Take Five (We Don't Need Another Zero edition)

Take-FiveONE: One Fling to Rule Them All…

What’s more mawkish than Republicans rallying moistly and noisily around a new standard bearer? Absolutely nothing.

While all but the most stalwart or blockheaded of the party faithful ended up too embarrassed to admit how embarrassed they finally were by George Bush and Dick Cheney, many of them shamelessly went on to embrace a succession of greasy mediocrities like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, Scott Brown, Paul Ryan, Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Marco Rubio.

The mass infatuations mostly dwindled miserably into scandals, lawsuits, ridicule and/or simple morning-after remorse, but it’s worth remembering that most of these intellectual pipsqueaks retain a mystifying and immovable popularity among one or more dependably Republican demographics.

Enter Ted Cruz, who aspires to be the one fling to rule them all. I confess I’d never even heard of this guy until he appeared at last year’s Republican National Convention. Even then he didn’t make much of an impression, if my synopsis of the first day of the convention is a reliable yardstick:

9:40 PM:

Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz forsakes the podium and gives a pointless speech as he paces the stage. It’s as if he’s auditioning to be an evangelist. Or a stand-up comic. He points to the debt clock. Yep, the nation is still in debt.

Cruz bellows, “Government is not the answer,” which makes me wonder why he and his fellow Republicans are so damned keen on being elected to office.

As it turned out, the position Cruz was actually auditioning for, then and since, was President of the United States of America. Happily, even some Republicans seem completely appalled by that idea, but Cruz effectively capitalized on the government shutdown and flirtation with default to enhance his grassroots popularity and leadership cred. He also realizes that the GOP’s actual leadership is laughably inept, something he telegraphed by upstaging Mitch McConnell‘s announcement of a budget deal. The party is ripe for hijacking, and Cruz – a shrewd demagogue, equal parts Cotton Mather and Joe McCarthy – seems poised to do just that, at least temporarily.

Lest Cruz’s increasingly high profile and rock star status among zero-information conservative voters make you queasy with thoughts of a presidency in his future, Paul Bibeau offers some reassurance on the subject of Ted Cruz Yet to Come:

We know what happens to Ted Cruz, because it’s happened before…

Ted Cruz runs for president. Jackasses in Iowa talk about his honesty and his directness. They portray him as an outsider, a renegade, a fresh new face. What they mean is something else, something darker. Anyway, soon after that – because of dropping polls, stories of infighting, and some hideous thing he says into a hot mike or on hidden camera – his campaign turns into a space shuttle made of balsa.

Does it stop there? Christ, no. Because then Ted Cruz finds what he was meant to do all along. He’s going to get a TV show, a radio gig, or an income stream from giving speeches to the kind of folks who think the UN is a totalitarian plot and gay people are poisoning our water supply…

Yeah, that sounds about right. If Republicans do only one thing well – and indeed, yes, they actually do only one thing well – it’s that never go away. Examples come readily to mind. Not only did the outlandishly repugnant Tom Delay avoid prison; he’s working on a book with infamous huckster Jerome Corsi. Dick Cheney, risen from the dead for the sixth or seventh time, is energetically spitting ichor at Barack Obama and still stubbornly insisting that the invasion of Iraq actually had something to do with weapons of mass destruction. Sarah Palin also has a book coming out, and still found time to pretend she shot a bear. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has remade himself yet again, this time as a Democrat, and is probably going to run for another term. Hell, Ronald Reagan has been dead for almost a decade, but stick any Republican in front of a microphone and you’re bound to hear his name invoked, with stupefying reverence, within about 60 seconds.

No, they never go away, so get used to Ted Cruz. He’s only just getting warmed up.

TWO:  Houses of the Holy Moly

Further to that last-ditch attempt to block construction of Mitt Romney’s La Jolla McManor discussed in the previous edition of this column, the California Coastal Commission recently shot down Anthony Ciani’s appeal, clearing Casa Romney to go forward, weird-rich-guy car elevator and all.

Romney being Romney, he’s also building a house in Holladay, Utah, and it’s going to have a weird-rich-guy feature of its own: a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf. Why a secret room? It’s just a guess, mind you, but behind those shelves I picture an exact replica of the Oval Office, a place where the hapless millionaire, safely hidden from view, can pretend he became leader of the free world after all, manage imaginary crises, sign imaginary executive orders, conduct imaginary diplomacy, and give imaginary addresses to the nation, while “Hail to the Chief” loops stirringly in the background. Continue reading Take Five (We Don’t Need Another Zero edition)

Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

Take-FiveONE: Death Becomes Them

Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).

Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).

It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.

TWO: Squeaker of the House

John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”

Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.

THREE: China Syndrome

You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.

I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”

Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:

The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…

The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.

Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

Take Five (Precious Bodily Fluids edition)

ONE: Life During Wartime

A few months from now, we’ll have flushed away 10 years occupying Afghanistan for reasons that still don’t pass the smell test, and it seems that, just maybe, the shared wartime sacrifice called for by neither George Bush the Lesser nor his Oval Office successor has become unavoidable, at least in some jurisdictions.

The New York Post reported last week that toilet paper was apparently being rationed by bathroom attendants in the women’s rooms at Coney Island:

Regina Ballone, 25, of Brooklyn visited a boardwalk bathroom at West 16th Street Wednesday and was “grossed out” at the thought of someone else handling her toilet paper.

“Never in my life have I experienced anything like this,” she said. “I walked toward a stall, and a bathroom attendant stopped me by shouting, ‘Hey, mami! There’s no toilet paper here,’ and she whipped out a big roll for me to grab some.”

However, the initial report was quickly deemed crap by the Parks Department:

The Parks Department refused to say how much it budgeted for toilet paper and other supplies, with a spokeswoman saying only, “Bathroom supplies are stocked daily, and our budget for these supplies is consistent.

“There’s no need to ration, and we’ll make certain our staff does not do so,” added the rep, Meghan Lalor.

Staff were demonstrably not doing so in the men’s rooms, at least:

Toilet paper rationing isn’t an issue in the men’s rooms — but only because they apparently don’t have any to ration. The toilet paper was gone whenever a The Post reporter went to inspect the men’s rooms.

The following day, the Parks Commissioner more or less un-denied the prior denial and came clean on the whole nasty affair:

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe ended the rationing of toilet paper at Coney Island yesterday — admitting that The Post’s potty exposé left him flush with embarrassment.

“We don’t know why [some workers] decided to ration toilet paper. Clearly . . . it was a mistake,” Benepe said.

“The economic conditions are challenging, but not that challenging. If you go there today, you’ll find toilet paper in every stall,” he said. “It’s our business to help New Yorkers do theirs.” Continue reading Take Five (Precious Bodily Fluids edition)