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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Monday, December 22, 2014

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Guns, cops and freedom

by digby

It's annual holiday fundraiser time! Your support is very much appreciated.

I've been writing a lot about guns lately (haven't we all?) and find that it brings in more angry right wing commentary than anything else I write. This piece I wrote for Salon last spring brought in the most hateful comments and emails I've ever received in all these years of writing on the internet. I couldn't be more proud ...
Imagine you’re sitting in a restaurant and a loud group of armed men come through the door. They are ostentatiously displaying their weapons, making sure that everyone notices them. Would you feel safe or would you feel in danger? Would you feel comfortable confronting them? If you owned the restaurant could you ask them to leave? These are questions that are facing more and more Americans in their everyday lives as “open carry” enthusiasts descend on public places ostensibly for the sole purpose of exercising their constitutional right to do it. It just makes them feel good, apparently.

For instance, in the wake of the new Georgia law that pretty much makes it legal to carry deadly weapons at all times in all places, parents were alarmed when an armed man showed up at the park where their kids were playing little league baseball and waved his gun around shouting, “Look at my gun!” and “There’s nothing you can do about it.” The police were called and when they arrived they found the man had broken no laws and was perfectly within his rights to do what he did. That was small consolation to the parents, however. Common sense tells anyone that a man waving a gun around in public is dangerous so the parents had no choice but to leave the park. Freedom for the man with the gun trumps freedom for the parents of kids who feel endangered by him.

After the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, open carry advocates decided it was a good idea to descend upon Starbucks stores around the country, even in Newtown where a couple dozen armed demonstrators showed up, to make their political point. There were no incidents. Why would there be? When an armed citizen decides to exercise his right to bear arms, it would be reckless to exercise your right to free speech if you disagreed with them. But it did cause the CEO of Starbucks to ask very politely if these gun proliferation supporters would kindly not use his stores as the site of their future “statements.” He didn’t ban them from the practice, however. His reason? He didn’t want to put his employees in the position of having to confront armed customers to tell them to leave. Sure, Starbucks might have the “right” to ban guns on private property in theory, but in practice no boss can tell his workers that they must try to evict someone who is carrying a deadly weapon.

Just last week open carry proponents decided to have one of their “demonstrations” by going into a Jack in the Box en masse, scaring the employees so badly that they hid in the walk-in freezer. The so-called demonstrators seemed confused by the response of police who assumed there was an armed robbery in progress and dispatched a phalanx of cops.
“We’re not breaking the laws,” Haros said. “We’re not here to hurt anybody. We’re not trying to alarm anybody. We’re doing this because it’s our constitutional right.” 
Haros, who believes openly carrying firearms helps police, said citizens should know that the demonstrations will continue. 
“It’s just for safety purposes,” Haros said. “Officers can’t be there at all times. We understand that. They can only do so much.”

So this fine fellow believes he is doing this to protect the public. And while they don’t wear uniforms so you can’t identify them, have no specialized training in the law, are not bound by police protocols or answer to the authority of the democratic system of government of the people, they have taken it upon themselves to look after all of us because the police are busy. (And presumably, unless you are wearing a hoodie and they think you look suspicious, you probably won’t get shot dead by mistake.) We used to have a name for this. It was called vigilantism. One can only hope that when a “bad guy” really does show up at your Jack in the Box or Starbucks and one of these self-appointed John Waynes decides to draw his weapon you’ll be as lucky as the innocent civilian who narrowly escaped being killed in error at the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.

All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all.

You can see why they think that’s freedom. It is. For them. The rest of us just have to be very polite, keep our voices down and back away very slowly, saying, “Yes sir, whatever you say, sir,” and let them have their way.

That piece made the gun activists very, very angry. And I have to assume it was because it hit too close to home. (And in fairness, it garnered a lot of positive reaction from people as well.)

If you think this kind of writing is a useful part of our public conversation I hope you'll consider throwing a couple of bucks into the kitty so that I can keep doing it. Your donations are what make it possible for me to be able to support myself by writing and I'm very grateful for it.



It's annual holiday fundraiser time! Your support is very much appreciated.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

When the authorities get hysterical they make themselves and everyone else less safe

by digby

A little blast from the past via Media Matters:
Claiming to be acting under the bloody "banner of Liberty and Truth," Jerad Miller and his wife Amanda, entered CiCi's Pizza in Las Vegas on Sunday right before noon and executed two local policemen on their lunch break. Authorities say Jerad approached one officer while he was refilling his soda cup and shot him in the head from behind, before he and Amanda opened fire on his partner.

While patrons scrambled to safety, one of the shooters reportedly shouted that the "revolution" had begun. The duo then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, and covered them with cloth that featured the "Don't tread on me" Gadsden flag, which has recently been adopted as a symbol of the tea party movement. The couple also left a swastika on one of the officers.

Six days earlier, the right-wing shooter had posted a manifesto of sorts on Facebook where he announced "we must prepare for war." Jerad Miller, who traveled to Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch this spring to join the militia protests against the federal government, declared that in order to "To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed."

The Facebook rant was just one of many clues about the shooters' radical political leanings. Jerad Miller "left behind social media postings that show his concerns over Benghazi, chemtrails, gun control laws, and the government's treatment of rancher Cliven Bundy," Raw Story reported. (One of the viral images Miller shared online carried the caption, "Jeez, it's no wonder liberalism's regarded as a mental disorder.") The shooter had talked to his neighbor about his "desire to overthrow the government and President Obama and kill police officers," according to NBC News.

After murdering two police officers, Miller and his wife, carrying large duffle bags, set upon a nearby WalMart, killed a shopper who attempted to confront the couple with his concealed handgun, exchanged gunfire with law enforcement, and then died in an apparent suicide pact.

The politically motivated ambush represents just the latest in a long line of recent far-right, anti-government acts of violence in America. From neo-Nazi killers, to a string of women's health clinic bombings and assaults, as well as bloody assaults on law enforcement from anti-government insurrectionists, acts of right-wing extreme violence continue to terrorize victims in the U.S.

In fact, the deadly, and premeditated, gun rampage in Las Vegas came just two days after Dennis Marx, member of the "sovereign citizen" anti-government movement, tried to lay siege to a courthouse outside of Atlanta. Sovereign citizens are militia-like radicals who don't believe the federal government has the power and legitimacy to enforce the law. The FBI has called the movement "a growing domestic terror threat to law enforcement."

Arriving outside the courthouse in a silver SUV, Marx immediately opened fire on law enforcement, shooting a deputy twice in the leg, before being shot and killed by police, capping a wild three-minute gun battle. The shooter came supplied with an assault weapon, "homemade and commercial explosive devices," as well as "a gas mask; two handguns; zip ties and two bulletproof vests," according to the Associated Press.

Media Matters goes on to chronicle the of lack of coverage on Fox News. They pretty much blandly reported it without any context or commentary.

And what did the Las Vegas police say? Did they blame the Bundy protests? Did former politicians take to twitter and lay the deaths of their fellow officers at the hands of Republican politicians who showed solidarity with the armed, anti-government protesters at the Bundy ranch?

Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill said the Millers had ideology shared by "militia and white supremacists," including the belief that law enforcement was the "oppressor."

Police believe the shootings were an isolated act, not part of a broader conspiracy to target law enforcement, McMahill said.
And just consider what these cops had been dealing with:
Metro Police officers who were on the front lines of a recent showdown near the Bundy ranch in Bunkerville say they feared for their lives.

At least some of the militia members who pointed weapons at police officers during the confrontation may have wanted a violent outcome and tried to incite one.

In exclusive interviews with the 8 News NOW I-Team, officers who were on the scene shared their thoughts and fears, and they say it is not over.

"These guys with rifles, keep them calm," was Clark County Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo's request to one of Bundy's sons the day of the confrontation.

Lombardo's top priority was to prevent a spark that might set off a bloody firefight.

"There was a possibility of somebody just having an accidental discharge causing a blood bath, because the individuals that were showing up, the militia quote unquote, were armed to the teeth," Lombardo said.

On one side, armed federal rangers and agents, on the other, a huge crowd of angry militia members and in the middle, 30 Metro officers, exposed and vulnerable, aware that if the shooting began, some of them would die.

"You are standing there going, 'I just hope it doesn't hurt when it comes. That it's quick,' and it was real for us. It was real," Sgt. Tom Jenkins said.

I think you can see my point here. Last night a man executed two police officers in New York and then turned his gun on himself.  In contrast to the professional response of the Las Vegas police in a very similar situation, the instant reaction from people like George Pataki and police representatives was to blame the Eric Garner protests and Mayor DeBlasio personally for showing sympathy for them. On CNN yesterday the commentary was outrageous. This exchange took place in the first few minutes after Martin Savidge broke the news:

SAVIDGE: I want to bring in Harry Houck, he's a former New York police officer. And first of all, I guess, we should express our condolences to the police force and definitely the families of the officers. Harry, you must hear something. What is being said from fellow officers? Is this a random incident or something else?

HARRY HOUCK, FORMER NEW YORK POLICE OFFICER: Well, you know, what I'm hearing from my contacts is that the shooter had killed himself and that he was wanted in Baltimore for another killing and when he was in Baltimore, he had said that he was going to go up to New York and kill a cop and apparently he got his wish. And what really has me upset is all these demonstrations that we've been having here all been predicated on lies. No justice, no peace. We have two dead police officers. And I guess Al Sharpton got what he wanted.

SAVIDGE: Your feeling is, of course, that the protest in some way incited this man to do what he did.

HOUCK: Oh, there's no doubt about it. Everybody is talking about killing a cop. You got to take a cop out for Eric Garner. This is -- this is why this person was motivated to do this. There's no doubt in my mind. I was a detective for 27 years and, believe me, that was definitely in this man's mind.
That went on for hours. And this is what's been going on on Fox, in case you were wondering.

I get that the police are under pressure by the public in the wake of all these shootings of unarmed black men. But what a bunch of hysterical, immature people they are demonstrating themselves to be in reaction, particularly in contrast to the way the Las Vegas police dealt with a similar situation. (I won't even bring up the racial elephant in the room --- that should be obvious to anyone looking at the difference in these two stories.) But no matter what, being able to take pressure is in the job description of a police officer and this public acting out by petulantly demanding apologies from  football players and turning their backs on politicians is more evidence to everyone with any sense that way too many police are frighteningly unprofessional. I'm sure they don't like the criticism they get. Nobody does. But if what they're looking for is respect, this is hardly the way to go about it.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

Sam Brownback's supply-side snake oil continues to fail miserably

by David Atkins

Judging by the last election, Kansas just can't get enough of this type of failure:

The new Kansas jobs numbers were released Friday morning, bringing horrible news to state taxpayers and Gov. Sam Brownback.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the total number of nonfarm jobs in Kansas fell by 4,100 in November.

Kansas’ disturbing experience was at odds with how much of the rest of the country did. A total of 37 other states gained in employment in November, while only 13 others, including Kansas, dropped.

Missouri boosted employment by 4,500 in November, for instance, while Oklahoma gained 3,400 jobs. Two other neighbors, Nebraska and Colorado, were among the job losers, though not close to the number shredded in Kansas.

What’s this all mean?

The figures show it’s going to be even tougher for Brownback — after pushing through excessive income tax cuts — to make up for the hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenues from those reductions. They took effect in 2013.

The Kansas Legislature and Brownback already knew they were going to have a rough time figuring out how to slash a staggering $648 million from the next fiscal year’s projected budget of just over $6 billion. That work starts in January.

But if Kansas is not creating lots of new jobs — which the tax cuts were supposed to help do — the state budget could be in even bigger trouble than is now recognized.
Supply-side economics is a proven failure. It simply does not work as advertised. Deficits increase, jobs decrease, and the only people who do better are the very rich.

But some good may come of Kansas' suffering. They can serve as an object lesson to the rest of the country about just what happens when you let conservatives have their way with the economy. It's an unmitigated disaster.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

Your little darlings are their cash cows

by Tom Sullivan

Nicholas Kristof provides an opening this morning to spend more time discussing education with his celebration of Conor Bohan, founder of a college scholarship program for Haitian students: the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP).
“Education works,” Bohan said simply. “Good education works for everybody, everywhere. It worked for you, for me, and it works for Haitians.”
It's a noble effort. But it's the attack on public education in this country that gets under my skin. Kristof explains why:
Over time, I’ve concluded that education may be the single best way to help people help themselves — whether in America or abroad. Yet, as a nation, we underinvest in education, both domestically and overseas. So, in this holiday season, I’d suggest a moment to raise a glass and celebrate those who spread the transformative gift of education.
A few days ago, we saw the news of the horrific Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar. The Taliban attacks schools because it understands that education corrodes extremism; I wish we would absorb that lesson as well. In his first presidential campaign, President Obama spoke of starting a global education fund, but he seems to have forgotten the idea. I wish he would revive it!
Education corrodes extremism is a pretty concise explanation for why Wall Street has joined forces with the religious right in this country in a cynical effort to undermine public education under the rubric of "choice." For the Big Money Boyz, the "education market is ripe for disruption." Education reform is about mining public education and transferring as much as possible of that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars to the investor class by expanding charter schools. For the religious right, it's about shielding their kids from knowledge they perceive as in conflict with their religious views. Like other fundamentalists, they want to keep modernism at bay. Because freedom. And because they resent having their tax dollars fund public education and not their religious schools.

Whether you're James Dobson, Charles Koch, or the Taliban, education corrodes extremism, and we can't have that.

At the Education Opportunity Network, Jeff Bryant offers a detailed, year-end roundup of vulture capitalism's predations. It's been a big year for charter school scandals:
Here and there, stories emerged: a charter school trying to open up inside the walls of a gated community while a closed one continued to get over $2 million in taxpayer funds. Stories about charter operators being found guilty of embezzling thousands of taxpayer dollars turned into other stories about operators stealing even more thousands of dollars, which turned into even more stories about operators stealing over a million dollars.
While some charter schools schemed to steer huge percentages of their money away from instruction toward management salaries and property leases (to firms connected to the charter owners, of course), others worked the system to make sure fewer students with special needs were in their classrooms. Then the steady drip-drip from local news sources turned into a fire hose in May when a blockbuster report released by Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy revealed, “Fraudulent charter operators in 15 states are responsible for losing, misusing, or wasting over $100 million in taxpayer money.”
The report, “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse,” combed through news stories, criminal records, and other documents to find hundreds of cases of charter school operators embezzling funds, using tax dollars to illegally support other, non-educational businesses, taking public dollars for services they didn’t provide, inflating their enrollment numbers to boost revenues, and putting children in potential danger by foregoing safety regulations or withholding service.
That's just a sampling.

As I keep saying about the new "education industry":
The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.
Your little darlings are their cash cows.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Night At The Movies

Dennis Hartley is off this week having his knee replaced. So I'm re-running this Christmas movie post from a few years back.

Somewhat naughty and not so nice

By Dennis Hartley

Not the Coca-Cola Santa: Rare Exports

It’s official. I now have a new favorite Christmas movie. John Carpenter’s The Thing meets Miracle on 34th St. in Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a wickedly clever Yule story that spices up the usual holiday family movie recipe by folding in generous dollops of sci-fi, horror, and Norse legend. The twist here is that our protagonist, a young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) not only believes that Santa Claus is, in fact, real, but that he is buried just beyond the back 40 of his dad’s reindeer ranch, where some American archeologists are excavating a mysterious promontory. After bizarre and troubling events begin to plague the sleepy hamlet where Pietari lives, it looks that Santa may have just been “resting”. And if this is the mythical Santa Pietari suspects, then he is more Balrog than eggnog…and is best left undisturbed.

The director also works a sly anti-consumerist polemic into his narrative. Pietra’s dad (Jorma Tommila) and his fellow reindeer hunters-who are more chagrinned that the saturnine Santa is threatening their livelihood by slaughtering all the reindeer than by the fact that he is also methodically kidnapping the village children and spiriting them away to an undisclosed location, manage to capture him, and then demand a “ransom” from the corporate weasel who, for his own nefarious reasons, is funding the archeological dig. In the meantime, a legion of Santa’s nasty little “helpers” are running amuck and wreaking havoc. Pietari, the only one keeping a cool head, just wants to enjoy a nice quiet Christmas with dad-even if he has to transform into a midget version of Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness to rescue the children (and save the farm, in a manner of speaking).

There’s nothing “cute” about this film, yet it’s by no means mean-spirited, either. It is an off-beat, darkly funny, and wholly original treat for moviegoers hungry for a fresh alternative to the 999th lifetime viewing of It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. Speaking as someone who lived for many years within a day’s drive of the Arctic Circle, the film also perfectly captures the stark beauty of midwinter in the far Northern Hemisphere; especially that uniquely dichotomous sense of both soothing tranquility and alien desolation that it can bring to one’s soul. And for god’s sake-let Santa rest in peace.

Holiday dispirited: Bad Santa Female TroubleThe RefThe Lion in WinterThe Rocking Horse WinnerMonty Python's Life Of BrianGo Trading PlacesNightmare Before ChristmasChristmas On MarsThe MatadorThe French ConnectionThe Curse of the Cat PeopleTokyo GodfathersLess Than ZeroIn Bruges Roger & MeSanta Claus Conquers the MartiansGremlins Elves ScroogedJack Frost (1997),You Better Watch OutSilent Night, Deadly NightBlack Christmas.

Previous posts with related themes:

What Would Jesus Buy?

It's our annual holiday fundraiser. If you have a few dollars to spare to help keep Hullabaloo going, I'd be very grateful for the support --- digby

Daddy, may I? #forcedchildbirthedition

by digby

How much do you want to bet this fellow is a big believer in property rights? Well, except for the right of a woman to own her own body:
A Missouri lawmaker who filed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to obtain notarized consent from the man who impregnated them defended the measure in an interview with 41 Action News on Thursday.

“It took two to come together and create a child, and right now the way it is the woman gets the full say and the father gets no say, and I think that that needs to change,” Brattin said. “With the women’s movement for equal rights, well it’s swung so far we have now taken away the man’s right and the say in their child’s life.” He added, “It’s a child’s life that’s taken. The woman’s life is not altered.”

Brattin’s bill includes an exception for victims of “legitimate rape” who report the crime to the police.

“Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it,” Brattin told Mother Jones earlier this month. “So you couldn’t just go and say, ‘Oh yeah, I was raped,’ and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape… I’m just saying if there was a legitimate rape, you’re going to make a police report, just as if you were robbed.”

And "you have to prove it." I'm not sure how, but if I had to guess this would probably be the way:

The Sodomized Virgin Exception

South Dakota:

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Napoli says most abortions are performed for what he calls "convenience." He insists that exceptions can be made for rape or incest under the provision that protects the mother's life. I asked him for a scenario in which an exception may be invoked.

BILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

See? It just has to be brutalized and sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it to the point at which a woman's life would be threatened if she carried it to term, that's all. If it falls short of that, she could ask for permission from the man who impregnated her to have an abortion.  And maybe, if she asks very, very nicely, he'll say yes. Otherwise her body belongs to him for the duration.  But then it already did, didn't it?

So the "I was only following orders" defense now officially confers immunity on CIA

by digby

Unbelievable. Here's another one:
A panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s search of a computer network used by staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were looking into the C.I.A.’s use of torture will recommend against punishing anyone involved in the episode, according to current and former government officials.

The panel will make that recommendation after the five C.I.A. officials who were singled out by the agency’s inspector general this year for improperly ordering and carrying out the computer searches staunchly defended their actions, saying that they were lawful and in some cases done at the behest of John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director.

While effectively rejecting the most significant conclusions of the inspector general’s report, the panel, appointed by Mr. Brennan and composed of three C.I.A. officers and two members from outside the agency, is still expected to criticize agency missteps that contributed to the fight with Congress.

But its decision not to recommend anyone for disciplinary action is likely to anger members of the Intelligence Committee, who have accused the C.I.A. of trampling on the independence of Congress and interfering with its investigation of agency wrongdoing. The computer searches occurred late last year while the committee was finishing an excoriating report on the agency’s detention and interrogation program.

This episode seems to made the Senate more angry than anything else in this entire episode. (Authoritarian behavior is always worse when it happens to you...) One wonders if they'll find the fortitude to address this with some legislation or if they will just let it pass and in the process give up the last shred of institutional integrity.

If the CIA can get away with spying on members of the US Senate for this, what makes anyone believe they won't spy on other politicians for other reasons? Why shouldn't they? They can just say it was legal and that someone told them to do it and it's no harm no foul.

It sure makes it easy to see why the political class is so blindly supportive of the intelligence community isn't it?

It's our annual holiday fundraiser. If you have a few dollars to spare to help keep Hullabaloo going, I'd be very grateful for the support --- digby

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Why we still fight

by digby

Since it's Holiday Fundraising time it seems like a good day to revisit a post I wrote a few years back about what blogging is and why I do it. Some of it is outdated now --- things have moved on, politics have changed in many ways. But my underlying philosophy still holds:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why I Fight 
by digby 

I have not had time to really get into Jonathan Chait's cover story in this weeks New Republic but I will write something more about it soon. In the meantime, I did find these paragraphs intriguing in light of something else I read this morning:
...because they convey facts and opinions about the news to their readers, bloggers associated with the netroots are often mistaken for journalists. That is, as reporter Garance Franke-Ruta (who covers the blogs) has put it, a "category error." This was thrown into stark relief earlier this year, when John Edwards hired Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, two bloggers who were prominent in the netroots. The pair quickly came under enough fire for past controversial blog posts--Marcotte, for example, had speculated, "What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?"--that the Edwards campaign decided to cut them loose. Before it announced the decision, however, Marcotte and McEwan's allies lobbied heavily on their behalf. The liberal online magazine Salon reported the firings, but the Edwards camp hunkered down and refused to release a public statement while it decided on a course of action, then denied the firings to Salon the following day. Liberal bloggers in close contact with the campaign remained resolutely cryptic about what they knew. "The bloggers closed ranks around the Edwards campaign, some even claiming that Salon had gotten the story wrong," Salon's Joan Walsh later reported. To Walsh and other journalists, the relevant metric is true versus untrue. To an activist, the relevant metric is politically helpful versus politically unhelpful.

There is a term for this sort of political discourse: propaganda. The word has a bad odor, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Propaganda is often true, and it can be deployed on behalf of a worthy cause (say, the fight against Nazism in World War II). Still, propaganda should not be confused with intellectual inquiry. Propagandists do not follow their logic wherever it may lead them; they are not interested in originality. Propaganda is an attempt to marshal arguments in order to create a specific real-world result--to win a political war.
The word propaganda is a loaded term in modern American parlance and he must know that. I don't actually think that advocacy journalism (or activist blogging) is dishonest, which is what Chait is suggesting, however vaguely. Lying or making up facts is unacceptable for people of integrity just as it is for a defense lawyer arguing for her client in a court of law, or a great political debate --- which is a much less provocative way to discuss blogging and netroots activism. I wish that Chait had provided at least one example of propaganda among the netroots besides the very vague story of Marcotte and McEwen. That is such an inside baseball process story that even if it were true, it wouldn't actually illustrate the propagandistic nature of blogging.

Liberal bloggers advocate for their political causes, people, party, ideas, etc and they make the best argument they can. The people who read us, the politicians, the electorate (to the extent that any of these arguments flow out of the sphere into the mainstream) are the judges. That is not propaganda as we understand it in 2007. I would say it's not even PR or advertising, both of which suggest some sort of message coordination of which I have also seen little evidence. The blogosphere/netroots is more of an organism that thrives on an extended 24/7 conversation and nobody knows yet how ideas are actually honed and disseminated. But the ones that come out of this seem to me to be mostly in the finest traditions of democratic and parliamentary debate, satire and humor and plain old political strategy, even if we are "vituperative" and "foul-mouthed" about it. There is very little, if any, "messaging" as we think of it in political terms. I'm not sure what Chait thinks he knows about the way we operate, but it's very, very ad hoc and viral. It's the internets not the Comintern.

Which brings me to the other thing I read today, just after glancing at the Chait article:
Hugh Hewitt: [Lawrence Wright] said absolutely, it is not the case it’s a strategic disaster. While there may be more jihadis in Iraq than there were before, it’s not like our intervention in Iraq created them, and he went on to characterize their camps in Mali, their camps in Gaza…

Michael Isikoff: Right.

HH: Their Waziristan…that they are manufacturing…they were manufactured for a decade in Afghanistan.

MI: Right.

HH: And now, they’re coming to al Anbar Province, because that’s where they can kill the great Satan. And so we’re not manufacturing them, we’re gathering them in one place…

MI: Right.

HH: And they’re surging against us. That’s a different spin. I’m not saying it’s the facts on the ground, either.

HH: ...And Michael Isikoff, what do you see, if the Democrats have their way, what do you see happening there in five years?

MI: I mean, look. If any of us could foresee the future, and knew what Iraq was going to look like down the road, we’d be better off than anybody else in Washington.

HH: But we have to guess, right? We always have to guess.

MI: We have to guess. We have to guess. I mean, we know that a lot of bad guesses were made by this administration in the invasion.

HH: Again, that’s spin.

MI: No, no, no, no, no, no. We know that.

HH: Give me a specific.

MI: They did not…a specific?

HH: Of a bad guess.

MI: Did they anticipate the sectarian warfare that was going to take place?

HH: No. Okay…

MI: Did they tell the country that there’s a high risk that we’re going to be enmeshed in a civil war in Iraq, in which thousands of Americans…

HH: Civil war is itself a spin, though.

MI: Well, what do you call it?

HH: That is a characterization…I call it an insurrection, I call it an al Qaeda surge, I call it bad militias in Baghdad.

MI: Well…

HH: But a civil war, where you’ve got Sunni and Shia…actually, the one thing Petraeus has also said…

MI: Fighting each other. Fighting each other. That’s…

HH: There are lots of definitions. It’s spin.

MI: The central argument [for war in Iraq] was weapons of mass destruction.

HH: That was Colin Powell. Again, that’s spin. Michael Isikoff, that’s spin.

I would challenge anyone to find a prominent liberal blogger as disingenuous or as bizarrely unresponsive as Hugh Hewitt is in that conversation. We joke about being the "reality based community" on the left, but it's literally true, certainly by comparison to that nonsense. The right wing denial of objective reality and the willingness to simply assert their own view that facts are liberal spin and conservative spin is factual is one of the biggest challenges the progressive movement (and the nation) faces. It has bred a cynicism and confusion that is going to be very difficult to turn around.

I didn't start blogging to deny reality or create another narrative out of whole cloth. (The bloggy jargon about "framing" and "narratives and "memes" are btw, contra Chait, just shorthand for "making a good argument", "telling our side of the story" and "ideas." They are not nefarious revolutionary propaganda terms designed to mislead.) I started blogging for the opposite reason. What I saw was a political establishment enmeshed in an extremely disorienting up-is-downism, perpetuated by a right wing machine that had used sophisticated marketing techniques, propaganda and plain old lies to completely distort our common perceptions of reality --- as Hewitt so perfectly demonstrates. Right about the time that Republicans started impeaching presidents for minor sexual indiscretions and dishonestly manipulating every lever of power they had to attain the presidency I knew politics had gone insane, not me. (And I think my judgment has been pretty well vindicated if I do say so myself.)

I try to see the world as clearly as I can because to do otherwise is to lose one's mind. I'm sure I succumb to group think from time to time and avoid writing about things I find difficult to discuss or about which I feel I have no particular insight.  I don't pretend to be entirely objective but I try to be a clear eyed person who calls it as I see it. I honestly can't understand how we can survive as a culture if we can't find a way to get past this "everything is spin" idea that Hewitt is promoting. It's the right that pushed that into the discourse and it's the netroots that are trying to unravel it and get back to some sort of common understanding of what constitutes reality.

More than anything I am interested in combating this epistemological relativism that has entered the body politic; things like the irrational dismissal of science or the insistence that cutting taxes produces more revenue or any of a thousand other assaults on reality. I can't help but be slightly insulted that my participation in the netroots movement is even being compared to such demagoguery and deviousness. I do not think we are the same animals and if the netroots become that I will no longer be a part of it.

I'm a liberal and proud of it and I think the world will be a better place if liberal policies have a greater voice and influence in the discourse. I  help Democrats since they are the only vehicle for progressive and liberal politics in our system. But more than that I want to have a culture where liberal ideas are honestly represented and rightwing lies and manipulation are seriously challenged. I do not believe that you can leave that up to some disinterested, objective seekers of truth because they proved over the course of a couple of decades that they were much too weak and gullible to challenge the conservative onslaught. So I and many others stepped up. Waiting for everyone to "see the truth" just wasn't working out (which Chait admits in his article.)

Overall, the piece is insightful in some respects and I don't mean to pick it apart. But none of this happened in a vacuum, and Chait rather scrupulously avoids delving too deeply into the rightwing's strategic mendacity. And without that you can't really understand what brought us to this place and what motivates us to move ahead. Rather than wanting to become a competing propaganda organ, I think most of us actually want to reintroduce the idea of honest political debate because we believe we will win on the merits. (Why else have the Republicans found it necessary to lie, cheat and steal to the degree they have?) The first step in doing that is to dismantle their propaganda, which is what we are doing. No one that I know of has ever suggested that we create our own.

Since that time many mainstream liberals have joined that fight against the right wing and some of them are brilliantly calling out the right wing every day. Sometimes I feel as if I'm reading liberal blog posts from 2006 when I read the op-ed pages or columns in mainstream magazines these days. And I'm glad of it! Welcome to the fray. But they were behind the curve. The much maligned bloggers were on to the right wing a long time ago. The mainstream media too ...

(And if you look closely you can see that the same forces are still behind the curve today.)

If this is the sort of thing you value in your political diet, I'd appreciate it if you could throw a little something into the kitty so that we can keep going:

Merry Christmas, punk

by digby

That a little cruder than the Glenn Beck version I wrote about a while back, but it's the same basic theme. Apparently, Santa Claus is much too soft and effeminate for Real Americans. So they're rewriting him as a badass:

You may or may not have heard that Beck has a book and movie empire. It’s called the American Dream Labs and they’re devoted to faith-based stories for the whole family. They currently have two projects in development. One is called “The Revolutionary” and it seems to be shrouded in secrecy. Knowing Beck’s love of thrillers it’s possible that’s a sequel to his blockbuster bestseller “The Overton Window.” We can only hope that it will feature the exciting action and scintillating dialogue like “I’ve got some rules, too, and rule number one is, don’t tease the panther” from that earlier masterpiece. On the other hand, it’s always possible that he’s rewriting the story of George Washington revealing for the first time that he was actually the direct descendant of Jesus Christ and Cleopatra. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The other project is called “The Immortal” and Beck has been giving out some tantalizing clues about it in recent days. He says he was inspired by the fact that kids love Santa Claus and he doesn’t want to burst their bubble but basically the jolly old elf is nothing but a scam artist who is ruining the real meaning of Christmas. So he wrote a new story about Kris Kringle — as an action hero who serves as a sort of ninja bodyguard for a young Jesus Christ. Seriously. Here is what he said on his show earlier this week:

My Santa, the Immortal is a very different guy. He starts out right before the birth of Christ, and he is up in the mountains. And he is a warrior. He has lost his wife, and he’s a sad individual. And he’s got a son who loves dearly, and he lives up in the mountains, and he hunts for food.

But what’s interesting about him is he’s also good with his hands, and the way he hunts is completely different. He actually goes up in the mountains, and he makes these giant puppets that he actually gets inside. And he is trying to kill these wild boars by being inside one of these puppets, if you will, of a boar. And he roots around as the boars come in. That way he’s close enough to kill them.

And he takes his son and leaves him in his sledge up on the mountaintop and tells him to be careful. You know, he has taught him to be smart and wise, but as Agios, the main character, comes down, and he is hunting for these wild boar, he hears a scream up by the sledge, and the wolves have come and dragged his boy away.

And what ensues is a violent, bloody encounter with the wolves as Santa Claus stabs and slashes the animal in retribution for what they’ve done to his son. Let’s just say that no visions of sugar plums will be dancing in your kid’s head after Daddy reads this story on the night before Christmas. In fact, he’ll never sleep again.

Beck has done a little trailer for the story, which, as you might imagine, looks like it’s going to be just a little bit different than “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

This is how Beck explained that weird thing:
That’s Santa? Yes, because what does a man do when he’s in that position where he has no hope, no resurrection, nothing? What does he do? He goes on an amazing journey as a hunter, as a gatherer. He eventually is hired by three wise men because he can negotiate, because nobody is going to rip them off, and he knows how to get the very best gifts. And so he negotiates with gold, frankincense, and myrrh and then has to go protect that gold, frankincense, and myrrh and then through a series of events is left there to protect the Christ child, never interacting, just watching.

He doesn’t know who he is, and he goes darker and darker in his whole life as he watches this boy grow, but he’s always touched by him, but he doesn’t realize it until the Sermon on the Mount. As this now 75-year-old man who has spent 30 years just following this little boy, as he’s listening to the Sermon on the Mount, he finally breaks. He knows who he is, and he falls to his knees, and he says Lord, let me serve him. Let me protect him. Let me point the way towards him until his mission is finished.

And that's why he carries an Automatic Rifle today.

Merry Christmas, punk.

It's our annual holiday fundraiser. If you have a few dollars to spare to help keep Hullabaloo going, I'd be very grateful for the support --- digby

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