Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Humiliating the 9/11 commission
The more I think about the administration's "concession" in allowing Condoleeza Rice to testify in public, under oath before the 9/11 commission, the angrier I get. The conditions set by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales before allowing her to go turn my stomach:
"The necessary conditions are as follows. First, the commission must agree in writing that Dr. Rice's testimony before the commission does not set any precedent for future commission requests, or requests in any other context, for testimony by a national security adviser or any other White House official.

"Second, the commission must agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice."

With the first condition, they are demanding recognition of their interpretation of almost limitless executive privilege (see David Neiwert's two recent posts on this subject for details and background). It's not likely that such an agreement would create a legally or constitutionally binding precedent, but it would give the administration and their allies in congress a valuable club with which to bash open government advocates in the near future.

With the second condition, they are blocking the ability of the commission to follow the evidence wherever it may go. Sure, they can still request testimony in private, but one of the main purposes of the commission is to provide a public airing of the facts.

The whole letter just drips with royal condescension. After saying the White House agrees to the testimony subject to terms, Gonzales goes on for four paragraphs to describe what an unprecedented grand gesture this is on their part, before finally stating just what those terms are. The insistence--stated twice--that the commission's agreement be in writing can only be intended as a public humiliation of them for having the impudence to make demands of their betters. It's tantamount to making them stay after school and write on the black board "I will not question the commander in chief's judgment" one hundred times.

Gonzales follows the condition by again reminding them that this is a concession from the White House and not a right of the commission--"...we are proposing this extraordinary accommodation...."

Every day that the Bush camarilla remains in power they commit another outrage against our national traditions of balance of power, protection of rights, separation of church and state, and open government and they further tarnish our position as a beacon of hope and freedom in the world. It's going to take decades to undo the damage done by these four years. If they get a second term, I'm not sure the damage will be reparable. Bastards!
I would listen if I could
Al Franken should have launched the era of liberal talk radio about an hour ago. Sadly, I don't live in one of the initial markets. And it appears that Air America doesn't have the promissed streaming audio up yet. When they do, I'll be there checking it out. If you are in one of the favored markets, be sure to tune in, patronize their sponsors, vote early, vote often, and vote Democratic. Oh, and shower Janeane Garofalo with demands that she have me on as a guest.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Do it for Blades
Meteor Blades, who is unquestionably my favorite writer over at Daily Kos, had a pulmonary embolism last week and nearly died. He will be out of the blogging circuit for a while as he recovers. Kos tells us that Meteor doesn't want flowers or presents, he just wants us to boot the Republicans out of Washington. Now, you all know that I was leaning toward endorsing Bush, Ashcroft, DeLay and all those other nice people, but since Meteor wants it, I guess I'll have to go Democrat this year.

Think nice thoughts send your prayer his direction. If you really need to send gifts, make a donation to his favorite cause, the Native American Rights Fund.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

What matters most to them
The true priorities of this administration are revealed by the way they treat testifying before various committees and bodies outside the executive branch.

Even before 9/11 this administration was gaining a reputation as the most secrecy and privilege obsessed administration since Nixon. Cheney set the tone in his refusal to release records of his energy task force meetings to the General Accounting Office (GAO). The GAO’s frustration with Cheney’s stonewalling finally led them to sue the White House. The official line of defense offered by Cheney and others was "You just cannot accept that proposition without putting a chill over the ability of the president and vice president to receive unvarnished advice." At the time Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI) wrote a letter to Cheney stating that if he won his case in court, the White House would be "virtually immune from routine oversight." That, of course, is exactly what the Bush White House wants.

This same principle was recently invoked again, this time in defense of Condoleezza Rice’s refusing to testify in public, under oath, before the 9/11 commission.
But White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said that in order for presidents to receive the most candid advice from their staffs, “it is important that these advisers not be compelled to testify publicly before congressional bodies such as the commission.”

While some people might have been convinced by Cheney framing the energy task force issue as one of principle, it’s hard to do the same with Rice. The issue being investigated by the 9/11 commission is the security of the American people. This administration has asked us all to put security above our rights and privileges. Yet they refuse to do the same.

Their position is clear: it is more important to the Bush administration to protect their own executive privileges than it is to protect American lives.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

I am a good citizen
Today I wrote the check to pay off two of my student loans. That’s seven down and two to go. Only two more years till I completely own my education. This doesn’t free up any money; our little car was on its last legs, so we bought a new used car a few weeks ago. The first payment is next week. Essentially, I’m flush for one week. I feel very virtuous to have finally closed out this set of loans. I’ll be smug for the week that I have.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The end of civilization
Isn’t this one of the signs that the apocalypse is upon us (in this case I suppose it’s the apo-calypso)?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Movie trivia question
I spotted this on the BBC:
A Brazilian pastor has died during a screening of Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ.

Jose Geraldo Soares, a 43-year-old Presbyterian, had booked a whole cinema to view the film with his congregation.

Halfway through, his wife noticed that he was no longer awake, and a doctor in the audience confirmed that he had suffered a heart attack.

Friends denied that violence scenes of Christ's beating and crucifixion had caused Pastor Soares to expire.


Pastor Soares is the second person to die at a screening of the film.

Peggy Law Scott, an American woman in her 50s, passed out last month during the crucifixion scene, when watching the film in Wichita, Kansas.

She later died in hospital, after suffering a heart attack.

So here's my question, baring disasters like earthquakes, fires, and such, what is the record for people dieing while watching a film. I suppose stampedes count if they can be blamed on the movie and not on something external. Is Mel in contention for some kind of record here?

Monday, March 22, 2004

Imagine that
It appears I’ve been blogging for a year. In that time I've written about 220 pages on the state of the world. That's not a huge amount, but it's about twice as long as my Master's thesis. My wife says if could stay on subject, I'd have a book by this time next year. But if I actually wrote the book, what could I whine about?
Remember Samuel Byck?
Most people don't. Condoleezza Rice certainly doesn't. In an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post she's still pushing the official party line that they had no reason to suspect that someone would try to hijack an airliner and use it as a weapon. She originally made this claim in May 2002: "I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people - would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." Today she qualifies it a little, but only a little: "...we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles...." It's minor difference, from one of no one could to no one would.

Atrios takes exception to this nonsense, pointing out that the CIA had produced a report on just that danger--specifically naming bin Laden--as early as 1999. "Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida’s Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House," according to the September 1999 report entitled "Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?." Atrios lets her off too easily. Since Condi follows her boss in not actually reading reports, she might have an excuse for not knowing about the CIA warning.

But that wasn't the only warning that such a danger existed. At the Genoa summit of the leaders of the G-8 industrial leaders, the Italians went to great lengths to protect the leaders from arial attack and specifically named bin Laden as the source of the threat.

Professional and amateur reporters have brought to light a whole series of explicit warnings about the possibility of terrorist attacks throughout the decade of the nineties, including some actual kamikaze attempts. In 1994, French authorities frustrated a plot to fly an airliner into the Eiffel Tower after the plane had already been hijacked and three passengers killed. In 1995 Philippine authorities uncovered plot by Ramzi Yousef's group named Project Bojinka. According to this ambitious plot they would fly hijacked airliners into CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the Pentagon, the White House, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco, and the World Trade Center while blowing up another eleven planes in the air and assassinating the Pope in Manila.

Oddly missing from most of these accounts is the story Samuel Byck, the only homegrown, American, wannabe kamikaze.

On the morning of February 22, 1974, Byck tried to hijack a Delta Airlines DC-9 in Baltimore with the intention of killing Nixon by crashing the plane into the White House. Byck was an unemployed salesman from Philadelphia who was already known to the Secret Service. For two years he had been mailing threats to the president and bizarre taped messages to public figures like Jonas Salk, Senator Abe Ribicoff, and Leonard Bernstein. The previous Christmas he had picketed the White House in a Santa suit and a sign that read "All I want for Christmas is my constitutional right to publicly petition my government for a redress of grievances."

Byck's plan was a disaster from the moment he entered the airport. As soon as he was delayed by the screening line he went berserk. Drawing a gun he shot and killed a security guard and rushed aboard the plane. When the pilot tried to say the plane wasn't ready to take off he killed the pilot and wounded the co-pilot. Byck didn't know how to fly a plane so he grabbed a passenger and ordered her to fly him to Washington. Before he could take his frustration out on the terrified passenger, airport police fired through the window of the cockpit wounding him. Byck killed himself rather than be captured.

A tape sent to columnist Jack Anderson explained his motives. Byck had been turned down for a Small Business loan.

Byck may finally be getting his moment of creepy infamy. Twenty years later, Stephen Sondheim made Byck a character in one of his least successful (but still great) musicals "Assassins." Sean Penn will be playing him in the forthcoming movie "The Assassination of Richard Nixon." Penn takes his role philosophically, "Yes, once again, I'm in the feel-good picture of the year."

Why has Byck been so absent from discussions of terror? Is it because it was thirty years ago? Byck's incompetent plot took place during the golden age of hijacking. Had he succeeded, he would have killed about four hundred people (and rather abruptly ended the Watergate crisis). Certainly, any discussion of hijacking, airport security, and the danger of airplanes as missiles should include our closest previous near miss. Is this just another one of those things that we can blame on the lack of historical sense among Americans? Or is it because Byck was a white American citizen. Just as Oklahoma City and other right-wing domestic terror rarely makes it into our public discussions of the current threat, do we exclude Byck from our historical memory simply because he wasn't Cuban or Palestinian?

I believe my friend David Neiwert has the straight dope on this one. The War on Terror is more of a marketing effort than an actual war or even law enforcement campaign. The official narrative is that America is standing tall against cowardly (brown, non-Christian) foreigners. Straight talking Republicans are our only hope. The rhetoric rallies the faithful to the GOP banner and even peels some Democratically inclined voters over to Bush's side. There is no advantage in suggesting that some Republican friendly groups might be terrorists. The only domestic them allowable in this us-or-them scenario are people who would never vote for Bush, liberals, pacifists, and overly loud critics. The press, more lazy than evil, take the official talking points of the War on Terror and run with them. They still sometimes come up with conclusions that make the administration uncomfortable. But having been told we are in a war of civilizations with an unspeakable foreign them, how many are likely to look at the possible relevance of a middle-aged, unhappy, Jewish guy from Philadelphia?

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Compassionate conservatism and demographic doom
Matt Yglesias says the following in a discussion of the demise of Compassionate Conservatism that started in David Brooks’ Saturday New York Times column and continued in Jack Balkin’s blog:
Before 9/11, Karl Rove and Matthew Dowd were concerned about the GOP's looming demographic doom -- with every passing day the electorate grows less white. Thus, Nixon's southern strategy, which paid off with decades of solid electoral wins, looks set to backfire in the early 21st century. The day of reckoning, moreover, is not far off. If Bush wins the same proportion of the white vote, the black vote, and the Latino vote that he won in 2000, he will lose the 2004 election by a non-trivial margin due to the changing racial demographics.

Matt goes on to suggest that Compassionate Conservatism was an effort to postpone that reckoning by calving off the socially conservative fractions of the Black and Latino vote with some relatively inexpensive safety net programs. Yglesias feels that the Republicans discarded Compassionate Conservatism when they found the better issue of “only we can make you safe” after 9/11. Brooks feels that Compassionate Conservatism required bipartisan compromise, a thing that required time to develop after the Florida recount and 9/11 robbed us of time because Bush was too busy making us safe. Balkin suspects Compassionate Conservatism was never more than a slogan and that slogan was not necessary when the Republicans found themselves controlling all branches of the government.

I agree with Balkin that Compassionate Conservatism was never more than a slogan and, though the Republicans may have had an eye on some minorities, the main intended audience was soccer moms. But I’m interested in the demographic problem Yglesias brings up.

Republicans have been courting the Hispanic vote since at least the first Reagan administration with the goal of making them “their Blacks” – a rather repulsive formulation that means they hope to make the Hispanic vote as perennially dependable for Republicans as Blacks are for Democrats and by the same margins. After twenty years, this effort has yet to show success.

The failure lies in two areas. First, is the simple fact that the Hispanic vote is not a monolithic block. Despite what TV sitcoms tell us, there is a large degree of diversity in that simple census category. Both parties have trouble with this concept and will find themselves regularly surprised and frustrated until they do get it. Second, the Republican effort to win Hispanic votes has always taken backseat to their Southern strategy and its race-bating successors. Their “big tent” concept always falls to their need to need to secure their position among their current core of white, Anglo, Protestants. During that same twenty-year effort to gain the Hispanic vote, the Republicans were tolerating and even celebrating people like Pat Buchanan, Pete Wilson, and the xenophobic, anti immigrant wing of the party. If the Democrats do continue to edge out the Republicans in the quest for (non-Cuban) Hispanic votes, we will have Pat and Pete to thank as much as any positive effort of our own.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Getting tough with Fidel
I see via Jesse at Pandagon that Karl Rove is swearing to find ''new and creative ways'' to tighten the grip on Castro. Pandering to the Miami Cuban exile community is an election year tradition. And why not? They hold one of the most enviable positions in American special-interest politics. It’s difficult to become president without Florida’s electoral votes and it’s hard to win Florida if the quarter-million or so Miami Cuban vote against you. Thus a minority in one city in one state manages to hold the foreign policy of the United States hostage.

It’s been shown again and again that the sanctions and election year rhetoric about getting tough with Fidel only serves to strengthen his grip on Cuba. Nothing like a nice outside threat to get the country to rally around the leader. That principle is completely unknown to this administration and that’s why they continue to pursue this failed policy. Right?

Of course, get tough with Fidel is only a failed policy if you assume the goal is to get rid of Castro. If the goal is to deliver the votes of the Miami exile community to the Republican Party, it's been a fabulous success. I wonder what the Republicans will do when Castro finally does die and the Miami Cubans stop voting with one voice. I wonder what the Miami Cubans will do when they become just another minority in a state full of the Republican’s preferred constituency, racist white males.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Protecting American jobs?
This would make a lovely thirty-second spot for Kerry or MoveOn:
The official merchandise Web site for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign has sold clothing made in Burma, whose goods were banned by Bush from the U.S. last year to punish its military dictatorship.

The merchandise sold on includes a $49.95 fleece pullover, embroidered with the Bush-Cheney '04 logo and bearing a label stating it was made in Burma, now Myanmar. The jacket was sent to Newsday as part of an order that included a shirt made in Mexico and a hat not bearing a country-of-origin label.

The Bush merchandise is handled by Spalding Group, a 20-year-old supplier of campaign products and services in Louisville, Ky., that says it worked for the last five Republican presidential nominees.

Ted Jackson, Spalding's president, said, "We have found only one other in our inventory that was made in Burma. The others were made in the U.S.A." He said the company had about 60 of thefleece pullovers in its warehouse, and that a supplier included the Burma product by mistake.

Bush campaign officials did not return calls seeking comment. The imports are potentially an issue because outsourcing has become a hot political topic in the election.

Bush last July signed into law the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, saying "The United States will not waver from its commitment to the cause of democracy and human rights in Burma."

Violators of the import ban are subject to fines and jail, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

If I wanted to be fair about this, I would reason that this was probably an honest mistake on the part of Spalding and its supplier. The supplier, Colorado Trading & Clothing, claims the products were leftover stock from before the sanctions took effect last fall.

But why would I want to be fair? When I was a campaign hack in the eighties, heads would have rolled if we had had so much as a box of pencils at the headquarters that wasn't made in an American union shop. The sole purpose of branded gear like this is to keep the candidate's name in the public's eye. Everything about it--from the color scheme to the country of origin--represents the campaign. While they may not have intentionally desired foreign sweatshop products, they obviously didn't take adequate precautions against getting them. Bad publicity is the price you pay for such sloppiness. That makes them fair game.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

The imperfect knowledge gambit
Carl Zimmer over at The Loom has a good post today explaining a favorite technique of groups who need to cast doubt on expert knowledge in order to advance their particular agenda. For example, creationists want to convince the public that most biologists, geologists, and, indeed scientists in general, don't really understand their fields; holocaust deniers claim that professional historians have all been taken in by a Jewish fraud; and greenhouse skeptics say the vast majority of climate scientists are just guessing. I've ground my teeth at this technique for years but never had a good name for it. Now I do.

Zimmer describes it this way:
When I ask scientists what's the biggest misunderstanding people have about their work, they often talk about how they know what they know. People tend to think that a scientist's job is to gather every single datum about something in nature--a mountain, a species of jellyfish, a neutron star--and then, simply by looking at all that information, see the absolute truth about it in an instant....

Many bogus attacks on scientific research play on this common misunderstanding of science-as-revelation. If scientists don't know everything they can't conclude anything. Paleoanthropologists have found less than two dozen species of hominids from the past six million years--therefore they can't draw any conclusions about how humans appeared on Earth. Climatologists don't have a perfect temperature record for the planet--therefore they can't say anything about how man-made pollution is warming the atmosphere. In cases like climate change, these bogus attacks spread from science to policy based on science. To hear some people talk, we should only do something about climate change once we have tracked every molecule in the atmosphere since the dawn of civilization and can predict its course for the next thousand years.

The imperfect knowledge gambit is a particularly nasty and effective rhetorical device because it builds on very common misconceptions about how knowledge is created and because it sets the groundwork for a number of follow-up arguments.

Most scientists and historians do not claim to know everything (the ones that do are, by definition, bad scientists and historians (or coaches hired to teach science and history)). If we knew everything, there would be no need for new scientists and historians and they would all have to get jobs making furniture or mowing lawns. Since there is very little demand for bad furniture and uneven lawns, they would become unemployed and sit around all day whining about how hungry they are. This would be even more annoying than their present whining about how unappreciated and underpaid they are, so be thankful that there are still things to find out.

It should be obvious to most people that we do not know everything. But, by harping on the fact that scientists and historians do not possess pure and complete Truth, that their knowledge is partial and provisional, the opponents create an opening for their anti-knowledge. One follow-up argument is to portray their anti-knowledge as equal to our knowledge and demand equal time. This fairness argument is a favorite of creationists and holocaust deniers. Another follow-up argument is the dark horse gambit beloved of conspiracy theorists. This emphasizes the partial nature of knowledge and insists that their anti-knowledge might be the missing explanation that leads to the Truth (at this point they usually compare themselves to Galileo).

The difference between many conspiracy theorists and leading creationists, holocaust deniers, and greenhouse skeptics is that the conspiracy theorists are usually sincere in their confusion, while the latter three are cynically exploiting a rhetorical device to win supporters and advance their agendas. Most conspiracy theorists just want the Truth. Creationists want to introduce religion into the schools and don't care what damage they do to the educational mission. Holocaust denial is usually just an introduction to the larger anti-Semitic program. The do-nothing conclusion of greenhouse skeptics is to the direct benefit of corporate and political agendas. All things being equal, I'd rather spend time with a Velikovsky follower or amateur Templar historian than any of those three

Note I was probably overly subtle in distinguishing between leaders and supporters in that last paragraph. Aside from their rhetorical methods, I lump creationists, holocaust deniers, and greenhouse skeptics together because I view all three groups as being led by cynical manipulators. The individual followers are often sincere and convinced by the rhetorical tricks of their leaders. Many are open to intelligent counter-arguments and eager to understand. The leaders of these three movements, on the other hand, are patently dishonest and have only my contempt.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Various outrages
Posting has been light for me the last few days because my Mom has been staying with us. Now that she is back in her home and we are back in ours, I’ve had a chance to took at the news and seek out patterns. To my horror and shock, I found that Bush is politicizing the civil service. But he always seemed like such a uniter, not a divider. He’s the very last person I would expect to behave in partisan manner.

1) This one is from Time via those alert eyes at Pandagon:
Administration sources tell TIME that employees at the Department of Homeland Security have been asked to keep their eyes open for opportunities to pose the President in settings that might highlight the Administration's efforts to make the nation safer. The goal, they are being told, is to provide Bush with one homeland-security photo-op a month.

2) This one is from the mighty and majestic Atrios. The original may have changed by the time you go to look at it, so I’ll give you the image.

3) And this one I actually found by myself when glancing over the headlines after getting back from returning Mom to her homestead.
WASHINGTON, March 14 — Federal investigators are scrutinizing television segments in which the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare law, which would be offered to help elderly Americans with the costs of their prescription medicines.

The videos are intended for use in local television news programs. Several include pictures of President Bush receiving a standing ovation from a crowd cheering as he signed the Medicare law on Dec. 8.

The materials were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, which called them video news releases, but the source is not identified….

Federal law prohibits the use of federal money for "publicity or propaganda purposes" not authorized by Congress. In the past, the General Accounting Office has found that federal agencies violated this restriction when they disseminated editorials and newspaper articles written by the government or its contractors without identifying the source.

Kevin W. Keane, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said there was nothing nefarious about the television materials, which he said had been distributed to stations nationwide. Under federal law, he said, the government is required to inform beneficiaries about changes in Medicare.

"The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector," Mr. Keane said. "Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools."

An entire agency is charged with finding photo ops to aid their boss' reelection effort. A congressional committee uses their publicly-financed Website to attack the minority party's candidate. Official communications from a department become commercials to drum up partisan support for a controversial policy initiative (during an election year). All three have the same corrupt element in common: the Bush team obviously regards the government as just another advertising medium for them to use in their election effort.

In the last case, Keane, the talking head for DHHS, brings up something that has bothered me for years. When, exactly, did legality become the refuge of choice for scoundrels? It seems that whenever someone—political or corporate—is caught with their hands in the ethical cookie jar, their preferred defense is to loudly quote the letter of the law and announce that they did nothing illegal. Never mind that they may have trampled the spirit of the law and vomited on any relevant concept of ethics, if they are safe within a legal loophole, they can stand tall.

The whole historical point of a professional civil service was to create a body of depoliticized workers whose first loyalty was to performing their defined duties, not to supporting their political masters. The current behavior of the Bush/Rove cohort seems to have the goal of undoing 120 years of political reform for a moment’s advantage. Why am I not surprised?

Friday, March 12, 2004

Kerry – McCain 2004
This is not my dream ticket. It’s not even really in my top ten, But I would consider it, if just to watch them carry Karl Rove out of the White House, on a stretcher, clutching his heart.
WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen. John McCain allowed a glimmer of hope Wednesday for Democrats fantasizing about a bipartisan dream team to defeat President Bush.

McCain said he would consider the unorthodox step of running for vice president on the Democratic ticket -- in the unlikely event he received such an offer from the presidential candidate.

"John Kerry is a close friend of mine. We have been friends for years," McCain said Wednesday when pressed to squelch speculation about a Kerry-McCain ticket. "Obviously I would entertain it."

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Let's run against DeLay
I like the sound of this:
House Democratic leaders are honing an election strategy to taint the entire Republican caucus by demonizing Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

By running against DeLay, much as they ran against Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1996 and 1998, the Democrats believe they can damage centrist GOP members in potential swing districts that could determine who controls the House.

The strategy, which is based on the belief that DeLay is regarded as an extremist in many GOP-leaning districts, was previewed to lawmakers last week at a leadership luncheon by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

She galvanized colleagues with a promise that Democrats would not let Republicans claim to be moderates at home while taking marching orders from DeLay in Washington, said several sources at the luncheon.

This is good news, but Kos asks the pertinent question: what took them so long? DeLay may not be as nationally well known as Newt was, but he is a blackhearted SOB, hip-deep in slime. Texans know him and the Democratic faithful know him. There are plenty of places where DeLay will make a great poster boy to rally the faithful. DeLay might be safe in his own district, but that doesn't mean Texan Democrats in other districts can't run against him. I would think reminding Texans of the time and cost of the re-redistricting fight with the tagline "Tom DeLay doesn't want you to have a choice" should be worth a few votes. Maybe not. I've never been to Texas, but such a blatant effort to fix the elections wouldn't play well in the places I have lived and visited.

Tom DeLay need his butt drop-kicked into the deepest part of the Gulf of Mexico. Come to think of, that would make a good Democratic fund raising stunt. I doubt as if Tom would loan his butt to the Texas Democratic Party, but maybe a suitable surrogate could be found. A pork butt with a bad hairpiece, maybe?

Monday, March 08, 2004

An offer he could refuse
Is the modern Republican Party, in the era of Bush and the rise of the religious right, a real party, as usually defined by Americans, a machine, or a gang? The evidence from Texas is that they are a machine well on their way to becoming a gang.

Mike Murphy is a thirty year old finance manager, Texas native, and Republican. Disappointed that his party wasn’t producing candidates who spoke for him, he allowed a few friends to talk him into running for congress. The incumbent Ralph Hall had represented the district as a Democrat for more than 20 years until Tom DeLay gerrymandered his district into a safely Republican one. No problem for Hall, he simply crossed the aisle and became a Republican. This pitted Murphy and Hall against each other in the primary. Hall had the money and organization. Murphy had the energy and legs to start hitting the doors of the district.

Murphy’s grassroots approach was working well enough that he attracted the attention of the State Republican organization. They called Murphy to tell him that born-again Republican was a friend of Bush’s and Murphy should get out of the race. They called twice. Murphy chose to keep running.

Next Congressman Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called with the same message. Reynolds tried the carrot, mentioning Rove and DeLay, and promising that they wouldn’t forget this favor. Murphy chose to keep running.

Enter the bad cop in the form of Larry Telford, the "incumbent retention director" for the NRCC. Said Telford:
"Just consider what you're doing now. You don't want to have the freakin' president of the United States mad at you for the rest of your life." And, finally: "It will help you immensely to not do something that won't take you anywhere in a practical manner and that will really screw up your chances down the road...If you step off this cliff, gravity never goes up, it goes down."

Murphy described his reaction to the moment. “[T]hey were going on about the White House and ruining my career, all I could think was, 'I don't have a career.'"

Around this time, Murphy reported these calls to the Dallas Observer. They called the RNCC for comment and got Carl Forti, the communication director. Forti denied that any effort had been made to chase Murphy out of the race. So the Observer played Forti Murphy’s tape recordings of the conversations. Did I mention Murphy was recording the conversations? I suppose he didn’t either. Forti claimed the conversations had been mischaracterized and misunderstood.
Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant for HillCo Partners. "On the NRCC's part, that's what you call ham-handed amateur hour. Do people have bad days? Yeah. Are people stupid? Absolutely. And I think this is more of latter than the former.

"The fact that people get threatened in politics is nothing new. But using Karl Rove's name and saying that he would be an enemy of the president for life if he didn't get out--that's a different situation because of the context. I mean, here's a kid, Murphy, who is an amateur, but he acts like a pro. And the party, they're pros, but they act like amateurs.

Thanks to Kos for catching this first.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Bush flip-flops
The readers over at Kos have been collecting a list of Bush flip-flops to counter the claims that Kerry flip-flops. Flip-flopping always strikes me as a fairly disingenuous accusation. In reality, someone who never changes their mind, regardless of the emergence of new evidence, changed circumstances, or their own growing experience, strikes me as just plain scary. Of course the point of such an accusation is to create the impression that the opposition is a unprincipled opportunist or a flake who unthinkingly repeats the last thing he or she heard.

That said, I have to say I like this list, and not just because Bush is the subject. I think in this case, it’s a good tactic. As a counter tactic it’s good to be able to match annoying coworkers, relatives, and talk-radio listeners point for point when they start repeating RNC talking points about Kerry’s lack of character.

But more importantly, Bush’s people have always portrayed him as a man of steadiness and firm moral grounding. For a long time the public has bought this line. The perception of Bush as a “man of character” was one of the two main supports for his general approval numbers when his approval numbers on specific issues were always lower—often far lower (the other support was the rally around the wartime leader instinct). If we can undermine him on the character issue and show him as the callow frat boy that he is, Kerry will be the next president.

  • Bush is against campaign finance reform; then he's for it.
  • Bush is against a Homeland Security Department; then he's for it.
  • Bush is against a 9/11 commission; then he's for it.
  • Bush is against an Iraq WMD investigation; then he's for it.
  • Bush is against nation building; then he's for it.
  • Bush is against deficits; then he's for them.
  • Bush is for free trade; then he's for tariffs on steel; then he's against them again.
  • Bush is against the U.S. taking a role in the Israeli Palestinian conflict; then he pushes for a "road map" and a Palestinian State.
  • Bush is for states right to decide on gay marriage, then he is for changing the constitution.
  • Bush first says he'll provide money for first responders (fire, police, emergency), then he doesn't.
  • Bush first says that 'help is on the way' to the military ... then he cuts benefits

This is just the beginning of the list. It would be nice if someone did an annotation of the top dozen points or so.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Why do people drive?
Although I’ve had a driver’s license for over a quarter century, I’ve had a car for less than five years. That is to say, I was a pedestrian till I was in my forties. If you live in an Eastern metropolitan area, that’s not worth mentioning at all, but in the West, it is worth mentioning. It’s just weird. I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it again. The reason I though of it today, is that I was driving my visiting mother to a play this afternoon and looking at our fellow drivers. For many years, as a pedestrian, I verged on becoming an anti-car activist (only the fact that I lived in a town with a nearly non-existent mass transit system, and was therefore dependent on freeloading from driving friends to survive, kept me honest). About ten years ago I read an article on why people chose to drive. The top reason given in polls was, not convenience or freedom or time, it was privacy. People who drove wanted that time spent concentrating on something other than work, family, or any other mundane event. They wanted that Zen experience of emptying their minds of anything except the present moment. They wanted the intimacy of them and the road. That is a beautiful statement of the existential dilemma of modern life. So, now that they have carried their damn cell-phones into their cars, what excuse do they use now?

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Bush vs. science
My wife just pointed out an excellent article by Robert Kennedy Jr. on "The Junk Science of George W. Bush" in the February 19 issue of The Nation. If you've been following the issue, Kennedy probably doesn't say much you haven't heard before. However, he writes well and it is very powerful to have it all gathered together in a single accessable piece like this. If you're not familiar, this is a great introduction. This is the article to send to your friends and relatives who don't think Bush is that bad.

Kennedy is the senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and, of course, has been involved in politics since his first breath. He wisely brushes past the endangered species kind of environmental argument, which is usually only effective on the already convinced, and starts with the public health argument. Bush's EPA supressed reports of toxic smoke and dust around ground zero in order to re-open Wall Street. Bush's FDA supressed a report on antibiotic resistant bacteria spreading from hog farms. Bush's EPA delayed release of a report on mercury contamination from coal-fired powerplants. When a pesticide was implicated in causing prostate cancer, Bush's EPA took the study away from its own scientists and turnind it over to the chemical's manufacturer. The list goes on and on.

Kennedy is at work on a book length treatment of the subject. It would be nice if everyone who thinks Bush is not that bad would read that, but they won't. The next best thing would be to get them to read this article.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Something nice in the news
New blogger Preposterous Universe (go check him out) describes a story he picked up from public radio this morning.
Authorities in Mexico City "are going to hand out free books to people riding the subway.... Apparently Mexico has the highest literacy rate in Latin America (about 90%), but people don't really spend that much time actually reading, so the program makes it easy for people to read in a context where they can't do much else. Hopefully the reading will catch on, maybe even cut down on crime in the subways."

The responses quoted in this Washington Post article are mostly enthusiastic, though there is some (probably justified) skepticism as to how well it will function as an anti-crime initiative. The books are distributed at the stations. They are specially published collections of short stories and plays that can be read in the time of an average commute. They will put out new collections every two months or so.

This reminds me of the cheerful idealism of some urban activist and protest groups in the late sixties, particularly the White Plans of the Dutch anarchist/pacifist Kabouters (gremlins). The White Plans were a mixture of street theater (one of the leading Kabouters was a performance artist) and serious solutions to urban problems.The most famous of these was the White Bicycle Plan to reduce traffic in the core districts of Amsterdam. Lost and abandoned bicycles in police strage would be cleaned up, painted white, and scattered around town for people to use as they needed. My personal favorite was the White Chicken Plan, according to which the image of the police would be reformed by disarming them, dressing them in white uniforms, and having them ride around on bicycles dispensing first aid, fried chicken, and condoms.

The metro book project brings to my mind that same kind of optimism and creativity. Its sponsors hope to increase literacy by encouraging people to develop the habit of pleasure reading. If they keep it up long enough, they have a good chance of succeeding. They hope to improve the general atmosphere of the metro sysytem. They hope to nudge people out of their alienated bubbles by giving them something in common. The idea of two strangers sitting together, reading the same story, and starting a conversation is completely believable. The most optimistic element, reducing crime, might sound naive to some. There is the possibilty that crime might actually increase at first. People with their noses buried in books could make better targets for pickpockets. On the other hand, if people do begin talking, they will be less likely to sit by and watch someone they know be robbed.

One aspect of the polarization of American politics over the last decade or so, is that politics is mostly a grim and unpleasant business. It's hard to measure the long-term practical effects of groups like the Kabouters, Yippies, and Merry Pranksters. One thing that is certain is that they made the whole process of politics a little more entertaining. I think that's a good thing. And along the way they occasionally came up with some simple optimistic ideas. I'm not sure what kind of people came up with the metro book project in Mexico City, but I would like to see more of this kind of thing in the States. This is the kind of activity third parties need to engage in to gain legitimacy, not quixotic runs at the presidency.

Monday, March 01, 2004

I’m going to be rich
Last week I claimed to have found a new meme in the making. This week my amazing powers of prediction have been vindicated. It is indeed a full-fledged meme. I’m sure James Randi will accept this as proof of my ability to predict the future and send me a million dollars.

The meme, of which I found three examples, went like this:
[T]he liberal media elite is either celebrating, or shamefully silent on, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s act of civil disobedience in deciding to have the city issue same sex marriage licenses. Yet last summer this same liberal media elite couldn’t heap enough abuse on Judge Roy Moore’s act of civil disobedience in plopping a Ten Commandments monument in the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court. You see, it’s all about hypocrisy. Liberal media elites have no moral grounding, so they can disapprove of civil disobedience one week and applaud it the next. That’s how evil they are.

Martha Bridegam wrote to comment that:
It's not really civil disobedience at all. It's a public official's act based on a legal opinion interpreting state and federal constitutional law. As I say on my site, if gay marriage is "civil disobedience," then so are John Ashcroft's assorted stompings of habeas corpus.

Interestingly enough, many of the meme pushers make the complimentary point, which is that Newsom’s actions are not civil disobedience, they are out and out criminality (suggesting that civil disobedience requires surrender to the authorities and jail time).

Of course, either of these arguments requires that the meme be taken seriously. There are in fact a great number of important differences between Moore’s action and Newhouse’s. My point was simply to ridicule the meme. These kinds of arguments based on sloppy reductionism and equivalency are childish and often no more than insincere talking points, more marketing than discourse.

Today after reading David Neiwert’s piece on Roy Moore and the Constitution Party, I went Moore Googling and discovered the meme popping up all over. Everyone’s favorite objective media watcher, Howard Kurtz, not only made the argument himself, he quoted annoying blonde Laura Ingraham also making it.
Newsom, she says, "is being treated as a modern-day Rosa Parks. He's a nice guy and a very eloquent public speaker, but he's also not following the law. When Judge Roy Moore wasn't following the law, people were trashing him. He was just ridiculed in the press.... If you have a politically correct view and violate the law, you're a hero."

That’s a perfect statement of the meme. Roy’s commandments and gay marriage are equal. The liberal media are hypocrites for applauding one and condemning the other.

Bill O'Reilly mouths the meme in Murdock’s New York Daily News (with the non-spinning headline: “Left-wing hypocrisy: Alabama judge is hit for defying the law, not so S.F.'s mayor”). Lesser conservative ranters are also jumping on the bandwagon for this one. And I predicted it. That makes me a psychic and James Randi owes me a million dollars. Right?