Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Tuesday, October 31, 2006
A plea for mercy
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:33 PM


Dear Major League Baseball, National Football League and General Motors:

As a mere cog in the machine of global capitalism, I cannot presume to understand the decision-making process that goes on in the plush conference rooms deep within your respective global headquarters. However, I am going to make an uneducated guess: you do not want prospective consumers fleeing the room when your broadcasts and commercials air, sticking knitting needles in their ears and cursing your names to the uninterested heavens.

Would that be fair to say?

If so, for the love of all that's good and decent, PLEASE stop running those damn commercials with the John Mellencamp song "Our Country." Seriously. It is currently impossible to watch a football game without hearing that piece of crap at least once every single commercial break. That is cruel and unfair. I realize you own the universe and we merely occupy it, but surely there is a shred of humanity left alive somewhere in your marketing departments that could do us this small act of kindness.

Consider:

1) This song has already been written once. The first time, it was called "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie. It was significantly better that time.

2) The first line, which we are often assaulted with before we can dive for the remote in a vain attempt to rescue our last few functioning brain cells, is "I can stand beside ideals I think are right." (At least I think that's what ol' Melonhead is mumbling.) Please don't think too much about how empty and brain-dead this statement is. It hurts. A lot.

3) Later, if the remote is broken and we spend too much time searching the front of the TV for the volume button, we hear: "From the East Coast to the West Coast, down the Dixie Highway back home." In his haste to rewrite Guthrie, Mellencamp is making no sense. Is he invoking the grand sweep of American geography, or giving directions? If we don't live off the Dixie Highway, is it less "our country" than those that do?

4) Of all John "Cougar" Mellencamp's fake heartland anthems, this is certainly the fake-est. It sounds as though it were constructed in a clean room from genetically engineered old-timey instruments and sturdy but empty homilies.

In fairness to Mellencamp, the full-length version of the song contains verses that actually address topics of substance. Of course, you've chosen to include only the verses that are vague and meaningless enough to not cause problems with the right wing. This is as infuriating as it would be if Wrangler picked two lines completely out of context from "Fortunate Son" that made the song (a hundred times better a song than Mellencamp's) sound like a jingoistic feel-good ditty and used it to sell jeans. Oh, wait, they already did that. Never mind.

1 comments on this post
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Obligatory election post
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:07 AM
I received a notice from the Shadowy Left Wing Blogging Conspiracy today that I was contractually obligated to post something on the mid-term election, so here goes.

Even though I believe the Democrats are the most awe-inspiring election-losing machine the world has ever seen (I mean, they're an unstoppable juggernaut of incompetency), I am still going to predict that they'll take the House. Let's go with a margin of seven seats. (The conventional wisdom seems to be 15-20 seats, so I'm taking into account the ability of the Dems to undercut expectations at every turn.)

In the Senate, though, the Republicans are going to hold on. I'll say two seats, or three, depending on how you count Lieberman, who appears headed for victory as the standard-bearer of the Lieberman Party (motto: "My seat in the Senate is too important to leave in the hands of the voters."). It would be agonizingly dramatic if the Dems lost the Senate because of Lieberman, but I don't think it'll be that close.

So, instead of a situation where Congress acts as a rubber-stamp for Bush policies (except when Bush used his one and only veto to protect the innocent stem cells), we'll have a Congress paralyzed into passing hopelessly compromised legislation under duress.

In this scenario, Democrats will be urged to cave to Republican demands in the name of "bipartisanship." (They will do so.) Democrats will make no such demands of Republicans. (Not that the Republicans would do it, anyway.)

Then, in the 2008 election, everything bad will be laid at the feet of the Democratic House.

I suspect I'm going to get another message from the Conspiracy soon.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006
Saturday Morning Cartoons
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:32 PM


Here's some highlights from Bush's recent chat with right-wing media types, with commentary by Editor and Publisher's Greg Mitchell. The overriding theme seems to be that Bush knows nothing about a lot of subjects, most notably US history and Islam.

Bush on the Iraqi barbarians at the gate:

"If we leave, they will follow us here." Bush then explains that this is what makes the Iraq struggle "really different from other wars we've been in." This completely overlooks the official U.S. line in trying to halt the communists in Vietnam and Korea, not to mention the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II.


Presidents don't swear:

Bush states, "al-Qaeda is lethal as hell," and then instructs, "scratch the 'hell' -- it's lethal."


Bush builds a straw man:

Another revealing moment comes when Bush flatly declares that only "25% or so" of Americans want the U.S. out of Iraq. In fact, a Gallup poll released this week shows that the number is actually 54% who want us out quickly -- within a year at most. Bush also mischaracterizes the war opponents, saying they "just don't believe in war," as if they are all pacifists.


Bush does the thing he says he never does, yet does all the time -- suggests Iraq was behind 9/11:

Then he goes on: "I believe when you get attacked and somebody declares war on you, you fight back. And that's what we're doing." Of course, this ignores the fact that Iraq did not declare war on us -- but it's been so long now, maybe he's just forgotten.


Incurious George:

A critical moment arrives when Bush announces, "And I'm trying to figure out a matrix that says things are getting better. I think that one way to measure is less violence than before, I guess. We'll have to see what happens here after Ramadan. I believe these people -- oh, I was going to tell you Abizaid believes Ramadan, no question, caused them to be more violent because he says there's some kind of reward during Ramadan for violence."

Memo to the president: Ramadan ended three days ago and the number of Americans killed continues to surge, with at least five killed in the past day alone.


That might be my favorite one of the bunch, since it shows that Bush doesn't care a whit about the beliefs and motivations of those funny brown people we're killing. A point driven home by this:

Sometimes the columnists offered Bush suggestions on how to sell the war on terror. This happened after the president described the enemy, bizarrely, in the broadest terms: "We will press and press and press to protect ourselves. And this stuff about how Iraq is causing the enemy -- whatever excuse they need, they have made up their mind to attack, and they grab on to things to kind of justify. But if it's not Iraq, it's Israel. If it's not Israel, it's the Crusades. If it's not the Crusades, it is the cartoon. I'm not kidding you. I'm not kidding you."

This provokes "laughter," according to the transcript. But Bush presses on. "They are cold-blooded killers."

"If it's not the Crusades, it's the cartoon -- that's a good slogan," one of his guests suggests.


Here's a fun exercise: figure out exactly what the President means by "they" in the above quote.

And finally, Bush offers perhaps the truest expression yet of the Bush Doctrine:

But Bush calls the war "a struggle of good versus evil," adding, "Maybe it's not nuanced enough for some of the thinkers and all that stuff -- that's fine. But that's exactly what a lot of people like me think."


There's a reason why what most of what the administration does stubbornly resists any effort to understand it using our crude tools of logic and analysis -- they don't care about such things. Exercise and maintenance of power is a prime motivator, but so is gratification of base impulses. Bush and his followers like to deride the Sixties counterculture and its "do what feels good" credo, but you only have to look at their policies to see that this might be one of the most indulgent administrations in recent memory. They invaded Iraq, after all, primarily because they simply wanted to.

If cartoons are the metaphors of the day, then Bush must be the King of Id.

1 comments on this post
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Sunday, October 22, 2006
Armed with coffee and Cheetos
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:14 AM

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Thursday, October 19, 2006
The beginning of the end of America
Posted by neros_fiddle at 7:09 PM
Though it's often tempting to claim that this country offers only a choice between the right and the center-right, there is a much deeper schism today that has very little to do with the traditional ideas of left and right and Republican and Democrat.

Instead, what we are seeing is a clash between bedrock American principles that until recently both "sides" professed to cherish and a naked appeal to fear in the pursuit of ever-greater power. Bush supporters are cheering his dismantling of due process not because it is a "conservative" idea (which it is as far away from as you can get) but because they support Bush and fear the things he tells them to fear. It is not a political stance but an emotional one. To Bush supporters, the terrorists are so scary that turning America into a police state is an acceptable price for a fleeting sense of safety.

Others try, with increasing frustration and anger that the fearful decry as "unhinged Bush-hatred," to point out that the things we are doing to "save America" are in fact destroying America's most redeeming qualities. This observation is often referred to as "hating America" or "loving terrorists."

Yesterday, the lines were drawn more clearly than ever as Bush signed the Military Commissions Act, which codified some of the administrations more extreme abuses of the justice system. Though most of the media was willing to spin this event as "the President protecting us from evildoers," some voices recognized it for what it was.


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Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Microsoft tightens the noose
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:20 PM


Faced with countless pirated copies of XP roaming the seedier parts of Internetville, the army of lawyers at Microsoft had two choices as it crafted the license terms for Vista. It could encourage legal use by allowing flexible, consumer-friendly usage. Or, it could make the terms to onerous that they'd be ignored and/or flaunted.

Guess which one they chose?

If Redmond is to salvage its reputation as a nickel-and-diming Evil Empire, it could do far worse to start than to make nice with the most enthusiastic PC users, who often build their own boxes from individual components. Rather than an olive branch, Microsoft extends to them a closed fist:

The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time. If you reassign the license, that other device becomes the “licensed device.”


So, every other time you build a new machine, or buy a new machine that didn't come with Vista bundled (like, say, a dual-boot-capable Mac), you get to pay for Vista all over again. This makes sense only if you repeatedly bash yourself in the skull with a copy of the Windows Server 2003 Administrator's Companion.

Another thing that geeks like to do is run OSes in virtual machines. For many, running Windows in a VM under a Unix or Mac system is very convenient and powerful. Microsoft has a middle finger ready for them, too. If you somehow resist the allure of Windows Vista Ultimate (which will set you back a cool $399 -- per two machine upgrades) and settle for the more pedestrian Home or Home Premium flavors, you'll be greeted with this thank-you:

USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may not use the software installed on the
licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system.


Thank you for paying money for software when you could have easily pirated it. Oh, and screw you.

However, those who pony up for the full Ultimate experience will get this grudging concession from the MS crew:

USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may use the software installed on the
licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system on the licensed device. If
you do so, you may not play or access content or use applications protected by any Microsoft digital,
information or enterprise rights management technology or other Microsoft rights management
services or use BitLocker. We advise against playing or accessing content or using applications
protected by other digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other rights
management services or using full volume disk drive encryption.


If you were concerned that Vista might offer something more compelling for XP users than a thick layer of DRM, you can rest easy.

Finally, this might be my favorite, if only for its humor value:

SCOPE OF LICENSE. The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some
rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights. Unless applicable law gives you more
rights despite this limitation, you may use the software only as expressly permitted in this agreement.
In doing so, you must comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use
it in certain ways. For more information, see http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/userights. You
may not work around any technical limitations in the software.


Any bets as to how many Vista upgrades Microsoft will actually sell? Clearly, it will reach critical mass at some point as Dell and HP and everyone else stop shipping XP in favor of the new flesh, but how many real users are actually gung-ho about this thing?

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They all look alike to me.
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:37 PM
Via Billmon, here's an enlightening article from the NYT.

The question of the day: what's the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite? When right-wing podium-pounders from the president on down are telling us that bearded Mecca-facing wackos are massing at the borders waiting to eat our ever-more-numerous children, it seems important for us to understand the nature of Islam and the reasons for much of the Middle East's chronic unrest. So surely the people entrusted with keeping an eye on the wackos are up on the most fundamental (no pun intended) aspects of the religion?

First up, the FBI's head of national security, Willie Hulon:

“Yes, sure, it’s right to know the difference,” he said. “It’s important to know who your targets are.”

That was a big advance over 2005. So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed. “The basics goes back to their beliefs and who they were following,” he said. “And the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following.”

O.K., I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran — Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. “Iran and Hezbollah,” I prompted. “Which are they?”

He took a stab: “Sunni.”

Wrong.

Al Qaeda? “Sunni.”

Right.


OK, so he's just guessing. But he's new on the job, so we'll give him a break. Surely, seven-term Congressman Terry Everett, vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, could do better:

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”


That's certainly encouraging! And how about Congresswoman Jo An Davis, who is tasked with monitoring the CIA's Islamic intelligence gathering operations?

“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.”

Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?

“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”

Did she think that it was important, I asked, for members of Congress charged with oversight of the intelligence agencies, to know the answer to such questions, so they can cut through officials’ puffery when they came up to the Hill?

“Oh, I think it’s very important,” said Ms. Davis, “because Al Qaeda’s whole reason for being is based on their beliefs. And you’ve got to understand, and to know your enemy.”


Who can argue with that?

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Tiring out the stork
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:12 PM
Since American culture has become more and more fixated on the needs of children in recent years, it's perhaps inevitable that people want more and more of the little angels. The recent passing of the 300 million US population mark is perhaps a symptom of this. But in this recent CNN article discussing the trend, this passage in particular stands out:

But a leading expert on family size, Duke University sociologist Philip Morgan, says it makes sense that some well-off couples are opting for more children as concern about global overcrowding eases because of lowering birth rates overall.

"The population explosion -- fears about that are over," he said. "People used to think that having more than two kids was not only expensive but immoral. Now, people say if you can afford three kids, four kids, that's great."


Lowering birth rates overall? No more worries about population explosions? When did this happen? Why didn't any one tell me about these astounding developments?

Let's go to the numbers:



Well, it looks like we're still adding a billion people to the planet every decade or so. So why are these affluent Americans so morally comfy with having enormous broods?

It probably has to do with this:



There's one (or both) of two things happpening here:


  1. Well-off Americans see their own birth rates leveling off, and assume that their breeding happens in a vacuum.
  2. Well-off (and largely white) Americans are frightened by the burgeoning ranks of non-white people, and do their best to keep up.


Perhaps I'm charitably naive, but I think it's probably more the former than the latter, but in an age when Fox News seemingly exists primarily to provide Americans with images of scary foreigners, you never know.

Whatever the motivation, it certainly seems near-sighted, in much the same way as celebrating paying off a credit card by going on a shopping spree. If "fears of a population explosion" are going away, just what do these people think will happen if they all start having big families?

I wonder if people in China can access this story through their national firewall. If so, I'm sure it makes them happy.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006
"We're bigger than U.S. Steel!"
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:49 PM


Like Hyman Roth carving up a Cuba-shaped birthday cake, it looks like Iraq is determined to dismember itself:

The Shiite-dominated parliament Wednesday passed a law allowing the formation of federal regions in Iraq, despite opposition from Sunni lawmakers and some Shiites who say it will dismember the country and fuel sectarian violence.

[snip]

The federalism law sets up a system for allowing provinces to join together into autonomous regions that would hold considerable self-rule powers, a right given to them under the constitution adopted last year in a national referendum.

Some Shiites want to create an autonomous zone in their heartland in the south, much like the self-ruling Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

But Sunni Arabs deeply oppose the federalism measures, fearing it will divide Iraq into sectarian mini-states, giving Shiite and Kurds control over oil riches in the south and north, and leaving Sunnis in an impoverished central zone without resources. Some Shiite parties - including the faction of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - also oppose the measures for nationalist reasons.


At this point, it would seem appropriate to ask, "Is this what we had in mind?" However, I'm not at all sure what exactly we did have in mind, aside from deposing Saddam. And neither was anyone in the government apparently.

So now we'll have a Kurdish "state" in the north ready to mix it up with Turkey, a steadfast Shiite ally of Iran down on the border with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and a bunch of embittered, militant Sunnis in the leftovers, ripe for recruitment by al Qaeda.

Sounds like a win for somebody, if not us.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006
Never mind the Constitution, here's the sex scandal
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:42 PM
I haven't said anything about Foleygate because (1) I'm busy at work this week and (2) I'm rather ambivalent about the whole thing. It's hard to get worked up about a scandal of this nature when just a few days earlier Congress handed fascist authority over to the President, which in any sane society would provoke far greater outrage than uncovering a single representative's desire to boink teenage pages. If this upsets the neocon balance of power, then that's a good thing, but at root it's simply another example of the electorate not caring about anything that goes on in government unless sex, taxes or killing Muslims is involved.

But at the same time, I've been waiting for some lowlife to make the inevitable conflation between the self-described "gay" Foley and every other gay man in the world. Said lowlife turned out to be Bill Kristol:

KRISTOL: Well, Democrats care about the children, Brit, and so I think they should pressure states to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18 so that it's clearly illegal for people like Mark Foley to hit on 17-year- old pages. They pressured states to raise the age of drinking, right? -- from 18 to 21 by threatening to cut off funds. They could do the same thing for age of consent laws in terms of the sexual predators. They could certainly pass a resolution supporting the Boy Scouts in their effort to keep people like Mark Foley from becoming scout masters, I think the Democrats could really do a lot of good for our children.


As everyone knows, the Boy Scouts are fighting legal battles over their desire to keep out gays. And here we have Kristol claiming that such a thing would "keep people like Mark Foley from becoming scout masters." For Kristol, gays are "people like Mark Foley." Translation: All gay men want to have sex with little boys. Everyone knows that, right?

Never mind that the percentage of homosexuals among pedophiles roughly matches the percentage of homosexuals among the general population. (And you could actually have a really good argument over whether or not Foley is a pedophile, but that hardly matters. What he did was both a reprehensible abuse of power and morally bankrupt, whether you can label it with the p-word or not.) For Kristol, the lesson of Foley's unfettered libido is that we need to keep gay men away from children.

By the same token, I suppose that the popularity of "barely legal" heterosexual porn (and the early careers of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, et al) means that we need to keep straight men away from children as well. So, taking Kristol's proposal to its logical extreme, all men must have no contact with children.

Burqas would probably be a good idea, too. Can't be too careful.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Blog on
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:56 AM
Frequent commenter Mike has started a new political blog, since he's tired of being under my tyrannical control. Or something. Maybe I made that part up.

Anyway, go check it out and start marking those books.

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Bill Frist throws in the terror towel
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:32 AM
So let me get this straight. We're going to stay in Iraq (a country that didn't attack us on 9/11) no matter how many soldiers and civilians get killed, but fighting the Taliban is just too much trouble:

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan guerrilla war can never be won militarily and called for efforts to bring the Taliban and their supporters into the Afghan government.

The Tennessee Republican said he had learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated by military means.

"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government," Frist said during a brief visit to a U.S. and Romanian military base in the southern Taliban stronghold of Qalat. "And if that's accomplished we'll be successful."


If anyone out there has a clue as to what exactly the GOP anti-terror strategy is, let me know. I'm at a loss.

What Frist is proposing may not be an entirely bad idea -- if your goal is stability. But the current regime has not shown an iota of interest in promoting stability to date. The invasion of Iraq and the support of Israel in the Lebanon conflict were both profoundly destabilizing actions, purportedly in the name of taking radical action to undermine terrorist support. (The fact that both accomplished precisely the opposite is immaterial in this discussion.) Bush certainly didn't sound like he wanted to create a US-backed kinder, gentler Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. He talked about decimating those thugs, and very few had a problem with that.

But now we've come full circle. Iraq was originally a distraction that prevented us from effectively finishing off the Taliban and al Qaeda. Now, it's Afghanistan that the GOP sees as a distraction preventing them from focusing on Iraq and maybe Iran. So they're willing to let the Taliban, the guys who employed al Qaeda as their own personal army, back into the halls of power and use the military for more non-9/11-related adventures in pursuit of the neocon dream of global hegemony.

I still don't buy the "Bush was behind 9/11 to jump-start the PNAC agenda" conspiracy theories, but the neocons are doing precisely nothing to make those theories any less plausible.

UPDATE: Frist claims he was misquoted and only wants to bring in "moderate Islamist" elements of the Taliban.

It'll be interesting to see what the warbloggers make of the notion of a "moderate Islamist."

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Monday, October 02, 2006
Iraq war: a done deal in March 2002
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:04 PM
As part of the ongoing Jack Abramoff investigation, a whole ton of e-mails have been released. Buried deep in this pile is yet another stake through the heart of the "we gave diplomacy a chance to work in Iraq" lie.

(This particular e-mail can be found at the "Bates numbers GTG R000847 - 001829" link on the page linked above, on page 26.)

From: Jack Abramoff
To: 'octagon1'
Monday, March 18, 2002 8:31 AM
Subject: RE: Sunday

I was sitting yesterday with Karl Rove, Bush's top advisor, at the NCAA basketball game, discussing Israel when this email came in. I showed it to him. It seems that the President was very sad to have to come out negatively regarding Israel, but that they needed to mollify the Arabs for the upcoming war on Iraq. That did not seem to work anyway. Bush seems to love Sharon and Israel, and thinks Arabfat [sic], is nothing but a liar. I thought I'd pass that on.


Everything in the year leading up to the invasion was just a big show. Nothing was going to stop Bush from starting the war.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006
I'm a figurehead
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:31 PM
Go down and read the comments to the previous post. They're far more interesting than anything I could come up with at the moment.

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Line of succession
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:37 AM
So far, the administration has been following the "Dictatorships for Dummies" playbook with great precision. Taking advantage of a traumatic attack, they have equated dissent with treason, created a climate of perpetual war against a vague enemy, elevated the executive branch over the legislative and judicial branches, and created a police state apparatus.

But there will still be at least the appearance of an election in 2008, unless the transformation into authoritarianism becomes completely overt before then. (Another terror attack would probably do the trick.) Conspicuous by its absence is a clear heir to Bush's throne. This is puzzling. Why go to the trouble of subverting the Constitution, only to voluntarily abandon the supreme executive branch you have so painstakingly created?

Other than periodic rumblings of a run by the stunningly inept Condoleeza Rice, no one within the administration seems poised to front the machine in two years. Cheney doesn't seem to have the appetite (or the ticker) for it. Rove isn't the in-front-of-the-throne type. I'm trying to imagine an insider, and coming up empty.

Congress isn't burping up any likely suspects, either. McCain loathes most of the White House, though he'll play ball as long as it's to his advantage. The once-mighty Santorum doesn't appear likely to even retain his seat this year. Frist is hip-deep in scandal and doesn't play well on the national stage.

Usually by this point the intended successor is clear. That clarity is, so far, lacking. Who do you see as the new face of the regime?

There's always Jeb Bush, I suppose. If you're going to give up the pretense of democracy, you might as well go with the obvious.

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