Wednesday, March 31, 2004

This Just In
You can hear Air America by clicking here. I've got Al Franken on right now, although there seems to be a lot of traffic and the stream keeps breaking down. Nevertheless, go Al. Bob Kerrey from the 9/11 commission and Michael Moore are both scheduled to appear on Franken's show. (What do you bet Michael Moore ends up doing a show on the network at some point?)

"Pot? Kettle Here. You're Black"
Here's a piece by a right-wing talk show host Lowell Ponte that's funny, but not for the reasons Ponte intended--classic double-standard, straw-man nonsense about why Air America won't work, and why it's intellectually, politically, and financially dishonest. So Air America is bad because it won't offer principled criticism of John Kerry, and because it might try to advance the prospects of the Democratic Party? Why, no broadcast outlet has ever done that kind of thing in the history of the Republic. Surely not Rush, or Fox News. They must not be doing what it looks like while they're down on their knees in front of George W. Bush.

Ponte's column does reveal the identity of the Madisonian helping to bankroll the network--Terry Kelly, who founded the Weather Central network, which provides forecasts to radio and TV stations and newspapers. Another Madison native, David Goodfriend, helped pull the investor group together. So you gotta think the network will get on up here at some point. Right now, stations have to take the entire network feed, and not just individual programs, which is going to limit the network's growth at first. Still, the investors are ready to lose money for at least two years, which is about the depth-of-pockets required to make it with a new broadcast venture.

I've had no luck finding Air America live on the Internet this morning. WLIB in New York is reportedly going to carry the network, but as of 7:30 it was still streaming its Caribbean hits (!) format on its website. Only one of the other stations carrying the network even has a website. (And Air America's own website, once you get past the slick front page, is disturbingly clunky.) The small number of small stations carrying the network's debut is cause for great amusement among conservatives--as if Limbaugh started on 500 stations when he first went on the air.

Recommended reading: I was on the road yesterday, teaching a class at a high school. I noticed the big car parked in the district superintendent's space--and the Bush/Cheney 04 sticker on the bumper. I should find the supe's e-mail address and send him yesterday's Progress Report squib on the latest retooling of No Child Left Behind. It's hard for me to imagine anybody running a school system, particularly a small, rural one, who could look at the wreck that is NCLB and think, "Yep, four more years of that is just what my district needs."

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Air That We Breathe
The only thing I ever seriously wanted to be in my life was a radio guy, from the time I was 11 years old. I got over it, though. Now, I've been out of the business on a full-time basis (10 years) almost as long as I was in it (12 years). I used to miss it some, but I don't miss it much at all anymore. The industry I fell in love with as a kid is not the same one that exists today. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, it's a long, plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run wild and good men die like dogs. Nevertheless, I do miss radio a little right now. That's because tomorrow is launch day for Air America, the new liberal talk-radio network. Although I was never a talk show host, I'd like to be a part of this. The network has hired some funny, opinionated people as its on-air hosts--Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, rapper Chuck D., and Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead--as well as a dozen comedy writers to keep the material flowing. It's a promising lineup (although some of the programming announced for off-hours and weekends sounds pretty snore-inducing, exactly like a conservative parody of what liberal talk would be). The goal is to create an alternative to the gazillion hours of conservative bilge pumped over the airwaves every day.

Honesty compels me to observe that the odds against Air America's success are pretty steep, though. For one thing, many liberals have a congenital need to see varying points of view, which works against one of the cardinal rules of successful talk--the need for a host to have a consistent point of view, and to always give listeners what they expect. Also, it might be argued, we liberals are out in the world doing things with our days instead of sitting home in a bunker reading Guns and Ammo and listening to AM radio. And some liberals shun commercial media altogether (how many conservatives do you know who claim to listen only to NPR and don't own a TV set?).

Other challenges facing Air America include skepticism about how many advertisers will want to get on a network that might suggest now and then that unfettered capitalism is not necessarily a good idea. And you can bet that the conservative attack machine will whip up mail, fax, and phone campaigns against advertisers who do get on board, and against radio stations daring to carry the network.

Air America is gaining clearances mostly in major markets--it will be on the air on small stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minneapolis tomorrow. It will also be on satellite radio from coast to coast. The Air America website makes no mention of streaming audio over the Internet, but let's hope they do, for those of us in places that can't hear it. (No Madison station has plans to carry it at the moment. It's been reported that one of the major investors is a Madisonian, but his/her identity is unknown.)

It's hard to imagine Air America ever gaining much of a foothold outside urban areas, though. By its very nature, it seems unlikely to fly in places like Liberal, Kansas, or Rushville, Illinois, where the number of interested listeners would never reach critical mass. In the end, Air America isn't going to find success by shaving off slices of the conservative-dominated talk-radio pie. Its listeners will have to come from that portion of the population not already listening to talk, or those not listening to the radio at all.

All of us liberal types have a stake in the success of Air America--if it fails, the triumphant chortling from Rush, Liddy, O'Reilly, and the rest will be audible without a radio. As annoying as that would be, what's worse is that the network's failure would be perceived as mass public rejection of liberalism. Even though that's too much to lay on something like a radio network, perception is reality, especially after a trip through the echo chamber.

Monday, March 29, 2004

If this is true, we would have all the proof necessary that Richard Clarke is telling the truth and the White House has run out of ideas to refute it--and further damning evidence of the utterly amoral viciousness of the Bush gang.

Also today, Daily Kos has analysis of Bill Frist's request that Clarke's classified briefing be made public. Kos notes that Clarke's agreement with Frist represents a call of the bluff. "Nothing like playing politics with classified information to discredit an opponent," Kos says. "Exactly the sort of thinking that brought us the Plame Affair."

Back when I was a corporate drone, I once staked out the company men's room in hopes of catching the CEO for an "impromptu" or "accidental" conversation about a product I was working on. The stakeout fell to me because I was the only man on my product team, and it would be easier to catch the CEO in the head than at the copier, which was the only option open to the women of the group. And it worked. But last week at the Democrats' unity dinner in DC, Kos encountered an even more august personage in the same kind of place.

Thumping Nonsense
Gimme a break. The most Bible-thumping admininstration in the history of the Republic is criticizing John Kerry for quoting the Bible in a speech? When he's speaking in a church? What planet is this?

On Atlantic Unbound, Jack Beatty has as harsh a piece as I've seen lately assessing the influence of Bush's religious faith on his presidency. Even if the people around Bush don't share the specifics of his faith, they certainly take advantage of its ethos--to quote St. Paul, as Beatty does, policy is driven "by the evidence of things unseen" and "the evidence of things hoped for."

I have little comment on Condi Rice's 60 Minutes appearance other than to say you could have predicted nearly everything she would say before she said it. The Progress Report debunked much of it. One thing, though--she should quit talking about how "disappointed" she is that she can't testify. Nobody with a clue believes that. Not even Republican partisans.

This morning on Best of the Blogs: Worthwhile Reading for Recovering Deaniacs.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

When Heirs Canoodle
Recent polling says that at the moment, something like 87 percent of Republicans plan to vote for Bush in November. But seven months is a long time, and many Republicans are growing more disturbed by the administration's rightward march, its fiscal irresponsibility, and now, the growing scandal over its mishandling of the Al Qaeda threat in favor of canoodling with Iraq. In Salon, Michele Goldberg and Paul J. Caffera wrote about some of them. It's not just old-line moderate Rockefeller Republicans who are concerned, but even some Goldwater disciples who think Bush and company have gone too far. Some discontented Republicans are ready to throw in with John Kerry. How many more will be ready to do it in the privacy of the voting booth on November 2 can't be known yet.

What also can't be known yet is how big a rebellion would have to take place in the Republican Party to moderate the Bush/DeLay wing. It isn't easy to figure. These guys think God gives them their orders, and for the last 2,000 years, people like them have been happy to kill their erstwhile allies if they sense the taint of heresy. But if Karl Rove is as savvy a political animal as lots of people think, he might be able to find a way to make political common sense seem like divine revelation. Although as Ann Lewis wrote on the Gadflyer, maybe Rove ain't so smart after all.

If you're not familiar with the Gadflyer yet--and I wasn't, until this morning--it's a new website/magazine founded by Tom Schaller, a political science professor who was a correspondent for Daily Kos during the Democratic primaries. The site launched just two weeks ago, and it looks mighty promising. To take another example, there's this piece by Sean Aday on the headlines written about the 9/11 commission hearings this past week. If you read headlines (or heard brief news summmaries) alone, they left you with the impression that the hearings showed that both the Bush and Clinton White Houses must share blame for September 11. But that wasn't the real story--the commission was much harder on Bush witnesses like Powell and Rumsfeld than it was on Clinton witnesses.

Aday gets at the nut of the problem we've seen with the media in this country during the Bush years: "[J]ournalism's adherence to the ideal of objectivity and its reliance on 'two-sided' reporting make it structurally weak in the face of official mendacity. Reporters are taught that they are supposed to achieve balance at all costs and have difficulty when the scales are tipped in one direction, much less when one side is lying outright." We still have trouble getting their our minds around the idea that our leaders might be overtly trying to deceive us--even when it's clear that they are, the habits we learned in civics class take over, and we can't believe the heirs to Washington and Lincoln could act that way. But we forget--they're Nixon's heirs, too.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Have a Beer to Honor One Year
This weekend marks the first anniversary of this blog as a daily or semi-daily feature. I started posting occasional topical rants to my website in February 2003, but it wasn't until Best of the Blogs put me on its blogroll late in March that updating daily became a priority. Then, in October, I started working at home and switched to Blogspot, and the thing has become an obsession--the most serious hobby I've ever had. I find myself composing in the shower, while driving the car--almost anytime I'm away from my computer. Maybe I'm a little too serious about it.

Around New Year's, I did a recap of some of my favorite 2003 posts. If you missed it, go here to read it. Here are some of my favorite bits so far in 2004:

January 5: "It occurs to me that the Atkins diet--which lets participants eat a lot of meat and shuns vegetables, yogurt, fruit, and bread--is the perfect diet for the American psyche at this moment in history. . . . Hummers and phonics, baby--back to basics, by-god red meat. Yes indeed, the food that fueled the winning of the west will fuel the winning of the Middle East. You think they serve yogurt in the Defense Department cafeteria, sissy boy?"

January 23: "Cheney has crossed the line into drooling gooberhood lately. . . . But even if he's showing signs of senility, he's almost certainly on the ticket to stay. If he was replaced (by Ashcroft? Bill Frist? Rick Santorum?) for 2004, that person would become the automatic Repug heir apparent for 2008, and the Bush family wants to keep the chair warm for Jeb. So Cheney will stick, even if they have to hook him up to a car battery and crank him every morning."

January 26: "If the short term is our only focus, we'll never have the big conversation we need to have about the long term--and what Bush is all about is the long term, big dreams for dismantling government, installing empire, regulating morality, and unfettering corporations, in big, irrevocable terms. Bush is talking about another American Revolution, one from inside. The prophets of this revolution have been patient in waiting to make it happen, some since the days of Barry Goldwater. If their ideas aren't challenged and defeated with better ideas over the next four or eight years, they can simply wait out the Kerry or Edwards administration and start up again down the road. William F. Buckley once said that it is the responsibility of conservatives to stand athwart history and yell 'Stop!' But that's really what Democrats have to do with recent history and what it portends about the long term."

February 3: "The Janet episode has everything Americans love most--the chance to spew moral outrage at big targets (rock music, youth culture, TV, celebrities), the opportunity to look all concerned and involved without actually having to think too hard, and, of course, tits."

February 8: "[Bush claimed] not to have known Kerry at Yale, where Kerry was two years ahead of him and they were both members of Skull and Bones--and said of the fall campaign, 'I look forward to a good campaign. I know exactly where I want to lead the country.' (This caused me to sourly remark to the Mrs. that he must have found Shit Creek on a map.)"

February 29: "Sometimes you just gotta step back and survey the spectacular panorama that lies before us. The evidence is growing that Bush doesn't give a damn whether he alienates significant segments of his own core base of support. He's far more interested in placating the triumphalist, hardcore Christian wing of it--the sort of people who think Jesus is coming back any minute now, and that he'll be waving the American flag and driving a Hummer when he does. Meanwhile, secular conservatives are finding themselves left behind just like we godless liberal pukes are."

March 9: "The anti-Kerry left is essentially insisting that if they can't have everything they want, right down to bomber jet planes turning into butterflies above our nation, they don't want anything at all. . . . 'Let Bush get reelected,' they say. 'Then people will see how bad things can get, and they'll be more interested in voting for us next time.' Which is the same thing the Naderite left said in 2000. They were right about one thing--we've seen how bad things can get--but wrong about the other thing. Given what's happened since 2000, shouldn't a candidate more to their liking have gotten more traction this time?"

I am deeply grateful to everybody who bothers to read this bilge on a regular or semi-regular basis, and to those who have forwarded either links from the site or word of the site's existence to other potential readers. Just how many readers I have is not entirely clear. My site statistics indicate that I get 20-some visits per day on average, which is not very many, and might be even less than it seems, should some people visit more than once. I know who many of you are--my old friends Karen, Greta, and John, thank you very much. If you're lurking and have never posted a comment, please check in. Just a hello will suffice. If you want to tell me where you are, I'd be interested in knowing. (The site stats show visitors from all four time zones in the continental U.S.) If you prefer private e-mail to public comments, use bartlettweblog@yahoo.com. And if you read regularly and have your own website, I'd appreciate a link on your site. You'll get one back in "I Link You Link Me" on the right side of my page.

My thanks to all.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Fire and Ice
One fine day over 10 years ago, I got into a shouting match at work with one of my colleagues, a guy who was ostensibly supposed to report to me but never really accepted the fact. It was the ugliest such incident in my working life. Each of us broke out a full barrage of obscenities, and although it didn't come to blows, it certainly could have. After discussing the incident with my boss--the owner of the place all of us worked in--he told me that as long as the guy apologized to me, there would be no repercussions. "With all due respect," I asked the owner, "what does somebody have to do to get fired around here?"

And one might ask the same question about the Bush Admininstration. The only high-ranking people ever fired have been people who told the truth, or who turned out to be right about something the administration preferred to portray otherwise. Among them were Anthony Zinni, the Middle East envoy who said there were more important things over there than Iraq; Larry Lindsay, who said the Iraq war would cost more than the administration was estimating; and Paul O'Neill, the treasury secretary who dared to criticize Bush's tax cuts. This track record probably means that Condoleezza Rice is safe, despite the firestorm that's blown up around her in the last 24 hours. MoveOn.org has launched a phone campaign in hopes of pressuring the White House to make her testify before the 9/11 commission. A centerpiece of their campaign is another of the Center for American Progress' "Claim vs. Fact" analyses, which shows in clinical detail Rice's grave credibility problem. In days of yore, such a record would have observers setting up betting pools on the date and time of her resignation. (Imagine if she were a Democrat.) As it is, all an observer can do now is marvel at the ability of Bush's supporters to keep shoveling manure, all the while pretending it's merely fertilizer for the roses.

In the blizzard of information about Richard Clarke this week, it's been widely reported that he resigned from the administration in April 2003 after despairing at its ideology-driven, reality-ignoring prosecution of the war on terror. But he's not the only veteran public servant who's left the administration, as Harold Meyerson wrote this week. The Bush partisans who attack Clarke as a Democratic tool fail to note that he's a registered Republican. As Meyerson observes, losing officials who are not political antagonists represents a bigger problem for Bush than if the disappearing officials were Democrats.

Recommended reading: Now it can be told, straight from the Hard Drive of Allah--jihadists want four more years of Bush.

Impeachment 3.0
Gee, I wonder how long it's going to be before the Bush Administration comes up with something to divert our attention from the explosive revelations of Richard Clarke--because the spinning and stonewalling isn't working. A new poll out today says 90 percent of Americans have at least heard of Clarke, which is an astonishing number. (I'll bet fewer people have heard of John Kerry.) Both MoveOn.Org's Daily Misleader and the Center for American Progress' Progress Report have chronicled the open and easily debunked lies the administration has told this week in trying to make the controversy go away. (The curve of the administration's spin-control attempts is moving pretty quickly--from infuriating to pathetic to downright funny. In honor of Condoleezza Rice's appearance on Hannity and Colmes earlier this week, in which she claimed the insistence that the administration didn't pay attention to terrorism before 9/11 is false, the Progress Report has launched a contest in which readers are invited to report any instance of Bush, Cheney, or Rice uttering the words "Al Qaeda" or "Bin Laden" in public between Inauguration Day and September 11, 2001--in contrast to the over 400 times they said "tax relief" or "tax cut." The winner gets a copy of Sean Hannity's book Deliver Us From Evil--signed by the members of the Progress Report team.) Fact is, the administration knew that Al Qaeda was a threat, and if they had chosen to care, they could have known that the threat included driving airplanes into skyscrapers. That they didn't makes them guilty of--at the very least--impeachable misfeasance and/or nonfeasance.

Speaking of funny--in the world of software development, releases are numbered. Then, revisions are given new numbers. The first version is 1.0; depending on their scope, revisions that follow may have numbers like 1.1 or 1.01. When an entirely new version of the product appears, the number becomes 2.0, and so on. P.J. Crowley and Robert Boorstin (also from the Center for American Progress) have analyzed the various versions of Bush's rationale for the Iraq war. A sample:

Version 7.0 - We won't need hundreds of thousands of troops—that's wildly off the mark
Version 7.1 - Mission accomplished
Version 7.1.1 - We'll stay as long as needed and not one day more
Version 7.1.2 - The troops will be home in six months
Version 7.1.3 - The Iraqi Army will provide security
Version 7.1.4 - Where's the Iraqi Army?
Version 7.1.5 - We've disbanded the Iraqi Army

Sports note: The Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey team returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001 tonight in Albany, New York, with a first-round game against Ohio State. The Badgers won five NCAA championships between 1973 and 1990, an era in which hockey ruled the Madison sports scene. The success of Wisconsin football and men's basketball over the last 10 years--and hockey's move from the Dane County Coliseum to the more sedate Kohl Center on campus--has dimmed the luster of the hockey program. But the sudden return to prominence of Wisconsin hockey under coach Mike Eaves--who played on the 1977 championship team--has lots of us dreaming big dreams. We know they may not come true this year, but we dream on nonetheless.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Prize Onion
Two weeks after September 11, The Onion released its "Holy Fucking Shit" issue about the attacks. Turns out the issue actually got some consideration for a Pulitzer prize, although it wasn't officially nominated. Too bad--of all the millions of words written about 9/11 in the immediate wake of the disasters, few captured the essence of those awful days better than "American Life Turns Into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie" or "Not Knowing What Else to Do, Woman Bakes American Flag Cake." And as for "God Angrily Clarifies No Kill Rule"--that's the greatest thing The Onion ever published.

Recommended reading: Walter Cronkite tells John Kerry why it's OK to be a liberal.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Good Beat, Good to Dance To
On my way back home today after a couple of days on the road, I happened to dial in on Fresh Air, where Terry Gross was talking with former White House terrorism adviser Richard Clarke. Now, this guy's gotten more airtime in the last four days than his namesake, Dick "American Bandstand" Clark, got in 50 years, but due to the press of my work, I haven't watched or listened to much of it. But with 50 miles of interstate to traverse this afternoon, I decided to listen to the interview, and what I heard was shocking--although familiar at the same time.

Among the revelations: the Bush people were given several major national security concerns by Clinton's outgoing security team--chief among them the Al Qaeda threat and North Korea's nukes--but they chose to ignore them in favor of a distinctly Cold-War agenda involving Star Wars, Iraq, and relations with Russia. Time and again, the administration treated its preconceived notions like "received wisdom," to use Clarke's phrase, and sought only intelligence information that would confirm it. Only about 50 Americans died in terrorist attacks during Clinton's eight years in office, compared to several hundred during the Reagan years (the Beirut embassy bombing being the major attack) and Daddy Bush's term (the Lockerbie bombing its darkest moment), and Dubya's toll of over 3,000. Only Clinton responded to terror attacks militarily, by bombing terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and the Sudan--attacks that were dismissed by many Americans as being a "wag-the-dog" distraction from the impeachment circus. Clarke dismisses as "legend" the story that the Sudan was willing to deliver up Bin Laden to the U.S. but that the Clinton administration was unwilling to take him.

(Clinton does not escape Clarke's criticism--although his administration did more than either of his two predecessors to fight the likes of Osama Bin Laden, they didn't catch him, after all. But the mere fact that the 9/11 commission has seen fit to criticize Clinton and Bush means that in the right-wing echo chamber, 9/11 is entirely Clinton's fault.)

The furious attempts by the administration and its media supporters to discredit Clarke's book this week and his testimony today before the 9/11 commission looks to me like a classic "where there's smoke" situation. If you compare Clarke's version of events with what we know to be true from other sources, there's much more information existing that confirms Clarke than would confirm the Bush line that the whole damn thing is an utter fabrication. In short, this is serious stuff. Because there's a Republican majority in Congress, there will be no impeachment--but Clarke's presented enough goods to seal the deal. And the administration's ongoing obsession with repeating the same line over and over and over only makes them look more like they've been caught doing something they know is wrong. Ol' Dick Nixon, the greatest stonewaller of them all, would be proud--and compared to the current crowd's proficiency, Nixon's stonewalling ability is looking more second-rate every day.

The most disappointing revelation in the Clarke interview was his response to administration accusations that he's auditioning for a job in the Kerry administration. He told Terry Gross that if asked to serve, he would thank President Kerry (I like the ring of that) for the offer and decline it. Too bad. A 30-year veteran of public service with deep expertise in one of the most important issues facing our country, and with the courage to speak truth to power in an era when such courage is widely lacking, is somebody John Kerry can't afford to govern without.

The List: Let's start making a list of things that will definitely happen if Bush is reelected. We already know that Roe v. Wade will be done, gone, repealed. Now we can add the fact that Medicare will go broke in 15 years, according to its own trustees. Bush will do nothing to save it if he's reelected. One day after the news broke, Treasury Secretary John Snow started talking about saving it--but that's just window dressing. They want it gone, and if Bush is reelected, it will be--and people ought to know that before they vote in November.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Terrorism: Have It Your Way
There's a peacenik adage that killing for peace is like fucking for virginity, and we're about to test the wisdom of it yet again. Israel's assassination of Hamas Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is going to ratchet up Israeli-Palestinian violence, at least in the short term, and with Palestinians blaming the United States for the assassination, it's likely to put us more significantly in the crosshairs for a while.

In Israel's view, there are legitimate geopolitical reasons for doing away with Yassin, but there's also a deep streak of irrationality in the act. An Israeli army spokeswoman said yesterday, "The Israeli air force this morning killed the mastermind of all evil, Ahmed Yassin, who was a preacher of death." This is precisely the sort of apocalyptic nonsense that makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even more impervious to solution. And besides, Yassin can't be the mastermind of all evil. The mastermind of all evil is hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan somewhere. Or did we catch him in an Iraqi spider hole last December? That's the problem with these damned masterminds of all evil--they breed like rabbits. But won't it be great when we catch them all? Then there won't be evil anymore.

Tidings over: As I am hitting the road for an extended period this week, posts here will be light to nonexistent until Thursday night or Friday. In the interim, I recommend you visit ICH News for your daily fix of news you don't always get elsewhere. Tom's daily e-mail update is one of my essential blogging tools, and it was rarely more useful than yesterday. Here's just a sample:

--A story from the Sydney Morning Herald's correspondent in Baghdad, who notes that despite the supposed "progress" made against Al Qaeda, there have been just as many terrorist operations in the last 12 months as in the 12 months before that. "The notion of a bin Laden chain of command has been superseded by a sort of McDonald's of terrorism, franchise cells and groups that want to be like al-Qaeda, carrying a torch for the man in the cave without ever receiving direct orders." Which gives the lie to the administration's claim that the world is a safer place these days. Just as closing a single McDonalds, or even all the McDonalds in a whole state, isn't going to knock the chain out of business, all the major, Iraq-style military operations in the world aren't going to make one damn dent in a decentralized Al Qaeda.

--The story of how weapons of mass destruction have been found, but in Texas. The vast underreporting of this tale of homegrown terrorism is a scandal. One reason the administration isn't making a big deal of it is that these terrorists are right-wing white-power nuts, some of whose beliefs are uncomfortably close to Republican talking points.

--The story of a bill pending in Congress that would allow the federal government to fund international study centers at colleges and universities. Along with the power to establish such centers, the commission establishing the centers would also be empowered to cut the funding for colleges and universities that teach anything deemed offensive to Israel. It sounds loony, and I suspect that there's more to it than the article linked above deals with. But if the gist of the article is accurate, "loony" is the only word that fits.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

If You Can't Talk Sense, Then Shut the Hell Up
I see that getting utterly rejected by Democratic primary voters hasn't dulled Joe Lieberman's clueless sanctimony one iota. He told Fox News today that the divisiveness we've already seen in the campaign threatens to undermine the U.S. effort against terrorism and Iraq. "Our security's being challenged in a way that it's never been challenged before, so let's not divide ourselves right now." And so Bush and Kerry, Republicans and Democrats, should walk together happily hand-in-hand toward the sunset, united-we-stand and all that crap.

The rest of the Lieberman quotes, which appear in a Reuters story, are equally precious: "Let's keep it civil so we don't get so nasty that we discourage people from coming out and voting in a very important election." And best of all, "Don't say that the opposition is evil. They may be wrong, but they're not evil." In other words, Lieberman's prescription for the general election hasn't changed from his prescription during the nomination campaign--Democrats should surrender without firing a shot. Don't be too vigorous in drawing distinctions between the parties on security. Don't point out how viciously unfair--yes, Joe, how evil--Republican economics is to anybody whose ship hasn't already come in. Why, if we do it right, voters will mistake Kerry for Bush and we'll get elected by accident.

This is nonsense so profound that it makes me wonder if Fox put him on just to make the Democratic Party look stupid. If so, they succeeded.

Water Their Way With Tears
TomPaine.Com has a great analysis of the progressive grassroots and how they operate, as symbolized by Howard Dean's new Democracy for America movement and the kindred spirits in MoveOn.Org. Not everybody is as positive about the new Dean operation--and let's keep in mind that Joe Trippi, Dean's ousted campaign manager, is planning his own progressive organization. But the fact remains, as TomPaine.Com notes, the last time either party saw an insurgency the likes of this was 1964, when conservatives under Goldwater took over the Republican Party. They lost big then--but won even bigger later.

The distortion game is afoot already, as Bush follows up his reviled ground-zero campaign ad with one claiming that John Kerry wants to raise taxes and keep us from catching terrorists. In Slate, Will Saletan analyzes the ground upon which these accusations rest--and finds it both nonexistent, and a lot like the ground Bush the Elder ran on in 1988.

Because this is the first Sunday after the first anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, lots of people in lots of churches are praying for the troops, the president, the country. As the most religious country in the world (Islamic states got nothin' on us), we've always prayed in wartime. During the war in the Phillippines that followed the Spanish-American War, Mark Twain heard the fevered prayers of his fellow citizens for the troops, the president, and the country, and then sat down and composed his own prayer. He never published it in his lifetime--it didn't appear until 1923. It's kicked around the Internet in many forms since 2001, but today, it's worth reading again. Because if we're praying that the foe be vanquished--and many of us are--we'd better understand exactly what that means.

And finally, here's another reason why we love the Memory Hole: Russ Kick is on the story of the censored symbols in a Microsoft Office font.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Our Gilded Age
I am going to start asking for a commission from Harper's Magazine, as long as I'm going to keep recommending articles from it in this space. And in the April issue, there's another must-read: "Lie Down for America: How the Republican Party Sows Ruin on the Great Plains," by Thomas Frank. It's Frank's second brilliant Harper's essay in less than a year--last June's "Get Rich or Get Out: Attempted Robbery With a Loaded Federal Budget" was nothing less than a prosecutor's brief for impeachment or an argument for revolution.

In "Lie Down for America," Frank tries to figure out why his native state of Kansas is one of the firmest red states in the Union--why it consistently votes Republican, even though Republican policies have destroyed its economy. The reason: They just don't know, and are unwilling to see, how what they think they're voting for is not what they end up getting, and how the pattern is repeated in election after election. The essay does a great job of describing the incoherence driving Kansans to support the GOP: the firm belief that the GOP is the party of fair dealing, smaller government, and the little guy, battling against special interests and big spenders, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. He quotes one Kansan as saying, "We're tired of hard times on Main Street and good times on Wall Street." Then Frank remarks, incredulous, that such Kansans voted for Bush to punish Wall Street.

That Kansans should be such sheeplike participants in their own slaughter is odd, Frank notes, given the history of Kansas as the birthplace of the Populist movement, a radical attempt by farmers of the 1880s and 1890s to rewrite the economic rules that favored plutocrats during the Gilded Age. But Frank finds that the radical energy is still there--only it's channeled into the GOP's culture war against gays, immigrants, and modernity, where it ultimately ends up contained so that it can't do any real damage to the contemporary plutocracy.

I have precious little hope that Democrats can persuade those voting 180 degrees in opposition to their true interests to think about what they're actually doing. After all, we've got our own plutocrat at the top of our ticket--nobody's going to take John Kerry all that seriously as a man of the people. The Republicans know it, and they'll exploit it. But Frank is onto something terrifically powerful--and if Democrats can find succinct ways to make the same arguments, there's no way they can lose.

A word about the ads: You may have noticed the Blogspot/Google ads at the top of this page, and how over the last couple of days, they have been for organizations and products I wouldn't endorse in a million years--such as the Republican National Committee and a place selling Bush/Cheney '04 campaign gear. I don't have much control over the ads, as they are generated based on the words that appear frequently in my blog. Clearly I need to start spelling certain words like the discreet obscenities they are: B*sh and Ch*n*y. Or maybe I should talk about Kerry some more. At any rate, the ads aren't mine, I don't get any money from them, and for God's sake, don't click 'em.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Mouse Power
MoveOn.org has partnered with something called Clickback America, in which Internet users can send a message to Bush telling him the American people are cutting off his request for credit--i.e., more reckless deficit spending. Plus, every click donates one dollar to the MoveOn Voter Fund--and you can also compete in the College Click Drive at the same time, giving credit for your contribution to your alma mater or the college of your choice. It's easy, it's fun, and you can write your own personal snide lead to the petition that goes to Bush.

It looks as if Clickback America is planning other, similar campaigns for the future. And here's the best part--you don't have to send any actual money; just visit the site. So click already.

Mr. Bartlett's Iraq War Anniversary Address to the Nation
My fellow Americans:

There has already been plenty of speechifying and posturing in honor of the first anniversary of the war in Iraq. The House spent the day yesterday debating a resolution commending the troops in Iraq and crowing that the demise of Saddam has made the world safer. A number of anti-war Democrats succeeded in getting some licks in before the resolution passed overwhelmingly.

But there's one thing to keep in mind as you contemplate the war's anniversary, and the self-congratulatory yammering coming from the administration--this war is a political operation, first and last, aimed at consolidating George W. Bush's power in the United States. This war is the perfect club with which to beat political opponents, using issues on which Bush's opponents are perceived as the weakest--national security and the military, and the relationship between American power and patriotic feeling. Anything else the war might purport to accomplish is secondary to that primary aim. Don't forget: We were not attacked--not by Saddam Hussein or anybody associated with him, anyhow--and so trying to equate this shameful, illegal war with any of the legitimate wars this country has ever taken on is utter fakery.

And while we're dislocating our collective shoulders patting ourselves on the back for our nobility, we might take time to read the results of a new poll of the rest of the world, regarding how safe they feel, and how they feel about us, one year later. They believe our war is about oil and domination, not about ridding the world of terror. And they don't feel any safer. How can it be it that the rest of the world is wrong, and we alone are right? As the great journalist Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent this week, "The only people who feel safer are those who prefer not to think for themselves."

What sets Fisk apart from most American reporters is his grasp of history. In America, history is a class we take and swiftly forget. In Europe, history, and especially its memories of war--real war in people's own back yards, as opposed to newsreel footage and best-sellers about "the greatest generation"--remains fresh. That doesn't suit our forward-looking American mindset. Every day is a new one over here--and as a result, we tend to make our own versions of mistakes the rest of the world has already made. We do this because we think we're exempt from history--but we're not. We fail to heed the lessons others have already learned, and we don't remember the ones we learned for ourselves. At best, we're amnesiacs. Bismarck once famously said that God looks out for children, fools, and the United States. But could it be that the consequences of our amnesia are finally outrunning our divine protection? That might sound strange for a country as drunk on religion as ours--but call it divine protection or call it plain good luck, either way, we seem to have gone to the well once too often, and now it looks like it's running out on us.

And for all we hear about how this country stands united in its purpose, it's important to keep in mind that "united we stand" is utter fakery, too. This country is divided, bitterly divided, divided in a way that is beginning to defy purely political solutions, and anybody who attempts to claim it isn't is trying to paper over something there isn't enough paper in the world to cover. This must have been how it felt in the 1850s, when North and South, both believing themselves heir to the same traditions, both believing their very way of life under attack by the other side, reached the point at which conflict became irrepressible. It's hard to fathom how another civil war could begin in this country now, in our time, but one thing is for damn sure--the anger and bitterness needed are already here.

My fellow Americans, nearly 600 of us who were alive one year ago today are dead now, sacrificed to the Iraq war, and in effect, to the Bush/Cheney reelection campaign. If their deaths are to mean anything, let it be this--let their deaths remind us of the cost of complacency, the wages of fear, and the capabilities of leaders who mistake their own whims for moral imperatives. And let us hope that if there's such a thing as ghosts, the ghosts of these dead come back to haunt the evil bastards in Washington who got them killed.

The Boys from Illinois
Growing up five miles from the Illinois state line, living down there for three years in the 1980s, and being a regular listener to Chicago radio until relatively recently, I used to be pretty well plugged in to Illinois politics. But I never realized how long I'd been away until I started reading stories about this week's Senate primary down there, and realized I'd never heard of anybody running. Where are all the heavyweights, I wondered? Former governors Jim Edgar or Jim Thompson? Former state attorney general, comptroller, and perennial Senate candidate Roland Burris? Glenn Poshard, Jim Ryan, Corinne Wood, and Patrick O'Malley, all of whom who ran unsuccessfully for governor recently? Doesn't anybody want to be in the Senate? Oprah Winfrey? Sammy Sosa? Hello? Perhaps it was fitting--the candidates were running to replace Republican Peter Fitzgerald, another multi-millionaire who basically bought his seat in 1998 (defeating the by-then-staggeringly unpopular Carol Moseley Braun, who would have lost to almost any Republican, living or dead) and is probably the most anonymous member of the Senate, having done and said practically nothing while in office.

As it turned out, the Republicans nominated investment banker Jack Ryan, who is not the fictional character from the Tom Clancy novels, but is best known for being the ex-husband of the actress who played Seven-of-Nine on one of the Star Trek sequels (and whose divorce from the actress has been a scandal in the campaign). Another investment banker with an even messier divorce scandal, Blair Hull, spent $29 million of his own money trying to get the Democratic nomination, but he tanked with nine percent of the vote after being the front runner last year. A more interesting candidate got the Democratic nom: State Senator Barack Obama. Obama is quite an American story--42 years old, biracial, liberal, thoughtful, and a candidate with loads of potential as a leader. (Under the radar, Illinois Democrats are growing a pretty good stable of leaders--what I've heard of Govenor Rod Blagojevic has impressed me during his first year in office, along with representatives Jesse Jackson Jr. and Rahm Emanuel.)

Recommended reading: Speaking of losing to dead people, The Atlantic is out with a profile of Attorney General John Ashcroft. In an online interview, author Jeffrey Rosen notes that Ashcroft isn't driven by ideology as much as he is by a desire to be popular. Also, the Progress Report expanded on my post of yesterday (well, they didn't do it because of my post, but what they posted expands on what I posted) about the false equation of the Spanish election results with a victory for Al Qaeda.

Coming later today: Mr. Bartlett's Iraq War Anniversary Address to the Nation.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Have You Ever Noticed . . . ?
. . . that St. Patrick's Day is more like St. Patrick's Week now? Some of my neighbors have decorated their homes and yards with shamrocks and leprechauns, and various local bars and restaurants have been running St. Pat's specials for several days already. Just as Halloween turned from one day into a whole season starting in the early 1990s, St. Patrick's Day seems like the candidate to be next.

. . . that even skilled politicians' voices, gestures, and mannerisms betray them when they're caught lying?

. . . that the NCAA men's basketball tournament, known far and wide as March Madness (a registered trademark of the NCAA, despite its use to describe every state high school tournament in the country), captures the attention of people who don't care about basketball, or even about sports? I confess, I entered a tournament pool today, even though I've made my general dislike for basketball clear in the past. I've suggested that one way to make basketball more interesting is to give both teams 100 points and let them play for five minutes, because dramatic endings are the only thing that's entertaining about the sport. The NCAA tournament is all about dramatic endings--it's what CBS promotes, and the network has the good sense to show them to you whenever they happen. (My Final Four picks: Duke, Stanford, Gonzaga--and Wisconsin. Sounds wishful, I know, but the Badgers fit the profile of a dangerous tournament team--or so I hear from people who claim to know these things.)

. . . that the bumper sticker "Don't Let the Car Fool You--My Treasure Is in Heaven" is more likely to be stuck on an oil-burning '86 Corolla held together with rust and Bondo than it is on a car that would actually be considered a treasure? I saw the sticker the other day in tandem with the one that says "In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned." (I love the one that says, "In case of rapture, can I have your car?") Another great bumper sticker I've spotted on my travels lately says: "Martin Sheen is My President." Mine, too.

Waking Up and Resting
Last fall the historical name-of-the-moment was George McGovern--as in, "Howard Dean will be the George McGovern of 2004." This week, the name-of-the-moment is Neville Chamberlain--as in, "Spanish voters have handed Al Qaeda as big a victory as Neville Chamberlain handed Hitler in 1938." The speed with which the right-wing echo chamber has landed on "appeasement" as the preferred shorthand for the Social Democrats' win in last Sunday's elections has been breathtaking. Callers to wingnut talk shows and e-mailers to cable news channels are letting "Chamberlain" and "appeasement" fall from their lips and pens like they actually used these words all the time. Suddenly the resolute Spanish, formerly our great ally, are exposed as a bunch of craven wimps lacking the guts to face up to Insensate Evil.

Except the Spanish people never supported the war in Iraq--former Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar did, while millions of his fellow citizens took to the streets against it. When given the chance to take matters directly into their own hands, Spanish voters said "enough." Was it because of the Madrid bombings? Absolutely. Polls taken before the bombings showed Aznar's party likely to win. But the bombings acted as a wakeup call to the Spanish electorate.

The idea that the Spanish have "lost their nerve" is absurd. They've actually shown more nerve than we would have under the same circumstances. While the wreckage in Madrid was still smoking, they threw out a government whose entanglement with Bush's empire-building adventure is likely what got Madrid bombed in the first place. The voters did it despite Aznar's best attempts at blaming domestic terrorists for the attacks. We'd never show as much nerve here--Americans simply can't imagine not rallying around the government in times of crisis. Witness our instant transformation of Bush from place-holding doofus to Lincolnesque statesman in the days after 9/11--and ongoing Republican attempts to keep the population terrorized and our rally-round impulse primed for exploitation. And we'd never rush to blame domestic terrorists, either--because the idea of domestic terrorism disrupts our carefully nurtured illusions about "united we stand," and our domestic terrorists often have agendas with disturbing parallels to the agenda of the party currently running our government.

Recommended reading: It was nearly 40 years ago, but I remember it vividly--my plastic "resting mat" for kindergarten "resting time." You could say it was a social-class signifier--less well-off classmates used old rugs or blankets, but I had a mat designed especially for the purpose, red on one side and blue on the other. And I remember how Miss Morgan would turn the lights down, and sometimes read a story to us while we rested. But now, it seems, just as recess has become an unaffordable luxury in many elementary schools, resting or naptime is something younger kids can't afford, either. The "increasingly urgent world of public education," as the Washington Post terms it, simply can't spare time that could be used to push students to greater academic success. Oh yeah, eliminating naps ought to help--almost as much as fully funding the education bill, which Bush hasn't seen fit to do.

(This post has been edited since it first appeared.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I Can See My House From Here
Seems I was wrong about the foreign-leaders-want-Kerry story being a 12-hour wonder. Bush himself got into the fray this morning, although his lead quote is pretty hilarious: "If you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you've got to back it up with facts." And if you've got nothing positive you can run on yourself, you've got to make sure any tempest that blows up in any teapot keeps roiling.

So all that's funny, but not quite as funny as the blooper reel from The Passion of the Christ. Paul Ford shares excerpts here.

Postscript: Here's another reason why Walmart is not your friend. We always used to worry about Big Brother tracking our every move. What's more likely to happen is that we'll be tracked by dozens or hundreds of Little Brothers--if it isn't happening already.

Crushed Flowers
It's been nearly a year since John Kerry outraged Republicans by suggesting that Iraq notwithstanding, the United States needs regime change, too. It's far from being an alien and un-American idea. Sociology professor Charles Derber of Boston College notes that "regime change" happens in the United States approximately every generation, and that we have alternated historically between corporatist regimes and those with more human faces. Derber says that "Kerry's own corporate ties and cautious instincts make him an unlikely regime changer." But that may not result in a missed opportunity--however much we recovering Deaniacs fear it might. As we've already seen, Kerry is beginning to embrace some of the populist themes people like Dean and Edwards brought to the campaign early on. Some of these resonate not just with Democrats but with independents and disillusioned Republicans, too. All in all, it's a hopeful note with which to begin the day.

But hope is a delicate flower easily crushed. Have you noticed that Walmart has become an underwriter of National Public Radio? It's an interesting choice for institutional advertising, on a network whose demographics are not likely to be especially friendly to the company--upscale, urban, liberal. Walmart's brief sponsor announcements tout the company's many advancement opportunities for associates, and, as much as is possible in 15 seconds, try to leave listeners with a benign impression. But Walmart is anything but benign, as the Progress Report noted yesterday--killing the retail base in communities, forcing the government to subsidize health care for its workers, and, despite its relentless hawking of "made in America," importing much of its merchandise from China. All of which gives a different kind of look to the company's annoying fat little smiley face logo.

Blog news: The Memory Hole has relaunched its Memory Blog. Russ Kick promises more frequent updates of the blog, which, like the Memory Hole site itself, deals in stories that have been underreported by major media outlets.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Adventures in Political Posturing
John Kerry said recently that he's spoken with some foreign leaders who want him to win in November and change the course of U.S. foreign policy. Colin Powell criticized him for his statements yesterday, and today, White House spokesman Scott "Ari" McClellan said if Kerry refuses to name names, then he's probably "making it up."

This is an example of political posturing that leaves one in awe of its perfect emptiness. Two facts are in evidence: First, there are certainly leaders who would prefer to see regime change in the United States--and not just in countries that have historically hated our guts, but also in places that we considered friendly up to the moment a year ago when they refused to be bullied into joining the Iraq adventure. Not that any of these leaders are going to stand up and admit how they feel, of course. Why make yourself a candidate to be Haitied or Venezuela'd if Bush wins in November? Second, Kerry isn't going to say who those leaders are, even under torture--which makes McClellan's statement into an accusation that Kerry is lying. Which, of course, McClellan would never come right out and do, being the upstanding Republican tool that he is.

Although making his statement in the first place probably won't go down as the brightest moment of Kerry's campaign, it won't decide the election either. Best to enjoy the kerfuffle for the next 12 hours as an example of the kind of playground-style pissing match you hope your children will grow up to avoid.

Babes in the wood: It's widely understood that the Dean campaign set the state of the art for Internet campaigning, and that other Democrats quickly got on board to offer their supporters the same kinds of tools for learning about the candidate and spreading the word. The Bush/Cheney campaign found itself playing catch-up last year. Its site was pretty old-school for quite a while, although they've since gotten with the zeitgeist--sort of. Recently, somebody at the campaign got the idea of putting up a page that allowed users to generate custom Bush/Cheney posters that would automatically convert to PDF files for printing and distribution. They even put in a function that allowed you to put the text of your choice on your poster. Apparently it didn't dawn on anybody how much mischief this could be put to--but it dawned on the people at Wonkette and Daily Kos last week. After Bush opponents started creating posters with unauthorized sentiments, the add-your-own text function was taken down--although some of the finished posters live on.

(User note: The Bush/Cheney '04 site is apparently using some fairly sophisticated tracking procedures on visitors, so if you don't want Big Brother to know where else you go on the web, delete cookies from your browser after visiting. Although you could have some fun with it, I suppose, by following your trip to the Bush site with stops at sites devoted to porn and Satanism, for example. Or you could click Wonkette's post about the newly minted list of words no longer acceptable on South Park. Mouse over the link if you dare, but don't click it at work. It definitely ain't safe--but it's damn funny.)

The Stuff Stonewalls Are Made Of
Quote of the week--last week, actually--from Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma: "If George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election, it's that simple." Cole went on to defend this nonsense on Fox News: "I just think George Bush has been a very bold, very successful and very aggressive wartime president, and I think if he were to lose the election our adversaries would take comfort in that. In fact, they would draw the conclusion that the country had lost its resolve." This is the kind of crap that gets you on Hannity and Colmes as some kind of statesman smart guy when you are in fact a drooling goober from a state we should give back to the Indians, and it plays well as red meat to the rednecks in the red states. (That idiots like Cole and Senator Jim Imhofe could come from the same state speaks volumes about the education system down there.) Whether swing voters elsewhere are dumb enough to buy it is the question we are currently debating in our election campaign.

With the bombings in Spain looking more and more like the work of Al Qaeda, the Wicked Osama is going to be on page one more often over the next few weeks as the "Coalition" works to capture him. I can't find the posts in the archives to link to, but somebody on Best of the Blogs observed a couple of weeks ago that the capture of Bin Laden would clinch the election for Bush. Just as he's simplistically claimed that the war on terror is winnable, capturing the Evil One would allow him to simplistically claim that he won it--and you can certainly imagine the campaign ads juxtaposing Bush's squinty-eyed sheriff face with Osama and Saddam getting their teeth examined like horses on an auction block.

I don't necessarily agree that the capture of Osama collapses the Kerry campaign as surely as a crashed 747 collapses a skyscraper--as long as Bin Laden is captured soon. It's possible that an early capture could end up as successful politically as Bush's "mission accomplished" moment of last May--if enough time elapses between that event and the election to convince Mr. and Mrs. America that appearances don't match reality. Nobody--except maybe a Kool-Aid drinking moron like Congressman Cole--thinks the mission accomplished photo op was much better than a fiasco--and it's worth noting that the capture of Saddam never seemed to have much in the way of political legs, either. So even if Osama is nabbed in the glow of a Pakistani springtime, six or seven months of intervening life in a still-dangerous world could rub the shine off of it pretty effectively, still leaving the door open for the Democrats to remind voters how this administration has screwed up everything else it has touched, even if it did manage to nab the very Incarnation of Insensate Evil.

Of course, if Bin Laden is nabbed sometime around the start of the World Series, it will probably be "game over" for the Democrats no matter how well we've made our case otherwise. And there's always the possibility that he's on ice already, and will be trotted out at the most politically opportune moment. Something I read a week ago (damned if I can remember where, so I can't link) suggested that Bush inadvertently revealed that Bin Laden has already been captured by his giggly, cat-who-ate-the-canary response to Tim Russert's question about the possibility of capture on Meet the Press.

Recommended viewing: We've all seen the video from 9/11--Bush is in a classroom reading to children when Chief of Staff Andrew Card comes in and whispers something in his ear--the news that a plane has hit the World Trade Center. It was actually news of the second plane--Bush knew about the first plane before he got to the school, but stayed there for half-an-hour before he was scrambled into action. Take Back the Media has produced a powerful video laying out the timeline on that morning--which shows the agonizing length of Bush's inaction, and its deadly consequences. More than anything else, this is why the administration is refusing to cooperate with the 9/11 commission. It's because the president's actions during the critical hour between 8:30 and 9:30 on that morning are inexplicable unless one of the following is true: (A) he had foreknowledge of the attacks and needed to let them unfold; or (B) he and his staff are utter incompetents. One of those gets him impeached; the other gets him defeated. It's the stuff stonewalls are made of.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

The Worst Impulses
Something fairly rare happened up here in Wisconsin this past week. Our state Senate passed an amendment to the state Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage and make civil unions and domestic partnerships illegal. That's not the rare part--Wisconsin Republicans have been making bad decisions as easily as most people make lunch for as long as I've been back in the state. What's rare is that while some members of the Republican majority spun the usual Bible-based morally nonsensical justifications for enshrining bigotry in our constitution, some others were unusually honest, perhaps without intending to be. As the Capital Times wrote yesterday, "It was clear during the debate in the Senate that several of the legislators who backed the amendment understood they were engaging in unseemly behavior. [Italics mine.] They tried to say they were simply handing the gay marriage issue over to the citizens of the state, who must approve any amendment to the constitution at the polls." The latter is an admirable red-white-and-blue sentiment, were it not an excuse to avoid having to take a stand against something the senators know in their hearts is wrong. As the Capital Times goes on to note, these legislators are little better than the supporters of segregation in the South, who claimed no personal animus towards blacks, but claimed they had to follow the will of the people.

The fight for same-sex marriage just might be what Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition says it is--like the American Revolution all over again. It's certainly an opportunity to break the back of fear-mongering, religious bigots--to shake the object of their irrational hate and fear in their faces and say, "Know what? We don't give a damn what you're afraid of--you're just going to have to get used to this because it's the right thing to do. And if your god or your moral code tells you otherwise, then he and it are both wrong." And it's a chance to say to the political cowards of the Republican Party, whose primary calling, in Wisconsin at least, seems to be whoring for wingnuts, that if they were as moral as they make themselves out to be, they'd cover themselves in sackcloth and ashes in repentance for the evil results of their selfish pandering to the worst impulses in the human character.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Adventures in Moral Clarity
Eternal damnation--it's what's for dinner.

Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, to where you never have to say you're sorry--or wrong. Click here.

Game On
Holy smoke. A guy leaves town for a couple of days and look what happens. You get one of the longest individual entries in the history of this blog.

Item: Terrorist bombings kill nearly 200 in Madrid.

Comment: Although Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility, and the attack had the group's trademark synchronization--multiple explosions at about the same time--Spain has seen terrorist attacks by Basque separatists for years. The fact that this attack came so close to general elections makes me think this is a homegrown attack, and not the legions of the Anti-Christ. But in an ominous development, a London-based Arab newspaper published a letter this week, purportedly from Al Qaeda, saying that an operation called "Winds of Black Death" against the United States was 90 percent ready and "God willing near."

It's been an article of faith since 9/11 that more attacks were certain to come on American soil. (I tend to believe it myself--the idea that there will never be another 9/11 is absurd, because never is a mighty long time.) But despite several orange alerts and dogged persistence on the part of the Bush administration in keeping people frightened, the next attack has yet to come. So what if 9/11 wasn't the beginning of Al Qaeda's war against America? What if it was the whole thing? As Luke Mitchell wrote in the March Harper's: "We must consider the possibility that this [lack of further attacks since 9/11] also represents a lack of wherewithal on the part of would-be terrorists. Although there may be no shortage of those angry enough to commit an act of violence against the United States, few among them possess the training, the financing, or the sheer ambition necessary to execute an operation as elaborate as that of September 11." And what if all the rhetoric that's come since--"Winds of Black Death," and so forth--is just hot air out of the same florid rhetorical tradition that leads the Koran to describe a martyr's reward in paradise as "gardens and grapeyards; and [72] young full-breasted (mature) maidens of equal age," designed more to amp up the faithful than anything else?

(Mitchell's article also made the point that though they were visually spectacular and symbolically enormous, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were small potatoes compared to other incidents of mass death that occurred here in 2001--700,000 to heart disease, 554,000 to cancer, 30,000 to suicide. "[T]he actuarial tables would suggest that our concern about terror mortality ought to be on the order of our concern about fatal workplace injuries (5,431 deaths) or drowning (3,247).")

Item: Legislatures in Wisconsin and Massachusetts pass state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage; the California Supreme Court orders San Francisco to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Comment: Nobody said it was going to be easy. The Wisconsin amendment would ban marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships of all sorts. The Massachusetts amendment would permit civil unions with all the benefits of marriage. In a Boston Globe story on the Massachusetts debate, Republican representative Vinny deMacedo suggests that if marriage or unions are legalized, churches may someday be forced by courts to perform such ceremonies. This is the kind of emotionally overwrought nonsense that passes for evidence among opponents of same-sex marriage--although it plays nicely off Lou Sheldon's talking point that this is the American Revolution all over again, given that deMacedo is from Plymouth, home of the Pilgrims.

It occurs to me that if we're going to win the same-sex battle, the Massachusetts model is our ace in the hole. Make sure gays and lesbians who want to commit to one another can have the same legal rights as married couples, and make sure those rights are firmly defined in law. Then let the homophobes preserve the word "marriage" as something between a man and a woman. Hell, let 'em define it as a religious sacrament if they want to. They can think they've won some kind of victory, and the secular world can get on to more important problems.

Item: Todd Bertuzzi of the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks lays a vicious hit on Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche, from behind, where Moore couldn't see him coming. While Moore lies on the ice in a pool of blood, obviously unconscious, Bertuzzi beats the shit out of him with his fists. Moore now has a broken neck. Bertuzzi has been suspended for the remainder of the season, and both he and his team have been fined. The requisite tearful press conference was held yesterday.

Comment: The NHL has legions of problems. Its owners are planning to lock the players out in a labor dispute, and many experts believe there will be no season next year, and possibly the year after that. Fan interest is down, TV ratings are down, the quality of play is down--and the only publicity the league can get is over something like the Bertuzzi incident. I don't know how to fix all this, but I know one thing--the continued insistence by NHL partisans that fighting is part of the game of hockey is absurd. It's forbidden in college hockey and international play, and the NHL could stop it tomorrow--but the owners and players don't want it stopped. If you look at the statistics, you can see that each team has at least one player who doesn't score any points, but who leads the team in penalty minutes. This guy is known as an enforcer--he's the designated fighter, the guy whose job it is to go out and hit--or hurt--somebody on the other team. Banning fighting would cost these players their jobs, so the union will never get behind a ban, no matter how severely somebody like Steve Moore gets hurt. And the owners like fighting too, because so many fans do--some to the exclusion of all else. I don't know if it's still there, but for years, in the back pages of The Sporting News, there was an ad from a guy who collected videotape of hockey fights. You could buy the tape of every fight involving, for example, the New York Rangers, going back into the 1970s. And even in the wake of Moore's horrific injury, some fans have been lining up to criticize Bertuzzi's suspension and anyone opposed to fighting, saying it's all part of the game and we ought to just sit down and shut up because we don't understand. Well, I'm a hockey fan, too--albeit a college hockey fan who finds the pro game painfully boring. But it doesn't take an expert to understand stupidity and brutality. You know it when you see it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Lights and Wires in a Box
Item: California legislators propose lowering the voting age to 14. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds' votes would count half an adult vote, 14- and 15-year-olds one quarter.

Comment: It's another of California's nutball gifts to America--first Governor Schwarzenegger, and now this. A Democratic supporter says it would "increase the richness of our democratic dialogue." Republican legislator Roy Haynes says, "There's a reason why 14-year-olds and 16-year-olds don't vote. They are not adults. They are not mature enough. They are easily deceived by political charlatans." Whoa, Roy, think about that for a second: If immunity to deception by political charlatans becomes a criterion for having the right to vote, how the hell is Bush going to get reelected?

Item: Gay marriage! Threat to all we hold dear! Icky icky ewwww gross!

Comment: Dan Savage has written two terrific columns in response to letters he's received about same-sex marriage, here and here. And the award for the most hysterical--in both senses of the word--quote of the controversy so far goes to Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition: "America stands at a defining moment . . . . The only comparison is our battle for independence from England."

Dude, get a grip.

Item: John Ashcroft having his gall bladder removed today.

Comment: The gall bladder is, of course, the organ that secretes bile. Insert your own punchline here.

Item: It's 50 years tonight since Edward R. Murrow's famous See It Now news show about Joe McCarthy.

Comment: In the journalistic community today, where Murrow's name is still frequently invoked, he's more icon than living inspiration anymore. Nobody I can think of today has the stones of Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly. Murrow and Friendly used their own money to advertise See It Now after CBS refused to promote it. (Even then, the corporations who owned the media outlets were afraid of hacking off the powerful.) But 50 years later, most historians agree that the March 9, 1954, broadcast of See It Now was the beginning of the end of the McCarthy Era. Later that summer, wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Army/McCarthy Hearings revealed more of the bullying McCarthy Murrow had first shown to the nation. In December, the Senate would censure McCarthy for his conduct, and his career would be over just as swiftly as it began.

People who celebrate Murrow often forget that he was as critical of his peers in broadcasting as he was of McCarthy and other newsmakers he reported on. In 1958, Murrow told the Radio and Television News Directors Association, "This instrument [television] can teach, it can illuminate, yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely lights and wires in a box." The idea that such a powerful medium should have as worthy goals education, illumination, and inspiration sounds rather quaint in an era when the medium's primary goal seems to have become showing us attractive young people trying to get laid in some island paradise, get turned into singing stars, or get out of a coffin full of cockroaches. And in an era that's more like the McCarthy Era than most people want to admit, it's too bad that no modern Murrow exists to do for the people of our time what he did for his.

Late note: Last post here until Friday. See you on the road.

Pendulums and Beanstalks
Last night I finished The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964, the book I mentioned yesterday. Toward the end, Jon Margolis relates the story of the birth of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley that fall--as well as the origin of an off-the-cuff witticism that became one of the 1960s' most famous epigrams. Jack Weinberg, whose arrest in a free-speech protest led to a 24-hour sit-in by students around the police car holding him, told a reporter that there was a saying in the movement--"Never trust anyone over 30." There wasn't--Weinberg just made it up on the spot--but "within days," Margolis writes, "it was the most quoted sentence in America." And then he goes on to say, "Taking it literally, many teenagers and young adults had themselves a new slogan, one that helped render them and their future political activity adolescent, if not infantile." I think Margolis is a bit too hard on the political activists of the 1960s. Not all of the movement's members, or its goals and methods, were adolescent and infantile, although some certainly were.

The under-30 kids of the mid-1960s are parents and grandparents now. Many are still politically active, as are their children and grandchildren. And some of their political activity remains adolescent and infantile. I got an e-mail over the weekend that was stuffed with left-leaning links all purporting to show that John Kerry is utterly unfit to be president for various reasons--too warlike, surrounded by advisors who have supported evil regimes, far too beholden to special interests, and so on. All of which may be true to some degree. But to suggest, as such lefties inevitably do, that for those reasons, they could never ever ever vote for Kerry is--say it with me now--adolescent, if not infantile.

I am not a John Kerry fan. He was no better than my fifth choice among the candidates. I have no faith in his ability to bring any sort of real systemic change to our government and society--certainly not the kind of change other candidates, such as Dean, Clark, Edwards, or Kucinich (yes, even him) were talking about. When John Kerry talks about change, he is only talking about one kind of change--putting a different guy into the White House. But at this moment in our history, when the current resident of the White House is the most dangerous man ever to occupy it, and when his continuance in office represents a grave threat to the continued survival of our Constitutional experiment, that's the only change that matters. The anti-Kerry left is essentially insisting that if they can't have everything they want, right down to bomber jet planes turning into butterflies above our nation, they don't want anything at all. In this, they're not much different than a petulant 16-year-old girl who, if she can't get the car she wants, doesn't want any car at all. "Let Bush get reelected," they say. "Then people will see how bad things can get, and they'll be more interested in voting for us next time." Which is the same thing the Naderite left said in 2000. They were right about one thing--we've seen how bad things can get--but wrong about the other thing. Given what's happened since 2000, shouldn't a candidate more to their liking have gotten more traction this time? It didn't happen--at least not on the scale they expected. But in their narcissism, they keep thinking some sort of titanic progressive earthquake must be just around the corner--mostly because they really really really want it to be, not because there's any evidence that change will actually come in that way.

What we're talking about here is a swing of the pendulum back to the left. It's been going right for 40 years, if you start counting with the Goldwaterites of 1964, so any swing leftward isn't going to happen like magic. It will have to happen a little at a time at first. And I submit that it's starting to happen. We've seen some of it as the Democratic campaign has unfolded--evidence that major candidates are starting to understand that progressive ideas are still popular among the electorate, and evidence that the electorate can see through Republican attempts to demonize anything remotely progressive. This evidence is little shoots that have to be nurtured. They don't shoot to the sky overnight like Jack's beanstalk. And they will certainly be destroyed--along with lots of other stuff--in the scorched earth that will follow the reelection of George W. Bush.

There ain't much reasoning with the anti-Kerry left, though. The best we can hope for is that they won't succeed in contaminating more thoughtful voters with their toxic brand of adolescent nonsense.

On the subject of Kerry, I was amused to hear Bush accuse him last night of being "irresponsible" for his vote against a 1995 intelligence funding bill. If Bush wants to make responsibility an issue, well, bring it on. The most fiscally irresponsible president in history brings up the subject of responsibility at his peril.

Monday, March 08, 2004

In Your Guts You Know They're Nuts
I am reading a book called The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by journalist Jon Margolis. One of the early themes of the book is how from the New Deal through the New Frontier, leaders of both political parties tended to agree on the general shape and function of the federal government, even as they disagreed over the precise way to operate the levers of government. As we know, and as Margolis effectively narrates, that bipartisan consensus would begin to unravel in 1964, as the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party began its rise. These Republicans argued for a dramatic dismantling of the New Deal at home and a more aggressive foreign policy abroad--defeating communism instead of just containing it. While they were opposed to government regulation, they were happy to benefit from government largesse, especially from utility projects in the west. Many of them were also opposed to the civil rights movement, which was gaining significant steam in 1964. Goldwater tended to oppose civil rights legislation on states' rights grounds--he saw the government as having no role in telling individuals who they had to associate with. He was not an overt racist--although some of his supporters were. Once George Wallace's brief campaign for the Democratic nomination came to an end, many of his supporters migrated to Goldwater. In fact, the officially elected Mississippi delegation to the Democratic convention was on record endorsing Goldwater for president rather than LBJ, and the Wallace people made overtures to Goldwater about picking the Alabama governor as his running mate. (Extra credit if you know who Goldwater eventually picked.)

But Margolis notes that for all of their ideological differences from the mainstream consensus, something else distinguished the conservatives of 1964 from any Republicans that had ever come before. Narrating the delegates' response to a speech by Goldwater's arch-rival for the nomination, the liberal Nelson Rockefeller, Margolis describes the booing Rockefeller got as "animal, an outpouring of frustration and resentment by people whose politics were driven by resentment." The delegates' responses to speeches by Dwight Eisenhower and Goldwater himself did as much to contribute to the party's defeat as anything Goldwater (or LBJ) did. In contrast to Goldwater's famous slogan, "In your heart, you know he's right," millions of Americans thought the Goldwaterites were nuts.

Elsewhere in the book, Margolis quotes Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, who misquoted the French author Victor Hugo in announcing he would vote to end the record-setting filibuster Southern senators were holding against the Civil Rights Act. "No army is stronger than an idea whose time has come," said Dirksen. (Hugo actually said, "No stand can be made against invasion by an idea.") The same quote can be applied to conservatism of the Goldwater variety. Its time would come, but not in 1964. And it occurs to me that the standard narrative of conservative history may be up for revision depending upon the outcome of the 2004 election. The conventional wisdom has the Goldwater wing triumphant in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, although if Bush is reelected, it is likely to be him and not Reagan who is seen as the culmination of the Goldwater movement--the ultimate victory of the politics of resentment.

If ever there was something that should have been strangled in its cradle, that was it. In our defense, we thought we did. That we didn't might be the greatest misfortune of that last innocent year.

Note to all: I usually work at home, but I'm traveling quite a bit these days, so posts are liable to be somewhat infrequent here until next Monday, just as they've been since last Friday. To get your fix of worthwhile stuff in my absence, click any entry under "Good Blogs" on the right side of this page.

Friday, March 05, 2004

You Can Dress Up the Bars With a Nice Length of Ribbon
So Martha Stewart is going to the big house. She was convicted today of various charges surrounding the dumping of some stock on insider information, on which she made something like $229,000.

I am now about to say a word in Martha's defense.

The amount of money Martha made on the illegal transaction was about one percent of her net worth. If I made an equivalent profit, we'd be talking about what--a couple of thousand? (Probably less than that--most of my net worth is tied up in our home, and the bank still owns approximately everything but the doorknobs.) Would the feds come chasing after me for $2,000? Maybe, but maybe not. The point is that on the grand scale of sin, what Martha Stewart has been convicted of is not exactly, oh, I don't know, lying the country into a war.

The rich, it's said, are different. And they are. Rick Neuheisel was fired as football coach at Washington last summer partly because he bet $5,000 in an NCAA basketball tournament pool. For a guy with a salary of $650,000 a year and additional compensation that would have pushed his earnings over a million, how much is $5,000? One-half of one percent of his yearly earnings. An equivalent fraction of my salary (back when I actually made a salary) would have been about what you can blow on a long afternoon at the mall. And nobody would care if I risked that much in an office pool.

But then again, I'm not famous. So these people are catching hell not because they profited obscenely or spent lavishly. They're catching hell because they are famous, and they got caught. In the sports world, of course, Neuheisel's sin is perceived as enormous--gambling accusations strike more fear into the hearts of sports poohbahs than almost anything else. But he wasn't gambling on football. As for the Martha Stewart case, it looks like nothing so much as making an example of a prominent person to discourage anybody else from trying the same thing. There's probably some value in that. But let's not go making it a metaphor for anything. This story is big based on the irony of the ultimate homemaker getting involved in sordid financial dealings. It's irresistable, but as scandals go, it could scarcely be more minor. The amount of oxygen it's sucked up in the media is inversely proportional to its true importance in anyone's life, except for Martha herself.

Recommended reading: William Powers in The Atlantic's DC Dispatch on media coverage of the same-sex marriage explosion. Isn't a good analogue for this the civil rights movement of the 1960s, or the feminist movement of the 1970s? Powers says, "As filtered through the mainstream media, gay marriage seems not so much a righteous cause, inherently worthy of our attention and concern, as another strange, colorful chapter in the never-ending 'culture war,' a phrase that appears over and over in the mainstream coverage. The media, which are normally so good at creating heroes, have not yet given us a gay Rosa Parks or even a gay Gloria Steinem."

The closest thing we have to a hero in all this is San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. I share Powers' assessment that this guy is a rising star. Would that more of our politicians were so willing to do the right thing, and that they would find it so easy to do the right thing.

Buzz Buzz Buzz
This morning I find that the folks at Disinformation have done my job for me by assembling links to all the best campaign buzz from many of my favorite publications. So click away. One of the articles is from Brendan Koerner in Slate, talking about rumors that Kerry might choose John McCain as his running mate. Of all the things in the world that will never happen, this is high on the list. McCain, despite his maverick's reputation, has a voting record in Congress approximately equal to Jesse Helms. In addition, McCain's supposed feuding with Bush is vastly overrated. As an attempt to peel more moderate, Goldwater-type conservatives away from Bush at election time, it would be a smart move, but it makes almost no sense in terms of running an administration after Kerry is safely elected. In LA Weekly, the always worthwhile Harold Meyerson assesses Kerry's rise: "the Kerry who emerged from the primary season is not just a stronger candidate than the Kerry who started out, but also more electable and more liberal." Let's hope so.

But the real buzz this morning is from the University of Georgia, which approved a course called "Coaching Principles and Strategies of Basketball," taught in 2001 by the esteemed academic Jim Harrick Jr., an assistant basketball coach at the school. Harrick is now gone from the school, swept out in a blizzard of NCAA rule violations that also claimed the school's head basketball coach, Jim Harrick Sr. Papers released this week in the probe of the violations revealed that every student who took the course got an A, and no wonder. Students had to take only one exam in the course, and it included such questions as "how many points does a three-point field goal account for in a basketball game?" and "how many halves are in a college basketball game?"

The scandal involving the Harricks at Georgia was one of the more distasteful in college hoops (and "distasteful college hoops scandals" takes in a lot of territory). Players were paid, they were given A's in classes they never attended, basketball staffers took tests and wrote papers for them--and when confronted with the evidence, the Harricks denied it all, and put on a nauseating act of aggrieved righteousness before they were kicked to the curb. The junior Harrick's course revealed this week represents a spectacular fuck-you to the very idea of college as an institution of learning. As ESPN commentators Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon remarked yesterday, if you've got a degree from Georgia hanging on your wall, you'd better be embarrassed by this. And if you're not--why not?

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