way, way too long till our next regime change

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

bank o' wolfowitz?

Just what the world--and the US--needs....Paul Wolfowitz running the World Bank. It could happen, according to the Financial Times. This guy shouldn't be running a Taco Bell, much less an allegedly apolitical international lending institution. Good times. This snippet in particular jumped out at me:

The effort to pick the US candidate has been led by the White House National Security Council and the Council of Economic Advisers. The Treasury is leading consultations with other World Bank shareholders. Asked about Mr Wolfowitz's possible nomination, Rob Nichols, Treasury spokesman, said: “We don't speculate on personnel appointments before they are made.”

Now, why is it, exactly, that the NSC is at the forefront of picking a new head for the World Bank? Allegedly political international lending institutions aren't what they once were, apparently.

Wonkette has a nice little riff on this topic, too. Check it out.

UPDATE:
Wow, the bloggers are going nuts with this. Well, a little. Mark Schmitt's got a post up about it, too, now.

shoot the messenger

Weather forecasts got you down? Well. This priceless item from yesterday's Washington Post could not go unremarked, for the following if nothing else.

"We are paying and would like to receive a quality product," [Moscow] Mayor Yuri Luzhkov thundered at a city government meeting last week that was attended by a number of forecasters. "Instead of that you are giving us [expletive]!"

I tell ya, why can't our mayor say things like that at press conferences? It conjures up faint nostalgia for Rudy and the Squeegee Guys, TLC, food vendors, artists using elephant dung, etc. But it's just not the same. For all the issues we have in this city (and nation), we just don't have the demented authoritarian cred to compete with the former capital of the Soviet bloc. And who says democratic values are slipping in Vlad Putin's Russia? Hah, I say! And hah again!

torture in iraq

Wow, it's been what, a month, since Iraqi elections? And already, in a great show of support by our State Department, we are citing an "....Array of Rights Abuses by the Iraqi Government in 2004".

There's a point where irony becomes so excessive and egregious that it morphs into simple nauseating hypocrisy. I think we've got to that point with this story.

Of course, I'm sure it wasn't Iraqi government policy (or our own) that led to human rights abuses. It was just six or seven "bad apples", operating on their own in direct disobedience of their commanders in chief. Yeah.

Monday, February 28, 2005

so the social security lockbox is really a drawer

I dunno why, but I found this rather charming. Might just be my Luddite affinities showing through, but it is strangely comforting to know that the Social Security trust fund does at least have some nominal symbolic physical reality.

I wonder if they thought to put any of those symbolic pieces of paper into, say, a locked petty-cash box that could sit in the bottom of the drawer next to the two loose-leaf folders? Alas, probably not.

Still. Ain't it a wacky old world?

mourning the imminent demise of smart growth

So here's something utterly depressing, and yet another reason why ballot initiatives are a really bad way of achieving "direct democracy"-like effects:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58185-2005Feb27.html

So much for Oregon as a bastion of sensible urban growth. Fuck. I was thinking of moving there.

The most brilliant part, perhaps, is the naive libertarian moronism that characterizes, well, just about all libertarians, it seems. They fail to identify corporate activity as a threat, instead continuing to be incensed at the power and restrictive policies of increasingly powerless governments:

Measure 37 was sold to voters last year as a matter of fairness. On ubiquitous radio ads, the frail, woebegone voice of Dorothy English, who bought land in 1953, explained how land-use laws had blocked her from dividing her 40 acres for her children. "I'm 91 years old, my husband is dead and I don't know how much longer I can fight," she said. The ballot measure won with 61 percent of the vote.

State financial records, though, show that small family farmers contributed virtually nothing to the Family Farm Preservation political action committee that bankrolled Measure 37. Most of the money came from timber companies and real estate interests that stand to profit if, as many here expect, large tracts of forests and farmland are unlocked for development.

This mirrors a national pattern, according to Jacobs, at the University of Wisconsin. He says that property-rights campaigns are often sold to voters as compensation for struggling small landholders, while the support money comes from large companies seeking ways around regulations that limit resource extraction and property development.


Hard times, citizens. Unless of course you want another fucking mall, in which case I guess it's all peachy.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

i am the neon king, i can do anything

Well, after long silence we are back. If anybody's still looking in on this here blog, my apologies. Things have been kind of heavy here in New York City....behind on the rent, no work, etc, etc. Basically, the usual. You know. If you know me, you know, because you've heard it before.

Anyway. I am presently working....a quasi-temp thing doing something that's still somewhat murky after a week and change for a neon sign company on the ass end of West 30th Street. I work right across the street from the MTA-owned hole in the ground, in fact, that someone may be building a Jets stadium upon sometime soon. Good times.

Other than that, well, I don't feel like all that much has been missed in my two months or so of silence--same old, same old from the letter W, and all that. But we're back on the job, and there will be more to come as I have the opportunity to post.

Cheers!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

c-span scares me

....and tempts me. In four segments, they're offering all eight or so hours of W's "Conference on the Economy". I might actually have to watch it. If I do, I might need to make multiple beer runs to survive it.

Or maybe I'll just do the sane thing and read a book instead. We shall see.

italian corruption watch: teflon pm dodges yet another indictment

Several, actually. Speaking of water being wet (apparently it's not a prosecutable offense in Italia, especially with a statute of limitations that expires after about thirty seconds), Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted on three bribery charges and had a fourth dismissed because they didn't manage to wrap up the trial in the required eight years. Laughably, an ally of Berlusconi's in Parliament bleated that "It's not fair." I'm sure most ordinary Italians would agree, though not for the same reasons.

Ah, well. As coldish consolation for the Italian electorate, at least Mr. Silvio will probably have a lonely holiday season, too, because just about all of his friends are in jail. Maybe he and Donald Rumsfeld can hang out....that might even be worse than a prison term, for both of them.

Fa la la la la....

the enron of europe sues banks

It's a rather cunning move on the part of Italian conglomerate Parmalat, the unrefrigerated-milk-in-a-box people and the architects of Europe's largest financial reporting scandal to date: defraud shareholders and issue deliberately falsified information to lenders and markets about your revenues, debts, and financial well-being, and then sue forty-five of the banks you misled (as well as your auditors) for not catching you. Right on. Now why didn't Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, et al, think of that?

Of course, it's kind of ridiculous in a way, suing Italian banks for financial malfeasance--rather like suing water for being wet, or so is my understanding. But apaprently CSFB, Bank of America, and Citigroup are also in the firing line. Good times, and just in time for the holidays. Merry Christmas, investment-banking swine! Hah!


disastrous economic policy watch: the economist weighs in

And it's cheery reading. The thing I like about The Economist is that, while I disagree pretty substantially with a lot of the things they are gung-ho about with regards to the way the world economy should function, they are at the end of the day pretty up-front about their biases and also pretty objective in reporting on economic matters without infection by political ideology. They're also not shy about laying out the bad news:

By 2014, reckon Messrs Gale and Orszag [of the Brookings Institution], the deficits will have reduced America’s wealth by roughly 20-30% of GDP.
Good times, at least for the debt collectors. Click here to read all about the cost of borrowing.

rumsfeld watch: even trent lott doesn't love him anymore

Which is really saying something....I mean, I don't know how things generally work in Washington, but you might think that genuinely reviled politicians who have fallen from grace with the nation's populace might at least find solace in each other. Not so, apparently....even Trent Lott, supporter of Strom Thurmond's segregationist past, can rate some national press coverage by telling the world that he thinks Rummy sucks. Which he does, but it's striking to think how bad you really have to be for someone as unloved as our boy Trent to not want to have lunch with you anymore.

You might hope that this would spell the beginning of the end for Donald. But then, you might have hoped for the same thing when the Abu Ghraib story broke, or when the understaffing of the US military's occupation force began to become clear, or at any other of a long list of moments. But sadly, he seems bulletproof, politically speaking. Not that Lott's potshot at him qualifies as a bullet, really--it's more like the discharge from a squirt gun filled with pee. But still. It's looking like a blue Christmas for Rumsfeld, and I'll bet you nobody who's anybody is going to go to his holiday party.

I dunno. We might, actually, be better off keeping him around, when you think about it....in Paul Wolfowitz he has almost as effective a deterrent against being replaced as the president does in Dick Cheney. Still, I'd really, really like to see this artifact of Nixon-era neo-con excrement have the White House door hit him on the ass on the way out. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

more on the hijacked bus

Now, I feel like it's in bad taste--I mean, I feel bad for the folks on that bus in Greece--but my first response upon reading about this was something along the lines of "Aw....how quaint....gun-toting freaks who took a busload of hostages and all they want is a million bucks and a plane out of the country....that hearkens back to a simpler time."

I think people in the press must be responding the same way, too, because in the two or three articles I read in various places about this, nobody actually used the word "terrorists" to describe the perpetrators. These days, when an eleven-year-old Virginia kid or a woman who won't give up her nail scissors at airport security can rate that moniker, not even the Greek government has seen fit to deploy that terminology, it seems.

These folks, whoever they are, seem almost like reasonable people in contrast to what we've become accustomed to in the last few years. Sure, they brought guns onto public transportation and took everybody hostage, but they don't seem to be trying to convert their bus into some sort of self-propelled destructive device, they aren't beheading anybody, they've been letting various women and elderly folks go from time to time. It all seems incredibly civilized, really, for a hijacking.

And just so you know, I am saying all this with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but at the same time I'm really not. It's really crazy to realize how my definition of an atrocity has changed since those fuckers destroyed our skyscrapers. Really crazy. It's one fucked-up world out there. Yeah.

photo survey: what's on the front page

It's always interesting, and sometimes a bit disturbing, to see what various news outlets have going on on the front pages of their websites. There's been a shortage of Iraq news, for instance, in recent days, not so much because nothing is going on over there as because nothing new is going on over there. So. Following are what the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Al Jazeera were running this morning:

NY Times: Regis Philbin, understudy for Dick Clark's holiday broadcast.



Washington Post: The Hijacked Bus in Greece (because white terrorists are so much more photogenic, even when you can't actually see them, or even much of the bus).



Al Jazeera: This, apparently, is the sort of thing going on in Mosul today. Remember Mosul?



Make of it what you will.

do you want jenna bush teaching your children?

It's a scary thought....a charter school in the DC area is close to hiring her, according to yet another bit of amusing fluff from the Washington Post.

Myself, I think she would probably be better qualified to teach a seminar in Improvised Beverage Construction at the American Bartending School, along with perhaps an elective on Uses and Abuses of Fake IDs. But I'm mean-spirited, and I have a long memory, and I have a front page from the New York Post taped up on my living room wall with the headline "Jenna and Tonic", from the salad days of the first W administration.

Ah, good times.

disastrous economic policy watch: aarp, others, just say no

Well, they haven't yet, but according to this article, also from today's Washington Post, W's second-term domestic policy centerpieces are going to meet a far chillier reception than did, say, the no-drug-company-left-behind Medicare "Reform" bill. Apparently the AARP is getting ready to announce an opposition coalition with such groups as the AFL-CIO, NAACP, and the National Organization for Women to oppose Bush's crack-brained schemes. Right on.

Arrayed against them, according to the Post, is a formidable coalition of supporters from the business community, including the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security (who?), the "newly-formed" Women for a Social Security Choice (note: letterhead, a P.O. Box, and presumably an executive director in a dress are all you need for your own political action group), and the (admittedly legitimate, in a manner of speaking) U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Compare and contrast who's lining up on either side of the line, and it's almost enough to give one hope. Hope that the kind of stupid and evil shit Bush is talking about doing in this arena will get stuffed in the backfield, and hope as well that the yahoos running the show will earn themselves a big, florid, swollen and richly-deserved black eye for their wrongheaded efforts. Hey, it could happen. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

boondoggle watch: missile defense

Oh, the Washington Post is a rich vein today. Apparently the missile defense system the Bush administration's been pushing since 2001 (while neglecting more conventional threats like gentlemen with boxcutters and cellphones on airplanes) had its first relatively real test early this morning, when it was tasked to shoot down an actual missile that was launched from somewhere in Alaska. Sadly, it's now 0 for 1....the interceptor didn't even manage to get off the ground. Your tax dollars at work, keeping all those underemployed aerospace missile engineers off the streets now that the cold war's been over for, how long now, decades?

In preliminary tests conducted from 2001 to 2003, in which the system was supposed to shoot down targets with single-warhead payloads (as opposed to the multi-warhead missiles that anyone who actually has ICBM technology would be likely to use), it went something like 0 for 3 until the testers, presumably concerned about how they were making themselves and the administration that backed them look really bad, switched the targets the missiles unloaded to radar-reflective balloon-type thingies in fanciful geometric shapes, after which the system's effectiveness improved drastically. It wound up batting .625 after eight preliminary tests, at a cost in the low billions.

So, take heart, it's money well-spent....should the North Koreans decide to use their missile technology to bombard us with fancifully-shaped balloons, we'll still be more than 50% safer than we were under Clinton. Whew. That's a relief.

I mean, it's not like they have nukes or anything....

them terrorists, they start 'em young

An item from today's Washington Post requires almost no commentary....apparently an eleven-year-old boy with a funny, foreign-sounding name (his dad's an Israeli ex-pat) expressed anti-American statements when given the assignment of writing a letter to US Marines overseas in school. The family received an interrogation visit from Loudoun County, VA, law-enforcement folks. Check it out.

There are a number of kinda creepy things about this. First, what kind of assignment is that for an elementary school class? Kinda politicized, innit? Second, while the eleven-year-old in question was not too bright in how he phrased what he had to say, what kind of country are we living in where someone would make a criminal complaint about it? Thought crimes, anyone? And yeah, you can reference Columbine, etc., but it's not like the kid was threatening anyone. And also, what kind of question is "Do you teach your child anti-American values?" How would you even answer that question? What are "anti-American" values, pray? In certain circles, the exercise of one's constitutional right to free speech is itself an "American value", howsoever one chooses to use it.

Gah. What's wrong with us?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

all i want for xmas



No, not really. It's kind of crazy, though, innit, what people will do (or pay money to have done) to glorify the items they hold dearest? I mean, that's one lovingly decorated submachine gun. (image courtesy of Bruce Sterling's blog)

Though I suppose maybe it's not so strange, when you consider the sort of stuff we Americans festoon our cars with--mag wheels, chrome exhaust pipes, those little neon doohickies that frame the license plate....sigh.

Is the football starting yet?

just a drive-by posting

As weekend talk-show appearances are to politicians, catching up with all the blogs I tend to follow happens to be what I'm about today. Apropos of nothing in particular, the following sentence--from an article by a Canadian journalist, reprinted in a December 1 post from Bruce Sterling's blog (scroll down to the bottom of the page)--struck me as really funny:

Maybe it's the fact that most of their victims are no longer with us that now makes it possible to see the mass murderers of the mid-twentieth century as complex human beings rather than mere one-dimensional monsters.

Ummmm....they're mass murderers, right? So, probably, if they were at all accomplished, none of their victims are with us any longer, right?

And perhaps apropos of that, can you think of any noteworthy mass attempted-murderers in history? I'm trying, but I can't come up with any just now. Hmmmm. Well, it's something to keep my mind occupied and my body off the street until the football starts, anyway. Tra la.


shhh, don't tell anyone....the white house discovers keynesian economics!

And oddly enough, they don't even seem to know it.

This one might be a scoop, people, because none of the bloggers I follow on the internet have made this connection. It's also a hard-won scoop, because I extracted it not from another news source, but from once again subjecting myself to the trial-by-ordeal that is a Scott McClellan White House Press Briefing.

So Social Security privatization was the hot topic for McClellan's daily blatherama on Thursday, December 9th, which C-SPAN courteously (or sadistically) serves up in full for your edification. And so they were kinda beating the crap out of Scott there, though rather ineffectually--I swear, either our political press corps are fucking morons or he's a simulacrum of a human being composed entirely of some non-stick polymer. Probably both.

Anyway. When asked, repeatedly, to explain how W's administration was going to meet even the immediate costs of social security privatization without raising taxes, raising the ceiling for Social Security contributions, or undercutting W's pledge to shrink the deficit back down again by half in the next five years, McClellan eventually retreated to a position not unreminiscent of old Uncle Bill's linguistics shenanigans ("It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is," or whatever). He basically suggested that "costs" couldn't be incurred in implementing the privatization policies, whatever form they might eventually take, because any money spent now had to be set against how much it would cost to fix the system later, and whatever immediate outlays there were would undoubtedly result in lower expenses later. So there would be no "costs", only "savings".

The really funny thing about this is that it is, at its most basic, the core tenet of a macroeconomic theory roundly despised by Republicans and embraced historically by Democrats, one that went out of general fashion in national economic policy circles around the time of Reagan and the main underpinning of all the activity that makes "tax-and-spend" a label that still sticks to Democrats. Somewhere back in the 1940s or so, a British economist named John Maynard Keynes offered up the proposition that a nation could justify driving itself into debt if it were investing in projects that would sufficiently boost economic growth in the long-term that budgetary shortfalls would be recouped by increased tax revenues. I may be getting the finer points of that wrong, but that's broadly what it suggested and how it was implemented. It's the "you gotta spend money to make money" chestnut writ large, and it's what gave our nation such treasures as the interstate highway system and other expensive infrastructure improvements. More broadly, decoupled from infrastructure projects, it gave birth to the whole concept of deficit spending, which was exactly the logic that McClellan was describing (or, more rightly, parroting, because it was pretty clear that, as always, beyond his prepared remarks and refrains McClellan is nothing but a pustule of actualized PR, a wart on the face of the administration that don't know nuthin' about nuthin').

Sad thing, among all the other sad things about watching presumably serious and well-intentioned reporters sit through half an hour of his bullshit and evasion and song-and-dance, is that none of them seemed to have the economic understanding to pick up on this either. Of course, most of them had probably drunk up several gallons of martini before attending, or gotten monstrously stoned in the stairwell on the way up--I would--but still. Come on, people. It's your job to be informed, and if you're trying to ask probing questions about economic matters, then economic matters are one of the things it's your job to be informed about.

Anyway. That's all for the late night blogging, I think. Long live John Maynard Keynes!

in lighter news, spy satellites

This also from the New York Times....a $950 billion secret surveillance system that takes high-resolution from space, but only in full daylight, when the sun is shining and there are no clouds.

Ah, boondoggles, boondoggles. It's unclear from the article, but it sounds like this one might have snuck into our recent intelligence reform bill, despite the apparently long-running and perennially ineffectual bipartisan efforts of the Senate Intelligence Committee to kill the project. Good fun. $950 billion to do something that could be done with the kinds of high-altitude reconnaissance jets we had in the late '60s. Sure, why not? Once we fix social security (see next item), we'll have money to burn, so who cares? Dole out some welfare for the employees in the Outmoded Projects Division of Lockheed-Martin. Good times indeed.

Seriously, though, this whole thing smells of the Reagan era. Remember "Star Wars"? Not the movie, the raygun-equipped satellites that were supposed to provide our fine nation with an umbrella of safety from nuclear attack. That "Star Wars". You know, I'm convinced that, had the technology been just a little bit further along in 1985 or 1986, we could have had a full-blown "space" bubble, on par with the "internet bubble" that made the late '90s so heady and the early aughts so sucky. "Yeah, but it's done from space, man. Buy some shares." We could have had s-commerce, s-banking, sToys, all that good stuff. Of course, having a consonant instead of a handy-dandy vowel like "e" as your universal prefix would have caused some linguisic problems in crafting and employing neologisms....like, how would you actually pronouce "s-commerce" in everyday conversation? With the hyphen, or would people just wind up saying "scommerce", with the hard K sound as in "school"? Of course, it might have given Snausages a new lease on life--"the dog treat from space."

Ah, very good times indeed. Of course, aside from all the other arguments against shelling out $950B for a system to take our pictures from space, there's the big one that this service is already available for private citizens with Web access and a credit card. Want a satellite photo of the area of your choice? Just click here.

Hah. I'm much cheaper than Lockheed-Martin. They should pay me that $950B. Tra la.

meanwhile, life in iraq goes on

One thing that's curious about the online news on the weekends is how little there is of it, even when the situations they've been reporting on all week (or all month, or all year) are still going on. I wonder why?

I mean, one of the things that was so surprising about Bernie's nanny problem was it cropping up and making headlines on a Saturday.

But anyway, for some perspective, you can check out Al Jazeera and discover what's going on in Iraq, the country that never sleeps, while we're on tenterhooks over here about who's gonna win the Heisman Trophy (it was Leinart from USC, apparently). Senior Iraqi police officials being ambushed, more bombs blown up next to US military convoys, random angry folk directing automatic weapon fire against Baghdad city buses....oh, and our air force apparently "raiding" Fallujah from time to time. Remember Fallujah? That was the city we liberated/pacified/won, right? So that I suppose justifies the change in terminology from "dropping 500 lb. bombs on insurgent positions" to "raiding". Yeah. Precision strikes. No civilian casualties. It's just a raid, after all, like you see on "Cops". Only with F-16s.

Sigh. I suppose I can understand the media thinking that maybe we need a break for a weekend from what's going on over there. But what about the Iraqis? They actually have to live with it. We just watch it (or not) on CNN. Fucked up.


weekend at bernie's

So it appears I spoke too soon, regarding the demise of the Cabinet Shuffle. The resignations are all in, but the Appointment Follies are, perhaps, just beginning. Bernie Kerik livened up a slow news weekend with the revelation that he, like so many who are called to serve in high offices, has a Nanny Problem. Bummer, Bernie. Though it's hard to credit that he really didn't know he'd been employing an illegal alien and paying her under the table until he consulted paperwork relating to confirmation with his lawyers. Hee.

My roommate went on a mini-rant on the subject of nanny problems, actually, saying that it was stupid to disqualify someone for such trivia, and pointing out as supporting anecdotal evidence that the guy who mows his mom's lawn is probably illegal, as is the guy who made his sandwich at the deli today, as is the guy who sells him his morning bagel from the cart outside the place that he works. Not that my roommate is, to my knowledge, considering taking a cabinet position with the Bush administration. But still.

It's kind of a basic point, and an interesting one, if for no other reason than because it gets overlooked in the public debate about such things. We are so inured to such trivia, and so sanguine about holding public officials (or would-be public officials) to adherence to laws that are, frankly, patently hypocritical and not desirable for society at large to enforce, that we don't even particularly blink at something like this. I mean, let's face it, this country wouldn't function economically if we actually enforced all of the labor and immigration and taxation laws that are on the books that reference such situations as Bernie's. Which leads perhaps to the question, what are these laws actually for? To whom does the benefit fall of such selective attention and selective enforcement of this particular subset of the "laws of the land"?

Well. I just don't know. It is kind of heartening to see the first overt fumble of the W2 regime, however....may more follow, especially with those who are actually genuinely scary to contemplate in their cabinet positions--our soon-to-be Kommandant of Justice, for instance. Heigh ho, heigh ho, what can you do? Bernie, he's hanging Xmas lights today, according to his bud Rudy, and contemplating the wealth of opportunities that life outside of Homeland Security has to offer. Okay then.

late nite bloggin'

Well, here I am, after another three-day gap in productivity here. Got goosed by an email from a friend of mine that I received tonight, asking why I was falling down on the job. You know, the usual....despair, despondency, reaching a critically poisonous ratio of politics to grey matter and needing to let it subside. Ah. Kind of like the dioxin in the body of that unfortunate fellow in Ukraine. Though let us hope that reading about politics and current events does not cause cancer.

But browse through the newspaper sites, and a quick swing back past wonkette to see what I've been missing the last few days, and I find myself at least temporarily reinvigorated. So, onwards!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

rebranding unicef?

Had this funny encounter last night at a bar I frequent. I was out smoking a cigarette, and also out smoking a cigarette was this drunken, rather bombastic, but oddly congenial and strangely charming fellow named Matthew, who in between singing the cinematic praises of "Jaws" and expressing his love for the "jazz" in Dickens (he did concede that he was aware that Dickens predated jazz, and after confirming that point, he made a weird kind of sense), he announced that he worked as a writer for the United Nations, that he was an ad man by trade, and gradually it emerged that he worked in/was the director of marketing for UNICEF, and his goal was restoring the brand equity to this sadly diminished international charity.

This sort of stuck in my head, partly because it was deeply strange to hear fairly hardcore marketing-speak being employed to talk about one of those fixtures of my childhood, where in the Quaker elementary school I went to we were encouraged to donate our loose change to our less fortunate brothers and sisters around the world, and where the culminating moment of sixth grade was a daylong bus trip to New York to visit the UN. There were annual UNICEF Christmas drives, as I recall, and they had their own gift shop (or at least gift catalog), and the annual UNICEF calendar, and all that. In retrospect, they may well have been ahead of the curve, branding-wise, using various manufactures and their affiliation with the organization to sell product and thus raise more money for starving kids. Funny, though, it occurred to me on my way home that, for many years now, I had heard nothing from or about UNICEF, aside from the occasional stray mention in some article in the Economist or something.

So what happened to them? Did they only target the kids, back in the day, so that they disappear off the radar once one outgrows the demographic? Have they been muscled out of the schools by the influx of savvier, better-funded, far more ruthless corporate sponsorship (your high school lunchroom, sponsored by Pizza Hut, etc)? Who knows? And how do you rebrand something like UNICEF, anyway? How do you make it sexy? Or do you try to make it something other than sexy? If so, what?

I dunno. It baffles me, a bit. But I'll probably be poking my head back into that bar later on this evening, so if I see him maybe I'll ask Matthew to explain further. More on this, perhaps, if it develops.

snow in december

Ah, well, it was fun while it lasted, but according to the New York Times, the George W. Bush II Cabinet Reshuffle seems to have finally wound down. The last players standing are mostly the one's you'd expect--that is, the ones who kept their heads down the mostest. Norton, Chao, Mineta, and Alphonso Jackson (who?). And, of course, everybody's favorite armchair general and creeping PR disaster, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condi made that lateral move from National Security Advisor to State. And last but not least, it looks like John Snow, rubber-stamping flunkie of the Treasury Department, will continue on for the foreseeable future....apparently, reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

More's the pity, with regard to Snow, or maybe not, depending on how you look at it. One might wish for a Treasury secretary with some economic sense and the spine to articulate it, and who might therefore be able to craft economic policy that wasn't guaranteed to perpetuate the disasters of W's first term. Of course, we might have had a little bit of that with Paul O'Neill, and, well, they fired his ass.

Deeply surreal, innit, finding yourself feeling vaguely nostalgic for the likes of Paul O'Neill?

Anyway. Since it's pretty clear that no cabinet member in this administration is ever going to have much of a hand in developing policy, we could do worse than having Snow, widely regarded as a wuss without much political clout or infighting skill, as the point man (read Judas goat, or something) for privatizing social security and cutting more taxes. Both of these things are pretty bad ideas that will have adverse long-term consequences for the economy if they pass, so tasking someone who's not terribly effectual as the main salesman for 'em presumably lessens the chances that they will pass. We can hope.