It’s been far longer than I intended since my last post. Sometimes time just runs away from you. So let me just toss off a few ideas that have crossed my mind in recent days, and get caught up…

First off:  the wrangling in Washington over the new “economic stimulus package” has been interesting to watch. Obama has gone out of his way to be as “post-partisan” as promised, extending an olive branch to Republicans the likes of which Dems never saw under eight years of Bush, wining and dining them, inviting input… and in response they basically gave him the finger. (Although, anxious not to alienate a public who likes him, they tried to shift their ire toward the Democratic leadership.) And the usual suspects in the punditocracy backed them up.

Basically, the GOP’s goal right now seems to be to shrink the stimulus bill down to something so small and weak that it won’t be effective… and then to blame their opponents for its ineffectiveness. All while the country at large continues to suffer, of course.

What do they want? More tax cuts, of course. 🙄 The cure for all ills, in GOP-land. Times are good? Share the joy by cutting taxes. Times are bad? Let people spend “their own money” by cutting taxes. Peace? Cut taxes. War? Cut taxes. Surpluses? Cut taxes. Deficits? Cut taxes.

This is always short-sighted thinking, of course, but in the present circumstances it’s just downright stupid. Even if tax cuts are aimed at middle-income households (and when does the GOP let that happen?), in this economy people will just use the money to pay down debts, or sock it away for a rainy day, or (at best) buy some necessary goods. Stimulus effect? Almost nil. What individual taxpayers will not and cannot do are the things only the government can do:  hire new teachers and policemen and food inspectors. Rebuild highways and bridges. Build new rail transport systems. Subsidize alternative energy projects. Invest in scientific R&D. In short, infrastructure spending… the sort of thing that not only meets crucial public needs but also has a multiplier effect that enables (even requires!) additional follow-on productivity. Paul Krugman has done a yeoman job of explaining all this and debunking the idiocies of the opposition.

The GOP complains that it’s not just short-term stimulus but a “spending bill” with long-term projects. (Heaven forbid that our lawmakers engage in long-term thinking!) Obama, though, after a week of this pointless standoff, had clearly had enough. As he put it on Thursday in deservedly mocking tones, “[they say] ‘this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill.’ What do you think a stimulus is? That’s the whole point.

Obama needn’t be overcautious about the tough talk at this point. Indeed, he could easily indulge in more… as it so often does, The Onion nailed public sentiment the other day, with a made-up man-on-the-street response to Obama’s remarks decrying Wall Street bonuses and imposing executive salary caps: “He was being presidential, but I would have been fine with him calling them fucking assholes.” All facetiousness aside, the White House seems to have made a prudent decision to shift tactics, not only taking its message to the public but also realizing that all it needs are the votes to get this thing passed. Twist arms or make promises as necessary to get that last vote… but as for everyone else on the other side, fuck ’em. If they want to be standing on the outside looking in after this passes, that’s their choice, and the public will judge them for it.

What happens in conference committee will be crucial at this point. The House version is a better bill, the linguini-spined centrists in the Senate have compromised far more than necessary (or wise). But some form of the bill, at least, will soon emerge, be passed, and get signed… with or without GOP cooperation. Frankly, “without” might be better for all of us.

Meanwhile, on the Main Street level, we don’t need experts to tell us that the economy is in dire straits… but they keep offering up new statistics to underscore the point. Lost jobs, unemployment claims, the jobless rate, retail sales, public confidence… everything seems to be hitting the worst numbers in 17 years, or 26 years, or 34 years, or 47 years, or 60 years. It’s too much effort to keep track some days:  suffice it to say, things are bad. And a few hundred extra bucks from the IRS isn’t gonna be what it takes to turn things around.

Personally, as one of the (increasing number of) people hunting for work, I can testify that the job market absolutely fell off a cliff after the really bad Wall Street news hit in late September. It was tough before, but it’s been even tougher since. This week I finally managed to line up two new interviews, my first in many weeks… for respectively the Executive Director and Associate Director positions at a couple of small but respectable local nonprofits. Never mind additional details, at least for now:  it’s not that I’m superstitious… it’s just that I don’t want to jinx anything.  😉  Or at least I don’t want to get my hopes up prematurely. But if you’re among the readers who know me personally, hey, wish me luck.

On a totally different note (although not really a more upbeat one, thematically), over the last week or two the girlfriend and I have been catching up on the DVDs of the first half of Battlestar Galactica, Season 4. And I’m happy to say that the show has been hitting new highs on a regular basis.

I long ago gave up on thinking of BSG as a science fiction series. That approach caused too much cognitive dissonance. It’s not really SF; it just has a few of the superficial trappings. What it is is an incredibly elaborate allegory. It’s about people who are 21st century Americans—they dress the same, talk the same, act the same, suffer the same neuroses, have the same technology—with only two minor differences:  one, the primary religion is polytheistic. And two, they have faster-than-light spaceships. Otherwise, they’re us.

And they’re us in incredibly, even painfully insightful stories. The show has always used its allegorical side fairly effectively, but since the last season it’s really shaken off some of its early awkwardness and embraced what it can do, taking it to new levels. It explores the tensions between centralized executive power and democratic processes, between militarism and diplomacy, between faith and reason, between parents and children, between lovers and friends. It explores the nature of identity, both individually and collectively. It explores the choices between expediency and principles when the stakes are high. Prejudice and tolerance. Mistakes, redemption, and forgiveness. Violence and (unlike so many shows) its after-effects. And there are no straw men here; everyone on every side of every situation has motivations we can at least understand, if not sympathize with. It’s not necessarily cheerful or life-affirming, but BSG explores, in more direct terms than any other show I can think of, what it means to be human.

It’s a shame that there’s only a half-season left… and even more so that it won’t be out on DVD until some indefinite time after the first-run broadcasts are over. But I’ll be waiting.

Shifting gears back to politics, but local this time, the race for Illinois’ 5th District Congressional seat (about which I’ve written before) has been heating up. I was one of hundreds in a packed room for a Democratic candidates’ forum last Sunday at DePaul university, at which eleven of the candidates were present; it could’ve been chaotic, but local journalist Lynn Sweet actually did a good job of keeping things under control and on schedule, and asked questions that helped distinguish the candidates rather than just eliciting a chorus of “me too”s.

There were three current office-holders on the dais (State Reps John Fritchey and Sara Feigenholtz, and County Board member Mike Quigley), but the real standouts emerging from the questioning turned out to be (unsuprisingly) attorney Tom Geoghegan, who not only grasps the short-term issues facing Congress but also demonstrates a keen understanding of the big-picture problems underlying those issues, and (very surprisingly) Navy vet, former airline pilot, and union activist Jan Donatelli, who was remarkably well-spoken on almost every topic that came up.

Quigley in particular disappointed me:  while he’s been an outspoken voice for much-needed reform in Cook County, his answers about several national-level policy issues were middle-of-the-road clichés. Specifically, he rejected the idea of holding Bush administration officials accountable for war crimes and other Constitutional violations (fearing a “witch hunt” and preferring to “move forward”), he supported additional military aid to Israel (even repeating talking points about Iran’s “nuclear threat”), and he was remarkably blasé about earmarks in spending bills (talking about a rep’s need to bring home benefits to his district, whereas most other candidates recognized the tension between on the one hand serving constituents, and on the other allocating public funds on the basis of merit).

On Thursday evening, I attended a meeting of the local chapter of Democracy for America (the grass-roots organization that springboarded off of Howard Dean’s 2004 White House run), where several dozen people debated who (if anyone) the chapter should endorse and support. The three professional politicians and two outsiders I just mentioned were the five top contenders for said endorsement. In the end Geoghegan was the top vote-getting, with Quigley close behind—they were the only two to exceed 50% of voting members—but no one got the 75% required for an endorsement.

In a race this short, name recognition is important, so Quigley has a built-in lead in that regard… but hardly an insurmountable one, in a situation where canvassing, phone banking, and plain old literature distribution can level the playing field. I did some volunteer phone banking for Geoghegan myself the other day; he’s a completely viable alternative, and almost certainly the most progressive one. His message is all about economic justice, and obviously that plays well in the current climate. (One thing that surprised me, though—especially after the previous Sunday’s turnout—was how many of the people I talked to seemed barely aware that there’s a primary coming up on March 3rd.)

Whichever Dem wins that primary will almost certainly win the special general election on April 7, and will thus almost certainly hold a safe seat for as long as he or she wants. And almost all the contenders seem genuinely progressive on most issues, so whoever the winner is is liable to be a significant improvement over what we had with Rahm. But Geoghegan is the one with the most potential to really change the conversation on the Hill—he’s attracted national media attention for precisely that reason—so he’s the one I’m putting my time and effort behind.

Just wish I could vote on it!…

Finally, the New York Comic Con has been going on this weekend… and I couldn’t let it pass without remarking on a couple of developments in the DC Comics panels.

First of all, Dan DiDio has apparently noticed the widespread (although not universal) discontent with Final Crisis, and has wasted no time in openly mocking the just-concluded event… which seems a bit crass, frankly, even unappreciative of the fans (both those who liked it, and those who merely paid for it). Second, DiDio stepped from crass down to outright rude when asked about the controversy over the 50th and final issue of Legion of Super-Heroes, which shipped with contents completely unrelated to what was solicited—a substitute story by a pseudonymous writer (widely speculated to be DiDio himself) and a fill-in artist, rather than the (already truncated) conclusion to Jim Shooter and Francis Manapul’s year-long storyline.

Fans continue to be unhappy with the management “direction” at DC these days. This weekend provided fresh new evidence of why.

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One Response to “Bits ‘n’ pieces!”
  1. Andrew says:

    Interesting article, I like the way you manage to play with all of them topics, really intriguing.

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