The Editorials of E. Desiderius

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

E. Desiderius Is No Longer

The pen name E. Desiderius was an interesting experience, but it, like all good things, must end. This blog has been defunct for several months now, but I will continue blogging under a different pseudonym at a different address. Currently, I'm set up at

however, this address is bound to change in the next few days as I labor to get things off the ground. The first post is already up, and the layout is complete, but the address and pen name may change. This blog will have all the information when everything is set.

Thank you,

E. Desiderius

Posted by George Gordon | Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Twisted Logic: The Jefferson Probe

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Of all the things that the bi-partisan Congress has gotten riled about in the past six years, the Jefferson investigation and subsequent raid on his congressional office should not be one of them. To review, Mr. Jefferson was video taped by federal agents taking one hundred thousand dollars in a sting, most of which was later found in his freezer. The agents had warrants to search his office (signed off by an impartial judge), and did so at night to avoid disruption of business at the Capital office buildings.

To imply that the Bush administration is harassing Jefferson and the Legislative branch violating separation of powers and that Congressman have complete immunity from the normal tactics criminal investigations, in the manner of something akin to diplomatic immunity is ludicrous, especially given Congress’ current propensity to allow the Bush administration to get away with just about anything in the name of national security.

Mr. Jefferson himself is tarnishing his party, his state and his own reputation with his defiant stance on his position on Ways and Means and by keeping his seat and letting the investigation play out. His own little ethics problems will kick genuine Republican scandals like Abramoff and Delay even further out of the news cycles and will diminish the clout and ability of the Democratic party to position themselves as agents for genuine change, come November.

It would have been a genuine display of heartening bi-partisan unity if Speaker Hastert and Ms. Pelosi had gotten indignant about faulty pre-war intelligence, a crocked energy committee, or the several illegal wiretapping programs underway on just about every single American. However, they are crying foul during what appears to be a reasonable search conducted within the bounds and the spirit of the law. And while Hastert, Frist and Pelosi’s sudden concern for the Constitution is truly touching, to apply the speech and debate clause here (which says that members of Congress cannot be arrested in the course of going about political debate, to prevent the executive from harassment of legislators) is a real stretch, given that Mr. Bush and the Administration was only marginally involved in the investigation through the Justice Department and that the probe was conducted as a genuine investigation into the crimes of a crooked lawmaker.

-E. Desiderius

MSNBC – A Defiant Stance in the Jefferson Probe
Reuters – Attorney General Prepared to Quit Over Jefferson Probe; NYT
USA Today – Jefferson Case May Hurt His Party
NY Times- FBI Raid Divides GOP Lawmakers and White House
NY Times Editorial – One Man’s Constitutional Crisis….
Wikipedia – Speech and Debate Clause

Posted by George Gordon | Saturday, May 27, 2006

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Menace to A Free Press, Society: Alberto Gonzales and Reporters

For civil libertarians, it is yet another dark day: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales now claims the authority to prosecute journalists and newspapers for simply receiving and publishing classified information. Further, he claims that he has no qualms about wiretapping reporters phones as part of criminal leak investigations.

In the months since his confirmation as Attorney General, Gonzales and the rest of the Bush Administration, have put forth a genuinely frightening view on the law. In their opinion, the constitution is a mere pleasantry; a nice thing to have laying around on paper and to pay lip service to, but the moment that national security is involved, the entire document is chucked out of the window. They believe the executive branch alone has the power to enforce, create and ignore the law (as demonstrated by the signing statements debacle reported by the Boston Globe). They believe in an Imperial Presidency, a branch elevated above the others and not bound by legislative or judicial oversight. They believe that national security is a carte blanche; that privacy is not a implicit right written into the constitution, and that their powers extend as far as necessary in the name of protecting the American people. And now, they believe that reporters can go to jail for the simple crime of receiving classified information from disgruntled government employees on questionably legal programs.

The Bush Administration has rampantly abused their powers in the War on Terrorism. National security is not a blank check, and the executive branch is responsible to the other two branches of government. It is time for Congress to remind the Administration. Reporters and the national news media play an important role in American politics: they too serve to check and balance the power of government. Without intrepid reporters, Nixon would have served his term and Watergate most likely would have gone unpunished. Without the media, the world would not know of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, or the deplorable conditions at Guantanamo Bay, nor of the Administration’s Warrantless wiretaps and massive data mining of telephone records.

It is time for Congress to pass strong shield laws, to protect reporters from government retribution and to ensure that they cannot be prosecuted for simply reporting on information that was given to them. Its time for Congress to re-affirm that there can be no prior restraint on speech or journalism by the government. And it is time for Congress to step up and put an end to the genuinely frightening Imperial Presidency that Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bush have cobbled together in the name of protecting the American people.

-E. Desiderius

Reuters - US Could Prosecute Reporters For Leaks: Gonzales
Slate – Listening to Leakers Could Land You In Jail
CNN – Gonzales: U.S. Could Track Reporters’ Phone Calls

Posted by George Gordon | Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Bankruptcy of the United States: A New New Deal For A New Century

The United States is bankrupt. We are bankrupt on good policy ideas and solutions, on sound fiscal policy, and on political leaders who can effectively wield government to move America forward. The problems confronting us are great: The dollar has declined to new lows against almost all global currencies. Tensions with Iran and the rest of the Middle East, as well as a strong Euro mean that the petroleum will probably be priced in Euros within a handful of decades. Within the next 20 years, our currency will cease being the premier reserve currency of the world, meaning that our current trade deficit is unsustainable. Medicare will be bankrupt by 2018, and Social Security will only be able to pay full benefits for another 34 years, until 2040. Further, as of this very moment, the national debt stands at 8,368,490,168,346.07, and each citizen’s share of the debt is approximately 28,015.46. Corporate wealth is soaring, and the gap between the rich and the poor is ever-widening. Our dependence on foreign oil is greater than ever, as gas prices soar, and investments in alternative energy decline. And we are engaged in a global game of cat and mouse with Islamic extremists and bogged down in two wars in the Middle East.

The problems that the United States faces are significant, and the action of our political leaders on these important issues is truly revolting. Congress has spent the last six years investigating baseball steroid allegations, threatening to ban gay marriage and flag burning, preventing the removal of one woman’s feeding tube, and turning its back on the creation of an Imperial presidency, and launching the feeblest of investigations on the truly important issues. The most important priority of progressive Americans in the new century should be to protect the social safety net that

With that said, this author proposes the following two policy prescriptions to save the social safety net:

1. Revision of Health Care Policy

The United States currently spends 16% of her GDP on health care, while leaving approximately 1/5th of her adult population uninsured. In just 9 years, health care costs will increase to approximately 20 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, other industrialized countries with single payer universal coverage spend significantly less: Switzerland and Germany spend just over 10% of GDP, and Canada and France spend just under 10%.

Meanwhile the private insurance companies in the United States spend approximately 20% of their budgets on lobbying and marketing to prevent the enactment of universal coverage. The insanity of the whole situation is that insured Americans are actually paying to prevent lawmakers from enacting a single-payer universal health care system. American insurance companies often refuse to pay for preventative medicine, but will pay for extremely expensive medical procedures that are a direct result of their failure to cover preventative medicine.

The United States is the only industrialized nation in the entire world not to provide her entire population with guaranteed health insurance, while spending more money than any nation in the world for inferior care (highest infant mortality rates in the developed world, etc). The waste in the system is apparently, but the political support for single payer insurance is still very high: 56% of the American people believe that fundamental changes are necessary in our health care system, and 34% believe that the entire system needs a complete rebuilding. 62% believe that health insurance is a government responsibility, and 87% of Americans are either very or somewhat concerned about health care costs in the future. 54% of Americans are dissatisfied with the quality of health care.

Meanwhile, business are struggling to try and meet the unwritten mandate that they should provide health insurance to their employees, and Congress is attempting to lower state restrictions to make it easier for business to purchase low-quality partial insurance instead of more comprehensive coverage.

Politically, major reforms to the system are blocked by powerful lobbies, despite political support found in the general population. A very minimal, and easily enactable, policy solution would be single-payer universal health care for minors, something along the lines of MedicareJunior. The idea is that all Americans, birth to 18 (and extendable to age 25, if attending a university or other job-training program full-time) would be covered by government insurance. This would have the benefit of shifting the responsibility of covering minor children and young people from the business that insure their parents to the government. Businesses would no longer have the burden of insuring families, just individual employees and perhaps their spouses. Medicare Junior could be funded by a payroll tax on employees, similar to the social security and Medicare deductions already taken out of paychecks.

2. Revision of Social Security/Medicare Policy

Social Security has over and over been called the third rail of American politics: “Touch it and you die.” It is not politically popular to raise the retirement age, nor would lobbies such as the AARP allow such legislation to pass without a massive legislative battle. However, the system cannot maintain the current rate of spending, especially with the retirement of the baby boomers. Private savings accounts and encouraging people to save for their own retirement is genuinely not a bad policy, but the social safety net must remain firmly in place. Thus the retirement age should be raised: benefits should be given incrementally. Medicare benefits could remain at age 65, and the social security pension could start as a very small pension at age 70 with a pension increase at 75 and full benefits coming at age 78. At the beginning of social security, Americans were only living a handful of years beyond retirement: now they are living several decades. Older Americans are healthier than pervious generations. As painful as it is, older Americans should plan on staying in the workforce longer, at least in a part time capacity. Several decades of living on a government pension was not the original intent of social security. Exceptions could be made for physically demanding career jobs: individuals who can show that they can not longer perform a career-level job because of physical handicap or age could be entitled to full benefits and pension past age sixty.

Sources/Relevant Articles:
Polling – Health Policy
The Nation – The Motherhood Manifesto
Universal Health Care Action Network – Strategies For Affordable Health Care for ALL
Why the United States Has No National Health Insurance: Stakeholder Mobilization Against the Welfare State
Washington Post – Serving Up Social Security and Mdeicare, Without the Fixings
NCHC - Facts About Healthcare
LA Times – Medicare In Poor Finiacial Health, Trustees Say
US National Debt Clock

Posted by George Gordon | Sunday, May 14, 2006

Saturday, May 13, 2006

On NSA Domestic Spying, The War on Terrorism

Mr. Bush is once against not being forthright. He has once again not been forthright through the entire unfolding of the disaster that has been the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal. And with the revelation of a massive database of every call placed by an American citizen, he is once again not being forthright.

The issue at stake here is not the privacy of Americans; so much as it is the power of government in a time of fear and uncertainty. Yes, terrorism is a serious threat facing our nation. Yes, we should all be concerned about Islamic fundamentalists who seek to destroy our plural open society because of both the values we defend, and our policies towards their region.

But our nation has faced such tests before. The War for Independence was barely won by a rag-tag army against British Regulars, the War of 1812 humiliated us, with the British marching across Washington and burning the White House, the Civil War was an extraordinary conflict in scope that tore the Union apart, and both World Wars came during a time of global political upheaval, domestic instability, and financial collapse. The Cold War represented the most dangerous situation America, and the world, ever faced: the specter of nuclear holocaust and the end of life as we know it, in America and beyond.

All these conflicts required sacrifice on the part of Americans. Almost all these crises in American history involved suspension of some civil rights and liberties, most of which were egregious wrongheaded in retrospect (as in the case of the internment of the Japanese, or the Sedition Act of 1918), and most of which were simply questionable responses (such as Lincoln’s suspension of Habeas Corpus).

The War on Terror will not be won, at least by any standard that we can recognize. Mr. Bush has said it himself during the 2004 Presidential Campaign. It will not be won on the battlefields in old Mesopotamia, nor will it be won in the hearts and minds of the Arab and Islamic populations around the World.

Government power cannot be lifted to such heights, even in a time of uncertainty and danger, especially considering the nature of the War on Terror. Disastrous things happen when populations are in the grip of fear: the elect chancellors that commit Holocausts, and they trade away their rights piecemeal for a sense of protection, even at the expense of Democracy.

Warrantless wiretapping is not a terrorist surveillance program. It is a massive data mining program, conducted under the shroud of secrecy, and under the guise of eavesdropping on Al Queda operatives. And though the NSA still claims that it is not listening in on purely domestic calls, the fact of the matter is that they don’t need to. The UKUSA intelligence community which including the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, means that the NSA can get another country’s intelligence agency to do it for them. It allows Canada’s CSE or New Zealand’s GCSB to gather the information, which it will then turn over to the NSA or the CIA, allowing the NSA to bypass domestic law.

Perhaps the era of an expectation to telecommunications privacy is long over: The ECHELON system already has the capacity to monitor almost every electronic communication across the globe. At the same time, must those of us who believe in limited government, in civil rights and the founding principles of this nation simply fold our cards and walk away? The President and the Vice President, as well as a compliant Congress, who is just beginning to find their voice of opposition on this issue, are responsible for a full-frontal assault on the privacy of the American people in a conflict that may last several generations, which cannot be allowed to stand.

-E. Desiderius

Washington Post Op-Ed – The Right Call on Phone Records
NY Times – Cheney Pushed US to Widen Eavesdrop
Yahoo!/AP – Bush Defends Scope of Domestic Privacy

Posted by George Gordon | Saturday, May 13, 2006

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Wasteland: Blogs and the Old Media

I’ve been wanting to write this column for a long time. Originally entitled “The Problem With DailyKos and AmericaBlog,” the words simply never came out, and I ended up with writers block, and a few keystrokes closer to carpel tunnel. I was stuck, and the anecdotal evidence simply wasn’t there to build a compelling case.

Under the same pen name, I’ve reprinted a number of articles on DailyKos, most of them met with troll ratings, cake recipes, pictures of dead Iraqi children, or snide remarks about smearing “our side,” the valiant, do-no-wrong fighting Democrats. In the little Kos Universe, Republicans are not referred to as the Republican Party, or Republicans, but rather “Repugs,” and they can do no right. The only prevailing criticism of the Democratic Party’s positions on anything is that they are not articulate and forceful enough and really the only policy prescription offered is that if the Democrats swung radically left on a populist platform they would control every branch of government.

Right wing blogs are by no means better. In my superficial browsing of the conservative blogosphere, I have come across some variation of the phase “skin him/her alive” or “flay him/her alive” several times to describe what the author wished upon an ideological opponent, usually derided as a “liberal” or some other kind of sissy. These blogs have the great distinction of simplifying ever issue down to its Manichean Fox News talking points that divide the world into two camps: for or against, US vs. everyone else.

Nuance and subtly is what right-wing bloggers lack, in addition to their irritating habit of circumventing any intellectual or legal argument with a shameless appeal to fear and emotion, that will including 9/11, terrorists, and the victims of these attacks. Meanwhile, left-wing bloggers are smug and self-righteous, genuinely refusing to tolerate differing ideas.

The blogosphere is truly a wasteland. DailyKos and the rest, instead of providing a forum for ideas and discussion, are a pack of ideological wolves. Jonathan Chait’s New Republic musings [1] on the fate of Joe Lieberman earned the New Republic the name Lieberman Weekly. And right-wing blogs are a pack of robotic simpletons, holding up a bloody shirt at the first sign of intellectual disagreement.

Let no blog ever replace good advocacy journalism like the New Republic, the Atlantic, the Nation, or hell, the Weekly Standard. There is a journalistic ethos that runs deep through these magazines: an openness of mind, and a willingness to step up and debate ideas above the fray of talking points and dualisms. There is an inquisitive spirit in journalism that bloggers simply cannot conceive, understand or express and there is a willingness to admit wrongs, admit hypocrisies and avoid partisan cheerleading. The blogosphere has yet to develop any of those qualities, and instead has become a global soapbox preaching to separate choirs; a place where people reinforce their preconceived political notions, and self-righteously gather to scorn those who disagree. Blogs have lowered the level and substance of political debate in this country instead of augmenting it, exploiting the imaginary divide between “red states” and “blue states,” and the actualy policy divides between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

Bloggers do not editorialize. They vandalize. It’s time they recognized the difference.

[1] The New Republic – Why The Left Should Rethink Its Campaign To Oust Joe Lieberman

Posted by George Gordon | Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Progressive Against Roe v. Wade

The position that this author has taken on reproductive rights would not score him high with Planned Parenthood. A few weeks ago, I argued that, logically, Plan B should not be sold over-the-counter. And now a bold new thesis: Roe v. Wade was established on shaky legal grounds, and should be overturned.

This author’s position on abortion is a murky centrist one: Humanity is something that develops slowly, and any line we draw is arbitrary. Conception does not make a human being. Birth does not make one either. First and second trimester abortions should be always legal, in this author’s view. Voluntary third trimester abortions, though rarely, if ever performed, should not be. In the case of a danger to the mother’s life, a third trimester of course should be available.

Which brings us to Roe V. Wade, which used the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th and 14th amendments and the idea of a right to privacy to grant women control over their own bodies. The right to privacy is controversial enough, since it was nowhere explicitly stated in the constitution. But the real issue at the center of Roe was life, not privacy: If a fetus is entitled to full legal protect as a human life, it is well within the recognized power of the state to regulate such matters. The constitution is practically bending at this suggestion. Granted, these amendments do imply a right to privacy. But it is one of the largest stretches in history of American constitutional law to say that the idea of abortion is planted in the text of the constitution itself, and beyond legislative control. The constitution does not prohibit abortion. But the right to it does not exist in the text: therefore states and the national government should be able to regulate it through legislation.

When Roe was handed down, it destroyed the legislative process in the United States, which was generally headed towards a smaller, incremental acceptance of abortion rights. To cultural conservatives, “Activist Judges” become a rallying cry, and Democrats become synonymous with defending the slaughter of human life. It ignited and inflamed the culture war like never before. The Republicans have exploited the issue mercilessly, and the New Republic rightly points out: “instead of seeking to overturn Roe, Republican leaders have used it in exactly the same way that the Party used Emmanual Goldstein in Orwell's 1984--as an all-purpose object of hatred and fear, a symbol of the threat to all that is moral and good, an occasion for the Two Minutes Hate, offered on television every day.” [1]

Overturning Roe V. Wade would not be the end all and be all of women’s reproductive rights: Just a handful of states would enact abortion bans, and yes, poor women in those states who could not afford travel would indeed by in a perilous situation. However, women’s groups would not let such blatant social injustice stand. Travel funds to help poor women in abortion-free states would spring up, as would movements to get local and state legislators to liberalize abortion policy. The fight over abortion would play out over the next 20 years in state capitals and state courtrooms instead of the Capitol Floor during every judicial nomination and on the Presidential campaign trail. Justices would not be subject to the absurd litmus test that is Abortion, and Presidential candidates would not have to duck and cover for the middle ground.

Let us build a consensus for Roe that goes beyond court rulings that are largely seen as undemocratic and out-of-touch, and allow Republicans to paint the Democrats as baby-killing utilitarians. The states that would outright ban abortion are limited to a handful of Bible-Belt states, and the removal of abortion from national politics and judicial confirmations would be more than a welcome trade-off. Making sure women have safe access to abortion goes beyond simply legalizing it. Forcing the pro-choice camp to build a legislative coalition and consensus in all the states would help end this devise culture war over abortion once and for all. No longer would Republicans be able to smear the courts and use the phrase activist judges. Instead, it would be through the will of the people.

-E. Desiderius

[1] The New Republic – How Republicans Use Roe

Posted by George Gordon | Friday, May 05, 2006

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How “Opal Mehta” Was A Desperate Cry for Help

Poor Kaavya Viswanathan, the widely derided, panned and disgraced author of “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life”. The day she was supposed to hear from Harvard via the computer on the status of her early decision application, they experienced a server crash. Viswanathan heard nothing from Harvard, meanwhile three of her classmates received their acceptance. She took this as a rejection, and “spent the whole night – 13 straight hours – weeping inconsolably and trying to look at life ahead” Of course, it was just an server crash, and Kaavya indeed got early acceptance into Harvard. And the rest is history.

But nevermind the striking similarities between Opal and not one, but two other books, now, the real shockers are the similarities between Kaavya and Opal. Opal “tells the story of a stressed-out Indian American girl fixated -- along with her Range Rover-driving neurosurgeon father and obstetrician-turned-stay-at-home-mother -- on getting into Harvard” [1] who has been on track to get into Harvard since birth, but is told by the Harvard Dean of Admissions to get a life, or her chances at acceptance will severely jeopardized, because Harvard doesn’t want “automatons.” By application time, Opal is told to “come back and show [Harvard] what a well-rounded candidate [she has] become.” (qtd. in [2]).

Kaayva, “Like the character in her novel… ….is "an Indian-American girl who got good grades, from New Jersey, who wanted to go to an Ivy League school." It was only to be expected, then, that Viswanathan's, yes, Range Rover-driving neurosurgeon father and obstetrician-turned-stay-at-home-mother signed their only child up with IvyWise. This admissions counseling service will, for a fee -- the platinum package will set you back $30,000 -- "take all the raw material and help you put it together in the way that an admissions officer is going to be most impressed by,"” [3].

Both Opal and Kaayva are bright young women, who are in situations that are far beyond their control. Opal found her life hijacked by her parents, who hatched an absurd, slightly comic, new life plan for their daughter, when their first one failed. Kaayva’s life was probably similarly influenced by her parents, who tossed her in science magnet school, and signed her up for a college packager to pad her application. This high-priced advisor wondered “why Viswanathan hadn’t listed her novel-in-progress on her resume.” Then the book packager Alloy become and involved and Kaayva had her book and writing hijacked by a book packager which helped shape the plot, deeming her original story about Irish history too dark.

Clearly, “success” for both Opal and Kaayva was more important that anything else. Opal traded her authenticity, individuality and personality away as a career move. Kaayva traded away her creativity, her own authenticity and her artistic vision for the same reason. Both of them prostituted themselves to get ahead: shamelessly trading their selfhood and identity for a kind of cheap social conformity all in the name of an ambition that wasn’t even really theirs to begin with. Harvard was Opal and Kaayva’s parents ambition for her, and both seemed to accept this dream and vision as their own. Were Kaayva’s tears genuinely the product of her dying dream, or the disappointment and fear that she has let her parents down. Did she plagiarized maliciously? Or was it because she was in over her head: a college packager had taken her writing hobby and twisted it, a book publisher had been sufficiently impressed by her prose, and offered her an enormous contract for a young person, and she simply could not make her ideas stick?

Kaayva’s book was her form of rebellion: A half-million dollar book contract, using other peoples’ words and a tale about a girl who learned to have some fun (but all under the guise of proper parental blessing). Kaayva needs to take a long hard look at her life: She’s a national figure now, an infamous example of the pressures on young people to succeed, and how they fail. Her punishment is Opal’s on a national, and perhaps international level: exposure and humiliation as a fraud. Young Kaayva has made a colossal mistake, and had to suffer through national notoriety. Poor girl.

[1] [3] Washington Post – Passage to Harvard
[2] Slate – How Kaavya Got Packed and Got Into Trouble: Plagiarism and Teen-Marketing Culture
Wikipedia – Kaavya Viswanathan
Hindu Magazine Interview with Viswanathan – A Fairy Tale Debut

Posted by George Gordon | Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Monday, May 01, 2006

Don't Be Fooled: The Sad State of Contemporary Protest Music

Its rather amusing to see stuffy Washington journalist-types, straight off reporting about the War, and Katrina, and penning op-ed pieces on the NSA attempt to delve into music criticism. The worst piece yet was the editorial by the Nation, championing the wave of mostly anti-Bush screeds-as-songs that have appeared, most of them somehow getting compared with Bob Dylan. “The artful approach to political songwriting that Dylan pioneered remains an inspiration to today’s musicians” [1] the editors haplessly claim.

They go on laud Green Day’s American Idiot, Kanye West’s “Crack Music,” Pearl Jam’s “World Wide Suicide,” Springsteen’s latest, a tribute to Pete Seeger, Michael Stipe and Moby’s little ditty “Not Ready to Make Nice” and Pink’s “Dear Mr. President.” They end the article with a stirring tribute to the punk band Anti-Flag and their album “For Blood and Empire” and its single “Depleted Uranium Is A Crime.” Meanwhile, the New York Times’s Jon Pareles’ offers a recommendation, albeit tepid, of Neil Young’s newest album “Living With War.”

But don’t be fooled like the Nation’s Editors into embracing what the kids are all going wild over. The 60s were a time of mass social protest that was reflected in shockingly literate protest music, often written with a subtly and grace that is so lacking in modern political songwriting. What passes as protest music now are juvenile screeds that somehow pass as songs, and somehow sell records.

Think of Dylan. “Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," for instance, is not only a churning anthem that captures the listener's attention; its lyrics are also remarkably literate, with an opening--"Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?"--that evokes the opening of the seventeenth-century ballad "Lord Randal,"” writes Jason Zengerle in the New Republic, seemingly one of the only commentators to get the many failings of modern protest music [2].

On the polar opposite of Dylan, we have bands like Green Day, who toss out snide little jabs: “Don’t wanna be part of the Redneck agenda” screams the band on the title track. “The representative from California has the floor” they intone in another, bizarrely invoking Congress before launching into something about the Eiffel Tower and killing fags that don’t agree with the government, and then concluding with something about being on holiday. Then there is the punk “Rock Against Bush” series, that has artists like the Offspring, Sum 41, Alkaline Trio, Anti-Flag, and, somehow, The Getup Kids, penning their own little political tirades.

Conor Oberst, the young man with the stage moniker Bright Eyes, has most often been compared to Dylan. But Obersts’ most scathing indictment of the Bush Administration is an atrociously written screed called “When the President Talks to God,” which is available free on iTunes. “When the president talks to God/ I wonder which one plays the better cop/ We should find some jobs. the ghetto's broke/No, they're lazy, George, I say we don't/Just give 'em more liquor stores and dirty coke/ That's what God recommends” These are the lyrics of this generation’s Dylan?

Dylan’s songwriting was never partisan, and almost never direct. He spoke in the language of metaphor and symbolism that raised his songs above the issues of his day and gave them a universal appeal that will forever remain relevant and accessible. “Blowin’ the Wind” was about so many things at once, including racism and pacifism, but it wasn’t mired down in the candidates, politics or elections of the day. It is a transcendent anthem and stunning, simple, beautiful artistic statement. “A Hard Rain is A-Gonna Fall” has the connotation of nuclear holocaust, but it rises above such pinpoint focus, instead becoming another timeless classic. Indeed, when Dylan focused on the specific, his material suffered, as in “Hurricane,” which was ultimately just a passable “issue song.” Granted, he also made modern political references in some of his songs, like President Kennedy in “I Shall Be Free,” but there were not his truly political anthems.

Green Day and Conor Oberst do their best to be edgy and relevant, but they come across as foolish, all-too-partisan, juvenile delinquents standing in the shoes of greatness, without a clue of how live up to a generation of singers and songwriters who penned eternally relevant anthems that cross borders, generations and political parties.

[1] The Nation – Songs of Protest
[2] TNR - Trite Eyes

Posted by George Gordon | Monday, May 01, 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Great Idea: Why Congress Should Raise Gas Taxes, and Why Of Course They Won’t Do It

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a piece entitled MTV’s ‘Super Sweet 16’ Gives A Sour Pleasure, about the MTV reality show that covers lavish, gaudy Sweet 16 birthday parties, complete with birthday girls and boys making grand entrances on elephants, or giving out MP3 players as an invitation, then partying at Jay-Z’s New York Club, with Kanye West doing a short set before Diddy makes the rounds. One young Indian-American high school graduate received “a Bentley, diamonds and two homes in India.” “I was really surprised” said young Divya, the graduate in question. “I was only expecting a Bentley and one house.” And another young lady, Sophie, “was just as quick to defend her mother's decision to spend $180,000 for her party.” "Unless they were crazy or hated their child, any parent who was financially able would do it," she said.” [1].

What does this have to do with gas prices? Well, frankly Congress is spoiling the American people rotten, quite like young Sophie and Divya’s parents. Here are the facts: Gasoline is one of, if not the, cheapest liquid to buy per gallon. A gallon of Lipton Ice Tea costs around $9.50, a gallon of Ocean Spray costs $10.00. A gallon of Evian Water costs $21.42. A gallon of Scope mouthwash cost a steep $84.48. And the vicious, price gougers over at Vicks are charging us $178.13 for a gallon of Nyquil.

And American gas prices are much lower than even their first-world counterparts. In the UK city of Teeside, gas runs at $5.64 (American dollars, of course). In Hong Kong, its $5.62. In Geneva, $4.56. In Vienna, $4.50. Tokyo? $3.84. The third world isn’t much better off, despite much lower costs of living and wages. In Phnom Penh, $2.57. Only in Caracas are they doing much better than the US. The price of gasoline in Caracas? A mere $0.14.

Americans far too often believe they can have their cake and eat it too. The Republicans want to offer a 100 dollar gas tax credit, but at the same time, that tax credit would be conditional on drilling in the Artic Wildlife Refuge. This is not acceptable. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but somewhere along the line, it has somehow become the American dream to purchase a large, cumbersome, obnoxious vehicle that gets approximately 15 miles a gallon, and then complain to Congress and the states about fuel prices, when it becomes a drain on the wallet. And then the federal government acquiesces. Democrats address it socially: they want to help ordinary working-class Americans and lessen their economic burden. Republicans want to slash taxes of all sort. Thus, both parties simply adore slashing the price of gasoline.

American have become far too complacent in planning for the future. We borrow money now and send the national debt soaring. Neither party is willing to tackle social security seriously, while the Baby Boomers speed towards retirement. The Medicare drug benefit was a gift to large corporations. And neither political party will offer comprehensive solutions on alternative energy. The Liberal Lion himself, Ted Kennedy, is behind a shady backroom deal that jeopardizes the Cape Wind Project, a proposed wind farm that would have generated 3/4ths of Cape Cod’s electricity needs, and would have been the pollution equivalent of taking more than one-hundred cars off the road. And now the Democrats are now stuck in the awkward place of having to stand on principle to defend a patch of snow in Alaska, or standing against providing every household with a tax credit. And the Republicans simply want to offer Americans more money to put into their clunky, inefficient vehicles that are eating up the lion’s share of the world’s oil reserves.

So what is the solution to this “gas crisis”? It should certainly not be an investigation into price gouging, as Republicans have been talking about. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg points out, “If you don't have some sort of monopoly power, gouging is another word for charging the highest price the market will bear, also known as capitalism.” [2]. Certainly not opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, nor ceasing deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, nor loosening environmental protections.

The answer is raising gas taxes. Slap another on ten or twenty, even thirty cents per gallon. Americans who own inefficient “gas guzzling” vehicles should be made to feel a sting every time they pull up to the pump. Their wallets should be slimmer, and their credit cards balance should be much higher. Then what? A tax credit. Americans who drive vehicles which EPA certified as getting 30 mpg or higher in city conditions should get a 500 dollar tax credit. Americans who drive vehicles which get 40 mpg city should get 1000 dollars. Americans who drive a vehicle certified as 60 mpg should get 2000 dollars (The only one current certified at that is the Honda Insight).

Finally, what about poor Americans who are genuinely having trouble making ends meet? A Federal Gas Assistance Programs should be created, based on need. Part of the money from the increase of the gas tax would go into this program, which would be a welfare-like program that gave Americans gas vouchers for free or discounted gas.

Of course Congress would never implement such a plan and it would, of course, be political suicide. On the West Wing, CJ Craig once remarked that a classic Washington Scandal was getting in trouble for telling the truth. Any party that told this truth to the American people would be out of a job. Fast. And that’s a sad state of affairs. In the meantime, a better solution is to simply open American wells, drain them of every last drop of oil, pollute the environment even more, make no headway on alternative energy, make no government commitment towards either a hydrogen economy or fuel efficient vehicles, and subsidize well-off upper-class Hummer owners who will be damned if they pay more than three dollars at the pump. Every other day. Sounds like a sensible policy to me.

-E. Desiderius

Related Articles/Sources:
NY Times - MTV’s ‘Super Sweet 16’ Gives A Sour Pleasure
[2] Slate – How High Gas Prices Make Politicians Stupid
CNN Money – Gas Prices Around the World
AP/Yahoo – Lawmakers Scramble To Ease Gas-Price Pain
Blog – Big Picture – Cheap Gas – Most and Least Fuel Efficient Cars

Posted by George Gordon | Thursday, April 27, 2006

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