How Lost Should Have Ended

Breaking Bad wasn’t the greatest ending of all time, but it was the best ending of any show in the long serial format now prevalent on TV. Part of why this is is that it knew what it was about, knew what it looked like it was about, reconciled those, and when the story was done it ended.

Here’s how Lost should have worked out:

The Island is a probably alien or unexplained natural phenomenon that exists in a kind of timespace bubble. Ancient civilizations discovered it and, of course, didn’t know anything about it and treated it as some kind of supernatural entity all its own in part because it cured disease and provided some people with exceedingly long life.

In modern times, like the Atlantis myth, people began to discover mythological references to this place and a few scientists in particular began to think the place might be real. There are miniature wormholes that permit entry that are somehow arranged by the energy there, and it can be modulated. The scientists found a way in and began to bring their utopian modernism and technology to the place, much to the dislike of the anti-modern inhabitants. The only thing they don’t manage is to allow a population to perpetuate itself there, which would completely pervert the place in the eyes of its ancient guardians. They finally elect Ben to kill and remove the Dharma people.

After the bomb goes off, the original primeval timespace regulation becomes flawed and the hatch is used to keep it regulated, but any time it isn’t reset, new wormholes open and the disturbance is detectable from the outside. The best the ancients could do was a wheel that was very imprecise and rough and moved the islands wormhole gates about the earth; the dharma scientists were able to be a little more precise before the bomb went off. After that, it took everything they could do just to regulate the anomalies.

Lost is a largely Western Buddhist story about how the passengers are reincarnated on the island with a chance to annul some of their negative karma from the past through solidarity with the group. It should not have been the case that they were considered dead or on their way to another life. The “reincarnation” should have been metaphorical, not literal, just as it was at the beginning of the show when no one thought they were in a syncretistic purgatory.

The ending when the characters receive sufficient enlightenment to link with their former lives, Buddha-style, only to have them end up in heaven’s antechamber was a mistake. Their moments of enlightenment should have allowed them to leave the island. The injudicious mixture of metaphor and reality is what screwed up this aspect of the ending.

The Walt story should have played out as we expected with Walt and John replacing Jacob and the Man In Black, the yin/yang of the island. John, who failed a Dalai-Lama-like identification procedure with the compass, should have been compared with a scene where Walt succeeds and becomes the new guardian.

Taking an Eastern yin/yang balance and having it resolved by a Messianic good prevails over evil story is as big of a mixing problem as mixing the cycle of reincarnation with the finality of the Western afterworld.

If Lost was supposed to be a show set in the philosophical world of the Tao and Buddha, I’m not sure Jack as Jesus fits in. His self-sacrifice to destroy the man in black with the dog lying down next to him to sew together the opening scene with the closing one disconnected both scenes from the entire story.  The ending should have been John and Walt restoring balance and hiding the island from everyone for a very long time until something else tries to disturb it (a spinoff?)

Removing Walt and not having him be part of the ending was a big problem.

Now after having all of that clear (and making it clear should have been done)—everyone should have had their ending according to their karma and then been restored to the world, alive (or dead if that was appropriate).

My Negotiating List

Have you seen the House GOP’s demand list?

If I was Harry Reid, this is what I would do. I would say, here’s my list of demands that must be passed or Wall Street gets it. Then, when Wall Street cries uncle, we mint the platinum coin anyway:

The US government will default on its bond payments and use the coins to pay the military and beneficiaries, unless:

* A carbon tax is included that will offset the external costs of all emissions, forever.
* The Supreme Court is expanded to 13 justices and whose nominations cannot be filibustered
* In fact, no more filibuster, period, on any senate executive business (nominations)
* The Voting Rights Act is reenacted to include all 50 states in the provisions recently struck down by the Supreme Court
* A public option is included on all PPACA exchange, funded by a surtax on those making over $500,000. Any surplus in the program is returned as tax refunds to those making less than $500,000.
* Student loan interest is reduced to zero for everyone.
* All dividends are taxed at the same rates as other income
* The House must allow a vote on any item where a petition is brought by 1/3 of its members, not a majority.
* The debt ceiling law is forever revoked. The budget is the budget.
* All future budgets are automatically renewed if not amended. No more shutdowns.
* Puerto Rico is granted statehood.
* $1T in funding for education over the next 10 years.
* LGBT protections added to Title VII
* $10.00 minimum wage, adjusted automatically for inflation.
* Immigration reform with a 5 year path to citizenship is enacted without border patrol pork
* Comprehensive firearm legislation including a large buy-back program.


There is a well-precedented system used all around the world that could easily fix the NCAA’s college football playoff quandary: promotion and relegation.

In division I, last time I checked, there are something like 125 teams.  Break these teams down into true regional divisions except at the very top. Put the top 24 teams in four conferences that play each team in the conference twice in the season. The top four teams playoff for the championship, the bottom three get relegated to the top regional division and the top regional champions playoff for those three spots the next year.

This is the best feature of soccer that just doesn’t exist in American sports at all. The worst feature of soccer—no drafts—exists in the NCAA already.

Owners of major league teams would never allow this because they think they would lose too much money if their team got relegated. But in reality, at least in soccer, it’s actually easier to be profitable outside the top division, but that has to do with the cost of player transfers, something else that doesn’t exist that way in the US.

The threat of relegation, combined with a draft system (which exists nowhere that I’m aware of) would surely address some of these ills. Whether it would also create the monster that is the international soccer transfer system or something else I cannot say.

It's not a novel.

You have to pretty much go to an Ivy League school and cover politics for a long time to be a writer at The New Republic, right? (Maybe that’s the problem.) So it’s not that we’re dealing with idiots, but then you see something like this:

It showed [Obama] had clearly learned something from the recent “red line” fiasco in Syria.

I’ve heard this over and over. In what sense was Syria a fiasco? If by “fiasco” you mean failing to exercise his Nietzschean will to power then I guess. If you mean “fiasco” getting a bad result, I can only say: then how come the result is better than anyone even thought was possible a few weeks ago?

The right was sure we would be weak. The left was sure we would just bomb them. In the end both were made to looking like shrieking Cassandras—and it’s a fiasco? A fiasco is when you say someone crossed a red line, invade that country, and then it turns out then didn’t cross that line. A fiasco is not when you use the threat of force to get something diplomatically good.

These inside baseball guys think they know a blunder when they see it but they really have no idea even when the evidence is staring them in the face. It’s also why Bush got away with so much. The writers could write him like a character in a novel that we would like, like all of the sociopaths in our favorite shows.

Wake the fuck up. This is real.


Listen, no matter how much the VSPs warn us the government shutdown and debt ceiling are still very abstract things for most folks and the brinksmanship over them both has now been regularized.

For anyone not locked in the right-wing noise machine, they know that all of this crying wold over obamacare is just that. Calling anything a job-killer after Wall Street nuked the economy is just ironic. Also, Republicans who usually understand the “I got mine” mentality quite well seem to fail to get it in this case. If people who have jobs get to keep them and get good health benefits they aren’t going to care about a few saps getting cut down to 25 hours—not that that is going to happen in anything other than spite cases.

The Republicans tried everything on this. Stalling until Ted Kennedy died. Mitt Romney, the Supreme Court. They failed. It’s going to be the law, it’s going to work well enough and they know it. Why stake all of their credibility on this when they know in their heart of hearts it will work?

I think this shows that Obamacare was probably the best we could have gotten politically. Those on the left that shamed Obama for “not even trying” to get single payer should see that perhaps even the maximum of what was politically possible was exceeded, depending on how you view the Supreme Court decision’s ex ante likelihood.

I think this whole thing will die with a whimper.

Anti-strike arguments were not just anti-strike

There are those like John McCain who want to blow up everything, everywhere, all the time. And while McCain seems reliable in that regard, he certainly can’t lead his party on this or much of anything, so in the end, he’s just another senator who goes on Sunday talk shows all the time.

This site has been talking about Syria for a long, long time. Since the beginning, I’ve never really said I had a solution. Everyone who has been an expert for the last two weeks has been repeatedly sounding a few key themes:

  • Intervention will make it worse
  • There’s no evidence anything will happen
  • We aren’t the world’s policeman
  • This is just like Iraq

But these arguments are mostly not just against using military force, they are against caring at all. They are sounding the isolationist note that is always part of the American music, which is now a “good old days” fantasy pure and simple. The idea that any kind of intervention will only make things worse involves the same measure of foresight that is denied to people who say it will when neither side can ever be sure.

The argument that there’s no evidence, which showed up on lefty and righty sites at the same time, is simply false. Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and if you’re not into do-gooder NGOs, the French and US governments all believe there is evidence. Did Doctors Without Borders say there were nukes in Iraq? I don’t think so. Evidence alone is not proof, and what constitutes “proof” varies between people.

What’s interesting and well documented is that government-sponsored atrocities seem to require more than the normal measure of proof. To this day, there seems to be a “some say” aspect to the Armenian genocide. It wasn’t really until the US Army marched into Germany that people started to accept the reports coming from refugees about the death camps. It wasn’t until after the fact that people like Noam Chomsky, supposedly a champion of human rights, stopped dismissing the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge as fantasies reported at “third or fourth hand.”

All of these arguments were present in the days when the press was first reporting about Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and, yes, when Saddam gassed the Kurds. They are also eerily similar to the denial, evidence manipulation, and basic nonchalance ascribed to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq after our invasion of the place.

In the end, despite the press narrative, I think we’re going to look back and just see the results (if they stand): Syria gives up its chemical weapons, the US didn’t fire a shot, and the Syrians can get back to their civil war which, according to both right and left, no one can do anything about.

That sounds like pretty effective foreign policy to me. Yet, somehow, this is all the same as Iraq where the threat of force was really just a promise and no amount of evidence that there as no WMD in Iraq was ever going to stop Bush’s vendetta war fueled by America’s bloodlust at the time.

The left should take solace in the fact that the polls showed people against the military use, that they were skeptical of it. That wasn’t the case 11 years ago. Have we learned? Not enough, but some things.


But we've been through so much.


I didn’t know better when I was a kid. We just salute and said “with liberty and justice for all” and then as a teenager, I mocked you because you weren’t nearly as good as you thought you were. Later, you had a dangerous affair with a man who was bent on ruining you and I thought you were lost. But we’re both still here.

But now it’s not about being perfect or being imperfect. It’s about time invested and having gone through so much with an imperfect friend, warts and all. We think you can contain your id, you can let your good side show enough to keep the lights on.

But today is the day 12 years ago when you let your addictions and your fears and your dangerous affair run rampant in a kind of hateful bender. We staged an intervention in 2006 and again in 2008 but you’re an addict now and you shouldn’t even take one drink.

Your behavior since has made it hard for us to trust you to do the right thing the right way at the right time. Some of your other friends are done with you, but I’m still here.

Deep Thought

You know, old Adenauer was also German, just like his predecessor, and continued to build roads. We could call the autobahns the Hitler-Adenauer doctrine.


And you know when we get our enthusiasm gap Republican president in 2016, everyone’s going to say it’s time to stop opposing the President on everything just because he’s for it. Heads the Republicans win, tails the Democrats lose.

January 2017

It’s a bitter snowy day in Washington, D.C. A now fully gray-haired President Obama sits in the first row with a stern, emotionless face. Next to him, Michelle looks off in the distance. Chief Justice Roberts is seated across from them, with a smile on his face as usual, but this time with a little bit of a genuine glow. Obama thinks, I bet he won’t fuck up the oath this time.

Bill Clinton is seated nearby doing his ex-presidential duty, but his wife isn’t with him. She’s nowhere to be seen. Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell joke with each other. Clinton and Obama have not greeted each other. They haven’t been speaking since December when Bill gave a quote a reporter where he said “Obama is the only one who ever defeated us, both times, the Republicans could never do it. And they tried.” Clinton admitted later it was a bit unfair, but the thirty days between that quote and election day had been the most stressful in his post-presidential life.

Thirty days it lasted. That was when the final recount had ended. It hurt him he couldn’t deliver Arkansas for Hillary. Ohio, lost. Virginia, lost. Colorado, lost. Iowa, lost. Even losing New Jersey didn’t end it. You held Florida. You had a 70% approval rating with women there and it paid. But those last days in Oregon. It was solid blue, it was humiliating.

How did that happen? You look at Obama. Not a damn emotion on his face. In there somewhere there has to be some realization. The drones. The NSA. Syria. It was just too damned soon, too much like Bush. No, you think, in his Vulcan mind the comparisons were inapt. Bush lied. Obama told the truth. But that didn’t matter.

First they had tried to recruit Liz Warren to run a third party campaign, but she knew better. She took her job seriously and wanted to legislate. The Draft Warren movement turned into the Draft America movement. There was even a TV show looking for a “truly different” candidate. They made pictures of a three headed beast with Obama and Bush and Hillary on it.

How many votes did that sway? Did it sway more than 35 in Oregon? Probably.

And so now they had it. They had the Congress and they had the White House and they had Obama’s legacy ready to light on fire. It wasn’t just Obamacare. They had a bill that was going to “repeal not just Obamacare but Obama.” Health care reform, gone. Consumer financial protection bureau, gone. 39% tax bracket, gone. They were even repealing the immigration reform law. The new President would sign it today. As if he won in a landslide.

35 fucking trustifarians in Oregon who were mad that someone could read their banal e-mails. 1,000 stoners in Colorado who thought they could nullify federal law but neo-confederates in the South couldn’t. And probably tens of thousands who stayed home because they didn’t believe anyone represented them, they let the cynicism wear them down.

Obama squinted in the snow and he could feel Clinton’s dagger-eyes in his back. Arrogant bastard. Al Gore probably said the same thing about him. Your dick, my White House. A mob of Amy Goodman listeners saying “both the same” and then Bush, Iraq, and America fucked up. But everyone knows I saved it. I saved our self-respect, first black President, saved us from a depression. Got Bin Laden and ended those stupid wars, put it back the way it should have been before Bush fucked it up. I did what he couldn’t do—I got health care fixed, I got a deal on Jerusalem. He didn’t even try to save Rwanda, argued against it. But Yugoslavia, he did everything for them. For Europeans. But I try to stop a holocaust in Syria and they turn on me. Hillary has to be her own woman, that was the first term when I was secretary of state, she said.

But how can I blame her? The equated me with the worst president in our history who stole his presidency because they wouldn’t believe that I would do what I said I was going to do not what they dreamed I was going to do, because I used drones to keep our military out of the way and because of FISA, a Constitutional program. Didn’t matter. Bush had poisoned everyone. Competent government wasn’t enough for them. Had to be a revolution, always a revolution, and a revolution after the revolution because that’s what their college professors who never made a decision with someone’s life on the line told them.

Now it’s Chris Christie’s plaque filled fucking arteries that stands between us and Rand Paul. There’s their revolution.

The Bush Doctrine. Again.

Look at this:

[It’s] fair to say that while the United States continues to use the language of law, its position is more a self-made doctrine of American exceptionalism, which lays out U.S. claims and expectations and does not make them reciprocal for other states (as “law” necessarily does). Something like the Monroe doctrine, but applied to both hemispheres. The Bush-Obama doctrine, as one might call it (though there are some variations between the presidents), extends throughout the world. It declares that dictatorships that stay in power through violence and threaten their neighbors must fear America’s might, whatever the rest of the world might say.

This is a terrible meme.

The “Bush Doctrine” was not humanitarian intervention or preventing threats against neighbors to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. It was fraud. This kind of thinking does not get you an A in undergrad political science, but it’s permanently embedded in our journalism. Even smart folks like Rachel Maddow are doing this.

To call something the “Bush-Obama” Doctrine is defamatory.

The enduring amnesia about the Bush years and their effect on the country have always been damaging coming from Republicans, but liberals are starting to catch up. They are starting to flippantly equate Bush and Obama on all sorts of things. This is scary.

The Senate is going to be lost in 2014 because the enthusiasm gap over Bush being just like Obama. Just like he was just like Al Gore.

Call Their Bluff

Putting Syria’s weapons under international supervision is a perfectly acceptable solution to all of this. The Russians offered it, make them do it in the UN. If they don’t, well, they look stupid.

Somehow, though, I’m sure it’s Obama’s fault.

Regressive Progressives

Honestly, one of the things I’ve always been proud of liberals for is their general acceptance of science and awareness of history. Yet all I see on the liberal blogs is more “heh indeedy” it’s just like Iraq. Is Yugoslavia that long ago?

In any event, it’s not that I don’t see the parallels. Arabs. Chemical weapons. Bad guy dictator. UN inspectors. Threats to disarm. Allies begging off. Skeptical public.

Americans like to say we’re “not the world’s policeman.” That’s true because we have hardly ever enforced the law, not because of the fact that since 1991 we’ve been the only nation or entity really capable of doing so in the first place. Should we be? Who knows what the world order would be like if our military weren’t on par with the rest of the world combined. More peaceful? Who knows.

What we can only know is how it is now.  As current UN Ambassador Samantha Power wrote:

Since the Holocaust, the United States has intervened militarily for a panoply of purposes — securing foreign ports, removing unpalatable dictators, combating evil ideology, protecting American oil interests, etc. — all of which provoke extreme moral and legal controversy. Yet, despite an impressive postwar surge in moral resolve, the United States has never intervened to stop the one overseas occurrence that all agree is wrong, and that most agree demands forceful measures. Irrespective of the political affiliation of the President at the time, the major genocides of the post-war era — Cambodia (Carter), northern Iraq (Reagan, Bush), Bosnia (Bush, Clinton) and Rwanda (Clinton) — have yielded virtually no American action and few stern words. American leaders have not merely refrained from sending GIs to combat genocide; when it came to atrocities in Cambodia, Iraq and Rwanda, the United States also refrained from condemning the crimes or imposing economic sanctions; and, again in Rwanda, the United States refused to authorize the deployment of a multinational U.N. force, and also squabbled over who would foot the bill for American transport vehicles.

EW12 on The Supreme Court

Salon (with a headline unsupported by the quote):

Warren — the highest-profile national Democrat to address the gathering here — warned attendees of a “corporate capture of the federal courts.”

… “You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business

I don’t refer to the 4 “liberal” justices as liberals. I like what they have to say very much, but the last real liberal on the Court was Thurgood Marshall, who left shortly after William Brennan, another real liberal. Sotomayor is the closest.

Stevens, Ginsburg, Kagan, Breyer, and Souter were all mostly defined by their unwillingness to follow the radical conservative element led by Rehnquist, but none of theme charted out new frontiers for liberalism or even left any dissents that are likely to one day turn into such a new frontier. Indeed, Justice Ginsburg declined to vote in such a manner that would have made gay marriage a constitutional right after her speechmaking about Roe v. Wade causing a “backlash.” I find this idea both boring and naive. At best, there wouldn’t have been a backlash against the court. Is that what Ginsburg cares about?

The liberals of that era, just like today’s conservatives like Thomas, Scalia, and Alito do not care about “backlash.” They care about their vision of the Constitution.

And of course, the biggest horror to issue from this court had nothing to do with Constitutional ideology and everything to do with being a Republican: Bush v. Gore.

All of this is to absolutely agree with Warren and perhaps to go further. If a liberal court is what you want, we need more Sotomayors. What we have is a right-wing court where occasionally the 4 centrist justices will peel off a swing vote to preserve common sense.


Presidents and Civil Liberties from Wilson to Obama: A Story of Poor Custodians

By Samuel Walker

Published by Cambridge University Press in 2012


This book is a history of the civil liberties records of American presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. It examines the full range of civil liberties issues: First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, press, and assembly; due process; equal protection, including racial justice, women’s rights, and lesbian and gay rights; privacy rights, including reproductive freedom; and national security issues. The book argues that presidents have not protected or advanced civil liberties, and that several have perpetrated some of worst violations. Some Democratic presidents (Wilson and Roosevelt), moreover, have violated civil liberties as badly as some Republican presidents (Nixon and Bush). This is the first book to examine the full civil liberties records of each president (thus, placing a president’s record on civil rights with his record on national security issues), and also to compare the performance on particular issues of all the presidents covered.

So, in addition to the “both sides do it” claims—”some Democratic Presidents”—this book is basically saying that every president ever has sucked at civil liberties.

The first president to ever uphold the standards of civil liberties demanded by civil libertarians and their dogmatic reading of the Constitution would be destroyed even if it didn’t have some disastrous consequence.

You misunderstand me if you think that I’m suggesting this is either good or bad, I’m explaining why without using the chickenshit target of the president. FDR was a great president regardless of his mistakes and Bush was a shitty one regardless of his merits.

But the job of the President isn’t really to be the civil libertarian police. Sure, you can argue, he swears to uphold and defend the Constitution and the laws, but that begs the question that the interpretation assigned to it by you is correct. So, this is what the Courts are for. The President is always going to act as a caretaker first.

Now, if some President were to stop all warrantless searches of any kind and, say, we weren’t immediately able to find 10,000 new qualified federal judges to look at all of these warrant applications and other important court business was impacted and several criminals got away, we can be pretty sure this would not be popular.

Only a rare few would give the President credit for being such an upholder of the Constitution. Every President knows this.

So, if it’s an egregious case the courts will do their job and make it right. But expecting the President to be a leader on these issues is to ask the president to sign his own political death warrant.

Therefore again you must pick the candidate that will make the best selections to the courts.

How much they hate Obama

Republicans will even vote against killing Arabs if it’s something Obama is for. Though I usually find them as annoying as private school college freshman, TAP does have a point on this: maybe Obama should say that he opposes single payer health care.

Maybe Obama should say that the proposal to charge zero interest on student loans and reconfigure them to 10 cents on the dollar payable over 100 years is a threat to the American way of life.

Regime Change

A term too associated with Iraq, and for some reason people think it’s totally great to just kill a bunch of people on the battlefield but not the war criminal, crime-against-humanity committing people who order them.

But don’t be surprised if Assad finds himself in the path of a Tomahawk*


*Tomahawks apparently preferred over drones too.

FAQ On Declaring War

A case of high school civics gone awry in the popular imagination.

Q: Korea and Vietnam were unconstitutional because there was never a declaration of war, right?

A: Nothing in the Constitution requires that hostilities be accompanied by a document entitled “Declaration of War.” Even in the most expansive reading of what this process requires, it is Congressional assent. One could argue that by funding the conflicts, Congress gives consent. And since this is something a court will never decide, that’s pretty much all there is to it.

Q: But the country can’t engage in hostilities without a declaration of war, right?

A: Wrong. A “declaration of war” is a term of art in international law. By declaring it, you’re putting certain people on notice of things you’re going to do, like, say, sink their ships, detain their nationals, and so on. It is not the case that the President can’t use military force without one. Since the beginning of the Republic that has been the case. Adams, Jefferson, and Madison all used the military without a declaration of war. Use of the military goes back almost as far without any kind of congressional authorization, especially if you count uses of the military against Indians, which, I have no idea why you wouldn’t.

Q: Can’t Congress impeach the president for this? or for not following the War Powers Act?

A: Sure. Congress’s ability to impeach the president only requires that a vote be held. It’s not invalid if they don’t specify a statutory high crime or misdemeanor, because no court will test it, and they might do so on the pretext of the War Powers Resolution/Act, but there’s not much doubt that, strictly speaking, that resolution is unconstitutional, but it provides a guideline for where Congress thinks they should come into play. Its constitutionality doesn’t matter because nothing says that an impeachment can only be for something unconstitutional.

Q: If the President can use the military without Congress, then why is that part of the Constitution, that only Congress can declare war?

A: In the British Constitution, the King declares war and often did so for purposes of conquest. At the time, declaring war could cause one because there wasn’t often a standing army. So, in our day, the fact that Congress funds a full time military more or less means that they are giving away the game. In other words, if there’s no army and the president can declare war, he puts Congress in a position of probably having to raise an army to defend the country, potentially on the President’s whim.

But once there is an army, the President has the Constitutional power to use it. We just live in a different time.

If there was any power that might be limited, you’d think it would be the deployment of the country’s nuclear forces. You’d think that might require the assent of the Speaker of the House, or something. But it doesn’t, and it probably can’t unless you want to risk not being able to respond, which actually invites an attack.

But once you realize that the President can nuke, it seems silly to me to quibble over whether the words “Declaration of War” need to be on a piece of paper.