Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gee, that's rich

After decades of casting everything the government does with "your" tax money as a communist plot, now the Republican party can't muster enough votes to use the government when they need it most: to save their own institutions.

This is the gamble conservative politicians take by arguing that government solutions to anything are all wrong, all the time: When the private sector finally throws itself under the bus, Americans expect "personal responsibility" to be the order of the day.

If Americans lack the sophistication of thought required to accept that they be held to a different standard of accountability than the people running their country, perhaps that is because they've never been leveled with in the first place. It would appear the Republican party has caught its tiger by the tail.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Their prosperity, and ours

Chrystia "[Sarah] Palin is a true feminist role model" Freeland turns her powers of observation to the economy today when she writes: "[T]here is no denying that the financial crisis, and the Treasury and Federal Reserve's response to it, mark the end of a long, prosperous era of American laisser-faire capitalism in its purest form..." And, in fact, she is correct: there is no denying that there is a financial crisis to which the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve have responded. Unfortunately, there are plenty of grounds for denying everything else.

First of all, there has been no lasting example of "laisser-faire capitalism in its purest form" anywhere ever. For the last three hundred years there have been various moves on the part of private collectives to run national economies for their own short-term gain, with varying levels of government intervention to cope with the social problems (inequality, poverty, social unrest, "externalities," etc.) and macroeconomic challenges (monopolies, market failures) that inevitably arise.

What is packaged and sold to the ordinary citizen as a kind of self-sustaining, rationally-based system of supply and demand under the banner of "laissez-faire" or "the free-market," is really just a malignant tumor that will -- indeed -- grow tremendously until it kills its host, as history bears repeated witness. Profound government intervention in the economy is in fact the only mechanism by which "market forces" haven't completely destroyed themselves in practice, which is why all modern "capitalisms" incorporate some greater or less degree of it, by definition. As such, it is pointless to ask whether government should be involved in the economy; the appropriate question is on whose behalf should the government intervene. And this is because the government is intervening all the time.

With regard to the long era of American prosperity brought about by business groups being "free" to pursue narrow concerns with government help: it's true that this has brought about an unprecedented prosperity for the tiny minority who have wrapped the "national interest" around their needs. Yet, presumably, the "laisser-faire capitalism in its purest form" to which Freeland refers is the same period to include: the gradual break-up of the middle class; skyrocketing inequality; the illegal attack on unions; wage stagnation; the spread of unmanageable work/schedule demands; the adoption of new part-time/temp work standards; increased diagnosis of anxiety, depression and attention deficit problems as related to job insecurity; the general deterioration of public services and community welfare; and a recognition among younger generations that they will never exceed the standards of living achieved by their parents -- in other words, everything that has happened in the last 35 years or so, orchestrated to the delight of the American business classes, who took their tax cuts and made enlightened use of them by speculating so wildly they upended their own meal-ticket and now insist the rest of the population pay the bill -- thus "requiring" more social cut-backs because they kicked the country one more pass down the path of bankruptcy. Well, that's prosperity for you.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

In lieu of a New Deal, a raw one

Congress and the various branches of US industry have jerry-rigged a formal response to the ongoing crisis of capitalism, with fingers crossed that it might steer the country back to business as usual.

Plenty will be said about this in the near future, with no shortage of in-depth consideration of every last detail, which, after all, is the job of the major media vis-a-vis the privileged constituencies which advertisers hope to ensnare. This is a crisis that affects the people and organizations that manage the economy of the country, so it's going to be headline news forever until it either subsides as a problem or is transcended in importance by some other concern. In this respect, it is quite different from something like, say, poverty, which is merely a crisis of the poor, and therefore an accepted reality, barely noted. Financial disasters, like most disasters, may hit the poor the hardest, but that is not the motivating impulse behind this intervention.

There is some talk among liberals that the current financial crisis coupled with an Obama win may lead to a New Deal-style resurgence of public policy geared towards public need. Unfortunately, this misses what the public was doing at the time of the Great Depression to force an otherwise business-loyal government to recognize basic public concerns: many were trying to overthrow the economic system altogether. There was widespread socialist mobilization, including a socialist party based in the American union movement; and they were organized enough to articulate an alternative vision of how the country could be run, many components of which were incorporated into the New Deal and in turn precipitated the greatest expansion of the middle-class in American history.

Where is that today? Contrary to liberal aspirations, change does not come from one good man (or woman) pulling the levers of state power. It comes by diffusing power sufficiently so that it extends into the lives of those affected by it. That means people have to prepare themselves to act on the issues that matter to them, firstly by educating each other on what they are, and secondly by having some practical method for addressing them. This is what was happening on a large scale in the 1920's and 30's which led to significant economic gains for "the rest of us" in the decades to follow, but which doesn't seem apparent today. If so, it is nobody's fault but our own.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Once in a century" rip-off

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bill Gates saves Africa

The Wall Street Journal has "philanthropy" feature today discussing a UN/Bill Gates/Son of Warren Buffet plan to "fund [an] agriculture market for overlooked small [African] farms" -- which is basically a euphemism for "keeping the majority of the population from starving."

The article makes some remarkable statements, among them:

Small African farmers, who provide most of the continent's agricultural output, have never had a reliable market to sell their food. Many of them are in remote areas with little access to transportation rely on archaic networks of small traders who set prices.
Small African farmers have never had a reliable market to sell their food. They grow their crops, no one wants any of it -- and this has been the basis of African civilization for thousands of years. Making matters worse, they live in "remote areas" -- like inside Africa -- instead of in port cities or other locales favored by global commerce and tourism. They have to rely on "backward" methods of getting their product to market, since they don't own trucks and in some cases barely have roads, which they apparently require since they don't "have markets" of their own to begin with.

Enter Bill Gates, et al., who will generously fund a UN program to buy food from small African farmers for reuse as humanitarian aid for other starving people with no means of livelihood and no access to viable markets. Thus Bill Gates will create them.

The fact is that Africa has always had markets, the problem is that they are flooded with mass-produced foodstuffs from wealthy, industrialized countries. People go hungry when they can't sell what they grow to their neighbors, because their neighbors are buying imported food for less than the cost of domestically-produced food. It also doesn't help that they are in competition with "large African farmers," or, foreign corporations that monopolize land tracts, retooling them for the production of whatever crop will bring the highest export price, regardless of whether it is efficient or sustainable to grow them in a particular climate or region, or whether it is something the locals can eat (e.g. coffee).

These are industrial trade policies pursued by wealthy nations on behalf of whatever business groups dominate their economies, and, subsequently, their governments. That business may not be so good for the small African farmer is the direct result of the fact that it is so good for industrial producers in more powerful countries. But since mass famine can lead to political instability and chaos, business is not in favor of mass famine. It is rather in favor of low-intensity famine which it can lament as an unfortunate reality of the world we live in -- unless, of course, there is some way to integrate small producers into the global supply chain which neither 1) imposes business costs, or 2) infringes on the sovereignty of business operations.

In essence, it is left to others to clean up the mess made from profits. It is government's job to at least make certain that the mess does not become so unmanageable that the very making of profit is jeopardized. This is as true in financial catastrophe as it is in human epidemics. It is also a notable fashion among those who have already played the profit game so successfully that they leave themselves few challenges except to parlay their wealth into high-profile, headline humanitarianism. African farmers can't do it, but Bill Gates can -- never mind that African farmers are systematically denied the chance. Naturally, Bill Gates throwing money at the poor is better than Bill Gates doing nothing; but, insofar as state-facilitated profit got us into this mess (and Gates knows its treasures better than most), it is hard to look at its greatest beneficiaries with special appreciation when they seek to further capitalize on a sudden interest in others.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

About voting

Voting in the United States is a lot like selecting your dinner option at a wedding reception. Much is made of the fact that you get to choose your meal. Yet there are very good reasons why people don't limit themselves to chicken or pork every time they contemplate eating: these staples can't hope to express the full range of what appeals to people about food as a subject. They also impose on those who would prefer to eat neither.

Much like food, people have a broad diversity of interests on the subject of social relations. Having two parties dominate this field at a national level inevitably imposes ridiculous constraints on anybody who wants to participate in civic affairs. The whole breadth of divergent human inquiry is crudely recast into a mold set by the deciding class, which in our case incorporates both "liberal" and "conservative" views: there are corporate executives who think "creationism" is BS and want reproductive rights for their daughters, and there are members of the US Chamber of Commerce who love shooting guns and don't believe in global warming. What they share is an understanding that they own the country; everybody else's role is to fall in line on the basis of any issues peripheral to this consensus.

We are left to decide whether we are "chicken" people or "pork" people, "red state" or "blue." It is little wonder that so many of us choose to abstain altogether.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The diagnosis of a dick

Rush Limbaugh had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week which concluded with the statement, "We've made much racial progress in this country."

I always like hearing such optimism coming from those most invested in a difficult subject. I mean, when you hear the name "Rush Limbaugh" what else comes to mind if not "racial progress?" It's as if the tobacco industry came out with a study which said, "We've made loads of progress with lung cancer in this country!" Or if John McCain's prostate declared Sheryl Crow's mammaries healed.

The moral of the story here is that even the truth can be wielded as a weapon, all things not being equal. It's true: we've made much racial progress in this country. So what hurdles has Mr. Limbaugh's race overcome lately?

Monday, September 22, 2008

A note on personal responsibility

"Personal responsibility" is one of many songs sung by the powerful to the weak as a way of diverting attention from the basic truths that keep one at an advantage over the other. If you listen closely, you will hear the music everywhere, because there is no place where power does not require perpetual defense and deflection against the natural tendency of the weak to perceive that their weakness is not wholly of their own making; that, in fact, the powerful have marshaled most of their advantage in the name of ensuring that the weak remain subordinated to their needs.

That the powerful devote so much of themselves publicly to subjects like personal responsibility owes to the fact that, in the end, the powerful do not live by the same rules as the weak. For example, the self-proclaimed "masters of the universe" justify their monopoly on economic life by arguing that markets make have made it so, all while living daily with an implicit government guarantee precisely because they monopolize the economy. "We can't let the economy get out of hand, after all" -- which is just another way of saying "out of the hands of those who have monopolized it." "Just think of what will happen to Main Street," which is certainly a valid concern when Main Street is beholden to the arbitrary whims of international finance, with little to say about it one way or the other. The rule holds true whether it is the airlines or the auto industry or industrial agriculture or banking or finance: whoever owns the productive wealth of a nation is ultimately in a position to demand that the government preserve their ownership in the face of whatever malady may arise.

Well, these are the conditions we have accepted, and so it should not come as a surprise when government by and for the possessing classes inevitably intervenes on their behalf at everybody else's expense. This is the very definition of "personal responsibility" under the circumstances: the responsibility of the working person to sacrifice for their "masters" when times are good, even more so when times are bad; and, as if that was not enough, to devote additional time in serious consideration of how their personal failings have contributed to their plight. The worker files for bankruptcy and is still liable for her debts; now she is responsible for industry's as well.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Throw the captain overboard

It must be one of the least controversial notions in history that people who assume a position of unchecked authority over others tend to use that position for their own self-interest at least as much -- though usually more -- than they do for whatever official purpose the position implies. For Americans, the concept is probably most familiar when related to the undertakings of government, due largely to the scrutiny that particular institution came under in the formation of their country, as well as its continued influence over so many dimensions of social life, right up to today.

But as ripe an occasion for abuse of power that any large, centralized government will always provide, the modern nation-state is only one avenue in US society where substantially undemocratic practices arise. In fact, much more than merely "springing up," such practices are in fact the basis of contemporary private enterprise, which is premised on the notion that a minority class should be entrusted with the fundamental workings of the society -- what is invested, what is produced, how it is distributed -- in the pursuit of short-term gain for themselves, in accordance with a theory which argues "public gains" will inevitably arise from "private vice." The public may impose constraints on the scope and nature of this activity through government regulation, but otherwise has no say in the matter. Whereas government is at least potentially democratic -- it can be influenced through participation -- the private sector is essentially unaccountable to communities, to employees, to the planet and to future generations; and, increasingly, even unaccountable to shareholders, for whose benefit the whole project is supposedly rigged; except, that is, through the indirect, johnny-come-lately hand of government, and at the level of consumer purchase -- also a very winding road when it comes to enforcing good behavior, though occasionally effective.

Well, that is a generous reading of theory. In practice, one need only scan the headlines of past weeks to see where responsibility for such a weighty entitlement -- the management of the economy for your own short-term benefit -- ultimately lies: in trillion dollar payouts from the public to their economic stewards for the explicit purpose of re-establishing their authority over an economy they lost by making it self-destruct.

So far removed from any sane conception of transparency, the underpinnings of our economy as it as been permitted to run are being handed back to these people because nobody else is in a position to offer an alternative. The public has never been invited to think about, or even understand, these issues, and the government has been paid to keep out of the way. A minority class has assumed the helm, and they have run everybody else aground, either by forcing them to toil longer and for less when times are good, or by setting fire to the ship altogether when they finally achieve their goal of eliminating any restraint that might stop them. Meanwhile the planet and its inhabitants are in various ways hurtled towards extinction, in pursuit of short-term gains for these few. Under the circumstances, one might be forgiven for doubting whether those who steer the economy even understand their own self-interest, let alone anybody else's.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Category Dumb

Once the gale-force winds of Hurricane Greenspan have quieted down and the task begins to survey the wreckage, the men of best quality will want to know: what went wrong?

Since systems of power don't naturally tend towards useful introspection, one should expect many rounds of useless exhortation.

John McCain, whose ride to the White House on a plate of pig-lips and moose-patties has begun to look premature, may well have christened the narrative destined for widest circulation: that Wall Street traders fell prey to the wrong "values," transmogrifying a Christly-inspired consumerism into a debased "casino economy." Purged of this secular slant toward the balance-sheet -- through a course of rigorous Vietnamese internment, perhaps? -- Wall Street will be ready to receive the "change," or possibly the "reform," so desperately required.

Well, this is all par for the Republican course. But now elements of the market clergy are singing a similar tune. The Financial Times culls a management professor at Wharton who notes that leadership and big-picture thinking are lacking in the financial markets -- i.e., qualities that are outside the scope of what the job demands, and more likely than not stand in direct conflict with "success" in that industry. The problem is not how success is defined, but that individual traders and their leadership did not adequately second-guess their entire profession, fall behind, and inevitably risk their livelihood for the betterment of human society. Yes, now there is a realistic prescription for preventing systemic failure in the future.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A note on American corporatism

If there is any broad lesson to be drawn from the current spate of federal-corporate bail-out betrothals, it would do well to include an acknowledgment about the kind of economic system we really have: when push comes to shove, it is government that comprises the economic foundation of modern society, not private enterprise. Without some kind of government framework, private enterprise inevitably self-destructs; in the present case, this has transpired because rules established after the Great Depression were set aside in a "financial modernization" act in the late 1990's which effectively deregulated the industry beyond what it could sustain. Now disaster has struck, it is the government, not markets, which is sifting the fallout.

The centrality of government as the facilitator of material goods -- being the insurer, the lender, the provider of last resort -- is never lost on the classes which benefit most from the relationship, which is why so much is expended on their part in lobbying the government hourly while simultaneously declaring to everyone else that it is "the problem" which we all need "out of our lives." After all, if the average American came to view the government as the only game in town when it comes to re-establishing an eight hour day, five-day week; or securing affordable health care and a guaranteed retirement income, our system of "socialism for the rich" might instead become socialism for the average Joe -- and, unfortunately for the rich, Joe outguns them numerically by a considerable margin, especially when the system is marginally democratic.

This goes a long way towards explaining the (largely successful) undertaking on the part of American business and even government to promote "anti-politics" -- or, the widespread revulsion for and abstention from politics -- among Americans generally, who are groomed to admire corporate conglomerates as some bizarre example of "individual liberty," while forfeiting a real individual prerogative to participate in the governance of their own affairs.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Now that bankruptcy is poised to edge out heart disease and adventurism as America's leading export, gentlemen of distinction want to know where the smart money is going next.

Capitalism's man on the street has a hunch that big Pharma will continue to exceed expectations for a handsome return. After all, if people were stressed-out and depressed when times were good, just think of the possibilities for the future.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Play it again, Uncle Sam


A note between jobs

When the worker loses her job, Wall Street cheers. When the investment banker loses his shirt, the worker has lost her home. How many homes for every shirt?

This is why I have no infatuation for society "managed" by capital; I throw my lot in with the majority.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wall Street succumbs to 30 years of Wall Street Journal editorial page advice

The fourth largest US investment bank declared its insolvency today, the latest development in an ongoing financial crapstravaganza which former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan has called a "once-in-a-century" event, with Americans enjoying the best seats in the house. The collapse of Lehman Brothers came after government-led negotiations with industry failed to secure a buyer, owing to Wall Street's bad health generally and Uncle Sam's refusal to sufficiently bankroll the transaction to their liking. Initial optimism that Bank of America might intervene on Lehman's behalf was scuttled when the country's largest commercial banker walked away in a deal solicited by Merill Lynch; similar scrambles were reported to be the practical outcome of consultations held ostensibly on Lehman's behalf.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Averting an acronymn-inspired apocalypse

To all appearances, cultivating melanoma at the Jersey shore this week in a bid to "get away from it all" very nearly made me miss the near-miss wholesale collapse of the international finance system, as the subject was not broached in either of the John Stewart or Stephen Colbert reruns I consented to in my bedchamber after dinner. Luckily, NPR made some mention of it all on the drive up; but, as often happens when NPR covers important topics, their academic expert in this case seemed scarcely able to explain the situation to himself, let alone to an audience who had never heard of government sponsored enterprises (GSE's) of a sort like the Federal National Mortgage Association, or "Fannie Mae."

The situation was not helped by an interviewer who insisted that "when we hear the word 'nationalization,' people like to think of Hugo Chavez!"; and asked "doesn't China own Fannie debt?" or whether or not we really have a "free-market" economy now that government is parceling bailouts like prescription painkillers at happy hour; all of which strikes me as neither here or nor there when the bottom line is that central agency responsible for buying up the vast majority of our home mortgages drank -- or more to the point, was permitted to chug -- the same subprime Kool Aid as the private banks who are in the game solely for profit.

True to form, congressional Republicans now assail Fannie for ever having a public purpose in the first place and point to privatization as the solution -- because we all know how well that end of the capital markets is working out. You see, the whole problem is government meddling in the economy; meanwhile Lehman Brothers looks ready to be rocketed to the great financial leper colony in the sky, with AIG and Merrill Lynch not far behind. And nevermind that it was a conspicuous lack of meddling on the part of government which precipitated the financial meltdown of 1929, thus rendering an organization like Fannie Mae necessary in the first place. Oh, history, would you just shut up for once!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Ixnay on the ack-of-experiencelay

Liberals would do well to tread softly on Sarah Palin's provincialism -- her lack of advanced degrees, her small-town background; her limited, mostly religiously-informed conceptions of world affairs -- since Republicans view this as their strongest connection to the ranks of middle-America workers to whom the election now largely belongs.

Whatever Palin lacks in political experience, she is more "like" the average blue-collar worker for precisely that reason. Republicans hope that to attack her for lack of proper pedigree is to tell working people that they suffer the same basic deficiency, owing mainly to their station in life. In an electoral process which more closely resembles a season of American Idol than any rational deliberation over policy, who people "like" is unfortunately the basis on which public appointments to the executive branch are made. Remember we are talking about a country that endorsed eight years of George Bush because he was so "authentically lacking" it evoked a familiarity of people with whom we have shared beers.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Freedom costs a Buck Oh Five

Pity John McCain. The nobler portion of his Vietnam experience has been reworked into a Passion-of-the-POW/Rapture-of-the-Rightwing mythology with everything implausible going for it except aliens. Adding insult to injury, the fable was penned by the hands of the very conservative commissars he has ostensibly loathed for just this manner of Machiavellian douchebaggery in the past, and all for the transparent benefit of the same Jesus-encrusted nutbags he most despises/has extended the office of vice presidency to. The narrative, to the degree comprehensible, goes something like as follows...

Imagine you are being digested alive in the Vietnamese equivalent of the Great Pit of Carkoon's Sarlacc, with nary a thread of patriotic zeal woven into your entire freedomless, "me-first" corporeality to help bide the time. You thought you were a whole person, self-starting and independent of mind, but only through generous application of the southeast Asian digestive enzyme were you disabused of your natural human impulses and veritably abused with the transcendental promise of the particular nation-state whose particular domestic rulers thought it wise for you to kill and/or be killed (and/or permanently molested) in their place and on their behalf; and, as it would transpire in this case, all for jack. Forty years later you have arrived on the national stage, prepared to complete this circle of life as it was revealed to you in the viscous bas-relief of your own dysentery.

That's the story, anyway -- doubtless as much a surprise to the conductor of the Straight Talk Express as it is to anyone with the cognitive wherewithal to resist chanting "USA, USA" in response to varied external stimuli. Now it is left to him to pimp the perpetual farce, perpetrate the proverbial fraud, and pummel the already impoverished perspicacity of his world-weary fellow American lest the fantasy come undone. All things he, at one point or another in his esteemed career, might have frowned upon in principle, but which the wages of great power now demand; a rigorous shaking of the geriatric "money-maker," as it were. Or as the Catholic school bully of my formative years once remarked, "The time has come to pay the piper."
The new business feminism: Work is freedom

I like how the American business community is championing women's initiatives from the early 20th century -- like the right to employment -- and repackaging them as an attractive alternative to "militant" or "radical" feminism -- which is to say women's contemporary concerns. That's right, ladies: don't let the old boys club prevent you from returning to work three days after you give birth; show them you will keep at it for their sake -- gender differences be damned!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Country first

Vietnam. Now there was a just cause.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Behold the conservative feminist

Several pieces in the business press today suggest that Sarah Palin is a feminist: indeed, a greater example of a feminist than Hillary Clinton. The reasons cited include the fact that Palin is a working mother, and, on the Hillary score, Palin got where she is today without riding the coattails of some powerful man.

What "feminism" means is never coherently explained, so subsequent arguments turn into a predictable mess, loosely smeared around the formula that women + power = feminism. This is how FT columnist Chrystia Freeland arrives at the conclusion that achieving power without a man is more feminist than the opposite.

My own understanding of feminism is that it stands in opposition to any exercise of authority which denies women the opportunity to decide for themselves on issues which primarily affect them. (This is really just a restating of the classical anarchist position toward all authority -- that power requires the consent of those affected in order to have legitimacy -- in this case as it applies to gender.) So the test of feminism is not merely whether women hold positions of authority, but whether the authority held is legitimate vis-a-vis affected women.

By this measure, it is hard to see how Sarah Palin qualifies as a feminist; certainly not by the criteria that "she works," as there is no serious systemic challenge to American women pursuing this anymore. On the other hand, whether or not women are compensated in an equivalent fashion to their male counterparts when they work is another question entirely. Where Palin falls on this practice, and what she is doing about it (e.g., speaking out, supporting legislation; or, alternatively, keeping quiet to advance her own career at the expense others), would be a much better measure of her commitment to feminism. Unfortunately, all of the efforts to paint Palin a feminist have done so by conflating a conception of "good feminism" with behavior that is in fact already socially-prescribed -- or sanctioned -- for women by others.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sarah Palin

McCain's vice-presidential pick has vowed to pop a virtuous cap through the very glass ceiling Hillary could only swat using the hammer of popular appeal and the sickle of dirty politics. Yet the RNC's strategy certainly smacks of a Laura Croftian approach to advancing women in power: construct an oddly-proportioned female avatar attractive enough to men -- namely, one that never challenges their world view and, even better, reinforces their prejudices -- and even they can be brought round to the feminist cause!

In the early 1990's, Laura Croft shattered the glass ceiling for ample-assed video game heroines with munificent mammaries, in the title Tomb Raider. She wasn't like those cock-hating, neo-nazi militant -- probably lesbian -- feminine characters like Princess Zelda, who were forever sending one out on endless errands with little to no prospect for conjugal reward, and who worst of all, with the exception of her ears (and who cares about those), insisted on being drawn to scale. I remember reading interviews with gamers at the time who confessed they didn't mind assuming the role of woman whose default orientation towards the player was always buttock-first except in sequences where a wandering teat might block the view.

As it is with the gelatinous adolescent gamer, so it may be with the contemporary conservative male. Here is Sarah Palin, a woman after their own hearts: a former beauty contestant and pseudo-businesswoman turned politico-familywoman; a self-proclaimed Christian firearm enthusiast who eats red meat and sees patriotic petroleum as the answer to the global eco-energy catastrophe. I have to commend the Republicans for depositing some excitement into the final lap of an increasingly somnolent campaign season, even if it amounts to little more than a dolled-up version of their own erotic fantasies -- in this case featuring a live human female. Congratulations.