Politics postsThursday December 05, 2013
Major Burn on Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Jill Lepore is increasingly my favorite writer on staff at The New Yorker. This is from her recent piece, “Long Division: Measuring the polarization of American politics,” which is locked online, available only to subscribers. So subscribe already.
Lepore talks up the data compiled by scholars such as Warren E. Miller of the University of Michigan, whose research has been funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation's Poliltical Science Program, inaugurated in 1966. She says the research suggests that both voters and legislators are more polarized than at any time since the U.S. Civil War. Then she writes:
What's really going on could be anything from party realignment to the unraveling of the Republic. It's hard to know, though, what with a polarized Congress keen to defund the very scholarship that might cast light on the matter. [Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, who introduced legislation to abolish the Political Science Program] is untroubled. “The University of Michigan may have some interesting theories about recent elections,” he allowed, “but Americans who have an interest in electoral politics can turn to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the print media, and a seemingly endless numnber of political commentators on the Internet.” This is a little like saying, when your kitchen is on fire, that it's O.K. because, in a cupboard above the stove, you keep fifty boxes of matches.
Dibs on the Heist Movie
From The Economist, Nov. 23:
The world’s rich are increasingly investing in expensive stuff, and “freeports” such as Luxembourg’s are becoming their repositories of choice. Their attractions are similar to those offered by offshore financial centres: security and confidentiality, not much scrutiny, the ability for owners to hide behind nominees, and an array of tax advantages. This special treatment is possible because goods in freeports are technically in transit, even if in reality the ports are used more and more as permanent homes for accumulated wealth. If anyone knows how to game the rules, it is the super-rich and their advisers. ...
The goods they stash in the freeports range from paintings, fine wine and precious metals to tapestries and even classic cars. (Data storage is offered, too.) Clients include museums, galleries and art investment funds as well as private collectors. Storage fees vary, but are typically around $1,000 a year for a medium-sized painting and $5,000-12,000 to fill a small room.
How to Win Political Arguments in Your Sleep
Stupid political arguments have invaded my unconscious.
Last night I dreamed I was at work, but not my work, where me and a colleague were schmoozing a couple of loudmouths from the South. They were big, brash types who acted as if they knew it all; as if they had secret information we weren’t privy to. At one point I asked them where they were from. “Texas,” said the more heavyset man. Where in Texas? I asked. “You know Texas?” he asked. “Florida, Texas. Near Dallas.”
My dream self thought the place sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite place it.
“Did they make a movie set there or something?” I asked.
The heavyset man cocked his head knowingly. “Movie? No, not a movie. History. You watch the news? You pay attention to what’s going on in the world?”
He began to go on about in Texas this and in Texas that, and I was nodding politely; then he launched into an anti-Obama argument. He claimed Obama was an illegitimate leader, a usurper, etc. etc., and my colleague was stunned but silent, so I looked over at the man and laid my cards on the table.
“Yeah, I know about Obama. I volunteered for his campaign in 2012. I donated $3,000 to his campaign.”
The dude came back with in Texas this and in Texas that, and the conversation quickly devolved, and the main thing I remember was being on top of the dude, my finger in his face, and saying the following:
“You may be from Texas, and they may do things a certain way there, but now you’re in Seattle. And in Seattle? I’m the conservative.”
When I woke up I thought it wasn’t a bad line for a dream, if a bit cheesey. I’m sure I’ve heard it in a similar context before.
Interpretations welcome. Particularly “Florida, Texas.”
Here's your info graphic of the day courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov:
Feel free to use it when talking to various right-wingers and Tea Partiers and FOX News watchers who complain about how out-of-control spending has gotten under Pres. Obama. Just don't expect them to listen. From Salman Rushdie's memoir of his fatwa years, “Joseph Anton,” pp. 70-71:
In February 1983 thirty-eight Shia Muslims, followers of a man named Sayyad Willayat Hussain Shah, were convinced by him that God would part the waters of the Arabian Sea at his request, so that they could make a pilgrimmage across the ocean floor to the holy city of Karbala in Iraq. They followed him into the waters and many of them were drowned. The most extraordinary part of the incident was that some of those who survived claimed, in spit of all evidence to the contrary, to have witnessed the miracle.
A Conservative Theology Becoming a Revolutionary Idea by Attracting the Non-Urban and Marginalized: A Quiz
Quick quiz about the following quote:
Here was a fascinating paradox: that an essentially conservative theology, looking backward with affection toward a vanishing culture, became a revolutionary idea, because the people whom it attracted most strongly were those who had been marginalized by urbanization—the disaffected poor, the street mob.
Who said it about whom? Was it:
- A: Andrew Sullivan on the Tea-Party-wing of the GOP
- B: Gore Vidal on the '64 Goldwater campaign
- C: Salman Rushdie on the birth of Islam
Answer in the comments section.
Moyers: It's Not a Shutdown; It's Sabotage of the Democratic Process
Here's Bill Moyers on the Tea Party-led and GOP-led and credibility-destroying government shutdown. Moyers doesn't like the term 'shutdown':
At least let's name this for what it is: sabotage of the democratic process; secession by another means. And let's be clear about where such reckless ambition leads: as surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.
See the whole video essay here.
American idiot celebrating secession by another means.
More Unseemly Sideshows
From Margaret Talbot's Talk of the Town piece, “Washington Dramas,” in The New Yorker:
There was a rather unseemly sideshow at the memorial to the Second World War, where Republican representatives turned up to personally inform elderly visiting veterans that it was President Obama’s fault that the memorial was closed. The chair of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, later offered to use R.N.C. funds to open the memorial, claiming that the Administration was keeping “the Greatest Generation away from a monument built in their honor.” You could deny eight hundred thousand federal employees their paychecks, you could cripple entire agencies, but close the war memorial? The National Park Service declined the offer, because, as a spokesperson explained, “we are a national system.” The park service could hardly pick favorites—opening the memorial for the Second World War but not for the Vietnam War, opening Yellowstone but not Yosemite—and it shouldn’t be asked to.
What the Republican intransigents were willing to deprive of funds, besides the Capitol police, included the following: The Centers for Disease Control, which said that it would have to stop its seasonal flu-prevention program and would “have significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations.” The Environmental Protection Agency, which would close down almost entirely, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which would stop most of its inspections. The WIC program, which provides healthy food supplements for millions of pregnant women, new mothers, and babies, and could run on temporary federal funds only through the end of the month. The Food and Drug Administration, which said it “will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities,” and would have to halt “the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.” The National Institutes of Health, which announced that it would not be enrolling any new patients in ongoing studies or clinical trials.
The fringe elements of the GOP have created even more unseemly sideshows at our national monuments. Today, huge crowds turned out at the World War II memorial, whose closing is still blamed on Pres. Obama rather than (rightly) on the GOP, and several took the baricades there and moved them to the White House as a kind of symbolic gesture. They waved a Confederate flag outside the White House. Other flags were unfurled, including a “Right to Heaven” flag, which an Andrew Sullivan reader reminds us is an invocation to righteous rebellion and revolution.
These are people who don't recognize that they are what they accuse others of being. They are antidemocratic, anti-American fascists.
Dr. Frankenstein, Meet Monster
From today's New York Times:
WASHINGTON — House Republicans, facing the ninth day of a government shutdown, appeared increasingly isolated on Wednesday from even their strongest backers, with business groups demanding the immediate reopening of the government and benefactors such as Koch Industries publicly distancing themselves from the shutdown fight. ...
On Wednesday, the National Retail Federation joined other business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers in asking House Republicans to relent.
From the same article, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), apparently an architect of the government shutdown, tries to score the usual, sad political points and gets his ass handed to him:
At a House hearing on death benefits, Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, asked Eric K. Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, “Do you think Harry Reid doesn’t like the V.A. or our veterans?”
Mr. Shinseki, looking baffled, replied: “I think he highly values veterans. As to why Congress is unable to do its business, I will leave to the members to discuss.”
Representative Tim Walz, Democrat of Minnesota, called the question “beneath the dignity” of the veterans affairs committee and offered Mr. Huelskamp 30 seconds to apologize. He declined.
When is the GOP Going to Take Back the GOP?
In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait runs down the list of demands from the GOP in order to prevent a government shutdown—including Paul Ryan tax reform, offshore oil drilling, keystone pipeline, tort reform, blah blah blah, and a yearlong moratorium on Obamacare—and points out its similarity to the Mitt Romney platform that U.S. voters rejected last November. Then he writes this:
The fact that a major party could even propose anything like this is a display of astonishing contempt for democratic norms. Republicans ran on this plan and lost by 5 million votes. They also lost the Senate and received a million fewer votes in the House but held control owing to favorable district lines. Is there an example in American history of a losing party issuing threats to force the majority party to implement its rejected agenda?
One of Andrew Sullivan's readers then provides an answer:
There is an obvious example: the election and subsequent secession crisis of 1860. The southern Democrats were quite clear with their threats to secede from the Union should Lincoln be elected.
Another reader details the hypocrisy of the demagogic right:
More to the point, there didn’t appear to be all too much Republican anti-government resentment during the George W. Bush Bush presidency, as the GOP pushed for Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the executive’s asserted power to wiretap and to detain & torture US citizens without charges or a warrant, surpluses turned into deficits, the right in Raich v Gonzales to imprison folks for activity legal under state law, and the invasion for bogus reasons & failed occupation of an arbitrarily selected Middle Eastern country.
But President Bush was One of Us. The Kenyan anti-colonial secret Muslim? Less so. Hence, insane demands, in the service of taking Our country back from Them.
That's been the cry, hasn't it, since January 20, 2009: taking the country back. It's the wrong cry. The right cry (both ways) is this: When is the GOP going to take back the GOP from the Ted Cruzes of the world?
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) reads “Green Eggs and Ham,” nonsensically, during 21-hour bloviation-fest.
Quote of the Day
“Bad time to be a politician. Dibs on shooting/hanging the President.”
-- a commenter on the far-right website MinutemanNews.com, responding to an article about the problems leftists will have when/if they try to rescind the Second Amendment, as reported in Rick Perlstein's Nation article, “Stack Them In the Streets Like Cordwood”: The Gun Control Debate and Our Civic Life," Sept. 13, 2013. Some of the other coments, which Perlstein also quotes, are equally awful, with worse spelling. There were 420 comments in all, he says. Perlstein's research indicates that the site, which seems a fringe organization, actually draws almost as many readers as The Nation.
Where Andrew Sullivan is Wrong on Syria, Obama
From Andrew Sullivan's site, which I subscribe to. First he quotes a Washington Post/ABC News poll:
Only 32 percent said Obama had explained clearly why the U.S. should launch strikes. Back in March 2003, as the Iraq War started, 49 percent said that President George W. Bush had compellingly made his case for what was then at stake.
Then he adds this:
So Obama has much less domestic support than Bush, no backing from the Brits, open hostility by the UN for immediate war, and an obviously conflicted administration. This is a war even less likely to succeed than Iraq and even less popular.
The war in Iraq didn't fail because of an erosion in domestic support; it failed for other reasons that were reflected in an erosion of domestic support.
This is not an argument in favor of missile strikes in Syria, by the way. I don't know enough on that subject to even begin discussing it.
And for Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles
Here's a portion of Rand Paul's recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek:
You’re a big reader of Austrian economists such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, who don’t believe in stimulus and say the economy can return to health only through austerity.
You can stimulate prosperity by leaving more money in the hands of those who earn it. If you want to stimulate the economy in Louisville, leave more money in Louisville and send less to Washington. My plan has a 17 percent flat tax with very few deductions, and it would leave $600 billion in the economy. But it would work better than a government stimulus because of the Milton Friedman proposition that nobody spends somebody else’s money as wisely as they spend their own. I think you’d have a boom like you’ve never seen in this country.
Who would your ideal Fed chairman be?
Hayek would be good, but he’s deceased.
Nondead Fed chairman.
Friedman would probably be pretty good, too, and he’s not an Austrian, but he would be better than what we have.
That's pretty funny. I agree with Paul's first sentence, btw, but I assume we mean different things by “those who earn it.” I also like the chutzpah in this sentence: “I think you’d have a boom like you’ve never seen in this country.” Really? So the economic history of this country, thus far, has been a disappointment to you? And with you at the helm things would finally take off? What a sweetheart.
Paul Krugman takes him down another peg.
By the Time I Get to Arizona, 2013
Pres. Obama traveled to Arizona today to talk about his recent housing proposal and was met by protesters outside Desert Vista High School in Phoenix.
From the Arizona Republic:
Obama foes at one point sang, “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” a derogatory reference to the president's skin color, while protesters like Deanne Bartram raised a sign saying, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!” ...
Deanna Bartram, a 17-year-old University of Arizona student from Black Canyon City, lashed out at people who call her racist for not supporting Obama. She believes Obama supporters use the “race card” against her because they disagree with her political message.
“Obama is ruining American values. He is ruining the Constitution. He needs to go back to where he came from because obviously, he is a liar,” she said. “I am not racist. I am part Indian. Obama’s half Black, half White.”
“He’s 47 percent Negro,” shouted Ron Enderle, a 77-year-old Chandler resident who said that he and his son served as Marines and his grandson is currently serving in the Marines.
Chuck D could not be reached for comment.
By the way: Isn't it “Bye Bye Black Bird” and “Bah Bah Black Sheep”?
Ranking Filibusters: More Reasons Why the GOP Sucks
Hendrik Hertzberg on the New Yorker site breaks down the three types of filibusters used to stall executive action and the legislative process, and ranks them from most defensible to least defensible:
Senate filibusters allow a minority of the Senate, against the wishes of the majority, to do three things. Torpedoing a President’s nominee for a post in his Administration is the most indefensible of them. The President is separately (and more or less democratically) elected. He has a presumptive right to staff his Administration with like-minded officials. Also, an executive nomination is like a law that has a sunset provision: the appointment expires automatically when the Presidency changes hands. Filibusters of ordinary legislation are slightly less indefensible, because a law can always be repealed by a future Congress. (Of course, repealing a law is as subject to filibuster sabotage as passing one.) Filibusters of judicial nominees, especially of Supreme Court Justices, are actually the least indefensible of the three. The judiciary is the joint creation of the Presidency and the Senate (“advise and consent”). And judicial appointments are for life. They don’t expire every four years like Cabinet and other executive-branch appointees. They can’t be repealed. Once judges or Justices are on the bench, they’re there for good. (Or for ill.) The only way they leave office is if they die, retire voluntary, or are impeached—and the last impeachment of a Supreme Court Justice was two hundred and eight years ago. With judicial appointments, the stakes are higher. So it almost makes sense, arguably, for the barrier to be higher, too.
How easy would it be to employ the so-called nuclear option and get ride of filibusters altogether? Pretty damn easy:
On the floor, a Democratic senator would have raised a point of order. He or she would have asked the presiding officer (Vice-President Biden would want to be in the chair for this one) to rule that requiring a sixty-vote “cloture” before a nominee for an executive position can be confirmed or rejected by a simple majority is unconstitutional and, therefore, is out of order. The presiding officer would have so ruled. A Republican would have appealed the ruling. The ruling would have been upheld—by a simple majority. Presto chango.
Hertzberg is for employing the nuclear option, by the way. But he thought Harry Reid's compromise wasn't bad.
Now play ball.
If I were the I.R.S., I would be investigating Tea Party claims, too. From Jeffrey Toobin's post, “The Real I.R.S. Scandal,” on the New Yorker site:
It’s important to review why the Tea Party groups were petitioning the I.R.S. anyway. They were seeking approval to operate under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. This would require them to be “social welfare,” not political, operations. There are significant advantages to being a 501(c)(4). These groups don’t pay taxes; they don’t have to disclose their donors—unlike traditional political organizations, such as political-action committees. In return for the tax advantage and the secrecy, the 501(c)(4) organizations must refrain from traditional partisan political activity, like endorsing candidates.
I don't get why this isn't the story.
On the other hand, this may be a boon: a call to visit your local Tea Party office if you're ever in need of social welfare. I'm sure, as a social welfare organization, they'd be willing to help.
White House Correspondents Dinner: Obama with an Edge
I'm generally not a fan of this thing, at least not since Stephen Colbert skewered both George W. Bush and the press corps back in ... was it 2006? ... but Pres. Obama rocked it tonight with an edge. My favorite line:
I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with. (Laughter.) Hello? Think of me as a trial run, you know? See how it goes.
My second-favorite came after this joke about the edifice Obama is building next to the George W. Bush Presidential Library:
That's good. But this is the one that stuck in it in there. It's not the easy joke. It's the sharp joke that follows the easy joke:
I'm also hard at work on plans for the Obama Library. And some have suggested that we put it in my birthplace but I'd rather keep it in the United States. (Laughter.) Did anybody not see that joke coming? Show of hands? Only Gallup? Maybe Dick Morris?
I wish they'd cut to Nate Silver at that point. If he was there.
I haven't even gotten into the whole Daniel Day-Lewis starring in Steven Spielberg's “Obama,” or the beautifully serious way with which he ended it, but the whole thing made me think, once again, I'm glad I'm living in a country where Barack Hussein Obama is my president.
Here's the whole deal:
Remaining Stationary is the New Freedom
Did you see this story the other day?
With the Senate set to debate gun control this month, a National Rifle Association task force released a 225-page report on Tuesday that called for armed police officers, security guards or staff members in every American school, and urged states to loosen gun restrictions to allow trained teachers and administrators to carry weapons.
The report is fodder for Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. But the second graf became fodder for me:
Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas who led the task force, unveiled the report at a packed news conference with unusually heavy security, including a bomb-sniffing yellow Labrador retriever. A dozen officers in plain clothes and uniforms stood watch as he spoke; one warned photographers to “remain stationary” during the event. (Italics mine.)
It immediately sparked this idea for a Tom Toles-like editorial cartoon:
- Panel 1: Show the news conference, use Hutchison's quote, and have one of the armed security officers telling the photographers: “Remain stationary.” Include: “*Actual quote.” Photogs look scared.
- Panel 2: Similar scene in our new, NRA-approved schools, where an armed guard tells students: “Remain stationary.” Students and teacher look scared.
- Panel 3: Similar scene at mall. Armed guards telling shoppers, “Remain stationary.” Shoppers look scared.
- Panel 4: Then in Congress during arm-control legislation debate. NRA to Congress: “Remain stationary.”
- Panel 5: Then in front of the thousands who have died because of gun violence since Newtown. NRA to the dead: “Remain stationary.”
- Denouement: Little Oliphant or Toles figure at bottom with hands raised before NRA guard. Oliphant figure says: “Remaining stationary is the new freedom.”
Guns guns guns.
Henny Penny, When the Sky Fell: 'No End in Sight' and the 10th Anniversary of the Iraq Invasion
Yesterday, the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, pissed me off more than I'd anticipated.
I think what set me off was this piece by Alex Pareene on Joe Scarborough, and the realization that the bastards got away with it, got away with calling us names, too, and now blame us for flag-waving our way into war when I was sickened by it all. Pareene dissects Scarborough well but you almost want a body blow. I remember seeing MSNBC at the time, and the American flag waving behind triumphant music and the Bush administration's chosen phrase, OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, up front, and thinking, “This is a cable news show?” I was naive at the time. I'm so much older than that now.
I remember a few years later, in 2005 or '06, arguing with a conservative friend about Iraq, and he trotted out the usual right-wing line about whether I would put Saddam back in place if I could. I gave him a look. I said:
Would I put him back in place? Does that mean we get back all of the American soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq, and all of the Iraqis killed and wounded in Iraq? We get back the money we spent, and the prestige we lost, and the focus we lost, and we're able to spend that money and put that focus elsewhere? On our more immediate concerns and enemies? Is that what you're asking me? Would I make that trade? In a fucking second.
How did you celebrate the 10th? I got drunk and watched “No End in Sight,” Charles Ferguson's 2007 documentary, which is the best thing I've seen on our early involvement there. It's about all of the fuckups that led to present-day Iraq, which we no longer pay attention to.
What gets me each time I watch this? It's not the lies and misrepresentations that led us into war. It's not the fact that we spent a few months, rather than years, prepping for a post-war Iraq. It's not that we didn't send the troop levels the miltary wanted but sent the troop levels Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld thought we needed (SPOILER ALERT: he was wrong), and it's not the fact that ORHA, the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the organization designed to stabilize Iraq, reported to Rumsfeld and not, say, Secretary of State Colin Powell. We could have gotten away with all of those fuckups. But then the Bushies disbanded Jay Garner's ORHA and replaced it, and him, with L. Paul Bremer's CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and Bremer ordered de-Ba'athification and the disbanding of the Iraqi military. And that was that.
A few quotes from last night's viewing, which I subsequently drunk-tweeted (see what you're missing by not following me on Twitter?):
- “We're a platoon of Marines. We could certainly stop looting if that's our assigned task.” — Lt. Seth Moulton.
- “It was just henny penny the sky is falling.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on media reports about the postwar looting in Baghdad.
- “My goodness, were there that many vases?” --Donald Rumsfield, implying that U.S. media reports on looting were greatly exaggerated; followed by laughter from the press corp.
- “Whether you were Sunni or Shiite, you were outraged about the looting.” --Nir Rosen, Iraqui journalist.
- “And what followed was this pervasive sense of lawlessness that Iraq never recovered from. Guys with guns took over.”
- “The Iraqi army was essentially standing there, waiting. They were waiting for an overture. ... No one did that.”
- “I thought we had just created a problem. We had a lot of out-of-work soldiers.”
- “I don't do quagmires.” --Donald Rumsfeld.
If you're looking for a gift for Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc., 10th anniversaries are traditionally associated with tin.
Bremer (left), taking over from Garner (right).
Email to Jake: March 9, 2003
I sent this email to a group of friends on March 9, 2003:
Anyone been reading about the celebrity commercial wars? Martin Sheen & Co.? Liberal media articles mocking liberals. “Those know-nothing celebrities know nothing” is the gist. I've yet to hear much about the conservative response, led by former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, who, in his commerical (which I haven't seen), says the following in support of a possible war with Iraq:
When people ask, “What has Saddam done to us?” I ask, “What had the 9-11 hijackers done to us before 9-11?”
So true! We're all guilty until proven invaded.
Jake responded. Same day:
The conservatives, whose recent ascendance was led by a B-movie actor turned president, have no business complaining about “know nothing celebrities.” Same for the liberal media complaining about fellow liberals. The reason the actors are making such noise about the war has a lot to do with the shameful absence of noise coming from the democrats in Congress. My senator Hillary Clinton, for her part, went out of her way last week to reaffirm her support of Bush's war plans.
And the fact that the media themselves accept the myth of the liberal media only tilts their coverage further to the right. According to polls, a majority of Americans believe Saddam was a 9/11 co-conspirator. No evidence has been produced, but who needs evidence when a steady barrage of slanted coverage will do?
Apologies that we were all so, so right, and the others were all so, so wrong.
Email to Elin: March 2003
I sent this to my friend Elin in 2003....
How goes the war on your front? Here it's the same. The majority still favor Pres. Bush but Americans tend to rally round the president, any president, in times like these - even when we create times like these. Things will change if the war goes on too long, we create too many enemies (as we're doing), and the U.S. economy stagnates. Came across an appropriate JFK quote this morning from 1961: “The United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient... We are only six percent of the world's population; we can't impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind.” Meanwhile the latest New Yorker magazine brings articles on our television coverage of the war (bordering on propaganda), W.'s lack of humility in his person or rhetoric, how the U.S. diplomatic community is viewing the war (scary line from a moderate on what's wrong with Europe: “What they're doing is listening to their public opinion, rather than leading it.”), and an article on the documents relating to Iraq's supposed nuclear program which helped pave the way for this war - even though, it turns out, they were forged. Not good. Most of my friends are against the war but then they're my friends.
Sarah Palin, Big Gulp, and Freedom in America
Apparently Sarah Palin showed up at CPAC today and talked guns and gun racks, and took swipes at both Mitt Romney and Pres. Obama, and then, for the coup de grace, and displaying all of her wit, brought out a Big Gulp and took a sip.
The use of right-wing food props immediately reminded me of Greg Stillson, the politician on a road to the presidency (and nuclear destruction) in Stephen King's 1979 novel, “The Dead Zone,” who, with a U.S. decal on his hard hat, threw hot dogs to the enthusastic crowds at his rallies:
“Hot dogs for every man, woman and child in America! And when you put Greg Stillson in the House of Representatives, you gonna say HOT DOG! SOMEONE GIVES A RIP AT LAST!”
I'm not the first to make the Palin/Stillson connection, either. “Around my house,” Mr. King told Salon.com in 2008, “we kinda laugh when Sarah Palin comes on TV, and we say, 'That's Greg Stillson as a woman.'”
The 32-oz. Big Gulp, in case you missed it, is a swipe at NYC's Mayor Bloomberg, who has attempted to limit, in restaurants and theaters, and for health reasons, the size of sugary drinks to 16 ounces or less. Jon Stewart among others has objected. I believe Stewart used the same prop as Palin. Is this the first thing the two have ever agreed on? Expect a mash-up.
Besides, didn't a judge strike down the Mayor's initiative earlier this week? But Palin wasn't going to give up a good prop when she had one.
Here's the bigger point. Yesterday, before a movie at Regal Cinemas in downtown Seattle, I got unaccountably thirsty and went to the refreshment stand to buy a soda. I just wanted a little, not much.
Me: What's the smallest soda you have?
Underpaid Regal employee: 32 ounces.
That's the small. But the employee was nice enough to sell me the kids' size, which is a mere 16 ounces. Which is still about twice what I wanted.
But that's freedom in America. You have the freedom to buy whatever the corporation is selling—for whatever reason it wants to sell it that way—without interference from the government.
Moynihan's 1967 Warning to Democrats Now Applies to Republicans
I've long contended that the radicalism of the left during the 1960s is now the province of the radical right. Whereas the left used to attack the judicial system (as unfair) and the education system (as creating “citizens” rather than “individuals”), the right now attacks both for different reasons. Judges are activists, teachers are de-incentivized unionized members. To give two examples.
I thought of this shift again while reading Rick Perlstein's “Nixonland” yesterday afternoon. On pg. 395, Perlstein quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat but beloved by Nixon and the right, in a speech that became known as “The Politics of Stability.” This is what Moynihan said in 1967:
Liberals [must] see more clearly that their interest is in the stability of the social order, and that given the threats to that stability, it is necessary to make more effective alliances with politcal conservatives who share that concern, and who recognize that unyielding rigidity is just as much a threat to the continuity of things as is an anarchic desire for change.
All you have to do is underline these words:
Liberals [must] see more clearly that their interest is in the stability of the social order, and that given the threats to that stability, it is necessary to make more effective alliances with politcal conservatives who share that concern, and who recognize that unyielding rigidity is just as much a threat to the continuity of things as is an anarchic desire for change.
The far right [must] see more clearly that their interest is in the stability of the social order, and that given the threats to that stability, it is necessary to make more effective alliances with politcal moderates who share that concern, and who recognize that unyielding rigidity is just as much a threat to the continuity of things as is an anarchic desire for change.
See: Fiscal Cliff, Sequestration, Obamacare, pretty much anything that's been debated in Congress since Jan. 2009.
Eric Cantor and the Tea Party practice the politics of instability.
America Held Hostage
I seem to get my best reading done now at 2 AM when I wake up and can't get back to sleep. That's my silver linings playbook.
Last night, this morning, I read the following in Rick Perlstein's “Nixonland.” It's about the gathering of power and paranoia by both Nixon and Kissinger during the first 100 days of their time in the White House in 1969:
Senator McGovern, with a former college professor's faith in the power of reason and dialogue, had gone to the White House to meet Henry Kissinger and suggest a plan [to end the war in Vietnam]: since our involvement was a disaster and a mistake, couldn't Nixon just say that his predecessors Kennedy and Johnson had comitted troops in good faith, but events had shown that commitment was no longer consistent with the national interest? Kissinger allowed that the war was a mistake. But he said America couldn't pull out because the right wing would go crazy: “We couldn't govern the country.”
And that, America, is why you can't have nice things. Because the right wing would go crazy.
When Romney was the Most Honest Man in the Race
I'm in the middle of Rick Perlstein's epic tome, “Nixonland,” about how the U.S. went from a Democratic landslide in 1964 to a Republican landslide in 1972. Think race riots, open housing, left-wing idiots and right-wing wish-fulfillment fantasies.
I don't agree with everything here. I think Perlstein's a bit harsh on RFK. He includes some odd asides, such as declaring the song “She's Leaving Home,” from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album's “most beautiful moment.” Overall, the book merely strengthens, rather than challenges, my opinion of what went wrong with politics in this country in my lifetime. But it's giving me ammunition.
Some of the most eye-opening moments, particularly when compared with the recent 2012 election, contrast George Romney, the Republican governor of Michigan and a media darling, with Richard Nixon, a media joke and a stealth campaigner, who would, of course, trounce Romney before the '68 race even began. Romney's fault, according to Perlstein?
He was too damned forthright, too earnest—especially about Vietnam. He grappled with it honestly. Which would make what he said sound absurd, since everyone else was in denial or lying.
[Romney's] forthright honesty was his calling card, his contrast with the wheeler-dealer LBJ and the used-car salesman Nixon, what made him, along with that strong, square chin and silvering hair and popularity with Democrats, look like a contender. But honesty was a dull blade to take into a knife fight with Richard Nixon—who was simply willing to lie.
It doesn't take a genius to realize the lesson young Mitt took from this.
Quote of the Day
“Last year's [58% voter] turnout was right in the middle of the 17 elections presented in this chart—better than eight, but worse than eight. ... The friendly and civic-minded people of Minnesota always have the nation's highest turnout, and this year an admirable 75.7 percent of them came to the polls. At the other end, four states came in below 50 percent: Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Hawaii, bringing up the rear at 44 percent.”
-- Paul Waldman, “Voter Turnout in 2012: Meh,” on The American Prospect site.
Yay Minnesota! Of the four states who don't show up, meanwhile, three are deep red and one is deep blue (Hawaii). Waldman explores, or at least links to, an explanation for HI. Apparently we know the explanation in TX, OK and WV.
Obama on the 'Us vs. Them' of Immgration Reform: 'A lot of folks forget that most of us used to be them'
Pres. Obama on immigration reform:
What My $3,000 Helped Buy
“We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”
“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.”
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”
Not to mention the freedom to roll your eyes.
The Way the Right-Wing Has Always Supported Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here are a few lines from Rick Perlstein's book, “Nixonland,” which I read yesterday, and which are particularly appropriate today—both MLK Day and the second inauguration of Barack Obama. They're reminders of how much, and how little, things have changed:
“It is my firm belief, and of all my neighbors, that King should be taken into custody ... Today, the insufferable arrogance of this character places him on a pedestal as a dark-skinned Hiter.”
“When greedy Mr. Hitler started taking over other countries, people at first thought 'give him a little more, then he will be satisfied' ... Give greedy Mr. King a little more freedom then he will stop. Isn't that what we are told today?”
--Constituent letters to U.S. Senator Paul Douglas (D-IL), during the battle for opening house in the summer of 1966; from “Nixonland,” pp. 122 and 123
These days, of course, everyone evokes Dr. King for their own cause, even, absurdly, the NRA. That's how things have changed. At the same time, every prominent black leader, particularly those known for non-violence and compromise, are still being compared to Hitler. That's the way we're hearing the same damned shit.
Back in the day, Steve Kaplan, editor-in-chief at “Minnesota Law & Politics,” used to include a section in the year-end “Turkeys” issue called “Who's Being Compared to Hitler This Year?” It's the comparison that's always absurd and never goes out of style.
Martin Luther King, Jr. after his march for open housing in Chicago was disrupted by violence. He said he'd never seen hatred—not in Alabama or Mississippi—like the hatred he saw in Chicago.
How Grover Norquist is like Abbie Hoffman
I'm reading Rick Perlstein's “Nixonland,” the second volume of his three(?)-volume history on the rise and ascendancy of the far right in the United States and the unmaking of the American consensus. I'm at the summer of 1966. Chicago. Daley and King.
In its broadest sense, America fractured, and remains fractured, over the role of, and our faith in, government. But it's not an either/or proposition. Both sides have their contradictions.
The left believes government can do well domestically (social safety net) but fucks up internationally (Vietnam, Iraq).
The right believes government can do well internationally (Cold War, nation building) but fucks up domestically (welfare state).
All of this is fairly obvious but I didn't really see it with any kind of clarity until this morning. I grew up in the '60s and '70s with the left distrustful of government and came of age with the right distrustful of government, and I thought it was the same thing. It's not. It's really about where you want to spend the money. It's also about which side gets extreme and when. In the 1960s, it was the left, and its embodiments included Abbie Hoffman. Today it's the right, and its emodiments include Grover Norquist.
Again, all fairly obvious. I apologize for even bringing it up.
Idiot of the Day, Month, Year: Wayne La Pierre
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
--The NRA's Wayne La Pierre during a press conference, his first since Newtown, in which he suggested we prevent future school massacres by employing armed guards at every school in the country. A transcript, and a video of his talk, is available here.
Rebuttal from Andrew Sullivan's readers, including a reminder that Columbine had armed guards, not to mention the cost of what La Pierre is suggesting, is available here.
My thoughts? La Pierre is bad for the NRA, which is bad for America. So are all the fools ascribing cultural factors, such as violence in movies and violence in video games, to the various massacres in this country. Because aren't such movies and video games sold and watched and played all over the world? So why the problems here? Is it in our nature? Is America unexceptional? As for the supposed lack of God in our culture, isn't Europe more Godless? Isn't that what these same folks say? So why so much murder here? Why not there?
Let's face it: we have a bit of a gun problem. It's fucking obvious.
Do we blame the 2nd amendment? I was in a discussion about this on Facebook the other day, with people who supported the invidual rights interpretation of the amendment (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms”) rather than the collectivist rights interpretation (“A well regulated militia,” etc.).
Here's the version of the amendment as passed by Congress:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Here's the version as ratified by the States:
We lost two commas and a capital “A,” but both versions contain 27 words. Thirteen of those tend to be ignored by Wayne La Pierre and the NRA. But why ignore them? Seriously. What is the above really saying? It's saying, “Because X, therefore Y.” But X is no longer true. We have a regular army and a National Guard. A well regulated militia is no longer necessary for the security of a free state. And if X is no longer true, Y is no longer therefore.
I know. The U.S. Supreme Court doesn't agree with me. But it used to. For most of its history.
As for La Pierre's quote above about good guys and bad guys with guns? It's the product of Hollywood stupidity. Stupid liberal Hollywood.
Wayne La Pierre of the NRA gave a post-Newtown press conference today (top), which was interrupted by a different message than the one he was bringing (bottom).
Our Country, Our Song
In November 2004 my sister wrote a page-one story for The Wall Street Journal about a group of motorcyclists that lobbied state legislatures to turn back helmet laws. They wanted the wind in their hair when they rode, and they rode around the country, lobbying state legislatures, to make it so. Among other things, they argued that helmets were actually less safe in low-impact crashes, but their evidence on this was suspect and anecdotal. Scientific studies proved the opposite.
No matter. They were successful. By the time of the article, several legislatures had already rescinded their state's mandatory motorcycle helmet laws.
In the back-and-forth email exchange with my sister, I wrote the following:
I just like the unspoken critique of our system in your article: if one side lobbies and the other doesn't, then the first side wins. Even if they're lobbying about something that's kind of insane.
I first heard about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the same way I first heard about the massacre at the movie theater in Aurora, Col., last July: through a posting on Facebook. Same person, I think. Same story, really. I think her post on Aurora even referenced the sameness of it all. Oh crap, this again. Her post yesterday was more charged and horrified. Because it was children in an elementary school. Kids who would never get older than 5 or 6 or 8. Parents who were told their kids were never coming back from school that day.
In the middle of your workday, doing this thing that seems important but isn't, that doesn't matter in the long run—which describes the workday of almost everyone in the world except teachers—you try to touch some aspect of that horrible reality so you don't feel like such an uncaring asshole. It's hard, though. It's impossible, really. There are screens in the way. We're experiencing this through computer screens and TV screens, and some part of us can't get through these screens and some part of us doesn't want to. It's safer where we are, in unreality, sympathizing and empathizing, rather than where they are, where the awful thing has happened. This week's awful thing. So instead we simply feel stunned, numb, guilty, angry. Certainly angry. This is our country, this is our song. We're singing it again. Why?
That's what we eventually get to, after all the lit candles and consoling quotes and angry tweets. Why?
We know why. It's in the above. If one side lobbies and the other doesn't, then the first side wins. Even if they're lobbying about something that's kind of insane.
I'm complicit. I cared about gun control enough that in the 1990s I read Osha Gray Davidon's book “Under Fire: The Nra and the Battle for Gun Control,” which detailed the history of the NRA, and its dramatic shift from a gun-safety group (since the 19th century) to a gun-lobbying organization (beginning in 1978). I read Jill Lepore's article, “Battleground America,” in the New Yorker last year and recommended it to everybody. I saw Michael Moore's documentary. But politics is triage and gun control kept slipping down my list of important issues of the day. We first had to fight George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and al Qaeda and Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers before we got to Wayne LaPierre. We've got to push back against the idiotic thing that Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly or Richard Mourdock or Todd Akin said that day—and if not them someone else. In the modern age, in the 24-hour news cycle, there's always an idiot flapping their gums and being filmed and broadcast and going viral. You could say that is the essence of the 24-hour news cycle. That's what keeps it going. And keeps us distracted.
This election cycle I actually said the following to a friend: “I don't really care much about gun control right now.” And I didn't. Not with everything else going on. Not if taking that stand prevented everything else that needed to happen from happening.
But if one side lobbies and the other doesn't, the first side wins.
That's all it comes down to. We need to have more people who care passionately about this issue, who are willing to put up money and time, than the other side. It's like same-sex marriage: you fight and you fight and you fight and then suddenly the wave crests with you, not against you. Maybe that will happen with gun control someday. Maybe that's beginning to happen now.
I like what Adam Gopnik wrote on the New Yorker site last night. The whole thing is good but this part in particular:
So let’s state the plain facts one more time, so that they can’t be mistaken: Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.
The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the possession of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of innocent children, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction gun owners take from their guns—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than children’s lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.
FURTHER READING. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments field. I'll add to it periodically:
- “Battleground America: One Nation, Under the Gun” by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker, April 23, 2012
- “Newtown and the Madness of Guns” by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, December 14, 2012
- Pres. Obama's statement, December 14, 2012
- “In Public Conversation on Guns, a Rhetorical Shift” by Nate Silver in The New York Times, December 14, 2012
- “Nancy Lanza's Guns” by Ben Stocking on the Obamanator site, December 16, 2012
- “How Popular is Gun Control?” by Andrew Sullivan on the Daily Dish, December 17, 2012
- “Obama in Newtown: Ready to Act on Guns?” by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker, December 17, 2012
What Does the GOP Stand For?
The other day I went to Five Spot at the top of Queen Anne for lunch with a friend. I hadn't been there in a while but I always liked their various themes: Caribbean food this month, Portlandia food the next. For November? There was, of course, an election theme, with super-pork sandwiches and Super Pac entrees, and various election-themed artwork around the restaurant, including, my personal favorite, this painting of a to-do list (“MARRIAGE EQUALITY: HA HA HA HA”) and a list of “To Actually Do” (“Cry, Obstruct, Pander, Cry”), from the desk of John Boehner:
I also noticed we were sitting beneath the Republican elephant, which is, in a sense, where all of us have been sitting for the past 30 years.
The Republican elephant never forgets and the Democrat donkey is stubborn. Old metaphors.
Republicans have recently been worrying about the growing minority population in the U.S., since they can no longer win presidential elections by demonizing minorities, but their concerns should go deeper. The GOP used to be good at, or at least known for, the following:
- fiscal responsibility
- a strong military
They're no longer accountable since they live in their own world; they balloon deficits via tax cuts for the rich while Dems are more likely to balance the budget; and they start unnecessary wars with false information and are unable to capture or kill our enemies, the people who truly attack us, leaving that mess for the Dems to clean up. Then they disparage the way the Dems clean it up.
What does the GOP currently stand for besides tax cuts for the rich and various petty hatreds of the weak and vulnerable?
My view vis a vis the GOP: 1981-present.
Bill O'Reilly's Real Nightmare
This came my way via Facebook, which is apparently still good for things beside copyright hoaxes. Every panel I was like, “Yes .. Yes ... YES!” Ruben Bolling has turned me into Molly Bloom.
Pundit Shaming: Laura Ingraham
I came across this the other day. I think I started on YouTube with Louis CK and somehow wound up with Christopher Hitchens (R.I.P.) in 2008 defending then-candidate Barack Obama against Laura Ingraham on FOX-News. Here's the exchange that pricked up my ears:
Hitchens: The losers in this are not me, it's the MoveOn.org types. They're campaigning for someone who says if necessary he'll go straight across the border into Pakistan to root these guys out. And McCain has attacked Obama, saying, “How can you be so militant?”
Ingraham: That's bravado. That's campaign bravado, though.
The “bravado” she's talking about is Obama's militant stance toward Pakistan, which she favors, rather than McCain's objection to said stance. Later, when Hitchens says Obama is evolving toward his position, Ingraham interrupts again:
He's in a campaign. That's a big bet, though, is it not? That's a big bet on the War on Terror you're making.
A bet that paid off. Then she goes on to defend Sarah Palin. Fun!
The above starts at 2:00:
Any correction from Ms. Ingraham after the killing of Osama bin Laden? Any mea culpa? A sense of humility somewhere? Someone alert the pundit-shaming tumblr, which should be the busiest site on the Web.
Why Obama Won; Why Romney Lost
Why Did Obama win?
- “...the truth is that there are reasons why Obama is a phenomenon, and one of them is that his political intelligence is so keen that he knows when unreality best serves his ends.” — Adam Gopnik, “Obama's Political Intelligence,” in The New Yorker
- “...the country is changing. And this may be the last election in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self-righteous discrimination against homosexuals. ... Ronald Reagan won his mandate in an America in which 89 percent of the voters were white. That number is down to 72 percent and falling.” — David Simon, “Barack Obama and the Death of Normal” on “The Audacity of Despair.”
- “The president’s victory was a triumph of vision, not of demographics. He won because he articulated a set of values that define an America that the majority of us wish to live in: A nation that makes the investments we need to strengthen and grow the middle class. A nation with a fair tax system, and affordable and excellent education for all its citizens. A nation that believes that we’re most prosperous when we recognize that we are all in it together.” — Joel Benenson, “Obama Won on Values, Not Demographics,” in The New York Times.
Why Did Romney lose?
- “In the final analysis, Mitt Romney lost simply because he ran a campaign that insulted large swaths of the American people.” --Kyle Curtis, “Mitt Romney Lost Because He Ran an Insulting Campaign,” on Blue Oregon.
- “The GOP's most reliable supporters remain white, married couples who identify themselves as Christians , a group that continues its sharp decline in numbers.” — Joshua Holland, “What Propelled Obama to Victory?” on AlterNet.
- “Mitt Romney lost because of the Republican brand and Republican policies. There are other reasons, of course, like Mitt being unlovable to anyone not named Ann Romney, but nothing trumps the idea that 2/3rds of America thinks the other 1/3 is a frightening conglomerate of Bible-thumpers, xenophobes, and vaginophobes. (Not a word, but should be.)” --Bill Mahr, “Why the Republicans Lost,” on HBO.com.
- “Mitt Romney says he is a numbers guy, but in the end he got the numbers wrong. His campaign was adamant that public polls in the swing states were mistaken. They claimed the pollsters were over-estimating the number of Democrats who would turn out on Election Day. Romney’s campaign was certain that minorities would not show up for Obama in 2012 the way they did in 2008.” --John Dickerson, “Why Romney Never Saw It Coming,” on Slate.
- “There is an attitude of contempt, derision and disrespect that permeates Republican politics and Republican and conservative media. There are attitudes that permeate Republican politics and Republican media that are outside of traditional Republicanism and outside of American discourse. Democrats are demonized and liberals are hated and alternate opinion is often treated as though it does not exist, and even worse, treated as though it is unpatriotic.” — Brent Budowski, “Why Obama Won,” on The Hill.
Who still doesn't get it? At all?
- “A political narcissistic sociopath leveraged fear and ignorance with a campaign marked by mendacity and malice rather than a mandate for resurgence and reform. Instead of using his high office to articulate a vision for our future, Obama used it as a vehicle for character assassination, replete with unrelenting and destructive distortion, derision, and division.” --Mary Matalin, “Mendacity and Malice Won,” on the National Review site.
Mary Matalin is just one of many, of course, who still don't get it. Look for their comments, past and future, on the new, crowd-pleasing (or at least Erik-pleasing) pundit-shaming tumblr.
Obama addresses campaign supporters in Chicago.
My Election Day: November 6, 2012
For the past three weekends, whenever I was helping with Pres. Obama's Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts in Seattle and Washington state, either by knocking on doors or making phone calls, I'd write the following on my script:
This isn't about you.
It was just a reminder in case an irate or harried or impatient person got me down. You're not doing this for you, Erik. This isn't about you. Let it go.
It's also an echo of something Pres. Obama has himself said over and over again: “This is not about me; this is about you.” He said it at his 2008 convention speech and in his 2012 convention speech. He said it while stumping for a jobs bill in Raleigh, N.C., in 2011. He said it while trying to unblock judicial nominees in 2012 and during the health case battles of 2009. “This is not about me; this is about you.”
According to his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” it was his college friend Regina who first said it. And she said it to him:
“Let me tell you something, Mr. Obama. It’s not just about you. It’s never just about you. It’s about people who need your help. Children who are depending on you. They’re not interested in your irony or your sophistication or your ego getting bruised. And neither am I.”
It's a helpful thing, not having it be about you. It allows you to do things you wouldn't normally do. It's a freeing message.
For example, in mid-October, when the election seemed to be slipping away from us, and again yesterday, when it felt better, I went door-to-door in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, in the Pike-Pine corridor, getting out the vote. I'm not an extrovert. I don't gain energy from interactions. But you do it anyway. Because it's not about you.
Most of the residences I was assigned were security buildings with intercoms, often old, so there was little face-to-face contact. One building was an assisted living and Alzheimer's facility, at which I didn't stay long. The people I talked to were too confused. It felt wrong. At a security building on Pike, the intercom was waist high, so I got down on one knee, then both knees, as I buzzed the voters on my sheet. It felt like I was literally begging for votes. Please, come out and vote. I was on my knees on the dirty Pike sidewalk. But it wasn't about me.
Building managers were helpful. They wouldn't let me roam their buildings but at least they told me who had moved. The last manager I spoke with ran an apartment building across from Sitka and Spruce, and we talked a good 10 minutes, about the same-sex marraige amendment, Referendum 74, and about how she had supported Hillary in 2008, and hadn't even voted for Obama back then because she was still pissed that Hillary didn't win. Not this time. This time it was Barack all the way. She's got her fingers crossed for Hillary in 2016.
Afterwards I walked past all the thin, fashionable ladies shopping at the ritzy downtown department stores at noon on a weekday, returned my sheets to the Democratic Headquarters on 2nd and Cherry, then returned home to get ready for a party. I was nervous but not too nervous. I had Nate Silver on my side.
Ward was the first guest to arrive. Throughout the night, he kept urging us to change the channel to FOX. He wanted to see the bastards squirm. We did once or twice but missed their biggest meltdowns: Karl Rove arguing over Ohio; Megyn Kelly fact-checking her own stats people.
It was over quickly. Not as quickly as in 2008, it seemed, but all of a sudden. MSNBC just declared. We didn't even see the graphic for Obama winning Ohio; just ”Barack Obama re-elected 44th President of the United States.“ Which state did they declare for him? we wondered. They weren't saying. So we did math: 18 meant Ohio. So it was Ohio. So it was over.
Except on FOX-News and in the Romney camp, which waited a bit. Rove wanted a replay of 2000 and Florida. I'm sure the thinking went: Surely we've suppressed enough votes in Ohio to make a difference; to screw up the exit polls. Surely, if there's a God in heaven, we did that. The nice thing? It wouldn't have mattered anyway. It turned out that Obama got Ohio but didn't need it. He got Virginia but didn't need it. It looks like he'll get Florida but doesn't need it. All the pundits today, so wrong yesterday, are wrong again today. They're saying that in the end the auto bailout won the day; that Obama saved Detroit and so Detroit saved Obama back. Maybe. But he would've won Michigan anyway and he didn't need Ohio. Because he got Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado. And that was enough. We knew that going in.
If the popular vote holds, and it looks like it will, Barack Obama will be only the third Democrat to win the U.S. presidency twice with clear majorities. The others? FDR (four times) and Andrew Jackson (twice). That's it. Clinton never did it (third-party candidates), Carter once, LBJ once, JFK never, Truman never, Wilson never. Just: Obama, FDR and Andrew Jackson. That's the company he now keeps.
This was my first Twitter election, my first Facebook election, and, smartphones in hand, we kept trading comments and information from our Twitter feeds. We drank a lot, ate too much, laughed a lot. It wasn't just the Obama victory. It was same-sex marriage referendums in Maine and Maryland and Washington state that passed. It was pot legalizaton initiatives in Colorado and Washington state that passed. It felt like, at long last, after 30+ years, the world, or at least the United States, was finally turning our way.
On Facebook I wrote something intelligent like, ”YES!!!!!!!!!!!!" Everyone knew what that meant. One friend, who had been hugely involved in GOTV efforts in 2008, and who knew of my donations and GOTV efforts this year, wrote:
I raise my beer to you Erik for all your hard work and donations. You helped make it happen.
It was a nice thought but felt so beside the point. Because it wasn't about me. Not even a little bit.
Our friend Erika's view of our TV, election night.
James Baldwin's Message to Bill O'Reilly
Fifty years ago, at the end of his book-length essay “The Fire Next Time,” which became a best-seller the year I was born, James Baldwin wrote the following:
“The time has come to realize that the interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too. . . . It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”
Bill O'Reilly and FOX-News still haven't gotten the message:
Have there been more veiled, racist comments in a 60-second span? Let's count them off:
- “It's a changing country and it's not a traditional America anymore.”
- “There is 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. Who want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. ”
- “The white establishment is now the minority.”
- “You're going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel they are entitled to things, and which candidate between the two is going to give them things.
As always with FOX-News, this stuff is full of half-truths.
It is a changing country but it always is. It's not a traditional America but what does that mean? Are we losing core values or surface values? O'Reilly is implying the former but I know the latter. Because in a certain sense, no president is more traditionally American in his rhetoric and in his beliefs than Pres. Obama. He just doesn't look like the other 43.
Fifty percent of the people want things. (Like health insurance. We're greedy that way.) Then O'Reilly ties this 50 percent to Hispanics, blacks and women. It's the welfare argument all over again. It's Reagan's politics of resentment all over again. There are welfare queens (read: minorities) who want stuff (read: your tax dollars). Meanwhile, hard-working white people do things the honorable way: by selling insurance on bundled sercurities that were created from subprime mortgage loans, which poor and working-class owners were guaranteed to default on.
It's interesting that O'Reilly calls it ”the white establishment,“ that he owns up to it. ”White“ certainly isn't a minority, so he must be talking ”white“ and ”conservative“ and maybe ”rich.“ In which case: yes, yes, and yes. And thank God.
There are so many lessons you can draw from yesterday's election. For example: ”Continually mentioning rape in a positive way tends to be a losing strategy.“ You can go to literature, too, with this paraphrase of e.e. cummings' Olaf, glad and big, whose warmest heart recoiled at war: ”There is some shit we will not eat.“
Then there's Baldwin, above, paraphrased:
America is white no longer, and it will never be again.
To O'Reilly, this spells America's doom. To the rest of us, the opposite. It's the very reason our country is exceptional.
”It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today." --James Baldwin, 1963
Status Updates from the 2012 Election
- “Does anybody else spend a silly amount of time trying to fill in the ovals perfectly? I have an irrational fear that that any white speck will discount my vote.” --Ross P., Minneapolis
- “I almost got into a fist fight with a Republican poll watcher who's trying to intimidate minority voters.” --Ben S., Seattle, getting out the vote in Newton, Florida
- “'If Romney wins, I worry less about any policies his administration may enact (although I worry a lot about those, too) than I do about the long-term implications of the fact that it will have been proven that you can just straight-up fucking lie your way to the Presidency. That's not good for anyone.' Seen on metafilter. Totally agree.” --Roger L., Clinton, WA
- “Barack is going to take every single swing state, with the possible exception of North Carolina.” --Ben S., Seattle
- “Mitt and his minions waged a dirty, dishonest campaign — perhaps the most dishonest in history — and now the proverbial chickens have come home to roost.” --Ben, S., Seattle
- “YES!!!!! 4 more years!!!!” — Karen T., Minneapolis
- “Oh. Thank. God.” — David G., Seattle
- “This was to be the Republicans’ night. They had the most money—more than a billion dollars. The anemic economy was an albatross around Obama’s neck. The public hated Obamacare. The President fumbled the first debate. Romney was surging. Benghazi proved that Obama’s foreign policy was unraveling. The Democrats were defending the vast majority of the open Senate seats. The spectre of gay marriage was rousing the religious right. The jockeying for positions in the Romney cabinet had begun. ... Then we had an election.” — Kim F., Seattle
- “When I was living with my ex- in Virginia from 1990-1995, we went to a wedding in the chambers of Chief Judge Abner Mikva. We talked with him about gay rights, and he said 'The bigots know that they are fighting a battle that they will lose, and we have to remember that we are fighting a battle that we will win. Don't lose hope. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it inevitably will in yours because this is America, and we're better than hatred.'” --Chris N., Seattle
- “Thanks, America.” — Andy E., Nanoi, Viet Nam
THE MORNING AFTER
- “In Minnesota the Republicans took the State House and Senate for the first time in ages in 2010. Result? A state shutdown, a Senate leader demoted for conduct unbecoming, her bulldog of an illicit paramour threatening to sue the state about his subsequent firing (another white male filing for gender discrimination), an ill-advised Governor's race recount request, and a financial bankrupting of their party. And cynically put voter ID and anti-gay referenda on the ballot to increase turnout. Well, that worked, but it turned out the wrong people. Referenda defeated; House and Senate back in Dem hands. Don't let the Capitol door slam you in the ass on your way out. Doorknobs.” — Joe G., Minneapolis
- “election's over. time to unblock a bunch of fb friends.” --Brenda B., Seattle
270 to Win: Vote
I leaned heavily on Nate Silver this past month. While the right-wing had their narratives of 'Mittmentum,' and Gallup was claiming a national six-point Romney advantage, Silver gave Romney, on Oct. 12, only a 38.9% chance of winning the electoral college. And that was his best showing. Since then, downhill. This morning's numbers give Romney a 9.1% chance of winning the electoral college. But that's still a chance. At some point, maybe this evening, all the possibilities and probabilities will be reality. We want that reality to be good. So get out there and vote.
Why do I follow Silver? Why do I believe him? Because he got every state right in the 2008 election except for Indiana, which went for Obama. He also predicted the correct outcome of every Senate race that year. In 2010, he predicted 34 of the 36 Senate races correctly, missing only Colorado and Nevada, both of which went Democrat. So: 1) he's usually right, and 2) hardly leans left in his prediction model. Plus he's a sabremetrician. He's a Jamesian. He's a baseball guy. If he were a football guy, no chance.
According to both Silver and this great interactive feature on the NY Times site, there are nine potential swing states, with 95 electoral votes: New Hampshire (4), Nevada (6), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Wisconsin (10), Virginia (13) North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), and Florida (29).
With the states Obama's presumed to win, including Pennsylvania, he starts with 236 electoral votes.
These are Silver's probabilities for each of these states (sans North Carolina, which I didn't bother to track) over the last week and a half:
|Oct 26||Oct 28||Oct 29||Oct 30||Oct 31||Nov. 1||Nov. 4||Nov. 6|
And here are Obama's electoral college chances. It's 270 to win, kids:
|Oct 26||Oct 28||Oct 29||Oct 30||Oct 31||Nov. 1||Nov. 4||Nov. 6|
A lot of it falls upon Ohio again. There's a kind of “As goes Ohio, so goes the nation” tendency even as the state has shed electoral votes as it's shed population. No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio, and, since 1900, only two Democrats have: FDR (once) and JFK (in 1960).
But Obama can still win without winning Ohio. He can still win without winning Ohio and Florida. And Virginia. He just needs Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire.
I'm nervous, of course. But I'm less nervous than I was a week ago; and a week ago I was less nervous than I was two weeks ago. Back to that first debate.
I'm expending my nervous energy by helping get out the vote in First Hill, Seattle. My neighborhood. Washington state is a mail-in only state now, which is a bit of a bummer. I like the community act of voting. I like the civic-ness of it. I like talking to the old ladies at the church or school. I like talking to people in line.
But at this point it's GOTV. Gotta be postmarked today, kids. So if you haven't mailed it in yet, bring it to the post office. Watch them postmark it. Or bring it to a drop box. Here's a list of ballot drop boxes in King County.
Final thought. For the longest time I've heard from right-wing blabbermouths about how Obama's supporters are less enthusiastic than they once were. How he's got an enthusiasm gap, whlie all the right-wingers are crazy, yes crazy, for Mitt. Here. Here's how I've demonstated my lack of enthusiasm: I've given him $3,000 and the last three weekends of my life in GOTV efforts. Plus this morning.
Let's do this.
Hans von Spakovsky and the Voter-Fraud Myth
“You are hereby notified that your right to vote has been challenged by a qualified elector. The Hamilton County Board of Elections has scheduled a hearing regarding your right to vote on Monday, September 10th, 2012, at 8:30 A.M. . . . You have the right to appear and testify, call witnesses and be represented by counsel.”
--Notice that Teresa Sharp, 53, received from The Hamilton County Board of Elections, as recounted in the article ”The Voter-Fraud Myth: The man who has stoked fear about imposters at the polls“ by Jane Mayer, in the Oct. 29 issue of The New Yorker.
Mayer's piece is scary and worth reading. The Voter ID laws are the new Jim Crow. They target African-Americans and the elderly without saying they target African-Americans and elderly. Meanwhile, the man behind this targeting, Republican lawyer Hans von Spakovsky of Atlanta, Ga., can't cite much evidence of voter fraud given his almost preternatural interest in the subject.
A recent study by the Pew Center found that more than 1.8 million dead people were registered to vote, and 2.5 million people were registered to vote in more than one state (I might be one of those, since I voted in Minnesota in 2006 and in Washington state since 2008), but von Spakovsky has no idea how many of these cases led to actual voter fraud. He cites a 2000 investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which, in the previous two decades, 5400 dead people were recorded as voting; but he doesn't cite the limp follow-up in which the Georgia Secretary of State's office indicated that most of these were clerical errors. ”Upon closer inspection, the paper admitted, its only specific example of a deceased voter casting a ballot didn’t hold up. The ballot of a living voter had been attributed to a dead man whose name was nearly identical,“ Mayer writes.
So from 1.8 million potential cases of voter fraud to 5400 actual cases of voter fraud in Georgia to ... zero actual cases of voter fraud in Georgia.
Later von Spakovsky gives Mayer the names of two experts who would confirm the peril of voter fraud: Robert Pastor, the director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University, and Larry Sabato, a political-science professor at the University of Virginia. Neither did. The opposite. “I don’t think that voter-impersonation fraud is a serious problem,” Pastor said.
Yet since 2011, pushed by von Spakovsky and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-sponsored, right-wing organization, 37 states have enacted or proposed some form of voter ID law.
Other quotes from the piece:
- “This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.” — Pres. Bill Clinton
- “[Von Spakovsky] is trying to create a cure where there is no sickness.” — Rep. John Lewis, (D-GA)
- “You can't steal an election one person at a time. You can by stuffing ballot boxes—but voter I.D. won't stop that.” — Robert Brandon, president of the Fair Elections Legal Network
- “It makes no sense for individual voters to impersonate someone. It's like committing a felony at the police station, with virtually no chance of affecting the election outcome.” — Lorraine Minnite, Rutgers professor and author of “The Myth of Voter Fraud”
- “I think they are trying to stop as many black people as they can from voting. I won't even know until Election Day if I got the right to vote. But if they tell me I can't vote—it is over. They are going to have to call the police.” — Teresa Sharp, citizen, Ohio
Endorsement of the Day: Susan Eisenhower Endorses Barack Obama for Re-Election
Four years ago, I left the Republican Party of which I was a lifelong member and became an independent. Not long after, I supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election for president. ... Like many other voters who crossed party lines to vote for Barack Obama in the last election, I have watched the 2012 campaign carefully and listened closely to what the candidates have said.
I believe that President Obama should be re-elected.
Four years ago, Obama, a relatively inexperienced public servant, became the 44th President of the United States during one of the most difficult times our country has faced. The nation’s economy was on the brink of collapse. Our image overseas was tarnished, and our military was bogged down in two unpopular wars. I supported Obama then because I thought that he was unflappable. I saw him as a man with a keen intellect and a cool analytical head. ...
In the last four years, and despite the global downturn, America has come back from the brink. ... According to the International Monetary Fund, today the United States is poised for 3 percent growth, which would make our economy the strongest of the other richest economies, including Canada and Germany. Other influential studies, cited in a recent column by Fareed Zakaria, show that debt in the U.S. financial sector, relative to GDP, has declined to levels not seen since before the 2000 bubble. And consumer confidence is now at its highest levels since September 2007. The housing market is also slowly coming back. ...
[Obama] ended the war in Iraq, was the first Democratic president to ratify an arms control treaty with the Russian Federation, and rallied global leaders to put nuclear security at the top of the international agenda. The Obama Administration has also been responsible for decimating the top leadership of al-Qaeda and introducing biting sanctions on Iran. ...
I am more confused than ever about what Mitt Romney stands for. I know little of his core beliefs, if he even has any. ... Given Romney’s shifting positions, he can only be judged by the people with whom he surrounds himself. Many of them espouse yesterday’s thinking on national defense and security, female/family reproductive rights, and the interplay of government and independent private enterprise.
In this context, Barack Obama represents the future, not that past. His emphasis on education is an example of the importance he places on preparing rising generations to assume their places as innovators and entrepreneurs, workers and doers, and responsible citizens and leaders. He recognizes, as many of us do, that access to opportunities must be open to every American ...
As I said in 2008 and will say again: “Unless we squarely face our challenges as Americans—together– we risk losing the priceless heritage bestowed on us by the sweat and the sacrifice of our forbearers. If we do not pull together, we could lose the America that has been an inspiration to the world.”
Endorsement of the Day: The Stranger
“This endorsement might seem like a no-brainer, but this shit is important, so let's go over it one more time. Electing Barack Obama to a second term goes beyond the standard Democratic boilerplate about how a Democratic president will nominate Democratic judges to the US Supreme Court—though that is vitally important, and is the reason we don't at all regret voting for John Fucking Kerry in 2004.
”The thing that's easy to forget in the middle of all this bullshit is that Obama has been a very good president. He saved us from a second Great Depression; he passed health care reform that future Democrats can utilize as a first step to a national health care system; he's made investments in science, transportation, and green energy that will pay off for decades; he supported gay marriage at just the right moment; and he's made dozens of advancements for equality and dignity (Lilly Ledbetter, DADT repeal, executive orders for humane immigration reform) that have changed millions of people's lives for the better.
“Sure, there are issues—with presidents, there are always issues—where he's dropped the ball (drones, Gitmo, drones). Those are serious issues. But right now, President Obama needs our help. After all he's done for us, we owe him the opportunity to transform from a very good president into a truly great one in his second term.”
--The Stranger Election Board, in its “Endorsements for the Nov. 6, 2012 General Election”
Endorsement of the Day: The Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune was founded in 1847 and has endorsed a Democrat for president only twice: Barack Obama in 2008 and Barack Obama in 2012. From the endorsement that went out this week:
Obama ... has been careful about projecting military power overseas. At home he has initiated, or agreed to, tax cuts to promote growth: investment tax credits, payroll tax cuts and extension of all the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. He proposes to reduce a corporate tax rate that everyone this side of far left agrees is a globally unfair hindrance for U.S. businesses.
On questions of economics and limited government, the Chicago Tribune has forged principles that put us closer to the challenger in this race, Republican Mitt Romney. ... [Romney] has, though, been astonishingly willing to bend his views to the politics of the moment: on abortion, on immigration, on gun laws and, most famously, on health care.
As a governor, his signature issue was the deal he cut with Democrats to extend health care — and a health insurance mandate — to all citizens. Romneycare was the Massachusetts model on which key elements of Obamacare were modeled. Yet Romney won’t acknowledge he is, in effect, the godfather of the national health care plan he vows to repeal.
His proposals to achieve a balanced budget, and to begin reducing taxpayers’ huge debts, rest on questionable math and rosy assumptions. ...
Romney’s fix on tax cuts, plus his guarantee to protect defense spending that genuinely could constrict, leaves him precious little room to maneuver [on the federal debt]. Remember, the next president needs to reach deals that slash debt by many trillions — without bankrupting Washington in the process. ...
If a European debt meltdown doesn’t stoke another, pardon our repetition, global financial crisis, Obama’s next term would open to less economic tumult: Friday morning’s GDP reading confirms anew that U.S. economic growth has a fluttering heartbeat. Home prices are stabilizing, the stock market and consumer confidence have risen, and job growth has been steady if unspectacular.
Bolstered by his steadiness in office, cognizant of the vast unfinished business before him, we endorse the re-election of Barack Obama.
Getting Out the Vote
I'll be helping with the get out of the vote campaign for Pres. Obama today and tomorrow, 3-6 pm, at Washington Democratic Headquarters in downtown Seattle. I've contributed money, now time. I urge you to do the same. Give what you can.
We can't let bullshit win.
Right now, despite Gallup, it's not. Obama's winning. Let's keep it so. Read your Nate Silver. In 2008 he got every state correct except for Indiana, which went for Obama. He also got every Senate race correct. In the 2010 midterms, he got 34 of the 36 Senate races correct. The ones he missed went Democrat. So his misses have favored Republicans. And he's got Pres. Obama winning both the popular and electoral vote.
Endorsement of the Day: Colin Powell Signs on for 'Long Patrol with Pres. Obama'
“When he took over, the country was in very very difficult straits. We were in the one of the worst recessions we had seen in recent times, close to a depression. The fiscal system was collapsing. Wall Street was in chaos, we had 800,000 jobs lost in that first month of the Obama administration and unemployment peaked a few months later at 10 percent. So we were in real trouble. The auto industry was collapsing, the housing was start[ing] to collapse and we were in very difficult straits. And I saw over the next several years, stabilization come back in the financial community, housing is now starting to pick up after four years, it's starting to pick up. Consumer confidence is rising. ...
”The president got us of one war, [is starting] to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars. And finally I think that the actions he has taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very very solid. And so, I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on.
I've signed on for a long patrol with President Obama.“
--Gen. Colin Powell on why he's endorsing Pres. Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United States.
”The governor who was saying things at the debate on Monday night ... was saying things that were quite different from what he said earlier. I'm not quite sure which Gov. Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy.
“One day he has a certain strong view about staying in Afghanistan but then on Monday night he agrees with the withdrawal. Same thing in Iraq. On almost every issue that was discussed on Monday night, Governor Romney agreed with the President with some nuances. But this is quite a different set of foreign policy views than he had earlier in the campaign. My concern ... is that sometimes I don't sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have.”
--Gen Colin Powell on why he's not endorsing Gov. Mitt Romney for POTUS.
Former Mossad Chief for Obama, Warns Romney's Rhetoric Against U.S. Interests
“What Romney is doing is mortally destroying any chance of a resolution without war. ... Obama does think there is still room for negotiations. It’s a very courageous thing to say in this atmosphere. In the end, this is what I think: Making foreign policy on Iran a serious issue in the US elections. What Romney has done, in itself, is a heavy blow to the ultimate interests of the United States and Israel.”
'One of the Most Successful Foreign Policies of Any Administration'
From Robert Reich:
I thought the third and last presidential debate was a clear win for the President. He displayed the authority of the nation’s Commander-in-Chief – calm, dignified, and confident. He was assertive without being shrill, clear without being condescending. He explained to a clueless Mitt Romney the way the world actually works. ...
I kept wishing Obama would take more credit for one of the most successful foreign policies of any administration in decades: not only finding and killing Osama bin Laden but also ridding the world of Libya’s Gaddafi without getting drawn into a war, imposing extraordinary economic hardship on Iran, isolating Syria, and navigating the treacherous waters of Arab Spring.
Obama pointed to these achievements, but I thought he could have knitted them together into an overall approach to world affairs that has been in sharp contrast to the swaggering, bombastic foreign policies of his predecessor.
Like George W. Bush, Mitt Romney has a pronounced tendency to rush to judgment – to assert America’s military power too quickly, and to assume that we’ll be viewed as weak if we use diplomacy and seek the cooperation of other nations (including Russia and China) before making our moves.
President Obama won tonight’s debate not only because he knows more about foreign policy than does Mitt Romney, but because Obama understands how to wield the soft as well as the hard power of America. He came off as more subtle and convincing than Romney – more authoritative – because, in reality, he is.
Although tonight’s topic was foreign policy, I hope Americans understand it was also about every other major challenge we face. Mitt Romney is not only a cold warrior; he’s also a class warrior. And the two are closely related. Romney tries to disguise both within an amenable demeanor. But in both capacities, he’s a bully.
Quote of the Day
The choice is clear. The Romney-Ryan ticket represents a constricted and backward-looking vision of America: the privatization of the public good. In contrast, the sort of public investment championed by Obama—and exemplified by both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act—takes to heart the old civil-rights motto “Lifting as we climb.” That effort cannot, by itself, reverse the rise of inequality that has been under way for at least three decades. But we’ve already seen the future that Romney represents, and it doesn’t work.
The reëlection of Barack Obama is a matter of great urgency. Not only are we in broad agreement with his policy directions; we also see in him what is absent in Mitt Romney—a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity. A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America—one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality—represents the future that this country deserves.
I'd Like to Apologize to All Women on Behalf of All Men
Not for the usual reasons, either. From Nate Silver at the FiveThirtyEight blog:
If only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election... If only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney...
The biggest gender gap to date in the exit polls came in 2000, when Al Gore won by 11 points among women, but George W. Bush won by 9 points among men — a 20-point difference. The numbers this year look very close to that.
I thought the polls would improve more after the second debate but they're not. Enough. Or they're just too volatile. Gallup, which is assuming 80% of the votes will come from whites, isn't helping.
I participated in GOTV efforts for Obama on Capitol Hill (Seattle) on Saturday and there were fewer people participating than in 2008. Not surprising, but ... Do the rest really want Pres. Romney? I know I don't. You've got to fight these motherfuckers.
The 2000 election map.
Gaffes, Blunders, Walkbacks and Lies: A Week-by-Week Retrospective of the Year in Mitt
It's been such a long year, for both Mitt Romney and us, that it's tough to remember all his gaffes, blunders, walkbacks and lies. Apparently he's having trouble remembering himself. Apparently so have many voters, those glorious undecideds, who gave him a 6-point boost after the first debate, where he repudiated much of what he'd said during the GOP primaries. He shook the Etch a Sketch and it worked. In 2004, John Kerry changed his position on one matter, the Iraq War, and was condemned for an entire election season, and beyond, for it. Mitt Romney flip-flops on everything and he's awarded the governorship of Massachusetts, the Republican nomination for president, and... ?
So I used Google's “custom range” tool to search, week by week, for the various top stories on Mitt Romney, and came up with the compendium below. Caveat: “Dog on roof,” and “Corporations are people, my friend,” two favorites, are from 2011.
Enjoy. Or grimace.
- January 1-8: “Gingrich: Mitt Romney is a Liar” on CBS News.
- January 8-14: “Where's Romney's tax return?” on FOX Business.
- January 15-21: “Romney's Taxes: the offshore controversy” on CNN Money.
- January 22-28: “Mitt Romney Made Nearly $22 Million in 2010, Paid Less Than 14% in Taxes” on ABC News.
- January 29-February 4: “Mitt Romney: 'I'm Not Concerned with the Very Poor'” on Huffington Post
- February 5-11: “Mitt Romney tells CPAC he was 'severely conservative governor'” in The Washington Post
- February 12-18: “Romney: 'Michigan trees are the right height'” on YouTube:
- February 19-25: “Another Romney Clunker? 'Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually'” on the Christian Science Monitor site.
- February 26-March 3: “Romney: Limbaugh's 'Slut' line is 'not the language I'd use'” on The Hill.
- March 4-10: “Romney in the South: 'I like grits, y'all'” on YouTube.
- March 11-17: “Mitt Romney on Planned Parenthood: 'We're going to get rid of that'” on KSDK.com.
- March 18-24: “Mitt Romney Platform 'Like an Etch a Sketch,' Top Spokesman Says” on Huffington Post.
- March 25-31: “Can Romney Recover from Etch-a-Sketch Moment?” by National Journal Staff.
- April 1-7: “The Facts vs. Mitt Romney” on the Washington Post site.
- April 8-14: “Mitt Romney at NRA: Beware of Obama 'Unrestrained by the Demands of Re-Election'” on Huffington Post.
- April 15-21: “Mitt Romney's years at Bain represent everything you hate about capitalism,” in the Village Voice.
- April 22-28: “Mitt Romney Tells Otterbein University Students to Borrow Money from Their Parents to Start Business” on Huffington Post.
- April 29-May5: “FOX News' Shep Smith reacts to Mitt Romney reacting to Newt Gingrich quitting” on YouTube.
- May 6-12: “How Mitt Romney Bullied a Gay Student at Cranbook” on The New Yorker site.
- May 13-19: “Mitt Romney: 'I stand by what I said, whatever it was” on YouTube highlight reel.
- May 20-26: “Right-Wing Billionaires Behind Mitt Romney” in Rolling Stone.
- May 27-June 2: “Romney to officially clinch Republican nomination Tuesday” in The Washington Post.
- June 3-June 9: “Romney Mocks Obama for Wanting More Firemen, Policemen, Teachers” on Huffington Post.
- June 10-16: “The Root of Mitt Romney's Comfort with Lying” in Time magazine.
- June 17-23: “A Case of Romnesia: Mitt Romney's long history of misremembering his past” in Mother Jones.
- June 24-30: “I Will Repeal Obamacare” on MittRomney.com.
- July 1-7: “The Mystery of Romney's Exit from Bain” in Mother Jones.
- July 8-14: “Romney stayed at Bain three years longer than he stated” in the Boston Globe.
- July 15-21: “What Might Be Hiding in Romney's Tax Returns?” in US News and World Report.
- July 22-28: “Mitt Romney Makes 'Disconcerting' Olympic Gaffe in London” in International Business Times
- July 29-August 4: “Mitt Romney Palestinian comments 'racist and out of touch'” in the Daily Telegraph.
- August 5-11: “Mitt Romney Would Pay 0.82 Percent in Taxes Under Paul Ryan's Plan” on The Atlantic site.
- August 12-18: “Mitt Romney says he pays 13 percent in taxes. How low is that?” on the Christian Science Monitor site.
- August 19-25: “Romney birth certificate joke sets off firestorm” on CBS News.
- August 26-September 1: “Romney: 'Now is the Time to Restore the Promise of America'” on C-Span.
- September 2-8: “Clint Eastwood bests Mitt Romney as RNC highlight: Poll” by Reuters.
- September 9-15: “Mitt Romney's Response to Libya Murders was Un-American” on US News.com.
- September 16-22: “Deciphering Mitt Romney's '47 Percent' Blunder” on Politico.
- September 23-29: “Mitt Romney Lowers Debate Expectations” on ABC News.
- September 30-October 6: “Mitt Romney is the Smartest Guy in the Room” on FOX News.
- October 7-13: “Mitt Romney still mum on specifics of tax plan” in the LA Times.
- October 14-20: “'Binders Full of Women': Mitt Romney's claim not even accurate” in the Boston Globe.
You could almost sing a version of Billy Joel's “We Didn't Start the Fire” to Mitt's year:
NASCAR owners, Cadillacs,
He pays what in income tax
Kid Rock, Y'all and grits, Michigan trees.
Severely conservative governor
Not concerned with the poor
Bain exit, Paul Ryan, Benghazi.
Etch a sketch, Eastwood's chair,
You can't take him anywhere
Brit Olympics disconcerting
Homosexual student hurting
Mitt keeps starting fires
And he keeps them burning
Instead of learning...
Feel free to add your own stanza. I didn't even touch “47 percent” or “binders full of women.”
“I stand by what I said, whatever it was.”
Absent Fathers, Powerful Fathers
Our two most recent Democratic presidents never knew their fathers. Clinton's father died before he was born while Obama met his father for one extended two-week meeting when he was 10. That was it. Both men were raised by single mothers, grandparents, and stepfathers. Neither came from wealth or power but they raised themselves up to positions of wealth and power. They represent the Horatio Alger aspects of the American dream, which, for most Americans, is just that (a dream), but which they, as leaders, have tried to keep open for as many as possible.
Our most recent Republican president and the current Republican nominee are the scions of wealthy, powerful men. George Romney was the CEO of General Motors, the governor of Michigan and a presidential candidate; George H.W. Bush was a U.S. Representative, director of the CIA, ambassador to China, Vice President of the United States, and then the 41st President of the United States. Both scions had/have father issues. W. probably resented his father too much and Romney probably loved his father too much. Both tried to do what their fathers couldn't or didn't: topple Saddam; become president of the United States.
In other words, the rhetoric that the right tends to use about success in America, bootstraps and all, is best represented by Democrats. The reality, that money and connections help immensely, is best represented by Republicans.
I suppose Obama and Clinton, bootstraps guys, never bought bootstraps rhetoric because, in part, they saw the inequities of the world and knew the pain of absent fathers. That's why they are men of the people. Mitt Romney is a man of the LDS Church and the boardroom. He knew the pain of being the son of a man who might not be reelected governor of Michigan. From Nicholas Lemann's profile in the Oct. 1 New Yorker:
[Romney] recalled watching his father on Election Night in 1964, when George was running for reëlection as governor of Michigan. Lyndon Johnson had won the Presidency by a landslide. “The numbers had come in, and in Michigan Johnson was way ahead of what our pollster, Walter DeVries, had estimated. And Walter DeVries came in. Our family was in a hotel room. He said, ‘George, you probably can’t win. Most likely you’ve lost tonight.’ And I, as a seventeen-year-old, was thinking about how embarrassing it would be to go to school and have your dad having lost as governor...
Wow. Wow wow wow.
Additional reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates on “The Burden of a Black President,” in which he compares Obama's first debate to Joe Louis' first fight with Max Schmeling.
Lies, Damned Lies and Mitt Romney
The Convention failed to move the needle, but some time in late September, a rise began, perhaps as Republicans came home and just decided they could like the guy. But then the big turning point is Romney's first debate, when he effectively undid in one night almost everything the Obama campaign had thrown at him since the spring. It was a new market; he had a new sales pitch; a new set of policies; a personality implant. And for many low-information voters, and others, that was enough.
He worries what this will mean on election day, as do I. But more, I worry what this means about democracy, and whether we can have it.
If you can win the presidency by repudiating many of your past positions in order to appeal to a rabid base, then repudiate those repudiations in order to appeal to the uninformed, undecided, middle-of-the-road voter, and you can prosper in this, what does that say about representative government? What does that say about success and who gets it? And how does that conform with typical right-wing rhetoric about success?
None of this is exactly news to me. But for the past year I've assumed that most people were at least smart enough to sense the inauthenticity in Mitt Romney. Unfortunately, he had a good 90 minutes, Obama had a bad 90 minutes, and apparently that was enough for some of them. We'll see how the second debate numbers shake out. We'll see if enough people can see, as almost every conservative leader says in this video, what a pathetic and pathological liar Mitt Romney is.
Not What We Do
I first saw this on Andrew Sullivan's site (hello again, Sully!) but I remember the power of the moment during the debate last night. Romney's about to step into it in a manner described well by Paul Krugman:
A large part of Romney’s campaign has been based on the false claim that Obama “apologized for America”. This supposed verbal weakness is supposed to trump the reality that Obama, you know, actually did get bin Laden.
So naturally Romney tried to go after Obama [on the Benghazi issue] not for what he did or didn’t do, but for his supposed failure to talk tough enough.
But then how did Romney get it so wrong? And if you read the transcript, by the way, Obama was clearly enjoying this — it seems as if he knew what was coming:
MR. ROMNEY: I think it’s interesting the president just said something--which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.
MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.
MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.
MR. ROMNEY: So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)
MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror.
Which left Romney looking stunned and angry ... and small.
But even before that moment, which is all about Obama letting Romney hang himself in the politest manner possible (“Please proceed, Governor”), we got this moment, which is all about Obama's strength of character:
I love the way he faces Romney. I love the look in his eye. I love his insistence on respect and seriousness in the disrespectful realm of political gamesmanship that Romney is playing. “That's not what we do” has an unasked follow-up: “So why are you doing it?” Obama makes Romney seem like a petulant child here.
Man of the People, Mitt of the Sons
Hey, candidates. You've just spent 90 minutes debating each other over the future of the country. Who do you hang with?
Pres. Obama talked with and mingled with voters:
Romney immediately surrounded himself with his sons, who seemed to close him off from the rest of the world:
Via The Atlantic and their debate recap.
The Second Debate: Romney Creates a Meme
OK, I can read Andrew Sullivan again.
I missed the first debate, stuck at work, but followed it via Sullivan's blog and Twitter, and, well, barely got any work done for all the panic I felt.
I watched the VEEP debate and thought Joe stuck it and Paul Ryan was smooth and without answers to tough questions, which is the GOP way. Increase defense + cut taxes doesn't equal balanced budget, as they claim. It equals bullshit. It has for 30 years.
I watched the second presidential debate and thought Romney did a good job for someone impersonating someone running for president. He doesn't seem as inauthentic as he did during the GOP debates, when he was awful, but he began to crumble near the end. He seemed a little sweatier, his voice a little reedier. He complained too much over little things. Obama was calm when he needed to be, forceful when he needed to be. He seemed presidential.
I think Romney began to go off the rails with the answer to the question about women making 72% of what men in the same positions make:
Obama's answer: I signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January 2009.
Romney's answer: I hired a woman once.
Not even that. He tells a story about filling cabinet positions as governor of Massachusetts in which all the applicants were men.
And I went to my staff and said, 'How come the people for all of these jobs are men? and they said, 'Well, these are the people who have the qualifications.' And I said, well, gosh, can’t we—can’t we find some—some women that are also qualified?
That's some condenscending crap. Let's break it down to see what he's saying.
- He only knows men.
- The only qualified job applicants for his administration were men.
- He decided to look for qualified women, because they were not anywhere around him.
- Plus: He's not really answering the question.
This leads to his already infamous “binders full of women” line:
I brought us whole binders full of—of women.
That meme went viral faster than anything I've ever seen. By the time the debate was over, it was all over the Internet. It's already a tumblr site. It's already a Facebook page with a quarter of a million 'likes.' My favorite so far:
But in some ways, the meme actually misses the point. The bigger problem with his answer, which doesn't even answer the question, is that it implies that he, Mitt Romney, was a business leader for two decades, helped organize the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ran for governor of Massachusetts and won, and yet through all of these endeavors knew no women who would work well in positions of power. He had to search for them. Because apparently they're so passive, being women, and he's such a good guy, being Mitt.
It implies a very cloistered and closed-off existence.
Guess what? This horrible answer is actually a lie. A woman's group actually presented him with qualified candidates. They were proactive. He was passive.
According to Think Progress' fact-check, this was just one of 31 times that Romney lied during the debate.
We still have a long way to go. There's one more debate. Obama needs to do it again. He needs to kick ass again. We all need to help. I contributed $500 to his campaign last night, bringing me up to $2,000. Other than a car and a home, I don't think I've spent $2,000 on anything in my life.
But at least I can breathe again. I can read Andrew Sullivan again. It was good seeing my president again.
Why Obama Now
Yes, I wish he'd said more of this during the debate. Doesn't mean I'm not voting for him. Seriously, America. Dude takes it on the chin—for you—for four years, and because he doesn't call out a blatant liar during a 90-minute debate, a guy who rewrites everything he fucking believes in, that means you're voting for the blatant liar? What are you—a woman in a Sam Peckinpah movie?
I know. Obscure. But brutal.
Facts Don't Speak for Themselves: Obama's Worrisome Conciliatory Nature
This is worrisome. From David Remnick's piece, “Obama's Old Friends React to the Debate.”
When Barack Obama was a student at Harvard Law School, he was never known as a particularly good debater. In class, if he thought that a fellow student had said something foolish, he showed no forensic bloodlust. He did not go out of his way to defeat someone in argument; instead he tried, always with a certain decorous courtesy, to try to persuade, to reframe his interlocutor’s view, to signal his understanding while disagreeing.
Here's Laurence H. Tribe, a leading constitutional-law scholar and Obama’s mentor at Harvard:
Barack Obama’s instincts and talents have never included going for an opponent’s jugular. That’s just not who he is or ever has been.
And here's Will Burns, a Chicago alderman, who worked for Obama in '96 and 2000:
The President has always been someone who takes the truth seriously and has a great faith in the American people and their ability to handle big ideas. He doesn’t patronize them. He uses the campaign as an educative process. He wants to win but also wants to be clear about his ideas.
Finally Burns again:
Romney stood there, with his hair and his jaw and his terrific angles—and he lied! About taxes, about Medicare. Obama pushed back on the five-trillion-dollar tax cut or the way Romney’s version of Medicare would destroy Medicare as we know it. And Romney just tilted his head and said, Oh, no, it won’t. At some point, you have to believe that the facts speak for themselves.
That's the sad thing about facts: they don't speak for themselves. You have to speak for them. In a way that people will hear.
The sadder fact about the electorate is that they don't want facts; they want wish fulfillment. You say you'll cut my taxes and the deficit won't grow? Yay! You say we can take down Saddam, who caused 9/11, with no cost to ourselves? Double yay! You say you'll give me a loan for this house I can't afford? Triple yay!
At some point, the bill arrives.
We respond to emotion: fear and reassurance. The GOP knows this. Everyone including me thought Obama's 2008 victory was about hope and change but it was really about fear and reassurance: our fear that an idiot president was destroying our economy. Huge institutions like Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. were crumbling to the ground like the twin towers on 9/11. What do we do? Hey, this guy seems smart and calm. Let's vote for him instead of the crazy old man, with the dippy girl, neither of whom is reassuring me at all. He's what? He's black? Whatever. He seems smart and calm. Obama '08!
But for Obama to win this time, he needs to be more than calm and smart. He needs to call a liar a liar. For the good of the country. He can't be Ali holding back his punch as Foreman goes down, because, now, Romney isn't going down. He's going up. And if he goes up, we go down.
Obama needs to do it. In the next debates. Every day on the campaign trail. He can even frame it within the context of who he is. “I'm not the type of person who...” “People who know me know I try to be diplomatic whenever possible...” Then add the “but.” Then throw the fucking punch already.
Because Mitt Romney, rich bastard, dissembler and liar, hider of taxes and firer of people, needs to be decked with the truth.
And brother? Make it sting.
My Overwhelming Conviction about Pres. Obama's DNC Speech
I disagreed with many people who were immediately disappointed with Pres. Obama's acceptance speech before the Democratic National Convention Thursday night. I loved it. I thought it was straightforward and honest and at times uplifting. It was uplifting enough that it lifted me up from my couch and over to my computer where I donated another $500 to the Obama campaign.
But the line of the speech wasn't an uplifting one—except in the sense that it was beautiful. It wasn't even Obama's. It came from Abraham Lincoln.
Here's what Pres. Obama said:
While I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'
God, that's beautiful. You don't even have to believe in God to know the feeling. We've all felt it. We can only imagine how a president in a time of crisis must feel it.
The quote comes from Noah Brooks writing in Harper's Weekly three months after Lincoln's assassination. Brooks was a journalist for the Sacramento Union, and, particularly because he didn't indicate the circumstances under which Lincoln said the line, some doubt whether Lincoln said it at all. If he didn't then Brooks is less hack than great writer, because it's a great line worthy of repeating.
It's one of our most fundamental and human images, isn't it? Man on his knees in times of crisis and despair. As soon as Pres. Obama said it, as soon as I began to play it over in my mind, I thought of two similar lines, one humorous, one spiritual.
This is the humorous version. It's from Saul Bellow's “Herzog”:
On the knees of your soul? Might as well be useful. Scrub the floor.
The other, more spiritual line, comes from U2's “Mysterious Ways”:
To touch is to heal - to hurt is to steal
If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
We are driven down by the weight of the world; but in accepting our failings we are raised up. It's the low place we go to find hope.
Pres. Obama greeting tourists at the Lincoln Memorial in 2011. White House Photo.
Quote of the Day
“Now, the fact that a lot of Americans are still opposed not simply to the presidency of Barack Obama but to the idea of the presidency of Barack Obama is not something that Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, or in fact any Democratic speechmaker will talk about at the convention. But it's indisputable, and it accounts for the almost fantastic nature of what many Americans think of both the president and the First Lady. To be sure, they're politically vulnerable on merit; but they're also vulnerable because even, after their four years in office, a weirdly unvarying percentage of America does not accept them as Americans. It is prejudice, pure and simple, and it manifests itself less in polling results than it does in a political discourse warped by whispers and suspicions kept sub rosa.
”And so it was hard to say what Michelle Obama had to do on Tuesday night, because so much of what she had to do tonight was something outside the realm of polite speech. Republican commentators spoke almost winsomely of Ann Romney's need to humanize Mitt Romney; but no Democratic commentator could speak of the necessity of 'Americanizing' Barack Obama without indulging the worst instincts of the American electorate. So what Michelle Obama did, quite simply, was engage the best. I sat with the Ohio delegation as she spoke, and I watched from close up as she went from one thing — a woman of glamor and poise, in a dress the color of sherbet and matching heels — to quite another, in the course of a single speech. She never sounded embattled on Tuesday, but she was clearly responding to something, and it was this aspect of her speech that lent it a special force...
“Tuesday night's speech had an almost lonely power, because it wasn't only about him but about them — about a couple that has changed the world, only to be misperceived. And it addressed those misperceptions not by naming them but by rising above them, and inviting the rest of America to rise above them, too.”
--Tom Junod, “The Lonely Power of Michelle and the Idea of Barack,” on THE POLITICS BLOG at esquire.com
David Denby's Defense of Clint Eastwood—Annotated
David Denby, film critic for The New Yorker, took the road less traveled last week and wound up defending Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention. I'm a fan of the “In Defense of...” article—I've done a few of them myself—but, as I began the piece, I couldn't imagine what defense Denby could conjure. Here it is:
For the record, I didn’t think Clint Eastwood’s chair dialogue was “sad and pathetic” as Roger Ebert put it, or the weird mutterings of a senescent citizen, as Rachel Maddow and other liberal commentators thought, or quite as incoherent as Amy Davidson said. John Cassidy admitted that the speech was “refreshing,” which was closer to my response. It’s amusing that so many commentators complain about the wooden or pre-fabricated nature of convention speeches and then carry on as if some unspeakable disaster had taken place when someone tries something off-beat and a little strange. That's actually not a bad defense, particularly from a film critic. 'In a world of Hollywood gloss, Eastwood has given us mumblecore.'
Rachel Maddow, whom I generally admire, teases Republican squareness with shrugs and grins in every broadcast. Every broadcast, Gracie? I think I've seen, at most, a half-hour of her show total. But then I don't watch TV news. But last night, with a larger than usual national audience watching, she relied on some presumed proper standard of behavior to judge Eastwood, using that assumption as an opportunistic sarcastic tool. Last night, Maddow came off as the square.
I deplore most of Clint’s politics, yet this speech was not a disaster but an act of cunning, like many of his public appearances. I looked at it as an act of “One-take Clint.” Here's Armie Hammer on Eastwood's directing style: “At one point he was like, 'OK, cut, print.' And I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, Clint, I had my sides in my hands, I thought we were just rehearsing that.'” That's how Eastwood does it and he probably thought he could get away with it at the RNC, too. He couldn't.
He eschewed rhetoric and “rousing” pro-Romney remarks. Apparently most of the speakers did without rousing pro-Romney remarks. They weren't there to nominate Romney; they were there to nominate against Obama.
I could have done without his reprisal of “Make my day,” but, in general, he was folksy, Will Rogersish, eccentric, maybe, but less doddering than mock-doddering. Look at it again: there’s a kind of logic to what he said. As always, his focus was on his idea of integrity—a man should do what he promises to do. Like give a good speech at a national convention?
That led him into a tangle on Obama’s not closing Gitmo, but he started out by saying that it was a broken promise. That matters to him much more than ideology. Then why is he stumping for Romney--a man who's repudiated everything he ever did as governor of Massachusetts? Does Eastwood like the fact that Romney's making no promises other than the generic and jingoistic? That's he's making the usual Republican promises to increase defense, cut taxes on the rich and yet somehow balance the budget? That he's promising us voodoo economics all over again? Does Eastwood like how the GOP's attack on Obama is an attack on a strawman? Does he like Romney's line about “voting for the American” as if Obama isn't?
He’s always been more of a libertarian than an orthodox Republican, and is actually quite liberal in his social views. Exactly. So why was he there?
His remark that we should have consulted the Russians before going into Afghanistan was startling and very far from stupid. No, it was stupid. Particularly if it was an attack on Obama. Or was it an attack on Bush 43? Or was it attack on our post-9/11 response? Dirty Harry was telling us we shouldn't have attacked those who attacked us? That we should have read al Qaeda its rights? Funny.
His assertion that Obama should bring the troops home tomorrow morning was even more startling. How many people at the convention reject our military efforts in Afghanistan and want to end them tomorrow? Besides Eastwood and the Ron Paulites? I'm guessing ... none.
Eccentric, maybe, but not a disaster, and it will be remembered fondly as the one humanly interesting moment of the convention. Nice try, David. The mere fact that Eastwood was there was a bad call, given his politics; but it was his lack of rehearsal, his thought he could do this in one take, that hurt him. Sometimes, Clint, a man's gotta know his limitations.
Eastwood said Hollywood has conservatives; they just don't “hot-dog it” like Hollywood liberals. And where did he say this? Before a national audience at the RNC.
Chris Rock Rules
Mitt Romney Drives I-5 to Chehalis
My friend Ben (“The Obamanator”) has a cousin who helped create this video for the Obama campaign. “He built it,” as Ben says. It focuses on the lack of specifics in Mitt Romney's speech at the GOP convention last week:
I didn't watch that speech or much of the convention. I had a busy week at work building things and didn't need the extra aggravation of all the GOP lies. But what stands out in this video is less Romney's generic fluff than this line from his acceptance speech:
When the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American.
Lousy sentence construction anyway (“the world”...“you”) but worse in its implication. Romney = an American. Obama = not an American. You know. It's a sentiment straight out of I-5, Chehalis. Mitt Romney: What a fucker.
Great Moments in Right-Wing Paranoia: Swinging Sixties Edition
The following examples of right-wing paranoia are all from the late 1950s and early 1960s as seen in the book, “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Dream,” by Rick Perlstein. It's a good reminder that right-wing paranoia isn't new. It's been around a while. It's almost always wrong.
- “A private outfit, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, bankrolled by the conversative Richardson Foundation, was being retained by military bases worldwide... Among their teachings was that Defense Secretary McMamara's project to replace bombers with missiles as the centerpiece of American nuclear strategy was in fact a deliberate, covert plan for unilateral disarmament.” (pg. 146)
- “In Pensacola....the chief of naval air training set up a series of mandatory, weeklong seminars for officers that taught that the progressive income tax, the Federal Reserve, and increased business regulations were, just as Robert Welch believed, part of the Soviet takeover of the United States.” (pg. 147)
- “Day after day, fanatics pressed into [Nixon's] hand yet another copy of that damned little blue pamphlet with the United Nations insignia on the cover, Department of State Publication 7277, which they claimed was proof that the government was about to sign over America's armed forces to a Soviet colonel. (Actually it was a woolly UN report setting a course for atomic disarmament over something like a century...) (pg. 167)
- ”On May 10 , the same day as the Birmingham settlement-cum-riot, the far right returned to the news when Tom Kuchel stood up in the Senate to declare that 10 percent of the letters coming into his office—six thousand a month—were 'fright mail,' mostly centering on two astonishing, and astonishingly widespread, rumors: that Chinese commandos were training in Mexico for an invasion of the United States through San Diego; and that 100,000 UN troops—16,000 of them 'African Negro Troops, who are cannibals' [sic]—were secretly rehearsing in the Georgia swamps under the command of a Russian colonel for a UN martial-law takeover of the United States.“ (pg. 210)
- ”[TV host Steve Allen] decided to get Goldwater's reaction to a far-right hotline, 'Let Freedom Ring.' ... The nation heard a frantic voice say: ... 'The pattern in this country is very closely following the events which took place during the internal takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1946. ... Keep yourself well-informed. Do not trust newspapers, radio, TV and newsmagazines for your information. These are the main weapons the enemy has to use against us.'“
- ”In Mississippi, vigilantes were setting upon black churches, tearing them apart for 'weapons' they assumed were being stockpiled as a prelude to the Communist takeover, then burning them to the ground at the rate of one a week when no weapons could be found.“ (pg. 363)
- ”Goldwater delegates were at the top of Nob Hill at the city's WPA-style Masonic Temple screamng their heads off when Michael Goldwater explained how his father had taught his children to 'be wary of any man who tries to take our land away from us or our God away from us,' and that Johnson's self-professed Great Society 'can only result in dictatorship.'“ (pg. 380)
The book contains some left-wing paranoia, too, such as this letter sent to John F. Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, on Nov. 19, 1963:
- ”Don't let the President come down here. I'm worried about him. I think something terrible will happen to him.“ (pg. 241)
Salinger tried to quiet the woman's fears: ”I appreciate your concern for the president,“ he wrote back, ”but it would be a sad day for this country if there were any city in the United States he could not visit without fear of violence. I am confident the people of Dallas will greet him warmly."
That Right-Wing, Uncle Sam Billboard near Chehalis, Wash.
P and I, with our friend Ward, went to a friend's place along the Columbia river on Friday, stayed over, hiked, drove back Saturday.
On the way down, on I-5 near Chehalis, Wash., we saw a tattered Uncle Sam sign with these words spelled out:
VOTE FOR THE AMERICAN
Do they mean ...? I wondered. Of course they do.
On the way back it read:
WHY IS OBAMA SUPPRESSING THE MILITARY VOTE?
It's a well-known billboard, started by a farmer named Alfred Hamilton, who died in 2004. The messages keep going up even as they eminate from an image that grows ever-more faded. They're the usual loony paranoid crap. They're the usual, accuse-the-Dems-of-what-the-GOP-is-doing crap. Because voter suppression? Ain't nothing but a GOP thang.
Of course, now Romney is doing his version of the first sign mentioned above. It's his 1,001st sign of desperation.
Stay classy, America.
A Legitimate Choice
Until last weekend, whenever I heard the word 'legititmate' I thought of Kenneth Branagh doing Edmund's soliloquy in a Renaissance Theater Company recording of “King Lear”, which I listened to while schlepping in the University Book Store warehouse in the mid-1990s:
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word: legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
Now, thanks to Todd Akin, U.S. Rep from Missouri, current Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and professional douchebag, my association is somewhat more ... base:
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
You see where it comes from. If you're pro-life, the tough question is “What about in instances of rape and incest? Do you demand that the woman, or girl, carry the fetus to term?” This is the wish-fulfillment answer. Oh, women don't get pregnant when they're REALLY raped. That's science. It's what I understand from doctors.
Or misunderstand from doctors.
I like that word: legitimate. I'd like to talk to the GOP about that word. Because in my lifetime, in U.S. elections, they've rarely given me a legitimate choice.
I shouldn't be that hard to win over. I have conservative elements in me. The mewing and whining of the left often bothers me. The political correctness of the left often bothers me. But in almost every election, increasingly so as I age, it's not even a contest. The choice is between the conservative, which is the Democrat, and the reactionary, who is the Republican. It's between those who want to hold the line and those who want to dismantle what we have, those who want to repair the social safety net and those who want to hack it to pieces, those who think government has a role and those who think it has virtually none.
In my lifetime, the GOP appeals to fear and retribution, paranoia and selfishness. Its candidates are chest-thumpingly stupid, and proudly so. They invoke God against the Constitution and the founding fathers as if they were gods. They are expert propagandists who spread their bullshit uniformly across the country. They accuse others of wanting to take what we have, then take what we have. Anyone who doesn't agree with their platform is a Socialist or a Communist or a Fascist—or all three. They are adept at the Big Lie. They accuse the opposition of being what they themselves are—again and again and again. They demonize the powerless and hold up the powerful as victims. They are always on the wrong side of history when it comes to the rights of others, and then, when it's convenient, they rewrite that history. They like to rewrite history. In this way, they are absolutists in rhetoric but relativists in strategy, relying on the relativity of truth to obfuscate that which doesn't favor them, which is most things. They undermine democracy by not giving me a legitimate choice.
I'd like one, one day.
'Sikh, Arab, What's the Difference?' The Sikh Temple Killings and Spike Lee's 'Inside Man'
When I first heard of the Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., last Sunday, and the identity, such as it is, of the neo-Nazi shooter, my thoughts turned to filmmaker Spike Lee—specifically his 2006 action-film “Inside Man.”
The movie is about hostages and a bank heist, in the manner of “Dog Day Afternoon,” and there's a scene halfway through where a Sikh hostage is released by the robbers only to be ordered by New York cops, with itchy, post-9/11 trigger fingers, onto the ground. They call him an Arab and take away his turban.
Here's a later scene where the cops (Denzel Washingon, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor) question the Sikh, Vikram, about the hostage situation, while he questions them about his turban situation:
“I bet you can get a cab, though,” is a good line, but it's a shame Vikram didn't get the last word. He deserved it.
I also thought of Anthony Lane, the great critic for The New Yorker, and his review of “Inside Man,” and the way he contrasted Spike Lee's vision of the world with that of Jean Renior in “The Grand Illusion”:
“Inside Man” needs to be seen. The more it sags as a thriller, the more it jabs and jangles as a study of racial abrasion. A hostage is released, and an armed cop shouts, “He’s an Arab!” The hostage replies, “I’m a Sikh,” and you can hear the weariness at the edges of his fear. Another hostage is quizzed by Frazier about his name: “Is that Albanian?” “It’s Armenian,” the man explains. “What’s the difference?” Frazier asks, not that he cares either way. It is these small, peppery incidents of strife—far more than the stridency of recent Lee projects like “Bamboozled” and “She Hate Me”—that show the director at his least abashed and most tuned to current anxieties, and that mark him out, for all the fluency of his camera, as the anti-Renoir of our time. “Grand Illusion” offered the ennobling suggestion that national divisions were delusory, and that our common humanity can throw bridges across any social gulf. To which Lee would reply, Nice idea. Go tell it to the guy who just had his turban pulled off by the cops.
Or to the folks who lost loved ones in south Milwaukee last Sunday.
The Gettysburg Address, Out of Context
I remember visiting the Lincoln Memorial with my friend Dean in 1989, looking up at the words of the Gettysburg Address engraved on the wall, and asking him, with the news-junkie question of the day: Where's the sound bite? What portion of this speech would modern news organizations focus on? I think we decided on this:
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
Today's question is actually worse. Today's question is: What portion of the speech would Lincoln's opponents take out of context? What would they focus on, and mangle, in the tradition of FOX-News, in order to demonize Lincoln?
My thoughts in bold:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
[1.] Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, [2.] can long endure. We are met on [1.] a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
[3.] But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that [4.] government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The talking points would be:
- Lincoln thinks the civil war is great. He thinks the battle of Gettysburg was great. Try telling that to the mothers and fathers of the young men who died, Mr. President!
- He doesn't believe this nation can endure.
- He refuses to give a blessing to the battlefield!
- Government of the people, by the people, for the people? Socialist! Abraham Lincoln hates America!
This post results, of course, from a recent speech by Pres. Obama, which was taken out of context by the usual suspects. Let it be noted--but not long remembered--that I agree with everything Pres. Obama said. Pres. Lincoln, too.
Remember when Abraham Lincoln refused to bless the Gettysburg battlefield? He hates America!
Why a Patriotic WWII Film Starring Frank Sinatra Would Get Booed by Modern Republicans
I was going to include “The House I Live In,” a short, cornball, patriotic film starring Frank Sinatra and made in the middle of World War II, in my earlier post about what Seattle means to me. Then I watched it and realized it was a post of its own.
The first thing you notice about the film is that Sinatra looked good. You finally understand what all those bobbysoxers were screaming about. Plus I love his jacket.
Then in the middle of the film (4:22), he delivers a lesson on religious tolerance to tough neighborhood kids who've been beating up on another boy of another religion. He tells them this:
Listen, fellas. Religion makes no difference--except maybe to a Nazi or somebody who's stupid. Why, people all over the world worship God in many different ways. God created everybody. He didn't create one people better than another. Your blood's the same as mine, mine's the same as his. Do you know what this wonderful country is made of? It's made of a hundred different kinds of people, and a hundred different ways of talking, and a hundred different ways of going to church. But they're all American ways.
It's kind of stunning to hear in 2012, and it's indicative of how reactionary the far-right in this country has become. A cornball patriotic film, with Frank Sinatra, made nearly 70 years ago, in the middle of World War II, is a bastion of tolerance compared with their rhetoric. If someone said the above at a Tea Party rally, they'd probably get booed off the stage.
So I guess the question Tea Party folks have to ask themselves is: Are you a Nazi, or are you stupid? Frank is waiting for your answer.
Here's the film:
The Annotated David Brooks
The following appeared on the New York Times op-ed page on Friday. Without annotations.
Democrats frequently ask me why the Republicans have become so extreme. As they describe the situation, they usually fall back on some sort of illness metaphor. Republicans have a mania. President Obama has said that Republicans have a “fever” that he hopes will break if he is re-elected. He's kind. I hope it kills them.
“We have a sense that the economic order we knew in the second half of the 20th century may not be coming back at all — that we have entered a new era for which we have not been well prepared. ... We are, rather, on the cusp of the fiscal and institutional collapse of our welfare state, which threatens not only the future of government finances but also the future of American capitalism.”
So what do you mean by “welfare state”? Social security? Medicare? Highways? Policemen? Speak up, David.
To Republican eyes, the first phase of that collapse is playing out right now in Greece, Spain and Italy — cosseted economies, unmanageable debt, rising unemployment, falling living standards. And Sweden? And Germany? Why are Greece, Spain and Italy seen as harbingers of the U.S.? Doesn't Germany, 'to Republican eyes,' have a bloated health care system? Are Republican eyes paranoid eyes? Can I look through them?
America’s economic stagnation is just more gradual. In the decades after World War II, the U.S. economy grew by well over 3 percent a year, on average. But, since then, it has failed to keep pace with changing realities. The average growth was a paltry 1.7 percent annually between 2000 and 2009. Highlighting stagnant years, which were led by a conservative administration intent on ending the so-called welfare state, isn't exactly a strong argument for ending the so-called welfare state. (And by 'welfare state' you mean... what exactly? Social security? Medicare? Highways? Policemen? Speak up, David.)
It averaged 0.6 percent growth between 2009 and 2011. Well, it does take a while to climb out of a Republican-dug shithole. (P.S. Thanks for the shit.)
Wages have failed to keep up with productivity. Yeah, thanks for that, too, fuckers.
Family net worth is back at the same level it was at 20 years ago. Ditto. Fuckers.
In America as in Europe, Republicans argue, the welfare state is failing to provide either security or dynamism. The safety net is so expensive it won’t be there for future generations. Or we could tax the rich at levels we taxed them at during most of the Reagan administration.
Meanwhile, the current model shifts resources away from the innovative sectors of the economy and into the bloated state-supported ones, like health care and education. Bloated like babies in Africa. Numbers would be nice here. Or anywhere.
Successive presidents have layered on regulations and loopholes, creating a form of state capitalism in which big businesses thrive because they have political connections and small businesses struggle. I actually agree with this. The secret to your success, David: one good thought out of 20. You're the .050 hitter in the Major Leagues.
The welfare model favors security over risk, comfort over effort, stability over innovation. Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care. I thought schools were bloated? Two sentences back. Numbers would be nice here. Or anywhere. And when did we stop innovating anyway? The 1930s? The 1960s? Last year?
This model, which once offered insurance from the disasters inherent in capitalism, has now become a giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly. This is beginning to sound like a euthanasia column, David.
This is the source of Republican extremism: the conviction that the governing model is obsolete. Psst. That is extreme.
It needs replacing. Or you could tax the wealthy at a higher rate. A thought.
Mitt Romney hasn’t put it this way. Of course not.
He wants to keep the focus on President Obama. But this worldview is implied in his (extremely vague) proposals. As are yours, David. As are yours.
He would structurally reform the health care system, moving toward a more market-based system. Pardon me, sir, but the free hand of the market needs to examine your prostate.
He would simplify the tax code. He would reverse 30 years of education policy, decentralizing power and increasing parental choice. I thought we already spent 30 years decentralizing power and increasing parental choice. Oh, right. That was centralizing corporate power and increasing corporate choice. My bad.
The intention is the same, to create a model that will spark an efficiency explosion, laying the groundwork for an economic revival. The level of wish fulfillment in this sentence outdoes the level of wish fulfillment in any Hollywood blockbuster. I wanted a bucket of popcorn after reading it. I wanted to see it acted by Bruce Willis.
Democrats have had trouble grasping the Republican diagnosis because they don’t have the same sense that the current model is collapsing around them. Or because Republicans aren't upfront about what their proposal entails. Killing social security? Medicare? Highways? Policemen? Speak up, David.
In his speech in Cleveland on Thursday, President Obama offered an entirely different account of where we are. In the Obama version, the welfare-state model was serving America well until it was distorted a decade ago by a Republican Party intent on serving the rich and shortchanging the middle class. Don't be modest. Republicans began distorting our system three decades ago.
In his speech, Obama didn’t vow to reform the current governing model but to rebalance it. The rich would pay a little more and everyone else would get a little more. I'd have the rich pay A LOT more. Erik 2016!
He’d “double down” on clean energy, revive the Grand Bargain from last summer’s budget talks, invest in infrastructure, job training and basic research. Obama championed targeted subsidies and tax credits. Republicans, meanwhile, envision comprehensive systemic change. The G.O.P. vision is of an entirely different magnitude: replace the tax code, replace the health care system and transform entitlements. With what... with what ... to what?
This is what this election is about: Vagueness?
Is the 20th-century model obsolete, or does it just need rebalancing? Is Obama oblivious to this historical moment or are Republicans overly radical, risky and impractical? Are there national issues that require national solutions? Should the wealthiest people pay a smaller percentage in taxes than you and me? Do we want to return to the economic policies of 2001-2009? How about 1801-1809? What percentage of U.S. voters are now part of the reality-based community?
Republicans and Democrats have different perceptions about how much change is needed. I suspect the likely collapse of the European project will profoundly influence which perception the country buys this November. David, because of your column, I got off the schneid. I just donated $500 to Obama for America. Thank you.
The Myth of Job Creators
Confession. I often imagine myself on cable news shows wrangling out the issues of the day. Probably because that's where we often see the issues of the day being wrangled out.
The dialogue I've had in my head for the past year goes something like this:
FOX News Blowhard: BLAH BLAH BLAH 1%. BLACK BLAH BLAH job creators.
Me: Excuse me? What did you just call them?
FNB: Job creators. That's what they--
Me: What's the goal of a CEO or corporation?
FNB: To create jobs.
Me: It's to create profit. You know that. So does everyone out there. That's what capitalism is all about. That's Business 101, isn't it? I ask because I've never taken Business 101.
FNB: Yes, but when you create profit, you create jobs. Pinhead.
Me: Not necessarily. If to create profit, a CEO has to elminate jobs, or ship them overseas, he'll do that. In a heartbeat. That's part of what's been going on for the last 30 years. So why do you call them job creators?
FNB: BLAH BLAH socialism BLAH BLAH Obama BLAH BLAH Jimmy Carter.
Me: You call them 'job creators' because it's politically expedient to do so in a time of high unemployment. But it's a lie. You know it's a lie. And so does everyone watching.
I know. For some reason in my fantasy appearance on FOX News I sound like Bob Dole.
It's sad that this is still a talking point for all the blowhards out there. It's such a talking point that when venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, Seattle's own, gave one of those TED talks on the myth of job creators, the people behind TED felt it too divisive, too immediately political, to actually post on their site. They didn't feel it was worthy of all of the other TED talks about BLAH BLAH BLAH. And in this manner they stumbled right into controversy.
Hanauer's talk has since been uploaded to YouTube. Here it is:
He takes the businessman's stance on the matter, which is deeper and infiinitely more knowledgable than mine. He argues that the way things are is the opposite of the way they've been presented.
They've been presented this way: If taxes on the wealthy go up, job creation goes down.
He argues that job creation actually stems from consumer demand; and consumer demand stems from a rising middle class; and for the past 30 years our middle class has been falling—in part because tax policies favor the wealthy and place a greater burden on what was once our proud middle class.
This may be the talk that TED didn't want, but it's the talk the US needs.
I know it's not “Sovereignty means it's sovereign; you're a — you've been given sovereignty,” but it'll do if you want some smart, straight, teleprompter-less talk.
Endorsement of the Day
I posted the above this morning before work, and before I knew Pres. Obama would be speaking today about marriage equality, and before he came out in favor of same-sex marriage. Now it's even more true. Now it's a great day.
I've seen a lot of good messages, good comments, good thoughts out there in the social media landscape, but the one below is my favorite. From someone named Erin on Twitter:
My parents don't approve of the fact that I'm gay. It's sort of nice to know that my president does.
Stat of the Day
“Today the United States economy is producing even more goods and services than it did when the recession officially began in December 2007, but with about five million fewer workers.”
--from “U.S. Added Only 115,000 Jobs in April; Rate Is 8.1%” by Catherine Rampell in The New York Times. Reheadlined “Why You May Be Exhausted” on Andrew Sullivan's site.
Compare to an interview I did two years ago with labor lawyer Thomas Geohegan. Quote:
It defies the laws of economic gravity. Under everything you understand about labor economics—if you take Economics 10 or Labor Economics 101—productivity goes up, wages go up. That’s the gold standard. That’s what raises the standard of living. Hasn’t happened here. Productivity has shot up a lot; the real median hourly wage has gone down.
So we're working more, producing more, getting less.
'I Don't Want Government in My Bank...'
Why Mitt and Ann Romney are Just Like You: Scrimping By with a Seven-Bedroom Colonial and a 5,000-Foot Lakefront Vacation Home
Now that Ann [Romney] is using the details of her domestic life for political purposes, journalists and Obama supporters are sure to focus on parts of that existence that might reflect less well on her and her husband. For example, she has said that when Mitt was in college, the two of them were so financially strapped that they had to liquidate some of their stock portfolio to get by. At the time Mrs. Romney said that she was engaged in a “struggle” to bring up her children, the family was living in a seven bedroom, six-and-a-half-bathroom mock-Colonial mansion in Belmont, Massachusetts, while spending summers at their five-thousand-square-foot vacation home, which sits on eleven lakefront acres in New Hampshire.
It'll be interesting to see if the GOP, working with the mainstream media, who love to turn a mouse into a lion (because reporting what we already know is so boring), can turn Mitt and Ann Romney, rich beyond our wildest dreams, into ordinary Americans. There's no amount of BS we can't lap up.
And it is BS. It's all beside the point. The point is the economy, and what to do, and what each candidate's plan is.
New Yorker Magazine Paints Ted Nugent as Funny and Unfiltered
Here's what Ted Nugent said at an NRA convention last week:
If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year.
Here's what Reeves Wiedeman writes on the New Yorker site today:
This second-act version of Ted Nugent may seem manic, but on inspection it’s clearly more rehearsed. I doubt anything Nugent said to me was something he had never said before. His answers are so print-ready (and, let’s be honest, often pretty funny), that it seems unlikely he’s freestyling. I suspect Nugent’s comments this weekend were not off the cuff, but meant squarely for the audience he was addressing. Whether this is simply ignorant and depressing, or actually dangerous, depends on your view of the power of rhetoric. (If the President can’t convince people of something, can Ted Nugent?)
Not only is Nugent's comment dumb and dangeorous, so is New Yorker's commentary. Obama is trying to convince a majority, or a supermajority, of people. Ted Nugent needs to convince only one.
Guns Guns Guns: An Overview of Jill Lepore's BATTLEGROUND AMERICA Article
Have you read Jill Lepore's article, “Battleground America: One Nation, Under the Gun,” in the latest New Yorker? You should. It's necessary reading. It details one way our country has gone insane since the 1970s. We keep bowing to the wrong people: Grover Norquist, Rush Llimbaugh, the NRA. They're ruining our country. We're letting them.
Lepore visits a firing range, the American Firearms School, near Providence, R.I. She visits the biggest gun show in New England, in West Springfield, Mass. She delves into the history: how state after state in the 19th century adopted laws against concealed weapons. She quotes the Governor of Texas in 1893: The “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder,“ he said. ”To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.” Yes: Texas.
She reminds us that the NRA was once a gun club. It was about firearms safety. Then there was a coup in the late 1970s in Cincinnati and it became what it became: a loud, angry, lobbying organization that fueled paranoia among its members. She reminds us how the Second Amendment was once interpretted by the U.S. Supreme Court: How, in 1939, in U.S. v. Miller, FDR’s solicitor general, Robert H. Jackson, “argued that the Second Amendment is 'restricted to the keeping and bearing of arms by the people collectively for their common defense and security.' Furthermore, Jackson said, the language of the amendment makes clear that the right 'is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state.' The Court agreed, unanimously.” Those were the days.
Some facts worth noting:
The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five. ...
Gun ownership is higher among whites than among blacks, higher in the country than in the city, and higher among older people than among younger people. One reason that gun ownership is declining, nationwide, might be that high-school shooting clubs and rifle ranges at summer camps are no longer common.
Because the NRA is too busy lobbying.
A positive: NRA members appear to be less nuts than its leadership:
Gun owners may be more supportive of gun-safety regulations than is the leadership of the N.R.A. According to a 2009 Luntz poll, for instance, requiring mandatory background checks on all purchasers at gun shows is favored not only by eighty-five per cent of gun owners who are not members of the N.R.A. but also by sixty-nine per cent of gun owners who are.
Its history is also more tempered than we've been led to believe:
The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 by two men, a lawyer and a former reporter from the New York Times. For most of its history, the N.R.A. was chiefly a sporting and hunting association. To the extent that the N.R.A. had a political arm, it opposed some gun-control measures and supported many others, lobbying for new state laws in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, which introduced waiting periods for handgun buyers and required permits for anyone wishing to carry a concealed weapon. It also supported the 1934 National Firearms Act—the first major federal gun-control legislation—and the 1938 Federal Firearms Act, which together created a licensing system for dealers and prohibitively taxed the private ownership of automatic weapons (“machine guns”). ... In 1957, when the N.R.A. moved into new headquarters, its motto, at the building’s entrance, read, “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.” It didn’t say anything about freedom, or self-defense, or rights.
Then in the 1960s our leaders were killed. JFK. MLK. RFK. Gun control became a common conversation. Here's a nice irony:
Gun-rights arguments have their origins not in eighteenth-century Anti-Federalism but in twentieth-century liberalism. They are the product of what the Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet has called the “rights revolution,” the pursuit of rights, especially civil rights, through the courts. In the nineteen-sixties, gun ownership as a constitutional right was less the agenda of the N.R.A. than of black nationalists. In a 1964 speech, Malcolm X said, “Article number two of the constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.” Establishing a constitutional right to carry a gun for the purpose of self-defense was part of the mission of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which was founded in 1966.
The NRA picked up on the Black Power rhetoric:
In the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. began advancing the argument that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to carry a gun, rather than the people’s right to form armed militias to provide for the common defense. Fights over rights are effective at getting out the vote. Describing gun-safety legislation as an attack on a constitutional right gave conservatives a power at the polls that, at the time, the movement lacked. Opposing gun control was also consistent with a larger anti-regulation, libertarian, and anti-government conservative agenda. In 1975, the N.R.A. created a lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, headed by Harlon Bronson Carter, an award-winning marksman and a former chief of the U.S. Border Control. But then the N.R.A.’s leadership decided to back out of politics and move the organization’s headquarters to Colorado Springs, where a new recreational-shooting facility was to be built. Eighty members of the N.R.A.’s staff, including Carter, were ousted. In 1977, the N.R.A.’s annual meeting, usually held in Washington, was moved to Cincinnati, in protest of the city’s recent gun-control laws. Conservatives within the organization, led by Carter, staged what has come to be called the Cincinnati Revolt. The bylaws were rewritten and the old guard was pushed out. Instead of moving to Colorado, the N.R.A. stayed in D.C., where a new motto was displayed: “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.”
Ronald Reagan was the first NRA president and he was shot two months after he took the Oath of Office. The irony was lost on everyone. The act of John Hinckley seemed to make the NRA stronger:
In 1986, the N.R.A.’s interpretation of the Second Amendment achieved new legal authority with the passage of the Firearms Owners Protection Act, which repealed parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act by invoking “the rights of citizens . . . to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.” This interpretation was supported by a growing body of scholarship, much of it funded by the N.R.A. According to the constitutional-law scholar Carl Bogus, at least sixteen of the twenty-seven law-review articles published between 1970 and 1989 that were favorable to the N.R.A.’s interpretation of the Second Amendment were “written by lawyers who had been directly employed by or represented the N.R.A. or other gun-rights organizations.” In an interview, former Chief Justice Warren Burger said that the new interpretation of the Second Amendment was “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
Between 1968 and 2012, the idea that owning and carrying a gun is both a fundamental American freedom and an act of citizenship gained wide acceptance and, along with it, the principle that this right is absolute and cannot be compromised; gun-control legislation was diluted, defeated, overturned, or allowed to expire; the right to carry a concealed handgun became nearly ubiquitous; Stand Your Ground legislation passed in half the states; and, in 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5–4 decision, that the District’s 1975 Firearms Control Regulations Act was unconstitutional. Justice Scalia wrote, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.” Two years later, in another 5–4 ruling, McDonald v. Chicago, the Court extended Heller to the states.
All of these victories mean nothing. The NRA remains a paranoid organization. They're paranoid about Pres. Obama. “If this President gets a second term, he will appoint one to three Supreme Court justices,” says David Keene, 66, the N.R.A.’s current president. “If he does, he could reverse Heller and McDonald, which is unlikely, but, more likely, they will restrict those decisions.” Keene is worried about losing any ground. He's standing his ground. Actually he's moving forward. He's advancing on us. Yes, Lepore also writes about Trayvon Martin, and Chardon High School outside Cleveland. She doesn't write about Ted Nugent seeming to threaten the life of the president of the United States, for which he refuses to apologize. He's standing his ground, too. No, he's advancing on us. Mouth flapping. Waving something.
Keene and Nugent are paranoid about the wrong things. They see enemies where there are none. Their true enemy is themselves. The dwindling number of Americans who own and use guns is their fault. The NRA used to be a gun club, about gun safety, but they decided to spend all their time lobbying instead. So now we have what we have: laxer gun laws than at any time since the early 19th century, and fewer and fewer people utilizing them. Crazy people get to carry concealed weapons.
Lepore is right. We're a nation under the gun. Our society is sick. It doesn't know how sick:
One in three Americans knows someone who has been shot. As long as a candid discussion of guns is impossible, unfettered debate about the causes of violence is unimaginable. Gun-control advocates say the answer to gun violence is fewer guns. Gun-rights advocates say that the answer is more guns: things would have gone better, they suggest, if the faculty at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Chardon High School had been armed. That is the logic of the concealed-carry movement; that is how armed citizens have come to be patrolling the streets. That is not how civilians live. When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left.
A gun show in Houston, which are, like classified ads for gun sales, unregulated.
The Symbiotic Relationship between the GOP and the Mainstream Media
It's pretty simple.
The mainstream media is interested in news, i.e., what's new, or, a la Slate.com, what's contrary to what we currently believe.
The GOP, particularly since the ascension of Karl Rove, has no scruples in discrediting its opponents.
So the GOP presents contrary images of Democrats, over which the mainstream media has a feeding frenzy.
Pres. Obama is somehow involved in a war on women, John Kerry's decorated Vietnam War record is suspect, Al Gore makes huge mistakes. Al Gore's mistakes are actually tiny, George W. Bush's are huge, but we all know Bush isn't that smart so that's not news. But Gore: He should know better.
Democrats attack Republicans for what they are, which isn't news. Republicans attack Democrats for what they are not, which is. It's the only way the GOP, with its platform (supporting the rich few against the many), can thrive.
Indeed, the GOP attacks Dems for what it, the GOP, is actually guilty of: being anti-women, avoiding service, fudging economic numbers. As I've stated elsewhere, this is the ultimate in propaganda.
Supporting the troops: In the 2004 election, the record of John Kerry, who served in Vietnam, was questioned, while George W. Bush, who sat out the war in Texas and Alabama, mostly received a bye.
Bullshit of the Week: the Hilary Rosen Fiasco
I hate having to do this. I hate having to write this. I hate having to wade through the bullshit of the week because other people aren't doing their jobs.
The bullshit of this week is that somehow the Obama camp is against women, or housewives, because Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, who is not part of the Obama campaign, said that Ann Romney, Mitt Romney's wife, who is apparently advising her husband on economic matters, “never worked a day in her life.”
So the GOP is doing what it can to connect “Never worked a day in her life” with the idea that “Democrats look down on housewives” with the idea that “Obama looks down on housewives.”
Let's clear away the bullshit for a moment.
The initial discussion on CNN was about how the Romney camp was pegging Obama as “anti-women” because the economy still isn't going gangbusters, and women, more than men, are out of work.
If Rosen had simply said “Ann Romney hasn't had to look for a job since she got married” we wouldn't be here. We would be some other stupid place, just not this stupid place.
Here's the transcript of what Rosen said. The key line is in the second paragraph. The video is below:
With respect to economic issues, I think actually that Mitt Romney is right, that ultimately women care more about the economic well-being of their families and the like. But he doesn't connect on that issue either. What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, 'Well, you know my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues and when I listen to my wife that's what I'm hearing.'
Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and why do we worry about their future.
So I think that, yes, it's about these positions and yes, I think there will be a war of words about the positions. But there's something much more fundamental about Mitt Romney. He just seems so old-fashioned when it comes to women and I think that comes across and I think that that's going to hurt him over the long term. He just doesn't really see us as equal.
The GOP focuses on the second graf, second sentence. Rosen's true meaning is in second graf, third sentence:
She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and why do we worry about their future.
The Romneys are rich. You and I are not.
I don't know about Ann, but Mitt Romney has never been poor and unconnected. He doesn't know what that's like. Just as most of us don't know what it's like to be as rich and connected as Mitt Romney has been all of his life.
I don't know about Ann, but Mitt Romney doesn't know what it's like to scour the Want Ads and see nothing that says “you,” nothing that says “hope,” nothing that says “possibility” or “I have a chance.”
Everything else about this discussion is bullshit. The mainstream media is always looking for a different story and the GOP is always ready to give it to them to distract everyone from the real story.
It's 3 A.M.: Do You Know Where Your Affordable Care Act Is?
I awoke in the middle of the night thinking of the Affordable Care Act. Such are the times we live in.
No matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides in the next few weeks, I'm still of the mind that the health insurance industry should not be a for-profit industry. It's not just the amorality or immorality of making a profit off of people's health. It's the shaky capitalism of it all. The goal of the insurance industry is to sell to whose who don't need its product and reject those who do. Its market efficiency leads to this vast product inefficiency. It wants to sell us something we'll never use. If there's a chance we'll use it? It doesn't want to sell it to us.
Are there other products or services like this? Not broccoli, certainly.
That Sound You're Hearing is the Rich Getting Richer
Some cheery economic news from Steven Rattner, a longtime Wall Street executive, in a New York Times Op-Ed. His data comes from French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, who worked from U.S. tax returns:
In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93 percent of the additional income created in the country — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households...
The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation...
Government has ... played a role, particularly the George W. Bush tax cuts, which, among other things, gave the wealthy a 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends. That’s the provision that caused Warren E. Buffett’s secretary to have a higher tax rate than he does.
As a result, the top 1 percent has done progressively better in each economic recovery of the past two decades. In the Clinton era expansion, 45 percent of the total income gains went to the top 1 percent; in the Bush recovery, the figure was 65 percent; now it is 93 percent...
The only way to redress the income imbalance is by implementing policies that are oriented toward reversing the forces that caused it. That means letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy and adding money to some of the programs that House Republicans seek to cut. Allowing this disparity to continue is both bad economic policy and bad social policy. We owe those at the bottom a fairer shot at moving up.
Why Democratic Veeps Run for President; Why Republican Veeps Don't
Apparently Joe Biden is thinking of running for president in 2016. He should. Yes, he'll be 74, and, no, I don't know if he'd make a good president. But it's the way of Democratic vice-presidents. As opposed to Republican ones.
Since 1972, when more open primary rules were first enacted, three Democrats have been elected president: Carter, Clinton and Obama. In the case of the first two, in the election after their last election, the nomination went to their vice president: Mondale in '84 and Gore in '00. Neither won.
This was true for Reagan's veep as well: George H.W. Bush ran and won in '88.
Since then? Bush's veep, Quayle, sputtered in '96 and never got out of the starting gate. He was considered a lightweight with no shot. Still is. W's veep, Cheney, never ran. He was considered a horrible heavyweight with no shot. Still is. Darth Cheney, who chose himself veep. The lightweight was the president.
There's always a lightweight on the Republican ticket, isn't there: a “folksy” someone, generally, who isn't that smart. Each election you think it can't get worse and then it does. It can't get worse than Reagan, you think, and then they choose Quayle. It can't get worse than Quayle, you think, and then they choose W. OK, W's gotta be the bottom, right? Hello, Sarah Palin.
Dems are always a little more serious about who might be a heartbeat away. Or who might be the heartbeat.
So I can see Biden in 2016, although I'm more intrigued by Hillary.
As for the Republicans in 2012? This certainly wouldn't break the trend:
Ben Volunteers for Obama
My friend Ben recently moved to Seattle after eight years in Hanoi. I like introducing him as “the former AP bureau chief in Hanoi,” which he was. I don't know of a more romantic phrase in the English language than “AP bureau chief in Hanoi.”
Like most true journalists I know, Ben's an opinionated S.O.B. It probably goes with the territory. You spend 30 years objectively reporting the world until you want to grab the world by the lapels and shout in its face about what it doesn't get from your objective reporting.
Ben is now doing some shouting, about politics and volunteering for the Obama campaign, over at The Obamanator blog. Much, much recommended. Some samples:
- “...the Republicans made the mess and are campaigning to restore the very policies that created it... from ”Flying High at Boeing“
- ”We called someone who thought that Tiger Woods was the African-American running for president...“ from ”Another Phone Bank, Another Moron“
- Newt Gingrich is so full of baloney, he’s going to explode. Perhaps this accounts for his remarkable girth...” from “Excuse Me While I Rant for a Moment.”
I think my favorite is this juxtaposition: “I Used to Be an Objective Journalist” on March 16th, followed by “Only a Twisted, Deranged, Hard-Hearted Creep Would Try to Repeal the Affordable Care Act” a day later.
Stay tuned. I will.
The 400 Highest Earners in the U.S. Pay Only 18.1 Percent in Taxes
Do you subscribe to The New Yorker yet? Why not? Come on.
James B. Stewart has a must-read piece in the March 19th issue entitled “TAX ME IF YOU CAN: The things rich people do to avoid paying up.” Money (cough) quote:
The Internal Revenue Service discloses detailed statistics for the four hundred highest-earning taxpayers in the country. In 2008, the most recent year available, those taxpayers had an average adjusted gross income of two hundred and seventy million dollars each. Thirty of them paid less than ten per cent in federal taxes, and a hundred and one paid between ten and fifteen per cent. On average, the group paid 18.1 per cent.
President Obama has seized on that fact, making tax fairness a central issue in his reëlection bid. The President has called for comprehensive tax reform and for specific proposals for a “Buffett Rule,” which would raise tax rates on taxpayers earning more than a million dollars a year. Romney has called for a twenty-per-cent across-the-board tax cut, while limiting some deductions. ...
None of the proposals address the fact that rich people aren’t taxed on certain income, either because it is exempt, as with interest on municipal bonds, or because they claim to be living outside the jurisdiction that is levying the tax. Relatively scant media attention has been paid to residency requirements, even though enormous revenue is at stake.
So that's what Stewart does: he pays attention to the residency requirements and how the rich can afford to skirt them.
A thumbnail of the piece is available here. It's also on newsstands. You can also borrow my copy if you promise to bring it back. And subscribe.
The U.S. Right-Wing: Sharing Conspiracy Theories with the Middle East
John Lee Anderson's reporting, or “letter,” from Syria (in New Yorker parlance), entitled “The Implosion: On the front lines of a burgeoning civil war,” which is now a few weeks old, is one of those articles you really need to read if you're at all interested in fathoming what's going on in that country. To a degree, of course. If before I understood bupkis, I now understand bupkis +1. But it's an improvement. Check it out.
I'm nearly 50 now and not surprised by much these days, but this part just threw me:
Skepticism about the rebels was common among Assad’s supporters. One influential businessman, Nabil Toumeh, informed me that what was taking place in Syria was the result of a plan—dreamed up years before by Zbigniew Brzezinski, and supported by Israel—to help the Muslim Brotherhood take over the Middle East. “After fifty years of persecution, they are being given power, and this will bring the Arab world to a state of backwardness,” he said. Assad’s friend told me, “This is not the Arab Spring. It’s the awakening of the extremes of Islam.” The Brotherhood was trying to seize power in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, but it would not happen in Syria. “There is no reasoning with these people; with them, it is only God.”
But in Zabadani one of the protesters, a Sunni, told me, “There’s no Muslim Brotherhood here. The people are Muslims, yes. But the Brotherhood doesn’t have any real plan for them. What we want is freedom, to be able to protest in peace without being fired upon.”
We'll never get away from these insane conspiracy theories, will we? It's one thing, I suppose, that right-wing nutjobs in the U.S. have in common with some folks in the Middle East: they both think the Obama administration favors the Muslim Brotherhood.
The right-wing nutjobs think he favors the Brotherhood because he is Muslim. (Or because he's Obama and he's black and he's all foreign-y and they just don't like him.) The Syrian nutjobs think the Obama administration favors the Muslim Brotherhood—and before him the Bush and Clinton and Bush and Reagan administrations—in order to better foment radical Islam and keep Arab countries backward.
I.e., the very thing the U.S. doesn't want in the Middle East is the very thing some Middle Easterners think the U.S. has plotted for decades to unleash.
I throw up my hands.
Read the article.
Will that lake's name change anytime soon?
Quote of the Day
“It seems to me that a Democratic president who gets us health care reform and tough new financial protection for consumers, who guides the economy through its roughest period in 80 years with moderate success (who could do better?), who ends our long war in Iraq and avenges the worst insult to our sovereignty since Pearl Harbor (as his Republican predecessor manifestly failed to do, despite a lot of noise and promises); a president who faced an opposition of really spectacular intransigence and downright meanness; a president who has the self-knowledge and wisdom about Washington to write the passage quoted above, and the courage to publish it: that president deserves a bit more credit from the left than [Thomas] Frank is willing to give him.”
--Michael Kinsley in his review of “Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right,” by Thomas Frank, which is as critical of Pres. Obama as Frank's previous book, “What's the Matter with Kansas?,” was critical of Kansas.
Conservatives Disrespecting Authority
Jonathan Chait's New York Magazine piece, “When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?” is necessary reading for anyone concerned with the 2012 election--particularly those on the left. I tend to agree with Chait. Obama has disappointed me a few times but he's by far the best president I've had in my lifetime. More power to him. Four more years to him--hopefully, with a Tea Party-less Congress. Hell, if folks on the left spent as much time working to get rid of these bastards as they do bitching about the imperfection of Obama, we might be getting somewhere.
So bravo to Chait. Even so, there's a line in his piece that made me squint my eyes in disagreement.
Conservatives, compared with liberals, have higher levels of respect for and obedience to authority and prefer order over chaos and continuity over change.
Generally and historically true. Yet they've spent the last three years besmirching, demonizing and undermining the ultimate authority figure in the country--the president of the United States--in a way that has never been done before. Democrats may have considered George W. Bush illegitimate because he only became president through a very shaky ruling by a very conservative U.S. Supreme Court; but Republicans and Tea Partiers argue that Pres. Obama's very presence in this country is illegitimate. They say he's not a U.S. citizen, he's not Christian, he's a socialist, he's Hitler. It's ugly stuff.
More importantly, beyond Obama, conservatives have shown massive disrespect for traditional authority figures for a long, long time:
- Judges (“activist”)
- Lawyers (“frivolous”)
- Teachers (“incompetent”)
- Cops (how can they be against armor-piercing bullets?)
It astounds me sometimes. The law-and-order folks that the left disrespected in the 1960s--pillars of the community--now get pilloried daily by Republicans and the usual loudmouths on FOX-News.
Chait's thoughts on conservatives, in this regard, need some correction.
From the Archives: A Review of Muammar Qaddafi's “Escape to Hell and other stories”
In 1999 I reviewed several novels written by politicians, including Newt Gingrich's “1945” and Ed Koch's “Murder on Broadway” for a slightly humorous piece in Washington Law & Politics magazine. One of the other books was Muammar Qaddafi's “Escape to Hell and other stories.” The review is below. Take note, in bold, of the main character in the title story and his fear of the masses, and his obsession with Mussolini's fate...
The first section of Qaddafi's book, “Novels”, is essentially polemic intermingled with parable; the second section, “Essays”, is mostly polemic. Why the division? And why use the word “novels” when these things are, at best, essays?
I suppose ours is not to question the mind of Qaddafi. Yet here I go.
At one point he sounds like a New Age chick: “Truly, the earth is your mother; she gave birth to you from her insides. She is the one who nursed you and fed you. Do not be disobedient to your mother--and do not shear her hair, cut off her limbs, rip her flesh, or wound her body.” In another chapter, he's G. Gordon Liddy, extolling, he says, “the fact that a person's will can overcome death...”
Near the end of the book, he talks up the virtues of “the people” like a good politician should, but earlier, in the titular story, the masses are dreadful, inspiring an almost Kafka-esque paranoia. “People snap at me whenever they see me,” he writes. He chronicles the rise and fall of other leaders: “...the masses dragged Mussolini's corpse through the streets, and spat in Nixon's face as he departed the White House for good, having applauded his entrance years before.”
Spat in his face? When did this happen? And why wasn't I allowed my turn?
Muammar has his moments. He does up western culture pretty well, for example. “Entertainment,” he writes, “takes on the meaning of wasting time and being absorbed; culture becomes superficial, telling and exchanging jokes takes the place of good literary work and criticism.”
Overall, though, Escape to Hell is boring as hell.
Quote of the Day
“To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he'd be on Mount Rushmore by now.”
--Andrew Sullivan, “A Tale of Two Presidents”
Also worth reading: Sullivan's post, “The Untold Story of the Actual Obama Record.”
Why I'm Behind Occupy Wall Street 99%
In 2009 I interviewed Chicago labor lawyer and author Thomas Geoghegan, who, that year, 1) argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (he won); 2) ran for Rahm Emanuel's congressional seat in Chicago (he lost); and 3) wrote a cover story for Atlantic magazine (“Infinite Debt: How unlimited interest rates destroyed the economy”). May we all have such successful and far-ranging years.
At one point in our Q&A, we had the following exchange about the depressed state of labor and the rise of the Tea Party:
Does it surprise you that angry populism seems to exist on the right rather than the left?
I think the left is pretty beaten down in this country. The non-electoral checks that I think a republic needs—and here I’m thinking about labor movements, works councils, co-determination—they just don’t exist here. So you would think, given the unemployment, given the debt, given the poverty in this country, and how wealthy it is, you’d think people would be really angry. In fact, I think they are.
And so they are. And so angry populism is existing, in public, on the left again.
I'm truly grateful for the Occupy Wall Street crowd. I'm behind them 99 percent. My generation, born in the early-to-mid-sixties, and coming of age in the early years of the Reagan administration, dropped the ball completely. We helped create the world as it is. Hopefully these kids will help create the world as it should be. Or closer to that ideal.
It'll get messy. It'll be disorganized. What can I say? It's the left and it's human beings and many will talk over their heads and/or demand what they can't get or what the majority of protesters don't even want. Plus you'll get your anarchists and nutjobs, and the mainstream media will focus on them, as will the right, and they'll try to discredit the movement any way they can. They'll say: It's just spoiled college kids. They'll say: Get a job! Leave the poor Wall Street brokers alone! They'll talk up the individual responsibility of the protesters, as if the lives of others, and the lives of powerful others, have no bearing on our own. As if the Global Financial Meltdown just kinda—oops—happened.
Others will parse, and have parsed, that 99% number. Isn't it more like 90%? Or 75%? They'll shake their heads and think the kids have already blown it. But they don't know a good slogan when they hear one. “Shouldn't it be, We WILL overcome?”
Others will conflate, and have conflated, the Occupy Wall Street crowd with the Tea Party:
Andrew Sullivan keeps doing this. He loves this chart. He thinks it's meaningful. I don't. Look at the point of intersection between the two movements. It says: “Large corporations lobby for government to have more power, and in return the government enacts laws and regulations favorable to corporations.” Question: In this scenario, what is the government doing? It's enacting laws and regulations. Which is its job. The problem isn't what the government is doing; the problem is who the government is listening to (corporations/CEOs/lobbyists) and who it isn't listening to (the 99%). That's what we need to fix. That's why the Occupy Wall Street crowd makes sense and the Tea Party never did.
I admit it: I hated the Tea Party from the get-go. It was the wrong people marching about the wrong things at the wrong time. It was historical movement as farce. If Tea Partiers were truly worried about the national debt, as they said they were, where were they when the national debt doubled from $5 trillion to $10 trillion during the Bush years? Why wait for the first few months of the Obama administration before taking to the streets? And if they were worried about taxes, as they said they were, why protest at all? Aren't taxes at historic lows? And if they were worried about both, well, how to reconcile the two? Lowering taxes raises the debt. You can say you want lower taxes and a lower debt, but, as the saying goes, people in hell want ice water. That kind of wish fulfillment, which has been going on for more than 30 years now, is why we're in this mess in the first place.
Others will conflate the movements in this manner:
Bigger version here.
Andrew Sullivan keeps doing this, too. He thinks this kind of thing is meaningful. I think it's ludicrous. The folks on the right want to cut taxes, or, absurdly, cut them to zero, when surrounded by all the necessities their taxes create. That's hypocrisy. The folks on the left may or may not think corporations are evil (none of their signs indicate that), but even if they did, the fact that they use the products of these corporations (and, again, the “razors by Gillette” indicators are mostly guesses) is not a sign of hypocrisy. It's evidence of just how pervasive corporations are in our lives. As consumers, we can't escape corporations. As employees, we may not be able to, either. So we better make sure they do the right thing. We better make sure that we, as both consumers and employees, are protected from the natural corporate drive to create profit at our expense.
Besides, this isn't what the movement is really about. What's it about? That 99% number is a clue. It's about the growing American oligarchy. It's about how the many have less, the few have most, and the government seems to be listening to the few with most rather than the many, the 99%, with less. Which isn't democracy as we were taught it.
Quote of the Day
“Though I have some respect for 'The Virtue of Selfishness,' her collection of essays ... I don't think there's a need to have essays advocating selfishness among human beings. I don't know what your impression has been, but some things require no further reinforcement.”
--Christopher Hitchens on Ayn Rand, from the Q&A portion of his lecture, “The Moral Necessity of Atheism,” given on February 23, 2004 at Sewanee University
How great is it to be as stupid as Maureen Dowd?
In her latest column, “Eggheads and Blockheads,” Maureen Dowd chastises the Republican party as the “How great is it to be stupid?” party, which it is, by comparing its current front-runner for president, Rick Perry, to ... wait for it ... John Wayne.
So she attempts to trash a man by comparing him to one of the most iconic heroes of American cinema? How great is it to be as stupid as Maureen Dowd?
Dowd uses John Ford's “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” as her prism for the upcoming presidential race. She casts Barack Obama as Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), the thin lawyer from the east who is often bullied by the likes of Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), whom, in a final showdown, he shoots and kills. From this he gains acclaim, becoming an ambassador to England and U.S. Senator. But it's all a lie. Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), from behind a corner store, was the real man who shot Liberty Valance. Stoddard's shot missed high and wide.
What's the connection between Ford's film and our current reality? None. The comparison is facile. The connective tissue is barely there. She merely sees Obama as an egghead (forgetting Stoddard's rage), Perry as a blockhead (forgetting Doniphan's heroism), and the rest of us as the townsfolk caught in the middle (forgetting that most were stereotypical Scandinavians, a favorite Ford trope.)
As she puts it:
So we’re choosing between the overintellectualized professor and blockheads boasting about their vacuity?
What's awful about Dowd is not just her myopic dichotomies, not just her clumsy Hollywood analogies, but the fact that she misses the bigger picture. Because what's fascinating about modern Republicans, who continually trash Hollywood, is how their candidates fit so easily into Hollywood western and action-adventure archetypes. This is intentional. The party that trashes Hollywood is the party that apes Hollywood. Both the GOP and Hollywood create wish-fulfillment fantasies in good vs. evil battles because that's what we, the public, wish to see. Until reality intrudes. Which makes us wish to see it even more.
It's not an insult, in other words, to compare Rick Perry to John Wayne. It is, in fact, the whole point to his awful, awful career.
Idiots, the Bush Administration, and 9/11
At an outdoor dinner party last night, overlooking Puget Sound, the subject got around to freedom vs. safety, and I mentioned how most people would give up the former for an imagined version of the latter (not a very original thought), and that our reaction to 9/11 was indicative of this (another not very original thought). One of the other guests disagreed. We went back and forth in a genial enough manner. He felt we hadn't given up any freedoms post-9/11. Then he talked about how 9/11 was foreseeable to anyone who was paying attention. We had the following exchange:
He: Anyone who didn't see 9/11 coming was an idiot.
Me: Or in the Bush administration.
He: Don't go there.
At this point I was warned away from the conversation by the hostess. I later found out that the guy I'd been talking to was, like the hostess, a Republican and a Bush supporter. If only I'd known. I would've totally gone there.
Conversation of the Day
I've had some good conversations today, long ones, too, but this short, awful conversation stands out. I was leaving Metropolitan Market on Mercer with some red peppers for Patricia, who's recovering nicely from arthroscopic surgery, thank you, when a clean-cut, 20-ish dude, a young man really, waved his hands at me to get my attention. I looked down at his table, on which there was a poster of Pres. Obama with a Hitler moustache and the words “Dump Obama.” He smiled at me. I shook my head at him and kept going. He called after me.
He: Are you ready to end the madness?
And kept going.
Obama, the GOP and Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life”
Early in Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life,” the following existential dichotomy is set up in voiceover narration from the mother (Jessica Chastain):
The nuns taught us there were two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow.
The she explains what she means by each one:
Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.
Nature only wants to please itself. Gets others to please it, too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.
The movie focuses on a young boy in Waco, Texas in the 1950s, Jack (Hunter McCracken), who aspires to the way of grace, like his mother, but who succumbs to the way of nature, like his father (Brad Pitt).
It struck me, as I was writing my review last weekend, around the time of the Ames, Iowa straw poll, that our current political struggles, and the upcoming 2012 election, can be seen through this same prism.
Obama is the way of grace. He's been more insulted than any sitting president, and his response has been to work with those who keep insulting him. People on his side often fault him for that. I'm often one of them.
The GOP, which claims to have God on its side, and which claims a kind of Godlessness for Obama, is the way of nature. It wants to please itself. It's about more for me and less for you (or us). It's about lording it over people. You see this attitude, which can be bullying or swaggering, in Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann and the pundits on FOX-News. There's a killer instinct there. Sometimes this instinct exhibits itself in actual calls for violence.
It is, at the least, a stark contrast. The question remains whether this country sees any value in the way of grace, or if we, like young Jack in the film, and like most of us in our lives, will succumb to the way of nature.
Images from Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life” (2011)
Your Liberal Media at Work
The above screenshot is from The New York Times. Their lede? Perry drowned out a heckler with a Texas college football reference. Now you know who to vote for.
So let's see if we can't get away from the Times front page for a little perspective.
Over at Salon.com, Joan Walsh puts the Texan on the grill:
Perry's Texas leads the nation in minimum-wage jobs, uninsured children, high school dropouts and pollution. He balanced the state's budget with stimulus money he railed against. His record won't back up his bragging.
The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed is hardly enthusiastic:
The questions about Mr. Perry concern how well his Lone Star swagger will sell in the suburbs of Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where the election is likely to be decided. He can sound more Texas than Jerry Jones, George W. Bush and Sam Houston combined, and his muscular religiosity also may not play well at a time when the economy has eclipsed culture as the main voter concern.
Meanwhile, Paul Krugman, the Times Op-Ed columnist, is perhaps sharpest on the matter. How is Perry's Texas doing so well economically? In “The Texas Unmiracle” he gives two reasons: Big Oil and surprisingly strong mortgage regulations--the kind Republicans are usually against. Plus they're not necessarily doing well:
From mid-2008 onward unemployment soared in Texas, just as it did almost everywhere else.
In June 2011, the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. That was less than unemployment in collapsed-bubble states like California and Florida, but it was slightly higher than the unemployment rate in New York, and significantly higher than the rate in Massachusetts. By the way, one in four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation, thanks largely to the state’s small-government approach.
So what about all those jobs Perry claims he added in Texas? The result of population growth more than anything:
Many of the people moving to Texas — retirees in search of warm winters, middle-class Mexicans in search of a safer life — bring purchasing power that leads to greater local employment. At the same time, the rapid growth in the Texas work force keeps wages low — almost 10 percent of Texan workers earn the minimum wage or less, well above the national average — and these low wages give corporations an incentive to move production to the Lone Star State.
So Texas tends, in good years and bad, to have higher job growth than the rest of America. But it needs lots of new jobs just to keep up with its rising population — and as those unemployment comparisons show, recent employment growth has fallen well short of what’s needed.
Quote of the Day
“This Shariah law business is crap. It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies. It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background.”
--Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, responding to questions about the campaign to villify his judicial appointee to the Superior Court in Passaic County, Sohail Mohammed.
I've been on this story for awhile. Six years ago, the publication I work for featured Mohammed in the profile “First Call for Freedom.”
Mohammed, despite the crazies, wound up being confirmed. He's now the second Muslim judge in New Jersey. Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for Bloomberg News, applauds Christie here.
And here's the full Christie. Enjoy:
Lessons in Headline-Making
Here's the headline in today's Seattle Times:
Dissent stalls GOP debt plan
Here's what it should have read:
Dissent among GOP stalls GOP debt plan
Is that partisan? Of course not. It's factual.
Does it matter what the headline reads? Of course it does. Most people, if they even see the headlines, don't get past the headlines. The current headline makes it seem Republicans and Democrats are in disagreement. That's a problem but it's not this problem. Not nearly. Folks glancing at the headline need to know what the real problem is.
The real problem is a GOP problem. They have people in government who don't believe in government, who want to bring down government, who want to shrink it and (their words) kill it in the cradle. It's their final solution after 30 years of Reaganesque anti-government pronouncements. We're already here.
Welcome to the jungle. Welcome to hard times.
Quote of the Day
“In modern American politics, being the right kind of ignorant and entertainingly crazy is like having a big right hand in boxing; you've always got a puncher's chance. And [Michele] Bachmann is exactly the right kind of completely batshit crazy. Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy — crazy in the sense that she's living completely inside her own mind, frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she's built in there, unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies.”
--Matt Taibbi, “Michele Bachmann's Holy War,” in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine
Al Qaeda's New Leader
“In [Ayman al-]Zawahiri's hands, al-Jihad had splintered into angry and homeless gangs. ... His disillusioned followers often reflected on the pronouncement, made during the prison years by the man Zawahiri betrayed, Major Essam al-Qamari, that some vital quality was missing in Zawahiri. Qamari was the one who had told him, 'If you are the member of any group, you cannot be the leader.' that now sounded like a prophecy.”
—from page 246 of Lawrence Wright's much-recommended book, “The Looming Tower,” on one of the low points for Ayman al-Zawahri, the former leader of al-Jihad, and current leader of al-Qaeda. The Christian Science Monitor agrees about his lack of charisma.
This Wright paragraph, by the way, follows a horrific story of Egyptian intelligence drugging and sodomizing the thirteen-year-old son of a senior member of al-Jihad, then blackmailing him to spy on his father, then recruiting another boy, a friend, for the same purpose. When the two boys were discovered, Zawahiri convened a Sharia court, forced the boys to strip to determine if they had attained puberty, and, since they had, and so were officially men, had them convicted of sodomy, treason and attempted murder. “Zawahiri had the boys shot,” Wright writes. “To make sure he got his point across, he videotaped their confessions and their executions, and distributed the tapes as an example to others who might betray the organization.”
Quote of the Day
“You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn't black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing.
”You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don't care what you think. I'm trying to do the right thing.
“I'm tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I'm trying to do the right thing, and that's where I'm going with this.”
--State Sen. Roy McDonald (R-Saratoga), in The New York Daily News, on why he'll vote to legalize gay marriage in New York.
Bumper Stickers Seen Driving From Seattle, Wa. to Bodega, Ca.
WHY IS THERE ALWAYS MONEY FOR WAR BUT NOT FOR EDUCATION?
FOLLOW ME TO DRIVE-THRU FEED
GOD DANCED THE DAY YOU WERE BORN
MY OTHER CAR IS A DRAGON BOAT
LAND OF THE FREE/ BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE
ARNOLD DON'T SURF
Patricia, Dairy Queen, and Hwy 101 during a rare sunny moment on our trip.
Humphrey, at 100, is Still the Man; Nixon Still Goes in the Garbage Can
There's a nice Op-Ed in the New York Times by Rick Perlstein, author of “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America,” on the forgotten liberal, Hubert H. Humphrey, former Mayor of Minneapolis, Senator from the great state of Minnesota, and a man for whom a downtown stadium was named. It's now called Mall of America Field. So it goes.
Humphrey was born 100 years ago today and Perlstein reminds those who need reminding that he helped turn the Democratic Party toward civil rights in a 1948 speech at the Democratic Convention. Humphrey said:
To those who say this civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.
A friend on Facebook also gave us this HHH quote:
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
One of his friends added this comment, which made me smile:
I was at a dinner once when the speaker said, “We can't just throw money at problems.” Unfortunately for him, Hubert was in the audience. He stood up and said, “What, then, is money for, if not to throw at problems?” I miss him.
He was abused by LBJ, but we know that. Is that LBJ's greatest legacy? Not the Vietnam War, not the Great Society, but abusing his vice-president so much that it paved the way for Nixon and dirty tricks.
Not in our household in south Minneapolis, by the way. My father, a fierce Democrat, once recounted in a letter to his father, a Danish immigrant who voted Republican, some ditty my brother and I had picked up in the schoolyard and recited at the dinner table back home:
He's our man!
In the garbage can!
My political awakening. I was 5. And not wrong.
The Humphrey statue outside the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. Life-sized, like the man himself.
Quote of the Day
“This spring, Obama officials often expressed impatience with questions about theory or about the elusive quest for an Obama doctrine. One senior Administration official reminded me what the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said when asked what was likely to set the course of his government: 'Events, dear boy, events.'”
-- from “The Consequentialist: How the Arab Spring remade Obama's foreign policy” by Ryan Lizza in the May 2, 2011 New Yorker. Amusingly, Lizza's last graf begins thus: “Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine.” Oh, Ryan. Read the whole thing here.
Osama + Arnold
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, surveying the books about Osama bin Laden:
As for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, most of these books agree that it was a terrible misstep that played into Bin Laden’s hands, fueling Qaeda recruitment efforts and diverting critical military and intelligence resources away from Afghanistan, which in turn led to the resurgence there of the Taliban. Peter L. Bergen’s new book, “The Longest War,” provides a devastating indictment of the Bush administration on many levels, from its failure to heed warnings about a terrorist threat, to its determination to conduct the war in Afghanistan on the cheap, to its costly, unnecessary and inept occupation of Iraq.
Both “The Longest War” and Lawrence Wright’s “Looming Tower” give readers a visceral sense of what day-to-day life was like in Qaeda training camps. Mr. Wright, noting that Bin Laden was not opposed to the United States because of its culture or ideas but because of its political and military actions in the Islamic world, observes that Qaeda trainees often watched Hollywood thrillers at night ( Arnold Schwarzenegger movies were particular favorites) in an effort to gather tactical tips.
My History of the U-S-A Chant: With a Benediction from Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
I'm not much of a fan of chants. On the left we have this old chestnut: “What do we want? X! When do we want it? NOW!”
On the right there's “USA! USA!”
It didn't used to belong to the right. In the winter of 1980 it belonged to all of us, all of the new hockey fans around the country watching a team of college kids beat the best players in the world, a Soviet machine who had dominated everybody, including U.S. professionals. The Olympics were imbalanced back then, restricted, as they were, to amateurs, to non-professionals, when non-capitalist societies had nothing but. Their players were state-sponsored non-professionals, trained since infancy, drilled daily, while ours were college kids: Mike from Minneapolis and Mark from Madison and Mike again from Wintrop, Mass., and Neal from northern Minnesota. Guys. As in: Hey, why don't you guys get together and play some games?
I'd followed their run through the Winter Games peripherally but was assuming the worst when, flipping channels one Friday night (literally: hand on the knob, kids), I came across a newsbrief informing us that the U.S. hockey team had beaten the Russians. Immediately I flipped back to the Olympics, to the tape-delayed game, just in time to see Mark Johnson (from Madison) slide between two defenders and flip it in the goal with one second left in the first period to tie it, 2-2. Holy crap! We win this? I watched the rest of the game on tenterhooks even though I knew its outcome, then went out into the night pumped beyond belief. It was an odd sensation. I'd grown up in unpatriotic times, when patriotism was the last refuge of squares rather than scoundrels. I'd watched the country fall apart militarily (Vietnam), politically (Watergate), economically (OPEC, stagflation). We had gas lines and hostages. Now we had this. What was this? It felt good. USA! USA!
Four years later the chant was already the province of louts. In the interim “USA Today” had been published, full of its dull news and patriotic charts, and capitalizing on the acronym “USA” as much as possible. Then we heard it all the time during the '84 Summer Games in Los Angeles, which the Soviet bloc, responding to our boycott of the 1980 Summer games in Moscow, boycotted. So we weren't going up against the eastern bloc's professional non-professionals; we were going up against ... Trinidad and Tobago. We weren't underdogs anymore, we were overdogs, beating our chests and reveling in our expected triumphs. Why chant for that? You'd hear it on the campaign trail, too. Ronald Reagan would reference the Olympics and get the chant going. Eventually the chant became his. And theirs. It turned my stomach.
I thought Homer Simpson killed it in 1993. I really did. There was an episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer and Marge, driving to a parent-teacher conference, argue over who gets Lisa's teacher (an easy gig) and who gets Bart's (trouble). Homer, who had Lisa's teacher the previous year, whines and wheedles his way into getting Lisa's teacher again, and when Marge finally capitulates he does this:
Brilliant, I thought. That's that. They'll never be able to use it again.
Wrong. Too many scoundrels in this country. Too many louts. Now we use it to cheer on death rather than college kids.
I don't know if there is a proper response to bin Laden's death. Mine is, as I wrote yesterday, muted. I'm glad he's gone, glad he was killed in the way he was killed, applaud the men who did it; but I assume someone somewhere will take his place.
I suppose the response closest to mine comes, ironically, from the website of David Frum, the right-wing originator of the phrase “Axis of Evil,” written by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, a man of God 11 years my junior, in a piece entitled “Is it Wrong to Feel Joy at Bin Laden's Death?” Rabbi Herzfeld writes:
First there is recognition that even when our enemy falls, this does not signal an end to all our troubles. Just because one enemy or one army or one threat has been removed does not mean we are entirely safe.
Second, we must acknowledge that the destruction of the enemy did not necessarily arise from our own merits. We are perhaps not worthy of the good fortune that we have received and so we do not want to tempt God, as it were, or remind the Angel of Death of our own defects.
At the same time, I can't admonish those who have the impulse to chant “USA! USA!” for the death of the man who perpetrated this. Herzfeld again:
The Talmud tells us that “God does not rejoice with the fall of the wicked.” As the rabbinic teaching goes, as the Children of Israel were crossing the sea and the army of Pharaoh was drowning, God rebuked the angels for showing excessive joy.
The chanters are in good company. It's the impulse even of the angels.
Osama's Death Certificate
In June 1989 I was 26 years old, recently returned from a year in Taiwan, and driving around at night with some friends in an unfamiliar warehouse district north of downtown Minneapolis when the news came on the radio: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran, was dead at the age of 86. We were a fairly liberal group in a very liberal city but a spontaneous cheer went up in that car. Khomeini had been a thorn in our country's side for 10 years, we'd been hearing about him for 10 years, and it was nice to know we wouldn't be hearing about him much anymore. A minute later we sobered up. It felt classless, cheering for death.
Last night Patricia and I had some friends over for Sunday Movie Night. We used to do this fairly often but got off course this winter; but some of our members, who've been through hellacious springs, needed it again, so we gathered in our living room for homemade pasta and wine and salad, to watch Martin Scorsese's “Goodfellas.” Afterwards, before going to bed, I checked my email and received one from Ward, the man who made the homemade pasta:
FW: BREAKING NEWS: An AP source says Osama bin Laden is dead
See what we miss watching movies?
I immediately went to the New York Times site for confirmation, then Andrew Sullivan to read his thoughts, then Salon to read their headlines (which were already aftermath headlines; “And now what?” headlines). I looked up Abbottabad on Google maps. Finally I went to Facebook. “Oh right, Facebook,” I thought. I scrolled backwards to see who posted the news first. It was a friend from Delaware who referenced, obliquely, how happy Wolfie B. had made her with “those five words.” Two people had already posted this photo, which made me smile, since it encapsulated the seriousness of one side of our political debate versus the decided lack of seriousness on the other:
Someone wrote “The world feels better tonight.” Another: “I wish I had some fireworks to set off,” to which her friend, our mutual friend, replied, “I just heard one go off in my neighborhood.” People were gathering at the White House, and in Times Square, to cheer. A local journalist admonished his readers: “I hope people (esp. liberals) don't overthink this. Bin Laden dead is a good thing.” A movie critic wrote, “If you're in Times Square in a Navy uniform tonight and don't kiss a nurse, you have no sense of history. And no game.”
There were also the usual status updates about weekend trips, Sunday concerts, and funny things the child said.
Despite the wine, I stayed sober. I didn't disagree with the local journalist—“Bin Laden dead is a good thing”—I just knew the world wasn't much of a changed thing. Bin Laden has been a thorn in our country's side for 10 years, and it was nice to know he was gone, but there will be others, because there are always others. I simply hope he was the worst of it. In this way, and perhaps only this way, Osama bin Laden and I were in accord. He wished to be the western world's greatest enemy for the 21st century, and I sincerely hope, when the century's history is written, he's gotten that wish.
- Today's front pages via Newseum
- David Remnick on Obama vs. Osama
- Also from the New Yorker: What did Pakistan know and when did they know it?
- Via NPR: The Pakistani who tweeted the news without realizing it
- David Weigel on the gathering outside the White House
- ABC News footage of the bin Laden compound
- One more time: Andrew Sullivan liveblogs the news of the death of Osama bin Laden
Thomas Geoghegan: Future Supreme Court Nominee?
“Memo to President Obama: How about appointing [labor lawyer Thomas] Geoghegan (whom you surely know, or know of, from his quiet heroics on behalf of working folk in Chicago) to the federal bench, preferably the Supreme Court? He’s eminently qualified. He writes prose that can be read for pleasure. He thinks clearly and creatively. He even ran for dogcatcher once. Admittedly, he’s not one of your chronically cautious “centrists,” but isn’t it about time the Court had a serious (and funny) counterweight to the charmless right-wing dittoheads who now dominate it and who are so politically and morally insensible that they cannot distinguish between a Fortune 500 corporation and a human being?”
--Hendrik Hertzberg in “Mr. Justice Geoghegan, Dissenting,” on The New Yorker Web site.
I'm not smart enough to say who does or doesn't belong on the USSC, but I interviewed Mr. Geoghegan for Illinois Super Lawyers a few years back—about running for U.S. Congress, about why the left seems so beaten down in this country, about why productivity goes up and real wages don't—and he's impressive. Put it this way: I'd certainly like to hear his voice, his point of view, more often in national discussions than, as Hertzberg says above, the usual charmless dittoheads. I asked him, for example, what stayed with him about his campaign for Rahm Emanuel's seat and he said: “I met a lot of elderly people living alone who don’t have enough to live on.” Please send that sentence to Paul Ryan and John Boehner, symptomatic of the unsympathetic right.
Quote of the Day
“With this budget deal, America's brief flirtation with milquetoast progressivism comes to an end.”
Quote of the Day
“I'm not saying that our debt problem isn't serious and that adjustments to entitlements shouldn't be part of of the solution. But the hard question that Paul Ryan's hucksterism avoids is this: what is government's role in caring for its most vulnerable citizens?”
Quote of the Day
“If it had been my call, I wouldn't have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I'd literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he's smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust him, and I still do.
”For now, anyway. But I wouldn't have intervened in Libya and he did. I sure hope his judgment really does turn out to have been better than mine.“
—Kevin Drum, ”Obama, Libya and Me," in Mother Jones
Quote of the Day
“Well, now there are two Minnesotans in the 2012 race, despite the fact that the Constitution strictly states that no Minnesotan will ever reach office higher than vice president. Michele Bachmann, three-term congresswoman with no accomplishments beyond an ability to enrage Chris Matthews, will form an exploratory committee, according to CNN.”
--Alex Pareene, “Michele Bachmann is running for president now, sigh,” on Salon.com
Plus Ca Change...
I was reminded of the JFK “Wanted for Treason” poster, popular in Texas in the early 1960s, while watching the documentary “Oswald's Ghost” the other night, then easily found the Obama poster, one of the milder anti-Obama propaganda pieces out there, via Google. I've said it before: In 50 years, the extreme right in this country has managed to change exactly one letter. They've gone from Birchers to Birthers.
The content of the above posters may be the same but the form of each bears scrutiny. In the early '60s, it was enough to convict Pres. Kennedy through a modern, FBI prism. Maybe the extreme right now views the FBI, a government organization, as equally suspect, so they have to delve even deeper into American history and mythology to make their case. They need to see themselves as cowboys, not knowing the derivation of cowboys. They're forced to rely on Hollywood mythmaking, even as they despise Hollywood. They think they're protecting America when they represent the worst of America.
Movie Review: “Oswald's Ghost” (2007)
WARNING: MAGIC SPOILERS
Norman Mailer gives us the title. “Oswald is the ghost that lays over American life,” he says, with his usual twinkle, near the end of this well-made documentary. “What is abominable and maddening about ghosts is you never know the answer. Is it this or is it that? You can’t know because the ghost isn’t telling you.”
Yet “Oswald’s Ghost” tells us plenty—because it’s less conspiracy theory, or conspiracy debunker, than conspiracy history. It takes us chronologically, and cleanly, through events, and delves into why we began to believe there was a cover-up, and what it means that we now believe there was a cover-up, and how we now act as a result. It sees the Kennedy assassination as the great dividing point of the American century, the break from which we never recovered. John F. Kennedy began his administration with the pro-government rhetoric of his inaugural—“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”—and yet the mystery surrounding his assassination, along with the lies of Vietnam and Watergate, set the stage for the anti-government rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and all of his acolytes, from which we still haven’t recovered.
Is there a story of the last 50 years that’s been told more often than the Kennedy assassination? Yet filmmaker Robert Stone, working for PBS and “The American Experience,” finds footage, and photos, I’ve never seen before. Here’s Oswald in the Dallas police station professing his innocence so matter-of-factly that I began to believe him:
Oswald (in glare of TV lights): I'd like some legal representation, but these police officers have not allowed me to have any. I don't know what this is all about.
Reporter: Did you kill the president?
Oswald: No, sir, I didn't. People keep asking me that. ... They are taking me in because of the fact that I lived in the Soviet Union. I'm just a patsy.
One suddenly wonders: Hey, how did they trace him to the murder of Officer Tippit? How did they find him in that Dallas movie theater? How did they make him the focal point of the worst American murder of the 20th century?
Newsman: Was this the man that you believed killed President Kennedy?
Dallas police: I think we have the right man.
Dan Rather: Confusion reigned inside the Dallas police station.
Abraham Zapruder didn’t help. Instead of showing his film to the American people, he hired a lawyer and sold the rights to Life magazine, which printed individual frames. The film itself wouldn’t be shown on television until 1975.
Oswald’s mother didn’t help. She said her son was being framed, which one expects, but she also said her son was a government agent, which raised spectres.
Jack Ruby certainly didn’t help.
Did Mark Lane? The New York lawyer became the first man to openly question whether Oswald acted alone, in a December 1963 article in The National Guardian entitled “Lane’s defense brief for Oswald.”
Did the Warren Commission? Shouldn’t its hearings have been public? Shouldn’t we have taken our time with the matter instead of rushing out a verdict before the 1964 elections?
Yet, at the time, most Americans accepted the lone-gunman theory. That would quickly change as conspiracy books began appearing, then proliferating, two and three years later: First Lane’s “Rush to Judgment,” then Edward Jay Epstein’s “Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth.” Then it was off to the races.
Initially outsiders were blamed. It was Castro or the KGB. It was the South Vietnamese government, responding to the Diem assassination. Eventually we began blaming ourselves. It was some rogue CIA element. It was some right-wing element that wanted to stay in Vietnam just as JFK was getting ready to pull us out. “And like all those theories,” Mailer says, “it had a certainly plausibility and a depressing lack of proof.”
That didn’t stop New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison, wild-eyed and bug-eyed, and the worst of the conpiratorialists, who went after Clay Shaw, a prominent, closeted businessman. Stone (Robert, not Oliver) includes a fascinating 1967 news report critical of Garrison:
Garrison’s investigation has seemed to concentrate on homosexuals. That of course is an old police trick, and homosexuals have been a particular target of Garrison’s over the years. Even members of his staff have been privately critical of his emphasis on men whose deviation makes them vulnerable.
1968 didn’t help. Both MLK and RFK were assassinated by “lone gunmen.” Both were progressives. How could it not be conspiracy? (But did it have to lead to the inaninities of “The Parallax View”?)
Post-Watergate, the Church Committee detailed all of those early 1960s CIA assassinations of foreign leaders. Was Malcolm X more right than he knew? Was the JFK assassination a case of the chickens coming home to roost?
It’s the Ruby factor that’s always bugged me. He had mob ties. He was a strip-club owner. Yet he killed Oswald, effectively silencing him, out of respect for Jackie? Out of sudden anger? Tie that with the difficulty of Oswald's shot, of squeezing three bullets out of the 6.5 mm Carcano rifle in the time allotted, and of the whole back-and-to-the-left thing, with that final shot, the kill shot, looking, in the Zapruder film, like it’s blasting him from the front, well, you know, maybe there was something to it.
It's Jack Ruby's dog who pushes us back from the brink. Oswald was scheduled to be moved at 10:00 a.m. that Sunday morning. Here’s Hugh Aynesworth, a Dallas reporter:
Ruby slept 'til probably 9:30 or 9:20 something of that sort, and then he drives with his dog down to the Western Union and sent a telegram at 11:17 that morning. Came out and he looked one block up and he saw the crowd there at the police department. Jack Ruby was always on the scene of action, whether it be a fire, whether it be a raid, whether it be a parade, whatever. He had to be there. And he knew some of those cops. The fact that he left the dog in the car indicates to me that he thought he was going down to send a telegram and go back home. He took that little dog everywhere with him.
Few have assumed conspiracy longer and more vocally than Norman Mailer—yet even he comes around. “The internal evidence just wasn't there,” he says. “There were too many odd moments that just didn't add up.” Instead he focuses on Oswald’s mindset:
I think what Oswald saw was that if he committed the crime, if he assassinated Kennedy and he got away with it, then he would have an inner power that no one could ever come near. And, if he was caught, well then, he was quite articulate, he would have one of the greatest trials in America's history, if not the greatest, and he would explain all of his political ideas. He would become world famous and might have an immense effect upon history ...
When he shot Tippit, I think at that point he knew he was doomed because he could no longer make the great speech. If you shoot a policeman forget it, you're a punk. And so after he was caught he did nothing but protest his innocence and say, “I'm a patsy.”
“If you shoot a policeman, forget it, you're a punk.”
“This is not a whodunnit,” says Stone (Robert, not Oliver) in a DVD special features interview. “This is what a whodunnit has done to us.” He adds: “Conspiracy theory is part of the human condition; and it always will be.” Think of the doc as one Stone to correct another.
Is conspiracy the new American religion? The notion that we exist as small nothings for a short span of time in a cosmic eternity is unbearable, and thus we construct meaning out of it. The notion that this small nothing brought down the most powerful, glamorous man in the world is unbearable, and thus we construct meaning out of it. It was our enemies—foreign or domestic. It was the left or right. It was anything—please, God, let it be anything—other than little Lee Harvey Oswald.
“[George] Washington was a very good President, and an unhappy one. Distraught by growing factionalism within and outside his Administration, especially by the squabbling of Hamilton and Jefferson and the rise of a Jeffersonian opposition, he served another term only reluctantly. His second Inaugural Address was just a hundred and thirty-five words long; he said, more or less, Please, I’m doing my best. In 1796, in his enduringly eloquent Farewell Address (written by Madison and Hamilton), he cautioned the American people about party rancor: 'The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.' And then he went back to Mount Vernon. He freed his slaves in his will, possibly hoping that this, too, would set a precedent. It did not.”
--Jill Lepore in her article, “His Highness: George Washington scales new heights” in The New Yorker. Much recommended.
The Non-Partisan President
I first heard Barack Obama speak in April 2006 at the annual Democratic Farm Labor Party convention in downtown Minneapolis. At the time I was working for Minnesota Law & Politics, which was part of Key Pro Media, which was owned by Vance Opperman, and since Opperman was a major donor to the DFL we had a pretty good table for the show. An embarrassingly good table. During appetizers, I looked around and saw famous faces. Hey, there's Mayor Ryback. Behind me. Hey, there's Walter Mondale. Behind me. Apologies, Mr. Vice-President. Hope I'm not obscuring your view.
The speech Sen. Obama gave that night was the speech he gave often in 2006, and which became the prologue to his second book, “The Audacity of Hope.” Here's a sample:
You don't need a poll to know that the vast majority of Americans—Republican, Democrat, and independent—are weary of the dead zone that politics has become, in which narrow interests vie for advantage and ideological minorities seek to impose their own versions of absolute truth. Whether we're from red states or blue states, we feel in our gut the lack of honesty, rigor and common sense in our policy debates, and dislike what appears to be a contentious menu of false or cramped choices.
The guy was talking my language. He was articulating the great unsaid in American politics. He was offering a third way.
Now to the present. I have some friends on the left who are outraged, outraged by the tax deal cut earlier this month, which basically boils down to: We'll extend the Bush tax cuts even for the richest 2% and you give us extended unemployment benefits. They see it as a gigantic betrayal. They fill their status updates on Facebook with invective.
Now I'm someone who thinks the wealthiest people in this country should be be taxed at a 50% rate (as they were for most of the Reagan years), or maybe at a 70% rate (as in the '70s). Tea Partiers seem to idolize the stability of the 1950s ... when the tax rate for the richest people in the country was more than 90%. I wouldn't go that far but wouldn't mind scaring some people with it.
Even so, I don't see the deal as a great betrayal. The opposite. I know this is who Pres. Obama is. I know this is the reason he appealed to me in the first place. But I am amused as the cries of the left recede and the cries of the right crescendo. I'm with Andrew Sullivan here:
I think of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman as brilliant men, but profoundly resistant to the core rationale of the Obama presidency (and the underlying dynamic of its accumulating success). That rationale is an attempt to move past the paradigms of the boomer years to a pragmatic, liberal reformism that takes America as it is, while trying to make it more of what it can be. Now, there's little doubt that in contrast to recent decades, Obama has nudged the direction leftward - re-regulating Wall Street after the catastrophe, setting up universal health insurance through the private sector, recalibrating America's role in the world from preachy bully to hegemonic facilitator. But throughout he has tried, as his partisan critics have complained, not to be a partisan president, to recall, as he put it in that recent press conference, that this is a diverse country, that is is time we had a president who does not repel or disparage or ignore those who voted against him or those who have grown to despise him. ... He really is trying to be what he promised: president of the red states as well as the blue states. And a president who gets shit done.
The results after two years: universal health insurance, the rescue of Detroit, the avoidance of a Second Great Depression, big gains in private sector growth and productivity, three stimulus packages (if you count QE2), big public investments in transport and green infrastructure, the near-complete isolation of Iran, the very public exposure of Israeli intransigence and extremism, a reset with Russia (plus a new START), big drops in illegal immigration and major gains in enforcement, a South Korea free trade pact, the end of torture, and a debt commission that has put fiscal reform squarely back on the national agenda. Oh, and of yesterday, the signature civil rights achievement of ending the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers.
In some ways, and despite his famous press conference, I think the least surprised person by all the anguish and disappointment on the left is Pres. Obama himself, since, in “The Audacity of Hope,” he anticipated it:
Undoubtedly, some of these views will get me in trouble. I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them.
How's that hopey-changey thing working out for us? Slow and steady.
Packer on W.
In the latest issue of The New Yorker, George Packer, who spent all that time in Iraq thanks to George W. Bush, goes over W.'s memoir and comes up with a telling but not surprising question: Why does a book called “Decision Points” tell us so little about how the author's decisions were made? But of course this tells us almost everything we need to know about George W. Bush (but knew already).
Some excerpts from Packer's review:
- There are hardly any decision points at all. The path to each decision is so short and irresistible, more like an electric pulse than like a weighing of options, that the reader is hard-pressed to explain what happened. Suddenly, it’s over, and there’s no looking back.
- Here is another feature of the non-decision: once his own belief became known to him, Bush immediately caricatured opposing views and impugned the motives of those who held them.
- For Bush, making decisions is an identity question: Who am I? The answer turns Presidential decisions into foregone conclusions: I am someone who believes in the dignity of life, I am the protector of the American people, I am a loyal boss, I am a good man who cares about other people, I am the calcium in the backbone. This sense of conviction made Bush a better candidate than the two Democrats he was fortunate to have as opponents in his Presidential campaigns. But real decisions, which demand the weighing of compelling contrary arguments and often present a choice between bad options, were psychologically intolerable to the Decider. They confused the identity question.
- For him, the [Iraq] war remains “eternally right,” a success with unfortunate footnotes. His decisions, he still believes, made America safer, gave Iraqis hope, and changed the future of the Middle East for the better. Of these three claims, only one is true—the second—and it’s a truth steeped in tragedy.
Then there's this devastating close:
- Bush ends “Decision Points” with the sanguine thought that history’s verdict on his Presidency will come only after his death. During his years in office, two wars turned into needless disasters, and the freedom agenda created such deep cynicism around the world that the word itself was spoiled. In America, the gap between the rich few and the vast majority widened dramatically, contributing to a historic financial crisis and an ongoing recession; the poisoning of the atmosphere continued unabated; and the Constitution had less and less say over the exercise of executive power. Whatever the judgments of historians, these will remain foregone conclusions.
FOX News: Accusing Others of Its Own Crimes
What must it be like to be Roger Ailes? To conduct the national discussion as if it were a symphony? To get people to talk about what you want them to talk about. To get them to question what you want them to question (Pres. Obama, NPR, ACORN, “the ground-zero mosque,” Woodrow Wilson) and get them to accept what you want them to accept (Pres. Bush, WMD, Sarah Palin, the Bush tax cuts).
That’s a lot of power.
But apparently the FOX-News channel isn't enough of a bully pulpit for him. So he spouted off yesterday to The Daily Beast about NPR, saying the following:
“They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view.”
He’s since apologized. “Apologized.” He apologized to the Anti-Defamation League, with whom he now has a bit of a relationship, ever since one of his more popular stars, Glenn Beck, earlier this month, spun George Soros' attempts to pass as a gentile in Nazi-occupied Europe as if they were Nazi war crimes. But he didn't apologize to NPR. In fact, he continued to attack NPR in his apology:
“I’m writing this just to let you know some background but also to apologize for using ‘Nazi’ when in my now considered opinion, ‘nasty, inflexible bigot’ would have worked better.“
Ailes is a fascinating man. If he weren't upending democracy and ruining this country, he might be amusing.
Look again at what he says about NPR:
These guys don’t want any other point of view.
Or in the apology:
Nasty, inflexibile bigot.
Who does this remind you of?
There’s a documentary out now called “A Film Unfinished,” which is one of the best movies of the year. Is it playing somewhere near you? Can you stream it? PPV it? Do so.
The background: At the end of World War II, a 60-minute, silent documentary was found in the German archives on Jewish life in the Warsaw ghetto in the months before the ghetto was liquidated and its inhabitants shipped off to the extermination camps of Treblinka. The question arise: Why document what you're about to destroy? And why stage scenes of better-off Jews going about their day? A woman puts on lipstick in her vanity mirror, another buys goods at the butcher, couples dine out. Initially one thinks the Nazis are showcasing comfortable people to refute claims of horrible conditions. Except they also showcase the horrible conditions. We see emaciated people with shaved heads. We see children in rags. We see a corpse every 100 meters. The Nazis filmed it all. Why?
The answer is juxtaposition. Here’s take 1, take 2, take 3 of a well-off woman buying meat at the butcher while children in rags starve outside. Here’s take 1, take 2, take 3 of sated couples leaving a restaurant and ignoring the emaciated woman in rags begging for a handout. This juxtaposition is justification. The Nazis are attempting to showcase a race of people so indifferent to the suffering of others that they didn’t deserve to live. They are documenting an excuse for extermination.
Once one realizes this one finally understands the true meaning of propaganda. It is the powerful blaming the powerless for the crimes of the powerful. The Nazis herded 600,000 Jews into a single zone of Warsaw. They gave them no way to live. They let them starve. They let them die by the hundreds of thousands. Then they staged scenes of Jewish indifference to the suffering of others.
There is, of course, no modern equivalent of the Nazis. But there is modern propaganda. There is even modern propaganda is this most virulent form: the powerful blaming the powerless for the crimes of the powerful.
Example: class warfare.
You hear that phrase all the time on FOX. It may be the only place you hear it. And you hear it lately for the following reason: the Bush tax cuts are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2011. Pres. Obama wants to preserve the middle-class portion of the tax cut and allow the tax cut for the wealthiest one percent to expire. The tax rate for the wealthiest Americans will zoom from 35% all the way up to 39%. On FOX-News, this is considered class warfare. Here's an example of that language. Here's another. OK, here's a bunch of them.
But who's really conducting class warfare? I would argue it's the rich, the powerful, who are accusing the poor and middle class, or the powerless, of what the rich are in fact doing. Because the rich can't deal with a 39-percent tax rate.
Question: What was the top tax rate during most of the Reagan years? 50 percent.
Question: What was the top tax rate during the Eisenhower years? 91 percent.
It's all here.
So the question shouldn't be: ”Should we roll back the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans to a 39-percent rate?“ The question should be: ”Should we tax the richest Americans at a 50 percent rate?"
The right, and FOX-News, keep doing this. It's not always powerful/powerless—Pres. Obama isn't powerless, for example, and the Democratic party shouldn't be powerless—but FOX's attacks almost always have that vibe. It's FOX-News accusing others of its own crimes.
These guys don’t want any other point of view.
Here he is on Jon Stewart:
“He loves polarization. He depends on it. If liberals and conservatives are all getting along, how good would that show be? It’d be a bomb.”
He's describing himself and his own network. Again and again and again.
Pay attention. That's all. Just pay fucking attention.
Hertzberg on the Midterms
Hendrik Hertzberg's column in the latest New Yorker, about the midterms, is a must-read.
He alludes to why the Republicans should be angry with, rather than beholden to, the Tea Party:
The Democrats retained their Senate majority, now much reduced, only by the grace of the Tea Party, which, in Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada, saddled Republicans with nominees so weighted with extremism and general bizarreness that they sank beneath the wave so many others rode.
In 2008, when 130 million people cast votes in the Presidential election, 120 million took the trouble to vote for a representative in Congress. In 2010, 75 million did so—45 million fewer, a huge drop-off. The members of this year’s truncated electorate were also whiter, markedly older, and more habitually Republican: if the franchise had been limited to them two years ago, last week’s exit polls suggest, John McCain would be President today.
He comes up with a better metaphor (big surprise) than the Dems' “they drove it in the ditch/we're pushing it out”:
By the time the flames [from the economic firestorm] reached their height, the arsonists had slunk off, and only the firemen were left for people to take out their ire on.
Best, there's this graf, on the “cognitive dissonance” of the election—or, in layman's terms, the reason why it was so fucking annoying:
Frightened by joblessness, “the American people” rewarded the party that not only opposed the stimulus but also blocked the extension of unemployment benefits. Alarmed by a ballooning national debt, they rewarded the party that not only transformed budget surpluses into budget deficits but also proposes to inflate the debt by hundreds of billions with a permanent tax cut for the least needy two per cent. Frustrated by what they see as inaction, they rewarded the party that not only fought every effort to mitigate the crisis but also forced the watering down of whatever it couldn’t block.
But the scariest graf is the penultimate graf, on the problems the Dems had this election: proving a negative (things woulda been worse without the stimulus), delayed gratification (the health-care bill doesn't fully enact until 2014), good-for-the-goose, not-for-the-gander logic (citizens tighten belts while government goes on a spree). Then he gets into what he calls “public ignorance”:
An illuminating Bloomberg poll, taken the week before the election, found that some two-thirds of likely voters believed that, under Obama and the Democrats, middle-class taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program are gone, never to be recovered. One might add to that list the public’s apparent conviction that illegal immigration is skyrocketing and that the health-care law will drive the deficit higher. Reality tells a different story.
He goes on to show that each of these things is not true, and, in the final graf, blames the Dems for not beating their chests enough. I agree, but also fault Hertzberg (and everyone) for not stating what this “public ignorance” truly is: the triumph of FOX-News, the Koch brothers, and a propaganda machine that went into 24/7 mode as soon as Barack Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, telling us it was time to “get to work.” The propagandists listened. They cared not a lick for the act of governing; they weren't interested in sorting through proposals to see which were the best means of extracting us from the mess we were in; they were only interested in confusing the issues and demonizing opponents—often by accusing those opponents of the very things that the propagandists themselves were guilty of.
We need to call this what it is: propaganda. You don't need totalitarian control of the government, or the media, to effectively propagandize. You just need money, and a forum, and a message that appeals to our worst instincts.
The American people have been effectively propagandized. It can happen here. It has.
Why The Tea Party Hates George Washington
Here's the long view, courtesy of Joseph J. Ellis' Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Founding Brothers,” published in 2000:
There are two long-established ways to tell the story [of the founding of the republic in 1787]...
Mercy Otis Warren's History of the American Revolution (1805) defined the “pure republicanism” interpretation, which was also the version embraced by the Republican party and therefore later called “the Jeffersonian interpretation.” It depicts the American Revolution as a liberation movement, a clean break not just from English domination but also from the historic corruptions of European monarchy and aristocracy. The ascendance of the Federalists to power in the 1790s thus becomes a hostile takeover of the Revolution by corrupt courtiers and moneymen (Hamilton is the chief culprit), which is eventually defeated and the true spirit of the Revolution recovered by the triumph of the Republicans in the elections of 1800. The core revolutionary principle according to this interpretive tradition is individual liberty. It has radical and, in modern terms, libertarian implications, because it regards any accommodation of personal freedom to governmental discipline as dangerous. In its more extreme forms it is a recipe for anarchy, and its attitude toward any energetic expression of centralized political power can assume paranoid proportions.
The alternative interpretation was first given its fullest articulation by John Marshall in his massive five-volume The Life of George Washington (1804-18O7). It sees the American Revolution as an incipient national movement with deep, if latent, origins in the colonial era. The constitutional settlement of 1787-1788 thus becomes the natural fulfillment of the Revolution and the leaders of the Federalist party in the 1790s—Adams, Hamilton, and, most significantly, Washington—as the true heirs of the revolutionary legacy. (Jefferson is the chief culprit.) The core revolutionary principle in this view is collectivistic rather than individualistic, for it sees the true spirit of '76 as the virtuous surrender of personal, state, and sectional interests to the larger purpose: of American nationhood, first embodied in the Continental Army and later in the newly established federal government. It has conservative but also protosocialistic implications, because it does not regard the individual as the sovereign unit in the political equation and is more comfortable with governmental discipline as a focusing and channeling device for national development. In its more extreme forms it relegates personal rights and liberties to the higher authority of the state, which is “us” and not “them,” and it therefore has both communal and despotic implications.
It is truly humbling, perhaps even dispiriting, to realize that the historical debate over the revolutionary era and the early republic merely recapitulates the ideological debate conducted at the time, that historians have essentially been fighting the same battles, over and over again, that the members of the revolutionary generation fought originally among themselves.
When looked at through this prism, we get a sense of how fucked-up the current generation is.
The Jeffersonians in this equation are obviously the tea partiers, who are in the midst of an extreme, and paranoid, period. They view Pres. Obama, for example, who talks the language of cooperation, as a despot.
But the original Jeffersonians fought moneyed interests while the current Jeffersonians, the tea partiers, are bankrolled by those interests: The Koch brothers, the Citizens United decision, etc.
Moreover, if, in the 1790s, the debate was individual liberties (Jefferson) vs. American nationhood (Washington), the rhetoric on the right now equates individual liberties with American nationhood. At the least, the current Washingtonians, the Democrats, don't use the rhetoric of “America” as well as the current Jeffersonians, the Republicans. They haven't for some time.
Thus we have imbalance. The rhetoric and the money have gone over to the Republican side. It's a wonder the Democrats ever win at all. Or to quote a cinematic version of FDR:
“I often think of something Woodrow Wilson said to me. 'It is only once in a generation that people can be lifted above material things. That is why conservative government is in the saddle for two-thirds of the time.'”
Bush Offers Mea Culpa
- WTF has Pres. Obama done so far? Click here.
- My favorite sign from the Jon Stewart rally: “I support reasonable conclusions based on supported facts.”
- St. Louis Park's own Tommy Friedman, that old Iraq War supporter, worries about a know-nothing future.
- Bob Herbert on what has happened to the middle class? Not in the last two years, kids. In the last 30.
- Nate Silver, the 538 guy, predicts a divided Congress...but it could all go Republican.
- A practical definition of propaganda could be: “accusing others of your own crimes.” For more than a year the right has called the left “Fascists.” But I don't remember anyone on the left literally stomping heads.
- Imagine any Republican, any, being as articulate and open as Pres. Obama is with this “It gets better” message.
- No link here, but yesterday I kept seeing banner ads from “Freedom Club State PAC of Minnesota,” who apparently don't know I haven't lived there in three years, urging me to vote against Mark Dayton, and trotting out their favorite Republican candidate: Ronald Reagan. Love the new ideas they have. Love their new candidates.
- And who is the Freedom Club State PAC of Minnesota? White suburban businessmen. The kind who give “white,” “suburban” and “businessmen” bad names.
- Two years ago on election day, Michael Sokolove visited his hometown of Levittown, Penn., and found people both anxious for change and patient. Here's one former Vietnam Vet: “How long did it take Bush to get us into this mess? It’s a lot easier to screw things up than to make them better.” A shame this isn't the voice we're hearing these days.
- Again no link, just a promise. No depression. Tomorrow I'll either be relieved or ... really pissed off.
- Vote. Democrat.
Jon Stewart's Funny, But...
I finally saw the interview with Pres. Obama on “The Daily Show” the other night and thought the president continued to do what I want him to do. He explained, articulately, about the slow business of governing. I was happy at the end. I thought he came off well.
I should say “read,” in quotes, because I can only get so far into these things. Their assumptions are not my assumptions. Neither is Jon Stewart's, for that matter. He's had a lot of fun these past two years juxatposing the high rhetoric of politicking with the slow process of governing, but in doing so he comes off as a spoiled shit. He wants it, and he wants it his way, now. I'm a little tired of that attitude. Which increasingly seems to be the American attitude.
“The Daily Show” has it both ways. When the Obama administration plays politics, Stewart calls them on it—as he should. But when they don't play politics, when they tell uncomfortable truths, Stewart calls them on that, too. (E.g., “Dude, that's not the way you play the game.”) So “The Daily Show” wins either way. No matter what the Obama administration does, Stewart can make comedy out of it.
Listen to Milbank on the appearance:
Stewart, who struggled to suppress a laugh as Obama defended [Larry] Summers, turned out to be an able inquisitor on behalf of aggrieved liberals. He spoke for the millions who had been led to believe that Obama was some sort of a messianic figure. Obama has only himself to blame for their letdown. By raising expectations impossibly high, playing the transformational figure to Hillary Clinton's status-quo drone, he gave his followers an unrealistic hope.
A messianic figure? Who are these people? It's not me. Is it Milbank? Is it Stewart?
Again: Obama is doing what I want him to do. And he's doing it in the face of the strongest internal propaganda campaign a sitting president has had to endure (from the right), and dopey liberals, or at least the perception of dopey liberals, who wonder why he hasn't made all the bad things go away (from the left).
Here's more from the Post:
President Barack Obama barely cracked any jokes during an appearance Wednesday on “The Daily Show” despite host Jon Stewart's attempts to draw out the president's humorous side.
Is that criticism?
Look, I'm happy that Stewart is holding his rally to restore sanity and/or madness today. I think we need it. I think too many people are buying into too much right-wing propaganda. Plus, who doesn't need a laugh?
I'm just tired of Obama being criticized for being the only adult in the room at a time when we desperately need adults in the room. Not spoiled shits.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the “Just a Bunch of Guys” Theory of Al Qaeda
I've said it before: If you're going to pay for any magazine in this freebie-content world, particularly a general interest magazine, get The New Yorker. Their Sept. 13th issue is a case in point. Writer Terry McDermott give us a startlingly good, startlingly detailed profile of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the so-called mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, and the cause of much fear, in the U.S. press if not in the U.S., because of talk he would get his day in court in New York City. If McDermott's article isn't part of the conversation yet it's because it's not online, or it's only online in an abstract, which means it can't be copied and then disposed of. It also means you have to go get the magazine your own damn self.
The takeaway: We tend to think our enemies as united but they're not, any more than a Bush administration of Dick Cheney and Colin Powell was united, any more than the United States of America is united. We tend to think of Al Qaeda as an international terrorist organization when it may just be “a bunch of guys.” This, too: After nine years, we still don't know who our enemies are.
Insofar as we know Mohammed, we see him as a brilliant behind-the-scenes tactician and a resolute idealogue. As it turns out, he is earthy, slick in a way, but naive, and seemingly motivated as much by pathology as ideology. [Al Jazeera reporter Yosri] Fouda describes Mohammed's Arabic as crude and colloquial and his knowledge of Islamic texts as almost nonexistent. A journalist who observed Mohammed's apparearance at one of the Guantanamo hearings likened his voluble performance to that of a Pakistani Jackie Mason. A college classmate said that he was an eager participant in impromptu skits and plays. A man who knew him from a mosque in Doha talked about his quick wit and chatty, glad-handing style. He was an operator...
Mohammed's parents moved to Kuwait from Pakistan in the 1950s....[where he] was born on April 14, 1965... He and his nephews attended Fahaheel Secondary School... [He] was a superior student... He was also rebellious; he told interrogators that he and his nephew Abdul Basit Abdul Karim (later internationally known as Ramzi Yousef, the man behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center) once tore down the Kuwaiti flag from atop their schoolhouse...
In January 1984, Mohammed, travelling on a Pakistani passport, arrived in tiny, remote Murfreesboro, North Carolina, to attend Chowan College, a two-year school that was advertised abroad by Baptist missionaries... Arab students who were there at the time said they were the butt of jokes and harassment, in the anti Muslim era that followed the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, in 1979. The local boys called them Abbie Dhabies... They were required, along with all the other students, to attend a weekly Christian chapel service... Mohammed developed a dislike for the U.S. in his time here. He told investigators that he had little contact with Americans in college, but found them to be debauched and racist...
[In] 1986, both he and his nephew graduated with engineering degrees. Mohammed returned home to Kuwait... unable to find work...
[During the Afghanistan War against the Soviet Union], Mohammed and his brother Abed went to work for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the leader of Ittihad e-Islami, one of the Afghan-refugee political parties headquartered in Peshawar [Pakistan]...
In 1991, [Mohammed's nephew] Basit got in touch with Abdul Hakim Murad, a fellow-Baluchi and a boyhood friend from Kuwait, who was then in the U.S., training as a pilot. Basit told him that he wanted to attack Israel, but thought it too difficult. He would attack America instead. He asked Murad to suggest potential Jewish targets in the United States... “I told him the World Trade Center,” Murad later told investigators...
In Karachi [Pakistan], Basit had introduced his pilot friend, Murad, to Mohammed... Mohammed interrogated Murad about flying. Murad, the licensed pilot, at one point suggested to Basit dive-bombing a plane into C.I.A. headquarters...
The National Security Council staff in the Clinton White House wanted to pursue Mohammed... The C.I.A. was noncommital. The Pentagon objected vigorously... Instead, the State Department tried to negotiate with the Qataris... By the time the team arrived, Mohammed was gone; someone had apparently warned him that the Americans were coming...
[Mohammed] didn't want to join Al Qaeda, he later told his interrogators, but merely sought resources to fund a spectacular attack against the United States....
Mohammed's initial proposal was to hijack a single airplane and crash it, as Abdul Murad had suggested, into C.I.A. headquarters. Bin Laden dismissed this target as inconsequential. So Mohammed proposed hijacking ten airlines in the United States, some on each coast. The plotters would crash nine of them, and Mohammed would triumphantly land the tenth, disembark, and give a speech explaining what he had done and why. Bin Laden thought that the plan was too complicated. It was not until late 1999 that he approved a somewhat less ambitious proposal: the 9/11 plan....
A Pakistani Jackie Mason
Three Winston Churchill Quotes to Use Against Conservatives Who Quote Winston Churchill
From Adam Gopnik's excellent essay, "Finest Hours: The making of Winston Churchill," in the August 30th issue of The New Yorker:
- The word ‘appeasement’ is not popular, but appeasement has its place in all policy, he said in 1950. “Make sure you put it in the right place. Appease the weak, defy the strong.” He argued that “appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to world peace.”
- This faith in government as the essential caretaker led him later to support the creation of a national health service, “in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.”
- This habit of thinking about peoples and their fate in collective historical cycles, however archaic it might seem, gave him special insight into Hitler, who, in a Black Mass distortion, pictured the world in the same way. Both Churchill and Hitler were nineteenth-century Romantics, who believed in race and nation—in the Volksgeist, the folk spirit—as the guiding principle of history, filtered through the destinies of great men. ...Of course, Churchill and Hitler were, in the most vital respects, opposites. Churchill was, as Lukacs insists, a patriot, imbued with a love of place and people, while Hitler was a nationalist, infuriated by a hatred of aliens and imaginary enemies. But Churchill knew where Hitler was insecure and where he was strong, and knew how to goad him, too.
Democracy is Dead. Discuss.
Nothing v. All
"There's gotta be some kind of rebellion between the people that have nothing and the people that got it all. I don't understand. There's no in-between no more. There's the peple that got it all and the people that have nothing."
—Peoria, Ill., man, in 2009, about to be put out of his home, in Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story."
I have some sympathy for this guy but I still wonder about his voting patterns. Did he vote, for example, for Ronald Reagan for president? Once? Twice? When Reagan came into office in 1981, the tax rate for the wealthiest one percent of the country was 69%. When he left office? 28%. The rich got richer under Reagan and the unions got screwed. And that's just the beginning. Moore's doc is best in that short segment on the Reagan years but in the end he winds up flailing all over the place, and pulling the usual stunts about not getting into places he'd never get into. Most egregiously, he makes the initial bailout, the TARP bailout in September 2008, seem like a Bush plot when it was actually a repudiation of everything Bush believed in and stood for. It was a caving in. It was a mea culpa without the mea culpa.
But the Peoria man's question is the right question. How did we lose our middle class? For me, the answer starts with Reagan and those tax rates.
So the question for today isn't whether or not to roll back the Bush tax cuts from 35% to 39%. The question is why stop there? And why stop at the "top one percent," which supposedly includes families making $250,000 a year? Why not divide this group further? The top .5 percent. The top .1 percent. Tax those making $1 million at a higher rate, and tax those making $10 million at a higher rate, and those making $100 million at a higher rate, etc., etc., until maybe we have something like a middle class again.
How I'm Like Dick Cheney
This morning I had an epiphany: I realized I was like Dick Cheney. Not a pleasant thing for a lifelong Democrat and fervent Obama supporter to realize. But helpful nonetheless.
I realized I was like Dick Cheney when I was making a sandwich before work. Patricia has been sick for four days now, and I’m a bit of a germaphobe, and so for four days I’ve been extra careful about touching things around the house, and washing my hands after I touch things around the house, particularly if I’m going to make something that goes in my mouth—like a sandwich before work. But it’s been four days now, and Patricia is feeling better, and I’m hoping that the cold germs have passed through our home like a bad wind.
Even so, as I was making that sandwich, I thought, vis a vis the cold germs that might be lingering: They only need to succeed once.
And that’s when I realized I was like Dick Cheney. Because that was his attitude after 9/11. Terrorists were germs, they only needed to succeed once, and once they infiltrated our body they would make us sick.
It helped me better understand Cheney. Yes, “understand,” a word that the extreme right likes to sneer at, because they feel they already understand it all, and anyway understanding often leads to sympathy and they want none of that. To them, sympathy and understanding make us weak. And in a way they do. My epiphany this morning about Dick Cheney, for example, weakened some of my hatred for Dick Cheney. I saw him in a new light. “Oh. So Dick Cheney’s like me when Patricia’s sick.”
Here’s the key. I don’t like myself when Patricia’s sick. I don’t like being super paranoid about everything I touch. It’s no way to live. I’ve said this often. I try to change. Paranoia gets in the way of living my life. It upends my life. My fear of getting sick actually sickens me—not physically so much as mentally and spiritually. We’re scared enough already, but to be that scared? That’s really no way to live.
And that’s Dick Cheney. The left sees him as a monster, and in a way he is, but at the same time it must be awful to be Dick Cheney. To be so fearful and paranoid all the time. It must warp your mind and sicken your soul. Cold germs, after all, pass.
Review: “The Tillman Story” (2010)
WARNING: REDACTED SPOILERS
As someone who just lived through the 2000s I can honestly say that W.H. Auden didn’t know from low dishonest decades.
Auden used the phrase in his poem, “September 1, 1939,” about the 1930s:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade...
His low dishonest decade ended with war, ours began with it. The dishonesty of his decade was the enemy’s, masterminded by Nazi Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebels, which played on our hopes for peace. The dishonesty of our decade was our own, the Bush administration’s, masterminded by Karl Rove, which played on our fears, as well as our corresponding need for heroes. The administration that couldn’t stop attacking Hollywood kept using the tropes of Hollywood to gather power and silence opposition.
Pat Tillman was a minor figure in all of this, a pawn in the Bush administration’s game, and “The Tillman Story,” a documentary written by Mark Monroe and directed by Amir Bar-Lev, is his family’s attempt to set the record straight.
Most of us are familiar with some part of the story. On Sept. 10, 2001, Pat Tillman was a an All-Pro safety with the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League, happily married and making millions of dollars. Eight months later he joined the U.S. Army Rangers. He served a tour in Iraq in 2003. In his second tour, in Afghanistan, on April 22, 2004, he was killed. He was posthumously promoted to corporal and awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest award for combat valor, because of “gallantry on the battlefield for leading his Army Rangers unit to the rescue of comrades caught in an ambush,” according to the New York Times. A memorial service was held in San Jose, Cal., and Tillman was eulogized by the Pentagon, by politicians, and throughout the media as a patriotic hero-soldier who died selflessly for his country and for his fellow soldiers.
Except it was a lie. During an ambush by enemy forces near the village of Sperah, close to the Pakistan border, yes, Tillman led several men to higher ground; but they were subsequently mistaken for the enemy and fired upon by their own troops. Tillman and a member of the Afghanistan Military Police were killed by friendly fire.
Everyone on the ground knew this. There was no mistaking it. But the lie got out quickly.
Reading the first, heroic press accounts, with details provided by the Pentagon, is to be steeped in Bush-era bullshit. From USA Today:
When the rear section of their convoy became pinned down in rough terrain, Tillman ordered his team out of its vehicles “to take the fight to the enemy forces” on the higher ground.
As Tillman and other soldiers neared the hill's crest, he directed his team into firing positions, the Army said. As he sprayed the enemy positions with fire from his automatic rifle, he was shot and killed. The Army said his actions helped the trapped soldiers maneuver to safety “without taking a single casualty”...
A month later, the truth seeped out, but it wasn’t well-covered. As the saying goes: the mistake is always on page 1, the retraction on page 14. From the May 30th New York Times:
Ex-Player's Death Reviewed
Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals football player, was probably killed by allied fire as he led his team of Army Rangers up a hill during a firefight in Afghanistan last month, the Army said.
Sometimes there’s no retraction at all. The following is every USA Today news headline about Tillman from 2004. Notice how they fed on him until they didn't:
- Tillman killed in Afghanistan (April 23, 2004)
- Moment of silence at NFL draft (April 24, 2004)
- Tillman's legacy of virtue (April 25, 2004)
- Body returns to U.S. (April 26, 2004)
- Army promotes Tillman to corporal (April 29, 2004)
- Tillman posthumously awarded Silver Star (April 30, 2004)
- Items related to Tillman sold on E-bay (May 2, 2004)
- Tillman mourned by hometown (May 2, 2004)
- Tillman memorial service held in San Jose (May 3, 2004)
- Arizona salutes Tillman (May 8, 2004)
- Report details Tillman's last minutes (Dec. 5, 2004)
Not only did Tillman not die the way they said, he didn’t live the way they said, either. “He didn’t really fit into that box they would’ve liked,” Tillman’s mother, Mary, mentions in the doc.
He joined the Rangers to fight al Qaeda but wound up in Iraq and wasn’t happy. “This war is so fucking illegal,” one of his brothers quotes him saying. He had an open curious mind at odds with the incurious absolutism of the time. There’s hilarious footage of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity refusing to believe that Tillman read linguist and conservative bete noire Noam Chomsky. (Because it didn’t fit into their notions of a football player? A soldier? A conservative hero? All of the above?) Fellow Ranger Bryan O’Neal, a Mormon, talks about coming across Tillman, a religious skeptic, possibly an atheist, reading “The Book of Mormon.” He wanted to see what was what.
He swore like a truck driver and loved risking his life. He jumped from high places and climbed to higher places. He was that rare tough guy who didn’t need to show how tough he was. He never hazed recruits. He didn’t yell and get into the face of men who screwed up—as is the Army way. O’Neal recounts how, when he screwed up, Tillman took him aside and told him how disappointed he was. That was it. According to O’Neal, that was enough.
This is straight out of his father’s vocabulary, by the way. In the doc, Patrick Tillman says he’s “disappointed” in Pfc. Russell Baer, Tillman’s fellow Ranger, who was the first to lie to the family about the incident. He tells the Army in 2005 that he’s “disappointed” in them, too. The mother is lauded in the doc but the father dominates it. Thinner than his son, with the same lantern jaw, he seethes with rage. Still. He wants the answer to a simple question: Who lied about his son’s death? Eventually he tells the Army, in writing, “fuck you,” and this—and a Washington Post editorial—got their attention. In August 2005, the Pentagon launched an internal investigation into the incorrect reports of Tillman’s death. In March 2007, the report pinned the blame on a lieutenant general who had already retired. They took away one of his stars. There were some congressional hearings, and joint chiefs and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied knowledge of blah blah blah, and had no recollection of yadda yadda. It all petered out.
“The Tillman Story” is a sad story but it’s not a great doc. It focuses too much attention on the Tillman family rather than on Tillman himself. Like the family, it can’t accept the military’s non-answer, and, panning up the command flowchart to Pres. George W. Bush, spends too much time insinuating who might’ve ordered the falsification of Tillman’s death. At the same time, it’s so vague in describing Tillman’s actual death that a friend, who saw the doc the same time I did, assumed Tillman had been “fragged” rather than killed by friendly fire.
For all the attempts to release Tillman from his box, too, its portrait isn’t as complete as in Jon Krakauer’s book “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.” In particular it ignores an incident during his senior year of high school, when Tillman, thinking he was defending a friend from an ass-whooping, put an innocent kid into the hospital. His life was nearly derailed by this—he served jail time and came close to losing his scholarship to Arizona State—but he came out of it, according to Krakauer, more contemplative and slower to temper. He came out closer to the man he would become. The doc would’ve benefited from this story.
But it’s a good reminder. Just six years ago we were all living through this: Jessica Lynch, WMDs, smoking gun/mushroom cloud, Video News Releases (VNRs), fake White House correspondents, the firing of U.S. attorneys, the outing of Valerie Plame, “greeted with flowers,” “Mission Accomplished,” “a few bad apples,” “last throes.” And Pat Tillman. What company to keep. If I were his family, I’d be enraged, too.
Off By That Much
"At headquarters, the agency kept advising Truman that China would not enter the [Korean] war on any significant scale. On October 18, as MacArthur's troops surged north toward the Yalu River and the Chinese border, the CIA reported that 'The Soviet Korean venture has ended in failure.' On October 20, the CIA said that Chinese forces detected at the Yalu were there to protect hydro-electric power plants. On October 28, it told the White House that those Chinese troops were scattered volunteers. On October 30, after American troops had been attacked, taking heavy casualties, the CIA reaffirmed that a major Chinese intervention was unlikely. A few days later, Chinese-speaking CIA officers interrogated several prisoners taken during the encounter and determined that they were Mao's soldiers. Yet CIA headquarters asserted one last time that China would not invade in force. Two days later 300,000 Chinese troops struck with an attack so brutal that it nearly pushed the Americans into the sea."
—from Tim Weiner's "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA," pp. 58-59, beginning, or continuing, a tradition of faulty intelligence that invariably missed the biggest foreign policy events of the 20th century and beyond.
Quote of the Day
“Politically, these issues are poisonous. That’s what Rahm Emanuel is looking at. [But] you can’t finesse it, and you can’t spin it. The President just has to lead the American people away from fear.”
—Elisa Massimino, the president of Human Rights First, on civilian trials vs. military tribunals, Guantanamo, and what kind of war is the War on Terror, in Jane Mayer's New Yorker article, "The Trial: Eric Holder and the battle over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed."
- The New York Times gives equal weight to all sides by letting five lawyers, including Andrew McCarthy, who led the prosecution in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and is now legal affairs editor of The National Review, have their say.
- Jon Stewart spars with conservative columnist and former Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen on "The Daily Show."
- Scott Horton is less kind to Thiessen in this Harper's column.
- A letter from conservative lawyers, such as Ken Starr, coming to the defense of Dept. of Justice lawyers against the attacks of Liz Cheney's organization "Keep America Safe."
From PC to Protests: How the Right became everything it despised in the Left
A week ago Friday I was walking through downtown Seattle on my way to work when I noticed, from 6th and Olive, a small group of protesters standing with signs over on 6th and Stewart. I wasn’t wearing my glasses so I couldn’t tell what exactly they were protesting, and gave a momentary thought to checking them out, but kept going my usual way. At 5th I saw two of the protesters talking to some folks. One of the them held a sign I could now read:
Lord, I thought.
So: Engage them? Ask them where they’ve been during the last eight years—when our national debt more than doubled from $5 trillion to over $10 trillion? Ask them if they voted for George W. Bush, whose policies and lack of foresight and accountability brought us to this place? Did they double-down in 2004? Instead I continued on 5th Avenue, where, under the monorail, I saw a few cops, then a few more, then a larger contingent. They were there to protect the protest, or the march, or whatever it was—I didn't see any reports on it. Then I noticed how much traffic was backed up. I thought of the time lost and the tax dollars and oil wasted for these 50 or so protesters. And I thought this of members of the tea party:
“Get a job.”
Has the right-wing become everything it used to despise? They’re all whiners and protesters now. They attack authority—judges, Congress, Democratic presidents. They’re politcally correct, scouring media and movies for signs of the slightest offense. (Some even objected to “The Blind Side,” a positive story about a white southern Christian family, because there's a quick W. joke in the middle of it.) The recent Conservative Political Action Conference called itself "Woodstock" for conservatives. Remember “Easy Rider”—the hippie-biker film from 1969? Its tagline: “A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere." That’s how these guys feel. They keep wondering where their America went. They keep talking about getting it back.
But they’re repeating history as farce. The marches of the civil rights movement were borne because a group of people had no voice in government and second-class status everywhere. The tea party protests—at least the wing of it most concerned with fiscal responsibility—seem to have been borne because the voice they had in government led to a place they didn’t want to be: with the country overwhelmingly in debt and foundering on the brink of economic disaster. In this way they could be like anti-war protesters of the 1960s, who most likely voted for LBJ over that nuke-loving extremist Barry Goldwater and wound up in a place they didn’t want to be: in a full-fledged war in Vietnam. The difference? These folks protested LBJ. They took to the streets in ’66, ’67, ’68. They didn’t wait for Nixon to get into office. The Tea Partiers were silent for eight years while their guy wrecked the country, then took to the streets as soon as he left.
Last week before going to bed I read Ben McGrath’s piece on the tea partiers in the Feb. 1st New Yorker and got so angry I couldn’t fall asleep until after 1 a.m. I guess I was mostly angry at McGrath and The New Yorker for giving deluded, potentially dangerous people a prominent place to air their views. Fanning the flames in the piece was U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, 4th district, Kentucky, who says cap-and-trade legislation would be “an economic colonization of the hard-working states that produce the energy, the food, and the manufactured goods of the heartland, to take that and pay for social programs in the large coastal states.”
Jesus. Can we have a discussion in this country? Can we have a back-and-forth? The above is like Reagan’s welfare mother with her Cadillac: an urban myth that won't go away. Time and again, statitistics show that the states who get more tax dollars back than they put in tend to be the quote-unquote heartland states. For the last year available, 2005, Davis’ Kentucky is at no. 9 on this list. Kentuckians got back $1.51 for every $1.00 they put in. For which they're complaining. Or Davis is. Here are the big winners in the federal tax game, as per the conservative, anti-tax Tax Foundation:
1. New Mexico
5. West Virginia
6. North Dakota
8. South Dakota
Meanwhile the states that get the least bang for their tax buck? The ones who get screwed in this game? Those awful coastal and liberal Midwest states:
42. New York
47. New Hampshire
50. New Jersey
The tea-partiers actually have a legitimate gripe—about the power of corporations and government—but they're not griping legitimately. Some of them are just plain nuts. They’re “we didn’t land on the moon” nuts. John McCain is a communist. All political parties bow down before George Soros. And many believe in Edgar Cayce? Really? So the tea partiers are full of discontented New Agers? Who were, what, discontent hippies? No wonder they seem like hippies.
This is even nuttier. From McGrath:
An online video game, designed recently by libertarians in Brooklyn, called “2011: Obama’s Coup Fails” imagines a scenario in which the Democrats lose seventeen of nineteen seats in the Senate and a hundred and seventy-eight in the House during the midterm elections, prompting the President to dissolve the Constitution and implement an emergency North American People’s Union, with help from Mexico’s Felipe Calderón, Canada’s Stephen Harper, and various civilian defense troops with names like the Black Tigers, the International Service Union Empire, and CORNY, or the Congress of Rejected and Neglected Youth. Lou Dobbs has gone missing, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh turn up dead at a FEMA concentration camp, and you, a lone militiaman in a police state where private gun ownership has been outlawed, are charged with defeating the enemies of patriotism, one county at a time.
The final straw for the left was domestic terrorism, the Weather Underground, etc., which pretty much destroyed any progressive movement in this country for decades. Is that where the right is now? Anti-tax proponents emulate al Qaeda by flying planes into federal buildings, killing innocent people. Their actions are sympathized with by Republican congressmen. Republicans running for president condone such violence.
I don’t want this. I really don’t. I want a strong, smart opposition, and the right is becoming a dumb, dangerous farce. And all the while our country suffers.
Miss Me Yet? - II
“As Steve Coll wrote in The New Yorker in April 2006, Saddam [Hussein] could not bring himself to admit that there were no weapons of mass destruction, 'because he feared a loss of prestige, and, in particular, that Iran might take advantage of his weakness—a conclusion also sketched earlier by the C.I.A.-supervised Iraq Survey Group. He did not tell even his most senior generals that he had no W.M.D. until just before the invasion. They were appalled, and some thought he might be lying, because, they later told their interrogators, the American government insisted that Iraq did have such weapons. Saddam ”found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having W.M.D.,“ the study says. The Bush war cabinet, of course, clung to the same illusion, and a kind of mutually reinforcing trance took hold between the two leaderships as the invasion neared...'
”A Gallup poll conducted in May 2003 indicated that 79 percent of Americans believed the Iraq war was 'justified.'“
—from Jon Krakauer's ”Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman," pp. 214-15
Miss Me Yet?
"Jessica Lynch dominated the news for weeks. The details of the incident provided by military public affairs officers made for an absolutely riveting story that television, radio and print journalists found irresistible: a petite blond supply clerk from a flea-speck burg in West Virginia is ambushed in Iraq and fearlessly mows down masked Fedayeen terrorists with her M16 until she runs out of ammo, whereupon she is shot, stabbed, captured, tortured, and raped before finally being snatched from her barbaric Iraqi captors during a daring raid by American commandos...
"Subsequent reporting by investigative journalists revealed that most of the details of Lynch's ordeal were extravagantly embellished, and much of the rest was invented out of whole cloth. Because her rifle had jammed, she hadn't fired a single round. Although her injuries had indeed been life threatening, they were exclusively the result of her Humvee smashing into Hernandez's tractor trailer; she was never shot, stabbed, tortured, or raped. After she had been transferred to Saddam Hussein General Hospital, her captors treated her with kindness and special care. And when the American commandos arrived at the hospital to rescue Lynch, they met no significiant resistance.
"The spurious particulars did not come from Private Lynch. The bogus story was based on information fed to gullible reporters by anonymous military sources. The government official who arranged for reporters to interview these sources—the guy who deserves top biling for creating the myth of Jessica Lynch, in other words—was a White House appparatchik named Jim Wilkinson. Although his official job description was director of strategic communcations for General Tommy Franks... actually Wilkinson served as the Bush administration's top 'perception manager' for the Iraq War."
—from Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman," pp. 180-81
Picture making the rounds on conservative blogs.
Quote of the Other Day — Republican Incoherence and You
“On every single major issue of the day, [the Republicans] are incoherent. They have no workable plans to insure the uninsured and no practical way to contain healthcare costs; most deny climate change even exists; most seek to prolong wars because ... er, we have to be tough; their response to the massive debt is to defend Medicare and call for tax cuts; their position on civil rights is that gay people need to go to Jesus; their position on terror suspects is to detain them and torture them, violating domestic and international law; their position on immigration is to round up millions and force them to go home.
”My worry, however, is that there are enough Americans perfectly happy to live with this nihilism indefinitely, and to perpetuate the policies of spend-and-borrow and invade-and-occupy that any serious attempt to address our problems is impossible. And their response to that will be to blame all those problems on a Democratic president, if there is one; and if there's a Republican president, to simply deny that any of the problems exist at all.
—Andrew Sullivan, “Tactics Over Strategy”
Who's Controlling the News? Not Auletta
"You missed it."
I kept thinking of that line from “All the President’s Men” while reading Ken Auletta’s Jan. 25th New Yorker piece, “Non-Stop News: Who’s Controlling White House Coverage?” Auletta missed the story. Shame. I normally like Auletta.
The story for me doesn’t begin until the fifth of 11 sections, the one beginning “Like other American workers, journalists these days are crunched, working harder with less support and holding tight to their jobs” and ending with a quote from Chuck Todd, who, this section tells us, is not only NBC’s White House correspondent and political director, but is busy from dusk 'til dawn with appearances on “Today,” “Morning Joe,” his own (aptly named) “The Daily Rundown,” along with the usual blogging and tweeting from and to various sites. The news cycle is now a cycle in the way that time is a cycle. It never stops. As a result, Todd, and other journalists, have no time for in-depth coverage or even deep thought or analysis. “We’re all wire-service reporters now,” Todd says.
The sixth section is also about how technology has transformed media matters but this time from a White House perspective. “The biggest White House press frustration is that nothing can drive a news cycle anymore,” Republican political advisor Mark McKinnon says. Auletta then goes on to criticize the Obama White House for being too slow and reactive. He criticizes Press Secretary Robert Gibbs because “he rarely asserts control from the podium, to steer the press onto the news that Obama wants to make.” I.e., He’s not telling the newsmen what the news is. One could argue he’s treating them like adults.
So if we’re all wire-service reporters now, and the Obama White House isn’t steering these reporters towards the news, who is? That’s where it gets scary. Auletta writes: “What the press is paying attention to, [former Obama White House Communications Director] Anita Dunn says, is cable and blog attacks on the Obama Administration.” And who’s steering those? Guess.
That’s the story: In an increasingly fragmented, perpetual news-cycle world, who or what is steering the news? That’s even the story in Auletta’s headline, isn’t it? And he still misses the story.
Because much of Auletta’s piece is old news. Has the mainstream media been pro-Obama? Is Pres. Obama too prickly with the media now that the honeymoon is over? Should he be lecturing the media on its faults the way he does? About how the media focuses on the most extreme elements on both sides? About how they’re only interested in conflict?
Early on, Auletta quotes from a PEW Research Report on Obama’s early glowing press coverage:
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonpartisan media-research group concurred; tracking campaign coverage, it found that McCain was the subject of negative stories twice as frequently as Obama. (The study says that the press was influenced by Obama’s commanding lead in the polls—the kind of ‘Who won today?’ journalism he now decries.)
Allow me a sports metaphor. Do we assume that Albert Pujols gets more positive press coverage than, say, Yuniesky Betancourt? Of course he does. He’s a better ballplayer. Our eyes see it, the stats prove it. Unfortunately, politics has no such stats beyond poll numbers and votes. I’m not suggesting that Barack Obama is Albert Pujols; I’m merely suggesting that, in dealing with two political figures, we’re not dealing with two interchangeable blocks of wood. I’m suggesting that the mainstream press cannot pretend that the Yuniesky Betancourts of the political, legal or business realms are equal to the Albert Pujolses of same, without losing as much credibility as they would if they misreported facts. Objectivity is not stupidity. Let me add, not being a journalist, that I have no idea how you work this out within the constraints of objective journalism. But make no mistake: This is an issue for objective journalism. If objective journalism is to survive.
Perhaps more importantly, does the Pew Research Center Project include FOX News and conservative radio in their study of mainstream media? If not, why not? The notion that “the media” is limited to The New York Times goes against what should be the brunt of this article. We’re in the middle of a whole new ballgame.
Auletta quotes ABC’s Jake Tapper on the matter. “This President has been forced to deal with more downright falsehoods than any President I can think of,” Tapper says. Auletta then lists off some examples: “Obama was brought up a Muslim; he was not born in the U.S.; he studied at a madrassa in Indonesia.” How about: Obama is Hitler? He wants to kill your grandmother? He’s destroying the foundation of American society? That’s daily fodder in these venues, and it keeps seeping out, and it becomes the story. Even when it becomes the joke story, on “The Daily Show,” or “The Colbert Report,” it’s still the story. In addressing these falsehoods in an objective matter, or a jokey matter, how are you not perpetuating these falsehoods? That’s the issue. This was the issue in the summer of 2008 and in the fall of 2009. And today. And for 10 pages of prime New Yorker real estate, Auletta misses it.
Steve Tesich Quote of the Day
As an immigrant to the United States, Mr. Tesich says, he was for a long time very positive and very optimistic about this country. That optimism, he says, has changed, and the change started with Vietnam.
"I didn't just love America," he says. "I was in love with America. I honestly believed that it was going to be one of those nations that would take care of everybody, that would try to make its rewards available to all. And now I feel there is absolutely no agenda for helping those on the bottom in this country. Nobody is really interested in them. And I don't know what the country stands for."
The word I'd use to sum up the decade. I'm bushed, you're bushed, we've all been Bushed—the country and the world. We need a new starting line. Hey, here comes one now.
Quote of the Day
“What delight and joy in reading the Auburn Plainsman's Ben Bartley, some red-white-and-blue type guy from Texas who's fuming that such an anti-corporate, anti-arrogant, anti-Bush legacy, pro-eco, pro-nativist pantheist tract is raking it in big-time and spreading the myth everywhere, and there's nothing this guy can do about it. Hah! Eat shit, Christian asshole!”
Lancelot Links (Wants to Deck Someone)
- John Perr's blog, "Crooks and Liars," takes Sarah Palin apart for her massive ignorance of the history of our country, but equally important, not to mention related, is the accompanying graph (below) on the recent tax rate of our lowest and highest income brackets. During World War II, which Palin insists, in a Washington Post Op-Ed of all places, was paid for by war bonds (volunteerism), the top income bracket was taxed at 94%. Ninety-four percent! So much for voluteerism. Now they're taxed at 35 percent. Me, I'd raise it back to at least 50 percent —at least—as it was from 1982 to 1986. Reagan years, people. Everyone in this bracket is making tons of money off of a system they were born into and it's time they showed their appreciation to that system, and the long-term stability of that system, by, yes, "volunteering" to give back. Read the whole piece, it's worth it:
- My man! Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) takes down Sen. John Thune (R-SD) on the health care bill. Franken, by way of Pat Moynihan, has given us a mantra for this age of disinformation: "You're entitled to your own opinion, you're not entitled to your own facts." I particularly like how frustrated and angry Franken gets by the end. You can tell he's fed up. These people keep lying.
- It's actually worse. These people make careers out of accusing the opposition of doing what they do. It's the absolutist right, not the relativist left, that's as close to a fascistic organization as this country has ever had. The Nazis, remember, started out as a vocal minority, an absolutist, bullying, hateful group that wheedled its way into power and then shut out all opposition. That's the absolutist right in this country. And their latest alley-oop accusation? Via the Daily Show: Global-warming debunkers are now accusing global-warming proponents (i.e., the scientific community) of believing what they believe...for money! The idea being that global warming is big business so it doesn't matter if it's true or not. Nice. Because we all know it's the opposite of that. Global warming continues because of big business, because of the money that's made pumping what we pump into the air. The whole thing is so awful it makes you want to retch. It makes you want to deck somebody.
- A voice of reason in this wretched political world? Hendrik Hertzberg. Again.
- And another. It's worth watching Pres. Obama interviewed by Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes." He's a serious man in serious times surrounded by the unserious and the moronic. By people who are dicking around. And not just the absolutist right and not just the mainstream media but you and me. We create all of this. Every second, with every decision, we create our world.
- And even this serious interview gets an idiotic response from Dana Perino, whose 15 minutes, in a normal world, that is a non-cable, non-fragmented world, would be up. Yet she keeps talking. She says that President Obama's suggestion that President Bush "was too triumphant in his rhetoric when talking about war...is demonstrably false." The obvious follow-up? "Can you demonstrate it?" But she was on FOX News so they didn't ask the obvious follow-up. Here. Here are the three words that demonstrate the truth of what Pres. Obama implied about Pres. Bush: "Bring 'em on." Do we need more? Do we need to recall the swagger and the smirk? The aircraft carrier and flight suit? The "Mission Accomplished" banners? The talk of good and evil? The covering up of America's war dead? Damn, people, it wasn't even 10 years ago.
- But apparently some people can't even remember January 19, 2009.
- First, The Daily Show helped expose Glenn Beck's inciting panic/encouraging gold-buying and repping for Goldline. Now it's The Colbert Report's turn. "'Pray on it.' Like we're preying on you." Brilliant. Here's an in-depth look from the L.A. Times. The question that needs to be asked—and I mean this—is: Why is Glenn Beck trying to destroy this country?
- To end on an up note, here's Pres. Obama's speech after winning the Nobel Prize. It's a serious speech by a serious man in serious times. Read the whole thing. An excerpt:
- We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
- We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
- It feels like Richard Brody is a bit too kind to Wes Anderson in his Nov. 2nd, New Yorker profile on the director, "Wild, Wild Wes." Or maybe he's simply too kind to Anderson's 2003 film, "The Life Aquatic," which came on the heels of his biggest hit ("The Royal Tenenbaums"), which came on the heels of his most critically acclaimed film ("Rushmore"). After detailing several critic complaints about "Aquatic," Brody writes:
"In fact, 'The Life Aquatic" does tell a story, but it's one that sprawls with an epic ambition and a picaresqe wonder. Anderson's playfully unstrung storytelling was both purposeful and meaningful: life in the wild, the film suggests, doesn't follow the neat contours of dramatic suspense but is filled with surprises, accidents, and sudden lurches off course. ... 'The Life Aquatic' was proof of Anderson's maturation as an artist..."
- Come again? Here's my 2007 take on Anderson and his ouevre. I actually like Anderson, within limits, which I hope my article makes clear, but I'm not a fan of "Aquatic," for reasons stated, none of which has to do with its lack of storytelling. The short version of Brody's article is here, but you have to buy, or borrow from your local library, the Nov. 2nd New Yorker to read it in full. Or subscribe. I recommend subscribing already.
- The Washington Post focuses on a quiet but powerful contingent that is being ignored in the same-sex marriage debate: the ex-spouses of now-out-of-the-closet gay men and women. This section in particular packs a whallop:
Many of these former spouses -- from those who still feel raw resentment toward their exes to those who have reached a mutual understanding -- see the legalization of same-sex marriage as a step toward protecting not only homosexuals but also heterosexuals. If homosexuality was more accepted, they say, they might have been spared doomed marriages followed by years of self-doubt.
"It's like you hit a brick wall when they come out," Brooks said. "You think everything is fine and then, boom!"
Carolyn Sega Lowengart calls it "retroactive humiliation." It's that embarrassment that washes over her when she looks back at photographs or is struck by a memory and wonders what, if anything, from that time was real. Did he ever love her?
"I'm 61 years old," said Lowengart, who lives in Chevy Chase. "Will I ever know what it's like to be loved passionately? Probably not."
- I'm going to have to permanently link to Joe Posnanski below but in the meantime here's his early Hall of Fame arguments and they warm the cockles of my cold, cold Seattle heart. Actually his argument is: Who is the best eligible hitter not in the Hall of Fame? He then goes through the usual suspects. Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe and Barry Bonds are not eligible so he eliminates them. Mark McGwire? Impressive, certainly. A homer ever 8 at-bats, "but we knew how he did it," and anyway there's that lifetime .263 batting average. Dick Allen? Don Mattingly? Minnie Monoso? Babe Herman? I'll cut to the chase—particularly since the photo at right is a giveaway. Posnanski suggests Edgar Martinez. He talks about why he's a great hitter, all of which should be familiar to Seattle fans (lifetime: .300/.400/.500), and why he won't make it anyway, which will also be familiar to Seattle fans. Edgar's got the percentage numbers, but he played the majority of his career as a DH and he didn't play long enough to accumulate the gross numbers: the 3,000 hits, etc., because the Mariners (idiots!) didn't bring him up until he was 27. If he'd played his entire career at third, I think he would've made it. If he'd been a DH but had the cumulative numbers, I think he would've made it. It's the two together that put the kibosh on him. Of course I'd vote for him in a second but I'm obviously biased. At the same time, here's my non-bias: How many career .300/.400.500 guys, with as many at-bats as Edgar, aren't in the Hall of Fame? Extra credit. We've just been talking lately about what a great pitcher Mariano Rivera is. So how did Edgar do against Rivera? 16 at-bats, 10 hits, 3 doubles, 2 homeruns, 6 RBIs. A .625 batting average and a 1.888 OPS. Don't know if anyone with double-digit at-bats against Rivera has ever done better. Obviously that's not an argument in favor of the Hall but it is fun.
Michelle Malkin's Journey from A to A
There's an odd piece on the Crosscut Web site called "Michelle Malkin's Journey from Ideas to Tribes," by Ross Anderson, a former Seattle Times political writer whose office was next to Malkin's when she was a columnist at the paper from 1996 to 1999. I remember those days and those columns. I remember thinking what a lousy writer she was. I remember wondering if she got the gig because of her race and gender. According to Anderson? Yes:
The Times had been looking for a new voice, preferably a minority and a woman. That she turned out to be both of the above, plus a young libertarian was a bonus.
Anderson is wondering what happened to the person he knew back then. "I didn’t always agree [with her]," Anderson writes, "but I always enjoyed chatting at our office doors." Now, he says, she's guility of tribalism, a kind of "my people vs. your people" attitude. "Missing are those ideas we exchanged at our office doors," he says.
Fine. So what ideas did they exchange at their office doors? "She never asked what I thought," Anderson admits, but he told her anyway. Afterwards, he writes, "Michelle said nothing, resisting an impulse to roll her eyeballs."
This is exchanging ideas at office doors? Anderson's description refutes his own premise. Malkin hasn't journeyed anywhere. She didn't care what you thought back then; she doesn't now.
"You" being not just Ross Anderson but you.
The More Republicans Change: Anger, Paranoia, and Visions of Apocalypse at the 1976 Republican Convention
When my girlfriend, Patricia, moved to New York in 1975, she worked as an editorial assistant at New Times, a short-lived but impressive feature news magazine that included Richard Corliss, Frank Rich, Robert Sam Anson and Bob Shrum among its writers. She still has some bound copies. I was leafing through these the other day when I came across a piece by Nora Sayre on the 1976 Republican convention. It's startling how familiar the language is. In the wake of Watergate, in the face of an almost-certain Jimmy Carter victory, these Republicans offer nothing but complaints, paranoia, conspiracy theories and visions of apocalypse. Some samples:
That entire shower of joy—the celebration of a happy and healthy America [at the '72 Republican convention]—was a spectral memory in Kansas City in 1976. Never has our social fabric seemed so fragile; today, imperiled by demonic forces that may shatter it from outside or from within, the mere "survival of the nation" is at stake—along with its safety...
Ford himself seemed to have forgotten that he had actually been in office, while Goldwater talked as though Carter had been elected eight years ago...
[This female delegate's] sense of an America in shreds was echoed by both Ford and Reagan delegates, and reinforced by the speakers, who emphasized that we're in a race with the clock. Goldwater warned that we must "save the last stronghold of freedom on earth," since this "may be the last time" that we'll be able to "defend ourselves against our suicidal slide toward socialism"...
A Texan screamed at the nearby New York delegation, "If we fought the Civil War today, we'd win!" His friends broke into a Rebel Yell...
On the final night, Reagan caught the mood of his party to perfection when he mused on the letter that he'd been asked to compose for a time capsule that will be unsealed in Los Angeles a hundred years hence. He wondered if "the erosion of freedom that has taken place under Democrat rule" would have prevailed by the Tricentennial, and if "horrible missiles of destruction" would have eliminated "the civilized world we live in." His readers of the next century "might not even get to to read the letter at all" if the Republicans should fail to preserve the liberties that their enemies yearn to demolish. Ecstasy greeted his bleak message, and his followers cheered on having their fears confirmed...
Glenn Beck's shit is old...
- Here's a good piece by my friend Jessica Thompson, who's lived in India for a year now, on the sexual harassment—called "Eve teasing"—there: "Eve teasing is to sexual harassment what Delhi Belly is to projectile vomiting and diarrhea: both are really ugly things hidden behind a cute name."
- Jeff Wells begins the end-of-decade ceremonies with his top 37 (37?) films of 2000-2009. It's a fun list—particularly his no. 1 choice. Have only vaguely thought about my top list, but it would include "The Pianist" (his no. 9) and "United 93" (his no. 5). What else would I have? "Yi Yi"? "Spider-Man 2"? "Munich"? "Brokeback Mountain," definitely. That movie just gets better with age. What about you? What movies in this decade stand out in your mind?
- Is "web" really the proper metaphor for this thing? It works, although not with the verb. You crawl a web while we claim to surf this one—and surfing is much cooler than what we do here. The metaphor that comes to my mind is pinball. I bounce from spot to spot. I careen the Pinball. The other day I visited Jeff Wells again, and he bounced me to this James Rocchi piece on MSN about press junkets in general and "Couples Retreat"'s in particular, and after reading one sentence I sought more of Rocchi and bounced all over the place. Found this MSN review on "Transformers 2," which definitely echoes my feelings about that abomination: "Where the first film was desperate, this one is desperate and sad. Where the first film sent mixed messages about ethnic and racial groups and women, this one is overtly racist and sexist. Where the first 'Transformers' was clumsy, 'Revenge of the Fallen' is paralyzed with its own stupidity." Rocchi's own site is here.
- Some good lines from Anthony Lane on "The Invention of Lying": "...as for the soundtrack, it’s like being haunted by the ghost of Easy Listening Past. Supertramp and the Electric Light Orchestra are one thing, but Donovan: there’s no excuse. And what really galls is not the songs themselves but the greasy way in which they are wrapped around crucial passages of action, to muffle any awkward transitions; thus, once Mark has armed himself with white lies, he strolls off to reassure all the other miserable folk we have encountered so far—old-timers, bums on the street, a bickering couple—with a smile and a word in their ears. But what word? We can’t tell, because Elvis Costello is busy belting out “Sitting” by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens."
- The New York Times' business column is becoming more of a must-read every day, particularly David Carr's on Monday and David Leonhardt's on Wednesday. This week, Carr wrote a sober, infuriating piece on the $66 million in bonuses delivered to Tribune Co. managers who mostly axed reporters to increase profits...which mostly went to them. Funny how that works. Leonhardt, on Wednesday, wrote of the excesses of left and right economic thinking, and who on the right (Bruce Bartlett) is finally going beyond "cut taxes" as a means to economic stimulus. We'll see how it plays. A smart voice on the right would be a nice change.
- Not all these links are worth clicking on, by the way. This is one. I'm sure you heard about it: The First Lady has white, slave-owning ancestors. That's the big story. A bigger story for me is that Mrs. Obama's great-great-grandfather, Dolphus T. Shields, the first child born to Melvina Shields, who was born into slavery, co-founded the First Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., which was pivotal in the civil rights movement. It's amazing, on the one hand, how carefully the Times tells its story, and, on the other, how carelessly. "While [Melvina] was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time." That's in the second graf. I would definitely lose "under circumstances lost in the passage of time," which is, given the circumstances, so romantic a phrase as to be close cousin to "under circumstances now...gone with the wind!" Plus the quotes from Edward Ball, "a historian who discovered that he had black relatives, the descendants of his white slave-owning ancestors," are embarrassing: "We are not separate tribes," he says. "We've all mingled, and we've done so for generations." Nice verb: mingled.
- Finally a must-read by another friend, Jim Walsh, in Southwest Journal in Minneapolis, on the funeral of the father of a friend. Jim's the real deal. Not just as a writer.
Quote of the Day
“I got a note from a good friend yesterday expressing shock, and anger, about Drudge and Malkin's usage of that alleged racial beat-down on a school-bus. On some level, I wonder if something's wrong with me. I'm neither shocked, nor angry. This is exactly how I expected these fools to respond to a black president.
”If anything, I'm a little giddy. For black people, the clear benefit of Obama is that he is quietly exposing an ancient hatred that has simmered in this country for decades. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of us grew tired of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, mostly because they presented easy foils for Limbaugh-land. ... Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance. He tells kids to study--and they seethe. He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness--and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date--and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them."
Flash: Rush Limbaugh Has No Genitalia!
Frank Rich has a piece in this morning's New York Times on Obama's squandered summer. It's a good piece. He talks up Obama's m.o.: Let everyone else rachet up the rhetoric until it becomes intolerable, and then come in, cool and calm, and direct things like an adult. He did it during the campaign—to both Hilary and McCain—and he's done it now with the health care debate.
Rich wonders if it's worth it. Couldn't he have made that speech in June? Why did he let the inmates take over the asylum all summer? Rich says that m.o. is good for winning elections but bad for making policy. It's a particularly bad method when your party dominates the executive and legislative branches of government. Get involved. Now. Don't stay above the fray. Be yourself but direct things daily, rather than seasonally.
I tend to agree. There's a stink from the idiocy of this summer that may never wash out. You elect a president, in part, because his is the voice you want to hear every day for the next four years, and I haven't heard enough from Pres. Obama. The voices that seep through tend to be the crazy conservatives, elected or not: Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney, the LaRouche-ites. Joe Wilson.
Here's a question for Frank Rich, though:
To what extent is the media responsible? To what extent are we responsible?
This isn't happening in a vaccum. Every day each news organization puts out its material. Every day each person picks up, or at, the material he wants.
What material are they picking? What material are we choosing?
I've used this example many times before but one more time won't hurt. Say I'm a nationally known media figure in the political realm. Say I've got my own show. And then I say the following:
Rush Limbaugh has no genitalia. Literally. He just has a ball of fluff between his legs.
Is that news?
Not in a serious country. But in this country?
Here's the beauty of the accusation: Not only is it sensationalistic, not only is it "sexy"—since it deals with sex, or the lack of it—but it can never be proven without Limbaugh demeaning himself greatly. So it stays out there. Does he or doesn't he? Well, his wife says he does but should we believe her? Can't we hear from an objective source? Is there an objective source? And is that why he smokes those big fat cigars—as compensation? Why can't we get a definitive answer on this! It's the shouted whisper campaign.
And it's no more absurd than half the stuff I've heard this summer.
Look at Tobin Harshaw's "Opinionator: A Gathering of Opinion from Around the Web" in Friday's Times. It's all about Joe Wilson shouting "You lie!" during the president's speech on Wednesday.
Harshaw begins by taking "The Hill," a Capitol Hill liberal newspaper, to task, for its weak response. Then he writes this:
So what’s the point, exactly? For conservatives, it’s that another reflexively liberal publication is trying to tarnish a new straight-talker.
Straight talker? Why is Harshaw allowing conservatives to frame the debate this way? He even quotes from FOX News:
Indeed, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service study found that the House health care bill does not restrict illegal immigrants from receiving health care coverage.
You know what else it doesn't restrict? Rush Limbaugh from getting a faux-penis to cover up his lack of genitalia.
Just because something isn't restricted doesn't mean it's allowed. Shouldn't Harshaw mention that? But he doesn't. He blabs on. He's got this important platform and he talks about everything that doesn't matter: the conseratives who condemn Wilson; the liberals who support him. Then he ends it with such a facile close I'd edit it out of one of my publications, which is a trade publication, and not The New York Times.
We used to live in an echo chamber. We now live in an outragegous chamber. The more outrageous the behavior the more likely it is to get covered. And the feces go flying.
I tend to agree with Frank Rich in his column today. It just seems bad form to complain that Pres. Obama—the custodian-in-chief—is cleaning things up seasonally, rather than daily, when most of Rich's colleagues are doing everything they can to keep the feces flying.
We are lucky lucky lucky lucky lucky lucky lucky to have Barack Obama as the president of the United States of America.
Here's Andrew Sullivan's live blogging of the president's speech before Congress on health care reform. I agree with almost everything Sullivan says. Pres. Obama, too.
How Texas Executed an Innocent Man
In a 2006 case before the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the death penalty, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”
First, Justice Scalia seems to be employing horse-and-barn-door logic. In order to prevent this horrible thing from happening, we must first let it happen.
Second, guilt and innocence are tricky matters, requiring an entire court system to sort out. The assumption that the sorting has been done correctly, 100 percent of the time, for the entire life of our nation and maybe all nations, seems a trifle naive.
Third: Cameron Todd Willingham.
Does Scalia read The New Yorker—from which the above quote was taken? The Sept. 7 issue has a good long article (“Trial By Fire”) by David Grann on Cameron Todd Willingham, who, in Dec. 1991, watched in horror as his three children were burned to death in their home. A month later he was arrested for arson and manslaughter. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. In Feb. 2004 he was executed by the state of Texas.
Grann employs a Rashomon-style type of reporting. But rather than giving us different people’s perspectives of the same event, he gives us different “general perceptions” of the same event.
The event is the burning to the ground of a one-story wood-frame house, in Corsicana, Texas, on Dec. 23, 1991. Three children died.
The first “general perception” is the immediate one. The wife is away. The father is out front, and frantic, and has to be restrained from trying to re-enter the building, which is erupting in flames. The fire department arrives, too late, and the girls die. It’s a tragedy.
The second “general perception” is the one started by the fire investigator, whose maxims include “Fire does not destroy evidence—it creates it," and “The fire tells the story. I am just the interpreter.” The investigator finds the evidence and interprets the story, and in this interpretation Willingham is found wanting and monstrous. Based upon the evidence, he could not have done the said the things he did...unless he started the thing. As a result, neighbors and ministers begin to change their stories. Maybe Willingham wasn’t as distraught as he seemed. Maybe he didn’t try to get back in the house until there were people there to restrain him. Maybe he protested too much. This is the story of a monster who rightfully winds up on death row.
The third “general perception” begins in 1999 when a woman named Elizabeth Gilbert volunteers to become a pen pal to someone on death row, and winds up with Cameron Todd Willingham. She listens to his story and doesn’t believe him. Then she begins to research the case. She wonders why neighbors and ministers changed their tune. She questions the mental state of the cellmate who claimed Willingham confessed the crime to him. She doubts Willingham received a fair trial. The case against him is still based upon strong evidence from the fire investigator but it’s beginning to unravel. This is a story full of ambiguity and doubt, which is where most of us live most of the time. What happened again in that one-story wood-frame house? What was the event?
The fourth and final “general perception” occurs when Dr. Gerald Hurst, a national fire investigator, looks at the evidence in the case and disagrees vehemently with the local fire investigator, whose interpretations, he says, are all wrong. Fire, after all, is a foreign language. It’s as if the original fire investigator, interpreting Mandarin Chinese, says “Szi means ‘death,’ and that’s why he’s guilty,” and then another interpreter comes along and says, “Wait. Don’t you know szi also means ‘four’? It’s completely innocuous. He’s not guilty at all.” But even though the evidence is found in time, and backed by other, prominent fire investigators, and presented to the powers-that-be in Texas, including Gov. Perry, Willingham is still executed by lethal injection in Feb. 2004. Our story is back to being a tragedy, but now it’s a double tragedy. The girls are killed by fire; the father is killed by us.
Cameron Todd Willingham, Justice Scalia. Cameron Todd Willingham.
No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.
Last night P and I and Courtney and Eva checked out the town hall madness at Meany Hall on the UW campus. U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott hosted. He was a gracious host. Some in the audience were not gracious guests.
It didn’t get as bad as health care town halls I’ve seen on television. The naysayers, who mostly seemed of the Lyndon Larouche camp, simply tried to disrupt things. They shouted comments while Rep. McDermott was mid-sentence. Initially the rest of the folks in the audience turned toward the noise, curiously, but when it continued, when the guy in question wouldn’t shut up, they shouted him down. There was an adamance to this that was refreshing. The best shoutdown, a quiet but poignant shoutdown, came from Rep. McDermott himself. He was talking about a particular universal health-care-coverage proposal and then asked rhetorically, “Where did this idea come from?” One of the rabble-rousers yelled “Communists!” McDermott cocked his head, put his hands on the lectern, and enunciated distinctly: “Richard M. Nixon.” Laughter and applause.
There was a lot of applause last night. There were a lot of questions. A lot of people’s concerns were my concerns. This is Seattle so most in the audience wanted the public option if not a complete single-payer system like in Canada. They’re worried they won’t get the public option. They’re worried the Dems will fold. They asked: “What can we do to make sure the public option, or public choice, gets through?” McDermott mentioned showing up, as we were showing up, and letting our voices be heard. He said show up at the rally at Westlake Thursday evening. He said write your Senators. Let them know how you feel.
For Washington-ites, you can e-mail Sen. Patty Murray here.
You can e-mail Sen. Maria Cantwell here.
It’s Google time people. It’s easy to contact these folks.
Here are some other resources. T.R. Reid, a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, and the author of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, hosted a Frontline special last summer, that you can watch here, at the end of this Q&A. (It’s worth it.)
Reid also has a good Op-Ed in The Washington Post: “Five Myths About Health Care Around the World."
It continues to startle me how xenophobic this country remains, and how much our xenophobia is used against our better interests. “Communist!” when someone isn’t, “Terrorist!” when they’re not. “Kenyan!” when someone’s American, “Socialist Medicine!” when it’s generally not. And even if it is a socialist system, like Great Britain’s, well, it’s socialist in the sense that our education system and police force and firefighters are socialist. What do these things have in common? They’re essential to our well-being. Isnt health care?
Other countries’ health care systems are always used to stifle debate in this country—it’s gotten to the point where merely mentioning it is disparaging it—but who’s happy with our system? We’re locked into our employer’s heath care package (and thus fear getting fired or changing jobs), we waste everyone’s time with “gatekeepers” (and thus have to go through general practitioners to get to specialists), and 20-22% of our heard-earned money goes toward administrative costs rather than, you know, actual medical costs. This compares with 6-10% in other countries. And the nutjobs say we have the best health care in the world? We may spend the most, in terms of GDP, but the World Health Organization ranks the U.S. system 37th.
Time to get better.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to write my Senators.
Worst Wedding Day Ever
I guess I wasn't paying enough attention watching the second episode of "Mad Men," but it took a while for the other shoe to drop. Maybe I was distracted by all the tension involved in the wedding plans. Last season Roger Sterling left his wife for a young thing and now his daughter didn't want the golddigger at her wedding—why should she?—and Roger was drinking too much, and the wife, the original wife, was calm and coy, and so the date of the wedding skipped by me. It wasn't until the episode was two-thirds over that the tumblers fell into place. Odd how the mind works. Appropos of what exactly I suddenly woke up.
"Wait a minute," I asked Patricia. "They didn't say the wedding was November 23rd, did they?"
"November 23rd. 1963."
"The day after Kennedy was assassinated."
"They've just given this poor girl one of the saddest days in American history to have her wedding."
That's part of the sad fun of "Mad Men." Waiting for history to catch up with its characters. To overwhelm them.
ADDENDUM: I wrote the above without realizing that history, or time, had caught up with the final Kennedy brother. Godspeed, Senator.
The Reverse Debate Idea
The [Bush] aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
—from Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine article, "Without a Doubt," October 2004
So it goes. So it continues. We thought this was a Bush administration thing but it's obviously a Republican thing. One can see their entire strategy in the above quote. They lie about one thing until it gains traction in the mainstream media, until it becomes a talking point, until it begins to get refuted by responsible sources ... and then they'll lie about something else. The bigger the lie the better. Repeat the lie often enough and people believe it. The point isn't to debate, it's to distract. It's to misread and mislead. It's to accuse the oppositon of being like yourself so the opposition has trouble responding. Democrats are the ones who are fascistic, bullying, and fomenting a civil war? Maybe Dems should accuse Republicans of being vacillating and overly compromising. Maybe that way we can at least have a reverse debate.
Truly, there's such awfulness here, such mind-numbing goo, that anyone with a heart can't help but turn away in disgust. Which is also part of the gameplan.
The more I think about it, the more I like the reverse debate idea. The point of accusing someone of what they aren't is to make them more of what they are. To a fault. So you accuse compromising Dems of being fascists and Nazis, which makes them even more compromising. So you accuse uncompromising Republicans of being wishy-washy and vacillating—of being hippies, say—in order to make them even more uncompromising. It won't help us get anything done but at least it'll stick them through the looking glass for a while. For a change.
Gun Nuts and the People Who Support Them
Frank Rich's Sunday column in The New York Times is called "The Guns of August," which was the title of Barbara Tuchman's 1962 account of the beginnings of World War I, which was a favorite book of Pres. Kennedy. He gave copies to the prime minister of England and the U.S. ambassador to France, among others.
Rich's column is less about the long and intricate European windings to war than about the same homegrown violence—the culture of it and the cultivation of it—that led to Pres. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. It's about American gun nuts and the people who support them. Not just the bigmouths of Fox News and far-right radio but elected officials such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R, Ok.), who, when asked if he was troubled by the rising threats against the U.S. government, blamed the government:
“Well, I’m troubled any time when we stop having confidence in our government,” the senator said, “but we’ve earned it.”
Rich reminds us that Coburn did the same thing in supporting the Barr amendment to the Comprehensive Anti-Terrorism Act of 1995. He said people in this country were worried more about their own government than terrorism:
Terrorism in this country obviously poses a serious threat to us as a free society. It generates fear. But there is a far greater fear that is present in this country, and that is fear of our own Government. We should not further that fear. We should not do anything to promote further lack of confidence in our own Government. Public officials must recognize that our citizens fear not only terrorism, but our Government as well.
Then there was Rep. Phil Gingrey (R, Ga.) who told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that he saw no reason to discourage citizens from carrying unconcealed weapson to public debates about health insurance. In fact, he seemed to encourage it. He seemed to revel in it.
Rich is worried and so am I. He's worried that Pres. Obama is compromising too much with forces that don't compromise and so am I. But mostly he's worried about the rise in the rhetoric of violence and so am I.
I wish I could say something insightful about all of this but I've got nothing. Thoughts are welcome.
Quote of the Day
"Conservatives love to pretend they're the disability community's knights in shining armor when it suits their political purposes. In years past, they tried to co-opt us in the abortion debate by making both subtle and explicit claims that every gimp would be snuffed out in the womb were it not for them staying the liberals' murderous hand. The right has now adapted the tactic to the health care debate, portraying themselves as the defenders and protectors of us meek and vulnerable cripples who dwell in the shadow of a tyrannical and cruel government.
"I won't win any Pulitzers for this sentence, but they can take their false magnanimity and go fuck themselves...
"The only reason I'm able to live a life with any measure of dignity or independence is because of a government health plan. ... We need health care reform. I need it. Trig needs it. Kids and adults with every kind of disability need it.
"What we don't need is a bunch of screeching ideologues attempting to cynically exploit us for purposes of maintaining the status quo."
—Mark Siegel, the 19th Floor.
Read the whole post and pass it along.
The Most Banned Movies Ever! ... Maybe
A few days ago The Independent ran a short piece on the most controversial films in...history? Or just 10 banned films? If the former then “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) is the most banned film ever (11 countries), while Singapore, no surprise, is the banningest of all countries, preventing seven of the ten listed films from arriving on their chewing-gum-less shores. A bigger surprise, at least for me, is the second banningest country, Ireland, which refused “Chainsaw,” A Clockwork Orange,” “Life of Brian,” “Freaks” and “The Evil Dead.” And who’s Italy to ban “Last Tango in Paris”? Have they seen some of their own films?
I’m also curious what constitutes a ban. Not every film is distributed abroad, so... Do distributors have to begin inquiries before the ban is announced, or are some governments more proactive in their banning? Refusing before it’s offered, as it were.
This list includes two best picture nominees (“A Clockwork Orange” and “The Exorcist”) and one best picture winner (“All Quiet on the Western Front”), and it was this last one that intrigued. Which country, you might ask, banned the peace-loving, war-hating “All Quiet”? Why Germany, of course, after the Nazis took power. In fact, according to The Independent...
During its brief run in German cinemas in 1930, the Nazis disrupted the viewings by releasing rats in the theatres.
Another reminder of what democracy isn’t. Disruption—whether with actual rats or with the kind Rachel Maddow talks about here.
Krugman: "Government involvement is the only reason our [health care] system works at all"
Please don't buy the various anti-government scare tactics. It's b.s. You probably know it's b.s. Listen to Krugman:
Private markets for health insurance, left to their own devices, work very badly: insurers deny as many claims as possible, and they also try to avoid covering people who are likely to need care. Horror stories are legion...
Most Americans do have health insurance, and are reasonably satisfied with it. How is that possible, when insurance markets work so badly? The answer is government intervention.
Most obviously, the government directly provides insurance via Medicare and other programs. Before Medicare was established, more than 40 percent of elderly Americans lacked any kind of health insurance...
The vast majority [of Americans under 65], however, don’t buy private insurance directly: they get it through their employers. There’s a big tax advantage to doing it that way, since employer contributions to health care aren’t considered taxable income. But to get that tax advantage employers have to follow a number of rules; roughly speaking, they can’t discriminate based on pre-existing medical conditions or restrict benefits to highly paid employees.
And it’s thanks to these rules that employment-based insurance more or less works...
So here’s the bottom line: if you currently have decent health insurance, thank the government...
Wearing Wool Caps in 100 Degree Weather
It hit 100 degrees in Seattle today. It’s been over 90 degrees for, what, four days in a row now? Five? That’s a lot of heat for a city without much air-conditioning, and where people tend to complain when it hits 78. Seattleites like their weather, like their politicians, temperate.
Despite this, biking through downtown this morning, I saw a few people wearing wool caps. Yesterday, when it was already around 75 degrees, I saw a guy wearing a thick coat, a stocking cap, and a determined look of crazy. You avert eyes at that point. You just keep biking.
I thought of these folks when I visited Oliver Willis’ site and watched the clip of Orly Taitz on “The Colbert Report.” Stephen was having fun with this lawyer/dentist/realtor and professional debunker of Pres. Obama’s birthplace, but the interview ceased to be funny after a while. The woman is under the mistaken impression that because Pres. Obama’s father was not a citizen of this country, then Pres. Obama cannot be a citizen of this country, and therefore he cannot be president. If her first fact is so wrong, so grossly wrong, why is anyone giving her a forum?
But then how does Michelle Malkin get a forum on the "Today" show? How about these folks on “The O’Reilly Factor,” slamming Amsterdam with words meant to evoke ‘60s liberalism (naïve, social tolerance, free love), while ultimately revealing how clueless they are?
More and more of the prominent voices on television, on the Internet, and particularly within the Republican party, remind me of folks wearing wool caps in 100 degree weather. I avert my eyes.
P.S. Visit Amsterdam.
Overreacting with Color Coding: 1975
"The biggest bomb at the Pentagon recently was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's Christmas party for the department's 22,000 employees. The recently appointed secretary decided to introduce himself by throwing a handshaking party. Expecting one of the largest reception lines in history, Rumsfeld had aides devise a three-party, color-coded pass system to prevent congestion and delay. ... There were few takers. Rumsfeld set aside three hours and was prepared to stay longer. Only 200-odd employees showed up, however, and by 4:00 a bewildered Rumsfeld was standing virtually alone with his deputy defense secretary, William Clements."
—New Times magazine, January 23, 1976
What I Would've Said If I'd Been with the Cambridge Police Dept. and Seen Henry Louis Gates Breaking Into His Own Home
"I really liked 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man.' Good book. Needs an update, though, don't you think? Hey, what are the chances of my nephews getting into Harvard? Ha ha. Just kidding. Well, duty calls. Sorry about the door, sir. You should have somebody look at that."
Tax the Rich Already
Hed and subhed in today's New York Times:
Obama Pushing, But Early Vote on Health Fades
Tax on rich is at issue
My question: At issue? For whom?
Prescient Quote of the Day
"She may decide that she does not need office in order to have great influence—any more than Rush Limbaugh does."
—Todd S. Purdam in his August 2009 Vanity Fair article on Sarah Palin, "It Came from Wasilla," published before her July 3rd resignation announcement.
Rich, Noonan, Palin
Many greeted Sarah Palin’s sudden, July 3rd resignation from the Alaska governorship with a Nelsonesque “HAW-HAW” but Frank Rich, last Sunday, argues both why she’s dangerous (“The essence of Palinism is emotional, not ideological. ... The real wave she’s riding is a loud, resonant surge of resentment and victimization that’s larger than issues like abortion and gay civil rights.”), and why she might be back (“No one thought Richard Nixon—a far less personable commodity than Palin—would come back either after his sour-grapes ‘last press conference’ of 1962.”)
For me, I doubt 1012 could be 1968, just as I doubt BHO could be LBJ. But the whole column is worth reading.
Then I found myself actually agreeing with Peggy Noonan (that Reagan shoe fetishist) in her July 11th column on same. She’s of the good-riddance school, and says what I’ve often said: It’s time for the Republican party to get smarter, not dumber. Then she adds this:
Here are a few examples of what we may face in the next 10 years: a profound and prolonged American crash, with the admission of bankruptcy and the spread of deep social unrest; one or more American cities getting hit with weapons of mass destruction from an unknown source; faint glimmers of actual secessionist movements as Americans for various reasons and in various areas decide the burdens and assumptions of the federal government are no longer attractive or legitimate.
All of us, certainly, have fears of a prolonged American crash and an American city getting hit. But secession? Is that a concern serious enough for the pages of the WSJ? It's certainly more politics of resentment. It also reminds me of a child throwing away a toy that he himself has broken. He's not even waiting around to see if the nearest grownup can fix it.
Minnesota Corrects a Low-Rent Mistake
Garrison Keillor is known for his supercalm demeanor on “Prairie Home Companion,” and he used it to good, skewering effect in this 2002 article on Norm Coleman, the former Democratic St. Paul mayor who switched sides, went deep for the Bush camp, and was rewarded, in the absence of Paul Wellstone, with a U.S. Senate seat in 2002. Now, finally, thankfully, about-freakinly-time, we've taken it away from him. Godspeed, Al Franken. Good riddance, Norm Coleman. Good work, Mr. Keillor.
Empty victory for a hollow man
How Norm Coleman sold his soul for a Senate seat
By Garrison Keillor
Nov. 7, 2002 | Norm Coleman won Minnesota because he was well-financed and well-packaged. Norm is a slick retail campaigner, the grabbiest and touchingest and feelingest politician in Minnesota history, a hugger and baby-kisser, and he's a genuine boomer candidate who reinvents himself at will. The guy is a Brooklyn boy who became a left-wing student radical at Hofstra University with hair down to his shoulders, organized antiwar marches, said vile things about Richard Nixon, etc. Then he came west, went to law school, changed his look, went to work in the attorney general's office in Minnesota. Was elected mayor of St. Paul as a moderate Democrat, then swung comfortably over to the Republican side. There was no dazzling light on the road to Damascus, no soul-searching: Norm switched parties as you'd change sport coats.
Norm is glib. I once organized a dinner at the Minnesota Club to celebrate F. Scott Fitzgerald's birthday and Norm came, at the suggestion of his office, and spoke, at some length and with quite some fervor, about how much Fitzgerald means to all of us in St. Paul, and it was soon clear to anyone who has ever graded 9th grade book reports that the mayor had never read Fitzgerald. Nonetheless, he spoke at great length, with great feeling. Last month, when Bush came to sprinkle water on his campaign, Norm introduced him by saying, “God bless America is a prayer, and I believe that this man is God's answer to that prayer.” Same guy.
(Jesse Ventura, of course, wouldn't have been caught dead blathering at an F. Scott Fitzgerald dinner about how proud we are of the Great Whoever-He-Was and his vision and his dream blah-blah-blah, and that was the refreshing thing about Jesse. The sort of unctuous hooey that comes naturally and easily to Norm Coleman Jesse would be ashamed to utter in public. Give the man his due. He spoke English. He didn't open his mouth and emit soap bubbles. He was no suck up. He had more dignity than to kiss the president's shoe.)
Norm got a free ride from the press. St. Paul is a small town and anybody who hangs around the St. Paul Grill knows about Norm's habits. Everyone knows that his family situation is, shall we say, very interesting, but nobody bothered to ask about it, least of all the religious people in the Republican Party. They made their peace with hypocrisy long ago. So this false knight made his way as an all-purpose feel-good candidate, standing for vaguely Republican values, supporting the president.
He was 9 points down to Wellstone when the senator's plane went down. But the tide was swinging toward the president in those last 10 days. And Norm rode the tide. Mondale took a little while to get a campaign going. And Norm finessed Wellstone's death beautifully. The Democrats stood up in raw grief and yelled and shook their fists and offended people. Norm played his violin. He sorrowed well in public, he was expertly nuanced. The mostly negative campaign he ran against Wellstone was forgotten immediately. He backpedalled in the one debate, cruised home a victor. It was a dreadful low moment for the Minnesota voters. To choose Coleman over Walter Mondale is one of those dumb low-rent mistakes, like going to a great steakhouse and ordering the tuna sandwich. But I don't envy someone who's sold his soul. He's condemned to a life of small arrangements. There will be no passion, no joy, no heroism, for him. He is a hollow man. The next six years are not going to be kind to Norm.
...And he's only 54
“In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, [John] Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.”
—Jeffrey Toobin in his New Yorker article “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” Worth reading in its entirety. I was a little perplexed that we got this now, rather than at the end of June when the decisions in the more controversial Supreme Court cases are announced. And the end of the piece is a little weak, particularly for Toobin, who's such a good writer. But worth reading, and considering, as the more vocal part of the conservative nation picks-a-little, talks-a-little about Pres. Obama's recent U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
Is this another example of a journalist trying too hard to be objective? Or is it merely poor writing?
Read the entire piece (it’s short) by Janie Lorber, under the headline “Cheney’s Model Republican: More Limbaugh, Less Powell,” in The New York Times. Two observations, both by Lorber, stick out. Here’s the first:
The [Powell] endorsement, in a carefully timed and deliberate statement after Mr. McCain chose Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate in a move to fire up the party’s conservative base, helped solidify Mr. Obama’s campaign.
Yes, it did help Obama’s campaign but…doesn’t this graf make it sound that the Powelll endorsement came shortly after the Palin selection? But McCain chose Palin on August 30, while Powell endorsed Obama on October 19. That’s more than a month and a half difference. And a month and a half thick with campaigning. How was that “carefully timed and deliberate”? And deliberate? What does that mean anyway? As opposed to carelessly timed and accidental?
Here’s the second:
Mr. Cheney has been a particularly fierce critic of the Obama administration and a defiant defender against critics of the Bush administration, including President Obama. While his remarks have been striking, they are not unusually outspoken by comparison, for example, to former Vice President Al Gore’s condemnations of the Bush administration when it held office.
True. But Al Gore didn’t criticize the Bush administration immediately, the way that Cheney is doing with the Obama administration. After the 2000 election, Gore disappeared, remember? Then returned with a beard that everyone made fun of. Then 9/11 happened and no one criticized the Bush administration. Gore really didn’t criticize Pres. Bush, et al., until the Bush adminstration began gearing up for war with Iraq in the fall of ’02. And, yes, he was one of the first to do so. To his credit.
I guess all I’m saying, with both points, is: chronology matters.
Quote of the Day
In case the moral argument against torture isn't swaying you:
Imagine if an American operative out of uniform were captured by the Iranians tomorrow. Imagine he were put into a coffin for hours with no light and barely enough air to breathe, imagine if he were then removed and smashed against a plywood wall by a towel tied around his neck thirty times, imagine if he were then kept awake for eleven days in a row, then kept in a cell frozen to hypothermia levels, and then waterboarded multiple times, after which he confessed to being a spy trying to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. Would you believe that intelligence? Would Krauthammer? Would you believe both that he wasn't tortured and that the information he gave was reliable?
—Andrew Sullivan, taking on Charles Krauthammer, here.
The Journalistic Mission of Bill O'Reilly
You don’t need to read any more.
Quick: What’s goal no. 1 for any journalist? To get the story first. To scoop the other bastards.
What’s goal no. 2? To be as objective as possible in doing this.
Journalistic mission? These villains? Does he know he's sticking his foot in, if not his own mouth, then his producer's mouth?
And what villains? Murderers? Torturers? Bernie Madoff types?
Not exactly. The ambushees include Mike Hoyt, executive editor of The Columbia Journalism Review, who assigned a story on right-wing media to a writer with a supposed liberal background. There’s Hendrik Hertzberg, my man from The New Yorker, who, the Times writes, “was confronted for what Mr. O’Reilly described as taking a ‘Factor’ segment out of context.” (No word from the Times on how Mr. Hertzberg described the incident.) There’s also Amanda Terkel of thinkprogress.org, who organized a protest against O’Reilly.
These are the villains. People who disagreed with Bill O’Reilly.
From what I remember of those “60 Minutes” segments, Wallace and his producers would use the ambush technique, when they used it, to confront either legitimately powerful people and/or crooks. It was a technique unmotivated by politics or personal vendettas.
Michael Moore, when he uses the ambush technique (which is often), uses it to confront legitimately powerful people: U.S. congressmen and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. His ambushes are, more often than not, motivated by politics but unmotivated by personal vendettas.
Both are examples of the journalistic mission, the journalistic mission, to speak truth to power.
Most of O’Reilly’s targets are less powerful than he is. Thus these ambushes simply seem another bullying aspect of his show. It’s less speaking truth to power than power picking on (often) truth.
Journalistic mission? These villains?
Presidential Quote of the Day
“We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them.”
— Pres. Barack Obama in a speech before the Turkish parliament.
I read this in The New York Times (newspaper version) while sitting at the Kerry Park overlook on this sunny Seattle day, eating my lunch and listening to Teddy Thompson's “In My Arms.” I was pretty happy for that half hour. Tomorrow it's supposed to rain. Tomorrow things may get worse economically. But for now it's sunny and more people realize we're at least heading in the direction we should. Amen.
ED HENRY, CNN (asking a follow-up question): So on AIG, why did you wait — why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I --
ED HENRY: It seems like the action is coming out of New York in the attorney general's office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we're outraged. Why did it take so long?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak.
There are also good takes on the press conference from Andrew Sullivan (love his line about the White House press corps' job being “polite assholes”) and Eric Alterman's Daily Beast piece, which posits the short-term thinking of those polite assholes versus Pres. Obama's long-term thinking.
Toles and Jelly
Seriously, is there a better editorial cartoonist in the country? Is there a better editorial anything in the country? Most cartoonists are inevitably reductive but Toles merely simplifies a point to its essence. The issue seems larger in his hands rather than smaller.
God, I Love This Guy
“Going forward,“ Mr. Obama said, ”each and every time we’ve got an initiative, I’m going to go to both Democrats and Republicans and I’m going to say, ‘Here’s my best argument for why we need to do this. I want to listen to your counterarguments. If you’ve got better ideas, present them. We will incorporate them into any plans that we make, and we are willing to compromise on certain issues that are important to one side or the other in order to get stuff done.’” ...
When asked about the sharp drop in the stock markets after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced an expanded bank bailout plan last week, Mr. Obama replied:
“I am not planning based on a one-day market reaction. In fact, you can argue that a lot of the problems we’re in have to do with everybody planning based on one-day market reactions, or three-month market reactions, and as a consequence nobody was taking the long view.
“My job is to help the country take the long view — to make sure that not only are we getting out of this immediate fix, but we’re not repeating the same cycle of bubble and bust over and over again; that we’re not having the same energy conversation 30 years from now that we had 30 years ago; that we’re not talking about the state of our schools in the exact same ways we were talking about them in the 1980s; and that at some point we say, ‘You know what? If we’re spending more money per-capita on health care than any nation on earth, then you’d think everybody would have coverage and we would see lower costs for average consumers, and we’d have better outcomes.’”
— from Bob Herbert's column, “Obama Riding the Wave,” from The New York Times, February 17, 2009
We Are Not a Serious Nation
I checked out YouTube for the first time in a long time this morning, saw the shit that passed for shit there, and thought of Gore Vidal: We are not a serious nation. I read a friend’s account of how even at a pizza gathering half the kids were texting other kids rather than talking with the kids present, and thought: We are not a serious nation. I read Paul Krugman’s column in this morning’s New York Times, about how serious our economic crisis is, and how lame the response in Congress has been, particularly from the Republicans in Congress, and thought: We are not a serious nation.
I look at this site and think the same. You do what you do. I try to write about movies seriously but to what end? We’ll see where this goes. Both versions of “this.”
In November I wrote a spirited defense of how “The Daily Show” would fare in an Obama administration but I’m having my doubts now. It’s the economic crisis more than Pres. Obama. Every joke about it, from a guy making millions, and I think: “That shit ain’t funny.” Comedy is, what, tragedy plus time? They’re ignoring time. We’re just wasting it.
I apologize for this post but a blog is about what’s on your mind and this is what’s on my mind. Probably yours, too.
The economy shed 598,000 jobs in January. I knew of three of them.
Ponzi and the Happy Days (Are Here Again) Gang
My friend Dave McLean, currently living in Presov, Slovakia, alerted me to this piece by Dan Roberts in the Guardian, which, with the aid of some cheery graphics, explains, in layman's terms (or as layman as he can get), the extent of the less-than-cheery global financial crisis, and why the infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars from the federal government isn't likely to stabilize the beast. Just how much is the world in debt? Or overvalued? Some stats: from small to large numbers:
- $845 billion: The amount of gold reserves in central banks — held as a buffer against financial instability.
- $3.9 trillion: All global notes and coins in circulation, plus reserves, in Oct. 2008.
- $39 trillion: The assets (or loans due to be paid back) at the world's big financial banks.
- $62 trillion: The peak amount of credit derivatives, which, from my limited understanding, is a financial instrument whose value is derived from the value of something else, such as an asset or index. All part of the shadow banking system, which I also don't understand.
- $290 trillion: Peak of the total asset value of all developed economies.
Roberts says that it resembles, if anything, a Ponzi scheme. I get it...but still don't understand it.
Meanwhile Wall Street bankers gave themselves $20 billion in bonuses for 2008. That, unfortunately, I understand.
Barack Obama Quote of the Day
“Because of you, John. Barack Obama.”
—How Pres. Obama autographed a photo for U.S. Rep. (and civil rights legend) John Lewis after the inauguration on Jan. 20th. From David Remnick's must-read “Talk of the Town” piece in this week's New Yorker.
Paul Krugman has a great piece today on — basically — arguments against Republican arguments against Obama's stimulus package. Among them:
- First, there’s the bogus talking point that the Obama plan will cost $275,000 per job created. Why is it bogus? Because it involves taking the cost of a plan that will extend over several years, creating millions of jobs each year, and dividing it by the jobs created in just one of those years. It’s as if an opponent of the school lunch program were to take an estimate of the cost of that program over the next five years, then divide it by the number of lunches provided in just one of those years, and assert that the program was hugely wasteful, because it cost $13 per lunch. (The actual cost of a free school lunch, by the way, is $2.57.)
- Next, write off anyone who asserts that it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money. Here’s how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets — and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats. If that would mean lots of midair collisions, hey, stuff happens.
- Finally, ignore anyone who tries to make something of the fact that the new administration’s chief economic adviser has in the past favored monetary policy over fiscal policy as a response to recessions.It’s true that the normal response to recessions is interest-rate cuts from the Fed, not government spending. And that might be the best option right now, if it were available. But it isn’t, because we’re in a situation not seen since the 1930s: the interest rates the Fed controls are already effectively at zero. That’s why we’re talking about large-scale fiscal stimulus: it’s what’s left in the policy arsenal now that the Fed has shot its bolt.
Rome is burning and the Republicans are fiddling, but it's nice to have a Nobel-Prize-winning economist on your side.
“There's Work to be Done”
Here's a great site, via Andrew Sullivan, that collects the newspaper headlines of the day. Yesterday was the day for it. Interesting to see what different editors chose to highlight or headline. There's almost poetry in it:
“A New Era,” “A New Day,” “A New Beginning,” “A New Start,” “A New Hope.”
“Hope Over Fear,” “Hope Meets History,” “History Made Today,” “History in the Making,” “Remaking America.”
“Hello, Mr. President,” “Mr. President,” “The President,” “The 44th President,” “The 44th and the First.”
“President Obama,” “Obama Ovation,” “Obama's Promise,” “Let's GObama,” “The Obama Era Begins.”
“Change,” “Change Has Come,” “The Time Has Come.”
“Face of a Nation”? “Yes, He Is.”
“Mark This Day”: “We Are Ready to Lead.”
There was also this:
It struck a chord and it took me a minute before I remembered why. It's similar to a line in “TimeQuake,” Kurt Vonnegut's last novel. I reviewed it for The Seattle Times in 1997. Back then I wrote:
Just as Billy Pilgrim could get unstuck in time (in “Slaughterhouse-Five”) and gravity could become variable (“Slapstick”), so Kilgore Trout and the world discover in “Timequake” that the universe isn't always expanding. In the year 2001, the universe has second thoughts and contracts, or hiccups, sending everyone back to what they were doing 10 years before.
It's a perverse form of eternal recurrence. Everyone has knowledge of the next decade but is unable to alter it in any fashion. They essentially become prisoners within their own bodies.
Thus, when the universe gets going again, people are unprepared — asleep at the wheel, as it were — and disasters occur. They don't realize that once again they have to drive their cars or fly their airplanes or concentrate on walking straight. So cars crash, planes plummet, people wobble and fall over.
Trout, one of the first to realize what has happened, tries to wake people out of their stupor by shouting, “You have free will!” When this doesn't work, he tells them, “You were sick, but now you are well, and there's work to do!”
It's January 21, 2009. You were sick. But now you are well. And there's work to be done.
Sam Cooke Quote of the Day
There’ve been times that I thought
I couldn’t last for long
Now I think I’m able
To carry on
It’s been a long
A long time coming
But I know
Change gonna come
Oh, yes it will
ADDENDUM: The New York Times editorial on the inaugural speech.
Since last February I’ve seen bumper stickers, and sometimes signs and t-shirts, celebrating my upcoming birthday. “1-20-09,” they read. Sometimes they added: “End of an Error,” which I thought a bit much. The first 45 years of my life have had their share of bumps but I wouldn’t say they were an “error.” That’s a tough decision from the official scorer.
OK, jokes aside, you and I and the world have been waiting for this day. It’s not just because the most incompetent guy is leaving. It’s because the most competent guy is arriving. For the past year I’ve littered this blog with the overall thought that the wrong guy — the guy obsessed with numbers rather than people, with getting ahead rather than helping others get ahead — is invariably put in charge. That’s certainly the lesson of “The Wire.” It’s even the lesson of that recent article on Tim Palen and marketing. We’ve become a nation that sells the insubstantial so well we’ve convinced ourselves it’s substantial. Maybe that’s the error we’re tryng to end.
It’s been a helluva ride. I first heard him speak at the annual Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor dinner in downtown Minneapolis in the spring of '06 and he cut through my cynicism right away. “Jesus,” I thought, “this guy could do it.” He was my guy from the get-go, even as the press 1) dismissed him too soon, then 2) annointed him too soon, then 3) invariably missed the point. But I still had my doubts. Sure, the Democrats might vote for him. But the nation? When idiocies flared up, when Palen and that circus arrived, when community organizers were dismissed out-of-hand as somehow undeserving, he stayed calmer than I did. I went to him to get calm. He gave us this, and this, and this. We gave him this.
I’m 46 today and the most competent guy is arriving. It's the best birthday present I ever got.
Now let’s get this party started.
Quote of the Effin' Year
"A gangly Illinois politician whom 'the base' would today label a RINO—a Republican in Name Only—once pointed out that you can fool some of the people all of the time. We now know how many 'some' is: twenty-seven per cent. That’s the proportion of Americans who, according to CNN, cling to the belief that George W. Bush has done a good job.
"The wonder is that this number is still in the double digits, given his comprehensively disastrous record. During the eight years of the second President Bush, the unemployment rate went from 4.2 per cent to 7.2 per cent and climbing; consumer confidence dropped to an all-time low; a budget surplus of two hundred billion dollars became a deficit of that plus a trillion; more than a million families fell into poverty; the ranks of those without health insurance rose by six million; and the fruits of the nation’s economic growth went almost entirely to the rich, while family incomes in the middle and below declined. What role the Bush Administration’s downgrading of terrorism as a foreign-policy priority played in the success of the 9/11 attacks cannot be known, but there is no doubting its responsibility for the launching and mismanagement of the unprovoked war in Iraq, with all its attendant suffering; for allowing the justified war in Afghanistan to slide to the edge of defeat; and for the vertiginous worldwide decline of America’s influence, prestige, power, and moral standing."
— Hendrik Hertzberg, "Talk of the Town," New Yorker, Jan. 19, 2009
The Tyranny of the Short Term
The best article I've read on the financial crisis was the second-most e-mailed article on the NY Times Web site yesterday. Today's it's the most e-mailed. It's by Michael Lewis and David Einhorn and it should be read by everybody. It explains the crisis in ways that even laypeople, of which I am hopelessly one, can understand. Some highlights:
Obviously the greater the market pressure to excel in the short term, the greater the need for pressure from outside the market to consider the longer term. But that’s the problem: there is no longer any serious pressure from outside the market. The tyranny of the short term has extended itself with frightening ease into the entities that were meant to, one way or another, discipline Wall Street, and force it to consider its enlightened self-interest...
Over the last 20 years American financial institutions have taken on more and more risk, with the blessing of regulators, with hardly a word from the rating agencies, which, incidentally, are paid by the issuers of the bonds they rate...
These oligopolies, which are actually sanctioned by the S.E.C., didn’t merely do their jobs badly. They didn’t simply miss a few calls here and there. In pursuit of their own short-term earnings, they did exactly the opposite of what they were meant to do: rather than expose financial risk they systematically disguised it...
The instinct to avoid short-term political heat is part of the problem; anything the S.E.C. does to roil the markets, or reduce the share price of any given company, also roils the careers of the people who run the S.E.C. Thus it seldom penalizes serious corporate and management malfeasance — out of some misguided notion that to do so would cause stock prices to fall, shareholders to suffer and confidence to be undermined. Preserving confidence, even when that confidence is false, has been near the top of the S.E.C.’s agenda...
Read the whole thing. You get a sense that the people who are running our world are not the people who should be running our world. "The tyranny of the short term" is a phrase that could be used to describe almost every aspect of American life.
Worse: The things we did to wind up in this hole are the very things we're now doing to get us out of this hole. We're relying on the same people. We're relying on the same institutions. We're trying to preserve confidence even when the confidence is false.
Read the whole thing.
Seriously, Did That Guy Get Anything Right?
In our annual Christmas letter (I know), which went out yesterday (apologies), I wrote the following: "We gave up trying to sell Patricia’s condo in May but once we did it rented like that to a very nice woman — one of 30 people who desperately wanted it. Apparently it’s a renting market. As opposed to an ownership society. Seriously, did that guy get anything right?"
Even as I wrote it I began to wonder about that old Bush line, another catchphrase gone horribly awry, and why no one had done an in-depth piece on specifics of the Bush administration's culpability in our current housing — and thus economic — crisis.
The New York Times to the rescue. In today's paper, Jo Becker, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Stephen Labaton have a great in-depth piece on the political push for an ownership society that led to our current renting market. It's easy to see in hindsight. Basically the administration was pushing for more ownership and less regulation at a time when housing prices were soaring and salaries were flatlining. How to fit more people into more expensive homes at a time when they had less real money and fewer people were watching? Yeah:
So Mr. Bush had to, in his words, “use the mighty muscle of the federal government” to meet his goal. He proposed affordable housing tax incentives. He insisted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac meet ambitious new goals for low-income lending.
Concerned that down payments were a barrier, Mr. Bush persuaded Congress to spend up to $200 million a year to help first-time buyers with down payments and closing costs.
And he pushed to allow first-time buyers to qualify for federally insured mortgages with no money down. Republican Congressional leaders and some housing advocates balked, arguing that homeowners with no stake in their investments would be more prone to walk away, as Mr. West did. Many economic experts, including some in the White House, now share that view.
This administration made decisions that allowed the free market to operate as a barroom brawl instead of a prize fight,” said L. William Seidman, who advised Republican presidents and led the savings and loan bailout in the 1990s. “To make the market work well, you have to have a lot of rules.”
But Mr. Bush populated the financial system’s alphabet soup of oversight agencies with people who, like him, wanted fewer rules, not more.
It gets worse. One of the top 10 donors to the Republican party in 2004, Roland Arnall, founded Ameriquest, one of the largest lenders in the subprime market. In 2005, White House aides discussed Ameriquest's troubles — including setting aside $325 million to settle with 30 states which claimed Ameriquest preyed on borrowers — but not in terms of the economy. They discussed Ameriquest because Pres. Bush had just nominated Arnall to be ambassador to the Netherlands.
Gov. Blagojovitch looks like a piker in comparison.
Read the entire article. It's worth it. Conservatives accuse liberals of being naive about the poor — that the poor are poor because they deserve it — and so helping them is pointless. But conservatives are just as naive, if not moreso, about the rich. They think the rich are rich because they deserve it — because they're talented, not because they're, say, predatory or ruthless — and so regulating them is unnecessary and just gets in the way of their talent.
My French teacher, Nathalie, spent a week in Sayulita, Mexico last month and took this picture of the Mexican version of Shepard Fairey's famous series of Obama posters. Cambio. Change.
The people there told her about the spontaneous celebrations that erupted the night Obama got elected. As here in Seattle. As all over the world.
I'm sure there are similar posters from different countries and in different languages. If you know of any, or, better, if you have images of any, please send them my way.
Give the People What They Want
One of the top 12 videos on YouTube this morning is a thing called "Betty Cakes," in which, in the static "cover" image (is there a term for this?), you see an attractive woman's limbs and some cupcakes where breasts might be. Its three-star rating implies a come-on that goes nowhere.
The 11 remaining most-seen videos show the same thing: an Iraqi journalist throwing a shoe at President Bush. All have five-star ratings.
I've never seen such domination of the charts since the Beatles had all top 5 U.S. singles in April 1964.
That said, a friend of mine mentioned yesterday that he was more impressed by Pres. Bush's handling of the shoe-throwing incident than anything he's done during his presidency. He ducks but keeps the journalist in his line of sight. Made my friend think he's had shoes thrown at him before. One conjecture was Laura. Another was Condi. Feel free to make your guess below.
Overall, footage of the shoe-throwing incident occupies 62 of the top 100 videos on YouTube.
The Obama Non-Stories
Idiocies of the week.
First this one. Here's AP's headline: “Many Insisting That Obama Is Not Black.” Suggested headline: “A Few Idiots Insisting Obama Is Not Black.” It's beyond annoying, beside-the-point, and could only be spouted by people who hadn't read “Dreams From My Father,” or who hadn't thought one inch into our cross-country racial history. Serously: STFU.
Eric Boehlert of Media Matters has smartly raised the other: the non-story of Obama's non-involvement in the Gov. Blagojevich scandal, which I've been bitching about it all week, particularly in connection with the New York Times coverage. Liberal press, my ass. Boehlert flags (and emphasizes within) this NYT graf:
Although prosecutors said Mr. Obama was not implicated in their investigation, the accusations of naked greed and brazen influence-peddling have raised questions from some about the political culture in which the President-elect began his career.
At least the Times used “some” here, rather than the AP's “many,” but even their “some” still turned out to be “some Republican operatives.”
Meanwhile, what's Obama been up to? Nominating Nobel laureates to his cabinet. At least someone's taking their job seriously.
“The Most Vicious Smear Campaign Ever Mounted Against an American Politician”
Since the election, there's been a lot of talk about how the media favored Obama during the campaign. Hell, there's was noise about this before the election. Such talk seems to imply that all coverage should be equal no matter who the candidates are or what they say, but someday, when I have time, I might drill down to see if anything was unnecessarily positive or negative about either candidate, or if it was merely a matter of, say, Albert Pujols generating more positive media coverage than Willie Bloomquist because he’s the better ballplayer.
To what extent, in other words, can you remove a candidate’s performance from the equation? Baseball’s a little different, of course, in that you have quantifiable statistics rather than qualitative remarks or actions. At the same time, as I often say, objectivity is not stupidity. Journalists can’t, or shouldn’t, pretend things aren’t as they are. Put another way: I had my own problems, from a pro-Obama point-of-view, with the media’s coverage of this campaign. Here, here and here. And here and here. And here.
Besides, Michael Massing reminds us, in his excellent article in The New York Times Review of Books, “Obama: In the Divided Heartland,“ that a whole lotta media wasn't exactly backing Obama:
For months, [Rush] Limbaugh had been hammering away at [Obama]—for abetting terrorists, hating Israel, being corrupt, supporting socialism. Today, oddly, he was faulting him for his lack of passion. ”He's like a Stepford husband,“ he said. ”He's cold enough to consort with terrorists. Cold enough to dismiss small-town America as 'bitter clingers.' Cold enough to take our guns away. Cold enough to take our money away.“
Such charges were standard fare on the toxic, overheated combine of right-wing talk radio, cable television programs, and Internet blogs that has so multiplied and festered in recent years. Americans who do not regularly tune in have little idea how nasty and venomous a campaign was waged there against Barack Obama. Day after day, night after night, a steady stream of poison was directed at him not only by Limbaugh but also by Sean Hannity, on his daily radio show and nightly Fox broadcast; by Bill O'Reilly, on Fox, the radio, and the Internet; by Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, and a legion of other ranting radio hosts; by Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, Monica Crowley, and their fellow pike-bearers in the blogosphere; by columnists like Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Steyn, Michael Barone (”The Coming Obama Thugocracy“), and Ann Coulter (”Obama's Dimestore 'Mein Kampf'"), all joining together to produce firestorms of manufactured rage about Obama's purported ties to Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, Jeremiah Wright, ACORN, Castro, Chávez, Ahmadinejad, and Karl Marx...
These outbursts were supplemented by a noxious barrage of e-mails, mass mailings, and robocalls claiming that Obama was pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, unpatriotic, a Muslim, a madrasa graduate, a black racist—even the Antichrist. Amounting to a six-month-long exercise in Swift Boating, these attacks, taken together, constituted perhaps the most vicious smear campaign ever mounted against an American politician.
That's the question I'd ask anyone pushing one of these studies. Is talk radio included? And if not, why not?
Didion, Clad in her Armor
Last night, the cover of the latest New York Review of Books — VICTORY!, with a cartoon of Obama in the center, and promises of articles by Joan Didion, Darryl Pinckney and others — made me happy for a moment... until I began reading Didion’s article. Then I went: Oh yeah. This.
Didion was an established writer by the time I began to read serious literature, well-known for her essays, and I enjoyed White Album and others in my twenties but began feeling disappointment in my thirties when I read Salvador. I thought: “Does she only have irony? Is that her sole tool?” After reading all of Norman Mailer’s messy attempts to be engaged with the world, Didion’s ironic distance felt dry and useless.
In the Review she writes about how, in the Obama era, irony is supposedly out. Her essay proves otherwise. She casts an ironic eye less on Obama than on the support he engenders:
Irony was now out.
Naiveté, translated into “hope,” was now in.
Innocence, even when it looked like ignorance, was now prized.
Partisanship could now be appropriately expressed by consumerism.
I couldn't count the number of snapshots I got e-mailed showing people's babies dressed in Obama gear.
Was innocence ever prized in this campaign? Youth, yes, but innocence? As for the consumerism and snapshots, well, maybe she needs new friends. I received no snapshots of babies in Obama gear during this election season. My friends were too busy, among other things, campaigning for Obama. Being engaged.
She goes on:
I couldn't count the number of times I heard the words “transformational” or “inspirational,” or heard the 1960s evoked by people with no apparent memory that what drove the social revolution of the 1960s was not babies in cute T-shirts but the kind of resistance to that decade's war that in the case of our current wars, unmotivated by a draft, we have yet to see.
Must be tough to be one of Didion’s friends — to hear your words later mocked in her essays. Yet wasn’t Obama, certainly on the most basic of levels, transformational? Wasn’t he inspirational? It feels so small, her objections. She stands back, like in the famous David Levine caricature, holding her cigarette aloft, clad in her irony, while the world celebrates. It’s an easy stance because the world is full of fools and she quotes some of them. A commentator who said other nations now “want to be with us.” That’s how she ends her essay:
Imagining in 2008 that all the world's people wanted to be with us did not seem entirely different in kind from imagining in 2003 that we would be greeted with flowers when we invaded Iraq, but in the irony-free zone that the nation had chosen to become, this was not the preferred way of looking at it.
Maybe this was not the preferred way of looking at it because “wanting to be with us” came from a commentator after someone else’s election, while “greeted with flowers” came from the highest officials in the Bush administration before their own invasion. The first, though clumsily phrased, was based upon evidence we could actually see: people around the world celebrating Obama’s victory. The second was based upon evidence the Bush administration didn’t let us see and which they wanted to see: Their policy dictating their evidence, rather than vice-versa. Maybe that’s part of why Didion's way is not the preferred way of looking at it.
Irony isn’t out; it’s simply, as always, an easy way out.
Torture to Watch
“Dark Side” uses the incarceration and subsequent death of an innocent Afghani taxi driver while in U.S. military custody as the starting point to examine our entire post-9/11 system of torture and humiliation — specifically at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. It’s a good overview of what will surely be one of the blackest marks of the many black marks on the Bush administration. For some, of course, the mark isn’t even black, but this doc should give pause to proponents of torture, as well as to regular viewers of “24” — where the efficacy of torture in extracting accurate information is regularly dramatized.
Morris’ film is more focused and creepier. He trains his eye on Abu Ghraib, on what was done there, on the photos that were taken there, on what they say or don’t say and how they lie or don’t lie. He interviews, almost exclusively, the various “bad apples” who forced Iraqi prisoners to debase themselves. It’s beautifully shot, but claustrophobic and so sad about human nature. What people can convince themselves to do — particularly when ordered to do so. What they can convince themselves of afterwards. A few small apples were scapegoated for our unethical system, and their main defense is the Nuremberg defense: I didn’t know any bettre; I was just following orders. They also blame the photographs. They blame the evidence rather than the crime. It’s as if being scapegoated for the crime is keeping them from examining their role in the crime.
I’m not sure what happens when we stare into those faces as they justify their actions, but it’s definitely uncomfortable. Would we have done the same in their situation? Are they us? The tawdriness of the enterprise is overwhelming. Maybe it says something that the talking head who is least culpable — who was not even a guard at Abu Ghraib, but who wound up in the background of some photographs and was prosecuted based on that evidence — blames himself the most. Maybe that’s something the rest of us could begin to emulate.
DFMF Quote of the Day
"So, Barry. What have you brought me from America?"
I reached into my bag and pulled out one of the portable cassette players that I had bought for him [Abo] and Bernard. He turned it over in his hands with a thinly disguised look of disappointment.
"This brand is not Sony, is it?" he said. Then, looking up, he quickly recovered himself and slapped me on the back. "That's okay, Barry. Thank you! Thank you."
I nodded at him, trying not to get angry. He was standing beside Bernard and their resemblance was striking: the same height, the same slender frame, the same smooth, even features. Just shave off Abo's moustache, I thought to myself, and they could almost pass as twins. Except for...what? The look in Abo's eyes. That was it. Not just the telltale redness of some sort of high but something deeper, something that reminded me of young men back in Chicago. An element of guardedness, perhaps, and calculation. The look of someone who realizes early in life that he has been wronged.
—Barack Obama, visiting Kendu Bay in Kenya in the 1980s, in Dreams From My Father, pg. 384
New Yorker Quote of the Day
"At a Clinton event in Hampton, New Hampshire, a seventy-one-year-old woman named Ruth Keene told me that 'the Republicans would chew Obama up.'
"They tried like hell. They called him an élitist, a radical, a socialist, a Marxist, a Muslim, an Arab, an appeaser, a danger to the republic, a threat to small children, a friend of terrorists, an enemy of Israel, a vote thief, a non-citizen, an anti-American, and a celebrity."
—George Packer in his article "The New Liberalism: How the economic crisis can help Obama and redefine the Democrats."
Quote of the Day
“The Rush Limbaugh attacks and other attacks from the far right generate a lot of heat but not much light.”
—Colin Powell, in “The Joshua Generation: Race and the Campaign of Barack Obama” by David Remnick, in the latest New Yorker
David Grann on Why McCain Lost
But as I read, I began to sense in John McCain (again) a tragic figure out of Shakespeare: The honorable man who once lost honorably (in 2000), yet who betrays that honor in order to try to win (in 2008). Worse, he betrays it with the same men who had dishonored him during his defeat. Worse, despite all he gives up, all he pretends to be in order to win, he loses. Badly. The dishonorable and divisive methods used to defeat him, are, when employed by him, part of the reason for his defeat. To get what he desires he becomes his enemy, but by becoming his enemy he is kept from getting what he desires.
Somewhere in Grann's piece I not only began to feel sorry for McCain but identify with him. Most of us lose in life more than we win, and, despite being a U.S. senator, McCain lost big. Twice. He knew 2008 was his last chance and he gave up everything for it.
In the process, because of all that he gave up and all that he pretended to be, long-time allies turned against him. William G. Milkien, former Republican governor of Michigan, who endorsed him in 2000 and again during the 2008 primaries, said in October, “McCain keeps asking, ‘Who is the real Barack Obama?,’ but what I want to know is who is the real John McCain?” Frank Schaeffer, son of the man credited with starting the religious right, who backed McCain in 2000, and for whose 2006 book “AWOL,” McCain offered a blurb, said the following, again in October, in an open letter to the candidate:
“If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as ‘not one of us,’ I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence. ... You are unleashing the monster of American hatred and prejudice, to the peril of all of us. You are doing this in wartime. You are doing this as our economy collapses. You are doing this in a country with a history of assassinations.”I’ve written about what McCain said about John Lewis during the final debate, and Lord knows I was pissed off then, but my anger softened when I read this:
Though McCain publicly called [Lewis’] accusations “shocking and beyond the pale,” a campaign aide told me that when McCain first heard Lewis’s remarks he sat in silence inside the campaign’s official bus.So I was feeling a little sympathetic for John McCain. Then Mark Salter opened his piehole.
Salter still doesn’t understand any of the criticisms of McCain and the way that he and Steve Schmidt (his Iago) ran his campaign. He accuses the press of a double standard that favored Obama. He fobs it all off on the “liberal media.” He brings up the few positives McCain did (his poverty tour, his town-hall suggestion) and all he didn’t do (playing the Rev. Wright card), and thinks that’s enough to demonstrate his candidate’s positive side — not bothering to explain away the reactions of Milkien and Schaeffer, let alone McCain’s own brother, Joe, who pleaded with the campaign to let McCain be McCain. “Everybody kept saying, ‘Where’s the old happy warrior?’ It was fucking crazy,” Salter says.
The best response to Salter is Grann’s next graf:
But many who hoped that McCain could modify his policies without sacrificing his identity felt that he had crossed the line. He surrounded himself with conservative economic advisers, such as Phil Gramm, a fanatical proponent of deregulation, and Jack Kemp, the apostle of supply-side economics. He called for making Bush’s tax cuts permanent. He declared that the estate tax, which he, like Teddy Roosevelt, had championed, was now “one of the most unfair tax laws on the books.” ... [He] reversed his position on offshore drilling and endorsed the teaching of “intelligent design.” He disowned his own bill on immigration reform. Whereas he had once decried the use of torture under any circumstances, he now voted against banning the same techniques of “enhanced interrogation” that had been practiced against him in Vietnam.This election won’t truly be over until the side that lost realizes why it lost. Yes, it was the economy. But it was also who was the stronger candidate, and who was the weaker. In Ryan Lizza’s piece on Obama’s campaign, in which Obama comes off as a tougher Chicago pol than people give him credit for, the “crucial moment” for many aides came way back in July 2007 when, during the YouTube debate, Obama said he would meet world leaders without preconditions. Hilary pounced. The aides worried. They were thinking about backing off, changing the subject, bobbing and weaving, when Obama, overhearing, spoke up:
“This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”In Grann’s piece on McCain, here’s the key moment:
Just before the Republican Convention, McCain, who often seemed miserable in his new right-wing guise, tried to resurrect his former identity. He decided to choose as his running mate Joe Lieberman—a pro-choice Democrat who shared McCain’s views on foreign policy. The choice would have signalled both McCain’s independence and his return to a more bipartisan agenda. “He wanted Lieberman badly,” a McCain confidant said. But when leaders of the base threatened to challenge him at the Convention, McCain did the one thing that he believed a great politician never did. As the confidant put it, “John capitulated.One candidate stood up to his aides, one didn’t. One candidate ran his show, the other let it run him. One won, the other lost — not just the campaign but himself. It’s tragic, yes, Shakespearean even, but only for the candidate, not for us. By losing, in fact, you could say John McCain finally lived up to his campaign’s motto: He put country first.
Baffling Republican Quote of the Day
More than halfway through David Grann's must-read piece in the post-election issue of The New Yorker, "The Fall," about John McCain and his disastrous campaign, Grann paraphrases McCain speechwriter and close aide Mark Salter:
In a recent conversation, Salter told me that at one moment the press was criticizing McCain for lacking a central message and the next was castigating him for not being spontaneous.
First, the media is not monolithic. More importantly, those two criticisms are not mutually exclusive — as the sentence seems to imply. One can have a central message and be spontaneous. Just look at Barack Obama. Unfortunately, McCain didn't have (a central message) and wasn't (spontaneous). The worst of both worlds.
Dan Savage Opens a Can of Whup-Ass
TDS: RIP? — Addendum
So the argument — jumpstarted, post-election, by Dan Kois — is that “The Daily Show” will have trouble with an Obama presidency because Jon Stewart and his writers are basically Dems who will have trouble mocking a Dem president. Certainly Bush provided a wider target than Obama, or anyone, will, but I've argued that Stewart's main target isn't really politicians anyway but the mainstream media and the effed-up way it portrays our world.
As for the whole Dem thing, I suddenly realized — today — that the funniest thing I've seen on TDS in months, maybe ever, was the show's reaction to John Kerry's attempt to explain a “Depends” joke he made at the expense of John McCain. They spun it into its own mini-segment: “John Kerry Ruins Your Favorite Jokes.”
Patricia can back me up. When we were watching this, I could barely breathe I was laughing so hard. The good stuff starts at 3:30 in.
When Bush Met Obama — 2004
Jan Schakowsky told me about a recent visit she had made to the White House with a congressional delegation. On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her “OBAMA” button. “He jumped back, almost literally,” she said. “And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a ‘b.’ And I explained who he was. The President said, ‘Well, I don’t know him.’ So I just said, ‘You will.’ ”
— from William Finnegan's article, “The Candidate: How the son of a Kenyan Economist became an Illinois Everyman,” in the May 31, 2004 issue of The New Yorker. Recommended reading.
Hertzberg on McCain: 9/13/04
From the same column:
McCain—who in 2008 will be three years older than Reagan was in 1980—faces a different problem [than the moderate Republicans]. Though wobbly on gays, he is solidly anti-abortion and firmly in favor of the Iraq war. But it’s hard to see how he can ever win back the trust of the hard core.
As hard to see as Russia from Sarah Palin's backyard.
Hertzberg on Obama: 9/13/04
From a “Talk of the Town” piece:
When Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention in Boston, a lot of people thought—and hoped—that they were seeing the future. Half Kansas and half Kenyan, half black and half white, yet all-American in a novel and exhilarating way that seemed to transcend the usual categories, Obama, who on November 2nd will be elected to the United States Senate from Illinois, embodied and expressed a fresh synthesis of the American civic religion —one that fused not only black and white, and immigrant and native-born, but also self-reliance and social solidarity. “He represents the future of the party,” Stephanie Cutter, the communications director for John Kerry’s campaign, said by way of explaining why Obama had been chosen to deliver the keynote speech. And it is not hard to imagine circumstances under which, a decade or two hence, he might represent the future of the country as well.
So NY Times reporter Michael Sokolove returned to his hometown of Levittown, Pa., on Election Day to find out how and why people were voting. Great piece. Read it in full.
Some might wonder how this differs from what Maureen Dowd does. The biggest difference is in the question itself: “Why are you doing what you're doing” vs. “How do you feel?” The latter is a lousy question even when it comes from a reporter and is directed at a championship-winning athlete, and it's positively abyssmal when it comes from two citizens partcipating in the same democratic process. It implies a separation (as between reporter and athlete) when there should be none. It also assumes that people within a generalized group (that is, African-Americans) fit the generalization (that is, support Obama), and Dowd's black bartender, a Libertarian, was one of 4 percent nationwide who did not fit this generalization. Oops.
Sokolove asks a real reporter's question (or a reporter's real question?) and gets great results. Why did this area, which went overwhelmingly for Hilary during the primaries, now go for Obama?
- “McCain pointed a lot of fingers instead of giving answers,” Steve O’Connor, a plumber, told me.
- “I don’t want a clone of George Bush,” Mark Maxwell, 47, a corporate chef, said. “With McCain, that’s exactly what we’d get.”
- Said Lisa Winslow, a 20-year-old college student: “I’m not rich. I can’t afford to vote for McCain.”
- Levittown is filled with a great many veterans of the Vietnam War, not all of whom served happily. “I didn’t want to be there when I was told to go,” said Frank Carr, 62, who recently retired from his shipping job in a corrugated box factory. “I know how the boys feel. I believe Obama is a man of his word.” When Mr. Obama says he is going to bring home the troops, “I believe him,” Mr. Carr said.
Sokolove then concludes smartly:
The people I met in Levittown were not on Mr. Obama’s e-mail list or among his donors, but they may be more likely than his younger supporters and more affluent ones to give him what he most desperately needs: time and patience. Like characters from the songs of one of Mr. Obama’s celebrity endorsers, Bruce Springsteen, many Levittowners have been weathered by life. They haven’t benefited from a lot of quick fixes. Others of his supporters say they’ll be patient, but I sensed these people really mean it. They were harder to sell, but they could end up being pretty loyal.
“How long did it take Bush to get us into this mess?” Mr. Carr, the Vietnam veteran, asked. “It’s a lot easier to screw things up than to make them better.”
Maureen Dowd Sucks (Again)
As the posts below indicate, I've been waiting for the Sunday Times since Tuesday evening around 8 PM (PST). Wasn't the first thing on my mind, certainly, but at some point I did want to hear how Frank Rich and the others reacted to the Obama victory.
Rich's main point is that we're a better country than we (and the Rovian Republicans) think we are. Thomas Friedman wants foreign leaders, giddy over an Obama victory, to remember to back Obama when things get tough: when we try to extricate ourselves from Iraq without collapsing the entire structure, or when we have to put pressure on Iran to keep them from developing nuclear weapons. Nicholas Kristof, echoing what I've long felt, wonders if Obama's victory is as much a victory for another embattled minority group, intellectuals, as it is for African-Americans.
And Maureen Dowd? She begins her column not poorly:
I grew up in the nation’s capital, but I’ve never seen blacks and whites here intermingling as they have this week.
That made me want to read on. Until the very next sentence:
Everywhere I go, some white person is asking some black person how they feel.
Really? I thought. Surely not everywhere you go. Surely there are white people in D.C. who realize how condescending that is. Surely there are white people in D.C. who are happy enough to bask in their own joy without probing into the joy of perfect strangers — as if an Obama victory went beyond their ability to understand or experience. As if it wasn't for them as well.
But Ms. Dowd finds them. Or at least writes about them. A white customer quizzing his black waitress. White women quizzing their black bartender. A white-haired white woman and a UPS delivery guy. Dowd herself and her mailman. Each instance involves a black service-person and a white customer. Nice. Where does she live again? Maybe she needs to get out more. Or further.
And the point of her column? It comes in the second-to-last graf:
But is it time now for whites to stop polling blacks on their feelings?
Jesus. So Maureen Dowd writes a column in which a group of people act in a suspect manner to impart the lesson that this group of people probably shouldn't act in this suspect manner.
Can someone please put Maureen Dowd out of her (and our) misery? Please?
Karim Sadjadpour Quote of the Day
“If you’re a hard-liner in Tehran, a U.S. president who wants to talk to you presents more of a quandary than a U.S. president who wants to confront you,” remarked Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment. “How are you going to implore crowds to chant ‘Death to Barack Hussein Obama’?"
—from Thomas Friedman's column "Show Me the Money."
Frank Rich Quote of the Day
I recommend everyone read the entire column, but here (to me) are the highlights. It explains why we all felt so good Wednesday morning:
On the morning after a black man won the White House, America’s tears of catharsis gave way to unadulterated joy. Our nation was still in the same ditch it had been the day before, but the atmosphere was giddy. We felt good not only because we had breached a racial barrier as old as the Republic...
For eight years, we’ve been told by those in power that we are small, bigoted and stupid — easily divided and easily frightened. This was the toxic catechism of Bush-Rove politics. It was the soiled banner picked up by the sad McCain campaign, and it was often abetted by an amen corner in the dominant news media. We heard this slander of America so often that we all started to believe it, liberals most certainly included. If I had a dollar for every Democrat who told me there was no way that Americans would ever turn against the war in Iraq or definitively reject Bush governance or elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama president, I could almost start to recoup my 401(k)...
...Even the North Carolina county where Palin expressed her delight at being in the “real America” went for Obama by more than 18 percentage points.
The actual real America is everywhere. It is the America that has been in shell shock since the aftermath of 9/11, when our government wielded a brutal attack by terrorists as a club to ratchet up our fears, betray our deepest constitutional values and turn Americans against one another in the name of “patriotism.” What we started to remember the morning after Election Day was what we had forgotten over the past eight years, as our abusive relationship with the Bush administration and its press enablers dragged on: That’s not who we are.So even as we celebrated our first black president, we looked around and rediscovered the nation that had elected him. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Obama said in February, and indeed millions of such Americans were here all along, waiting for a leader. This was the week that they reclaimed their country.
Obama Quote of the Day - for Patricia
From the president-elect's first press conference earlier today. The economy, jobs, Iran, were all dealt with. Then this.
With respect to the dog, this is a major issue. I think it's generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything.
We have — we have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic.
On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So — so whether we're going to be able to balance those two things I think is a pressing issue on the Obama household.
The “mutts like me” line. Jesus, I love this man.
Sullivan Hammers Krauthammer
I had this argument, even at the time, with people who were nominally paying attention to events, both political and financial, but who weren't obsesssing as much on the polls as I was. I remember when Obama was down to 220+ electoral votes on fivethirtyeight.com, the panic I felt, the relief I felt when his numbers began to go up before the Lehman Bros. collapse. Those who weren't obsessing didn't get this. They attributed Obama's surge to the economic collapse when it began before — around the time the shine began to wear off of Gov. Palin.
Lord knows Lehman didn't help McCain, but then McCain didn't help himself, either. Despite Krauthammer, an argument can be made that with a better VP choice, with better debate performances, and with a steady campaign that seemed to anticipate events rather than reacting wildly to them, McCain, at the least, would've had a better shot. But to pull that off (particularly the “anticipating events” part), both he and Steve Schmidt would have had to be completely different people.
Anonymous Quote of the Day
One other thing: this is a country whose President-elect's middle name is Hussein. That is a fact to be celebrated. I received an email from a young friend, an entrepreneur in Kabul, this morning. He said, "We are all smiling now," and he attached a Pakistani press clipping--the Taliban greeted the new President and said they were ready to commence talks.
Patricia Quote of the Day
In an e-mail to Jeff and Sullivan...
"I have a slight headache but I can't think of anytime I've been happier. There were tears and cheers at our place. Andy, who had gone door-to-door in Ohio for Obama, was in tears. And Laurion's parents came up from the Bahamas just for the election. His dad. who's black, said to me as he left, 'I'm so proud of your country. This is very special day.'"
Quote of the Day at Arnellia's
"Our community, we're used to the legal system letting us down," he said. "I'm used to [things] going wrong. I distrust the system so much, but this is the first time I've seen the system work in my life, and I'm 40 years old. That's harsh, but it's true. It's a relief. It's a relief to say, 'Finally. Something right happened.' But not right just for me, for everybody."
— David Hall, 39, in Jim Walsh's MNPost piece "Jubiliation at Arnellia's."
Quote of the Day
It amazes me how commentators, especially conservative commentators, can argue that (a) Obama is a socialistic avatar and a radical redistributionist and yet (b) that his election doesn't mean that the voters have been pulled to the left or bestowed a liberal mandate—that the U.S. is still (this week's reigning buzzphrase) "a center-right country."
My Election Day
One day I'll live blog one of these things (World Series, unprecedented presidential elections), but here's the retroactive version:
5:30: Woke up, showered, coffee, etc. Read Andrew Sullivan. Wrote a bit.
6:30: Left our place and walked in the rain to the T.T. Minor Elementary School to vote. My first time voting there. Usually my polling location is within five or six blocks of my home but this was over a mile away. Seems a bit screwy but Seattle often seems a bit screwy. Got wet despite the umbrella. Rain forecast for the entire day, with thunderstorms in the afternoon.
7:05: Arrived at the school to find a line of about 100 people. Again: new. Usually it's just me and the old ladies in the basement of the church. The school is a sweet elementary school (Andy's daughter goes there) and has kids' names on all of the lockers. The woman in front of me commented on what great names the kids had — not the dull Marys and Davids of our childhood — and I pointed out one name and said, “Yeah, when I was growing up, 'Isis' was just a heroine on a Saturday morning TV show.” She then surprised me by repeating the whole “zephyr winds” line and we got to talking about “Shazam” and “H.R. Puffenstuff” and how the creators of the latter must've been high while making it (a magic talking flute?), and how the star of the show, Jack Wild, had played the Artful Dodger in the 1968 musical Oliver! and may have been the best thing in the movie. I was pretty sure he'd been nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor. He also sang the film's most memorable song: “Consider Yourself.” This woman then began to sing the song to herself. Consider yourself...one of the family.
7:45: Voted. (Psst. Barack.)
7:55: Walked to Broadway on Capitol Hill. The rains had stopped. Passed a garage on John Street between 12th and 13th where the owner had painted the famous “Barack Hope” poster on the door. Painted it well, I should add.
8:05: Arrived at Starbucks ahead of the precinct captain, Stuart. Phoned him. He said he was still at campaign headquarters on Pine — that there were tons of people there — but he had our packet and would meet me in about 10 minutes.
8:05-8:15: Sat in the back of Starbucks on a couch. Starbucks was giving away free coffee to anyone who voted and the woman at the table in front of me, overhearing the barrista talking about it, said to her friend, who was sitting on the couch next to me, “Oh, is it election day?” I thought: “And that's why we have a GOTV effort. Some people just don't know.” Then the woman asked the man who was gonna win:
He: Well, Obama's ahead nationally but the electoral college is close. It might come down to Hawaii.
Me (butting in): If it comes down to Hawaii, Barack wins. Hawaii always goes Democrat and he's from there. No way he's losing Hawaii.
He: No, I'm just saying it might be close.
Me: Uh huh.
She: I've heard he might have trouble anyway. Because he's against the second amendment and all.
Me: He's not against the second amendment.
She: (Exchanges meaningful glance with the man as if to say, “Lookee here who's been brainwashed.”)
She (to He): So how long have you been hypnotizing people?
He: Oh, about 45 years.
They then went on to have a serious talk about hypnosis.
8:15: Stuart arrives. Hallelujah.
8:15-9:15: Stuart and I walk the precinct that he's walked four times in the last month, usually alone, getting out the vote. We only had about 20 names left on his list, and a couple were his neighbors with whom he'd just spoken. They'd voted. Off the list. Getting down to the bare nub. The goal.
Stuart was from Chicago, had lived in Seattle for...8 years or so? I'd met him the night before and given him shit about his Chicago Cubs cap. “You know, Barack's a White Sox fan,” I said. He smiled and said, “Well, I think we have room in the party for both Cubs and White Sox fans.”`Some part of me was actually worried about that Cubs cap: That it might transmit its losing ways into the campaign. I wondered who the Steve Bartman of the Barack campaign might be.
9:15: Stuart and I finished the packet, we said our goodbyes, and I walked the packet over to Obama's Capitol Hill headquarters on Pine. It was getting chillier but the rain wasn't coming back. In fact, the sky was beginning to clear. Nice.
Campaign headquarters was packed. I'd arrived planning to phone-bank into the early afternoon but looked at the second floor, where phone-banking was supposed to take place, and thought it made more sense to split. They had more volunteers than they knew what to do with. Again: Nice. On the walk home, ran into our neighbor, Laura, who was on her way to vote.
10:00-4:00: Got our place ready for what I continually called a “gathering.” Didn't want to jinx us with the word “party.”
4:00: First results. McCain leads in the electoral college 8-3: Kentucky vs. Vermont. Damn!
4:15: Andy and his girls arrive. Mathilda, the youngest, wears wings. I ask her if that was her Halloween costume but she says, No, she went as Dora.
4:30 and on: More people arrive. Jeff and Sullivan, with two kids. Chasing games ensue throughout the condo. Charges of “schnookering” are made. Balloons are blown up. Balloons are played with. All evening.
Around 25-30 people show up. At some point we order Indian food. I drink: beer and saki and red wine and champagne. By which time the gathering has become a party. I began to use the word: party.
You know the rest. I was worried about Virginia, initially, but when Pennsylvania broke early and clean for Obama, I thought: Good sign. By the tme Ohio broke, giving Obama 207 electoral votes, Jim and I did the math. The three western states, California, Oregon and Washington, would give him 280. It was all over but the shouting. Then came the shouting.
Today: A new day. Welcome.
GOTV in America
GOTV in Pennsylvania
Spent a good part of yesterday at home making phonecalls for Barack Obama as part of his campaign's Get Out The Vote effort. Their online set up is pretty smart, and allows a volunteer to choose which (leaning, toss-up) state to call. I chose Pennsylvania, for obvious reasons, and it mostly went OK, although at least 90 percent of my calls resulted in 1) leaving messages, 2) wrong numbers, or 3) nobody home, which is different than 1) in that there was no answering machine or service to leave a message on or with. The phone just rang and rang and rang. A throwback to the '70s.
The most interesting person I talked to was an 80-something year-old woman who was voting for Obama, and who complained about all of the mail and robocalls she was getting from the McCain camp. “I'm not a Republican!” she kept saying indignantly. She also implied that FDR helped her father get a job during the Depression. Apparently he told his kids, and he had 12 of them, before he died, “If any of you vote Republican I'll roll over in my grave.” She was proud of that.
The most interesting polling location? “Prison Training Academy” in Philadelphia.
My friend Andy, who was doing the same all weekend, got me on board yesterday and probably immediately regretted it, since I called him about five times with various questons. During one of those calls we got to talking about McCain's robocalls and what a nuissance they were. Andy said that whenever he left a message he always used the voter's name so they'd know it wasn't a robocall. That's when it hit me. Why McCain uses robocalls. Because he doesn't have people like us.
Yet another difference between the two campaigns. McCain uses a dehumanizing technique to dehumanize his opponent. Obama uses actual volunteers from around the country to make sure everyone gets out and votes.
My First Blog Post
Eight years ago, either the night before or a few nights before the 2000 election, I read Hendrik Hertzberg’s “Talk of the Town” column in The New Yorker before going to bed and panicked. I couldn’t sleep.
I hadn’t gotten involved in the campaign much — I was a freelance writer, struggling to keep my head above water during a time of great prosperity and opportunity — but I was definitely for Gore, and not simply because I was a Democrat, but for all the reasons Hertzberg laid out in his column. What I didn’t know, what Hertzberg began to let me in on, was how bad it had gotten, and how culpable the media was in making it bad, which is to say close. Too close to call. We had to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decided for us, by a 5-4 vote, on December 12, 2000: a date which will live in infamy. (For more on this, please read Boies v. Bush v. Gore, about Gore’s lawyer David Boies, which I edited for New York Super Lawyers magazine this fall.)
That evening, instead of sleeping, I got up, turned my computer back on, searched online for the Hertzberg article (futilely, for this was 2000), and then proceeded to type the whole damn thing up and send it to everyone I knew. I suppose it was my first blog post. READ this, I told everyone. SEND IT to everyone you know.
We've come a long way baby since then, and mostly, like the old Springsteen song says, down down down down. It's amazing to consider the country Bush inherited and the country he leaves behind. Only the most blinkered Republican fuckstick would consider the last eight years anything less than an unmitigated disaster.
We can't re-do that choice but we can do this one right. My god, what would it be like to have a smart man, a really smart man, in the White House?
Here's the Hertzberg column I sent out eight years ago. Read it and weep. Read it and hope:
After the polls close next week, we will learn what Presidential politics in the year 2000 has been “about.” Specifically, we will learn whether it has been about “issues” or “personality.”
If the campaign turns out to have been about “issues,” then the Democratic nominee, Al Gore, will be elected, because he is the superior candidate in point of both command and positions...
Vice President Gore has shown himself to be, in comparison with the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, more fiscally responsible (because he proposes to spend somewhat less of the chimerical surplus than does Governor Bush), more socially responsible (because he proposes to spend more of that surplus on social needs such as education and health care and divert less of it to individual consumption), and more egalitarian (because his plans for changing the tax code, combined with his spending plans, would ameliorate inequalities of wealth and income while Bush’s would exacerbate them).
Gore’s foreign policy would be more energetic in its promotion of democratic values than Bush’s, and probably more so than President Clinton’s. Bush has offered few clues to what his foreign policy might be, except to say that he would build a missile-defense system whether or not it was technically workable or strategically advantageous, and that he opposes the American military presence in Haiti (where, at last count, we had 29 soldiers) and in the Balkans, where a unilateral withdrawal would have the effect of weakening the Western alliance and America’s role within it.
As for the superiority of Gore’s command of the issues, this is not a matter of opinion — or, if it is, everyone’s opinion is the same, even (to judge from his defensive jokes) Bush’s: Gore knows more, understands more, and has thought more, and more coherently, about virtually every aspect of public policy, domestic and foreign, than Bush has...
Bush’s point of superiority, then, is in the matter of “personality,” and it is striking how narrowly that word seems to have been defined for electoral purposes. Personality apparently excludes, if not intelligence itself, then such manifestations of it as intellectual curiosity, analytic ability, and a capacity for original thought, all of which Gore has in abundance and Bush not only lacks but scorns. Personality apparently excludes courage: Gore put himself in harm’s way during the Vietnam War; Bush did not.
Gore’s tendency to embellish anecdotes, especially about himself, is real and undeniable. Even so, some of his alleged lies have turned out to be strongly rooted in factuality. He did not “create” the Internet, obviously, but he was one of a tiny handful of politicians who grasped its significance when it was in its infancy, and he did take the lead in writing legislation to spur its development.
In the debates, Bush uttered inaccuracies that, unlike Gore’s, falsify the underlying essence of his point — as, for example, when he said that Gore was outspending him in the campaign (when the reverse is true, to the tune of $50 million), and that he fought to get a patient’s bill of rights passed in Texas (when he actually vetoed one such bill and allowed another to become law without his signature), and that his health-care proposal would “have prescription drugs as an integral part of Medicare” (when this is precisely what Gore’s plan would do, while Bush’s would dismantle Medicare as we know it in favor of a system of subsidized private insurance).
Still, there’s no denying that a large number of people find Gore irritating; to prove it, there are polls, to say nothing of the panels of “undecided voters” — that is, clueless, ill-informed citizens who even at this late date cannot summon the mental energy to make up their minds — assembled by the television networks into on-camera focus groups. Gore can be awkward and tone-deaf, and he sometimes has trouble modulating his presentation of himself, and he plainly lacks the instinctive political exuberance of a Bill Clinton or even the slightly twitchy easygoingness of a George W. Bush.
Gore is aggressive, assertive, and intensely energetic, qualities once counted as desirable in a potential President but now evidently seen by many as disturbing. At a time of domestic prosperity and tranquility, much of the public seems to have developed a thirst for passivity, a thirst that Bush is eager to slake.
This may explain the paradox that while Gore was widely judged the substantive winner of all three of the televised debates, he lost the battle in the post-debate media echo chambers, and perhaps partly as a result, in the opinion polls. In the final debate, Gore stretched the rules, while Bush complained and turned beseechingly to the moderator for help. To caricature them both, Gore was a smart bully, Bush a hapless tattletale. Neither attribute is attractive, but it may turn out that fear of the first will outweigh contempt for the second. In that case, “personality” will definitely have triumphed over “issues,” and the transformation of the Presidency of the United States into the presidency of the student council will be complete.
— Hendrik Hertzberg
All Hail Hendrik Hertzberg!
Still, these guys are so good they often come through. Loved Rich’s piece last week and particularly loved Hertzberg’s latest “Talk of the Town.” Everything you wanted to know about socialism but were afraid to ask. “You” being you. Or possibly Joe the Plumber.
It’s more than John McCain’s comment to the daughter of a doctor who, during the 2000 campaign, complained we were getting too close to socialism in this country (“...when you reach a certain level of comfort,” he told her, “there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more”), or the fact that Sarah Palin’s Alaska, which has no sales or income tax, funds itself with huge levies to oil companies and then gives what’s left back to (or just “to”) its citizens. Talk about spreading the wealth. And these two are basing their entire presidential campaign (this week) on attacking Barack Obama for similar economic plans? Their hypocrisy is overwhelming. One wonders, for the thousandth time, how they sleep.
Hertzberg fires this:
The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent. The latter is what it would be under Obama’s proposal, what it was under President Clinton, and, for that matter, what it will be after 2010 if President Bush’s tax cuts expire on schedule.More comprehensively, he gives us this, which has always been my argument:
Of course, all taxes are redistributive, in that they redistribute private resources for public purposes. But the federal income tax is (downwardly) redistributive as a matter of principle: however slightly, it softens the inequalities that are inevitable in a market economy, and it reflects the belief that the wealthy have a proportionately greater stake in the material aspects of the social order and, therefore, should give that order proportionately more material support.Ex-mothereffin-actly!
On HuffPost, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, of all people, who supported Hilary Clinton earlier this year and is now supporting John McCain, has an anti-Obama post in which she raises the same stupid fears. I’m not sure what her game is — is she really that greedy or does she merely want McCain to win in ’08 so Hilary can win in ’12? — but she trots out that familiar Republican talking point against higher taxes for the wealthy:
Today, the top 1% of earners contributes 40% of the nation's $2.6 trillion tax intake and the bottom 50% pay 2.9% of our nation's total needs.I can’t think of a better argument for a more steeply progressive tax system than this. If the top 1 percent, paying at a rate similar to mine, already pay 40 percent of our taxes, think how much money they’re making. If these people are lucky enough to have the skills that allows them to prosper in the kind of system we currently have, then they should be paying even more to keep that system running smoothly. And they haven’t. It’s time the bastards paid up.
“Idiot Wind” is a startlingly good song for the way the McCain camp has attacked Obama this fall. Line after line hits home:
Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they'd cut it out but when they will I can only guess...
I haven't known peace and quiet for so long I can't remember what it's like...
I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can't remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes
don't look into mine...
The awful thing about the attacks is that you don't need to know anything about Obama, or about McCain, to know they're bullshit. You just have to know something about the world. A communist...and a Muslim? How is that possible? A secret socialist, who wants to make government all-powerful...and a secret terrorist, who wants to destroy government from within? How is that possible? The inanity (Sean or otherwise) is overwhelming.
Unafraid to Listen
An editorial in The Washington Post today condemns the latest guilt-by-association attack by John McCain and his campaign. The latest version involves an Arab-American scholar and Columbia professor, Raschid Kalidi, who holds, the Post says, complex views of the Middle East situation, and who was the subject of a toast at a dinner party by Barack Obama in 2003. Barack apparently said that Mr. Kalidi “offers constant reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases.”
By the end of the editorial, the Post quotes Mr. Kalidi saying he's waiting for this latest McCain-inspired “idiot wind” to blow over, and the Post agrees. But first they write this:
It's fair to question why Mr. Obama felt as comfortable as he apparently did during his Chicago days in the company of men whose views diverge sharply from what the presidential candidate espouses. Our sense is that Mr. Obama is a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position.
I'm not a fan of “Duh” but... Duh! Seriously are we that pathetic? Are our own points of view so fragile that they can't bear the scrutiny that listening to someone else's views requires? I'm reminding of something James Baldwin said about living in France and Turkey: “Whenever you live in another civilization you are foced to examine your own.” This examination is good and necessary if you are ever to improve your own society. The people who do not engage in it — fellow non-travelers like George Bush and Sarah Palin — have limited, absolutist world views that are not only dispiriting, but, in world leaders, positively dangerous. Both Palin and Bush don't have the intellect, or intellectual curiosity, or humility about one's intellect that true intellectual curiosity fosters, to be world leaders. We've already seen what happens when they get into positions of power. John McCain isn't much better. Plus he's got a dangerous temperament. Plus he's obviously sold his soul to the devil with this campaign. He's leaving behind a stink that we may never get out. And that's if he loses. If he wins, every campaign, at every level, will be flinging the same shit. We'll be covered in it.
Here's my point. This latest McCain-inspired controversy is actually one of the best reasons to vote for Barack Obama.
John McCain, like Sarah Palin and George Bush, is rarely the smartest person in any room he walks into — and he doesn't need to hear what you have to say.
Barack Obama is almost always the smartest person in any room he walks into — and he still wants to hear what you have to say. My god. How refreshing.
Good Talking Points Memo feature here on the number of conservatives who have dismissed McCain and/or endorsed Obama, and the number of newspapers who have done the same, specifically because of McCain's VP pick. You have a favorite? Mine's still Colin Powell, although I give Chris Hitchens props.
The Six Narratives of John McCain
Interesting piece by Robert Draper in yesterday's NY Times Magazine on the various narratives of the McCain campaign. The subhed says it all: “When a campaign can't settle on a central narrative, does it imperil its protagonist?”
In this way it's easy to blame McCain's chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, who encouraged John McCain to get away from “straight talk” in favor of “talking points,” and who encouraged him to use (or exploit) his P.O.W. status, and who favored picking Sarah Palin for VEEP and who pushed for suspending the campaign on Wednesday, Sept. 24 in the wake of the financial crisis, and who was, after all, the author of all of these various narratives, in which they tried to remake Obama as a “celebrity” or a “non-partisan pretender” or “a Washington insider” and then suffered the misfortune of not having Obama play along. So, yes, it's easy to blame Schmidt. But of course the bigger fault lies with John McCain. In the parlance of this low, dishonest decade, he's the decider, and he decided to take this path, or these paths, and so he is where he is. I believe conservatives used to call this kind of thing “accountability.”
Reading, in fact, my main thought was this: Who wants a president of the United States who can be pushed around by the likes of Steve Schmidt?
New Yorker Quote of the Day - I
"Kristol was out there shaking the pom-poms."
—from Jane Mayer's article on how John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in the Oct. 27th New Yorker.
More precise, it's a piece on how she wound up on everyone's radar. Blame those National Review/Weekly Standard luxury cruises that stopped off in Juneau in 2007. "The Governor was more than happy to meet with these guys," her aide said, and they were more than happy to meet with her. Starbursts followed. William Kristol was particularly smitten, to the point where, in a Fox News discussion on possible VEEPs this June, Chris Wallace told Kristol, "Can we please get off Sarah Palin?" Others beat the drums, and some beat those drums right next to John McCain. I suppose the real money quote is near the end: "By the time he announced her as his choice, the next day, he had spent less than three hours in her company." Yikes.
McCain Endorses Obama?
More Obama stuff. Nicholas Kristof writes what everyone who thinks two feet beyond their face has known from the start (but it’s still nice to read) and The New York Times endorses Obama for president. They’ve also included this nifty little gadget on every Times presidential endorsement since Lincoln. From Lincoln to Obama. Talk about framing the issue.
The Times’ endorsement is hardly a surprise — they haven’t endorsed a Republican since Ike in ’56, and this hardly seems the year to break tradition. Tradition's breaking the other way: Not just Colin Powell but former Republican governors Arne Carlson and William Weld and former Bush press spokesperson Scott McClellan. Not to mention National Review scion Christopher Buckley and 40 newspapers that backed Bush and all of these people. Not sure how Rush Limbaugh bloviates against these.
Despite the polls, I’m assuming nothing. I know the Republicans will be throwing everything they can at Obama and hope something sticks. In recent weeks, the two biggest charges against him are that he’s a) a terrorist, and b) a socialist. We know why these words are chosen — both are pejorative in the minds of Americans — but they are, in the sense that the McCain camp uses them, mutually exclusive. In general, I suppose, one can be a terrorist-socialist (tearing down to build up?), but the McCain camp is implying that Obama will both destroy our government from within (leaving it in ashes) and build it up from within (leaving it stronger than ever). Jesus, dudes, pick one. You can’t have both.
Oh. My. God.
I don't know why I'm voting for this man. He keeps making me cry.
I’d also recommend this Ron Howard video. I grew up on “Andy Griffith” and “Happy Days” so appreciate what he went through to go back there. I await the sequel, in which he re-sings "Gary, Indiana" and gets us all to eat his dust.
Jim Walsh and the Wellstone World Music Weekend
The following column was written by my friend Jim Walsh a year after the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone in Oct. 2002. It was a bad time. Our country gave into fear, it gave into lies, it set us on the path we're currently on. How does that path feel now? In two weeks, we may be able to begin to get off this path. We may be able to elect a leader who offers smarts,and hope, and unity; a leader who can make friends out of our enemies rather than enemies out of our friends. But it's still two weeks away. The McCain camp is stirring up old fears, promulgating new fears, disseminating misrepresentations and outright lies. They're throwing whatever shit they can against the wall and hoping some of it sticks.
Here's to not giving into fear and lies. Here's to hope, and smarts, and unity. And here's to Joe Henry, Vic Chesnutt, Dan Wilson, the Tropicals, Prince, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Green Day, Jenny Owen Young, Leonard Cohen, Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, Joan Armatrading, Randy Newman, Loudon Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright, Jonathan Richman, Teddy Thompson, Antony, Iron & Wine, R.E.M., The Beatles, Paul Simon, A3 and Nina Simone. And here's to the Mad Ripple.
An E-Proposal From Me to You
By Jim Walsh
I am standing in the northwest corner of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, in front of a silver monument that looks like a heart, a broken heart really, and I am thinking about how wrong the world has gone, how Minnesota Mean it all feels. I’m thinking about how much everyone I know misses the man I’ve come to visit, how sick I am of sitting around waiting for change, and about what might happen if I ask you to do something, which is what I’ll do in a minute.
Like most Minnesotans, I met Paul Wellstone once. It was at the Loring Playhouse after the opening night of a friend’s play. He and Sheila were there, offering encouragement to the show’s director, Casey Stangl, and quietly validating the post-production festivities with his presence: The Junior Senator from Minnesota and his wife are here; we must be doing something right.
The year before (1990), I’d written a column for City Pages encouraging all local musicians and local music fans to go vote for this mad professor the following Tuesday. He won, and, as many have said since, for the first time in my life I felt like we were part of something that had roots in Stuff The Suits Don’t Give A Shit About. That is, we felt like we had a voice, like were getting somewhere, or like Janeane Garofalo’s villain-whupping character in “Mystery Men,” who memorably proclaimed, “I would like to dedicate my victory to the supporters of local music and those who seek out independent films.”
After the election, Wellstone’s aide Bill Hillsman told me he believed my column had reached a segment of the voting populace that they were having trouble reaching, and that it may have helped put him over the top. I put aside my bullshit detector for the moment and chose to believe him, just as I choose at this moment to believe that music and the written word can still help change the world.
When I introduced myself to Wellstone that night as “Jim Walsh from City Pages,” he broke into that sexy gap-toothed grin, clasped my hand and forearm and said, with a warm laugh, “Jiiiiim,” like we were a couple of thieves getting together for the first time since the big haul. I can still feel his hand squeezing my forearm. I can still feel his fighter’s strength.
For those of you who never had the pleasure, that is what Paul Wellstone was--a fighter—despite the fact that the first president Bush said upon their first encounter, “who is this chickenshit?” He fought corporate America, the FCC, injustice, his own government. He fought for the voiceless, the homeless, the poor, the little guy—in this country and beyond. He was a politician but not a robot; an idealist, but not a sap, and if his legacy has already morphed into myth, it’s because there were/are so few like him. He was passionate, and compassionate. He had a huge heart, a rigorous mind, a steely soul and conscience, and now he is dead and buried in a plot that looks out over the joggers, bikers, rollerbladers, and motorists who parade around Lake Calhoun daily.
Paul and Sheila Wellstone and six others, including their daughter Marcia, were killed in a plane crash on October 25, 2002. I remember where I was that day, just as you do, and I don’t want to forget it, but what I want to remember even more is October 25, 2003. So here’s what we’re going to do.
We’re going to start something right here, right now, and we’re going to call it Paul and Sheila Wellstone World Music Day. It will happen on Saturday, Oct. 25th. On that day, every piece of music, from orchestras to shower singers, superstars to buskers, will be an expression of that loss and a celebration of that life. It will be one day, where music—which, to my way of thinking, is still the best way to fill in the gray areas that the blacks and whites of everyday life leave us with—rises up in all sorts of clubs, cars, concerts, and living rooms, all in the name of peace and love and joy and all that good stuff that gets snickered at by Them.
Now. This is no corporate flim-flam or media boondoggle. This is me talking to you, and you and I deciding to do something about the place we live in when it feels like all the exits are blocked. So: First of all, clip or forward this to anyone you know who still cares about grass roots, community, music, reading, writing, love, the world, and how the world sees America. If you’ve got a blog or web site, post it.
If you’re a musician, book a gig now for Oct. 25th. Tell them you want it to be advertised as part of Paul and Sheila Wellstone World Music Day. If you’re a shower singer, lift your voice that day and tell yourself the same thing. If you’re a club owner, promoter, or scene fiend, put together a multi-act benefit for Wellstone Action! <http://www.wellstone.org> . If you’re a newspaper person, tell your readers. If you’re a radio person, tell your listeners. Everybody talk about what you remember about Wellstone, what he tried to do, what you plan to do for Wellstone World Music Day. Then tell me at the email address below, and I’ll write another column like this the week of Oct. 25th, with your and others’ comments and plans.
This isn’t exactly an original idea. Earlier this year, I sat in a room at Stanford University with Judea and Michelle Pearl, the father and daughter of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered by members of a radical Islamic group in Pakistan in February of last year. After much talk about their son and brother’s life and murder, I asked them about Danny’s love of music. He was a big music fan, and an accomplished violinist who played with all sorts of bands all over the world. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Pearl was also a member of the Atlanta band the Ottoman Empire, and his fiddle levitates one of my all-time favorite Irish jigs, “This Is It,” which I found myself singing one night last fall in a Sonoma Valley bar with a bunch of journalists from Paraguay, Texas, Mexico, Jerusalem, Italy, and Korea.
The Pearls talked with amazement about the first Daniel Pearl World Music Day <http://www.danielpearl.org> , the second of which happens this October 10th, which would have been Pearl’s 40th birthday. I told them about attending one of the first Daniel Pearl World Music Day activities at Stanford Memorial Church, where a lone violinist silently strolled away from her chamber group at the end, signaling to me and my gathered colleagues that we were to remember that moment and continue to ask questions, continue to push for the dialogue that their son and brother lived for. I vowed that day to tell anybody within earshot about Daniel Pearl World Music Day, and later figured he wouldn’t mind a similar elegy for Wellstone, who shared Pearl’s battle against hate and cynicism.
Wellstone didn’t lead any bands, but he led as musical a life as they come. He lived to bring people together, to mend fences: Music. When he died, musicians and artists were some of the most devastated, as Leslie Ball’s crest-fallen-but-somehow-still-beaming face on CSPAN from Williams Arena illustrated. Everyone from Mason Jennings to Larry Long wrote Wellstone tribute songs in the aftermath, and everyone had a story, including the one Wendy Lewis told me about the genuine exuberance with which Wellstone once introduced her band, Rhea Valentine, to a crowd at the Lyn-Lake Festival. Imagine that, today.
So ignore this or do whatever you do when your “We Are The World” hackles go up. I’d be disappointed, and I suppose I wouldn’t blame you; in these times of terror alerts and media celebrity, I’m suspicious of everything, too. But I freely admit that the idea of a Wellstone World Music Day is selfish. That day was beyond dark, and to have another like it, a litany of hang-dog tributes and rehashes of The Partisan Speech and How It All Went Wrong, would be painful, not to mention disrespectful to everything those lives stood for and against.
No, I don’t want anyone telling me what to think or feel that day, or any day, anymore. I want music that day. I want to wake up hearing it, go to bed singing it. I want banners, church choirs, live feeds, hip-hop, headlines, punk rock, field reports, arias, laughter. I want to remember October 25, 2002 as the day the music died, and October 25, 2003 as the day when people who’ve spent their lives attending anti-war rallies and teaching kids and championing local music and independent films got together via the great big antennae of music and took another shot.
I am standing in the northwest corner of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. In front of the silver broken heart, three workers stab the fresh sod with shovels and fumble with a tape measurer. Flowers dot the dirt surrounding the statue base. I pick up a rock and put it in my pocket.
The sprinklers are on, hissing impatiently at the still-stunned-by-last-autumn citizens who work and hope and wait and watch beyond the cemetery gates. The sprinklers shoot horizontal water geysers this way and that. They are replenishing patches of grass that have been browned by the sun. They are telling every burned-out blade to keep growing, and trying to coax life out of death.
The Final Debate — Who Disappointed
A day late and a couple of billion dollars short, but here’s my thoughts on who disappointed during that final debate and why:
Bob Schieffer. Particularly the moral equivalency implicit in this question:
“Both of you pledged to take the high road in this campaign yet it has turned very nasty. Senator Obama, your campaign has used words like ‘erratic,’ ‘out of touch,’ ‘lie,’ ‘angry,’ ‘losing his bearings’ to describe Senator McCain. Senator McCain, your commercials have included words like ‘disrespectful,’ ‘dangerous,’ ‘dishonorable,’ ‘he lied.’ Your running mate said he ‘palled around with terrorists’...”
Please. Barack Obama’s negative ads focus on what’s wrong with John McCain’s proposed policies, and are mostly truthful. John McCain’s negative ads (and stump speeches) focus on what's wrong with Barack Obama, and they are mostly outright lies and innuendo. There is no equivalency. Everyone with an open mind knows who’s muddying the waters. McCain’s camp has even admitted that that’s their strategy. Why should journalists pretend otherwise?
I’ve said it time and again: Objectivity is not stupidity. This should be a journalistic mantra. Wake the fuck up.
The answers to the “running mate” question. Overall, of course, Barack's my guy, the smartest, most inspiring presidential candidate I’ve seen during my lifetime. And I know he’s preternaturally calm, and that’s part of the reason he is where he is. But when Schieffer lobbed that softball to him about running mates, and why his was better than the other, he should’ve smacked it out of the park. I mean out of the park. Instead, he turned even more factual, more logical. Drove me crazy. I mean, c’mon. At least bring up the fact that Sarah Palin doesn’t even do press conferences, that we’re in the unprecedented situation of possibly electing someone to the second-highest office in the land who hasn’t talked to the press yet. He doesn’t have to say it’s fascist, which it is. He just has to say it’s undemocratic, which it is.
I was also a little disappointed that he didn’t take John McCain more to task for McCain’s response to Schieffer’s above question. Which brings me to...
John McCain. Yep. After everything we’ve seen from his campaign, how could he disappoint me more? Yet he managed to do it. Kudos. The first time was here:
One of [those negative attacks] happened just the other day, when a man I admire and respect — I've written about him — Congressman John Lewis, an American hero, made allegations that Sarah Palin and I were somehow associated with the worst chapter in American history, segregation, deaths of children in church bombings, George Wallace. That, to me, was so hurtful.... I hope that Senator Obama will repudiate those remarks that were made by Congressman John Lewis, very unfair and totally inappropriate.
OK. McCain’s campaign implies that Barack Obama is a Muslim, a terrorist, “evil,” and when John Lewis calls him on it, McCain has the nerve to be affronted?
But it’s more. If you’d asked me five years, 10 years ago, to name someone who was a hero to me, someone alive and whom I didn’t know personally, I would’ve named John Lewis. He grew up poor in Mississippi. He wanted to be a minister and used to preach to the chickens as he was feeding them in the morning. He wound up going to college in Nashville and became one of the leaders of the 1960 Nashville sit-ins, which was the first protracted, organized effort at direct action — confronting an unjust law rather than simply ignoring it — of the civil rights movement. He was one of the leaders of the Freedom Rides, and was among those attacked in Montgomery, Ala., by a white mob who objected to the integrated Greyhound bus in their midst. (There’s a famous photo of him, with Jim Zwerg, a white student from, I believe, Wisconsin: Zwerg has his bloody fingers in his mouth (checking his teeth?), while Lewis looks, well, preternaturally calm, despite the blood splattered on his suit and tie.) He was the first president of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and he was among the speakers during the March on Washington in August 1963. If memory serves, he even argued with the March’s founders because he wanted to use the term “black” rather than “Negro” but the founder’s thought that too radical. For the past 30 years, he’s represented his district in Georgia in the U.S. Congress.
So when John McCain began dragging John Lewis’ name through the mud on national television, I had to restrain myself from battering my own television in anger.
Sen. McCain: There’s a reason John Lewis has equated you with some of the worst aspects of the civil rights movement. Look to yourself.
Then there was that moment, near the end, during the abortion back-and-forth, when McCain used air quotes around “health of the mother.” I’m not a woman but even I was offended. Can’t imagine how women felt.
The mainstream (corporate, idiotic) media. To me the debate was no contest. One guy was cranky, the other was calm. One guy was petty, the other guy had a largeness of spirit. One guy tried to keep us divided, the other tried to bring us together. (Check out, for example, Barack’s answer to the abortion question.) Even on a superficial level: One guy was red-eyed, blinking, with an unnatural smile, the other guy was handsome, cool, with a natural smile. No contest.
The polls afterwards indicated it was no contest. Voters preferred Barack Obama overwhelmingly, by the biggest margins in any of their three debates.
And yet the pundits. Ah, the pundits.
Are they in some kind of vacuum of stupidity? Are they straining for objectivity? Do they want to make more of a contest out of this presidential race? Do they want to give one to poor John McCain? Because they didn’t see it. Either they missed it, or they pretended reality was something other than what it was.
So much of the press, even a day later, was about how John McCain “went on the attack,” and “made the debate about...” blah blah blah. They couldn’t get enough of “Joe the Plumber,” yet another ignoramus John McCain has dragged onto the national stage. Here’s a guy, not even a licensed plumber, who owes back taxes, and who, in every interview I’ve heard, reiterates Republican talking points. He almost feels like a plant. He complains that Barack Obama’s tax plan would raise his taxes. It won’t. In fact, he’ll probably get a tax break. And yet “Joe” still won’t admit it. He says Barack tap-danced around the issue “almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr.” He said this to Katie Couric when she called him Thursday morning. He said it on national TV. People at CBS laughed when he said it.
Jesus Christ. How much more stupid can we get?
But for all that disappointment, it was still the debate I wanted. Barack looked good, McCain looked bad, and we’ve got less than three weeks to go.
U.S. Presidents on Film
I’ve got a piece up on MSNBC today about portrayals of U.S. presidents on film — to coincide with the release of Oliver Stone’s W. Here’s a quick synopsis of some of the films I had to watch for the piece.
Worth the time:
1. Thirteen Days (2000): Focuses on the Cuban Missile Crisis through the eyes of Kenny O’Donnell (Kevin Costner), special assistant to the president, whose biggest worry, at the story begins, is his son’s report card and Jackie’s party list. Then the world nearly ends. Watch the film and you can count the ways it nearly ends: If JFK had listened to the Joint Chiefs or if he had listened to Dean Acheson or if Bob McNamara hadn’t come up with the quarantine alternative or if General LeMay had gotten his way (“The big red dog is diggin’ in our backyard and we are justified in shooting him!”) or if the Russian ships hadn’t turned back or if the administration hadn’t come up with the plan to ignore Khrushchev’s second letter in favor of his first…well, then you might not be reading this. These days, almost everyone on the right, and a few on the left, invoke Neville Chamberlain as the diplomatic bogeyman. Get bullied and World War II results. JFK and his team repeatedly invoke The Guns of August: the book about how misunderstandings between countries led to WWI. Presidents reading. Imagine that.
2. Path to War (2002): John Frankenheimer’s last film, about how, step by step, LBJ got us involved in Vietnam. What’s intriguing about this version of history is how early the designers of the Vietnam War, particularly Robert McNamara (Alec Baldwin, shining), realized a victory wasn’t a sure thing. There’s a powerful scene, just after McNamara talks with his aides about how many losses we’ll probably sustain for such-and-such a period, when a Quaker, Norman Morrison, sets himself on fire outside McNamara’s Pentagon office to remind everyone what a loss of a life is. Ultimately the film is a semi-sympathetic portrayal of Johnson. He listened to the wrong advice, probably against his gut instinct, and stuck us there for 10 years and lost his (and our) Great Society along with 50,000 American lives. It’s another example of the U.S., the most powerful country in the world, getting involved where they shouldn’t, and against their own better instincts, because of a combination of hubris and the fear of appearing weak. Helluva cast: Baldwin, Michael Gambon (as LBJ), Donald Sutherland, Philip Baker Hall (who played Nixon in Secret Honor), Frederic Forrest and one of my favorite character actors, Bruce McGill, who plays CIA Chief George Tenet in W.
3. The Day Reagan was Shot (2001): A surprisingly good Showtime film from the early 2000s. Actors who have to play well-known figures should study Richard Crenna here. He merely suggests Reagan, he doesn’t imitate him. The film is sympathetic to Haig, too, who is played by Richard Dreyfuss, who would go on to play Dick Cheney in W. What I learned: Reagan came close to dying that day in 1981; and the federal government was more or less in chaos; and the White House was unable to even secure outside lines when they needed to. The usual bureaucratic pissing matches are fun to watch: FBI vs. Treasury; Haig vs. Weinberger. The film is both comic and scary. At one point, for example, the “football,” or the briefcase with the nuclear launch codes, goes missing.
4. Secret Honor (1984): I first saw this when it came out, or at least when it came to the University of Minnesota in January 1985, and I wondered if it would hold up. Does. It’s a one-man show, all Phillip Baker Hall, bless him. Nixon, drinking in exile, lurches between defending himself and attacking, vituperatively, profanely, his many enemies. “I was just an unindicted co-conspirator like everyone else in the United State of America,” he rails at one point. As for that secret honor? According to Altman’s Nixon, the people that put him in charge, the Committee of 100, wanted him to continue the Vietnam War, to nab a third term, and to use China against the Soviets and then “carve up the markets of the rest of the goddamned world.” Nixon fell on his sword rather than let this to happen. So Altman’s take was similar to Stone’s later take. Both imply that while Nixon may have been a bastard, the people behind him? Man, you don’t want to go there.
5. Nixon (1995): I got stuck with the director’s cut. Interestingly, the reinstated scenes on an HDTV show up blurry, or blurrier, so let you know exactly what was cut. And why. Because most of these scenes focus on that Oliver Stone paranoia of “the system” being like a “beast.” They deserved the cutting room floor. That said, the theatrical version is quite good and fairly sympathetic to Nixon. So interesting. Hollywood gives us sympathetic Nixons and LBJs but coldhearted Thomas Jeffersons. Love Anthony Hopkins in the title role, but Joan Allen (sorry, darling) is way too sexy to play Pat Nixon. Money quote: “People vote not out of love but fear.”
6. The Crossing (1999): An A&E film. A little slow but a fascinating look at the low point of the American Revolution. It’s the moment when, out of desperation, we went on the attack, the surprise attack, and salvaged our last chance at independence.
1. Truman (1995): Gary Sinese is great but it’s a dull, conventional film (from HBO) about the man who, we’re told time and again, was “as stubborn as a Missouri mule.” Sample line from a speech during his 1948 whistle-stop tour. “I am for the people and against the special interests.” Hey, me too! In the end, too much life to be portrayed in too little time. And, sorry Gore Vidal, but no mention of the creation of the National Security State in 1947. Yeah, big shock.
2. Jefferson in Paris (1995): One gets the feeling the filmmakers wanted to suggest the leisurely pace of 18th century society, as Stanley Kubrick did with Barry Lyndon, but here it just comes off as dull. Nolte’s Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, is a remarkably cold and hypocritical man.
3. Wilson (1944): Another reluctant president. Another pure man. The only presidential biopic to be nominated for best picture. Also helped kill the presidential biopic since it bombed at the box office.
4. The Reagans (2003): Before Josh Brolin played W., his father, James Brolin, played Reagan. All in the family. Good quote from Republican operatives in 1964 talking amongst themselves: “His lack of political knowledge, c’mon fellas, just makes him seem more a man of the people!” Republicans have been following that script ever since: Reagan, Quayle, W., Palin...
5. Sunrise at Campobello (1960): Former Navy secretary and vice-presidential nominee FDR contracts polio but makes his political comeback at the 1924 Democratic Convention. From a popular play, but onscreen (sorry) it just sits there.
6. Abraham Lincoln (1930): D.W. Griffith’s last film. Ponderous, folksy, monumental, dusty. Like Truman in Truman, Lincoln is portrayed as a man without ambition. Here’s an idea of what the film is like: At one point, late at night, Lincoln (Walter Huston) paces in the White House only to stop and proclaim: “I’ve got it, Mary! I’ve found the man to win the war! And his name is…GRANT!” And that, kids, is how presidential decisions are made.
7. DC 9/11: Time of Crisis (2003): The worst.
Two Minute Review: W. (2008)
Oliver Stone’s W. is like our 43rd president’s greatest hits. Here he is chug-a-lugging at Yale and here he is finding Jesus and here he is failing at oil rigs, and oil drilling, and running for Congress. Here he is choking on a pretzel.
Stone intercuts these familiar incidents with the familiar arguments, dramatized over presidential lunches and Oval Office meetings and cabinet meetings, that led us into Iraq. It’s straightforward storytelling — particularly for Stone. Hell, it’s almost breezy. The two hours go by like that, and Josh Brolin, in the lead, is amazing. He gives us a complex portrait of a very simple man.
It’s a father-son film. “You disappoint me, Junior,” Herbert Walker tells him early on. “Deeply disappoint me.” He tells him, “You only get one bite at the apple,” but W. keeps biting and missing. He drinks, carouses, goes after girls. He can’t find himself. Even after he finds Laura, and Jesus, and helps his father get elected the 41st president of the United States, he’s disappointed. Greatness escapes him. Hell, mediocrity escapes him. You go in wondering if Stone’s portrait of W. will be different from our own image of W. and it isn’t. What you see is what you get. Yes, he’s that thick, that muddled, and yet that certain. The film implies that certain Machiavellian types (Rove, Cheney) manipulate W. into going where he already wants to go (into politics, into Iraq), and it feels true, but it’s not like we’re learning anything here. I learned, or re-learned (did I ever know it?) that W. speaks Spanish but that’s the only time I remember being surprised by the title character.
Since so much of the story is familiar, since, like the subject, there’s not much there there, we might have to wait years before we figure out if the movie is any good. It really is too close to us to gauge. It’s a tragedy, certainly, and the tragedy is that in trying to win his father’s love, or outdo what his father did, or make up for his father’s great loss, W. — yes, aided and abetted by a motley crew — put us on a calamitous national and international path... and yet still can’t think of one thing he did wrong. That lack of introspection is his tragedy. The rest of it is ours.
Canvassing for Obama in Youngstown, OH
My friend Andy Engelson, a father of two, an editor in Seattle, and one of the nicest people I know, spent the first weekend in October canvassing for Obama in Ohio. Here’s what he found…
After flying into Columbus and driving three hours east, I arrived in Youngstown in the early evening. This is a former steel town, and enormous empty steel mills fill the Mahoning River Valley. Most of the city is perched on the hills above the valley, and evidence of a broken economy is everywhere: boarded-up businesses, crumbling homes, a nearly empty downtown.
But the campaign office was a hub of activity—filled with local volunteers with union T-shirts, OSU Buckeye sweatshirts and Obama buttons. The volunteer coordinator (who works long, long hours) was a bubbly college student from Long Island. She quickly put me to work calling volunteers to set up door-to-door canvassing over the weekend.
You may have heard about the strength of Obama’s “ground game”—a vast grassroots network of volunteers. It is truly impressive. Both in Philadelphia (where I canvassed for Obama in April), and in Youngstown, everyone who volunteers is quickly trained, put to work and effusively thanked. Every person we call who is voting for Obama is asked to volunteer, and those who say yes get a follow-up call.
During the next afternoon, I headed out to the local Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target and other big-box stores to register voters. I had done this in Seattle, and in Youngstown I succeeded in signing up about a dozen new voters. Unfortunately, after a while, a cranky middle manager came out of Wal-Mart and told me “You can’t gather signatures here!” I told her I was simply registering voters but she wasn’t sympathetic. Too bad these companies, which profit so much from working people, don’t want them to exercise their right to vote.
The next day, it was into the neighborhoods to canvass. I was paired up with Beverly, a woman from Buffalo, who, like me, had arrived for the weekend to volunteer. She told me she has a 26-year old son, also named Andy, once ran for city council as a Republican, but is an avid supporter of Obama. She was particularly impressed with his leadership and speaking skills, and felt the need to convince others. She’d lost her own election, but it had given her experience going to door-to-door and talking to voters. A number of years ago, she was a Buffalo Bills cheerleader, and there’s still a bit of that spirit in her as we went door to door in Youngstown urging people to vote for Obama.
Youngstown is definitely in hard times. In many neighborhoods we visited, it seemed as if every other home was abandoned: broken windows, vines growing up the sides of the house or trees fallen in the yard from Hurricane Ike. There are still some jobs in Youngstown—GM has a plant not far from town—and you will find pockets of nice homes. But often, just across the street, you’ll see the burned-out shell of a school or a group of men sitting on a doorstep drinking beer from 20-ounce cans in paper sacks.
In Ohio, voters can go to any Board of Elections building and vote anytime between now and Nov. 4. The campaign was pushing this hard in order to get everyone eligible out to vote and reduce lines on election day. You may remember the news from 2004, when in parts of Ohio there were eight-hour lines at polling places.
What I enjoy most about canvassing is talking to undecided voters. The conversations we had were positive, instructive and encouraging. Generally, these undecided voters are white, working class and over 60. One woman and I talked a good 10 minutes about the economy, about people not getting medical care because they don’t have insurance, about the situation in Youngstown. People here are amazingly upbeat and friendly despite the circumstances.
Occasionally, I’d meet less-than-friendly people. I also had one very negative confrontation.
It was late in the day, and I knocked at the second-to-last house on my list. I heard a gruff “WHO IS IT?” from behind the door. I said I was a volunteer with the Obama campaign and inquired about a young voter on my list who lived there. Silence. So I said goodbye and left some campaign literature at the door. As I was walking back to the sidewalk, the man burst out a side door and literally came running at me, red in the face. A young black man was running up behind him, but unable to hold this guy back. Just inches from me, the man, a white man with a beard and shirt with a motorcycle logo, shouted “Who the HELL are you?” He was shaking with rage. I told him again who I was and after a brief pause he yelled at me,“Just keep walking! NOW!” I did just that, moving slowly away. I met up with Beverly, who’d been working another street, and we drove back to the campaign office in the fading light.
It was scary to say the least. Had I flinched I think the guy would have struck me. What may have triggered the outburst was an incident in the neighborhood several days before. Two young African American men had posed as campaign workers just up the street, then robbed the home at gunpoint. So frustrating. Two stupid kids had hurt our efforts and inflamed racial tensions in this hard-hit town. Afterwards, we reported the encounter to the campaign office, and they agreed to stop canvassing in that immediate neighborhood.
But nothing was going to stop me from going out the next day.
On Sunday, I was invited by my hosts to attend a prayer breakfast at their church—the oldest African American church in Youngstown. Everyone was dressed in their finest, and the program featured members of churches talking about what had happened over the past year. There were presentations on what the church was doing in the community for children, for the elderly, and for those who were sick or homebound. A guest speaker joked about being riveted to CNN, and then talked about how many people in the community were worried about the future but were finding solace in the community of the church. There was plenty of singing, clapping, and a huge breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits, and grits. Afterwards, my host, Goldia, introduced me to the pastor, and, he shook my hand for at least a full minute. I was humbled to be so welcomed.
Then back to the neighborhoods. We visited 200 or more homes over the course of the weekend. We talked to many undecideds, most of whom were worried about the economy. Youngstown is already dealing with a recession, they’re already “ahead” of the country in that regard. In fact, many, of the voters on our lists had already moved away. Either they’d been unable to make payments or they’d left Youngstown for good.
It’s clear Youngstown’s problems will not be fixed overnight. Perhaps there’s not even much Obama can do outright. But I do think a fairer tax policy, some efforts to boost new energy industries, and getting more folks covered by health care is a start. The last eight years have not been good to this town. It reminded me how much is riding on this election.
After a day knocking on doors in brilliant sunshine, Beverly returned to Buffalo and I spent the evening training a new volunteer, Ann, who had driven to Ohio from Los Angeles and would be volunteering in Youngstown until election day. If only I had the time to do that! I can’t say enough about how people respond to one-on-one contact with volunteers. People are appreciative and want to talk about the issues and hear about your personal reasons for supporting Obama.
Even Republicans supporting McCain were appreciative. I talked to an older man named Jim while I was registering voters outside Walgreens. We had a friendly conversation. Even though he supported McCain, he thanked me for coming out from Seattle. It was those sorts of conversations that make me realize we are not as divided as the media portrays us. One of the things that draws me to Obama is that “agree to disagree” philosophy that has been missing from the national discourse for some time.
And there’s a real satisfaction when you make a connection. That happened back in Philadelphia, when an older woman took me into her home and confessed that she would vote for Obama (rather than Clinton) but didn’t want her neighbors to know. She told me how, as a recently widowed woman, she was struggling to make ends meet. In tears, she told me how heating oil had cost her dearly the previous winter, and how she’d had to keep the thermostat below 60 to afford it. She’d voted for Reagan but was now more excited about the Obama campaign than any since Bobby Kennedy’s in ’68. She felt Obama actually gave a damn about people like her and was excited to see so many young people inspired by the campaign. And she was thankful, I think, that someone had taken the time to listen to her story.
More than anything, though, this campaign has helped me. Helped me see what people are going through in places less fortunate than my own. Helped me see what issues are truly important to people. It has shown me that even in difficult times, people maintain a sense of humor and a friendliness that is truly inspiring.
It also helped me meet people like Frank and his wife Mary. They are in their late 60s and have lived in Youngstown most of their lives. Frank suffered a stroke a few years ago so Mary asked if Beverly and I would come in and briefly talk to him: “It would mean so much to him. He can understand everything you say, but he can’t say anything.” We came into the home, and Mary introduced us as two volunteers working for the Obama campaign. “Frank, they’ve come here to visit you and ask if you’re going to support Obama. What do you think of Obama, Frank?”
Sitting at the kitchen table in a wheelchair with his head cocked to one side, he eyed us for a long moment. Then he slowly raised his hand and formed his shaking fingers into an OK sign.
Norman Mailer and the 1964 Republican Convention
The excerpts of Norman Mailer’s letters in The New Yorker led me back to his piece, “In the Red Light: A History of the Republican Convention in 1964,” from Cannibals and Christians, which I first read over a decade ago. I remember I didn’t particularly like it. Norman went off on too many tangents, he reduced too many groups — “Goldwater girls ran to two varieties,” etc. Sometimes this stuff felt close to truth and sometimes it just felt hollow and mean. Parts of it still feel hollow and mean but most of the article feels shockingly contemporary. It makes the 1964 election feel like the first half of a bookend whose second half we may be fashioning.
So an Arizona senator is running for president by appealing to the worst elements of his party. The Midwestern and western elements of that party viciously attack the eastern establishment, the media, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “Indeed there was a general agreement that the basic war was between Main Street and Wall Street,” Norman writes. There’s a down-home folksiness in the candidate’s voice: “I think we’re going to give the Democrats a heck of a surprise,” he says. There’s a callback to Christianity: “The thing to remember is that America is a spiritual country, we’re founded on belief in God, we may wander a little as a country but we never get too far away,” he says.
At the convention, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco of all places, a senator from Colorado, Dominick, gives a speech in which he quotes a New York Times editorial from 1765 which rebuked Patrick Henry for his extreme ideas. Norman writes:
Delegates and gallery whooped it up. Next day Dominick confessed. He was only “spoofing.” He had known: there was no New York Times in 1765. Nor was there any editorial. An old debater’s trick. If there are no good facts, make them up. Be quick to write your own statistics. There was some umbilical tie between the Right Wing and the psychopathic liar.
Even so, for a time Norman considers voting for Goldwater. There are elements of LBJ and the Democratic party he can’t abide — its modern, clinical quality — and he thinks it may be worse to die a slow, suffocating death than to go out with Goldwater in a blaze of glory. But then:
One could not vote for a man who made a career by crying Communist—that was too easy: half the pigs, bullies and cowards of the twentieth century had made their fortune on that fear. I had a moment of rage at the swindle.
Cuba comes up, and Norman writes:
One could live with a country which was mad, one could even come to love her (for there was agony beneath the madness), but you could not share your life with a nation which was powerful, a coward, and righteously pleased because a foe one-hundredth our size had been destroyed.
Again and again, from a distance of 44 years, Norman hits you upside the head with the truth.
Goldwater lost that election, he lost big, but in later years even the much-hated media would see that convention, and that loss, as the birth of the modern Republican party; they’d bend to Goldwater and see him through orange-colored glasses. Read this, though, and there’s no doubt about the elements he was stirring up.
So it feels like a bookend. Two Arizona senators. The first attacking the Civil Rights Act, the second attacking what may be the culmination of that Act. A friend of mine once said, “When I was a teenager I realized that you could either be successful or you could be right,” and in the early 1960s the Democratic party decided to be right, finally right, on the issue of civil rights and on the promise of the Declaration of Independence, and since then the Republican party has been successful largely on the back of that decision. But maybe not now. Maybe this period, in which I’ve lived my entire life, can finally be bookended. Ended. Maybe.
Musical Quote of the Day
Swimming like there's no tomorrow
Living like there's no regret
Looked up and saw the sorrow
Too far out
Too far out
This is what they said would happen
We were warned
We were warned
We were too far out
—from the song "Too Far Out" by The Tropicals
The VEEP Debate: America's Cocktail Waitress
I'm glad people watched. 69.9 million viewers. I wish she'd done worse. I want her off the national stage. She doesn't belong there. She doesn't belong there even if everything is going right, and it sure as hell ain't. We're in the middle of a perfect storm of crises — Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, banking crisis, mortgage crisis, unemployment. Our national debt is surging past $10 trillion, which is twice the amount it was when George Bush took office. Remember that healthy surplus he inherited that he promptly gave away in Santy-Claus checks and tax breaks for the wealthy? $10 trillion! And that's before the bailout. And there's still 40-plus percent who think Sarah Palin should be vice president and possibly president of the United States? To add what? To offer what? A platitude while you lose your job? A wink and a smile while you lose your home? You listened to her hold onto her talking points for dear life and thought, "What kind of ego does it take to be so blinded to your complete lack of qualifications for a job? And not just any job but the job of leading our country through the greatest crises it's faced since the Great Depression and WW II? How dare she? How dare he?" I'll never forgive John McCain for putting her on that stage.
Here's what I don't get. Most of us have to suffer through unqualified bosses — the world is rife with them — and yet, given the chance, the American people keep electing unqualified bosses, someone who obviously isn't smart enough for the job. The Republicans keep giving us these people: Reagan, Quayle, W., now Palin. Just when you think it can't get worse, it does. Enough. Enough.
Remember when The National Review was run by smart people? Here's what its current editor, Rich Lowry, said about Palin's performance Thursday night:
I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.
I can think of no better response than what one of Andrew Sullivan's readers wrote:
In reaction to Rich Lowry, I'm sure I'm not the only woman who, upon reading his words, sat up a little straighter and said, "Is he kidding? Is he goddamn kidding me?" Is this the kind of reaction the women in this country should want men to have to the possible first female Vice Presidential candidate in history? Holy hell.
I thought Palin's performance at the debate was downright embarrassing and on top of that I have to read this clown's blog, stating more or less that Palin gave him an erection? Little starbursts my ass. Here's what I thought when Palin "dropped" that first wink at us: "Did she just wink at us like she was America's cocktail waitress?" Rich Lowry is on the verge of slapping Sarah Palin on the ass and asking her for another of those fantastic whiskey sours.
Please. Please. Please. Get her off the stage. Now. People are watching.
P.S. Joe Biden kicked ass.
The Real Joe Sixpack
I first saw this on Andrew Sullivan's site and teared up — particularly at the beginning when everyone starts standing. Oliver Willis calls Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO delivering the speech, his hero for the day. He is, and more. In facing up to our great national horror we may be finally overcoming it.
Literary Quote of the Day
"George F. Will writes: 'Bush's terseness is Ernest Hemingway seasoned with John Wesley.'
"Well, one is hardly familiar with John Wesley's sermons, but I do know that to put George W. Bush's prose next to Hemingway's is equal to saying that Jackie Susann is right up there with Jane Austen. Did a sense of shame ever reside in our Republican toadies? You can't stop people who are never embarrassed by themselves."
—Norman Mailer, in a letter to The Boston Globe, March 13, 2002, and reprinted in a section of the Oct. 6 New Yorker. The last sentence in particular made me wonder what Norman would've made of Sarah Palin.
We had a good debate party here on First Hill last night, lots of folks, drinks, kids running around and chasing the cat, poor Jellybean, who hid most of the evening but responded well in the quiet afterwards. No ill effects at basically being the tiny Paul McCartney being chased by grasping and clomping Jellybeaniacs everywhere.
As for the debate itself, I thought both sides did well, but my guy — Barack, in case you haven’t been paying attention — did better. He was smart, articulate, tough but civil. He looked presidential. John McCain was rude and crotchety and refused to even look at his opponent. And while he demonstrated extensive foreign policy expertise, nothing he said, either about foreign affairs or the economy, indicated any change in the direction we’ve been going in, disastrously, for the last eight years.
So basically: Barack refuted the concerns that undecideds had about him (that he wasn’t up to the task) while McCain exacerbated the concerns that undecideds had about him (that, in terms of policy, he was an older and more crotchety version of Bush, and will offer nothing in terms of change).
- Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging of the debate
- Footage of a Fox News(!) focus group of independents that gave the debate to Barack
- An article on why and where Barack won. By a 62-32 margin, voters felt he was more in touch with their needs and concerns. But here’s the bigger number: “The CBS poll of undecideds has more confirmatory detail. Obama went from a +18 on “understanding your needs and problems” before the debate to a +56 (!) afterward. And he went from a -9 on “prepared to be president” to a +21.”
- Finally, Michael Seitzman over at HuffPost has a great post about what exactly it is that Barack is bringing that is so appealing and that we haven’t seen in national politics, or even national life, for so long: Grace.
NY Times Offers Lack of Leadership
Christ, the NY Times editorial did the exact same thing Gail Collins just did. They started off with a good, deserved swipe at Pres. Bush:
It took President Bush until Wednesday night to address the American people about the nation’s financial crisis, and pretty much all he had to offer was fear itself.
But then they say this about our absent leadership:
Given Mr. Bush’s shockingly weak performance, the only ones who could provide that are the two men battling to succeed him. So far, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is offering that leadership.
Really? Both? Obama isn't offering leadership? So you keep reading and discover that the brunt of the article is about how badly McCain has handled things:
First, he claimed that the economy was strong, ignoring the deep distress of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have already lost their homes. Then he called for a 9/11-style commission to study the causes of the crisis, as if there were a mystery to be solved. Over the last few days he has become a born-again populist, a stance entirely at odds with the career, as he often says, started as “a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution.”
After daily pivoting, Mr. McCain now says that the bailout being debated in Congress has to protect taxpayers, that all the money has to be spent in public and that a bipartisan board should “provide oversight.” But he offered not the slightest clue about how he would ensure that taxpayers would ever “recover” the bailout money.
Mr. McCain proposed capping executives’ pay at firms that get bailout money, a nicely punitive idea but one that does nothing to mitigate the crisis. And that is about as far as his new populism went.
What is most important is that Mr. McCain hasn’t said a word about strengthening regulation or budged one inch from his insistence on maintaining Mr. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.
Their complaints about Obama, meanwhile, are hardly complaints:
Mr. Obama has been clearer on the magnitude and causes of the financial crisis. He has long called for robust regulation of the financial industry, and he said early on that a bailout must protect taxpayers. Mr. Obama also recognizes that the wealthy must pay more taxes or this country will never dig out of its deep financial hole. But as he does too often, Mr. Obama walked up to the edge of offering full prescriptions and stopped there.
In other words, McCain is running around with his head cut off, flip-flopping and flop-sweating all over the country, while Obama offers exactly what we need but somehow doesn't go far enough, and this, in the NY Times' mind, equals a lack of leadership from both?
Somebody get me rewrite. Please.
Bush and the Hail Mary Candidate
Gail Collins has a great graf on Bush's speech last night:
There is, in a way, a kind of talent required to tell the nation that it’s teetering on the brink of disaster in a way that makes the viewers’ attention wander. Bush’s explanation about how the rescue bill would unclog the lines of credit made the whole thing sound less important than a Liquid-Plumr commercial.
Unfortunately, she then goes off and condemns both presidential candidates — as if Barack's level-headed response to this crisis somehow equalled McCain's frenetic and sometimes desperate (and now "hail mary") response. Not sure why she does this. Is she straining for objectivity? She's a columnist; she doesn't have to be objective. Besides, as I've said often and I'll keep saying until the MSM gets it, objectivity doesn't mean stupidity. It also doesn't mean that if one side is constantly and glaringly wrong that you search for some piddly little thing the other side got wrong to balance the report. Sometimes the report is unbalanced. Sometimes, so too is the candidate.
Movie Quote of the Day
"It would be the easiest thing for me as president to ask for a declaration of war. A man on a horseback is always a hero. But I wouldn't have to do the fighting. Some poor farmer's boy, or the son of some great family would have to do the fighting — and the dying. When I ask them to do that, I want to be very sure that what they're dying for is worthwhile."
— Pres. Woodrow Wilson (Alexander Knox) after the sinking of the Lusitania in Wilson (1944)
Movie Quote of the Day
"I often think of something Woodrow Wilson said to me. 'It is only once in a generation that people can be lifted above material things. That is why conservative government is in the saddle for two-thirds of the time.'"
—Franklin (Ralph Bellamy) to Eleanor Roosevelt (Greer Garson), in Sunrise at Campbello (1960)
Mark Antony in Oxford Town
Good, sad post byJoseph Romm on what people want to hear during the presidential debates and why the Dems always screw it up. It goes back to Mark Antony in the Roman Forum: "I am no orator, as Brutus is/ But — as you know me all — a plain blunt man."
Gourevitch on Palin
I assume Philip Gourevitch went to Alaska in July to write a piece about Ted Stevens' indictment and attempted comeback — a piece that was subsequently disrupted by the imbecilic vetting from the McCain vice-presidential selection committee. The result, which appears in the Sept. 22 New Yorker, is mostly about Sarah Palin.
On the plus side, Gourevitch interviewed Palin before she entered (and then, like a skittish animal, was shielded from) the national spotlight, so he's got quotes that didn't have to be run by or through or into Rick Davis. Palin is surprisingly up front about earmarks, for example, the bete noir (except for You-Know-Who) of the McCain campaign:
“The federal budget, in its various manifestations, is incredibly important to us, and congressional earmarks are one aspect of this relationship. ... There isn’t a need to aspire to live without any earmarks. The writing on the wall, though, is that times are changing. Presidential candidates have promised earmark reform, so we gotta deal with it, we gotta live with it, understanding that our senior senator, especially—he’s eighty-four years old, he is not gonna be able to serve in the Senate forever."
Palin's Access: Beyond Disgraceful
Andrew Sullivan on the Republican vice-presidential candidate and the press:
The press is beginning to resist the incredibly sexist handling of Palin by the McCain campaign. There is a simple point here: any candidate for president should be as available to press inquiries as humanly possible. Barring a press conference for three weeks, preventing any questions apart from two television interviews, one by manic partisan Sean Hannity, devising less onerous debate rules for a female candidate, and then trying to turn the press into an infomercial for the GOP is beyond disgraceful.
Fight back, you hacks! Demand access. Demand accountability! It's our duty. If we cannot ask questions of a total newbie six weeks before an election in which she could become president of the country, then the First Amendment is pointless. Grow some!
The Big Red Dog is Wanted Dead or Alive
Two days later, for the same article, I watched Thirteen Days, the 2000 account of the Cuban Missile Crisis starring Kevin Costner as Kenny O'Donnell, JFK's special assistant, and Bruce Greenwood in an understated and suggestive turn as our first telegenic president. (I should add that, for all the faults of the film, Timothy Bottoms did a fine job as Bush in DC 9/11.)
So it's early in the crisis and the joint chiefs are recommending bombing Cuba back to the stone age. Even former Secretary of State Dean Acheson is recommending same with a foreknowledge of consquences that is truly frightening: We warn, we strike, they strike back in Berlin, NATO kicks in. “Hopefully,” he says, “cooler heads prevail.” On the third day, General Curtis Le May gets into the act with this rationale:
“The big red dog is diggin' in our backyard and we are justified in shooting him...”
Afterwards, JFK and his advisors, who are looking for the alternative, which, of course, turns out to be the quarantine or blockade of Cuba, joke about the general's language — the reduction to homey metaphor of an act that might end the world — and I realized, for the zillionth time, that for the last eight years we've had General Le Mays running things: “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” etc. We've had no one demanding more evidence and looking for alternatives. We've had no cooler heads. Hell, the General Le Mays of the Bush administration have been the cooler heads.
So, as bad as things are, and they're pretty bad, thank God we didn't have Bush and his team in place in October 1962.
Why 'DC: 9/11' is the New 'Reefer Madness'
I thought of this while watching, DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, a Showtime movie from 2003, written and produced by British-born Hollywood conservative Lionel Chetwynd, which first aired, amid controversy, in September 2003.
I know. Life’s short, why waste two hours? Unfortunately I’m writing an article about presidents on film to coincide with the release of Oliver Stone’s W., and DC 9/11 is part of the price you pay.
But I quickly began to see the humor. SNL came to mind when Pres. Bush, on Air Force One, switches to commander-in-chief mode and starts barking orders at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: “Hike military alert status to Delta! That's the military, the C.I.A., foreign, domestic, everything! And if you haven't gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” He barks orders at a submissive Cheney. He tells everyone, over and over, that Osama bin Laden will pay:
- “We’re gonna hunt down and find those folks who committed this.”
- “Whoever did this isn’t going to like me as president.”
- “We’re going to kick the hell out of whoever did this. No slap on the wrist this time.”
But it wasn’t until Rumsfeld raises the specter of Saddam Hussein that I saw the true brilliance of DC 9/11. This is a movie that actually glorifies the worst foreign policy decisions we’ve ever made. It’s like finding a 1964 film celebrating the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. It’s like, dare I say, something by Leni Riefenstahl. Just not, you know, artistic.
Here’s the dialogue from the Sept. 13 cabinet meeting after Rumsfeld raises the question of Iraq:
Powell: The mission is the destruction of al Qaeda. Hussein isn’t your man.There are more meetings. Bush becomes more certain, more messianic. Rendition and domestic spying are implied. You’re either with us or with the terrorists. In the Sept. 15 meeting, Powell warns Bush that if we go after someone besides al Qaeda our allies may fall away and leave us isolated. Bush replies:
Rumsfeld: He is if we’re talking about terrorism in the broadest sense. We know he never stopped developing weapons of mass destruction...
Cheney: Al Qaeda lacks weapons. That’s why they used our own aircraft. You put Hussein and bin Laden together...?
Bush: Is that an immediate threat?
Cheney: The enemy is clearly more than UBL [bin Laden] and the Taliban. If we’re including people who support terrorists, that does open the door to Iraq. But unlike bin Laden, we know where to find them.
“At some point, we may be the only ones left standing. And that will have to be OK. That’s why we’re America.”Powell says bin Laden attacked us, not Saddam, and Wolfowitz replies:
“Only because he was unable. But he’s got the arms. He’s been developing everything from nuclear weapons to smallpox to anthrax. A whole range of weapons of mass destruction. ... All he’s lacked is the means to deliver those weapons to our shores. Well, UBL has shown him he’s got a system of delivery.”
Here’s what’s awful. The reason our foreign policy mistakes were disastrous are there in the script for anyone to see — and they were visible back then. 9/11 did require a new playbook. We were attacked by a loose organization that could hide, rather than a nation-state that couldn’t. Yet our ultimate response was to attack a nation-state because, in Cheney’s words, “We know where to find them.”
Which is the very reason we shouldn’t have attacked them. That was the old playbook. It’s still the old playbook. And we still don’t get it.
DC 9/11 is either so funny it’s sad or so sad it’s funny. It should become a cult classic like Reefer Madness: a propaganda film that, through its over-the-top idiocy, proves its opposite. It’s also a good reminder of what once constituted conservative spin. Remember Bush as action hero? As cowboy? “[Saddam] is surely developing WMDs,” Bush says. “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” Bush says. We’re going to “rid the world of evil,” Bush says. “This will decidedly not be another Vietnam,” Bush says.
"You want to see a REAL liberal media, Otis?"
Nicholas Kristof's column this morning on how well the Republican slime machine is working — 13 percent of registered voters think Barack Obama is Muslim, while the "End Times" people literally think he's the anti-Christ — brought back that New Yorker cover controversy from two months ago. I'd argue my post back then wasn't prescient but historical; anyone who paid attention in '04 knew it would happen. Since then the New Yorker has given us their anti-John McCain cover: He's rich, playing Monopoly; his wife carries a glass of wine. So in one cover they dress up Barack and Michelle Obama as what they aren't (America's enemies) and in the other they dress up John and Cindy McCain as what they are (rich bastards) and call it even. Barack becomes who Americans want to kill, McCain who Americans want to be. Thank you, liberal media.
Seriously, everytime I hear that phrase, "liberal media," I want to deck somebody. I think of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in the original Superman, talking to Ned Beatty's dimwitted Otis: "You want to see a liberal media, Otis? You want to see a REAL liberal media, Otis?" Imagine that. The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the network news, CNN, all as politically motivated as FOX News and Rush Limbaugh.
As it is, this media, the corporate kind, is still being played by the Republicans, who slime the entire process until you just want to retch. But hold onto these facts:
- Republican stupidity and arrogance got us into Iraq.
- Republican greed and mania for deregulation got us into our current fiscal crisis.
- The Republican slime-machine is destroying our political process.
Hold onto these facts and please wake the @#$%&!!!! up.
Tom Toles is Genius
He's got a good one today on the 180-degree flip-flops of the McCain campaign, but it's the editorial cartoon yesterday, particularly the coda, that got me. Brilliant. Our country in a nutshell:
Things to Read Before the Next Great Depression
A few bits and pieces collected from the Web:
- Chris Kelly has another so-funny-it's-sad piece about the current level of our political debate: specifically, John McCain, who implies the other guy thinks he's messianic, saying he will put an end to both evil (War on Terror) and now greed (banking crisis, uncapitalized thus far). "John McCain will not only take on special interests and Washington insiders, he'll fundamentally alter human nature. ... Or maybe he's just a desperate shell of a man, babbling glorp."
- Please read Bob Cesca's piece on why, given the collapse of our foreign policy, our economy, our status in the world, this race is still close. Before I read Cesca, I would've assumed the race was still close becaue of race, but he's got a better point. There's a lot of noise in the right-wing media that never reaches my ears, but that noise is constant and overwhelming and unaccountable. It says what it wants. And right now it's saying some pretty nasty shit. Also known as lies. Often about race.
- David Brauer has a piece on MinnPost about my hometown newspaper, and the paper my father worked at for 30 years, that's sad but indicative of the current state of newspapers. Strib editor Nancy Barnes sent staff an e-mail about political coverage, a warning to remain objective, but then added this: "If you are involved in a political story, please look at it from several different perspectives and ask yourself: 'If I were running, would I find this fair and balanced?'" Brauer rightly adds, "I doubt the last thing Ben Bradlee said to Woodward and Bernstein was, 'Ask yourself:"'If I were president, would I find our Watergate coverage fair and balanced?''" Exactly. Being objective doesn't mean being stupid.
My Name is Erik Lundegaard and I Approve of This MessageMonday September 15, 2008
Who is Barack Obama? Atticus Finch
For most of the year, Republicans have tried to negatively define Barack Obama. They compare him to the most empty aspects of our own society and the most violent aspects of global society. They twist everything, and lie about anything, and in doing so reveal exactly who and how desperate they are.
In the face of these attacks, Barack has remained calm, articulate, resolute. His anger, when it comes, is not the anger of a man with a hair-trigger temper, like John McCain, but the righteous anger of someone who knows that not only he, but our entire system, is being wronged.
And it got me thinking about who this reminds me of.
We know how John McCain defines himself — as a maverick — but anyone who’s been paying attention knows how empty that slogan is. He’s a follower at this point. He’s following the lead of Steve Schmidt, his campaign manager, who once followed the lead of Karl Rove. Whatever smear works, whatever lie works, no matter how sleazy, that’s what they’ll do. So regardless of what John McCain once was, he has now been reduced to the role of a not very bright man surrounded by extremely malicious people. The same malicious people, I should add, who have surrounded another not very bright man, George W. Bush, for the last eight years.
But they keep pumping out the myth. The chest-thumping, Paul Fistinyourface myth of the stupidly aggressive American. In a magazine interview, John McCain even compared himself to TV hero Jack Bauer of “24,” until he was reminded that Bauer’s main (and suspect) means of gathering information — torture — is what John McCain suffered under for five years. But I guess torture is good as long as we’re the torturers. I guess bullying is good as long as we’re the bullies. That’s what half the country seems to think anyway.
Barack, it’s true, is no bully. Here he is after the Republicans mocked him for his community service:
And here’s his response after Gov. Palin suggested that habeas corpus and the U.S. Constitution don’t matter:
Barack Obama is tough but ethical. He’s someone who can make friends out of our enemies rather than — as the Republicans keep doing — enemies out of our friends.
So who does Barack remind me of? He’s a civil rights lawyer who taught Constitutional law and is bringing up two girls the right way. When bullies gather, he stands up for what’s right, he stands up for the rule of law, he stands up. He’s an honorable man running an honorable campaign.
You’ve already read the headline so you already know my answer. Barack Obama reminds me of Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and, according to the American Film Institute, the greatest hero in American movie history.
Here’s Scout on Atticus: “There just didn't seem to be anyone or anything Atticus couldn't explain.” Here’s Atticus to Scout: “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
This is the very lesson that chest-thumping Republicans have mocked for the last seven years. And where has it gotten us? Wasting billions pursuing the wrong people in the wrong places.
Republicans aren’t interested in understanding. They’re not even interested in talking. You can almost imagine this bit of dialogue between Atticus and Scout taking place between Obama and a certain Republican vice-presidential candidate:
Atticus: Scout, do you know what a compromise is?
Scout: Bending the law?
Atticus: Um, no. It’s an agreement reached by mutual consent.
We’re still in this midst of our own mythic internal struggle, aren’t we, between the violent and often lawless aspects that John McCain represents, and the tough but ethical rule of law that Barack Obama represents. I would’ve thought this battle was over by now. I would’ve thought rule of law triumphed long ago. Apparently not.
Even Atticus, that great hero, lost his case. He proved his case but the trial was rigged from the start by our own overwhelming prejudices, by our need to see things as they are not, by our need to buy into the lie.
Are we a better country now? Or do we still need to see things as they are not? Do we still need to buy into the lie?
Up to you.
OK, Everyone Read Andrew Sullivan
Everyone. The full piece is here. This is merely the overture:
For the past two weeks serious commentators and columnists have been asked to take the candidacy of Sarah Palin for the vice-presidency of the United States seriously.
Formerly sane people have written of the McCain campaign’s selection of this running mate as if it represents a new face for Republicanism, an emblem of can-do western spirit, a brilliant ploy to win over Clinton voters, a new feminism, a reformist revolution, and a genius appeal to the religious right.
I’m afraid I cannot join in. In fact I cannot say anything about this candidacy that takes it in any way seriously. It is a farce. It is absurd. It is an insult to all intelligent people. It is a sign of a candidate who has lost his mind. There is no way to take the nomination of Palin to be vice-president of the world’s sole superpower - except to treat it as a massive, unforgivable, inexplicable decision by someone who has either gone insane or is managerially unfit to be president of the United States. When, at some point, the hysteria dies down, even her supporters will realise that, by this decision, McCain has rendered himself unfit to run a branch of Starbucks, let alone the White House.
Movie Quote of the Day
"His lack of political knowledge, c'mon fellas, just makes him seem more a man of the people."
Palin: Worse than We Thought
Perhaps restoring my faith in the mainstream media, The NY Times has a front-page story today on the style of politics Sarah Palin has practiced both as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska. It ain't pretty. It's actually worse than we thought. She fires professional people for personal reasons and hires unqualified friends in their place. Her cronyism makes George W. Bush look like a stern judge of character. Examples:
- When there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, she appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency. Ms. Havemeister was one of at least five schoolmates Ms. Palin hired, often at salaries far exceeding their private sector wages.
Ms. Palin chose Talis Colberg, a borough assemblyman from the Matanuska valley, as her attorney general, provoking a bewildered question from the legal community: “Who?” Mr. Colberg, who did not return calls, moved from a one-room building in the valley to one of the most powerful offices in the state, supervising some 500 people. “I called him and asked, ‘Do you know how to supervise people?’ ” said a family friend, Kathy Wells. “He said, ‘No, but I think I’ll get some help.’ " The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government.
Last summer State Representative John Harris, the Republican speaker of the House, picked up his phone and heard Mr. Palin’s voice. The governor’s husband sounded edgy. He said he was unhappy that Mr. Harris had hired John Bitney as his chief of staff, the speaker recalled. Mr. Bitney was a high school classmate of the Palins and had worked for Ms. Palin. But she fired Mr. Bitney after learning that he had fallen in love with another longtime friend. “I understood from the call that Todd wasn’t happy with me hiring John and he’d like to see him not there,” Mr. Harris said.
The mayor quickly fired the town’s museum director, John Cooper. Later, she sent an aide to the museum to talk to the three remaining employees. “He told us they only wanted two,” recalled Esther West, one of the three, “and we had to pick who was going to be laid off.” The three quit as one.
In 1997, Ms. Palin fired the longtime city attorney, Richard Deuser, after he issued the stop-work order on a home being built by Don Showers, another of her campaign supporters.
And this doesn't even get into the firing of Wasilla's Police Chief, Irl Stambaugh, because he intimidated her, nor the 'Troopergate' scandal currently being investigated in Alaska, in which Palin and her husband allegedly pressured state officials into firing a state trooper who was divorcing her sister.
Some woman of the people.
More bad news. She "puts a premium on secrecy and loyalty" and "is overly reliant on a small inner circle that leaves her isolated" and unavailable. Again, she's out-Bushing Bush here:
- Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process. When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.
And this is the woman John McCain thinks is good enough to be a heartbeat away from the most important job in the world?? At a time when we need the smartest, most open and most diplomatic person possible to steer us through the various crises, both domestic and international, the Bush administration is leaving us??? You talk about bad judgment.
Let's hope the American electorate's judgment is better.
Fallows on the Toxic Traits of Palin/Bush
Here's a great post by James Fallows on why Gov. Palin's ignorance abou the Bush Doctrine could have dire consequences for this country. Highlights:
Sarah Palin did not know this issue, or any part of it. The view she actually expressed — an endorsement of "preemptive" action — was fine on its own merits. But it is not the stated doctrine of the Bush Administration, it is not the policy her running mate has endorsed, and it is not the concept under which her own son is going off to Iraq.
How could she not know this? For the same reason I don't know anything about European football/soccer standings, player trades, or intrigue. I am not interested enough. And she evidently has not been interested enough even to follow the news of foreign affairs during the Bush era.
A further point. The truly toxic combination of traits GW Bush brought to decision making was:
2) Lack of curiosity
That is, he was not broadly informed to begin with (point 1). He did not seek out new information (#2); but he nonetheless prided himself (#3) on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.
We don't know for sure about #2 for Palin yet -- she could be a sponge-like absorber of information. But we know about #1 and we can guess, from her demeanor about #3. Most of all we know something about the person who put her in this untenable role.
Lies, Damn Lies and John McCain
Like the Best Show Ever
My friend Craig, below and in the New York Times, discusses how most Americans reacted to 9/11 as if it were just something that happened on TV, which, for most of them, is exactly what it was. We seem to be reacting to the presidential election in the same way. As if it’s just a show. As if there’s no connection between us and these characters except in how they entertain us.
The Biden pick? So boring. We saw that coming. Yeah, six terms in the U.S. Senate. Yeah, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But he talks too much, doesn’t he? That’s kind of funny. Let’s make a joke about that. Otherwise get him off stage.
The Palin pick? How exciting! Boy, did that jazz things up! Did you see how everyone was against her, and saying shit about her experience and all, and then she gave that speech and showed them? Wow, that was great! Such twists and turns in the storyline. It’s like “Lost,” you know? I gotta keep watching to find out what happens. And her family? Who knows what’s going on there? We can talk about them forever.
That great line she had about selling the plane on e-Bay? What do you mean it was a lie?
And how she fought the Bridge to Nowhere? What do you mean she supported it?
Wow, this woman will say anything to stay on! I gotta keep watching.
And now this interview thingee with Charlie Gibson. Yeah, she didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine is. Who does? Yeah, when she sent her son off to war, she said 9/11 was responsible for Iraq or whatever. But how cool was that when she started talking about a war with Russia! Like, a real war! Take those commies, man. I mean, Obama’s all blah-blah-blah about the Constitution and shit, but she kicks ass!
Seriously, I thought they were gonna kick her off the show weeks ago, and now she might even win it? This is like the best show ever.
John McCain and Steve Schmidt are going to burn in hell for all eternity
Did you read this?
Did you see the new McCain ad?
It's called “Education” and it slams Barack Obama for not doing enough about education; then it delivers the whopper. In the real world, in Illinois, Barack Obama supported legislation to educate kids about pedophiles. The McCain ad calls this “sex education for kindergartners.”
From Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton:
“It is shameful and downright perverse for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls — a position that his friend Mitt Romney also holds. Last week, John McCain told Time magazine he couldn't define what honor was. Now we know why.”
Begala and Willis to Media: Just State the Facts, Jack
Paul Begala on the media's he said/she said problem. When it comes to facts, demonstrable facts — i.e., Gov. Palin supported the bridge to nowhere, she was up to her ears in earmarks as mayor — it's part of the media's job to state these facts. It's not a matter of partisan debate.
Or, if you want, we can go back to the John McCain-has-no-genitalia discussion. That was a fun one.
Obama to Palin: “Don't Mock the Constitution”
I’m the editor of several Super Lawyers publications around the country, including those in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and New York — and in the New York issue, which comes out later this month, we’ve written profiles of three of the big civil liberties lawyers in the city: Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU and Manuel Vargas of the Immigrant Defense Project. The piece, written by Jessica Centers, mostly focuses on their work post-9/11. The various attacks on civil liberties that they’ve fought. The attacks that they keep fighting. So I’ve been immersed in this stuff, at an editorial remove, for a few months now.
Which is why Sarah Palin’s line in her acceptance speech about how Barack wants to “read terrorists their rights” really pissed me off.
At first I didn’t get it. What was she talking about? Then it hit me. Oh my god, she’s talking about the Guantanamo Bay detainees. She’s talking about how the Bush administration, and apparently Gov. Palin herself, or at least her (former Bush) speechwriters, feel it’s OK, and in fact demand, that the U.S. military have the right to grab any foreign national, in any place, put them in military prison, and deny them the right to meet their accusers: To know why they’ve been grabbed. To know why their life has been reduced to a life inside a small box.
In a perfect world this wouldn’t matter, because everything would be perfect: The suspects would be the right suspects, the military would make no mistakes, everything would be fine, And America would be safer.
But it’s not a perfect world, and this entire fiasco is making America less safe.
Today Sen. Obama struck back, as eloquently as ever. First he said that to read terrorists their rights, you have to catch them first, and the Republicans haven’t been very good at that.
Then he launched into a defense of habeas corpus, which has been around at least since the Magna Carta. From the Washington Post:
Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, 'Why was I grabbed?' And say, 'Maybe you've got the wrong person.'”
The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, “because we don't always have the right person.”
“We don't always catch the right person,” he said. “We may think it's Mohammed the terrorist, but it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it's Barack the bomb-thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president.”
”The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting,“ Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. ”Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years."
God, I love this man.
McCain: Reckless, Nutty, Irresponsible
Check out Andrew Sullivan's piece for the Times online. Highlights:
There is one reason the job of vice-president exists. In a system with a single executive, you need someone to fill in if the president is incapacitated or dies. ...The pick is also the first presidential-level decision a candidate has to make. You learn a lot about the candidate...
In Joe Biden, Obama revealed his core temperamental conservatism. It was a safe choice of someone deeply versed in foreign policy, and with roots that connected to the working class white ethnics he needed. It wasn't flashy; and was even a little underwhelming; but it was highly professional.
What we have learned about John McCain from his selection of Sarah Palin is that he is as impulsive and reckless a decision-maker as George W. Bush. We know this not because of what we have learned about this Pentecostalist populist since she exploded on the scene last Friday morning (and God knows we have learned more than we ever wanted). We know it because of how McCain made the decision. He wanted his best friend, Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate for Al Gore. That pick would have been remarkable for its bipartisan nature, would have impressed independents, and signaled a centrist presidency centered on foreign policy. It would have been bold while not being rash.
But McCain is in charge of a party that is now, at its core, religiously motivated. Joe Lieberman, for all his political talents, is Jewish, pro-choice on abortion, gay-inclusive, and domestically liberal. McCain faced an insurrection in his party base if he picked him. Without the evangelical base, he wasn't going to win.
So last week, McCain picked someone he had only met once before. I repeat: he picked someone he had only met once before. His vetting chief sat Palin down for a face-to-face interview the Wednesday before last. It's very hard to overstate how nutty and irresponsible this is. Would any corporate chieftain pick a number two on those grounds and not be dismissed by his board for recklessness?
The Easily Intimidated Sarah Palin
But the brunt of the article is her clash with Wasilla’s Chief of Police, Irl Stambaugh, who created Wasilla’s police department a few years earlier. Stambaugh was in favor of two things that got him into trouble with Palin:
- He backed an ordinance requiring Wasilla to close their bars at 2:30 a.m. (weekdays) and 3 a.m. (weekends), instead of the usual 5 a.m., because folks in nearby Anchorage, where the bars closed at the earlier hours, often drove to Wasilla to keep their buzz on, and drinking and driving, as we know, don’t mix. The Wasilla City Council rejected the ordinance by a 3-2 vote. Palin, then with the Council, voted with the majority.
- Stambaugh opposed an NRA-backed state legislative proposal that would allow concealed weapons in banks and bars. He called the proposal (which was vetoed by then-Gov. Tony Knowles) ridiculous. “Bars, guns and booze don’t mix,” he said.
So did Palin fire Stambaugh at the bidding of the NRA? Probably not. The article implies that she fired him for a more troubling reason: He intimidated her. He’s 6’2”, 240. He always tried to sit, and use a soothing voice, when talking with her, but when he finally got canned, this was part of her official rationale:
“When I met with you in private, instead of engaging in interactive conversation with me, you gave me short, uncommunicative answers and then you would sit there and stare at me in silence with a very stern look, like you were trying to intimidate me.”I hope voters realize that if she feels intimidated by Putin, or Ahmadinejad, or new Pakistani President Zardari, all of whom won't try to use a soothing voice around her, firing them won’t be an option.
McCain: Rash and Not Bright. Sound Familiar?
As always, Frank Rich is worth reading and today he focuses on the haste with which John McCain makes his decisions and declarations. Here’s the money graph in easy-to-read list form:
- In October 2001, he speculated that Saddam Hussein might have been behind the anthrax attacks in America.
- That same month he out-Cheneyed Cheney in his repeated public insistence that Iraq had a role in 9/11 — even after both American and foreign intelligence services found that unlikely.
- He was similarly rash in his reading of the supposed evidence of Saddam’s W.M.D. and in his estimate of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. (McCain told MSNBC in late 2001 that we could do with fewer than 100,000.) It wasn’t until months after “Mission Accomplished” that he called for more American forces to be tossed into the bloodbath. The whole fiasco might have been prevented had he listened to those like Gen. Eric Shinseki who faulted the Rumsfeld war plan from the start.
“Often my haste is a mistake,” McCain conceded in his 2002 memoir, “but I live with the consequences without complaint.”
Rich then asks, as if it needed asking, "Well, maybe it’s fine if he wants to live with the consequences, but what about his country? Should the unexamined Palin prove unfit to serve at the pinnacle of American power, it will be too late for the rest of us to complain."
How Palin was for Obama before she was against him
Interesting piece by Philip Gourevitch on an interview Sarah Palin gave two weeks ago...back when her name had dropped off the list of potential veep candidates and she was freer to speak her mind.
Overall, her talk is less doctrinaire and more bipartisan than the speech (written by former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully) she gave Thursday. She talks about how she's fine with the fact that Barack Obama was doing so well in Alaska, how his campaign themes echoed hers, and how she "always looked at Senator McCain just as a Joe Blow public member, looking from the outside in." She's still a hard-right Republican — pro-life even in the case of rape or incest — but she's somewhat open-minded on other issues.
Now a lot of people are saying that it doesn't matter that Gov. Palin didn't write her own acceptance speech — that that's how politics works, and has worked, for decades. But here's the difference. Professional speechwriters tend to tailor speeches to the tastes and beliefs of the politician they work for. The politician usually has a hand, sometimes a firm hand, in what's being said. One gets the feeling that didn't happen with Palin. All you have to do is compare her open-mindedness two weeks ago with the Rove-like nastiness in her acceptance speech to realize that, with the exception of her personal story, she was basically a broadcaster, broadcasting someone else's words, on Thursday night. It wasn't her.
It's almost a cliche now, particularly in political circles, but you gotta ask: Which is the real Sarah Palin?
Drill Now! Drill Now! Drill Now!
Here's a link to Andrew Sullivan's live-blogging of McCain's speech last night. It's good stuff. These entries in particular:
10.39 pm. His speech makes me feel a lot better as a depressed old-fashioned conservative. But it's striking how all the things that make me feel good seems to go down flat with this crowd.
10.46 pm. Drilling for oil gets the biggest applause. This is why I can't feel at home in this party. I mean: I'm actually open to this policy and agree with McCain on the all-of-the-above approach, including nuclear — but this obsession with more domestic oil just seems weird to me. I guess I'm a cosmopolitan.
I'm also reminded of their flat reaction to McCain's comment near the end about how, knowing war, he hated war. They seemed disappointed. For all their supposed hatred of Hollywood (huglely misplaced), they wanted the Hollywood ending. Good guy triumphing amid blood and guts. Instead he handed the audience a flower. What a downer.
The Shakers (Hopefully Not the Movers)
Sen. McBush/Gov. Earmark
First, R.J. Eskow has a good piece on "The 15 Counterpunches" to the various lies and hypocrisy of the RNC. The key elements:
2. She's Pork Barrel Palin. She's always been an expert in draining earmark money off the hardworking taxpayer. She submitted $197 million in earmarks — more per person than any other state — in her current budget. And the citizens of her little town got fifty times as much federal pork as the average American! How'd she do it? She hired a DC lobbyist. That's right: A K Street shark to fill her Main Street coffers — and advance her career in the bargain. ... If you don't like the way Washington does business, you don't like her. What's the difference between Sarah Palin and an old-style GOP crony? Lipstick.
5. McCain's economy will be more of the same. If you like the economy we've got, vote McCain. Every time a Republican runs for office he pretends he'll do things differently. Bush said the same things in 2000. Look at McCain's voting record. Wonder what McCainonomics would look like? In the words of the old ad, you're soaking in it right now.
I also like John Seery's piece, same site, about Sarah Palin's speech. The key thought:
What I saw on that stage was the personification of small-minded smugness, an utter lack of humility, a kind of self-righteous entitlement based on little more than puffed-up narrowness. She struck me not as plucky but, rather, as stunningly immodest — to the point of arrogance...
Finally, from Oliver Willis' excellent site, there's this reader comment regarding Barack's response (see below) to the various right-wing attacks on his "community organizer" background. It really hits the nail on the effin' head:
All smart responses to dumb attacks. And we need to return Smart to the White House.
The Community Organizer
This is great. This is exactly what he should be saying. Comments came during a speech to factory workers in York, Pa.:
"You wouldn't know that this is such a critical election by watching the convention last night. I know we had our week, and the Republicans deserve theirs, but it's been amazing to me to watch over the last two nights.
"You're hearing a lot about John McCain, and he's got a compelling biography as a prisoner of war. You're hearing an awful lot about me, most of which is not true. What you're not hearing is a lot about you.
"The thing that I'm insisting on in this election is we can't keep playing the same political games we always play where we attack each other and we call each other names. They've had a lot of speakers. And if they had a bunch of ideas, you'd think they would have put 'em out there by now. And so the question is, what's their agenda? What's their plan?"
Things to read and watch while the culture wars start up again
If you need to laugh at the hypocrisy of the Republican party, The Daily Show is there for you.
Also Gail Collins has a good column on Palin's speech.
And just came across this guy: Oliver Willis. Here's his 10 Things You Need to Know about John McCain. No. 7 is particularly scary:
Many of McCain’s fellow Republica