Friday, July 30, 2004

Ilana in '36
I'm glad that someone chose the 1968 Chicago riots as their most memorable Democratic Convention moment in the Useless Web Poll, because that's certainly mine. Because I was only eight, I couldn't have understood fully what was happening in the streets of Chicago, but memories of watching it have never left me, and I never approach a convention without thinking about it. (If you're not old enough to remember Chicago, a couple of good books about it are Chicago '68 by David Farber and Tom Hayden's memoir Reunion.)

It's hard to guess now what the most memorable moment of the 2004 Democratic Convention might be a few years from now. Perhaps, like 1996 and 2000, it will be hard to recall specific moments from this convention--unless either Barack Obama or Ilana Wexler gets elected president someday. The big moment probably won't be the "shove it" story that erupted on Monday. It seems to have had a brief shelf life--but it's by no means an isolated incident. In fact, it's just the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between two western Pennsylvania adversaries--Teresa Heinz Kerry and Pittsburgh financier Richard Mellon Scaife, the man who brought you the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Great. Now we've got that to look forward to under the Kerry Administration.

Recommended Reading: In Slate today, they're trying to figure out who wrote Kerry's acceptance speech last night. Will Saletan says it was Bush; Chris Suellentrop says it was Clark, Sharpton, and Dean. James Ridgeway of the Village Voice says it was cooked up by the DLC. He didn't much like it, although he liked the guy who delivered it: "a warrior exterior, but very private, somewhat sheepish, awkward--unlike most other politicians--and with a wife who doesn't take shit from the press. These two could become lovable."

Two Minutes' Hate
If people want to know why lots of us simply hate George W. Bush, there was good evidence this morning, when he dismissed the Democratic Convention as "clever speeches." It's clear Bush has no intention of taking up John Kerry's challenge to engage in substantive, positive debate. It'll be all character assassination, innuendo, and outright falsehoods from here to Election Day, and the only question is how many of the Ohio 37 will be stupid enough to buy it. This is hardly a surprise, though. What's that proverb? "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly"?

The Republicans got some help from the Reuters this morning, too, in a piece by Alan Eisner headlined "Kerry Slams Bush on Iraq, Offers Little New." It's ostensibly a news story, but it's largely dismissive of Kerry's acceptance speech, and tries to portray Kerry as out of touch with his own party. Liberal media, my eye.

If you're looking for more reasons to hate the Republicans, here you go: People wanting to attend a Cheney rally in New Mexico have to sign an affadavit endorsing Bush, which includes permission to publicize the signees' names as Bush supporters, or they can't get a ticket. So much for taking your kid to see a VP just because he's the VP. This comes on the heels of news earlier this week that Republican operatives were present at a naturalization ceremony in Florida to hand out voter registration cards to the new citizens, with the party affiliation box conveniently checked "Republican."

Do you think that deep down in their heart of hearts, these Republicans believe in a fair contest in the marketplace of ideas, either in an election or in the daily course of governance, and may the best ideas win? They almost certainly don't. And that's why I think it's going to be incredibly difficult for John Kerry to win in November, no matter how optimistic we are right now, and no matter how big a bounce we get from the convention. The other side won't hesitate to rig the game because they don't believe in it to begin with.

Recommended Reading: Acceptance speech commentary: Billmon says it sure sounded good, but the fine print in doing what Kerry says he wants is going to be hard. (It's a problem Democrats ought to be getting used to by now.) Also, there were lots of interesting comments on a thread at Political Animal, like this one:
One niggle: [Kerry] did nothing to speak about Democrats as a party who also need to win the House and Senate in order to achieve any of the things he promised as president. I know he wants to project his commitment to national unity, but at least in code he should have talked about the importance of making sure that Congress is with him. This is a year when it is crucial that the whole ticket emphasize the importance of the slate. Kerry conspicuously left the role of the Democratic party in the election nearly unmentioned.
And also:
The thing I was struck with was how much on the offense and how little on the defense it was. Convention watchers through the week are I supposed accustomed to this stance by now, to play offense rather than defense, but I don't think the casual viewers would expect that. They've heard so much negative trash they probably believe that it's the Demos who have something to be ashamed of for their mere political position. There was no shame to be a Democrat, whether centrist or liberal, tonight.
And Wonkette's subaltern Boi From Troy wonders why nobody pointed out the terrible human cost of a new environmental threat before last night.

Fluffed Up, Dumbed Down, and Sweaty
Today is one of the best days of the year: the opening of Green Bay Packers' training camp. Football season--which never really ends anymore thanks to the country's ever-growing obsession with it--begins again. And so this morning, it's items and comments from the Wide World of Sports:

Item: The biggest story in football this week was the shock retirement of Ricky Williams of the Miami Dolphins. He was one of the most dominant running backs in the game last year, but he's always been a bit odd. He posed wearing a white wedding dress for a picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated with his then-coach, Mike Ditka of the New Orleans Saints, shortly after Ditka traded all of the Saints' draft picks in 1998 for the right to pick Williams in the draft. Later, he insisted on giving locker room interviews while wearing his helmet. After being medicated for social anxiety disorder, Williams seemed to have become fairly normal, and last year, had the breakout season everyone had been predicting for him since he became a pro. But last week he suddenly retired, leaving $16 million in salary on the table, and hopped a flight for somewhere in Asia. It's come out this week that Williams was facing a suspension for a third violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy--he's apparently got quite a taste for ganja, and has told friends he simply can't understand why it isn't legal--but that pending suspension apparently had nothing to do with his retirement.

Comment: Despite stories this week claiming that Williams is utterly serious and has walked away for good, I still suspect he will be playing somewhere in 2005. In addition to foregoing the money he was set to earn, he might also have to pay back up to $8 million he's already received. He's only 27 years old and has three kids--thus, a lot of years left to support a family.

Item: Another Williams, Willie (no relation to Ricky), has decided to play college football at the University of Miami next year. Willie Williams is 18 years old, has been arrested something like 13 times already, and is on probation for a felony burglary that occurred while he was on an official recruiting visit to the University of Florida in 2002. But Miami rolled out the red carpet for him, and its coach and president are making all sorts of noise about Williams' right to play football and the high standards he will be held to.

Comment: Miami's football program, while it produces great professionals, is beneath contempt as a social institution. Would you want your kid to enroll at a campus where Willie Williams is going to get a free pass for the kind of things that would get your kid kept out, or thrown out?

Item: ESPN is running a series this week on sports and music. This features live performances by different artists on the network's flagship news show, Sportscenter.

Comment: In recent years, ESPN has itself fluffed up and dumbed itself down, ignoring the very thing that made it what it is--solid sports reporting and analysis--to make time for stuff better left to MTV or the E channel. Sportscenter has become an endless series of promos for other "entertainment product" (some on ESPN, some on corporate sibling ABC, some from corporate parent Disney), and the network is rife with junk sports like the X Games, the Great Outdoor Games, and the World Series of Poker. ESPN has still got no peer when it comes to broadcasting football, baseball, basketball, and hockey games, but it's becoming increasingly irrelevant as a source for pregame, halftime, or postgame information.

Recommended Reading: OK, so you need some politics. Salon has a fine analysis of John Kerry's speech last night. It also has another edition of Patrick Smith's "Ask the Pilot," in which he talks to Annie "I flew on a terrorist dry run" Jacobsen. Jacobsen has been lionized by conservative media outlets for her story, even though it's been shot full of holes by the likes of Smith and others. Although she claims to be a Democrat, her justifications sound like they're straight from the conservative playbook--I saw what I saw and I believe what I believe. Don't confuse me with the facts.

This morning on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Friday Top 5: Let It What?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Send More Chuck Berry
Random thoughts while the confetti and balloons are still falling:

Tonight was the only opportunity John Kerry will have to talk to the country at length without being instantly analyzed by people who think they're smarter than he is--and he did extremely well, I thought, all except for stepping on almost every applause line throughout the entire speech, like he was trying to keep it from running long. If the goal was to make him seem resolute, responsible, non-scary, and a plausible alternative to Bush, he did that. I'm a little worried about his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class, though. Remember what happened to Bush 41.

By the end of the summer, the biggest stars in America may be Emma Claire and Jack Edwards--and as a friend asked this morning after John Edwards' speech last night, "How many boys are in love with Cate Edwards today?" A more photogenic family there ain't.

Watching Max Cleland up there, and remembering how his opponents in Georgia smeared him as soft on evil and unfit to serve in the Senate despite his sacrifices in Vietnam, makes me pretty sure that if there's a Hell, Ralph Reed and the Georgia Republican Party are going to have a particularly hot spot.

Thank goodness somebody made sure Alexandra Kerry was wearing underwear.

Once again tonight, Democratic tunes rocked: Springsteen's "No Surrender," "Beautiful Day" by U2, Van Halen's "Dreams" (although it was looped a few too many times), and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." And give it up to the anonymous house band and its lead singer, who adjusted the lyrics to tunes like "Proud Mary" and "Celebration" to incorporate the names of both Kerry and Edwards.

And so, the party's over. Now the hard part starts. Three months and three days to go.

More, More, More
With something like four media people for every delegate at the Democratic Convention, it's no wonder that so much is written about media coverage. Today, I've come across some interesting suggestions regarding a problem with the coverage of the convention that's easy to ignore--one that seems counter-intuitive when you finally do notice it. John Nichols in the Capital Times and Patricia J. Williams in The Nation both point out that for all the problems with the coverage, the most significant might be that there's not enough of it.

Yes, the cable channels are filling hours and hours, but the media outlets that still get the majority of viewers--the old standby broadcast networks--are giving the convention only token coverage, and have done so for 20 years now. You couldn't hear Barack Obama on the networks the other night, and while his speech has generated lots of buzz in our more plugged-in precincts, it was like a tree falling in an uninhabited forest for the rest of the country. Williams says:
And yet so much of the press makes such a big deal about whether Kerry can "define" himself. No one defines himself in a vacuum--but if all that the networks plan to show is Kerry's acceptance speech and very little else, then that is precisely what he will have to do. That's a pity. [Tuesday] night, the eloquent and optimistic jeremiads quite clearly defined Kerry and his platform as one premised upon the politics of hope.

The Republican right has spent so much time and money "defining" Kerry as a "flip-flopper," and a chorus of outlets repeats that message thousands of times a day. Kerry's counter can never be heard, however, if it is reduced to a single media soundbite chosen by others.
It's unlikely that the dearth of major network coverage of the conventions is entirely responsible for the decline in political involvement and political wisdom amongst the electorate. But it's sure possible today for citizens to simply opt out in a way that didn't exist in past years.

Recommended Reading: Of course, even if the major networks were covering the conventions like they used to, wall-to-wall in prime time, there's no guarantee that we'd be any better enlightened. Lawrence Martin of The Globe and Mail in Toronto suggests that the American media is more political conduit than journalistic enterprise, and nothing shows it more than the uncritical reportage of whatever the administration yaks up on a given day.

Madame Secretary, Wisconsin, Home of Our Great Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, Our Great Democratic Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, Home of the Green Bay Packers, Winners of 12 NFL Championships, America's Dairyland, Birthplace of Liberace and Orson Welles, the State Where the Hamburger Was Invented and the BoDeans Were Formed, Land of the Wisconsin Dells, the State That's Warmer Than Minnesota and Better Than Illinois, Proudly . . . What Was the Question Again?

It occurred to me last night that the roll call of the states at a political convention is one of the funniest things you'll ever see on TV. Those long, subordinate-clause-laden sentences delegates use to preface their votes are overstuffed like suitcases before a two-week vacation. And Democrats being Democrats, they make sure to divvy up the announcements, and sometimes even individual sentences, so that they present a balance of speakers by race, gender, social class, and this year, military service. I watched until Kerry went over the top last night, and the best line was Kentucky's: "Home of fast horses, smooth whiskey, world-class barbecue, and Muhammad Ali."

In the end, the only person other than Kerry to get a delegate vote was Dennis Kucinich, who got 37. Not a sausage for Howard Dean. What a difference a year makes.

I also noticed last night that Democrats have much better music generally than Republicans. It was great to hear the refrain from Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" after John Edwards' speech, and the 1979 disco classic "We Are Family" works as a Democrat anthem in a way it never would for the Republicans. I was a bit surprised to see Black Eyed Peas doing "Let's Get It Started," however--if only because I didn't think the party would do anything to risk offending those 37 swing voters in Ohio, who might be put off by rap music. I quickly flicked around from C-SPAN to the other channels, betting on who'd be carrying it and who wouldn't. None were--although I expected Fox would be, if only to show its audience another reason to hate and fear Democrats.

Edwards sure gives a good speech. If the contest really does come down to which party better represents hope, he puts us in good shape. If there's a vice-presidential debate (and it is the official surmise of this blog that there will not be, as the War President and his puppeteer will be too busy fighting Insensate Evil to stoop to politics when the time comes), Edwards is going to make Cheney look even more darkly reptilian than he already does.

You may have heard earlier this week that USA Today was planning to have Ann Coulter write a column from the Democratic Convention, but that the newspaper spiked the agreement after a dispute involving Coulter's first column. Coulter's politics aside, she's a simply dreadful writer, and the canceled USA Today column is, even by Coulter's usual standards, astoundingly bad, an amorphous mass of crude insult that wouldn't sound out of place if it were mumbled by a homeless street person. If one of your loved ones talked like that, you'd want her to get help.

Recommended Reading: Sheila Samples suggests that Fox News, for all its faults, may be the most honest news operation we have in one way--they make little attempt to hide their bias, while other news operations barely seem to notice their bias. She notes how often the media seems to want to protect Bush from himself, and cites the lack of coverage of his meltdown at a press briefing earlier this month when he was asked too many questions for his liking about the indictment of Enron's Kenneth Lay. On a related note, Capitol Hill Blue (which, it occurs to me, is bcoming like the National Enquirer for political junkies) reported this week that after the meltdown, Bush's physician prescribed "powerful anti-depressant drugs" in hopes of curbing Bush's mood swings and obscene outbursts. As for me, my obscene outbursts are going to lessen a lot when Bush is permanently back on the ranch.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Legend of the Wicked Trial Lawyers
Tammy Baldwin's health care speech at the Democratic Convention the other night had the effect of decloaking her challengers. Radio station owner Dave Magnum, one of two Republicans seeking the nomination in the primary (which ain't until September 14, almost absurdly late) says Baldwin is all talk and no action. His idea for cutting health care costs? Limiting the amount that patients can win in medical malpractice suits. Wisconsin Public Radio reported Magnum's claim that "the suits cost the country 23 billion dollars, and reining in trial lawyers will reduce health care costs from five to nine percent." But the Congressional Budget Office reported in January that the cost of lawsuits adds only about two percent to the cost of health care, and the most that we could hope for by reining in such lawsuits would be a savings of less than one-half of one percent. There are other, more effective measures Congress could take--like holding down the cost of prescription drugs--but the story that trial lawyers are to blame for the high cost of health care is as sturdy an urban legend as the one about the guy with the hook in Lover's Lane.

In the same WPR story, Magnum went on record as supporting stem-cell research, which is a plus in his favor. You can bet that this will be a large bone of contention in Magnum's primary race against Ron Greer, if Greer can convince anyone to pay attention to him. Greer lost to Baldwin by nearly 2 to 1 last time. A Baldwin staffer told me in February they'd heard he sent out a fundraising letter to his 2002 supporters gauging their interest in supporting him this time and could only drum up $500--but he decided to make the race anyhow. He's a textbook social conservative, all about morality: "[I] will stand up for traditional marriage, the rights of unborn children and freedom of religion . . . not the immoral and anti-religious agenda of liberals and secularists." Greer seems to live in a different district from the rest of us--one where Tammy Baldwin was imposed by subterfuge on an electorate that doesn't believe in one thing she does. But like so much the social conservatives take as gospel, believing don't make it so. Given the demographics of the Wisconsin Second, a guy like him could run against Baldwin 100 times and he'd get beat every time. That's why Magnum, a protege of former Second District Representative Scott Klug, is a much more serious challenger--although my money's still on Tammy, and by about the same margin this time as last time.

This Afternoon on Best of the Blogs: It's a Hell of a Day in the Neighborhood.

Where's Johnny Carson When You Need Him?
The bloggers are in the house at the Democratic Convention and hard at work. From Centerfield, there' this report on a session called "Red God, Blue God: The God Gap in American Politics." (Like every other convention, a national political convention has smaller sessions during the day and mass meetings at other times.) You'll want to read the comments on this one, as they parallel some of the ones seen on this blog whenever I take up religion. Interesting factoid: 40 percent of Catholics don't know John Kerry is Catholic.

From Press Think: Thoughts on the conventions as a wayback machine for the media (including some astonishing quotes from the AP's Walter Mears, who's covered a few) and as disastrous TV programs. Jay Rosen suggests that instead of running out New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as the "host," the Democrats should find someone who could hold the "show" together like Billy Crystal does at the Oscars.

I watched a little last night. I missed Barack Obama, but I read the transcript this morning. Ron Reagan's speech was terrific. Maybe I was just tired, but Teresa Heinz Kerry didn't do much for me. (I do think this: People who hate Hillary are going to hate her even more.) I'd forgotten that her first husband was a Republican. The film introducing her to the convention last night noted that when John Heinz was killed in that 1991 plane crash, Republican leaders approached Teresa about running for his seat.

I doubt you saw all of the film (or any of it) if you watched a commercial network last night. C-SPAN is carrying the DNC feed of the convention without commentary. And if that means I can watch it unfiltered without dim bulbs like Judy Woodruff trying to tell me what to think (when she can barely articulate what she thinks herself), then good for C-SPAN.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Can't I Wait for the Movie to Come Out?
On the morning after the day former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry said blogging is becoming to Democrats what talk radio is to Republicans, I am happy to be on the air again.

Can I say that I wish Bill Clinton would stop saying nice things about Bush, calling him a strong leader and all that? Yes, I know that the Democratic Convention's TV show is designed to appeal to the 37 swing voters in Ohio who will decide the election, and as such mustn't do anything to make them feel bad, but give me a break. You'd think, as the leading Democrat in the country, he'd be tougher, especially when ever soul in the hall knows how bad things are and who's to blame. But this whole week is not about them. It's about the Ohio 37, so anyone with a taste for political red meat will have to shop elsewhere. (Howard Dean is among the speakers tonight. Knock 'em dead, Governor, but whatever you do, don't take the saltpeter.)

One more thing about Clinton: I have become much less a fan in the last few weeks. The triangulating, all-things-to-all-people side of him has been more visible to me lately than it was during the entire eight years of his presidency. Whether he's trying to burnish his historical legacy, keep Hillary politically viable in the future, sell books, or what, I don't know. But compared to the likes of Al Gore and Jimmy Carter, he's been positively kind to Bush in a way that hardly becomes the leader of the opposition.

Recommended Reading: The American Conservative's interview with the anonymous author of Imperial Hubris. AmCon is a publication for conservatives who haven't swallowed the neocon Kool-Aid and as such, its perspectives on current events are different from the general wingnut opinion, not to mention the usual commie-lib rags I read. Anonymous warns that our choice in the war on terror is not between war and peace (as Dick "Him Before He Dicks You" Cheney suggested again this morning in an NPR soundbite), but between war and endless war. It's not a happy thought, and Anonymous offers no solutions in the interview. But he does suggest recognizing that "they hate us because they hate freedom" is an utter retreat from reality--and once we realize that, we can get on with the job of winning the war we have no choice but to fight.

Also Recommended: Not all of the "channels" in the blogosphere will be devoting time exclusively to the Democratic Convention this week. Robert Dreyfuss, for example, is devoting this week to discussing what's wrong with the 9/11 commission's report. Yesterday he discussed the powerful new centralized intelligence apparatus the commission recommends, and the danger of hurrying to put it in place during an election campaign. (On a side note, NPR reported this morning that the White House says Bush is reading the commission's report. Raise your hand if you think a guy who can't be bothered to read newspapers is hefting a 567-page book around the house.)

Monday, July 26, 2004

Conventional Wisdom
Well, we've already had a nice media flap to start the Democratic Convention--Mrs. Kerry telling a reporter to "shove it." It's a gift from the journalistic gods by coming early on the first day, when nothing that matters has happened yet. At least Theresa didn't tell the guy to go fuck himself. Had she uttered an obscenity, the Repug virtuecrats who have been having the fantods since Whoopi Goldberg's riff the other night would likely have gone spasmodic.

One of the big scene-setter stories today is about the GOP's "war room" in Boston, which is intended to shovel out responses to everything the Democrats say at the convention, up to and including comments on the weather. You can bet its products will get a lot of airtime this week--in the name of providing balance, the media will be eager to jump on anything that comes out of it. It'll be up to viewers to decide what's legitimate and what's crap--because nobody else will try very hard.

If you're tuning in for Barack Obama's keynote address tonight, be sure to tune in a little early to hear my representative, Tammy Baldwin, speak on health care. This is her signature issue, and it got her elected to Congress in 1998 even though it seemed like a distinct anachronism after the spectacular failure of the Clinton health care plan. Tammy's pretty impressive--earnest without being cloying, smart without being wonky. Tonight the rest of the country finds out why we like her up here.

John Edwards is reportdly losing his voice on his current campaign swing. More troubling, the Boston Globe reports that Edwards has not been setting the campaign trail alight, apparently. His economic message has been falling flat, and crowds only seem to get energized when he talks about Iraq. That's an interesting shift in only a couple of weeks--the conventional wisdom when Edwards was picked three weeks ago was that his economic message would be his strength--but it's no surprise in the long run. We've all known for two years that the campaign would eventually come down to All Terror, All the Time, and Iraq is part of that.

Recommended Reading: On Best of the Blogs yesterday, Groom Lake suggested that the timing is right for Bush to profit big from the 9/11 commission's recommendations. Although the Repugs' first reaction to the report was to suggest there wouldn't be time to do anything before the election, it's taken only a week for that ship to sail, and now they say they're hard at work. To do nothing now would give Kerry a pretty big club to swing in September and October. After all, they found time to debate gay marriage and flag burning in the last two weeks, neither of which matters a damn. Ergo, we'll probably see a special session of Congress, called to enact some of the commission's suggested reforms, which would give Bush the chance to point to his accomplishments, even though, as Groom recounts, he stonewalled the commission at every opportunity.

Get in While You Can, If You Can
Make no mistake: The people who were The Enemy in the Summer of Howard Dean, the gutless centrists of the DLC, the people who seem to think that the Democrats' best hope is to nominate Bush Lite and hope people vote for him by mistake, are in control of the Democratic Convention. If you want evidence, check this: Michael Moore has been denied credentials to attend the convention's official events. God forbid anybody should be let into the damn building who would upset the decorum with unseemly passion or progressive ideas.

A story appeared over the weekend regarding F9/11's potential impact on the election. The headline was "Voters Seen Little Swayed by Fahrenheit 9/11," but if you read the story, you can see that it's not much of a story--certainly not the vindication conservative critics of the film will make it out to be. A small percentage of the total population has seen it, the vast majority of viewers were Democrats, and the tiny percentage of Republicans who saw it were largely unswayed. None of this is especially surprising, given how polarized the electorate is, and given the number of people whose minds are irrevocably made up about the election. Reuters finally concluded that the film's major effect will be to energize the liberal Democratic base. If so, that's far from proving the film is meaningless in terms of the race. This election is going to be won by the candidate who best energizes his base and gets them to turn out. And the election is going to be razor-close anyhow--so despite the Reuters surmise, it's seems possible that Fahrenheit 9/11 could provide the margin of victory for Kerry if he wins. Neverthess, Moore gets no love from the official Democratic apparatchiks, and will have to be content with attending other events surrounding the convention, and not getting into the Fleet Center itself.

Of course, knowing what I know about Boston, it'll be half a miracle if any of the delegates actually get into the convention. One of the standard stories in the runup to any political convention is the one about how bad the traffic is around the convention site. That's especially true this year, when security is so tight. Yet when it comes to the traffic being worse than usual in Boston this week, I wonder how they can tell. On a normal day, Boston has the most hideous traffic of any major city I've ever visited. Off the main thoroughfares downtown is a rabbit warren of narrow, traffic-choked, one-way streets. And the main thoroughfares are no picnic--for the last several years they've been burying a major central expressway (a project which is well on the way to completion now). The last time we drove in Boston, the detours necessitated by the project were as counter-intuitive as any I've ever seen, and it took us three laps around one of them and nearly an hour to find a hotel that would have been, under normal circumstances, maybe two minutes from the expressway. Worst of all is getting out of Logan Airport--which is on a landfilled area that used to be ocean. The only way out is via a tunnel, and there's no such thing as a quick exit. So the last time we visited the family on Cape Cod, we flew into Providence, Rhode Island--and we were halfway to our destination in the time it would have taken us to reach the expressway from Logan Airport. It's a good thing local boy John Kerry is the nominee--at least he won't get lost on the way to the Fleet Center. Somebody better keep an eye on John Edwards, though.

This morning on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Taxicab Confessions.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Bartender, Two More
The news managers in the Bush Administration are clever SOBs, and the media tumbles for them every goddamn time. When the news should be dominated by the final report of the 9/11 commission--when the talking heads should be debating different levels of culpability for failings and what the potential remedies for these failings should be--the story is pushed off the lead by a supposed terrorist threat against media trailers at the Democratic Convention. We should have seen it coming. Because every reporter and producer will suddenly imagine himself being incinerated by a truck bomb or dosed with anthrax, leaving his/her beloved spouse and children to grow old and sad without him/her, this story will grow like a tumor, and voila! By tomorrow morning, the 9/11 commission's report will be as dead as Marlon Brando. Mission accomplished, again.

There's been a lot of talk in the last week or so about bloggers and the political conventions--and much of it, from the old media, centers on the idea that because bloggers intersperse opinion (and sometimes, jokes and vulgar invective) with what they write, Bloggers Are Not Journalists. Because they are not trained in the great gray canons of the sacred art of journalism, Bloggers Are Not Journalists. (I think maybe these people are jealous that Wonkette gets to talk about sex and they don't, but I could be wrong.) Well, first of all, some bloggers are, in fact, journalists, and good ones: Josh Marshall has been working the Valerie Plame case hard for a couple of months. Other working reporters, such as Robert Dreyfuss, have blogs, too. And the work of bloggers who are mostly commentators or analysts, such as Kos, Eric Alterman, Kevin Drum, Juan Cole, and Tom Engelhardt, would do just fine on the printed page opposite the likes of Krugman and Dowd. (Cole and Alterman already have.)

But lots of us in the blogosphere don't pretend to be journalists. I don't. I have no training and almost no experience as a journalist. (Although I have engaged in the time-honored small-market radio tradition of calling the sheriff's office on Sunday morning for the Saturday night police blotter.) I've had people tell me, "Your blog is my main news source"--which scares the hell out of me because that's in no wise what I intend this blog to be. Do I look like Peter Jennings? (Let's see: Jennings--handsome, suave, rich, Canadian; me--oh, the hell with it.) This blog is the electronic equivalent of talking politics over a couple of beers, and should be taken as such. It'll require more than this bilge to make you informed enough to risk getting out of bed in the morning.

One thing I'll say about bloggers, though, be they journalists or tipplers: In the aggregate, we're a hell of a lot smarter and less likely to be snookered than the highly trained and ultra-professional reporters, producers, and executives at the cable news channels, who are getting played like a symphony orchestra this weekend--again. And they never seem to hear the music.

Ego Trippin': I find it can be worthwhile to periodically Google my byline just to see where my writing goes on its journey after I set it free. I did this today for the first time in a while, and apparently Katherine Yurica does it too--last February 15, I blogged about her article, "The Despoiling of America." (Find my entry by looking in the February Archives on the right side of this page.) She lifted my post, put it on her own website, and wrote about it on her own blog. Also, a blog called "The Last Minute" linked to my Democratic Underground piece about the death of Ronald Reagan. So I'm out there. Today I registered this site at Blogshares, which tracks and trades on the "value" of blogs based on the number of incoming and outgoing links. So if you have a blog or a website with a list of links, I'd appreciate it if you'd add this crappy site (jabartlett.blogspot.com) and my equally crappy other site (hitsjustkeeponcomin.blogspot.com) to your links list. (Be sure to tell me you did it by leaving a comment on this post. Anybody who links to me gets a link from me in return.) Then go to Blogshares and register yourself. If you're on the Web, people should have the chance to read you.

Runaway Day
I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but it's absolutely glorious here in Wisconsin today. This week's heat wave (only the second one this summer worthy of the name) broke last night, and this morning is cool and bright and completely conducive to taking the rest of the day off. Which makes it all the more depressing to note yesterday's Progress Report from the Center for American Progress. The Report is absolute must reading for everybody who wants to keep an eye on the Bush disaster, and as such it's rarely a fount of good news. But yesterday's report was utterly breathtaking, and not in a good way--a record of political failure, hypocrisy, shameful neglect, and outright thievery that should have the villagers marching on the castle with torches. And the presidential election is in a dead heat? C'mon.

One of the ways Democrats are rationalizing the fact that John Kerry has yet to run away with the race is that he hasn't really introduced himself to the nation yet. Hard to believe for somebody who's spent something like $56 million on TV ads so far, although most of those have run only in a handful of targeted states. Kerry will make his biggest splash at the Democratic Convention next week. Jack Beatty of The Atlantic has written the acceptance speech Kerry should give next week. He won't give it, of course--but if he did, the splash would be approximately equal to what I'd make by cannonballing off the high dive. (Not that anyone needs to see that.)

Recommended Reading: Salon has four pages of letters, pro and con, in response to Patrick Smith's "Ask the Pilot" feature earlier this week about Annie Jacobsen, the woman who had a scary experience on a plane full of Syrian musicians. Here's a sample, from reader Ernesto Perez:
Patrick Smith's story nails the current racism-disguised-as-caution attitude that most media channels seem to avoid touching on. I nearly laughed at [Jacobsen's comment saying] "My advice would be to deplane as soon as I counted 14 Arabs as passengers." Anyone following that sort of thinking should also run away anytime they see two white guys in a Ryder truck since that certain template of race and behavior has proven to result in terrorist acts. While I understand that people may feel the need to cautiously observe their surroundings and take note of "suspicious" behavior, people like Annie Jacobsen and, more important, the media channels opting to disseminate their views, should practice more restraint in flaming the fires of paranoia and, essentially, racism.
Earlier this week I wrote a bit about the fact that almost any criticism of Israel in the United States is politically incorrect. Almost on cue, the indispensable ICH News dug up an article from 2002 written by former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley, explaining where this attitude of critical smackdown came from. It's another one of those things that mystifies non-American observers--how the Beacon of Liberty can be so blind to abuses we would condemn if countries other than Israel perpetrated them.

And finally, as befits a summer day when you might choose to go outside and do something to skin your knee--whatever happened to mercurochrome, the all-purpose antiseptic familiar to most people over age 30 and unknown to people under? Just ask The World's Smartest Human. And have a nice day.

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Friday Top 5: Days Gone Down.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Woman Meets Her Hour
News has been a staple of MTV since the channel went on the air. MTV news reports usually cover events no more significant than concert tour announcements, celebrity couplings and uncouplings, and other pop culture trifles. But give 'em credit: They are capable of getting off that dime when it matters.

The day the Iraq war started, I was in Smithfield, Virginia, on a business trip to a school. We were done by early afternoon on the war's first full day, but I wasn't flying out until the next morning, so I went back to the hotel and flipped back and forth between the NCAA men's basketball tournament and war coverage. It was weird to see so much business as usual on so many channels--unlike September 11, the war's beginning didn't stop the world at all. As I wrote in my journal, however, MTV had stopped: "MTV is not among the rest of the herd--they’ve done some fine reporting and have opened their phone lines and e-mails to war talk. 'Most of the soldiers are your age,' Kurt Loder told the audience this afternoon. Who knew MTV would come through in the clutch?" MTV's coverage that day was far different from the shocked and awed cheerleading of the major networks--it was, in a definite upset for MTV, quieter and more reflective. They weren't shoveling the Official Media Storyline. MTV that afternoon was almost like therapy for the channel's young viewers, giving them the chance to talk about what they felt, feared, and why. And I wasn't the only person to notice how out of character yet how perfectly right it was for MTV to do that.

Bill Clinton gave MTV some journalistic legitimacy during his run for the presidency in 1992 simply by talking to them like he would any other serious media outlet. (Whatever happened to Tabitha Soren, anyhow?) Ever since, people have taken MTV's "Choose or Lose" seriously because of the channel's clout with young viewers. This year is no exception. You could argue that this election matters to voters under 25 more than any other. Their futures may be greatly affected by who ends up in the White House, because it might determine whether they're ultimately subject to a draft--and never mind the other issues that matter to people in school, hoping to raise families, hoping to make a life in a country and world worth living in.

There's been a lot of talk this year about the political parties accrediting bloggers to cover the conventions right alongside more traditional journalists--and from its customary perch on the cutting edge, MTV has snagged the one blogger for whom a political convention is the perfect storm: Ana Marie Cox, a.k.a. Wonkette, who will file convention reports on MTV from Boston and New York. And why not? Politically, the conventions are as stylized as a kabuki dance, and as news, they're largely empty. But as a cultural event, they're part rock concert, part hockey fight, and part high-school field trip, liberally spiced with sex and alcohol. In other words, just like MTV's Spring Break and Beach House programs. Sounds like a job for Wonkette all right.

Recommended Reading: From The Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash on running the gauntlet to get into the United States. Draconian immigration regulations are making it harder and harder for non-Americans to get into the country, even when they come from allies such as Britain, and people are starting to stay away. Ash believes that they won't stay away forever, and that the world, even the Arab world, will start to think better of us under President Kerry. Which is why Osama Bin Laden is most likely a Bush man.

Quote of the Day
See if you can guess where this comes from:
They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.
Something from Counterpunch, maybe? Something Dennis Kucinich said over coffee? A line from the draft of John Kerry's acceptance speech? Nope. That bit at the end about keeping the common man in eternal subjection marks the quote as something from an earlier time. The words are those of Vice President Henry Wallace, writing in 1944 about the likelihood that the fascism that had taken hold in Germany and Italy could do so here.

Politically, Wallace was left of FDR (and was dropped from the ticket in the '44 campaign), ran for president on the fading Progressive Party ticket in 1948, and was later accused of being a communist, so his views weren't precisely in the mainstream of 1944. And they still aren't. Fewer accusations are more inflammatory than the accusation that Bush and the Republicans are fascists. Comparisons to Hitler and Mussolini bring down instant condemnation, weighted down as they are with much of the emotional baggage of the 20th century. Nevertheless fascism, as Wallace described it, looks an awful lot like the philosophy espoused by the modern Republican party. Calling it something else, or refusing to call it anything at all, doesn't change its nature, or the threat it represents. Thom Hartmann elaborates.

If You Hated This Post, You Will Also Dislike: My quick post on Best of the Blogs yesterday, about the latest tin-eared Bush initiative to help the homeless, and the latest post at The Hits Just Keep On Comin' about the Greatest Love Song Ever Written.

Don't Worry, Be Happy, and Prepare to Die
Last weekend, Dick Cheney gave a speech somewhere suggesting that the presidential campaign is a contest between hope and negativity. That's quite the laff riot coming from one of the most consistently negative figures ever to occupy high office in America--but it gets at a fundamental truth about the way Americans vote for a president. MSNBC blowhard Chris Matthews has said that Americans like to vote for the candidate with the sun in his face--in other words, the one who makes them feel good about the future. It's one of the things that concerned people about Howard Dean--and it's one of the great positives John Edwards brings to the Democratic ticket. And so the Bush campaign takes great pains to cast itself as the party of the bright future--peace and prosperity, lions lying down with lambs, etc. But they walk a tightrope, because at the same time, the administration is forever reminding people how much danger we're in from evildoers. It's hard to seem sunny when you are reminding people that they could be blown up by Islamic fanatics at any moment, or that the fundamental underpinnings of their culture are being washed away by Will and Grace. So Cheney's talk of how positive the Bush administration is doesn't stand up to common sense--or to more systematic forms of analysis, either. Clinical psychologist Renana Brooks examined Bush's State of the Union speeches and his statements in the 2000 presidential debates, and found that Bush is the most negative of our recent presidents--and furthermore, that he uses language designed to encourage Americans to feel "learned helplessness." Unlike FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan, who gave Americans bad news and then said "We're going to fix it and here's how," Bush uses rhetoric that makes Americans feel there's no way they can solve the nation's problems. Only Bush and his party can save us--not our own resolve, not the Democrats, not even the Constitution--thus reinforcing the need to vote for him and only him if the country is to be saved.

Nevertheless, in Bush country people will tell you that Bush's optimism and faith in the future are unswerving. Rick Perlstein of the Village Voice took a trip to Portland, Oregon, recently, to attend a Bush/Cheney campaign house party and talk to the faithful. His story is titled "The Church of Bush", and there's no denying that's where these people worship. They believe in Bush no matter what, even when confronted with evidence that directly contradicts their beliefs. That's not a rational political decision, that's a religious faith.

Recommended Reading: Alternet has a report from Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the impact of No Child Left Behind on special education. I'm not sure how old it is--the post date is July 13, but it says that Rod Paige called the American Federation of Teachers a terrorist organization "last month"--which would make the piece a year old. No matter, though--the frontline tales of the long-term effect NCLB is going to have on schools in general and special education in particular make clear that the bureaucrats who designed the law were utterly unfamiliar with the Law of Unintended Consequences--and if they'd set out to do irreparable harm to the public school system, they couldn't have designed a much more efficient system to do it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Hysteria, Paranoia, Racism, Bad Writing, and Ducks
There's plenty of worthwhile reading out there this morning, and this is just a small sample:

In the Capital Times, John Nichols reports a nugget of news I have managed to miss thus far: Republican bigwigs have canceled several elections already this year--presidential primaries in several states--ostensibly to save money, but also to spare Bush any embarrassment over the possibility that he might not win by 99-percent, Kim Jong-Il-like numbers. This should make nobody feel comfortable about the GOP's deep-down commitment to democracy.

If you haven't received the link in your e-mail or heard about it on talk radio or cable news, you will soon: Annie Jacobsen, a writer for a website called Women's Wall Street, had a scary experience on an airplane full of Muslim men she was sure were terrorists--except they weren't. Salon's Patrick Smith deconstructs her experience and finds in it approximately equal parts hysteria, paranoia, racism, and bad writing. (Note to Annie: If you want to impress people, citing Ann Coulter as an expert on terrorism will get you nowhere.)

In 1988, there was a school of thought suggesting that because VP-designate Dan Quayle was young and attractive, he might help pull female voters to the Republican ticket. Sixteen years later, the Democrats have nominated another young, attractive man as a presidential running mate--and while he's clearly impressed some of the ladies, Republicans are suggesting that he's a bit too attractive. Richard Goldstein of the Village Voice examines the homosexual innuendos being launched at the Kerry/Edwards ticket.

I believe it was Eric Alterman, using the theory that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it must be a duck, who first suggested that George W. Bush is an Al Qaeda plant. The mighty Paul Krugman, taking a page from the forthcoming remake of The Manchurian Candidate, suggests how one might logically expect "The Arabian Candidate" to act in office, if his goals were to advance the cause of militant Islam. Everybody duck.

Also taking a cue from the movies, here's one of the best bumper-sticker/T-shirt slogans I've seen in a long time. Let's hope we can rewrite the ending.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Wanted: Intelligent Life for Green, Verdant Planet; No Experience Necessary
In the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, as Charlton Heston's character is being hosed off by his ape jailers, he screams, "It's a madhouse! A madhouse!" Looking over the headlines this afternoon, we all clearly need to be on the lookout for apes with hoses. "Report: Michael Jackson to Be Father of Quadruplets." Just when you think that freak show couldn't get any freakier, it does. Rather like this one: "Bush: I Want to Be the Peace President." (Insert disdainful snort here.)

Despite what he said today, the putative peace president's noise of yesterday about a possible link between Iran and 9/11--however dubious that link might be--means that the odds of the October Surprise involving Iran just improved quite a bit. (As for a preeemptive war on Iran during a second Bush term--that's got to be a mortal lock now.) If we strike in the near future, is not likely that we'll see American B-52s roaring in over Tehran--rather, we will likely hit Iran's nuclear capability. Provided, of course, that Israel doesn't get there first. Israel is reportedly ready to strike Iranian nuclear facilities at will. As recently as a year ago, American officials feared such a strike, and even now, it's likely that we wouldn't be overtly helping, tied down as we are in Iraq. But given that Bush is essentially Ariel Sharon's lapdog, you can bet that we'll be leading the cheers when it happens. Even though John Kerry would likely applaud it, too, given the turf he's staked out, such a strike can't help but play to Bush's advantage in the fall campaign, especially given the sloppy habits of thought rampant in our media, and in our own heads.

You don't get much about Israel on this blog. From where I sit, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks utterly intractable, each side having demonized the other to a point at which rational discussion is hopeless. Under those circumstances, the cycle of violent action followed by more violent reaction will go on until the end of time, so what's there to talk about? American presidents of both parties have tried to mediate the conflict--but given our role as the original guarantor of Israel's sovereignty, we aren't always perceived as an honest broker. Changing regimes here doesn't historically make much difference: There's more agreement on Israel policy across the Republican/Democrat divide than on any other major issue (as Kerry's recently-released position papers on Israel make clear.) Complicating matters is the fact that as soon as you start wondering if the Israelis might somehow be at fault in no matter how tiny a way, you're instantly branded an anti-Semite, and if you happen to be Jewish, a self-hating Jew. (And never mind the effect of the whole Book of Revelation on the way many Americans view Israel and the Middle East.) If ever there was a prescription likely to keep the status quo status-quoing until the cows come home, this is it. This week, Salon confronted the intractable problem with an author interview and a review of a new book by Richard Ben Cramer called How Israel Lost: The Four Questions.

Recommended Reading: Whether John McCain's future job prospects are the key to the 2004 election is a matter of debate. What's not debatable is that a lot of people who would have voted for him in 2000 are still out there, as are the millions who pulled the lever for Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. These people are not members of the hardcore Republican base, and as such, they could conceivably be peeled off by the Kerry campaign. Writing in The Nation, Kevin Phillips suggests how Kerry could do it--and how he could fail.

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Fickle Finger of Fate.

Little Brothers
First there was Total Information Awareness, the massive database linking project headed up by Iran-Contra figure John Poindexter, the funding for which was spiked by Congress long before the project was much more than a dream on a drawing board. Then there was CAPPS II, a controversial airline passenger screening system that would have assigned a threat level to everybody who bought an airline ticket--a level you would have no right to know until it interfered with your travel plans, and then you'd have no way to find out why you'd been assigned that level and no way to change it. Last week, very quietly, CAPPS II was 86ed by the Department of Homeland Security. Outrage from privacy-minded citizens' groups helped, but technical considerations were a big part of the decision, too.

It's important to note that damn few people in a position to get these projects rolling think they're wrong. Their major objection is only that they're presently unworkable. They're unworkable at the moment because they are intended to operate by knitting together information from hundreds of existing databases, from banks, credit card companies, travel agents, libraries, insurance companies, and so forth. The technological obstacle is finding a way to merge this vast amount of information, store it, sort it, and report it in a timely fashion that's useful to the watchers--but given our history of technological innovation, the technological obstacle will be surmounted someday, leaving only civil libertarians to fight against it. The ACLU is out with a flash animation showing what life might be like in a society where all the various databases are linked together and made broadly available. It's kind of funny, but scary as hell, too, and it shows that we're not at risk of being watched by Big Brother as much as we are of being watched by dozens of Little Brothers. The risk that the ACLU's satire might become reality is great--and if you're a betting person, the way to bet is that it will come to pass one day, especially because so many Americans have shown that they're perfectly willing to give up chunks of their liberty in exchange for what they perceive to be safety.

One thing that is supposedly making us safer is the anti-terror provisions of the Patriot Act. Even in my much-missed former home, Iowa, land of more hogs than people, police and prosecutors are rounding up evildoers thanks to the powers the Patriot Act has given them. But according to a story in last Sunday's Des Moines Register, many of those arrested under the terrorism provisions don't seem especially threatening--people stealing baby food and reselling it, or soliciting sham marriages to keep their convenience-store jobs. At the same time, more serious violations--like exporting night-vision goggles to Kuwait--are not classified as terrorism cases.

What's most offensive about this is the broader issue of using the Patriot Act as a dragnet to catch penny-ante violators whose primary crime is being of Middle Eastern descent. Given these prosecutions, for actions which sorta kinda coulda be linked to the type of people who might be terrorists, it would be a short leap to using those same provisions to catch "violators" whose primary offense is having bad ideas that sorta kinda coulda be linked to the type of people who might terrorists. (Wait for a second Bush term for that to start happening.)

Recommended Reading: Back to the subject of technological security protection for a second . . . almost two years ago, The Atlantic published a story about how "foolproof" electronic security systems aren't. If you missed it then, read it now.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Christ, Another Wisconsin Post
It is oft lamented on this blog that Wisconsin, once the Progressive State, is not anymore. Our legislative Democrats often act like Republicans, and our Republicans are nuts. Take Assembly Speaker John Gard as one fine example. He's ostensibly from Peshtigo in northeastern Wisconsin, but he owns a house and his children attend school in Sun Prairie, a suburb east of Madison. Gard made news earlier this summer by pushing a state Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (when state law already bans it), and for a gay-bashing speech he gave at the state Republican convention. As in Washington, so in Madison--our Assembly is colonized by hardcore wingnuts addicted to tax cuts and Jesus, while our Senate is controlled by less-wingnutish, but still plenty-enough-Republican Republicans. And so we have Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer, who is always eager to whore for big business (although in her defense, so are many Wisconsin Democrats)--but she wouldn't push something called the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, an idea beloved by the Assembly wingnuts, which would have the effect of strangling state and local governments for want of funding. In Repug-speak, this is Good Government. Because Panzer wasn't willing to embrace Good Government, that means she is far too liberal, so State Representative Glenn Grothman is running against her in the Republican primary for her seat. Since no Democrat filed papers in Panzer's district, the primary is the election. This dustup is happening in the eastern Wisconsin city of West Bend, which just happens to be the home base of U.S. Senate candidate Russ Darrow. (Maybe it's the water over there.) Dustin Beilke of FightingBob.com writes about the Panzer/Grothman race, and notes that however entertaining it might be to watch Republicans eat their own for a change, it can teach us a lesson, too.

Recommended Reading: Which single individual not named George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, or John Edwards could decide the presidential election? Best of the Blogs makes a case for one today.

Vi har ikke noen Busker i Norge
If you took Slate's red state/blue state quiz last Friday, you may have noticed that they missed one question that could have been rather telling of your ideological bent, and it could have gone something like this:
The Tribulation Force is--
A. a concept in physics involving the behavior of matter under extreme pressure
B. a type of athletic shoe worn by competitive cyclists
C. a group of characters featured in the Left Behind series of novels
D. the umbrella name for a triple-bill rock concert touring outdoor venues this summer
If you're a red-stater, you'd presumably be able to answer C. The latest novel in the series, Glorious Appearing, is out. Nicholas Kristoff wrote about it in the New York Times over the weekend, and he says, "If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of 'Glorious Appearing' and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit." And if the Islamic version became a best-seller in the Arab world, some of the same people who are rushing out to buy copies of it for their children would point to it as a good reason why we ought to exterminate as many Muslims as possible.

I don't flatter myself into thinking I'll turn anyone into an secular humanist by what I write here. (It took more than one stupid blog to make me into one.) But I do think that the sickening violence so beloved by America's Christian fundamentalists is a fine argument for humanism. Where the hell is compassion, connection, healing, and hope? And what the hell is it worth if it can only come about after an unspeakable slaughter? And what good is a god that people believe in because they're afraid of what will happen to them if they don't? Screw it. I'll set my compass by what's best for humanity right here, right now, in the only world we know and the only world we can affect by our actions today, and I'll take my chances in the hereafter.

Recommended Reading: Here's the full text of the article by Wayne Madsen I mentioned in last night's post, about the Election Day terror alert plan. You judge whether you buy it or not. It seems too hamfisted a scenario even for them. Nevertheless, because the War on Terror is, first and foremost, a political operation designed to get Bush reelected in 2004, desperate times may require desperate measures.

And finally, if you've had enough of bloodthirsty fundies, bogus terror fears, and the whole range of pathology that constitutes modern life in America, there are alternatives. I'm mostly a mongrel, but 25 percent of my ancestry is Norwegian, and the homeland of my ancestors looks pretty good today.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

And Also Rustproofing
A year or so ago, somebody asked Wisconsin car dealer and multimillionaire Russ Darrow why he was running for the Republican nomination for Russ Feingold's Senate seat. He said it was because he could afford to. I was about half-convinced it was because his name was already on the back of about a million cars driving around Wisconsin, and maybe he hoped people would think they could get free floor mats if they pulled his lever in the voting booth. Lots of Republicans want floor mats so far. Darrow is currently the frontrunner for the Republican nom, although his campaign took the poll that shows him with a 40-8 lead over his nearest challenger, so caveat emptor. Yet it's hard to imagine Darrow, yet another in a long line of unqualified Republican dimwits across the country seeking high office because they can, being able to stand in comparison with Feingold and not come off looking like an overmatched small-town doofus. He spouts simplistic nonsense cribbed from Republican talking points, harps on his business acumen, and makes unfounded charges against Feingold's patriotism and judgment at every turn. (The slogan for his campaign is "the Right Russ," but a political cartoonist up here has suggested a more accurate take: "Russ Darrow: A Simple Man for Simple Times.") Now it turns out that Darrow's TV advertising for his umpteen car dealerships around the state might have to come off the air 30 days before the September primary and 60 days before the general election because it may violate the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. We now pause to chuckle at the irony.

Recommended Reading: David Cole of The Nation got invited to appear on The O'Reilly Factor recently, and he pushed the Fox blowhard over the edge. What viewers saw was not what Cole said and heard during the taping earlier that day, and the sordid tale is here. It's another fine example of what bugs me most about conservatives in general--it ain't what they believe in half as much as their sanctimonious hypocrisy, which Cole saw up close and personal.

And finally, here's a mindblower from the Village Voice: Journalist Wayne Madsen, who writes extensively about security issues (as befits a former member of the National Security Agency during the Reagan Administration), spins an election-day scenario in which the Bush Administration uses targeted terror warnings on November 2 to ensure that California goes Republican and they win. I am skeptical. If they wait until Election Day itself to issue terror warnings, shit better be blowing up within hours--or a large portion of the electorate will.

Friday, July 16, 2004

All the Way for the USA
So it turns out that Hillary Clinton will be speaking at the Democratic Convention after all. She wasn't on the initial list of speakers, but after a great deal of tutting and clucking, the Kerry campaign invited her to speak. (She will apparently introduce Bill.) The tutting and clucking included plenty of speculation regarding just how much the Clintons really want Kerry to win. Clearly, Hillary would be a major contender in 2008 if Kerry goes down in November. (I saw somebody this week handicapping 2008 as a two-horse race between Hillary and John Edwards, which is a case of premature speculation if ever there was one.) In fact, Bill came out this morning and promised that Hillary wouldn't run against an incumbent Kerry in 2008. But Hillary will be only 65 in 2012, which is by no means too old to make the race then--except she'd probably still have to run against Edwards, who'd be an eight-year incumbent VP by then.

Nevertheless, to suggest that the Clintons want Kerry to lose now so that Hillary could win later on is pretty silly, really. They may be ambitious people, but they're also smart people--and, I would submit, they are people who genuinely care about the fate of their country. And they have to know that four more years of scorched earth under Bush would be worse for the country than their having to wait awhile for the chance to govern the country. If they campaign for Kerry with less than total enthusiasm, well, first, how will we know, exactly? And second, what difference will it make? Their appeal as campaigners is unquantifiable--and depends entirely on what the observer wants to see.

Speaking of Democratic Convention speakers, the main keynoter is going to be Barack Obama of Illinois, who's running against whoever the Republicans can find for a U.S. Senate seat. (Howard Dean is also going to get to speak, as is my representative in Congress, Tammy Baldwin.) I read someplace yesterday that Illinois representative Jan Schakowsky was part of a group meeting with Bush at the White House recently, and she was wearing an Obama for Senate campaign button. She said that when Bush saw it, he actually jumped--and she had to explain that Obama and Osama are not the same thing at all. Too bad. We know where Barack Obama is.

Recommended Reading: Mark Morford imagines a conversation between a couple of hookers gearing up for the Republican Convention, which is apparently great for the vice business wherever it meets. (I can't help fearing, however, that the tone of the column is the same kind of thing that got Morford suspended by SF Gate for several weeks earlier this year.) Despite what you'd think, there are studies showing that Republicans tend to have lots of sex and enjoy it. Years ago I read about a study that said born-again Christian couples tend to get it on more often than liberal couples do, and born-again Christian women report being more orgasmic than liberal women. But as we know, Democratic women are generally more attractive than Republican women, and speaking as a Democratic man, I think we can make the same generalization for the male gender. So what do you get when you mix horned-up Republicans with attractive Democrats? An organization called Fuck the Vote, which offers conservatives the chance to have sex with a liberal hottie, provided they refuse to vote for Bush in November. (The link is definitely not safe for work.) You can also volunteer to be a liberal hottie, provided you have the looks for it. And, of course, the stomach.

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Friday Top 5: Muzak in Hell.

No Getting Over
As of this morning, the Useless Web Poll shows that readers of this blog think Bush will be reelected this fall. My vote doesn't count, but at this moment, I'd have to say I think so too. Not because more people want him to win than want John Kerry, but because Bush and his party control the playing field, the clock, and the referees. For example, the House of Representatives passed a measure yesterday forbidding the United Nations from sending observers to ensure the fairness of our election. (Did you ever imagine we might feel the need for them? What do we look like, Bolivia? Well, yes.) The approaching election is starting to look more and more surreal, and my guess is that we ain't seen nothing yet. With the growing surreality comes the growing likelihood that Bush will find a way to remain in office. Seattle Weekly's Knute Berger says we should hope for the best, but also think about what we'll do in the event of the worst. It all comes down to how Bush wins. If he's reelected fair and square, that's one thing. But if there are questions, then we're in trouble, and we should respond like it's trouble instead of just "getting over it" again.
Recommended Reading: Red-state or blue-state is a, well, state of mind. Slate has a quiz designed to help you figure out which state you're in. It's fun, but don't make any life decisions based on it. I consider myself blue through and through, and it showed me in the middle but tending to red. Living in the Midwest is a biasing factor, as is being a sports fan and an ex-radio guy. You tend to know stuff even if you don't care about it.

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Go All the Way.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Remember how the Bush Administration dealt with the Chinese after an American spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter and was forced down on Hainan Island in the South China Sea in 2001? How Cheney made ominous noises, Bush refused to apologize for the incident, and it seemed for a few days as if the new administration was actively trying to poison relations with China? Then came 9/11 and China moved to the back page. Now it's up front again--or it should be, except this story doesn't seem to be getting much play. In the Los Angeles Times, Chalmers Johnson writes today that the U.S. is sending seven carrier groups on joint military exercises with Taiwan off the Taiwanese coast this month and next. Seven--enough to make the Chinese wonder if they're going to be attacked, if not now, then sometime. (We only have 12 carrier groups altogether.) So China is embarking on a crash program to build up their military force so it's sufficient to fight off a seven-headed enemy within the next 10 years. They say they could take on one or two carrier groups now--making clear they could lob a few missiles our way this summer if they wanted to.

You can guess who's behind this. And you gotta hand it to the neocons--once they get an idea in their heads, there's no shifting it. And this idea goes way back, to the post-World War II intellectual forefathers of today's neocons, who walked around asking, "Who lost China?" after the revolution of 1949. (Implicit answer: commie appeasers in the Truman Administraton.) Johnson wonders if this might be the neocons' last chance to poke China with a stick, since it's almost inevitably going to evolve economically and politically in the direction of South Korea and Taiwan itself--and it won't be any fun to mess with them then. (I can't rule out the whole October Surprise thing either. How about another war to bring the electorate into line?) 

Recommended Reading: I complained last summer how Kerry and Edwards (and others in the Democratic field) were neutered on Iraq because they voted for the damn war. The Los Angeles Times fears they might still be neutered. How can they criticize Bush for getting our soldiers killed over there when they voted for the very idea to begin with? Howard Dean alluded to this conundrum when I heard him speak in Madison during the waning days of his campaign. Dean imagined Bush ticking off a list of his initiatives--Iraq, No Child Left Behind, and others--and asking Kerry to explain why he'd voted for them then if they were such bad ideas now. It's not a pretty thing to imagine--by the time Kerry got done with the nuances and the footnotes, it would be Christmas. A Times editorial sorts out the box Kerry and Edwards are in.

And speaking of Dean, his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, is out with his book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Alternet has an excerpt. Key moment: It's December 2003, and the campaign is in trouble. In a meeting with staffers, Dean has just refused to release his papers from his term as governor of Vermont.

My office is in the corner of the third floor, a long narrow gash of a room--a crash site of paper, CD cases, and empty Diet Pepsi cans. Howard Dean is standing against the wall, his back to me. He's shaking.

"You made this too easy," he manages to say.

"What?" I ask.

"This. I never thought it would go this far. I was going to raise my profile, raise health care as an issue, shake up the Democratic Party. Help change the country. But I never thought this would happen. Don't you understand?" He turns and faces me. "I never thought I could actually win. I wanted to . . . but I never really thought it could happen."
Trippi believes the Dean campaign will go down in history as a profound shift in the balance of power from the few to the many. But we can't be sure that's going to happen either--not yet.
This afternoon on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Burning Love.

Battle Lines
Some followups on yesterday's posts:

Earlier this week, Salon reviewed the new film Outfoxed, about the slanted news management at Fox, and the title of the story says it all: "Happy Talk From Hell." As bad as they are, it's worse than you think.

When I was researching the composition of state legislatures yesterday, I was surprised at the number of reliably red states that have Democrat majorities in one or both houses of their state legislatures. The flip side of that is the number of reliably blue states--New York and California among them--that have Republican governors. As Kenneth Baer writes in The American Prospect, electoral math isn't as easy as it seems. States, red and blue, are just lines on a map. They do not enclose totally homogenous areas. Thus, John Edwards is unlikely to bring a single state into the Democratic column, but Baer says he'll keep John Kerry competitive in what he calls "'southern' areas of non-Southern states."

Recommended Reading: Jim Wallis of Sojourners shows yet again how Christian ideals have been hijacked by right-wingers for distinctly non-Christian purposes. "Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it's time to take it back." Wallis suggests that a politician's denominational identity is less important than how his religious and moral commitments shape his vision. While I have my doubts about whether the good religious faith can do outweighs the evil for which it is responsible, Wallis's prescription would take a great deal of the toxicity out of today's brand of political Christianity--and that would be good for everybody.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Move Along, Nothing More to See Here
The chairman of the Federal Election Administration says the feds won't cancel or suspend elections this fall in the event of a terrorist attack. But what another member of the commission said, elaborating on the point, might not make anybody feel better: in his view, the Constitution gives individual states the right to postpone elections--or even appoint slates of electors--in the event of an emergency. (Specifically, Article II, which gives states the right to decide how presidential electors are chosen, and which empowered Florida's legislature in the 2000 election controversy.) So constitutionally, it seems possible that there would be no need to postpone the election--it could be legally cancelled and the state legislatures could pick the president.

Here in Wisconsin, for example, the state went for Gore by 5,000 votes last time and is evenly divided over Bush and Kerry this time, but the legislature is overwhelmingly Republican. So my first thought was that this is another way for the Republicans to subvert the will of the people and jack the election--then I started crunching the numbers. Assume that each candidate were to win all the states currently rated as solidly in their favor or close. (See Election Projection 2004 for the list.) This would give Bush 191 electoral votes and Kerry 230. Now, compare the composition of the state legislatures in those states. Assume that legislatures with Democrat majorities would select pro-Kerry electors and Republican majorities would select pro-Bush electors. By that arithmetic, Kerry still leads, 119-87. Bush actually loses a larger percentage of electoral votes by this arithmetic than Kerry does--55 percent versus 48 percent. Don't make book on any of this rough ciphering, though: Many statehouses are split between the parties, which means glorious partisan brouhahas would erupt from sea to shining sea. But it's interesting to see how the numbers break out.

But looking at it another way: Why would it matter if the election was postponed or not, in the event of a terrorist attack? Unlike the perfidious Spanish electorate, which was (as the Official State Media Storyline has it) frightened by the Al-Qaeda bombings into throwing out its resolute and heroic terror-fighting government in favor of a bunch of appeasers, America's rally-round impulses would likely have the opposite effect on our post-attack election. Billmon spins the scenario:
Suppose that on the eve of the attack, national polls and the electoral math both show Kerry-Edwards clinging to a narrow lead over Bush-Cheney, one that appears sufficient, barely, to put the Democrats back in the White House.

Let's further suppose that a week after the attack, on the eve of the election, those same national polls show an enormous "rally around the President" effect, one that pushes Bush's approval ratings back towards 80%--not only enough to guarantee Shrub a landslide reelection victory, but also enough to sweep the Republicans to a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a 1932 or 1974-sized edge in our Chamber of People's Deputies.

Under those circumstances, would you want the election to be held as scheduled? Or would you rather it was postponed for a month, until the initial shock had passed and the voters had had a chance to consider whether the administration's incompetence and the relative indifference of the GOP Congress to homeland security needs might not have contributed to the disaster?
Given the especially spineless performance of the Democrats after 9/11 (which generally continues today), I am not sure a month would be enough to help them find their cojones, let alone figure out how best to use them. And even if they did, rational consideration and reasoned debate would be swamped by mass national panic and people voting their fears. Which is why I believe, deep inside, the administration and its supporters would welcome an attack if it comes. More than anything else, more than catching Osama, more than a rebound in the economy or a 50 percent drop in gas prices, a terrorist attack means Bush gets reelected. Period. It won't matter when we have the election.

Other Interesting Stuff (as learned on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures):
There are currently more Republican state legislators than Democrats nationwide, by less than a one-percent margin out of over 7,800 seats. This is the first time that's been true in 50 years.

Five legislatures in states considered solidly for Bush or Bush-leaning have Democrat majorities in both statehouses: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Only two states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, flip the other way--solidly for Kerry or leaning that way with Republican legislative majorities.

Clearly, you can't swing a cat in the state of New Hampshire without hitting a state legislator. The New Hampshire House of Representatives has 400 members. Not 40--four hundred. (The State Senate has but 24.) Next to New Hampshire, the biggest state house is Georgia's, with 180. Alaska has both the smallest House and Senate--40 members and 20. The biggest state senate is Minnesota's, with 67 members.

And let's give it up to Nebraska--a one-house legislature in which candidates run without party affiliation. Now THAT'S entertainment.

Sometimes Life is Funny and Sometimes It Ain't
A few choice scenes from the rich pageant that is the summer of 2004:

Ain't Funny: As I predicted here several months ago (but was not the only one to predict), the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Iraq intelligence failures allows the Bush Administration to claim they were the innocent and trusting victims of CIA incompetence. It also contains the added bonus of proclaiming that nobody pressured the CIA to provide justifications for the war--which nobody paying attention honestly believes. Mother Jones suggests that the Senate looked in the wrong places, and their investigation failed to get at some critical issues that may have revealed how the administration got what it wanted to justify the war it intended to wage.

Funny: Setting up yesterday's celebrity press conference staged by Republicans in support of the gay-marriage amendment, Wonkette noted: "They're fighting fire with fire. Today at 3PM, former Washington Redskin Darrell Green, actor Dean Jones, and Pat fucking Boone will speak out in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment. So it's really more like fighting fire with a stick that's been sitting under a lamp for awhile." And her post-conference take on Pat Boone's appearance is classic.

Ain't Funny: Also from Wonkette this morning: A series of memos--all real, none from Ana Marie's fertile brain--from Fox News executives showing the ways, both obvious and subtle, that reporters are instructed to frame their reporting to benefit Bush and the Republicans. They were released by makers of a new documentary film, Outfoxed, which explores Fox's news management.

Funny: Desperate Illinois Republicans are considering whether to draft former Bears coach Mike Ditka to replace Jack Ryan in the U.S. Senate race. State Senator Dave Syverson, a member of the Republican central committee, says Ditka is "the ideal candidate"--which, if true, says a lot about the tapped-out nature of Illinois Republicans--and then he gets even funnier: "The public is really tired of the slick politicians. They're tired of sound bites. They're tired of trial lawyers running government. The fact that he's blunt and honest and represents ordinary people, I think he could shake up the dinosaurs in Washington." Yep, that's Mike Ditka--an ordinary man who happens to be an ex-pro athlete and TV commentator with millions in endorsement deals. And as we all know, what the Republican Party needs is more bluntness--as if they weren't already stomping around like Godzilla on crack.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Flare-Up After the Burnout
Well, this whole blogger burnout thing is interesting. Just as I got my mojo back after a week of resting it, so did Billmon, who's reopened the Whiskey Bar, on almost the very same day Wired wrote about his hiatus. If you, like me, thought that the indictment of Enron's Kenneth Lay got a distinctly lukewarm treatment as news last week, Billmon explains how enormous a scandal it really is. It's a tale of purchased political influence that makes Whitewater and the supposed scandal over foreign contributions to the Gore campaign look like the 12-hour wonders they should have been, because its impact continues right up to this very morning. But because it's complicated (and because it makes Our Maximum Leader look less like the Anointed of God and more like an influence-peddling pol), it's being misreported, if not ignored, by the bought-and-paid-for media.

As for my own mojo, one of the things that helped rejuvenate it were those posts I wrote about the Starland Vocal Band, "Smoke on the Water," and other musical topics. But since that kind of thing doesn't really belong on this blog, I've started another one especially for them. So "The Hits Just Keep On Comin'" is now open, and I hope you'll click over there once in a while. My house is full of records, tapes, CDs, and books about music, and my head is full of stories and thoughts about the stuff I've listened to and read about for more than 30 years. "The Hits Just Keep On Comin'" is where the stories will come out.

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