Monday, August 30, 2004

Mud Wrestling
Lots of bloggers are on the astounding statement from Dennis Hastert linking George Soros of America Coming Together with the drug trade. Imagine the conniptions if it had been a Democratic leader making such an accusation about a major Republican activist. Wingnut outrage would have been audible everywhere without a radio. Imagine further what would happen if Kerry had said what Bush did this morning, about the war on terror being unwinnable, now that 1,000 lives and $135 billion have been spent. The newest blogger at Best of the Blogs, Jeff Popovich, wonders how--and whether--the left should use Bush's statement against him. Do we get down in the dirt and wrestle like the Repugs would if the shoe were on the other foot? Or is that what the Repugs want, because they're so much better at it than we are?

Programming Note: Starting tomorrow, I am going to be spending much of this week in Iowa. (I intend to try posting from there as best I can.) My timing is pretty good, as it seems some of the state's wackier wingnuts will be at the Republican Convention. Michael Crowley is blogging the convention for the New Republic (I guess there really are bloggers in New York after all), and he dropped by a meeting of the Iowa delegation this morning, at which the state party's acting chairman reminded the assembled that "This is the GOP: God's Official Party." More proof that Bush's strategy is not to focus on swing voters. John Kerry can have the swing voters. Bush and Karl Rove want as many religious conservatives as possible to march to the polls for him and Jesus.

(Of the many things falling on deaf ears in New York this week--the large increases in the number of people in poverty and without health insurance, the likelihood that the 1,000th American soldier will die in Iraq, and a new Bush flip-flop on global warming, to name but three--the message contained in this flash animation from the people at Sojourners may be the most basic and critical, and the single one to which many of the delegates are the most deaf.)

New tonight on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Father's Day.

If a Flip-Flopper Flip-Flops But Everyone's Gone to New York So Nobody Hears It, Is it Really a Flip-Flop?
In an NBC interview, Bush said of his war on terror, "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world." But retreating from the war would be "a disaster for your children."

"I don't think you can win it?" Mr. John-Kerry-Is-A-Flip-Flopper now says "I don't think you can win it"? That's not just a flip-flop--it's a somersault that would get a 10 even from the Korean judge. Retreat would be "a disaster for your children"? "Yours," yes. His, no. The only danger his children are facing is getting busted for public intoxication.

With Republicans convening in New York this morning to tout, among many other dubious claims, their moral resolve in the war on terror, you'd think this story would get big play. [Blogger snorts dismissively here.] Somehow, I don't foresee a rush of convention speakers changing their scripts.

One thing that's missing from the Republican convention is stories about bloggers getting credentials to cover it. I don't know if it means no bloggers are going, or if none of the bloggers I care about are going. Wonkette, who covered the Democrats for MTV isn't going. (She says, "We knew we should have molested Gideon Yago when we had the chance.") Also missing are A-list celebrities. The Glasgow Sunday Herald says: "Republicans can’t tell a celebrity from a has-been or, even worse, a never-has-been." (Which we knew when they hyped Dean Jones' appearance at their anti-gay-marriage press conference last month.) Apparently, the biggest Republican celebs--Bruce Willis, Britney Spears, Ricky Martin--have turned down invitations to appear, although Wonkette reminds us, "they do have Lynryd fucking Skynryd."

Recommended Reading: Juan Cole on the case of Pentagon official Larry Franklin, accused of spying for Israel: It's not simple espionage--it's something far worse.

"They hate us because they hate freedom." In seven words, this is how Bush explained the September 11 attacks and justified the war on terror. In other words, a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West has begun and must be fought to the finish. It's the soundbite of the ages--and most sentient beings not drunk on Republican Kool-Aid know that it's complete nonsense. ICH News has a piece by M. Shahid Alam that analyzes the ways in which the soundbite fails to capture reality--and the ways in which believing it does could shape our future reality.

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Spanish Eddie Cashed It In.

Quote of the Day: White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, dismissing a statement by Ben Barnes, a prominent Texas politician who helped Bush get into the National Guard and now says he's ashamed of having done so. "It is not surprising coming from a longtime partisan Democrat." Barnes is a Democrat, yeah, but he also supported the reelection of Republican Carole Keeton Strayhorn for Texas state comptroller in 2002. And who is Carole Keeton Strayhorn? Among other things, she's Scott McClellan's mother. (Greg Palast has much more on Barnes.)

Sunday, August 29, 2004

For Your Own Good
Some mornings writing for this blog is like falling out of bed. Ladies and gentlemen, Garrison Keillor, from his new book, Homegrown Democrat: "Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous." That's a quote worthy of replacing Hunter S. Thompson's words at the top of this blog, but a more pertinent one today is this: "Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy--the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin. . . ." As the Republicans convene their faux-diverse, faux-compassionate, smugly self-congratulatory orgy of ostentatious patriotism this week, remember that the event is being held in New York for one reason only--to permit the Republican Party to dance on the graves of the 9/11 victims. That's why they're there and that's what they're doing, and if there's a hell, that's where they belong.

Today belongs to the protesters. Do they represent a Constitutionally sanctioned expression by Americans acting in the finest historical traditions of dissent? Or are they a bunch of dangerous loonballs who hate America? The cable channels will tell us--but I think we already know what they'll say. You'll see a lot more pictures of body-pierced and tattooed goth-types than you will of the Quakers.

But you should know that the precautions taken against protesters at the convention and at other Bush campaign events are not being done to silence dissent. No, indeed. Christopher Brauchli of the Boulder Daily Camera wrote yesterday that the Secret Service has explained the real reason for the restrictions on protesters:
These individuals may be so involved with trying to shout their support or non-support that inadvertently they may walk out into the motorcade route and be injured. And that is really the reason why we set these places up, so we can make sure that they have the right of free speech, but, two, we want to be sure that they are able to go home at the end of the evening and not be injured in any way.
So it's for your own good, really. Although as Brauchli notes, sending the FBI to visit activists at home, thus discouraging them from even showing up, is an even more effective way of protecting the protesters' health and safety.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Revolutionary Innovations
On the first morning of 2000, I looked out the window and said to my wife, "Where are the damn flying cars they promised us?" I once worked on an educational publishing project that required me to read thousands of student essays by kids in grades 3 through 8. One of the assignments asked kids if they would rather travel to the future or to the past. A significant percentage of those picking the future mentioned that one of the things they expected to find there were flying cars. Oddly enough, the second most-often-mentioned innovation was talking computers--which already exist. So maybe flying cars and talking computers are more like talismans of the future than tangible developments we expect to actually see. Nevertheless, NASA is working on something like a flying car. It may be quite a few years away--perhaps longer now than it seemed in 2000, what with our fears that anything used to fly can be used as a terrorist tool. (You know the Republicans are scared when they ban corporate helicopters from flying near the convention this week. If there were such a thing as a flying car, they'd have to have the convention in the Empty Quadrant of Nevada just to feel safe enough.)

Recommended Reading: Last summer about this time, John Ashcroft and the Justice Department went on a PR campaign to sell the Patriot Act. Part of the promotion was a website (which is still up) with a headline prominently featuring a quote from the Declaration of Independence--the one about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, followed by Jefferson's observation "That to secure these rights, governments are instituted. . . ." And that's where the quote ends. Ashcroft and company redacted it, just as if they'd blacked it out in the released version of a classified document. What Jefferson actually said is that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." Which is a deeply revolutionary sentence, then and now--so it's no wonder it was excised by the Reverend Mr. Ashcroft as unfit to be seen by the website's intended audience.

So anyway: At the Memory Hole, Russ Kick recently uncovered another instance in which the Justice Department revealed its true colors by what it didn't permit to be said. And once again, I find myself more afraid of our own government than of any terrorist in the world.

You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows
Item: There is apparently an Israeli spy in the Pentagon, who may have been high enough in the councils of power to influence Bush Administration policy on Iraq and Iran.

Comment: Talk about a waste of effort. American policy is going to be favorable to Israel even without the slightest bit of manipulation, because Ariel Sharon has Bush's cojones in a jar on his desk. This is not the first time the Israelis have been accused of spying on the United States, either--remember the Jonathan Pollard case? If American-Israeli relations were a marriage, you'd send it to counseling. As it is, our friends sometimes wonder what the hell we see in each other.

Item: The number of Americans living in poverty grew by 1.3 million last year. The number without health insurance grew by 1.4 million.

Comment: The administration buried the numbers by releasing them in the pre-Labor Day doldrums instead of late September, when they are usually released, and when they would have exploded like a flaming bag of manure into the presidential campaign. If the Kerry campaign had a damn clue, they'd hammer these statistics through the whole week of the Republican Convention, and screw the tradition of the nominee going on vacation during the other party's convention. The numbers won't trouble the Repugs during the convention, of course. In their Bizarro World, the people who have slipped into poverty in the last year have chosen to do so, while the others decided to cancel their health insurance voluntarily. Admit no doubt. Our Maximum Leader has it all under control.

Item: The New York Post and Fox News reported that the '60s radical group the Weather Underground is planning a comeback in time for the Republican Convention. NYPD officials know nothing about it.

Comment: Jeez, I know we've had Vietnam on the brain lately, but give me a break. Of course, if I turn on the local Top 40 radio station and start hearing CCR and the Beatles again, maybe it will be OK.

Recommended Reading: Rolling Stone has an excellent piece about Dick Cheney and his rise to the top, showing how his political career has actually been one disaster after another, from torpedoing Gerald Ford's reelection in 1976 to his current stint. It's interesting to me how reportage on Cheney has shifted as the campaign has heated up this summer. Where he used to be portrayed consistently as the White House puppetmaster, several pieces in the last few weeks have described him as a barnacle on the ass of the powerful.

Quote of the Day: I have been a dedicated reader of Mark Morford's on SF Gate for over three years, although like a lot of writers (myself included, I think sometimes), his anti-Bush rants are starting to curdle. Still, this is a pretty funny paragraph:
So, let's see: Bona-fide war hero turned incredibly articulate, educated, gifted Vietnam War protester and respected senator on one side, alcoholic AWOL failed-businessman born-again pampered daddy's boy evangelical Christian on the other. Is this really the contest? Bush slugs gin and tonics like Evian while Kerry is accused of . . . what again? Not being incredibly heroic enough?
My thanks to those of you who tried to keep things going on the "Talk Amongst Yourselves" thread. We'll try it again sometime.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Talk Amongst Yourselves
I am making a quick trip out of town and won't be back at this computer until Saturday morning at the earliest. But this time, I'm hoping those of you who read this bilge will keep it going in my absence. Lots of bigtime bloggers periodically put up "open threads," in which readers can talk about anything they want to, thus keeping the blog an interesting place to visit even when the blogger is off doing who-knows-what. Atrios does it; so does Kos. There's plenty to talk about, like the damage Kerry has suffered in the last two weeks, or the wisdom of relying on his Vietnam experience in the face of the GOP spin machine and brain-dead media. It doesn't even have to be political, though. Talk about the Olympics. Talk about ice cream. The thing is, just talk. I know you can, and you know you want to.

The Comeback Kid Gets His Wish
We should have seen this coming. A Los Angeles Times poll now shows Bush on top of Kerry nationwide, 49-46, still within the margin of error, but the first time this year that Bush had led an L.A. Times survey. Worry, says Jerry Bowles. Worry, says Josh Marshall. Jerry's colleague, Groom, says worry is premature. Yes, the Swift Boat controversy has had its effect, but wait until after the convention next week and see how the undecideds break in battleground states.

All due respect to Groom, but I'm gonna beat the rush and start worrying now. We're at a very bad convergence of circumstances right now--two solid weeks of bad, poll-moving news for Kerry, to be followed immediately by the Republican Convention, which, by the very nature of political conventions, was going to cause movement from Kerry back to Bush anyhow. What if the post-convention polls show the race going from their current dead-heat ranges to to something like 52-43 in favor of Bush? That will set the storyline for September. Why do I suspect it will be something like, "Americans fall in line behind their president" and not "Bush takes lead in shifting campaign battle"? If John Kerry fancies himself "the comeback kid," he'd better be right.

Granted, there will still be two months to go following the Republican Convention, and lots could happen. I'd like to think that Kerry would destroy Bush in the debates, but the conventional wisdom four years ago was that Gore would destroy Bush in the debates, and he didn't--the American people preferred an amiable doofus to a smart guy who wasn't afraid to show it. And besides, I will believe we're going to have presidential debates this year when I see the two guys on-stage and not before. And Bush possesses a powerful set of advantages, chief among them a willingness to do whatever it takes to win and the truth be damned. This isn't going to be the only dirty fight of this campaign. If Kerry has a hope in hell of victory, he'd better be tougher in responding to the next one. What he's done in response to the Swift Boat Liars hasn't shown me much.

Quote of the Day: From a city council candidate somewhere in Indiana, as reported by a friend: "I can't do things 100 percent better, but I will do 100 things one percent better." This lends itself to lots of catchy slogans: "Smith--doing more stuff about as well as anybody." "Smith--just as good as the next guy." "Smith--a marginal improvement." And so on.

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Send Before Midnight Tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Plausibly Deniable
(Quick hits today, as I'm up to my eyeballs in remunerative labor--whoo-hoo!)

It occurs to me--in what is not a startling insight no one else has had, I'm sure--that White House reaction to this morning's revelation that a lawyer with the Bush/Cheney campaign has been advising the Swift Boat Liars is of a piece with their claim that they never said Saddam was involved with 9/11. As I understand it, there is no formal record of any coordination relationship between the campaign and SBVT--but there doesn't have to be. Call it an understanding--just as it was intended to be "understood" that Saddam was linked to 9/11, even though the transcripts won't say so, and thus the White House remains technically simon-pure and wreathed in good intentions. But the desired affect is achieved anyhow.

Every day this story continues to roil (even when it roils like today and makes the White House look bad), it's bad for Kerry because the media has framed it in the worst possible way for him. Even Bush's supposed call to "take the ads off the air" makes Bush look better than he deserves, because what he really said is "take all 527 ads off the air," which isn't going to happen, and he knows it. So it's all political gain for Bush and no actual help for Kerry, and he looks worse for continuing to prolong what Bush is perceived as having tried to write finis to.

A commenter earlier this week nailed it: the Swift Boat controversy is Kerry's Willie Horton. If he loses, we'll look back on the last two weeks as the critical moment.

The Most Important Election Since the Civil War
In case you have forgotten, here's why. And that's just domestic policy.

Today on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Stuck in Your Head.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

History Doesn't Repeat Itself--But It Rhymes
Remember how odd it seemed, after Bush was installed in office, when he picked Ford Administration retread Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense? New administrations generally pick their officials from the high councils of previous administrations, but it was seemed weird at the time for Bush to go past his own father and Ronald Reagan into the mists of the 1970s to pick a guy who had been out of public life for 15 years. Of course, Bush had already picked Dick Cheney as his running mate (or had Cheney thrust upon him--remember Cheney was supposedly the head of the committee screening potential running mates before getting the gig himself). Although Cheney served Bush 41 as Secretary of Defense, it wasn't much noted at the time that Cheney's first big gig in Washington was as White House Chief of Staff under--you guessed it--Ford. In 2000 and early 2001, people suspected the Rumsfeld and Cheney choices were made so that it would seem like grownups were in charge at the White House. We know now that giving Junior some chaperones might have been one reason, but it wasn't the only one. The men around Bush have worked steadily to make various longstanding pet projects into reality--whether it's the Project for a New American Century's plans for empire, or the oil industry's plans to maintain its dominance of our energy future.

And here's one other thing Cheney and Rumsfeld have done. Thirty years ago, in the wake of Watergate, the Freedom of Information Act was expanded to open more operations of government to public scrutiny and oversight. According to Reason's Matt Welch, President Ford initially favored the expansion, but was convinced to veto it by two of his senior officials--Cheney and Rumsfeld. Now, a generation later, back in the saddle in Washington, Cheney and Rumsfeld are leading the charge to increase government secrecy. In his article, Welch charts the drive for greater secrecy, which is good for the governors and lousy for the governed. The war on terror gives the Bush Administration a convenient fig leaf behind which to hide its thirst to keep its actions secret--but as has become clear regarding the war on Iraq, they'd have curbed the public's right to know what's done in its name anyhow, even if September 11 had never happened.

So that's one case in which we know we're getting less information than we need for a healthy democracy. Here's a case in which we're getting less information than we need both for a healthy democracy, and for our personal health itself. Despite polls showing broad, bipartisan support for environmental protection, the Bush Administration is working harder than any administration in memory to dismantle those protections. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a litigator with the National Resources Defense Council, says that people ask him why nobody knows about the Bush assault on the environment. "You ought to get the word out," they say. Kennedy says it's nearly impossible, because environmental reporting is nearly nonexistent in the mass American media. Today, Salon has an excerpt from Kennedy's new book, Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy, that traces why the environment rarely makes news. For one thing, environment stories aren't sexy, and they don't have the sort of defined beginning, middle, and end that leads to good storytelling. In addition, the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present multiple views on issues of public interest, has made balance subject to the whim of corporate owners--who are not likely to run stories critical of potential advertisers. And recently a Florida court case involving two reporters fired for refusing to alter a news story to make it favorable to a large corporation came down on the side of corporate interests. Kennedy says, "This decision effectively declared it legal for networks to lie in news reports to please their advertisers." Not exactly a prescription for the kind of fearless, public-interest reporting that so many young reporters aspired to do in the wake of Watergate.

Secrets and lies. In the end, that's the primary product of the Bush Administration and the corporate oligarchy it serves. Thirty years ago, a secretive liar was driven from office. Today, the race is too close to call.

Monday, August 23, 2004

History, Get Me Rewrite
Up here this morning, Wisconsin Public Radio reported on an Edwards appearance where he addressed the Swift Boat Veterans controversy. The story included the comments of one veteran who thinks the accusations against Kerry demean all veterans and impugn their service. Jerry Bowles makes a similar point at Best of the Blogs today, but he suggests that a broader goal of SBVT is to rewrite the history of the Vietnam era. Surely that's a powerful and tempting impulse, especially in an era when we seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of Vietnam, and when we're making a presidential choice between someone who served and someone who didn't.

I'd be interested in knowing whether you think Kerry has been damaged by this, and how badly. I believe he has been, as polls over the weekend showed. What I fear more is the likelihood that similar big-lie tactics will be used to similar effect over the next two months, and that Kerry, like the last Massachusetts liberal to run for president, will be endlessly defined by his opponent, thus finding it hard to be heard on his own terms. Click "Comments" and weigh in. Half-baked thoughts are encouraged, because what is this blog, if not a collection of those?

Recommended Reading: The instrument has yet to be invented that is capable of measuring my general indifference to Britney Spears, although I have considered starting a pool on how long her upcoming marriage will last. (Keep in mind that she's already been married once, for approximately 48 hours--thus there's no guarantee that her second time around will last any longer.) What I do find interesting about Britney, however, is her usefulness as a cultural barometer. In Salon today, Rebecca Traister writes about Britney's transformation from virginal pop idol to bad-decision-making grownup. The choices she makes say a lot about her life past and present--and the way we perceive them says a lot about us.

Comic Pages: Tom Tomorrow is his usual brilliant self today. Earlier this month, at the height of the New York terror alert, Ted Rall was similarly brilliant in nailing the threats the Bush Administration fears most.

A Mea Culpa of Olympian Proportions
I have a lot of experience being wrong. In 1981, at a national broadcasters' convention, after hearing a cable TV executive discuss his new channel, I confidently predicted it would never fly. The channel was MTV. The number of times during my baseball fan years in which I predicted the Cubs would go 162-0 is too many to count. (Of course, that's not as much wrong as it is stupid.) Last fall, I couldn't imagine how anyone but Howard Dean could become the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee. And this morning I find myself quite spectacularly wrong again. Just before the opening of the Summer Olympics, I ripped the games, but after one week, it's clear that I have been wrong on nearly every assertion I made.

Regarding the TV coverage: NBC has done a very good job of showing nearly everything--a far cry from Atlanta and Sydney, when if it wasn't one of the marquee sports, it may as well not have happened. Fencing, archery, badminton, water polo, equestrian events--the sort of things Americans only watch in Olympic years--have been well-represented. NBC has cut back the number of soft-focus personality features to nearly zero, and we've been largely spared the obligatory shots of athletes' family members in the stands. (The broadcast did linger far too long on a reaction shot of disappointed Canadian diver Emilie Heymans last night, taking far beyond the realm of good taste what should have been a private moment for her after she lost a gold medal.) And far from overplaying the men's basketball team, it almost seems as if NBC is trying not to talk about it. In past years, games were tape-delayed to primetime, but this year, they've been shown live at whatever odd hour they're played (such as 6:30 this morning). It's as if the network is as embarrassed by Team USA as many basketball fans are. If NBC has overplayed anything, it's been women's beach volleyball. At one point yesterday afternoon, NBC had beach volleyball on two channels at once. But if you've seen five minutes of one match, you've seen all there is to see, both of the sport and of the hardbody contestants. (The Mrs. wants to know why the women play in those skimpy costumes but the men don't play in Speedos.)

Most of the network's announcers have done a fine job. Gymnastics commentators are the ones most prone to chirping out cliched cuteness, but I only heard the words "America's Sweetheart" applied to gymnastics champion Carly Patterson once. (What, Paul Hamm isn't sweetheart material? I'm just sayin'.) Track play-by-play announcer Tom Hammond did get into some overblown high dudgeon last night over two American sprinters' antics after winning their heat in the 100 meters. The woman doing commentary on diving--Cynthia something--has honed her Texas scold routine to a fine edge. She treats nearly every less-than-perfect dive as a terrible personal disappointment, and comes to those judgments in milliseconds. I feel sorry for her children. But anchorman Bob Costas is showing every night why he's the best at what he does--just talking, not hyping, and occasionally deflating the proceedings with wry humor. And who knew Bill Clement, known primarily as a hockey color man, had such a vast knowledge of badminton and table tennis?

There is one area, however, in which the Athens Olympics has been positively dreadful. The version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" played at the medal ceremonies is turgid and sludgy, overblown with strings and played at about 75 percent of its proper tempo. If there have been no fired-up displays of nationalism on the medal stand, it's because the athletes have been lulled to sleep by the anthem.

Recommended Reading: Over the weekend I finished 1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky. '68 was the year I first started paying attention to the news, and what news there was--from the student takeovers of college campuses to the King and Kennedy assassinations to the tanks rolling through Prague to the Democratic convention to the presidential election to Apollo 8 orbiting the moon at Christmas. Unlike many books of this type, Kurlansky barely mentions the year's pop culture, focusing instead on the student movements that shook most of the world's major countries. He maintains that the fall of communism began that year, when the Soviet Union crushed the reform movement in Czechoslovakia, and he effectively summarizes the way Richard Nixon used the year's upheavals to complete the political realignment that transformed the Solid South from Democratic to Republican.

Kurlansky deals briefly with the '68 Mexico City Olympics, which black American athletes first considered boycotting and later marked with protests from the medal stand, but more extensively with an event that occurred just three weeks before the games. Mexico had its own relatively late-blooming student movement, which was crushed when crowds of students were massacred by Mexican troops at a rally in a Mexico City square called Tlatelolco. The incident was never spoken of in Mexico for almost 30 years thereafter, and to this day, no one knows exactly how many students were killed and wounded there. That the 1968 Mexico City Olympics saw no protesters outside the venues was certainly odd, given the chaos of the year around the world--but the Mexican people paid a high price for that peace and quiet.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Now Playing All Over the World
In the interest of broadening the reach of this bilge, there are some new options for reading it. If you use a newsreader to read blogs, this site is now syndicated. A newsreader is a little bit like an e-mail program, only it picks up posts from any blogs you choose and aggregates them for easy reading--in essence, instead of searching for new posts, the new posts come to you. Bloglines, for example, is a web-based service that does this--pretty convenient if you have several blogs you like to read regularly.

If you're sick of the orange on my main page (and who isn't?), you can click "XML Site Feed" under the heading "What's All This Then?" to see a different version of the blog--although it may direct you back here if you want to read whole entries.

And finally if you use My Yahoo to create your own personalized news portal page (which I have done for years, and which I highly recommend), you can now put headlines from this blog directly on your My Yahoo page, along with many other far superior blogs, such as Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, Wonkette, Eschaton, and Political Animal. As I post tonight, My Yahoo is not permitting new configurations of this feed (known as an RSS Feed), but if you have a My Yahoo RSS Feed already, you can add this blog by copying the following URL into the "Add new sources" box: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheDailyAneurysmAtJabartlettcom, and then click "Search."

Damn, I love the 21st century. All except for the noise and the speed and the Republicans.

Nice Place You've Got Here, Alice
Earlier this month, I changed the tag line that appears at the top of this blog from ". . . because 'how bad could it be?' isn't a rhetorical question anymore" to the longer quote from Hunter S. Thompson that headed my pre-Blogspot blog. As whacked out as August has been, from Alan Keyes to the New York terror alert to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the only sensible way to prepare for September, October, and beyond, which will be ripe with "guaranteed fear and loathing," is to "abandon all hope . . . prepare for the weirdness." At Counterpunch, John L. Hess also feels like we've gone through the looking glass. Everything, he says, is backward. War hero Kerry is being bashed by surrogates of deserter Bush, and gets less love from the VFW than chickenhawk Cheney. Along the same lines, the Boston Globe has an editorial today that's getting linked all over the blogosphere:
Imagine if supporters of Bill Clinton had tried in 1996 to besmirch the military record of his opponent, Bob Dole....

The truth, according to many accounts, is that Dole fought with exceptional bravery and deserves the nation's gratitude. No one in 1996 questioned that record. Any such attack on behalf of Clinton, an admitted Vietnam draft dodger, would have been preposterous.
But the opposite is happening here. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad has caused Kerry's support among veterans to erode, and the Kerry team has had to spend an inordinate amount of time playing defense. Atrios suggests the culprit might be the awful, terrible, Bush-hating liberal media, which has played the inflammatory accusations of SVBT as news demanding comprehensive rebuttal from the accused, while treating similar accusations on the other side, such as Michael Moore calling Bush a deserter at a Clark event last winter, as unseemly line-crossing fit only for condemnation.

Recommended Reading: I wrote yesterday about coming face-to-face with Republican friends, and how uncomfortable it can be sometimes. What makes it less than completely hopeless is the fact that because Republicans used to be capable of doing good, they could conceivably be capable of it again someday. In Salon yesterday, Garrison Keillor pointed to Nixon's establishment of the EPA, and to the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was pushed by members of both parties, as examples of ways in which Republicans have contributed positively to American life in the past. And also:
Republicans have been good critics of government, and good satirists at times. Republican libertarianism is a useful antidote to our Democratic/neurotic tendency to want to put up a warning sign on uneven terrain and make cowboys do their whooping in designated whooping areas. Republicans used to contribute a lot, back before they let the fanatics and teeth grinders take over and turn their party into the Leave Me Alone party, intent on proving that government is inherently inept, and they've done such damage to America in the past decade that will take a century of saints to fix.
Which means--even the Republicans as currently constructed might be salvageable one day, but it's going to take far longer to fix things than it took to break 'em.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Hammer and When to Swing It
Last fall, when Howard Dean was riding high in the presidential race [blogger inserts forlorn sigh here] and Al Franken was atop the best-seller list with his "Lying Liars" book, it was fashionable in wingnut circles to criticize "the angry left." Of all the bizarre charges aimed at our side by the wingnuts, this was one of the weirdest. The same people who attacked the Clintons with rhetoric of unparalleled viciousness were suddenly pronouncing themselves shocked at the tone of criticism being directed at Bush? Fact is, nobody does pissed-off like the Republicans do. They do it so well they've made it a governing strategy.

It's one thing to be politically angry at your political opponents. Such anger becomes more complicated when it involves real people looking each other in the eye. Last week, an old friend of mine discovered this blog and wrote a comment saying he was surprised that I was as liberal as I am, and furthermore, that he was a Bush supporter who hoped his man would be reelected. My reaction was not to think, "Well fuck you, then, and goodbye forever." It was instead to send him a private e-mail saying I hoped our political differences wouldn't make it impossible for us to have a beer when the occasion presented itself. From the tone of his reply, it won't be impossible. We can keep our differences in check enough to be civil. Similarly, The Mrs. has two friends she's known since childhood; her friends and their husbands are both conservative and religious. I'm pretty sure they're against most of what I stand for, and probably most of what The Mrs. stands for as well. (I'm guessing if either of them found this blog, they wouldn't let me near their children.) But we can have dinner together without needing to go to war.

Not everybody can do this. Gadflyer editor-in-chief Paul Waldman was on Fox News the other night with Brent Bozell of Accuracy in Media. They disagreed loudly over John Kerry's Vietnam service, but after the joint appearance was over, Waldman figured the confrontation was over as well. But he was wrong. Waldman notes that modern conservative politics is intimately bound up with anger, and impossible to separate from it:
Much has been made of liberals' anger at President Bush, and that anger is certainly real. But if Bush loses in November, that anger will dissipate. You'll be able to find liberals angry about one issue or another at one time or another, but you won't find them simmering with a generalized fury. But many conservatives remain angry, even at the height of their power. They'll be angry if Bush loses, and they'll be angry if he wins.
Blogroll Note: At the suggestion of reader TK, I've added Atrios' Eschaton to the blogroll on the right side of this page. It's the home of Friday Cat Blogging, and of solid analysis the rest of the time. For the last couple of days, Atrios has been all over conservative pundit Michelle Malkin's recent faceoff with Chris Matthews over Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In a post yesterday afternoon, Atrios got the Quote of the Day, calling Malkin "a rising young harpy with the face of a stewardess and the analytical skills of a tack hammer, although possessed of considerably less charm."

Friday, August 20, 2004

George W. Carter, Please Go Home
It's Friday, another gorgeous day here in Wisconsin--far too fine to dwell on the bad stuff. Forthwith, a good-news edition of the Daily Aneurysm. Mostly.

You were probably disappointed when the California Supreme Court shot down the gay marriages performed in San Francisco earlier this year. But if you think about it, the decision is no defeat--just a minor stumble. Everybody not clutching the Bible and going icky icky ewww gross knows that culturally, gay marriage has gained a level of acceptance in the last year or so, and that it will, before long, become a fact of life. Mark Morford elaborates, saying: "The wheels are in motion. The sea change is under way. The strap-on has been, well, strapped on."

More good news: There's a school of political thought that says, far from being an up-all-night, lawsuit-ridden replay of 2000, the 2004 election might be a blowout win for John Kerry. Paul Waldman, editor-in-chief of the Gadflyer, has seen the same poll numbers we wrote about earlier this week, and they show more strength for Kerry than Kerry is getting credit for. The battleground states all seem to be shifting his way. Even in Florida things are looking good: anti-Bush forces are on the ground in staggering numbers, and new Democrat voter registrations outnumber Republicans by nearly two-to-one. James K. Galbraith makes a similar point in Salon: Bush is looking like Jimmy Carter these days, although:
To compare George W. Bush to Jimmy Carter is unfair to Carter, who showed his worth as a world citizen last week by upholding the plain fairness of the vote count in Venezuela. Carter was tough-minded and courageous in Caracas. He single-handedly forced the U.S. media--which in early stories was giving equal play to spurious claims of vote fraud--to fall in line with the truth. So let me apologize to that great American, a Nobel Peace laureate, for a parallel that, on a personal level, does him disservice.
Gay people getting the same rights as the rest of us, and the wingnuts be damned? Bush going home to Crawford? Hot damn. Raise your glass, eat some barbecue, frolic in the yard, and smile. It's Friday afternoon in America.

Recommended Reading: You don't generally think of GQ as a news source, but it currently features an extraordinary article by Wil S. Hilton about Joseph Darby, the American soldier who alerted military higher-ups to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. You haven't heard much about Darby since his name came to light this past spring. There's a reason for that. Although he's back in the United States, he has been in protective custody with his family ever since his arrival. In fact, his family was hustled away from their Pennsylvania home shortly after his involvement in the story broke. And this is why:
It was no coincidence that Joe lived only a short drive from many of the men and women in those photos from Abu Ghraib. It was no coincidence that he knew Lynndie England and Jeremy Sivits, who lived just a few miles from his house. They were in his local unit, the 372nd Military Police Battalion. They trained together, deployed together, lived together on assignments, and when they finally came home on leave, passing through the streets of their small towns in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, the flags and banners that hung from storefront windows were there for all of them.

Outside these communities, in most of America, the pictures from Abu Ghraib met with instant outrage and contempt, and Joe Darby became a hero. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised his actions as "honorable and responsible." The House Armed Services Committee praised him for risking his career in pursuit of "what is right." But inside the little towns of Jenners and Somerset and Windber and Johnstown, many neighbors weren't so quick to celebrate. Abu Ghraib became a litmus test of the American mood; reactions split along political and economic lines. On campuses and in the halls of government, even within the upper echelons of the military command, few would question what Joe had done. But in his own hometown, plenty of people did. Some had seen the face of battle themselves and had made their own moral compromises, which were easier not to remember. Others had family members who served in the first gulf war and had a hard time feeling sorry for Iraqis. Still others had relatives in Iraq this time, some of whom would never come home. So if a few prisoners got beaten up, if they were humiliated or even abused, well, shit happens all the time. War is war. Joe Darby's decision didn't make him honorable; it made him a traitor.
Also recommended: Eric Alterman on the continuing rightward drift of PBS. It's getting worse. New at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Thunder Road.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I am having an intensely busy day today (for a change), so I have been absent from my blogging post (Blogging? Post? Get it?) all morning and will likely be absent this afternoon. But lest you go without me entirely today (perish the thought), here are some quick housekeeping bits.

If what you see when you read this is what I see when I read this (not always a guarantee, given the state of modern cookie technology), you may have noticed a change at the head of this blog in the last few days. The Google ads are gone (something to do with their ballyhooed IPO today, maybe), and have been replaced by a search box. This box permits you to search my blog--so if you want to go back and find out how many times I have mentioned a particular name (such as John Kerry) or other word (wingnut, moron, dipshit, etc.), you can just type it in. The top of the blog also includes a button for "next blog," which will take you to some other destination in the Blogspot universe. This can be highly entertaining, because you never know where you're going. And there's the "get your own blog" button, which you may find tempting.

I also have noticed that on the current Useless Web Poll regarding which blogs you read in addition to this one, some of those deigning to respond have checked "Other." So I'll ask: Which blogs are you reading? (They can be political, or not.) Which blogs should I be reading that I'm not? (If it ain't on my blogroll on the right side of the page, I'm certainly not reading it--because I'm not reading a lot of those as regularly as I'd like.) Click "Comments" and let me know.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

If a tree falls in the forest but the only ones there to hear it are the major national news organizations, does it make a sound? Apparently not. The national media announced that John Kerry didn't get a bounce following the Democratic Convention. Well maybe not, if all you check are the gross national numbers that make for compact headlines and uncomplicated stories, but he's clearly gained support since Boston, and he continues to gain it. Josh Marshall posted two bits of poll analysis yesterday worth reading: One, that the number of too-close-to-call states is down to 10: Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin--but Kerry might be just as strong in Florida and Pennsylvania as he is in Michigan, which is currently leaning his way. (Marshall presumes that to win Florida indisputably, Kerry will have to roll up a large margin, given the dubiously legal advantages the Republicans possess there.) And two, that Kerry leads in many different demographic groups: among Catholics, Jews, and Muslims (although Bush has three percent of the Muslim vote locked up), and among Hispanics by a 60-30 margin. Bush dominates only among Protestants and born-agains. In addition, Kerry leads in all age groups except those aged 30-49, which is a tossup. (I am open to your speculations as to why 30-49ers, a demographic group encompassing most of the readers of this bilge, I'd wager, would be so closely divided when other age groups are not. Click "Comments" and have at it.)

Over at Daily Kos, one of the contributors passes along this optimistic factoid: Of the 17 states that were considered battleground states at the start of the campaign, only Tennessee is leaning Bush's way at the moment. And Kerry has made battlegrounds out of states thought to be solidly red before: Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina. (Should Kerry manage to win either Virginia or North Carolina, I would be forced to dine on my hat, having said repeatedly that I didn't think it was possible for him to win in the South.)

The Kos post has sparked lots of comments from readers analyzing the race. Most would be happy with Kerry getting 270 electoral votes, but some are dreaming of a resounding Electoral College margin that represents not just a Kerry win but a Bush repudiation. "Dreaming" is probably the most appropriate way to describe it, though, because everybody not dreaming knows how close it's going to be. A poster with a fine grasp on practical reality says, "I settle for 297. That's the number of [electoral votes] we can 'win,' have Florida stolen, and still win."

In the end, nearly everybody who tries to analyze these numbers is well aware of the fluid nature of this race, and how everything we've noted here could look pretty quaint later on. (Like my post a year ago about this time handicapping the general election race between Bush and Howard Dean.) The Republican Convention is coming up in less than two weeks, and if you're a bettor, you'd be wise to bank on the fact that some of the movement to Kerry over the last three weeks is going to move back to Bush.

If this were a normal political year, two things would be true: We would have had the Republican Convention by now, and it would never have been in New York City. New York has been a Democratic stronghold for as long as there have been Democrats. Ted Rall notes that the city is every bit as liberal as San Francisco, a den of iniquity to which the upstanding citizens of the GOP would never go, and 83 percent of New Yorkers don't want the Republicans to convene in their city at all. (The last time was 1868.) Rall says:
The Republican delegates here to coronate George W. Bush are unwelcome members of a hostile invading army. Like the hapless saps whose blood they sent to be spilled into Middle Eastern sands, they will be given intentionally incorrect directions to nonexistent places. Objects will be thrown in their direction. Children will call them obscene names.

They will not be greeted as liberators.
Rall ends his screed by saying that if the Repugs were truly the heirs of Lincoln, they would have dumped a candidate more interested in defending his wealthy constituents than in defending regular Americans. William Rivers Pitt also invokes Lincoln in his column this week, quoting a letter Abe wrote in 1848, as he wound down his single term in Congress during the Mexican War--another optional war fought by the United States:
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure . . . if, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us' but he will say to you, 'Be silent; I can see it, if you don't.'
Recommended Reading: If Kerry's militaristic campaign so far is making you twitchy, it's making Peter Preston of The Guardian vibrate like a tuning fork. If you think Kerry's position on Iraq is so nuanced that it's indefensible, Fareed Zakaria says wait a second--this is one of those issues that really is nuanced, and Kerry's dealing with it sensibly.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Political Theater
You may have heard a story on NPR yesterday about how New York's hotel doormen are being deployed in the fight against potential terrorism during the Republican Convention in two weeks. Listening to it, it occurred to me that the likely number one on the Republican wish list is not a convention free of attack. No, what would be better for them would be to have an attack thwarted in some public and high-profile manner while the convention is underway--a truck bomb intercepted on its way downtown, for example. That would be much better symbolically than an actual attack, which would raise questions about the administration's security skills--albeit questions drowned out in the breathless horror of the event.

So what would be number two on the wish list? Not an an actual attack, certainly, but not necessarily a quiet convention, either. How about massive, violent street protests? If some anarchist groups have their way, all hell will break loose in New York. Other activists, including 1968 Chicago veteran Todd Gitlin, fear that violence in the streets of New York could have the same effect on the 2004 election as it did in '68--tipping a close race to the Republicans.

Elsewhere today, fallout continues over the resignation of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. In a year full of weird political theater (a year that ain't over yet), this story ranks up there with the weirdest. One poll says people in New Jersey are evenly split over whether it was necessary for him to resign at all because of his sexual orientation. Another says only 20 percent think that was the real reason he did it, citing his alleged corruption. In Salon, Dan Savage finds in the McGreevey saga more evidence that the anti-gay-marriage position is logically incoherent, especially given the governor's marriage to a straight woman: "If an openly gay man can get married as long as his marriage makes a mockery of what is the defining characteristic of modern marriage--romantic love--or if he marries simply because he despairs of finding a same-sex partner, what harm could possibly be done by opening marriage to the gay men who don't want to make a mockery of marriage or who can find a same-sex partner?"

Recommended Reading: I once called Dick Cheney "the hinge of history," the man through whom flows all the effluent of the Bush Administration before it's spread over the Republic. Cheney is the man behind the curtain and Bush is just dancing on his strings. But Reason offers a dissenting view from Nick Gillespie, who finds in Cheney's behavior evidence that he's actually an insecure sycophant trying to hold onto the power he has by sucking up to Bush.

Remember Bill Clinton's memoirs? The hottest book of June is probably entombed on lots of bookshelves now, never to be taken down again except to be used as a doorstop. Tom Carson has one last look back at the book, and the title of his piece is a double-action pun worthy of being Quote of the Day: "Policy Wank."

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Under the Apple Tree.

Weightlifting and Lap Dancing
After putting a rather large rip on the Summer Olympics last Thursday, I ended up watching great swaths of it over the weekend after all. We were visiting friends whose daughter is a swimmer, and who knows some of the U.S. team members (and who once loaned her swim goggles to Michael Phelps just before a race), so we got an insider's perspective on competitive swimming. We also watched lots of other events. Some observations:

If your name is your destiny, NBC's gymnastics commentator Elfi Schlegel could have done nothing else with her life.

I know that the NBA stars on the U.S. men's basketball team don't stay in the Olympic Village with the rest of the athletes, but I have this fantasy in which Allen Iverson meets a 123-pound female weightlifter from Indonesia in the cafeteria and gets his ass kicked. Maybe it'd wipe that thousand-mile gangster stare off his face, which he wore even during the parade of nations during the opening ceremonies.

Speaking of weightlifting, there are two main types—-the snatch, in which the weight must be lifted in a single motion, and the clean and jerk, in which the weight is lifted to the shoulders and then overhead. But should women really be participating in something called the snatch?

Badminton will never make it as a televised sport, not even with the legendary sportscaster Don Chevrier on the call. But at least it’s a sport. Beach volleyball, I have decided, is not a sport. (As sportswriter Bernie Lincicome says, "This sport resembles regular volleyball in the same way that lap dancing resembles the polka.") Neither are synchronized swimming or rhythmic gymnastics. (Lincicome: "Little girls with ribbons. They also have hoops and ropes and balls and clubs. No one knows why.") I am not sure whether synchronized diving is a sport—-but I do know that the woman doing commentary on it for NBC has yet to see a dive that didn't disappoint her.
Recommended Reading: Over at The American Prospect, Tapped was rockin' yesterday, with a report on how the Washington Times is trying to revive the WMD story by claming that they're in Syria after all; a report on the dramatic scene when Louisiana Congressman Rodney Alexander's wife confronted his staffers after her husband’s craven switch to the Republican Party; and some great stuff on the smacking-down of Laura Bush’s recent comments on stem cells, and how her husband keeps saying he "understands the stakes" of the war on terror without actually giving evidence that he knows what they are.

Best Bumper Sticker of the Weekend: Spotted at a tollbooth in Illinois--"Practice Abstinence. No Bush, No Dick in 2004."

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Falling Flat on Seven Channels
The Athens Olympics have already begun, sort of, with some women's soccer games yesterday and today. The games get going for real tomorrow with the opening ceremonies.

I used to be a serious Olympics fan. Lots of people used to be, apparently--this Olympiad is being greeted with the largest collective yawn I can remember. In the Los Angeles Times today, Max Boot says part of the problem with the Olympics now is that since the fall of the Soviet Union, Americans have nobody to root against--no Russian or East German superathletes, injected with god-knows-what, glowering at the starting line or the diving board, preparing to do battle with somebody's clean-cut kid from Tampa or Toledo, who stands for democracy, hard work, and putting nothing in your body stronger than aspirin. Oh, there are still drug-injected superathletes, but a lot of them seem to be Americans now--no matter what happens in, for example, track and field, the shadow of steroid abuse is going to hang over it. And the kid from Tampa or Toledo who gets all the TV face time is likely to be a millionaire professional basketball or tennis player.

Even if you don't care one whit, the Olympics are going to be inescapable for the next two weeks, as NBC deploys seven channels in its corporate family to carry the games. This means a lot of events will be seen, and they will be seen live. This will be a big switch from Australia in 2000, when the time difference had NBC tape-delaying events for nearly 24 hours so they could be seen in American primetime, and from other recent Summer Olympics, when most of the events were ignored so the broadcasters could focus on basketball and gymnastics.

There will still be far too great a focus on the men's basketball team, made up of NBA pros. Although it will be spun as a massive upset if the United States doesn't win the gold, don't be surprised. The world has mostly caught up to American basketball players, and there's little sense of commitment on the part of Team USA. But even if our men's basketball team goes out ignominiously, it's a foregone conclusion that the United States will "win" the medal count. And also that some tiny female gymnast will be crowned "America's Sweetheart," and that fully half of the American team members overcame some sort of telegenic adversity to reach the games and merit a soft-focus "up close and personal" TV profile.

In one way, however, everybody will be keeping one eye on the Olympics--waiting for a terrorist act. Apart from the bribery scandals, the Salt Lake City games went off without a hitch in 2002, but that was here. It's widely expected that logistically, the Athens games will be thick with debacle. Greece was given the 2004 games after being snubbed for the 1996 Centennial games, but having nearly 10 years to plan for them hasn't seemed to matter. Venues were completed with only weeks to spare, Athens has been plagued by power outages--if it weren't for bad luck, they wouldn't have any at all. Add to that the fact that the Greek government hasn't shown it can protect its own citizens from its own homegrown terrorists, let alone protect the world's athletes from more sophisticated groups. Other countries, including the United States, have provided soldiers and security--but in the end, a terrorist attack on these Olympics, while shocking, wouldn't be a surprise.

So thousands of tickets are unsold. TV will cover the events to the point of overkill, but the ratings will be historically low. There will be great controversy over how much American athletes should celebrate victories, given that most of the world hates our guts. And the saddest thing is this: Some kid from Tampa or Toledo is going to make history, and it's going to get lost because he or she had the misfortune to make it in an era when the Olympics no longer matters.

Recommended Reading: Molly Ivins goes to Canada and finds that they think we're out of our minds, but they're too polite to say it so bluntly.

Al Qaeda wants to contaminate prescription drugs! The horror! It's only a coincidence that we're announcing this on the day we get sued to permit importation of Canadian drugs! Honest! Christ, these morons aren't even trying to be subtle anymore.

You heard Bush suggest last week that the administration misnamed the war on terror and should have called it "the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world"? The Village Voice has some alternate names for other administration initiatives.

Note to All: This entry is as long as it is because I'm trying to get blogging out of my system before taking a few days off. If this isn't enough, there are a couple of new things over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin', but apart from that, you're on your own. Some late-breaking atrocity could spark a post later tonight, but otherwise, I'll be away until Tuesday.

Oh, the Humanity
The anniversaries of Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) pass largely unnoticed now. That humankind has gone 59 years without detonating another nuclear weapon in anger is quite an accomplishment. Yet the odds that we'll go another 59 years without seeing one are pretty slim. Nicholas Kristoff wrote in the New York Times yesterday about Al Qaeda's hopes of launching an American Hiroshima, and the likelihood that it might happen within the next six years or the next 20. Going larely unnoticed outside the blogosphere/policy wonk community recently was yet another helpful action by the Bush Administration that makes an American Hiroshima--or a British one, or a Spanish one, or a Filipino one--much more likely. The administration has decided to oppose a section of something called the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty. It's the part that requires nuclear powers to submit to inspection and verification to confirm they aren't manufacturing enriched uranium and plutonium. The administration doesn't want the U.S. to have to submit to such inspections, so we're holding up the treaty, and thus, everybody in the world who wants to has a green light to keep on proliferating. The North Koreans, the Iranians, or any other country in the world. This is straight out of the John Birch Society playbook--Foghorn Leghorn-style redneck patriotism, no blue-helmeted lackeys of the United Nations are gonna mess with the U.S., goddammit--although the administration's reasons for opposing the treaty have more to do with Bush's own desires to develop new nuclear weapons. Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, explains the rationale and the risks.

I am suddenly reminded of Don Henley's song "Them and Us," recorded at the height of the nuclear freeze movement in the early 1980s, which contained the line, "If we can't have the ball, there won't be any winner this time."

Of course, we entertain the fond hope that Bush may not be around much longer to screw with any more treaties. Salon's Sidney Blumenthal writes this morning about the electoral collapse of the Republican Party, and the bad news for Bush from California, Illinois, and Michigan. He's still running strong in Kansas, however--a state where voters' heads have yet to explode from cognitive dissonance thanks to Thomas Frank's new book, What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. I haven't read it yet (although I am a Frank fan, as noted here before), but I've read several reviews, and here's one more, from Intervention Magazine. Frank's Kansas is the best example we have of how the culture war is used to distract and distort, confusing voters into pulling the lever in direct opposition to their own interests.

More Recommended Reading: After the Democratic Convention, I observed here that Democrats seem to have better music than Republicans. Cynthia Barnes attended a Kerry appearance in Missouri recently, and she says, uh, not so fast. In one of the best bits of campaign reportage of the entire year, she learned that Kerry himself picked a lot of the music that gets played to pump up the crowds at his appearances.

And finally, if you missed it yesterday, read Karl Vick's report from Najaf on the fighting in a major cemetery there. If you wonder why we're so roundly hated by the average Iraqi, put yourself in their place. Think of the cemetery where your loved ones are buried, or one beloved in our history, like Arlington or Gettysburg. Then imagine it desecrated by an invader you're trying to throw out. That some American soldiers are troubled by the scene of this particular fight shows that we haven't yet lost all of our humanity.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Rugby Players Love Coors Light
It's cold in Wisconsin this afternoon--so cold that we're going to break the record for lowest afternoon high temperature on this date. As you may know, I am a certified freak for autumn, my favorite season of the year, and on this day you'd swear it was here. But rather than going out for an afternoon frolic, I am here, resolutely freezing my ass off in the office, combing the blogosphere for worthwhile crap. And here we go.

Historically, the House of Representatives has been the wing-nuttier of the two houses of Congress. The Senate used to be a bit more rational--although that's been changing ever since the 1994 elections, which brought the likes of John Ashcroft and Rick Santorum to Washington. And come January 2005, the new Senate's Republican club could be even further to the right than it is now. Never mind that Alan Keyes won't get elected--the Center for American Progress reported today on four other Republican Senate nominees who have better chances to win. The pip of the bunch appears to be Pete Coors, the Colorado brewing magnate, whose family has long been connected with racist organizations, and who says his top legislative priority will be--wait for it!--lowering the drinking age. Plus you've got two unrepentant lobbyists and a guy who thinks soldier deaths in Iraq aren't all that important or interesting. Nice.

If you're not reading Political Animal on a regular basis, you should be. Today Kevin Drum notes the difference between income inequality--the difference between top and bottom, which has been growing like mad because of growth at the top--and income insecurity--the feeling that you're about one catastrophe away from losing everything. If you think there's more insecurity now than there used to be, you're right:
FDR dedicated the New Deal to "freedom from fear." He believed that government's role was not to provide handouts to the poor, but to provide a certain minimum level of security against the everyday catastrophes that ruin people's lives.

It is this minimum level of economic security that George Bush and modern movement conservatives want to abolish.
Bush was a rugby player at Yale. Although he once told Vladimir Putin he played a year on the varsity, there was no varsity rugby program at Yale when he was there--but what the hell, we already suspect he was loaded a lot back in the day, so why wouldn't he forget? Over at Lying Media Bastards, they've snagged a photo of Bush playing rugby that says a lot about the man we know today.

Gimme Some Truth
The American Prospect this week features an interesting history of the Orange Alert. We have had six of them in the past two years, five nationwide and the most recent one aimed specifically at New York (although as I understand it, New York has been on Orange Alert since the alert system was instituted). What an Orange Alert mostly signifies is a greater level of uncertainty than the level of uncertainty we live with every day--and given the way the previous five have petered out, it's questionable to me what good they do. You actually have a pretty good chance of predicting when the next one will be, because half the time, they've been keyed not to intelligence uncovered by our various agencies, but to major events everyone knows about (the first anniversary of 9/11, the start of the Iraq war, and, most heart-tuggingly of all, Christmas 2003). So I feel safe in predicting that there will be further Orange Alerts in place by Halloween, if not sooner, and if not nationwide, then certainly in places like Florida, Ohio, and Michigan. Imagine having to run a gauntlet of security just to vote on Election Day--having to prove that you're not an Evildoer who wants to Subvert Democracy. Might keep turnout down a little, dontcha think?

Ex-CIA agent Ray McGovern is as worried about the election as anybody--and he's worried about the American people's response, too. He recaps the way the administration seems to be preparing the ground for the postponement or cancellation of the election, and then laments how many Americans seem willing to do whatever it takes to maintain their safety. He's right. To return to a point from yesterday: If Bush went on TV, made his serious face, and announced that from now on, two plus two will equal five, one-third of the electorate would support him 100 percent.

Recommended Reading: When I was quoting Abe Lincoln over the weekend--about there being "no right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it" because that means "substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument"--Michael Tomasky of The Prospect was having similar thoughts. He wonders why the editorial pages of the country's major newspapers, which can pay people to access history and study it, haven't taken out after Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their lies about John Kerry's record. What Kerry did in Vietnam has been a settled issue for years, so SBVT's accusations aren't matters of interpretation. And the fact that the group is bought and paid for by major Bush supporters is relevant, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Comic Book Heroes
After my gloomy post of this morning about 100-1 odds against Kerry ever taking office, I have to thank Tom Engelhardt for making me feel better tonight.
Can there be any question that the Bush men would consider almost any scenario that might advance their candidate's second-term fortunes? I think not. But their incompetence shouldn't be overlooked either; nor should we focus too exclusively on such scenarios ourselves. In that focus lies a lurking fatalism which has its own dangers. It leads to an overestimation of the Machiavellian abilities of the somewhat inept Busheviks, treating them as if they were a comic-book cohort of X-men, superhuman in their ability to grab fate decisively by the throat, reorganize reality to suit their needs, and manipulate the American public. In fact, if you think about it a moment, the Bush administration has proven far less competent since it tossed the Iraqi dice than either its top officials or most of its opponents ever conceived possible. And there's a surprise for you!
I can't forget, however, that George W. Bush remains the luckiest man ever to occupy the presidency, and it's often better to be lucky than good. Neither can I ignore Kerry's serious problem--you mark my words, his attempt to have it both ways on Iraq is going to be his most serious political liability between now and election day. Nevertheless, I do feel a little better now, thanks.

The Terrorists Have Already Won
Let me clarify something I said yesterday: that the odds against Kerry getting elected are 100-1. My reason for saying this is my belief that the Bush gang will manipulate the election somehow, either by exploiting a terrorist attack or by some sort of October Surprise so that the vote on November 2 won't be a straight-up fight. And if the vote on November 2 is close, I expect them to try some rerun of Florida 2000 to steal the election again. If all else fails, I think there's half a chance that they will manufacture some crisis leading up to the inauguration that makes it "too dangerous" for them to step aside. As outrageously unlikely as those possibilities seem, keep in mind that any one of them, up to and including a refusal to leave on January 20 after being defeated, would have the full support of at least one cable news channel and one-third of the electorate. Call me paranoid if you want, but it would take only one of these possibilities to keep Kerry from taking office, and based on what we've seen, can you really dismiss all of them?

The reason for such paranoia and skepticism is pretty clear--if the election is a straight-up fight, the Satan-spawned Massachusetts liberal has a decent chance to prevail over the hand-picked candidate of the fundamentalists' god, and that simply can't be allowed to happen. Jerome Armstrong of MyDD has analyzed poll numbers from swing states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, and finds that Kerry got a post-convention bounce there, if not nationwide. Even though the news seems good for Kerry, the electoral vote count is still razor-close--and, to circle back around to the preceding paragraph, the Bush gang holds lots of trump cards, and will have no shame about playing them when necessary.

The biggest card Bush has--one he's already playing--is the "scared shitless" card. The usual pattern in a presidential campaign is for candidates to move to the middle in order to capture the vast numbers of voters there. Kerry has done it, but Bush hasn't--as somebody somewhere has noted (maybe a commenter to the thread on MyDD), Bush seems to be shoring up his base and trying to scare the middle. Instead of responding to this tactic, Kerry has done little more than nod gravely in agreement every time Bush suggests terrorists want to destroy our way of life and contaminate our precious bodily fluids. In a fascinating piece by Miles Benson, Ohio State poli sci prof John Mueller suggests that we need to get a grip on our "false sense of insecurity." Benson reports that the odds of any given person being a victim of terrorism is extremely slim. Even in 2001, more people died of "complications from medical care" than died from terrorism.

Terrorists simply can't destroy our country, and it's doubtful that they want to, Bush rhetoric to the contrary. They want to terrorize us--and who can doubt they've damn well succeeded?

Recommended Reading: Sheila Samples asks CNN if it realizes just how big a GOP whore it has become. Also, new on The Hits Just Keep On Comin'": No Longer Live or Local.

Quote of the Day: Bush told an audience in Virginia yesterday that high taxes on the rich are a failed strategy because "the really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway." Kos reported it as another gaffe--until somebody else pointed out the line is a regular part of Bush's stump speech. And across the country there are people making $14,000 a year who will vote for Bush because they think he represents them.

Monday, August 09, 2004

How Blog Entries Get Written
People ask me all the time, "How do you think up that shit you write every day?" I have no idea. It's such a fragile and delicate art that I don't question it. Perhaps it's just my calling in life. George Carlin once said his job was thinking up goofy shit, coming around to tell people about it every so often, and then going back to think up some more. Sounds like this blog, all right. But because I pride myself on serving the needs of you, the blog-reading Internet news consumer, to the best of my ability, let me take you now inside my mind as I started thinking up an entry on an otherwise normal Monday afternoon. (Please excuse the clutter inside my mind--food wrappers, beer bottles, missed opportunities, old records, and barrels of regret--and be careful not to trip over anything.)

It all started when I saw the widely e-mailed story about the shutdown of the California firm that has been operating private schools catering to Latino immigrants using a textbook that says the U.S. has 53 states, four branches of government, a House of Representatives for Republicans and a Senate for Democrats, and that we fought World War II from 1938 to 1942. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to snark, I thought to myself, Wouldn't it be great to do a blog entry around that story? I could make a point about what a dumbass idea privatizing public schools is, and it would have the perfect punchline: Of course, the United States doesn't have 53 states--it has 51. And then there would be a link on the number "51" to a news story from somewhere suggesting that Iraq is in fact the 51st state. Fantastic! So I googled "Iraq 51st state," and sure enough, found James Fallows' 2002 Atlantic Monthly piece, "The Fifty-First State?", just as I knew I would. Then I thought, dang (because "dang" is funnier than "damn" in some contexts, I decided to say "dang" right here), November 2002--I didn't think the story was that old. Time flies, like an arrow--but fruit flies like a banana. (Sorry, the jokes come spontaneously. It's not like I can control them--or guarantee that they will be funny, God knows.) But then I saw the next link on the page and thought, hey, maybe that story is a little more contemporary, so I clicked it. Sure enough, it was a piece from Asia Times Online, featuring reporter Pepe Escobar, a reporter I've linked to several times previously, interviewing Juan Cole, Iraq expert and blogger, whose work I linked to just this morning. The Escobar/Cole interview is about six weeks old, but what the hell, Cole's a smart guy worth reading, so maybe I'll link to that instead. And then I noticed the link to an archive of Escobar's work right there on the same page with the Cole interview. Considering I spent half an hour the other day trying unsuccessfully to find that very thing so I could link directly to Escobar's work from this blog, it made me very happy indeed. I had all of these thoughts and did all of this clicking before starting to write the entry I wanted to write all along, which now follows.

A private company in California, thanks to the miracle of free enterprise, was fleecing unsuspecting immigrant parents and teaching their kids garbage besides, and a reporter who looks a little like a Cuban revolutionary interviewed a blogger from Michigan about six weeks ago and has never, as far as I can tell, written about schools in California. And Iraq is actually the 51st state!

Gee, I was sure it would be a lot funnier. (Am I losing it? Is it time to go on hiatus again?) Please go about your other Internet surfing tasks now, and have a nice day.

My Weekend With Abe
I mentioned last week that Abraham Lincoln is the president who fascinates me the most. I can go further. He's the most interesting character in all history. I admire his moral sense: Although he was a deeply moral man, his morality was humanistic--he was not a church member, and some called him an atheist in his time, although he was extremely familiar with the Bible and fond of quoting it. And while he comes down to us in school as a kind of unlettered frontier philosopher-savant, he was in fact one of the most brilliant politicians this country has ever produced. He knew what he wanted, and usually knew how to maneuver to get it. It's always highly amusing when Lincoln locks horns with someone who believes himself to be superior in every way imaginable--Republican rivals Salmon P. Chase and William Seward, or Union general George McClellan, for example--and ends up snookering them, or getting them to do what he wants and not what they want, and sometimes, (especially in McClellan's case) leaves them petulantly fulminating about his inability to see how superior they are. And his political skill is largely responsible for the survival of the United States when it might otherwise have splintered during the Civil War.

Lincoln is also the greatest prose stylist ever to occupy high office in the United States, if not one of the greatest in any field. We all know the Gettysburg Address, the peroration of his Second Inaugural ("With malice toward none, with charity for all"), and other scattered phrases well-turned. But we never quote Lincoln's most important speech. In 1859, fresh off his defeat for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, but nationally known because of his debates with eventual winner Stephen Douglas, he was invited by a group of New York Republicans to give a political address there. The speech didn't come off until February 1860 at Cooper Union, and although nobody remembers its actual words now, it's widely acknowledged today (as it was then) that the Cooper Union speech made Lincoln president later that year. The centerpiece of the speech was a closely reasoned argument that popular sovereignty (the idea that citizens in the territories should be able to vote on whether to permit slavery there, an idea espoused by Douglas and the Democratic Party) was inconsistent with the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, and that the federal government indeed had the right to regulate slavery. Such an address would have modern audiences flipping channels after two paragraphs (if they'd bothered to tune in at all), but in an age when political speeches were an art form and a mass entertainment, Cooper Union turned Lincoln from an interesting Illinois dark horse into a national figure, once newspapers across the North began reprinting his remarks.

The Cooper Union speech is the subject of a new book by Harold Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union, which I spent the weekend reading, and which I highly recommend to history geeks, Lincoln fans, and anyone with an interest in rhetoric. Holzer's book is an important addition to Lincoln scholarship because in addition to the fact that even an Abe-o-phile like me didn't know much about the speech, lots of what people think they know about Cooper Union is myth.

One reason the speech isn't well remembered is that there are no pithy epigrams to cite, and very little flowery language. Certainly it's nothing like the Second Inaugural, the most terrifying speech any American politician ever gave, in which Lincoln says that if the country must be destroyed by the Civil War in order to pay for the sin of slavery, then that fate is just. (No modern politician would come within 100 miles of such a declaration today.) But as I read Holzer's book (which includes the whole text of the speech), there was one line that caught my attention. But before I share it with you, a digression: While some Americans look at a given situation and wonder "What would Jesus do?", a better question for most of us, at least when confronting political issues, is "What would Lincoln do?" (Mario Cuomo has asked just that in a new book, Why Lincoln Matters: Today More than Ever.) Do people in other countries ransack the words of their forefathers to justify themselves in the present like we do? I'm guessing probably not. In the realm of American presidents, Thomas Jefferson is the most useful for this purpose--his words are used by Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, to buttress whatever point is being made at a given moment. (One reason this works with Jefferson is that he had a unique ability to hold contradictory positions at the same time.) Lincoln must be next to Jefferson in the quote sweepstakes.

So anyway: While nothing Lincoln said at Cooper Union applies specifically as a solution to the troubles we're reading about in the news today--Iraq, the presidential campaign, the economy, whatever--I do think that one point Lincoln made is pertinent to the world we're living in. Lincoln said that if any American in 1860 was convinced that the Founding Fathers believed they had no right to regulate slavery, even though that was contrary to what Lincoln himself believed, that American would be "right to say so, and to enforce his position by all truthful evidence and fair argument which he can." But then Lincoln went on to say of that American:
[H]e has no right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it, into the false belief that "our fathers who framed the government under which we live" were of the same opinion--thus substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument.
But he's also saying something quite pertinent to our current affairs: That if you believe something is true, you have the right to assert that it is true, but that right does not extend to misleading people who don't have time or inclination to look into the facts behind your assertion. Pretty neat condemnation of modern journalism, I think, and of people on all sides of the political divide who know the failings of modern journalism and take advantage of them for their own gain.

I suppose you could also say that Lincoln is warning me against doing the very thing I'm doing here--lifting his words without supplying supporting evidence proving my assertion is true. If so, I'll have some explaining to do when we meet in the Great Beyond. Given his kindly nature, however, I think he'll forgive me. "Malice toward none, charity for all," remember? Oops, I did it again.

Recommended Reading: In a casual conversation yesterday, I told somebody that I thought the odds that John Kerry might actually get elected this fall are 100-1 against. After reading Peter Preston of The Guardian and his explanation of why Kerry is so badly behind the 8-ball, I'm not going to revise that guess.

Also, a story that broke in the blogosphere last week went mainstream over the weekend: In discussing last week's terror alert, the Bush Administration outed an important Al Qaeda mole--and may have done incalculable damage to the war on terror. Juan Cole has several posts on the outing and the reaction to it. Christ, can't anybody here play this game?

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Dumb Leading the Dumb
In yesterday's Washington Post, one of the architects of the Bush Plan to Vanquish Evil, Douglas Feith, explained the war on terrorism to the masses who don't understand it (or who seem to be unaware of things he remembers that didn't really happen). Today, Josh Marshall analyzes Feith's column and finds it typical of the crude, inconsistent definition of "terrorists" and the terrorist threat that the administration has pushed for nearly three years. Marshall says the administration hasn't simplified the issues to make them easier for public consumption--they actually believe things are as simple as they've made them out to be.

Earlier this week, the Center for American Progress reported two quotes about Feith. The first was from Donald Rumsfeld, who called him "without question one of the most brilliant individuals in government." The second was from the newly published autobiography of General Tommy Franks, the now-retired top commander of the war in Iraq, who wrote that Feith was "getting a reputation around here as the dumbest (expletive) guy on the planet." Those who can, do. Those who can't do, become Pentagon bigshots.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Bouncy Bouncy Bouncy
No post-convention bounce for Kerry? I got yer bounce right here. And the best part is, it's a Fox News poll. As Salon noted in its story on the reliability of major polls this morning (scroll to this morning's entry for the link) Fox polls are generally well-designed and reliable--it's the on-air interpretation that's skewed. We can only imagine the furious deliberations underway as they try to figure out a way to spin this one. Here's my favorite part of the poll:
- Arrogant
Bush 48
Kerry 33

- Genuine
Bush 40
Kerry 42

- Optimistic
Bush 39
Kerry 43

- Hardworking
Bush 34
Kerry 39

- Courageous
Bush 40
Kerry 39

- Friendly
Bush 37
Kerry 37
The figures on optimism and arrogance may bode the best, if the most optimistic and likable candidate is the one undecided voters end up preferring. That Kerry has survived something like $70 million in negative advertising and still comes off as optimistic, genuine, and hardworking is an accomplishment.

It occurs to me that if Bush leads this poll on courage, it's only because the American people are coming around to the realization that it takes no small degree of courage to keep repeating the same discredited nonsense over and over again.

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