Saturday, November 22, 2003

Wild Bats

Twenty years ago, during the 20th anniversary observance of the Kennedy assassination, essayist Lance Morrow wrote in Time magazine: "The real 1960s began on the afternoon of November 22, 1963…It came to seem that Kennedy's murder opened some malign trap door in American culture, and the wild bats flapped out." In the 20 years that have gone by since the 20th anniversary, more wild bats have flapped out of other trap doors. We have had more "where were you" moments--the Challenger disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, September 11--but the Kennedy assassination remains the acknowledged champion, never losing its power to shock and sadden, even at an ever-growing distance of years.

We have been mourning Kennedy anew this week. The History Channel, normally devoted to all things World War II, has been all things JFK. Their special JFK: A Presidency Revealed, to be rebroadcast tonight, is a success both as a television entertainment and a work of history--lucid, involving, objective, mixing well-known detail with fresh material from new sources. (Alas, the History Channel devoted many more hours this week to the oft-repeated The Men Who Killed Kennedy, which regurgitates and then sensationalizes every conspiracy theory ever floated about the assassination, credible and otherwise.) Almost every cable channel this side of the Food Network, and all of the network news divisions, have weighed in with at least one special this week.

Many TV remembrances focus on the way the story was covered at the time. Many of today's elder statesmen of broadcasting were young bucks on the way up in 1963--Dan Rather, Jim Lehrer, Peter Jennings, Bob Schieffer. And as they reminisce about how it was on that day, they usually recollect how primitive news gathering was. One of Dan Rather's assignments was to get film from Dallas flown to network HQ in New York so it could be broadcast, and when it was shown, droplets were visible on the screen--the film was still wet from being developed. There were no cell phones, so reporters were at the mercy of pay phones, and sometimes hanging onto the phone meant beating the competition at the story. These media memories are an important part of our national observance because for many Americans, the Kennedy assassination was the first time they experienced something so momentous by way of broadcast media. It's widely agreed that it marked the moment at which television news came of age--when TV became the national hearth to gather around when tragedy or disaster struck us.

Reporters in 1963 often compared the impact of the Kennedy assassination to the sudden death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, but JFK's death dwarfs FDR's in memory because the power of television imagery dwarfs that of radio. And some of the images from those four days are shockingly powerful even after you've seen them dozens of times.

You can unroll many of them in memory without actually seeing them: Kennedy smiles in the open limo. Young women in cat glasses weep as the news of the assassination speads along the motorcade route. Jackie steadfastly refuses to change out of the pink pantsuit spattered with her husband's blood. Kennedy's body is transported back to Washington, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in full view of TV cameras, his trusted aides unloading the coffin awkwardly from the airplane. Oswald answers questions from reporters and later gets smoked by Jack Ruby in the basement of the police station.

And then, the long shots of the funeral cortege, the band playing a funeral march, not a word from the network commentators along the route. Periodic cuts to Jackie and the children-- Jackie's dignity in grief was an amazing thing, doing as much to hold the country together on that weekend as our belief in our Constitution and laws. John-John salutes. The harsh light of the sun illuminating the funeral scenes makes the black-and-white footage seem more realistic than old black-and-white news footage usually does, as if the colors were there, but simply turned off. The flag is folded, the 21-gun salute echoes, the eternal flame is lit. You've seen it before, you know it's coming, and you still feel the loss after all this time.

We know now that the JFK mystique has much to do with the nature of his death and the many shadowy tales that have grown up around it--the second shooter on the grassy knoll, the connection with the New Orleans mob, the magic bullet, and all that. Furthermore, we know now that JFK was not a perfect knight in shining armor despite all the Camelot PR--he lived on a smorgasbord of drugs that would have made Fat Elvis flinch, and he adulterously bedded enough women to make a football team. He was slow to move on civil rights. His inexperience cost the U.S. greatly at the Bay of Pigs and at his 1961 summit with Khrushchev. So he wasn't a saintly leader, all powerful and wise, grappling surely with whatever the world threw at him, never making a mistake. He was, like all presidents, one of us, who had a job and did it.

And yet he did it extraordinarily well when it counted the most. He maneuvered the world through the Cuban Missile Crisis, perhaps the most dangerous moment in human history. And he had a unique talent for inspiring people to commit themselves to difficult tasks, whether it was reaching the moon or holding back the Soviets in Berlin. And so we mourn his lost potential, and we wonder what if? What might he have accomplished if he'd served his eight-year limit? What might the country have looked like after he left office?

It seems as though the world began to accelerate in the weeks after November 22, 1963--accelerate and come apart at the same time, as many truths we thought were firmly settled before then began to seem less so afterward. In the middle of history, we can never fully assess it for what it is--that's left to generations of historians whose grandparents are toddlers now--but it surely seems as if we have never stopped the spiral that began 40 years ago, that things move faster and continue to fragment. So when we mourn JFK and remember that afternoon, we mourn a world that was younger, whose dangers were more knowable, whose challenges seemed achievable. A world where the wild bats were still in their cages.

Note: This feature will be on holiday until sometime Sunday November 30. Until then, I recommend you read Best of the Blogs, Tapped, Joe Conason's Journal, Liberal Oasis, The Daily Kos, and Democratic Underground. And during this Thanksgiving week, be grateful that there's an election coming in a little over 11 months.


Some stories break into the national consciousness and some do not, and it's damned hard to say why. Sometimes people blame conspiracies. For example, at least one Internet site has floated the idea that this week's arrest of Michael Jackson on suspicion of child abuse was timed by California officials under the direction of Republican Governor Schwarzenegger to take the spotlight off President Bush's visit to London and the likelihood of a media examination of the Bush/Blair Iraq policy. (William Rivers Pitt contemplates the Jackson spectacle here.)

And sometimes, maybe it's the source that keeps a story from going bigtime. NewsMax.Com is a noted screeching wingnut news site. And Cigar Aficionado is not a magazine noted for its public affairs coverage. But the two converged this week, when NewsMax reported on an interview that Iraq commanding General Tommy Franks gave to Cigar Aficionado, in which Franks speculated that a successful attack on the United States with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons might prompt Americans to discard the Constitution in favor of a military government. This has already begun to happen to a certain extent, as Kevin Baker masterfully noted in "We're in the Army Now," an essay in the October Harper's. But for Franks to say it makes it far more newsworthy. One hopes that the story will get more play outside the blogosphere over the weekend.

With the news that American soldiers killed a Hungarian civilian driving toward a military checkpoint yesterday, a story from the Los Angeles Times earlier this week becomes even more worthwhile. "We are one stressed-out reservist away from a massacre," reports a senior official. Millions of miles from home, never knowing from which direction death will come, not getting paid on time--it's no wonder these people are on a hair trigger. And with the news this morning that we will keep 100,000 troops in Iraq at least until 2006, the danger to the soldiers and of a massacre is only going to grow. Nobody who joined the reserves ever imagined that they'd be put in this position. Small wonder some of them are freaking out--and many of them are saying there's no way in hell they'll reenlist.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Bush Says Turkey New Front in 'War on Terror'

And whose fault is that? As Jerry Bowles observes, the seemingly growing Islamic insurgency in Turkey would be more evidence of the failure of a popular rationale for the Iraq war--that poor benighted towelheads all over the Middle East would witness our overwhelming power being shoved up and down Saddam's various orifices and suddenly rush to emulate Thomas Jefferson. The Turkish leadership tried hard to give Bush what he wanted before the war--although he didn't get the second front he desired, the government did try to provide help and manpower in spite of opposition from the Turkish people. And the attacks this week are Turkey's reward for trying to join the coalition of the willing.

"The beatings will continue until morale improves" is not a foreign policy. It's either sadism or idiocy, and it will never result in peace. Never. Not in the remainder of Bush's term, his second term if reelected, Jeb's term, George P. Bush's term, Jenna's term, Barbara's term, the guy from Bush's Baked Beans' term…

Tall Corn, Tall Order

Senators backing the energy bill failed to find enough votes to limit debate this morning, thus putting the bill's future in jeopardy. My guys, Kohl and Feingold, both voted against the cloture motion. I'm usually pretty sure where Feingold stands, but Kohl occasionally needs a little prodding to do the right thing, and he presumably got it this time. Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico provided the soundbite that's already on campaign-ad storyboards of the three lightweights planning to challenge Feingold: "You're choosing lawyers over farmers." As Reuters reported, the bill essentially came down to ethanol for farm states versus product liability lawsuits over the gasoline additive MTBE. Several farm state Democrats, including Tom Harkin of Iowa, the Tall Corn State, voted for cloture.

Majority Leader Bill Frist has warned lawmakers that if they want ethanol, this is it. There will be no separate ethanol bill coming out of Congress. At least until we elect a few more Democrats, anyhow, and our oil-slick administration gets its head out of the sand and acknowledges two things. First, that alternative fuels make a great deal of sense. Second, that until the government gets behind them, they'll always be a fringe notion--and thus we'll always be at the mercy of oil producers, more and more of whom are in countries that like us less and less.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

From the Vault

Our only president is over there in England, making nice (barely) with the Queen, and somehow arguing today that by ignoring the U.N. in his runup to war in Iraq, he somehow saved it from League of Nations style irrelevance. For a gloriously detailed analysis of the vaulting bullshit behind the soaring rhetoric, nobody does it better than the Center for American Progress. They demonstrate Bush's speech to be, if not utterly at odds with the truth, then providing some rather peculiar interpretations of just what we've done in Iraq and elsewhere.

Here's something you'll want to read twice just to make sure your eyes aren't deceiving you. It's not what it seems to be--not a mea culpa, but another flipping of the bird at the concept of an international community. You see, following international law would have been morally unacceptable in Saddam Hussein's case, and the Bush Administration is nothing if not scrupulously moral. Don't blame us. We always want to follow international law, but those damned moral imperatives! What else could we do?

Ahem. Way back when, John Adams coined the phrase "a government of laws and not of men." It used to be that's what we had. No more, and don't let anybody tell you differently. The Bush Adminstration has arrogated unto itself the decision of which laws to follow and which to disobey. Which makes them no better than outlaws. And all the soaring rhetoric in the world doesn't make it right.

Parliament of Hooters

Before the British Parliamentary system was reformed in the middle of the 19th century, voting districts for the House of Commons were very uneven. Huge and growing industrial cities like Liverpool and Birmingham had no representatives in the Commons, while many smaller boroughs--some with as few as two voters--did. Irish Catholics were not represented at all, and had fewer legal rights than Protestants. In 1792, during the debate over so-called Catholic Emancipation (giving them the same rights as Protestants), British statesman Edmund Burke argued that it wasn't so terrible that some voters did not have the right to elect a representative directly. They benefited from "virtual representation"--those elected to Parliament represented not only their districts, but the interests of the citizenry as a whole: "Virtual representation is that in which there is a communion of interests and a sympathy in feelings and desires between those who act in the name of any description of people and the people in whose name they act, though the trustees are not actually chosen by them."

Burke's idea--although anti-democratic at its heart--is one on which I have lectured my U.S. senators, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl. Surely these two Democrats represent not only those of us who elected them, but they virtually represent other Democrats in other places who are part of the same "communion of interests," but who are not served by a Democratic representative.

I was reminded of this again today when I heard that Senate minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota is going to vote to limit debate on the energy bill, thus paving the way for its apparent passage later this week. Daschle says that the bill's doubling of ethanol production is what swayed him to vote yes. South Dakota is a major corn producer, and he's up for reelection next year. So he's doing right by his constituents at home--and wrong by those he represents virtually elsewhere in the country. The energy bill is so egregiously bad that it's hard to imagine any tradeoff being worth it. The communion of interests likely to be harmed by the bill across the country is far greater than the communion of interests in South Dakota that would benefit from it. Yet it put Daschle in a hell of a spot, one familiar to Democrats--to explain a vote against the bill would require many words, but to bash him for it, his Republican opponent would need only say, "Daschle voted against doubling ethanol production." And so Daschle is voting to help pass the bill.

This is how business gets done in our Congress, however. Things get added to bills to win the support of individual legislators--a nuke plant for Idaho, a Home Depot subsidy for Georgia, a Hooter's restaurant for Shreveport, Louisiana. The idea that federal tax dollars should probably not be spent to make it possible for 40-something businessmen to be served lunch by large-breasted blondes in tight shorts doesn't really figure into the debate. In a Congress where the idea of virtual representation held more sway, perhaps it might.

Ultimately, Daschle made a defensible political choice that will help save his skin come 2004. But it was representation, not leadership. At the very least, leadership in this case would have required a better show of the difficulty inherent in his choice, instead of him going so quietly. Indeed, there's another way to view Daschle's decision: as another symptom of his general timidity. Try to imagine the shoe on the other foot--Democrats forcing through a bill they wrote in secret with no input from the other party--and then imagine Bill Frist or Trent Lott rolling over in the same way. It's possible, as those gentlemen are no less immune to either the realities of elective politics or the power of pork--but it doesn't seem nearly as likely. Republicans fight better than Democrats--you can bet that they would have at least gotten a few licks in before bowing to the inevitable, thus showing the Republican base that they're with 'em. And until Democrats develop a similar taste for similar licks, we're going to get rolled by the Republicans again and again, and gain nothing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Tanks for the Show

I have been getting the daily Progress Report from the Center for American Progress in my e-mail this week--and let me say that if you are a public policy freak, you had better be reading this. It is everything--literally everything--you need to know about the issues behind the headlines you hear each morning. It's nothing less than a noble public service, and a fine antidote to the coordinated talking points conservatives are famous for disseminating to their media mouthpieces.

The Center is, as I wrote last weekend, a progressive think tank designed to counter the influence of conservative tanks like the Heritage Foundation and such. In new postings today, TomPaine.com takes out after think tanks that masquerade as impartial experts while actually dispensing paid propaganda and PR for their sponsors.

Speaking of media mouthpieces, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity get most of the notice as the major blowhards from Fox News. But let me give it up to Shepard Smith, who anchors various programs on the network, and does the conservative scold bit pretty well himself. This afternoon, he was reporting a story about rapper Eminem's latest brush with controversy, a tape in which he uses racial slurs to describe blacks. Fox chose to put the text of the offensive language up on the screen, albeit heavily redacted with asterisks and blanks. Smith started to read it, and then his revulsion overcame him. "Well, you can read it. Why are we showing this? Paint, let's get it off there and move on"--directly addressing, in a tone of rising gorge, the person in the control room whose responsibility it is to put graphics on the screen.

Smith's show of high dudgeon was just that--show. Nobody on network TV reads a script without seeing it first, and nobody on a cable channel is utterly unaware of the graphics that are going to appear on the screen during a scripted broadcast, even a newscast. Smith knew that the offensive text was going to appear, and he knew what it said before he started to read it. The "why are we showing this" was red meat for the Foxophiles at home, a poke in the ribs as if to say, "See? We keep telling you the culture is going to hell. And we're right, you know." What a weenie.

I only watched for a minute or so, I swear.

Yuck Yuck Icky Icky Ewww Gross

Remember the 1992 Republican convention--the one where Pat Buchanan declared a cultural war on liberals and thereby contributed to Bush the Elder getting capped that fall? The stars are aligning for another one. The wingnuts have gone apeshit over the Massachusetts court decision on gay marriage. Polls show that Americans are deeply divided on the issue, even younger Americans who have grown up with homosexuality--which is not really surprising, as "gay" is one of the worst insults school-aged kids can think of to throw at one another. Howard Dean signed the civil unions bill in Vermont--not strictly the same as gay marriage but close enough for endless campaign soundbites. Voila--the magic wedge issue, the Willie Horton of 2004, the horse the Republicans can ride to victory.

Well, maybe. Mark Morford observes, optimistically, that wingnuts of the 1950s and 60s went similarly apeshit over school desegregation, and wingnuts of the early 20th century had kittens over the right of women to vote, and now both of those concepts are mainstream. And I'd like to think that someday, common sense will triumph over the twin towers of religious dogma and fear based on ignorance. But I have my doubts that it will happen before the Constitution can be vandalized with a gay-marriage ban, particularly if Bush is reelected.

Of course, a culture war might be good for the Democrats. If they are successful at unmasking the extremism of the Republicans--an extremism Bush and Karl Rove will make Job One to hide--the all-important swing voters might turn away. Homophobic Republicans rallying in the streets just might help.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003


Holy smokes--to coin a phrase--the energy bill is even worse than you can imagine. Tax giveaways in the billions of dollars, a break on ceiling fan tariffs to benefit Home Depot--if this thing were a pig, it would feed dozens of families a Sunday dinner. The public doesn't like it, some conservatives in Congress don't like it--but what the hell, we're just citizens. The really important opinions have already been heard.

Steamroller Blues

You'll find fewer more shining examples of bad public policy than the energy and Medicare reform bills that have come through the Republican steamroller in Congress in the last couple of days.

Democrats in the Senate are considering a filibuster of the energy bill, which was developed largely in secret by Vice President Cheney's anonymous task force of energy executives. Congressional Democrats were not permitted to see much of the bill until last Saturday, when its 1200 pages were dumped on them with notice that the bill would be voted on in 48 hours--the point of which was to keep them from raising objections to various devilish details that they simply wouldn't have time to find. (The last time the GOP did something like this, we got the Patriot Act.) Nevertheless, Democrats in Congress did well yesterday to accomplish what they did, even if Tom DeLay's reliable assassins in the House were able to kill a lot of it, saying "screw you" to renewable energy and embracing more coal, oil, and nuclear power. Republicans stripped out alternative fuels provisions that Republicans and Democrats in the Senate had agreed to. The bill makes it easier for polluters to polllute, and shifts the burden for cleaning up after them from the polluters to the taxpayers. That's yummy statesmanship.

The Medicare bill is also pretty bad. The glorious idea of requiring Medicare to compete with private insurers in six regions of the country is its centerpiece--Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a health care expert, notes that Medicare was founded precisely because private insurers wouldn't offer the kind of coverage many senior citizens required. So Medicare will be put in a handicapped position competively to begin with, having to offer (and pay for, and thus charge for) services private companies will not, which is not the way to make sure Medicare survives and thrives. This is what the Bush Administration has in mind, of course--they're not so much interested in "saving" or "shoring up" Medicare for the long term as they are in crippling it now so they can kill it later, perhaps during a second Bush term.

The bill contains provisions intended to help senior citizens with the cost of prescription drugs, although one provision appears to do more for American drug companies than for their customers--banning the import of prescription drugs from Canada, where they're usually cheaper than in the United States. AARP supports the bill, but as Groom Lake observes, that's a flipflop from their position earlier this year, as the organization becomes "a shill for the insurance agencies" and "the American Association of Republican People."

Democrats will be, if these bills pass, in the position (yet again) of playing defense against adminstration claims that it did something but Democrats would have us do nothing. Democrat strategy is apparently to try and link the benefits of these bills to big Republican contributors as payoffs, but it's questionable how well that will work. I sometimes think that Americans don't really mind if successful corporations and the rich are able to work the levers of government to their benefit. After all, we might be rich someday, too, right? Then it will be our turn.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Schwarzenegger Becomes Calif. Gov., Seeks 'Miracle'

And that's what it'll take. Man got elected because California was facing an enormous deficit, and his first act in office is to make it $4 billion worse by repealing the unpopular car tax.

When are Republicans going to learn basic damn arithmetic? That to mindlessly chant "tax cuts good, tax increases bad" is a good way to get elected but a bad way to do the job of governing? That when you have a deficit, you either raise taxes or cut services? That you cannot make up budget shortfalls by cutting pork entirely because the pig ain't that fat?

Real Life Meets the Sterile Zone

Nobody really thinks that the mainstream of conservative Republicans are actual fans of Mussolini, or that they use Mein Kampf as their political blueprint. But it is not out of line to draw parallels between the right's actions today and similar actions from history and use those parallels as cautionary tales or lessons for our own time. Which is what Michael Ventura does in the Austin Chronicle when discussing the cancellation of the CBS miniseries The Reagans.

But who needs fiction when real life is getting so interesting? Bush is headed for Britain this week, and there's going to be trouble. Maybe from terrorists--Britain has raised its terror alert level to the equivalent of the American orange, although the Brits say it's unconnected to Bush's visit. But there is definitely going to be trouble from protestors. Bush canceled a speech to Parliament for fear of being heckled by unruly MPs. In addition, thousands of people are expected to hit the streets for the Bush visit. Not that any of the street protests will happen anywhere close to Bush, who will be isolated in a splendidly named "sterile zone." Yet the sterile zone is but a fraction of what American security officials wanted. You ought to see what the British would not permit.

Speaking of things not permitted, last week, the commission investigating the 911 attacks reached an agreement with the White House to get access to the president's daily briefings, including one for August 6, 2001, which Condoleezza Rice has said contained warnings of a Bin Laden plot to hijack airplanes. Trouble is, the commission will not be permitted to see unedited briefings. The White House gets to edit the documents first.

Well, why bother, then? There is one thing that would doom George W. Bush to instant defeat in the 2004 election--if it were revealed that he knew in advance about Al Qaeda plots to drive airliners into buildings and did nothing about it. The commission's agreement means if that evidence exists, nobody will ever see it. In addition, Bush has pushed the 911 commission to conclude its report by the end of May--so anything in it that might be bad for his reelection campaign will be long forgotten by November.

Tom and Andy Throw a Party

Two days after Iowa' Jefferson-Jackson shindig at which six of the nine presidential candidates appeared, Howard Dean looks unstoppable. So now people are starting to handicap the general election race against Bush. Is Dean too angry? Will his support for civil unions doom him? Is he as liberal as his supporters think he is? Is he another Dukakis? Mondale? McGovern? Goldwater?

It may not matter--at least not enough to affect the Democratic race. If the Democrats nominate Dean, they may lose. If they nominate anybody else, they will definitely lose. No other Democrat energizes the party like he does, as was proven at the J-J event. And no other Democrat has a better chance of beating Bush. Gephardt and Lieberman are yesterday's news; Clark and Edwards aren't ready for prime time; Kerry is toast; Kucinich, Sharpton, and Braun are just in the way. If Dean is doomed, so are all the rest. And if the Democrats are going down next November, we ought to at least go down fighting. And I have no faith in the ability of Gephardt, Lieberman, Kerry, Edwards, or Clark to do so.

By the way, Adam Nagourney of the New York Times seems to think Hillary Rodham Clinton was the star of the event--but what's most interesting to me is her comment (as MC) that "the next president of the United States is among us tonight." Does her comment mean anything in light of the fact that Clark--putative candidate of the Clintons--was absent? Well, sometimes a banana is just a banana. Clark is officially skipping Iowa, after all.

Nagourney's piece, ostensibly a news story, contains the unattributed observation that many Democrats in Iowa believe that their party will lose the 2004 election. Yeah, the clips I saw from the J-J event looked like a bunch of pessimists getting ready to pull the dirt in on themselves.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

By the Numbers

You know how media reports like to talk about "Allied forces" in Iraq? The phrase brings back memories of the noble worldwide alliance that crushed the Germans and the Japanese in World War II, but our coalition is a little more threadbare this time. The United States has 130,000 troops in Iraq. The second largest contingent is the British with 7400, then Italy with 3000, then Poland with 2400. The only countries providing more than 1,000 troops are Ukraine, Spain, and the Netherlands. The rest of the coalition includes such world leaders as Thailand (400), Hungary (290), Mongolia (174), and on down to Macedonia and Kazakhstan, who are providing about two dozen soldiers each. (And the rest of countries of the world, presumably because they are not with us, are against us.)

Another set of numbers worth looking at is the breakout of deaths in Iraq by state. ICH News asks if it's coincidence that the states with the most deaths are the states with the largest immigrant populations, but that doesn't necesssarily correlate--the state with the most deaths in California, followed by Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, and Illinois--all among the most populous states in the Union. You'd expect the most populous states to make up a larger proportion of the military, and thus have a larger proportion of the casualties.

Cutting and Running From the 51st State

In the last couple of days, Bush has made various statements about how we're going to stay the course in Iraq and how we will not cut and run. But Ivo Daalder and James Lindsey note that Bush's decision this week to begin turning over the administration of Iraq to Iraqis sooner rather than later (by June 2004, we learned this morning) is actually a sort of cut and run. It's similar to what we did in Afghanistan, where we rooted out the bad guys and installed a handpicked "president" before the whole country was pacified. Now Hamid Karzai is essentially the mayor of Kabul with no real authority outside the city, and the vibrant democracy we originally envisioned is nonexistent. While nobody in the United States gives a damn about Afghanistan (come on--you know it's true), a similar failure in what is, for all intents and purposes, our 51st state would be much more damaging to Bush, and much more dangerous for all of us.

Name dropping alert: For two glorious years in the mid '90s I went back to college at the University of Iowa to get a teaching certificate. For a couple of semesters, I was essentially a history major, and during that time I took a course in the history of American foreign policy taught by two instructors, one of whom was James Lindsey. Daalder is an advisor on national security at the new Center for American Progress, the progressive think tank founded by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta to counter the influence of conservative tanks like the Heritage Foundation. The Center's website is enough to make a public policy junkie weep with delight, including a detailed daily update on major issues.

If Bush's adjustments in policy this week mark a change in course, speculation in Washington is that at least one head may roll. Not a famous head, but an important one--Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, who's been in the middle of nearly everything that's gone wrong in Iraq, according to reporter Jim Lobe. Feith would be the first administration official to get sacked over Iraq since the guy at Treasury who suggested the war would cost a lot more than the administration was saying and the general who said we would need more troops than we had committed. Which would make Feith the first administration official to be sacked for being wrong.

Friday, November 14, 2003

America Good, Terrorists Bad

Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski (and I can't tell you how proud I am of myself that I typed that from memory without having to look) writes in the International Herald Tribune about the need for American leaders to give up their "with us or against us" rhetoric in order to lead the world, and stop looking at everything through the prism of good guys versus bad guys. Brzezinski identifies a crucial point that is a major problem: the language we use to describe what we're doing. "Terrorism is a technique for killing people. That can't be an enemy. It's as if we said that World War II was not against the Nazis but against blitzkrieg." Which was obvious to anybody who isn't drunk on the administration's Kool Aid on, oh, I don't know, September 13, 2001. But it's in Bush's interests to control the language and simplify the problem--which, contrary to making the problem easier to deal with, as simplified things often are, makes it downright intractable and nearly impossible to solve. Which is also in Bush's interests.

Where Is This Again?

When you're starved for political entertainment, be grateful for Louisiana. A coalition of urban blacks and traditionally conservative bubbas are apparently getting ready to help elect the 32-year-old son of Indian immigrants to the governorship. What would David Duke say?

Heavy Surf on Friday Morning

The Republican National Committee is out with a strategy memo for the 2004 campaign (I linked to it the other night and here it is again) which states, among other things, that Bush should not get bogged down in details like soldier deaths in Iraq, but should focus on his broader remaking of the world through preemption. This will involve criticizing Democrats as obstructionist, indecisive, faint-hearted, and unpatriotic--and blaming September 11 on Bill Clinton. The Boston.com story linked above quotes Senator John McCain as saying it's unclear to him what the Democrats would do that Bush hasn't. Former Republican National Committee chairman Rich Bond says that Democrats' answers "are propelled by the loony left at this point." (And Bond would know from loonies.)

Well, here's one possible answer, from George Washington University professor Amitai Etzioni, writing in the International Herald Tribune via ICH News, listing several key missions for the post-empire world. The most interesting one would be perhaps the easiest to get by our current crop of empire builders--restructure the UN "to reflect the power realities of the emerging multipolar world." (Even I think its time for France to be kicked off the Security Council; Etzioni suggests that countries who know nothing of human rights shouldn't be allowed on the UN Human Rights Commission.)

Of course, there are plenty of devils hiding in the details of Etzioni's piece--but his brief article represents one outline of what Democrats could be talking about as an alternative to Bush's "the beatings will continue until morale improves" foreign policy.

The RNC memo also plans to make an issue of "political hate speech"--which sounds to me like a shot across Howard Dean's bow aimed at his "take our country back" rhetoric. The irony of Republicans being offended by political hate speech has been widely noted already and I needn't get into it much here, except to link to a piece in The New Republic by Jonathan Chait last September in which he laid out the case for Bush hatred and analyzed right-wing reaction to the phenomenon. Their schoomarmish finger-wagging at unruly Democrats is precious. It wasn't Democrats who coined the phrase "Where's Lee Harvey Oswald When You Need Him?" It was Republicans during the Clinton years, and not fringe loonballs, either--you could buy buttons and T-shirts with the saying on it at almost every Republican gathering big enough to attract people with wares to sell. Seems to me recommending that the other guy be shot in the head is a bit more hateful than suggesting that the other guy has failed miserably and should be tossed out via the democratic process.

Alan Bisbort is a name I've come across previously--he's a newspaper columnist in Hartford, Connecticut, and every time I see his stuff, I like it. He writes today about the amazing transformation of Waterbury, Connecticut--a longtime Democratic stronghold that installed Republican mayors and city councilors in the wake of the 1980s economic decline only to watch them sink in a sea of graft and outright criminality (one of its mayors, who was running for the U.S. Senate at the time, was sentenced to 38 years in prison for, among other things, having sex with children aged 8 and 10). In the general election earlier this month, Waterbury tossed every last Republican officeholder out, mostly in favor of Democrats. All the minor-party slots are held by independents.

Let's dream about that kind of a world for a while.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Stocking the Cabinet

If this fine, high-quality news and commentary feature has inspirations, Best of the Blogs is one of them--smart, well-read, passionate, and occasionally miles ahead of the political curve. This morning, Josh Hammond posted advice to Howard Dean that he announce his cabinet choices before the election. I read it and instantly thought "Yes! And why the hell hasn't anybody thought of that before?" As Hammond observes, the whole damn Bush cabinet is going to be campaigning for him next year--why shouldn't Dean (or some other Democratic nominee) have the same advantage?

The lemming-like media horde would have a field day with it, of course. Not much has changed since 1976, when Ronald Reagan picked Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate before he'd even secured the nomination he eventually didn't get. Back then, Reagan's choice was considered premature, presumptuous, and/or ridiculous. And Dean would be asking for it 20 times over by naming a cabinet. But wouldn't it be wise for voters to know the whole enchilada they're buying before they write the check? How many Bush voters would have had second thoughts if they'd known John Ashcroft was going to be AG?

It's like Isaac Newton getting bonked on the head with the apple and discovering gravity--so simple, so powerful, and right in front of our faces the whole time until somebody figured it out.

Check Your Head

Wesley Clark voted for Nixon, voted for Reagan, said he'd be a Republican if Karl Rove had returned his phone calls--and now this. Stalking horse for Hillary, my eye, as we used to say back on the playground. The guy's acting like a Republican in Democratic drag. It makes little sense to try and get the Democratic nomination by channeling John Ashcroft--unless you're fronting points for the Democratic Leadership Council, which can't be ruled out. "A smart man saying stupid things while pandering," as Joe Conason put it in the story linked above. Yeah, that's about right.

On NPR and other news outlets this morning, Republican senators are yakking up sanctimonious hairballs over the unfairness of the judicial confirmation process as their 30-hour talkathon continued through the night. This publicity stunt is designed to crank up the conservative base and, as a side benefit, make Mr. and Mrs. Ain't-Got-Time-To-Read-More-Than-The-Front-Page think that Democrats are petulant wackos. (Physician, heal thyself.) In Salon today, John Dean explains why the filibuster is necessary--to stop the sort of politicized court-packing the Bush Administration is engaging in right now. Dean says, "A super-majority (67 votes) represents the will of the people, while a one- or two-vote advantage simply jams the will of a slight majority down the throat of the minority." To get an idea of the kind of jurist Bushco is trying to ram down the nation's throat, click Tim Grieve's report, also in Salon today.

Christ, it's not even 7:30 in the morning yet and I'm depressed. Perhaps this will help: an unscientific survey in Britain picked the most impressive invention of the last 40 years. The winner was not the Internet, cell phones, cloning, compact discs, or space exploration--it was the device in cans of Guinness Stout that charges the beer with nitrogen as it's poured, giving it the necessary draft-style foamy head. The head is one of the most important attributes of Guinness, and many other English-style beers also require what's sometimes known as a "nitro pull." It gives the beer a smoothness that's almost surreal--you will not fully understand the beer term "mouthfeel" until you've had a nitro-pulled beer. You'll almost certainly have to buy a Guinness or visit a local brewpub to feel it, though. This is not something American macrobrewers are ever going to bother with.

Let's see, our brewpubs up here open at 11 for lunch…

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The Names They Still Won't Mention

In Newsday, legendary New York columnist Jimmy Breslin writes of soldiers who have died in Iraq, soldiers whose names we never hear--but soldiers whose names Breslin lists, those killed between October 20 and November 8. Of one dead soldier, killed while guarding a bank, Breslin says: "He was guarding God. The money that is the true religion of Bush and Cheney and the others who hide in offices while young men in the Army die."

Eloquent and damning.

If this war's dead are anonymous, the wounded are even more so. Bush's great preeemptive war has produced nearly 7,500 wounded Americans, kids in their 20s who get the same kind of wounds warfare has always produced--limbs torn off, eyeballs shot out, disfiguring burns. Esther Schrader of the Los Angeles Times dared to look for them.

If I Got Fewer E-Mail Dispatches, This Entry Would Be Shorter

The beautiful thing about the Internet is that your favorite site is often willing to send you a regular e-mail update regarding new material on the site. But after you subscribe to a boatload of these, your e-mail box starts to resemble one of those campus message posts peppered with notices. I had to clear out the backlog this afternoon, and here's what's left:

This week in the Village Voice, James Ridgeway summarizes John Edwards' excellent week since taking Howard Dean to task on the Confederate flag. Excellent in Edwards' eyes, anyhow, as he's gotten more publicity in the past seven days than in several months before.

Edwards has helped me understand what bugged many people about Bill Clinton. Lots of people--even some people on his side politically--saw in Clinton an offensive, smarmy, say-anything slickness. Now it seems to me that a certain degree of smarm is essential in anyone who runs for high office. In the most successful politicians, like Clinton, it's genetic and they can't hide it. Clinton's slickness also never bothered me because he was usually the smartest person in any given room, which was acknowledged even by people who didn't like him, and I'd rather have smart than dumb. But Edwards seems to have all the smarm and practically none of the substance. He may be the creature of unlimited, avaricious ambition that some people think Hillary Clinton is.

(Speaking of Hil, Ridgeway notes that the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary is November 21, and seems to think that Hillary's appearance at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day observance on November 15 will mark some kind of watershed moment in the groundswell he claims to see for her presidential candidacy. Jim, I love your work, but you gotta get out of New York more.)

Elsewhere on the Web, TomPaine.com has reprinted some recent Senate floor remarks by South Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings, a man who's been around the block a time or two and who knows a quagmire when he sees it. Hollings, speaking of the resolution permitting Bush to go to war in Iraq, said simply "I voted for the resolution. I was misled." Until the Democrats running for president who supported the war say the same thing, none of them has an ounce of credibility when they criticize Bush now. It's their war just as much as it is his.

Also on TomPaine.com, David Corn revisits the history of Ronald Reagan, anti-communist crusader. It's not pretty. And it makes me ashamed to have said nice things about Reagan last weekend.

T-Minus 356 Days and Counting

Well, here's something bright and cheery to liven up the day--Republican pollsters Hans Kaiser and Bob Moore--repeating, Republican pollsters--say that contrary to the currently received wisdom on the part of the punditocracy, Howard Dean has a legitimate shot at George W. Bush if he wins the Democratic nomination. Their memo is rich with encouraging numbers and several interesting bits of analysis. For one thing, Kaiser and Moore observe that the far-left-liberal charge that Republicans will be tempted to unleash against Dean may not be as potent as it used to be. After all, Republicans promised that the country would be reduced to a smoking ruin under the far-left-liberal Bill Clinton. But to lots of folks, especially swing voters, the Clinton years could soon start to look like Camelot, particularly if Iraq and the economy both remain mired in the muck.

(Speaking of the Clintons, the memo adds fuel to the idea that Wesley Clark is Hillary's surrogate: "If Howard Dean is elected President, Hillary never will be. So the Clintons will do whatever they must to make sure that doesn't happen.")

One of the best friends the Democrats may have in the 2004 election is any sense of invincibility on the part of Republicans. Kaiser and Moore say, "We are whistling past the graveyard if we think Howard Dean will be a pushover. "

To quote from our only president on another subject, "Bring it on."

Guns, Judges, and Aspirin

Clearly, I need to get some more Republican friends. Maybe they could explain to me what goes through the minds of Republican legislators when they make the decisions they do.

Item: Here in Wisconsin, the Republican-controlled legislature has passed a bill that would permit the concealed carrying of weapons in public. This inspired bit of public policy passed even though 70 of the state's 72 county sheriffs--who would presumably know the texture of their own communities and whether it's necessary or advisable for citizens to pack heat--are opposed to it and may exercise the provision in the bill that allows each county to opt out by refusing to issue the required permits. The Democratic leadership in the state Senate found itself ramming through amendments at the eleventh hour to try and make the bill more palatable--for example, you can't take your .44 into a hospital now. They were reduced to this because of the handful of Democrats in the legislature who serve as enablers for whatever Republican legislative pathology is on display at any particular time. (How come it's always Democrats who enable the Republicans and rarely the other way around when Democrats control the legislature?) As a result, Governor Doyle's expected veto may not survive an override.

Supporters of the bill observe that 45 other states have similar laws. But as the police chief of Menasha observed, "Why do we want to model ourselves after others? Why don’t they model themselves after us?" That used to be the very sort of thing we took pride in up here--the progressive state, the Wisconsin Idea, the place other places wanted to be like. The fact that it's no longer true is one of the most shameful legacies of our Republicans since they started taking marching orders from the Shi'ites who have controlled the party nationally for the last 20 years or so. (And, mind you, "shameful Republican legacies" is mighty long list.)

Item: Republicans in the U.S. Senate are holding a highly publicized 30-hour filibuster starting tonight to protest the hideous obstructionism of Democrats who have refused to permit confirmation votes on three of Bush's nominees to the federal bench. Republican leaders have promised to try and bring the three embattled nominees up for a vote in the middle of the night, but nobody thinks they will be successful. They also threaten a vote on the so-called "nuclear option," which would force a change in Senate rules that would essentially destroy the filibuster, a traditional parliamentary tool that Democrats have used to stall the confirmations of Charles Pickering, Priscilla Owen, and Bill Pryor (and the upcoming nominations of Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown). Nobody thinks that will pass, either.

An added side benefit of the judicial "crisis" is the way it lets Republicans play discrimination cards in reverse. Pryor is Catholic, so opposition to his nomination has been portrayed as anti-Catholic. Brown is black, so anybody who opposes her must be a racist. This, of course, is top-class excrement, but to the typical front-page skimming American who has other things to do with his time, it resonates even though it's false, and the Republicans know it.

All in all, this is hypocrisy so majestic that there are scarcely words in English to describe it. The so-called "vacancy crisis" on the federal bench is a sham. Ninety-eight percent of Bush's judicial nominees have been confirmed--a far higher percentage than Bill Clinton ever achieved. But because Democrats don't do the politics of aggrieved righteousness one-tenth as well as Republicans, GOP obstruction of Clinton's nominees was scarcely noticed. And as NPR reported this morning, the goal of this talkathon isn't to confirm these judges--it's to energize the Republican base and make judicial appointments an issue in the 2004 election.

I could go on. No I can't. It's making my head hurt. "Daily Aneurysm," indeed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Everyone's a Shirker

Some people with too much time on their hands blog. Others make Flash animations so damn funny you dare not watch them at work because you'll laugh out loud and be suspected of insufficient dedication.

Of course, in some offices, screwing off off on the job is becoming more difficult than just reading the paper, downloading Salon, or trying to buy concert tickets on Ticketmaster (all of which I did when I was a cubicle inmate), because the technology available for watching you is getting even more sophisticated. And it's not just for factory floor people, or customer service reps chained to headsets. Even people who have grownup jobs with grownup titles and who went to college--and presumably have career choices--are now being treated like characters out of a dystopian novel, like latent shirkers who can't wait to rip off their company by stealing back minutes of their time. Like many "advances," this only looks like an advance to people who aren't subject to its use.

More Evidence of How Great Things Are Going in Iraq

Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer was abruptly summoned home for meetings with the highest administration officials, which are supposed to take place this afternoon. Reuters quotes an official as saying "Some decisions need to be made," and presumed that the issues dealt with Iraq policy.

Well, maybe, and maybe not. Slate reported nearly two months ago that Bremer, in his role as the de facto Iraqi government, may have violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by getting Iraq back into OPEC--a price-fixing cartel that is illegal under U.S. law. NBC News resurrected the story over the weekend, and now Bremer's on the first plane back to Andrews Air Force Base.

Oh yeah, things are going great over there. Repeat after me: Our policy is not in disarray. Our policy is not in disarray…

Tryin' to Get Home

Yesterday I was in my car listening to one of my ubiquitous oldies tapes when Freda Payne's 1971 hit "Bring the Boys Home" came on. The summer of 1971 was relatively late in the Vietnam Era--the antiwar glory days of the 1960s, when bomber jet planes riding shotgun in the sky turned into butterflies above our nation, were fading into cultural lore, replaced by a kind of grim numbness as the war ground on. Millions were still against it, but many of the millions had lost the energy to fight it any longer. So Payne's hit was a little bit out of time even in its time. But as I heard it yesterday, I thought maybe it's found its time again:

Fathers are pleading
Brothers are all alone
Mothers are praying
Send our sons back home
You marched them away
On ships and planes
To a senseless war
Facing death in vain
Bring the boys home
Bring 'em back alive....

Not great poetry, kind of sentimental, but still it kills you at the middle eight:

Can't you see them marching 'cross the sky
All the soldiers that have died
Tryin' to get home
Can't you see them tryin' to get home

I understand that now that we're there, we can't just pack up and leave. As I have written several times before, we have a moral responsibility to do whatever we can to ameliorate the suffering of the Iraqi people, a goodly percentage of which we have caused and continue to cause. But let's remember that every time we hear about another GI or two dying in a rocket attack or getting blown up by a land mine, that it's somebody's son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, friend. They are not--our leaders' actions to the contrary--disposable or the hired help. They are not--our leaders' actions to the contrary--a necessary cost of Halliburton's business.

And let's remember also, that when George W. Bush goes to Arlington today and yammers about sacrifice and how important our veterans are, how his administration put them in harm's way on dubious pretenses and for dubious goals; how he's shortchanging them in his budget; how he tried to cut their hazardous duty pay; and how in many other ways--skipping their funerals, neglecting to send condolences to their families--he makes a lie out of every word he is going to say.

Monday, November 10, 2003

You Keep Me Hangin' On

Today's decision by the Supreme Court to review the status of foreign nationals detained at Guantanamo in the war on terrorism puts pressure squarely on the Supremes again. Lots of legal analysts are smarter than I am, and I'll be eager to read what they have to say about the likely outcome of the review (arguments set for March with a decision by June). But the Guantanamo detainees seem to me to represent a critical fault line in the political divisions in this country at the moment--civil libertarians demand that these foreign nationals receive the rights guaranteed to people by the Constitution, while conservatives and the Bush Administration argue that the Constitution doesn't reach to foreign soil and foreigners, even when they are under American jurisdiction. If the Supreme Court rules for the administration, it will go a long way toward validating Bush's new doctrine of some rights for some people whenever he says so. If it rules against, it's easy to imagine a Constitutional crisis in which the administration simply refuses to obey the Court. In both cases, the decision--which will come in the middle of the 2004 campaign--will energize partisans on both sides. If it goes against the liberals, they will redouble their efforts to throw Bush out; if it goes against the Administration, their supporters will redouble their efforts to reelect Bush to give him a shot at those coveted Court nominees that will change the court's ideological balance.

My first reaction when I heard of the decision to review was that here was an opportunity for more partisan mischief of the sort that got Bush installed three years ago. But now I don't think so. Either way, the Supremes are going to throw a bomb into the campaign summer of 2004.

The Game's Afoot

John Kerry fired his campaign manager last night and replaced him with a veteran Democratic operative. This kind of thing often happens in a presidential campaign, even successful ones--didn't Ronald Reagan fire one of his campaign managers in 1980?--but it signals bad news for Kerry in one way. The story about the sacking is the first one I've seen about Kerry containing the phrase "invigorate his lagging campaign." In one sense, that's lazy reporting. Kerry's campaign is not lagging compared to the real laggards like Lieberman and Edwards--he's running second in New Hampshire and third in Iowa--but in the media echo chamber, perception is more real than reality. And it makes the decision to forego federal matching funds for the campaign--which became nearly inevitable for Kerry once Howard Dean did it--look desperate when it's not, really.

Now that we're getting close to some real action in Iowa and New Hampshire, the pace of the campaign, which junkies have been following for nearly a year, is picking up. It's nearly as much fun watching this as it is watching the NFL on Sundays.

Missing in Action

Joe Biden and other Democrats made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows yesterday suggesting ways for the Bush gang to internationalize operations in Iraq. Biden occasionally seems like a younger version one of those old guys who used to hang around the cracker barrel in Sam Drucker's store in Hooterville. Like those denizens of Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, he's always ready to talk, full of ideas, but ultimately full of something else. While his suggestion that Bush ought to turn Iraq over to a NATO-led council under U.N. control isn't bad, Bush simply won't do it voluntarily. In the LA Weekly, Marc Cooper wonders why the Democrats are content to spin Bidenesque scenarios but then roll over, instead of fighting for another way when they have the administration's nuts in their grasp. He also wonders what's become of the peace movement since the war devolved into debacle. Off dreaming dreamy dreams of Dennis Kucinich, maybe--but missing in action, definitely.

It was nice of Al Gore to decloak himself yesterday and give a major speech on security and the Patriot Act in Washington. He's right, of course. But I can't help wishing he had spoken up two years ago. Now, it's easy for the right to dismiss him as yesterday's news, just another ranting gadfly around the cracker barrel, and for the public to dismiss him witih, "Gee, I remember him. Didn't he run for president a few years ago?"

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Confederate Flap: Stand Firm, Howard Dean

Good piece here from the Los Angeles Times via Alternet on the Confederate flag flap, "from the great-granddaughter of slaves--and slave owners. A civil rights lawyer, no less, who knows full well the toxic pain and pride tangled in all symbols of the slavocracy known as Dixie." Dean was clumsy, but he's right, Constance Rice writes. And she observes that what Dean and the Democrats need to figure out is how to create what Martin Luther King called "a grand alliance" between poor blacks and poor whites to fight back against the corporate plutocracy the Republicans have created.

Yes, that's exactly what needs to happen. Will it? I hope so. Would I bet on it? Not today. As I read the piece, (and another one on Alternet by Michael Moore on Aaron McGruder's comic strip The Boondocks, which talks about the explosiveness of social class as a political issue if somebody could find a way to harness it) I flashed back to my study of the Populist movement, which, in the 1880s and 1890s, attempted to unite rural Americans to strike back against unfair economic conditions and currency policy that favored big business at the expense of small farmers. As their power grew in the Midwest and South, the movement's leaders tried to draw in urban factory workers, reasoning that they were just as oppressed by corporate oligarchs as small farmers and sharecroppers, and had just as much reason to fight.

I have always thought that the tale of the Populists would make a hell of a movie, because it would have so many colorful characters and the stirring drama of an underdog's near miss--the Populists damn near did what they set out to do, and at the height of the most plutocratic era our country has ever known, the Gilded Age. (The best history of it is The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn.) In 1892, their candidate for president pulled 8.5 percent of the national vote and they won seats in Congress and even a governorship or two. In 1894, they elected several more representatives to Congress. But by 1896, the movement had collapsed from the inside.

The collapse of the Populists is a complicated tale and many factors contributed. But it's worth noting that the point at which the Populists ultimately failed was where they needed to make the precise linkage Dr. King would speak of nearly 70 years later. Many poor white voters in the North couldn't make themselves abandon the Party of Lincoln, couldn't stop "voting as they shot" in the Civil War, to make common cause with a party containing ex-Democrats and Southerners, many of whom were black. And many poor white Southerners were unwilling to abandon the Democratic Party, which had done so much to preserve the status of poor whites versus free blacks in the South since Reconstruction. The various groups couldn't recognize their common interests at that moment in history because of their focus on issues of the past that were less important (but still potent). Which is, more or less, what Howard Dean is trying to say by suggesting that guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks should be voting Democratic, but they don't.

A friend who grew up in the South tells me that to create this grand alliance, Dean and the Democrats might start by talking about job creation, improving schools, sensible gun control, and "not sending bubbas to fight for nothin'." That's enough for a start, maybe. It's hard to see that alone making it happen.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Doctor Out, Conniptions Ensue

It's utterly no surprise that Howard Dean has opted out of public financing of his presidential campaign. It's the only sensible thing to do, with the Democrats facing the likelihood that they will be drowned by Bush's quarter-billion dollar war chest. As I wrote earlier this week, the choice whether to accept or opt out of public funding was a choice between sure defeat and a possible defeat, which made it easy for me, and about 85 percent of the Dean faithful who voted for opting out.

The rest of the Democrats with the exceptions of Kerry and Clark have already said they will accept public financing. Dean himself said he would at one point in the campaign, but his change of heart represents a recognition of the reality of Campaign 2004: that Bush has more money than God, and that if the Democrats are going to be heard at all, they need money of their own to compete.

Dennis Kucinich's bleat on his website is typical. In a press release, Kucinich says, "The end of public financing means a tighter grip on the political process by special interests. Howard Dean has called for the people to take back America. His attempt to kill public financing will take back America--for the corporations."

That's, of course, is not really the point. The point is being able to stay competitive with Bush during six critical months of the campaign. The alternative that Kucinich supports means having NO money to campaign between March and September while Bush can spend as much as he wants. In that scenario, there's no point in running a campaign at all, because the Democratic nominee, whoever he is--even the simon-pure Congressman from Ohio--is going to lose and lose badly in November.

If Kucinich (and the other five Democrats who have made a similar pact with political death) would rather take public funds and thus lose the election than forego them in order to have a chance to win, then they ought to admit that they're running vanity campaigns and stop taking up space on stage with the serious candidates.

In Which I Say Nice Things About Ronald Reagan for the First Time Maybe Ever

William Wineke has written a column for the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison since I was a kid. I don't see him often anymore, but his is the kind of column I would like to get paid to write--about whatever strikes his fancy in a particular week, about someone he met, a story he heard, or a tip he received. Today he writes about the cancellation of the CBS miniseries The Reagans, and says: "It's a strange thing about one part of the conservative movement: The more power it gets, the more fearful it becomes of any dissenting view. Which was not at all the case with the real Ronald Reagan, who didn't seem at all intimidated by the idea someone might disagree with him."

Indeed, it's hard to imagine Reagan getting as upset by the miniseries flap as the cultural warriors fighting for his honor have. In screeching for the miniseries' cancellation, they've shown again their desire to silence anything that doesn't conform to their narrow conception of what's acceptable for fear it will disrupt their lockstep march toward perfect conformity. But Ronald Reagan was not a soldier in their war. While he spoke openly of Christian faith and American values, he did not seem pathologically obsessed with imposing those values on others. Instead, he spoke of them as if they were natural and worthwhile, something people around the world would come to as a matter of common sense if only they were shown the way. That's vastly different from the current breed of Shi'ite Republicans, who believe in using force and coercion to impose their beliefs, which they could get past very few people in a fair fight.

I never voted for Reagan and I didn't like him much--I believed then and now that he should have been impeached for Iran-Contra--but I never saw in him the shallowness of Bush or the ruthless venality of Cheney and Rumsfeld. As Wineke observes, Reagan led by talking about hope, and you could see he believed what he said. Maybe, says the cynic in me, it was his training as an actor, but I really don't think so. When Bush talks about hope, it sounds false. You can see in his eyes that what motivates him most of all is fear. When it comes to inspiring Americans to achieve the best in ourselves as a people, George W. Bush couldn't be less like Ronald Reagan.

Some conservatives believe that Bush is completing the Reagan Revolution. I don't think Reagan, the ex-New Deal Democrat, would have gone so far. And if Reagan were on the ballot with Bush, I'd vote for Reagan--even with the Alzheimer's.

Friday, November 07, 2003

A Royal Rumor

Here's one of the odder stories you'll ever read, but one with potential to end up monstrously large. Reading between the lines of the story linked above, and others from the BBC and the Guardian, it seems possible that Britain's Prince Charles is about to be publicly accused of engaging in a homosexual act several years ago with a royal valet. British media isn't allowed to come right out and say so because of strict libel laws, although one paper was ready to do so last Sunday before a court ordered it to desist.

Not that the British haven't had their homosexual or bisexual royals before. It's said that when James I succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603, the following joke made the rounds in London: Rex fuit Elizabeth: nunc est regina Jacobus--"Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen." (Yep, the great translator of the Bible was apparently gay, although there are dozens of Christian websites that try to disprove or deny the possibility.) And even a casual reading of British history shows that the love which dare not speak its name has always been spoken of in one place or another.

It seems pretty clear that the story is going to come out eventually, somehow, if not through the British press, then via some other route. And if it does, you have to wonder what becomes of Prince Charles afterward. Would modern Britain accept a king about whom such allegations were swirling? Or would Charles be forced to give up his place in line to his son, the far-more-popular Prince William? Beats the hell out of me. What's most fascinating about this is the amount of ink and pixels spilled across the British Commonwealth today without ever revealing exactly what everyone is talking about.

Name that Cabinet

Paul Krugman's column this morning analyzes the Howard Dean Confederate flag flap for what it was--a poor choice of words obliterating the essential truth of the remark. Many white Southerners are getting their asses kicked by Republican policy but they keep voting Republican anyway thanks to coded racist appeals.

And on the national stage, it's not just racist appeals that work to get many Southerners to fall in line against the Democrats. You can bet the house on the fact that we'll hear a lot of "northeastern liberal" talk next fall if either Dean or Kerry gets the nomination. It'll be the Dukakisizing of the Democrat all over again--and it's little better than bigotry, too.

Washing up in the surf this morning is Intervention Magazine, the Internet successor to a print magazine founded in the early 80s to criticize American intervention in Central America. The site is extremely rich with news analysis, book reviews, and humor pieces. Start here, with editor Stewart Nusbaumer's analysis of bleeding-heart conservatives who believe in what they used to accuse liberals of doing--throwing money at problems, or one of Mick Youther's commentaries. Youther's stuff is pretty interesting--he juxtaposes quotes and soundbites to make sharp points about his subjects, like this one on the value of fear to the Bush Administration, or this one about Rush Limbaugh and the war on drugs.

(The latter contains a snippet of a Reuters report from May 1998 that so funny I can hardly believe anyone actually said it, or that a wire service deigned to report it: "House Republicans Thursday unveiled a package of bills to combat drug abuse and vowed to make America virtually drug-free by 2002.")

Of course, you can say ridiculous things in public in America because Americans aren't all that smart about some things. Take, for example, naming cabinet departments. A new poll came out this week saying that 58 percent of Americans can't name a single department of the Cabinet--even when the poll gave them credit for coming up with names like Colin Powell or Donald Rumsfeld without mentioning a department. Only four percent of respondents could name more than five. With the poll's margin of error at plus-or-minus 3.5, that means it's theoretically possible that NO American can name more than five Cabinet departments.

The official name of the poll is the "Shocking Poll," however, so its goal is to come up with some kind of outrageous result. The last "Shocking Poll" apparently found that twice as many Americans can name Snap, Crackle, and Pop as the three characters on the Rice Krispies box than can name all nine Supreme Court justices--which I would not have needed a poll to tell you.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Abortion Law May Trigger Election Fight

We are always hearing about conservative groups gearing up to do battle against what they perceive as evil and promising to smite their evildoing opponents with righteous thunderbolts of political payback. So it's refreshing to read the piece by veteran AP reporter Tom Raum, linked above, that talks about liberals gearing up for payback over the partial-birth abortion bill.

Liberals are not nearly so good as conservatives at tapping into outrage and turning it into mobilization energy, but we're learning. And we'd better. Even though they got what they wanted, conservatives are now up in arms because two judges, one in Nebraska and one in New York, have put the abortion law on hold. This thing is certainly headed for the Supreme Court, and probably during the current term. And should they lose there (likely, because the Court previously threw out a similar Nebraska law), it will only make them hungrier for a Supreme Court appointment, thus ensuring that every last one of them will go and pull the lever for Bush in hopes of getting him four more years.

Speaking of the Supremes, Pat Robertson didn't get his wish this summer--a vacancy on the Court. But maybe we liberals ought to start praying for one to occur next summer. As Raum notes, nobody on Bush's team is wild to see the battle royal over a vacancy fall during the summer of an election year. It would put Bush in a fairly bad box. His conservative base expects a staunch anti-abortion nominee that would overturn Roe v. Wade, but the appointment of such a candidate would touch off a firestorm in the Senate, both over the nominee him- or herself and the filibuster rules the minority can use to hold up business. Said firestorm would make Bush and the Republicans looks lots more radical than they want to look with an election coming on.


George W. Bush is going to sign the $87.5 billion Iraq/Afghanistan appropriation today. I wish people would quit calling it "money to rebuild," because less than 25 percent of it goes for reconstruction. The bulk of it goes for continuing military operations--to a certain extent, blowing more stuff up.

In recent days, the administration's Iraq sweetheart deals with companies like Halliburton and Bechtel have come in for increased scrutiny. Which makes it interesting that Senate Republicans removed language from the final Iraq appropriations bill that would have banned profiteering from the war. The Hill reports that many Republicans supported the bill, but the leadership removed it on orders from the White House.

Christ, they're not even trying to hide it anymore.

Today's a critical day for the Howard Dean campaign. After another Meetup last night, supporters are energized again. Plus, today's the day we vote on whether the campaign should accept federal matching funds or not. But we're also keeping a wary eye on the news to see if the blowup over Dean's Confederate flag remark dies down. As of this moment, it's about 24 hours old, which is about the normal lifespan of one of these campaign tempests. If people are still talking about it 24 hours from now (anybody apart from the wingnuts), we've got a significant problem.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

OK, That Explains It

I should have known. Yesterday I posted about a Washington Times piece on the cultural evil of pornography. Turns out the piece was timed (more or less) to coincide with yet another White House PR campaign--"Protection from Pornography Week," which was actually last week. I suppose it says something about the broad significance of such nonsense that these events (like last month's "Marriage Protection Week") tend to slip under the radar of most normal people, people who have jobs and hobbies and hearts and sex lives and senses of humor, proportion, and justice. But the proliferation of such events also speaks volumes about the Bush Administration's true consituency and that constituency's true agenda, as Mark Morford explains in his usual gonzo style.

Here at the Daily Aneurysm, every week is "Protection from Gibbering Right-Wing Idiots Week."

Wednesday Morning Surf

On this November meetup day, there's e-mail in my box from Howard Dean, who's asking his supporters to decide whether the campaign should accept federal matching funds or not. Federal matching funds are intended to keep playing fields level between candidates. Those who accept federal funds must accept a spending cap in exchange. Those who don't can spend as much as they want. The "choice" Dean is asking his supporters to make is actually between possible defeat and sure defeat. The Bush campaign doesn't take federal money, so no Democrat dares take it, lest he be outspent even worse than he's going to be anyhow. So Dean has to decline federal funding and try to raise the money at the grass roots.

While I was at the Dean for America site just now, I read some comments on last night's debate from supporters across the country. The Confederate flag issue was the hottest one. Most posters either criticized John Edwards for his stridency on the issue (Edwards told Dean, "We don't need you coming down here and telling those people [flying Confederate flags] what to do") or criticized Dean for mishandling the issue. I'm left with two impressions--one, that rank and file Deansters won't be happy at the idea of Edwards as Dean's running mate (at least until this debate is forgotten), and two, that Dean supporters generally gave Dean a better grade for the debate than I did.

(Best comment: one poster observed that Wesley Clark and Dennis Kucinich both wore jackets with black turtlenecks underneath. "Kucinich looked like Clark's Mini-Me.")

If you're not subscribing to MoveOn.org's Daily Misleader e-mail, you should be. Then I wouldn't have to link to today's outrage. On Monday, Bush told an audience in Alabama that his tax cuts would help people find work, but the fact is that the economy has lost 2.75 million jobs on his watch. Along the same lines, TomPaine.com's latest "op-ad" deals with the supposed economic turnaround. For more details on the statistics in the op-ad, click here.

And finally, as if regular readers of this feature need any more evidence to know how important it is that we throw as many Republicans out of office as possible as soon as possible, there's this story that Republicans in Congress have pressured the National Institutes of Health to start checking up on public health researchers who work with gays, sexually active teens, and prostitutes. (Click the link and wait; the site makes you look at a subscription solicitation before going to the story.) The researchers are being asked to describe the "public benefits" of their work, inevitably with an eye toward cutting NIH funding for those that offend the morals of Republicans. So here's more junk politics where politics doesn't belong--like the junk science that says global warming is a myth, the junk science of creationism, and the junk social policy of abstinence-only sex education programs. Once the list became public, NIH stopped contacting researchers--like cockroaches when you hit them with light, the Republicans pushing this idea went skittering for the baseboards as fast as they could.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Rockin' With the Big Eight

Some quick hit, before-the-credit-roll-is-done impressions of America Rocks the Vote, a Democratic candidates' forum on CNN tonight:

Most impressive: Kerry and Lieberman. They seemed the most consistently at ease with the mostly student audience. Lieberman especially surprised me--he had to be conscious of being the oldest person in the room, but didn't try to be cooler-than-thou (unlike CNN itself, which seemed self-consciously trying to be cutting edge with its graphics, camera angles, and musical transitions in and out of sponsor breaks). Kerry got pitched a softball right off the bat--"If you were manager of the Red Sox, would you have left Pedro Martinez in to pitch in game six [of the recent American League playoff against the Yankees]?"--which gave him time to get comfortable and kept him affable all night.

Least impressive: Dean and Edwards. Dean was tentative, defensive, and uncomfortable. He got off to a bad start when the other candidates ganged up on him over his remark that Southerners flying Confederate flags in their pickup trucks should be voting Democratic, which turned into twin accusations that Dean stereotypes Southerners and accepts a racist symbol. He didn't recover much until the end, when he got the chance to explain his states' rights position on gun control. For his part, Edwards simply seems like a lightweight out of his league, trying to channel Bill Clinton's slick Southern-ness without a fraction of Clinton's intellect.

Most eloquent: Clark, Braun. They weren't very specific about anything, but they sure spoke well.

Best joke: When asked what would be going through his mind on his first day in the White House, Al Sharpton said he'd want to make sure Bush got all his stuff out and change the locks so none of the current crowd could get back in.

Most interesting moment: Right at the end, when an e-mailer asked which candidates would be willing to admit whether they'd used drugs in the past. Moderator Anderson Cooper modified the question to ask about their past use of marijuana. Yes: Kerry, Edwards, Dean. No: Kucinich, Sharpton, Clark, Lieberman. Refused to answer: Braun.

Missing from the stage: Gephardt.

All in all, a rockin' good 90 minutes, and a pretty decent job by Anderson Cooper, who didn't insist on being the star of the show.

I still believe Bush will try to duck debates entirely next fall, because tonight's event made clear that if the Democrat is to win the 2004 race, it may be won on the debate stage. Challengers often seem to lack stature when sharing a stage with The Leader of the Free World, but that may not be as much of an issue this time because Bush seems so badly overmatched by the role. At least five of the eight would match up well with no problem. Exceptions may be Lieberman, who seems too kindly to hold Bush firmly to account, and Edwards and Kucinich, whose lack of personal gravitas would show up even when matched against someone as personally inconsequential as Bush. (Has anyone else noticed that Kucinich looks like a young Mr. Spock?) The key for the Democrat will be to modulate his performance carefully--calling Bush out and leaving him no place to hide from his disastrous record, but at the same time seeming neither shrill nor disrespectful, and projecting competence without seeming smarter than the average voter. (Nobody said it would be easy.)

Even if Bush does deign to debate, you can bet that there is no way in hell his advisors will allow him to participate in a forum like the one on CNN tonight. In a loosely structured give and take with live questioners, any of the eight Democrats would leave Bush gasping for air and exposed as an empty suit.

Hand Me the Remote, Sweetie

Well, it's about 5:00 here, and time to put aside work and turn on the TV. CBS has bagged its miniseries The Reagans, swearing with a straight face that it has nothing to do with conservative complaints about its content.

In other news, the water in my basement has nothing to do with the rain outside.

Elsewhere, today's Washington Times contains a piece (which may be the wrong word) by Dave Berg on the growing acknowledgement of pornography by mainstream TV, citing the Fox series Skin (which has already been cancelled) and various HBO and Showtime projects in the works. Because this is the Washington Times, Berg takes a condemnatory tone, laments the current lack of cultural influence by such icons of virtue as Bill Bennett and Rush Limbaugh (who, Berg says, "have been weakened for now") and in the end, blames the increased influence of porn in the culture on Bill Clinton. But before Berg goes off the rails into conservative dogma-land, his cultural analysis is pretty interesting. But I'd note that acknowledgement is not the same as acceptance of pornography--porn star Jenna Jameson may get TV gigs based on her porn-star status, but her films are not going to be shown on network TV anytime soon.

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course, Of Course

Since Wesley Clark entered the presidential race, some people have speculated that he's just a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton, who would presumably swoop into the race at the last minute to save the Democratic Party. James Ridgeway of the Village Voice claims today that the campaign to nominate Hillary is gaining momentum, and that her fortunes rise as Bush's fall. Well, maybe that's how it looks in New York, but I don't detect any great clamor for Hillary out here in the provinces just yet, despite Ridgeway's numbers from the Quinnipiac poll that show her with 43 percent national support among Democrats if she were to run, compared to 10 for Clark, eight for Lieberman and Gephardt, and seven for Dean and Kerry. Nevertheless, I don't think Hillary will run unless the Democratic convention is deadlocked after a couple of ballots, which is unlikely.

Ridgeway reports on the "hyperventilating" of the right as they see--mostly, at this point, imagine--the specter of Hillary looming over the race. Hillary hatred on the right went far beyond reasonable political disagreement into rabid psychosis years ago, to the point at which I honestly fear for her life should she try to make the race. I'm just guessing, but maybe Hillary's people share this fear, and think that maybe 2008 would be safer. In any event, Hillary's failure to run so far gives the lie to Republican characterizations of her as a creature of pure political ambition. The race is on and the fight is now, and if she were the amoral beast she's made out to be, wouldn't she be in it by now?

In another Mondo Washington post, Ridgeway reports that an anonymous celebrity caller dropped in on C-SPAN the other morning to report on her experiences visiting soldiers wounded in Iraq.

Election Day

Today's election day in various cities around the country, and governorships are on the ballot in Kentucky and Mississippi. While it's easy to characterize the gubernatorial elections as "bellwethers" for the presidential race next fall, they may not be bellwethers in the way most people think. The 2004 election is going to be a referendum on Iraq, and neither Kentucky nor Mississippi has a foreign policy (even if they do seem like foreign countries to a Wisconsin Yankee). But they are bellwethers in the sense that they reveal Republican strategy for 2004.

In Kentucky, Democrat Ben Chandler is criticizing his Republican opponent, Congressman Ernie Fletcher, for supporting economic policies that have cost jobs in the state. Fletcher, meanwhile, is somehow arguing that Chandler should not be governor because the current governor, Democrat Paul Patton, was involved in a sex scandal. That presumably makes sense to Republicans, but precisely how is unclear to me. In Mississippi, Republican hack Haley Barbour is outspending incumbent Ronnie Musgrove, who is handicapped by having to run on his record during a time when Republican policies served to tank the economy in his state.

So here's what we'll see all around the country from Republicans in 2004: Reflect talk of issues that can kill you by talking about morality wherever you can, spend as much money as you can, and blame your opponents entirely for what you are at least partially responsible for. Unless Fletcher and Barbour lose. Then there's always fear of terrorists to fall back on.

"Blueprint for a Mess"

The blogosphere has been buzzing since Sunday about David Rieff's piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, "Blueprint for a Mess," which tells the story of planning for the Iraq war and its aftermath.

One of its heroes is Thomas Warrick, an officer in the State Department, who fought hard for a postwar Iraq that would be democratic and inclusive of all ethnic, religious, and political groups by involving them in the planning. The CIA believed that setting up a democratic Iraq would be difficult or impossible. The neocons in the White House took the opposite view, that it would happen like magic when Dick Cheney's boy Ahmed Chalabi was installed in power. Warrick's group at State charted a sensible middle way--build Iraqi democracy by giving everybody a stake in it. (Which is what democracy is, after all.)

Warrick's group also predicted the possibility of postwar chaos unless the war's aftermath was carefully planned for. Warrick's work impressed Jay Garner, the retired general first appointed to oversee the reconstruction of Iraq (and another American official who looks like a hero now that the whole thing has gone to shit). Garner asked that Warrick be assigned to his team. The Defense Department refused to allow it, and Donald Rumsfeld told Garner to ignore Warrick's entire 13-volume report--which forced Garner and his team to start postwar planning from scratch, on the fly.

Although administration officials promised Congress that postwar planning was taking place in a coordinated manner, it was haphazard at best and at worst, nonexistent. Rieff reports that the Third Infantry Division, which helped secure the Baghdad airport, was given no guidance or orders from superiors on what to do in what the Pentagon calls "Phase IV" of the Iraq operation, the stability and support phase after combat--a fact the division made clear (and criticized) in its own after-action report. Such paralysis kept American troops from being able to do anything about the looting of Iraq in the days after the fall of Saddam.

Rieff also reports that Garner was fired by the Bush administration and replaced by Paul Bremer, the current proconsul in Iraq. (The administration spun the move as a planned one, but it was news to Garner and his staff when it happened.) Garner had refused to disband the Iraqi army, preferring instead to root out the officers and soldiers most complicit in Saddam's crimes but to keep the rest intact to be used as laborers on reconstruction projects, thus giving them badly needed jobs in a country whose economy was destroyed. But that didn't fly with the neocons, who wanted all elements of Saddam's Baath Party purged from Iraqi society, period. So it was Bremer, reportedly on orders from the White House, who disbanded the 450,000-strong Iraqi army. One U.S. official told Rieff, "That was the week we made 450,000 enemies on the ground in Iraq."

Rieff's report is a vital document for understanding where we are in Iraq at the moment and how we got there. It didn't have to be this way. But it will stay this way as long as leading administration officials continue to cover their eyes and stopper their ears whenever the truth comes buzzing around their heads--just as Rieff demonstrates they did before the war, and have done since it began.

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