collateral damage" either.

But, back to the point: None of this might be at the level of what Ted Haggard did, and, in terms of exposure and popularity, Paulk is no Haggard, nor even a major name in preaching world, but it's a sordid scandal nonetheless, and not the first such "sexual misconduct" scandal to have engulfed Paulk and his church. (Have a look at the Earl Paulk page at ReligionNewsBlog.)

So: Gotcha! Hypocrisy!



I can't speak to Paulk's character, nor to his political views, but his church, now his son's church, is anything but a bastion of religious rightism. Rather, it seems to be a socially progressive church that even I, a devout secularist, could get behind and support (if not for the whole belief-in-God thing). Here's an example of that progressivism, as reported in Southern Voice back in July:

An Atlanta area mega-church is attempting to counter the anti-gay teachings of many similar congregations by welcoming gay men and lesbians to join a "Pro-Love" march and rally at the Georgia State Capitol on July 28.

"Our main thrust right now is to speak out, or at least show a different demonstration of the love of God," said Brandi Paulk, wife of D.E. Paulk, senior pastor of the Cathedral at Chapel Hill, a 1,000-member, predominately African-American church in Decatur.

"Think of how many churches in America are preaching against gay people," Paulk said. "That's just not what we feel is correct."

Organizers hope between 500 and 2,000 people attend the Pro-Love march through downtown Atlanta, which aims to unite "Muslim and Jew, Christian and Atheist, Gay and Straight."

Commercials advertising the march will soon be on cable television channels featuring the statement: "Hate is an epidemic only cured by love."

Several members of the Cathedral at Chapel Hill congregation have objected to the event, and Paulk said she wouldn't be surprised if the church loses some members."But we also have an uprising of people who are hungry for something like this," Paulk said.

All in all, no matter what you think of "the love of God," that's pretty amazing. The religious right is so loud, and so noxious, it's easy to think it speaks for many more Christians, many more religious believers generally, than it really does. Hatred and bigotry is alive and well in many Christian communities and churches, and the leaders of those communities and churches are often prominent public figures who spew their hatred and bigotry throughout the political arena, given a platform even by large and powerful media outlets, but for all of that there are decent Christians working to bring people together, to teach (and preach) love and understanding, and to overcome the hatred and bigotry that are unfortunately still so rampant in American society.

Here, in the suburbs of Atlanta, is a church brought low by scandal. But at least it's not more of the same -- the same hypocrisy, the same hollow righteousness.

On the contrary, it is a church where genuinely good works are being done. It is an admirable effort, and much more of it is needed.

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By Carl

OK, it's nearly that time again, when New York City turns itself into a winter wonderland (minus the snow) ahead of Santa's Christmas visit.

Normally, I'd be drinking heavily in anticipation of all the tourists, both fat Americans from the heartland and svelte foreigners slinking about the streets near my office, getting in my way and making ignorant remarks about my city (most of which I ignore).

This year, I have too much on my plate to really be bothered much by these minor infectious agents of idiocracy ("Gee, that building's really tall! Make sure you use the flash to get the very top in the picture!").

So I'm making a deal: Tourists, I've got all you need to know about New York City right here!

OK, first things first: it's big. It's enormous. It's ginormous. Yes, it's the biggest frikkin' city you've ever seen (you can't count Los Angeles because most days you can't see the whole thing for the smog). How big is it?

Your entire family reunion would fit on one floor of your average office building and yes, I'm including the cousins from Bumfuck, Tennessee who breed like rabbits. And there'd still be space for your neighbors to hold their family reunions!

That's just in Manhattan. Manhattan is the place you usually think of when you think about New York City. Since I don't have time or energy to lead a guided tour, let me point out some spots to you: that's where I was shot and killed by Jerry Orbach on "Law And Order." That's where I arrested the pedophile on "L&O: SVU." I was the third corpse after the office bombing on "CSI:NY" at that building over there (nice elevators, by the way, it made for some interesting conversation with the Japanese bank on the 8th floor when we were in make-up). I'd show you more but we're pressed for time. What? Oh. Yes. Every New Yorker has been on "Law & Order" or "CSI:NY." It's in the contracts.

The Theatre District is loosely defined as Times Square, plus two blocks west of Broadway, extending north to around 50th Street. Don't go there. There's a stagehands strike. And besides, the Disney DVDs capture the flavor of the movies more realistically.

No, wait. Go there. Friends of mine own bars and restaurants and I can't keep them in business singlehandedly, no matter how *hic* try I hard.

There's shopping about a half mile down, where you'll run into Macy's. Literally. It takes up an entire city block, and the crowds going into and out of it create a giant black-hole like vortex that will suck you in, even if you're across the street.

North of Times Square is Central Park. No much to know about that except if you ever need to spend ten minutes thinking, that's about the only place in New York where you can, except for some toilets in really quiet French restaurants. Oh. And John Lennon was shot just across the street on 72nd. You'll recognize the building, the Dakota, from its star turn in Rosemary's Baby.

What's that? No, I was a bit too old to play the baby.

Outside of Manhattan are Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx. Queens is pretty cool. You can visit two active movie studios practically by walking across the East, realy! Go's safe! It's been specially polluted so that anything that comes in contact with it will bounce. Think of it as a giant rubber floor.

Brooklyn is Brooklyn and aside from Park Slope, and maybe Brooklyn Heights, you can avoid it like the plague. I mean that. People get infectious diseases there (not really, but Brooklynites don't cotton to strangers very nicely). If you're hungry, though, Atlantic Avenue is one of the most diverse food venues in the city, and hence, the world.

Staten Island, no one goes to except to take the Staten Island Ferry (you remember the opening of Working Girl with Melanie Griffith?) so that you can take pictures of the Statue of Liberty. The ferry's a nice ride, and free, so I'd take that, but you can just turn around and reboard, but it's hardly worth it. There isn't a picture you can take that hasn't been taken by a million people, no matter how professional a photographer you are. Buy a postcard and lie to your friends.

The Bronx...well, the more time you spend there, the better it is for you and the residents. Did you ever watch the NYC Marathon on TV? There's a reason they barely set foot in the borough before turning back into Manhattan.

OK, so that's the nickel tour of the city. Let's go over some ground rules that are guaranteed to make your stay more pleasant for everyone:

1) Please, stop right in the middle of the sidewalk to gawk at a map or a building! We encourage it. And nevermind the sharp elbows and toe-step-ons you suffer...that's just our way of welcoming you to the city, newbie.

2) Despite what you see on the TV, the MTV studio windows are not two-way glass, and so they can't see you inside. But be our guests to step out into rush hour traffic for your fifteen seconds of fame on TRL. Your friends will be thrilled for you, and will spend weeks asking you about your trip to St. Luke's Hospital (featured on "Law and Order" too!)

3) We don't allow smoking in our bars and restaurants, but here's a little insider's tip from me to you, because I like you: light up anyway. Riker's Island is a hidden gem and a must-see on your trip!

4) The odds of you seeing a celebrity walking down the street decrease dramatically with the density of the population on said street. Our celebrities only come out late at night, when they know the hicks are asleep (or overpaying for the encore of a Disney Broadway show). However, some good places to sit a while and stargaze are Sarabeth's on Central Park South (which New Yorkers call 59th Street, so there's a tip for how to blend in a little), Balthazar's on Prince Street, and the fountain in Washington Square Park. Look for anyone wearing dark sunglasses and a hat pulled tightly over their eyes. Be prepared to purchase a souvenir, usually in the form of some of our fine lawns, pulled up and rolled in paper for your convenience.

5) You probably wonder where all the people you see scuttling around during the day disappear to after 6. Well, the city itself holds close to 9 million people, and all 9 million descend on Manhattan, plus another million or so from New Jersey and Connecticut (don't ask!). We've had to work it out so the weight is spread out enough that the island itself doesn't tilt up when everyone works on Wall Street. Yes, we all make millions, at least those of us who are native-born. People who move here get robbed. A lot. Don't even think about it.

Unless you have a nice body and are willing to share. Frequently.

6) Be sure to interrupt New Yorkers who look the most determined not to be late for work or for dinner or, God forbid, the Rangers' game at the Garden. They'll be happy to point out that the building you're standing in front of, scratching your head, is the address you're waving in their faces, and will do it most courteously...for an angry drunk SOB who's just had a fight with the wife and gotten a traffic ticket. You may want to wear a face shield for all the spittle.

7) Please buy as many souvenirs from the furtively-browed men who sell them off card tables on the sidewalk as you can. The more money they make ripping you off with cheap knockoffs, the less time they're out robbing our apartments or handing out flyers for Goldfingers.

To add to your survival guide, here are some handy numbers and acronyms you should know:

911 -- It's not just a word Rudy Giuliani tosses about like a stevedore cursing, it's a phone number for emergency services. Our police and fire departments are first rate and your experience with them, should the opportunity arise, will be excellent. The trouble might arise as they fight their way through all the traffic you and the other ten million tourists visiting us create. Pelase understand that they're only doing their job the best they can and that you shouldn't have gotten yourself shot in the first place. No one's every sold a real Rolex on the streetcorner at 47th and Broadway, and you should have seen before you handed over the grand that it said "Roley".

311 -- This is an amazing telephone number, and you can find out practically anything you want to know about the city and what it offers by dialing it. Expect to wait about the length of your vacation to get the information you could have gotten by reading ahead on-line before you left.

611 -- This used to be the phone number for telephone repairs, but since that's now been privatized (see next item), you must hangup and dial some bizarre phone number that maintains a near non-relationship to this simple little three digit code, where you will be connected to Verizon telephone company. Pray your hotel or apartment uses them. Actually, pray not. You'll sit on hold for an hour until a tech support representative answers and determines that, yes indeed, it's your fault your phone doesn't work, despite the fact the wiring outside your room is dangling, electrocuting pigeons.

IND, BMT, IRT -- These initials stand for the three private subway companies that eventually were bought out by the city when the city realized that three private companies running the subways was ruinous to the city's economy. See, this is why we believe in big government: private owners never give a rat's ass about you, where at least in government, a rat's ass is tossed your way every so often.

GOP -- also know as Grumpy Old Pedophilies, if you've found one of these in New York City, step away from him as quickly as possible. They are usually found sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent. Even the mayor, Michael Bloomberg (whom you will be personally introduced to at a private reception at Gracie Mansion, and then promptly arrested for crashing a party), has disavowed them.

NYC -- You will see these initials everywhere. New York City is a diverse melting pot of various peoples, languages and religions. "NYC" is just Russian mafia graffiti.

212 -- As in Actor212, is the area code for Manhattan Island. Along with 646. And 917. We're not fucking Wyoming. One size does not fit all.

One After 909 -- An old Beatles tune. Sorry. I was checking to see if you were paying attention.

GWM, SMF, BBF -- If you see these initials, among others, you must be reading the personals in the Village Voice. I encourage you to call any phone numbers listed. We call it our "enhanced tourism program," where either a gay white male, straight married female, or bi black female will arrive at your hotel room to discuss in depth what you'd like to do or see. Tipping is encouraged and the billing to your credit card will read "Library Fees".

Oh, and nevermind that sign at the airport that read "Welcome To New York. Leave Your Money And Get Out Now, If You Know What's Good For You". We didn't really mean it.

Well, yea. We did, actually. See... that's your half of the deal.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)


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