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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

They Never Quit

Here's a new site that serves as a handy primer about the Oil For Food wingnut feeding frenzy called Oil-for-Food Facts.org

If anyone wonders what this ridiculous obsession is really all about, this article by Joe Conason spells it out. It's the Same Old ... Stuff:

If American conservatism is truly the fount of "new ideas," as its publicists incessantly assure us, why do conservatives constantly promote the stale old ideas that obsessed them in 1962?

Back then, the extremists of the ultra-right regarded the United Nations as the advance guard of the international communist conspiracy. "Get the U.S. out of the U.N. and the U.N. out of the U.S.!" blared the bumper-sticker slogan of the John Birch Society, while the National Review called for the U.N. to be "liquidated."

Today, although the rhetoric is not quite so shrill, the Birch Society's ideological descendants still feel the same way. With the U.N. beset by scandal, the right can't resist the opportunity to sever American ties with the world organization. Heedless as always of damaging traditional alliances and America's global reputation, they have opened a campaign to undermine and ultimately destroy the U.N. It is a peculiar crusade for Americans to undertake just when the U.S. government is counting on the U.N. to help legitimize the Iraqi elections -- the kind of multilateral mission that is becoming even more essential on a planet where failed states threaten the security of everyone.


For the Bush administration and its conservative allies, the U.N. represents embarrassment and obstruction. Seeing no value in debating and discussing world problems with lesser nations, they regard the U.N. as nothing but an unworthy obstacle to the exercise of American power. To them, the world body symbolizes all that they hate about multilateralism and diplomacy.

Certain starry-eyed neoconservatives broach the idea of a new global organzation that would only admit "legitimate" democratic governments (as defined, perhaps, by the Heritage Foundation or the Wall Street Journal editorial board). In the neocon scenario, the U.N. would be hollowed into a meaningless, impoverished shell, and left to such pariahs as Kim Jong Il and the Iranian mullahs.

As fantasy, this explains much about the mind-set of the neoconservative right in the aftermath of the Iraq debacle. They need somebody to blame, other than themselves, and Annan provides a most convenient target. As policy, however, the abandonment of the U.N. is just as crazy as when the John Birch Society printed its first bumper sticker -- as the neocons might acknowledge if they listened to our closest allies.

These guys have an list and they're checking each item off one at a time. If circumstance change they just find a new rationale and plow on.

The Birchers wanted to destroy both social security and the UN back in 1962. They think their time has come. It's just that simple.

Honor Role

Kidding On The Square is talking about honor, something our culture seems to have thrown out by mistake when it packed off hats and slavery. This is a very thought provoking post about American heroes, faux and authentic, old and new. Some people are human and they are also leaders. Some people are neither.

My War Is Bigger Than Your War

As I listen to Teddy Kennedy challenge Gonzales' "I was out of the loop" defense on the torture memos, it probably pays to remember what those memos actually said. Here's a good article by the authors of the new book "The Torture Papers."

The chronology of the memoranda also demonstrates the increasing rationalization and strained analysis as the objectives grew more aggressive and the position more indefensible--in effect, rationalizing progressively more serious conduct to defend the initial decisions and objectives, to the point where, by the time the first images of Abu Ghraib emerged in public, the government's slide into its moral morass, as reflected in the series of memos published in this volume, was akin to a criminal covering up a parking violation by incrementally more serious conduct culminating in murder.


Nor does any claim of a "new paradigm" provide any excuse, or even a viable explanation. The contention, set forth with great emphasis in these memoranda, that al Qaeda, as a fanatic, violent, and capable international organization, represented some unprecedented enemy justifying abandonment of our principles is simply not borne out by historical comparison. The Nazi party's dominance of the Third Reich is not distinguishable in practical terms from al Qaeda's influence on the Taliban government as described in these memos.

Al Qaeda's record of destruction, September 11th notwithstanding--and as a New Yorker who lived, and still lives, in the shadow of the Twin Towers, which cast a long shadow over lower Manhattan even in their absence, I am fully cognizant of the impact of that day--pales before the death machine assembled and operated by the Nazis. Yet we managed to eradicate Nazism as a significant threat without wholesale repudiation of the law of war, or a categorical departure from international norms, even though National Socialism, with its fascist cousins, was certainly a violent and dangerous international movement--even with a vibrant chapter here in the United States.

No kidding. The idea that al Qaeda is some unique form of evil that requires we cast out all norms of civilization is simply mind boggling (Indeed, I get the feeling that it illustrates nothing more than ego run amuck --- some kind of competitiveness with the Greatest Generation.)

The biggest threat we face is from nuclear weapons in the wrong hands. But we need to remember that this is not a new problem. Nuclear weapons have been in the hands of America's mortal enemies for more than 50 years and while they may not have been as nihilistic as these terrorists, they were certainly as prone to accident and misjudgment as any group of humans. The stakes were unimaginable. These were not "suitcase bombs" or "dirty bombs", as awful as those may be, they were ICBM's aimed at every American city and if they were launched, the result was likely to be annihilation of the planet. That's the threat we lived with for almost 50 years. We can handle this terrorist threat without completely losing our values, our wits or our moral authority.

But, the administration is listening to ideologues like Robert J. Delahunty and John C. Yoo, who should be cast into the farthest reaches of academia or think tankery where their hysterical ideas can cause no harm to real people:

When the Senate considers Alberto R. Gonzales' nomination for attorney general this week, his critics will repeat the accusation that he opened the door to the abuse of Al Qaeda, Afghan and Iraqi prisoners. As Justice Department attorneys in January 2002, we wrote the memos advising that the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war did not apply to the war against Al Qaeda, and that the Taliban lost POW privileges by violating the laws of war. Later that month, Gonzales similarly advised (and President Bush ordered) that terrorists and fighters captured in Afghanistan receive humane treatment, but not legal status as POWs.

"Human rights" advocates have resorted to hyperbole and distortion to attack the administration's policy. One writer on this page even went so far as to compare it to Nazi atrocities. Such absurd claims betray the real weaknesses in the position taken by Gonzales' critics. They obscure a basic and immediate question facing the United States: how to adapt to the decline of nation-states as the primary enemy in war.


Shortly after World War II, nations ratified the Geneva Convention in order to mitigate the cruelty and horror of wars between the large mechanized armies that had laid waste to Europe. Now, the main challenges to peace do not arise from the threat of conflict between large national armies, but from terrorist organizations and rogue nations.

To believe that the Geneva Convention should apply jot-and-tittle to such enemies reminds us of the first generals of the Civil War, who thought that the niceties that were ideals of Napoleonic warfare could be applied to battles fought by massive armies, armed with ever more advanced weapons and aided by civilian-run mass-production factories and industry. War changes, and the laws of war must change with them.


Unfortunately, multinational terrorist groups have joined nations on the stage of war. They operate without regard to borders and observe no distinction between combatants and civilians. Our weapons for controlling hostile states don't work well against decentralized networks of suicidal operatives, with no citizens or borders to defend.

There is another name that fits these terrorists a little bit better than an "unprecedented, non-nation state decentralized threat that operates without regard to borders and observes no distinction between combatants and civilians." They're called "criminals." These international criminals do not represent a "nation" but what might be called a gang or a syndicate or a "family." They can be brought to heel the same way criminal gangs can always be brought to heel. One of the ways that you do it is by enlisting the help of other nations in the manhunts with cooperative police and international quasi military investigations.

The fact is that this isn't a "war" by any reasonable definition. However, the powers that be have deemed it so, in which case they should not be able to change the rules of warfare to accomodate what isn't a war in the first place. If it's a war, then it's a war, which means that quaint little treaties like the GC cannot just be tossed at will. If it isn't a war then we should follow the criminal model and use the laws and rules that have been established to to deal with this. This is a bullshit flim-flam that should have been nipped in the bud at the very begining, but because the leadership and opinion makers of this country (including you Andy --- and you too Tom) decided that this was a good opportunity wallow in their own self righteous bloodlust instead of using their heads, we are stuck in this ridiculous position where we have elevated a bunch of criminal thugs to the status of warrior kings --- exactly where they want to be.

And we are further digging ourselves into a hole by endorsing the use of police interrogation methods that experts throughout the world know don't work. And because we have denied any use of due process there is no corrective mechanism for the mistakes that are being made by the soldiers in far off lands who, with limited understanding of the culture are "capturing" people who have little or no connection to the criminal enterprise, coercing confessions and holding them indefinitely on that evidence. I just don't know how we could do this any more ineptly.

But Woo and Delahunty aren't just talking about terrorists when they say the Geneva Conventions are no longer applicable. They go further and claim that "psuedo-states" are also exempt.

The problem of terrorist groups has been compounded by the emergence of pseudo-states. Pseudo-states often have neither the will nor the means to obey the Geneva Convention. Somalia and Afghanistan were arguably pseudo-states; Iraq under Saddam Hussein was another.

Pseudo-states control areas and populations subject to personal, clan or tribal rule. A leader supported by a small clique (like Hussein and his associates from Tikrit) or a tribal faction (like the Pashtuns in Afghanistan) rule. Political institutions are weak or nonexistent. Loyalties depend on personal relationships with tribal chiefs, sheiks or warlords, rather than allegiance to the nation.

Quasi-political bodies such as the Iraqi Baathist Party, the Taliban or even the Saudi royal family exercise government power. Defeat of the "national" leader or clique typically results in the complete disintegration of the regime.

Well, that definition of psuedo state says that any established non-democratic state is no longer a real state. Iraq, you see, was a psuedo state, so when we invaded it wasn't a typical war of aggression or choice, we were just toppling a "national" leader, which isn't the same thing at all. (I hate to bring this up, but Hitler claimed that sovereign borders weren't sovereign for a bunch of bullshit reasons, too. That's why the whole blanket condemnation of wars of aggression thing came up in the first place. You say Czechoslovakia, I say Sudetenland.)

Multinational terrorist groups and pseudo-states pose a deep problem for treaty-based warfare. Terrorists thrive on killing civilians and flouting conventional rules of war. Leaders like Hussein and the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar ignore the fates of their captured soldiers. They have nothing riding on the humane treatment of American prisoners.

A treaty like the Geneva Convention makes perfect sense when it binds genuine nations that can reciprocate humane treatment of prisoners. Its existence and its benefits even argue for the kind of nation-building that uses U.S. troops and other kinds of pressures in places like Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq; more nation-states make all of us safer. But the Geneva Convention makes little sense when applied to a terrorist group or a pseudo-state. If we must fight these kinds of enemies, we must create a new set of rules.

Please. The Bataan death march, the holocaust, the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo and the dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were fresh memories when the Geneva Conventions were signed. The people who conceived them had intimate and personal knowledge of the kind of inhumane actions against millions of prisoners, civilians and soldiers the horrors of war can bring. Please don't say that attacking civilians is unprecedented. It's just ridiculous. Ill treatment of prisoners? Jesus. Inhumanity wasn't invented on 9/11 for christs sake.

The reason for the conventions was to establish written civilized norms. There were no illusions about the "binding" of a future Hitler or a future bin Laden, but they sure as hell thought it would bind the United States of America! The idea that 9/11 is something so unique and the hatred of our enemies so threatening that we must discard all the rules that we created in the wake of the most horrifying conflagration in human history is intellectual bankruptcy of the highest order.

Nobody disputes that it was a terrible day or that we had to respond. But this wholesale redefinition of what constitutes torture and what constitutes a nation state in order to accomodate an allegedly unprecedented threat appears more and more like a self-serving excuse to broaden the executive's power. Re-writing the rules of warfare as necessary to fight this unique threat can then be seen as an extension of that power grab. All the subsequent hemming and hawing is a cover-up of that essential extra-constitutional action.

There are people who have the kind of temperament that is drawn to authoritarian modes of governance. People like John Woo and George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales. These are people who saw 9/11 as a reason to do what they always do when given the opportunity --- make their own rules.

The terrorism that people like these are arguing requires a wholesale rejection of all the norms and rules that have brought us to this point in human history is another of the phony crises, like WMD in Iraq and Social Security solvency that they have perpetuated since George W. Bush took office. Al Qaeda is a serious threat. But it is not so serious that WWI and WWII pale in comparison or that we face an unprecedented existential threat. It's absurd to put it in those terms and it's a misunderstanding of the problem on such a vast scale that we are actively making the threat worse instead of better.

We are being led by a man who has been convinced that "his" war is bigger than the big one and anything goes. Yet, the single most searing image of our warrior leadership is the president with a bullhorn leading a cheer. I think that says it all.

Enforcing The Rules Of Integrity

What used to be called conflict of interest is now called synergy --- Jack Grubman

In response to my post on framing below, reader Sara pointed me to Eliot Spitzer's speech at the National Press Club yesterday for a great example of re-framing the Democratic argument, and it is a really good one.

I urge you to listen to the whole thing because Spitzer is such a great example of the "fighting liberal" we need more of. He points out that the rules of integrity that we all agree and understand must be enforced to keep the system running efficiently can only be done by government. Business cannot be relied upon to self-regulate because those who reject the practices of their competitors is almost always at a disadvantage. It's a race to the bottom in which each enterprise excuses its behavior by saying it is not quite as bad as the other guy.

(I was struck at how this frames the issue of "the market" in terms that recognize Democrats as the "enforcers of the rules" while casting the Republican business elite as the out of control party boys who can't be relied upon to police their own behavior. As I was listening I had a picture of a kid saying that they'd love to join in the binge drinking and drag racing fun, but their father is a tough cop and they'd better not. Strict father gives the kids a way to avoid peer pressure.)

He also discusses how much the laissez faire philosophy of deregulation and protections for cronies and contributors has led to loss of shareholder value and misallocation of capital to losing enterprises due to their dishonesty and lack of transparency. It's bad for the economy and the current administration is exacerbating it by protecting the status quo to the detriment of the nation as a whole.

As an example, after the disclosure that the makers of Paxil had withheld from the public information that clearly showed that there was a high risk of suicide in teen-agers who used the drug, he quotes the WSJ editorial page as saying "the system is working exactly as it should."

He discusses "values" in the context that only government can "enforce" business behavior that recognises our cultural values such as anti-discrimination or minimum wage. He says, "the marketplace alone can't get us there." "Democrats believe in the market and we understand the market, but it will not survive if we do not understand it's flaws and government does not enforce the rules of integrity."

With regard to the social security debate, he said that the Democrats are the ones who built the middle class, protected their investments and created the ownership society that already is America. The Republicans, contrary to the popular view, are "cloaking themselves in the language of the market, but speaking for the ossified status quo."

This is an elegant way of framing our position. Democrats are the reformers --- by being the enforcers. In this political climate those are powerful words. Fighting liberal reformers battling to enforce the rules that maximise the efficiency of the market and promote our values.

Who's your (strict) daddy, now?

Monday, January 31, 2005


If you read one thing today, read this article by Robert Wright(if you haven't already.)

There was a time, lo these many years ago (back in the 90's) when most people understood that globalization was a huge transition with lots of unintended consequences we need to be aware of and deal with, but it was inevitable and also held out a huge promise of progress for freedom, liberty and deomcracy and all that gooey good stuff our Preznit loves to talk about. The thinking went that capitalism held the keys to liberation and that while we were embarking on a somewhat unknown track, we had faith that our economic and political systems would win out as long as we were engaged.

Then along came 9/11 and "changed everything." The PNAC neocon crowd, who had always dissented from that argument, held sway with their belief that the US had to expand its influence through the use of hard power and force the gooey good stuff because otherwise it wouldn't happen.

They did not understand that it's our "idea" that is the compelling thing, not our awesome military and economic might, which exists not to spread freedom but to protect it. They have faith in their own ideology and their own power, but they have no faith in what this country stands for. Their reliance on things like torture bears that out. That is the fundamental error.

The Framers

Along with Mark Schmitt, I'm not a big fan of Lakoff's new book. As I've written many times, I think his analysis of the art and science of framing is right on the money, but I think his actual frames are just terrible. He's an idea man, not a political strategist. I'll repeat what I've said before. The mere fact that he frames the Democrats as "nurturant parents (mommies)" disqualifies him from political action. That frame is exactly what's killing us. It may be sexism or it may just be the times in which we live, but we should drop it like a hot potato.

The Republicans have an economic framing model that's very successful and we can learn from it. They sell an optimistic, simple philosophy of "if only the government would get out of the way you can be successful." This means that if you aren't successful it's the government's fault. (And Democrats believe in government so they are actively working to keep you down.) Their frame is always, entirely, the frame of self reliance and self interest. They preach it as a moral good no matter what the situation. This is a notion that has a very long history in American culture and it's one that appeals to a very basic aspect of human nature. It has become the dominant strain in political discourse over the last thirty years.

However, they know that Americans are not that simple minded about their own personal self interest. Even if they sign on to the philosophy of self interest it doesn't mean that they don't understand that they have much to gain with a generous redistributional government. (Hence the "lucky ducky" strategy.) Americans like certain things the government provides. So, the Republicans hire guys like Frank Luntz and spend millions of dollars polling and focus grouping to find out how to market this "you're on your own" philosophy to make it sound as if they will be guaranteed a better result if they do it the GOP way. They choose words and phrases that denigrate government, make Democrats appear to be corrupt and enslaved by "special" interests and make it sound as if people will be giving nothing up and gaining much by signing on to the Republican philosophy.

But, even with all that they have not been able to completely destroy the liberal consensus. Therefore, they are forced to do things like sell social security destruction on two tracks. They are simultaneously trying to "save" something that poeple obviously value while at the same time convincing people that they will benefit far more if they sign on to the privatization bandwagon. But we have recently found out that after all this time they can't use the word "privatization" because people aren't buying it. People know enough to know "privatization" means they might lose money.

This is very telling It says that while the Republicans have been able to move self interest to the front and center of political discourse, displacing the values of community and altruism as things people feel they ought to say when quizzed about such things. But they haven't managed to make people believe that government is their personal enemy or that it is in their self interest to reject all redistribution of wealth so that they might have more "opportunity." Self-interested people aren't ideologues. They'll take the best deal from wherever it comes.

Therefore, I would submit that our rhetorical frames should begin to speak to the fact that properly run government is a good deal. Social Security is a guaranteed check that is always on time and comes every single month no matter how long you live. That's a good deal.

And I think that we have to acknowledge that the altruistic, moral case for government is (temporarily, hopefully) on the decline and we need to argue in a way that accomodates that. On a separate track we must enlist the liberal clergy and others to begin to build the progressive values arguments back up, just as the Republicans continue to build their case for laissez-faire. But in the meantime, we need to realize that we are in an era of marketing to people's individual wants and desires and needs. This is how they view the world.

I don't think we need to be dishonest, but I fear that we are going to be bulldozed over and over again, even if we win the battle for social security, if we try to hang our hats on the moral case for good government. Someday, perhaps, we can get there. But today I think that the singular success of the Republican era is persuading people that selfishness is a positive good. Little Aynnie Rand must be popping a Dexie and lighting a cig with satisfaction down in the third circle right now.

If It Ain't broke Don't Fix It

There Is No Crisis is putting together a fun and informative way to deal with the Preznit's State of the Union Destroy Social Security speech. Throw a house party and tune into a conference call afterward in which someone will interpret the soaring gibberish into English and educate your party about the nightmarish future Republicans intend for you to have in your old age.

(You can even incorporate my favorite, the Dubya Drinking game, points corresponding to how many times he says freedom, liberty, ownership and "personal accounts." But serve half shots or the party will be passed out before the conference call.)

"There Is No Crisis" is the response to Bush's repeated assertions that he is trying to "save social security." It's a bold way of framing it and it puts the onus on President Inarticulate to explain a complicated policy issue. (Even when they write a good speech, he's much more believable on the "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists" kind of Hollywood dialog than making a complicated case for a particular policy.) This is good politics. The other side is on the defensive.

The key to arguing this issue is to recognize their various arguments and make them explain them. When you do that, they begin to see the outlines of a basically dishonest scheme. Here are a few ideas about handling this:

"The system is going broke"

When you're standing around the water cooler and somebody says that the system has to be fixed because it's going broke, ask them to explain why the date that the trust fund "runs out" keeps going up, from 2029 to 2042 and maybe higher even though the baby boomer retirement ages have been known for 50 years now. When they sputter, as they will, adopt the world weary derisive tone usually reserved for war hawks and law and order types and say, "Yeah, whatever. It sounds like a scam to me There's no crisis."

"Private accounts give a better return on investment"

Ask them if they agree that every portfolio needs some part of their retirement savings that isn't subject to being Enroned. And don't they think that having at least a minimal defined benefit plan is what allows people to take on more risk with their 401K's and IRA's and other investments? A prudent investor knows that everybody needs a very conservative portion of their portfolio to fall back on if they have a bad break. Isn't that really what social security is?

"The trust fund is a bunch of worthless IOU's"

Do they realize that those "worthless "IOU's" are government bonds? Those bonds are backed by the most reliable contract in the world "the full faith and credit of the Treasury of the United States of America." If government bonds are worthless then social security is the least of our problems. In fact, we should probably start burying gold in the back yard and laying in the canned goods.

"The baby boomer retirees are going to outnumber the workers and that's why the system is going broke"

Then how come Ronald Reagan signed the legislation back in 1983 that made all workers (and especially boomers in their top earning years) pay "extra" in order to pay for the baby boomer's retirements? What happened to that plan?

Then there is the big question that come back at you. It's not easy to explain, but you can do it if they'll let you finish a sentence.

"Why do they want to do this now?"

A variety of reasons, but the most important is that this is the first time since its inception that the Republicans have had the institutional power to dismantle social security. They have been against it since the day the legislation was signed and have been building this case for privatization since at least the fifties. Now that they are in power, the modern Republican party is conducting a radical economic (and foreign policy) experiment based upon their belief in laissez faire capitalism and world military domination but they have not been honest with the American people about what they are doing. We are by nature a cautious people when it comes to radical change and they know it. So they are creating "problems" and "crises" that don't exist (like weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and social security going broke) in order to persuade people that that the old ways don't work anymore and that "modern" solutions are needed.

Privatizing Social Security is a very bold step back to the future. There was once a time when Americans closing in on the end of their lives either worked until they dropped dead or lived their final years in grinding poverty if they had not been able to save enough money during their earning years. There are an infinite number of reasons why this might be so. It could happen to anyone. Social Security was a recognition that everybody needs something to fall back on in life if things don't go well. Paying into it over the course of your earning years is a small price to pay for the peace of mind in knowing that even if your 401K or your IRA or your house doesn't appreciate the way you hope, there will at least be something that will keep the wolves at bay. There is only one entity on the face of this earth that can make a guarantee like that--- the government of the richest most powerful nation on earth. We can afford to guarantee that the elderly live their final years in a dignified, decent manner. We've managed to do that for the last seventy years and there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to continue. There is no crisis. Let's move on to dealing with real problems.

If that doesn't work, give them this article by George Will. Will makes the honest Republican argument:

The president says Social Security should be reformed because it is in "crisis." That is an exaggeration. Democrats say it should not be reformed because there is no crisis. That is a non sequitur. Social Security should be reformed not because there is a crisis but because there is an opportunity.


Voluntary personal accounts will allow competing fund managers, rather than a government monopoly on income transfers from workers to retirees, to allocate a large pool of money. This will enhance the economic dynamism conducive to an open society. Personal accounts will respect individuals' autonomy and competence and will narrow the wealth gap by facilitating the accumulation of wealth -- bequeathable wealth -- by people of modest incomes.

There you have it. If you want to trust the "competing fund managers" who backed Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers with every penny of your retirement instead of leaving a modest portion with the most reliable guarantor on earth, the United States of America, then you'll love social security privatization. It'll make your elderly years very exciting and unpredictable.

Click over to There is No Crisis and sign up for a house party. I swear it's the only way to get through what is going to be the most unctuous and shockingly dishonest SOTU that's ever been given. Peggy will crawl her way back up William Kristol's keister and proclaim it a home run. Steve Forbes will probably be anchoring the CNN coverage in a Chicken Little costume. You are going to need normal people around you.

Oh, and click over to this cool Move-On ad, soon to be seen in wavering districts throughout the country.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Look Who's Talking

This interesting article on the long term plan for SS privatization in today's LA Times contains a shocking, shocking revelation!

"It could be many years before the conditions are such that a radical reform of Social Security is possible," wrote Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis, Heritage Foundation analysts, in a 1983 article in the Cato Journal. "But then, as Lenin well knew, to be a successful revolutionary, one must also be patient and consistently plan for real reform."

...analysts Butler and Germanis argued in their prescient 1983 article — provocatively titled "Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy" — that privatizing Social Security required a calculated, long-term campaign to transform the political environment.

Now that's odd. It seems like just a minute ago that I read a scathing take down of "the left" that seemed to indicate that such imagery wasn't exactly, well .... patriotic:

And this review of Steve Earle's concert in Knoxville -- in which he performed before a hammer and sickle -- observes:

The Soviet imagery might have seemed corny five years ago, but in the current right-leaning climate, a left-wing backlash is inevitable. Expect to see more of it.

If Kerry had won, would it be understandable for Republican artists to perform in front of swastikas? And how seriously should we take people who wish we had lost the Cold War, and who want us to lose this one?

Well, there aren't any Republican artists so that point is moot. There are, however, VMI cadets who think that dressing up in nazi gear and blackface is training for future leadership and anyone who doesn't like it should just STFU:

Numerous VMI supporters defended the students' right to enjoy themselves during a break from their rigorous training program and attacked what they perceive as political correctness run amok.

"You have no idea what we go through here at VMI, and if the cadets and rats choose to have fun on Halloween, you should not have anything to say about it," a VMI cadet wrote. "Just remember, we are the future leaders of America, and we will be the ones defending your rights."

I wonder which party that young man belongs to?

You would think that those on the right would find it a bit alarming that right wing analysts were openly apeing communist revolutionary tactics even before the cold war was "won," too, but apparently there's nothing wrong with a little sincere flattery.

When it comes to obscure left wing professors who nobody has ever heard of, though, the buck has come to a full stop at the door of us decaying immoral liberals who must be held accountable for every word he said.

And they are right. This kind of nutty talk shouldn't be allowed to pollute the discourse without somebody standing up and saying no. So I'll tell you what, fellas. I'll disavow this joker from Nowhere University when you guys disavow the vomitous spew with which your millionaire pundits and "entertainers" disgrace this nation's airwaves every single day to tens of millions of listeners, ok?

Here's a little sample of the fetid swill that passes for political discourse on the right in this country:

LIMBAUGH: We killed his sons. We took his country. We put him in jail. He is still calmer and more rational than Howard Dean after he lost Iowa. He's calmer and more rational than Gore after he lost his mind. He's calmer and more rational than George Soros is.

LIMBAUGH: I mean, if there is a party that's soulless, it's the Democratic Party. If there are people by definition who are soulless, it is liberals -- by definition. You know, souls come from God. You know? No. No. You can't go there.

LIMBAUGH: Women still make up an average of only 13 percent of police officers... They're never happy. And I don't mean women. I'm talking about the activists. Don't lose your cookies out there. This is according to the National Center for Women and Policing, which is a division of the Feminist Majority Foundation of American, which is the feminazis. This is exactly what I'm talking about. So what's the reaction to this? Well, here's my reaction, in the typical Rush fashion: If we've got four new female police chiefs out there, then I guess we can watch out for some naked pyramids among prisoners in these new jailhouses that these women ran, because we had a woman running the prison in Abu [Algore pronunciation] Grab. That's how you do it.

VESTER: You say you'd rather not talk to liberals at all?

COULTER: I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days. [FOX News Channel, DaySide with Linda Vester, 10/6]

"My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie-chick pie wagons they call "women" at the Democratic National Convention."

SAVAGE: And we have all of the leaders -- we have Obergrupenführer Clinton; we have Grupenführer Carter; we have Brigadeführer Daschle. ... There are only a few rotten führers on the bottom of the corporals; they're the ones wearing the little funny green costumes down there. But they're all there. That's how I see them.

Instapundit: There was a time when the Left opposed fascism and supported democracy, when it wasn't a seething-yet-shrinking mass of self-hatred and idiocy. That day is long past, and the moral and intellectual decay of the Left is far gone.

This particular type of rhetoric using violent imagery, nazi and terrorist comparisons, revolting physical descriptions,and characterizations as irrational, soulless, fragrant, hirsute, rotten, far gone can only be described as eliminationist. Its tone is so derisive and so relentlessly contemptuous that it becomes difficult for people who listen to this stuff everyday to even think of liberals or "the left" or Democrats as even human much less fellow Americans.

There was a time when I thought that someone like Instapundit was a cut above this type of thing, but no more. It's no longer just right wing talk show hosts ostensibly "entertaining" the folks. It's law professors and Claremont fellows publicly accusing "the left" of being terrorist sympathizers.

Some people need to get out of the right wing echo chamber and breathe some fresh air. They have lost the capacity to see and hear what they and their allies are really saying. This is a very destructive genie they have let out of bottle.

Update: Now this is just funny. Instapundit quotes Ed Driscoll writing:

In the 1950s, Bill Buckley was able to create a new conservatism by casting out the John Birchers and their anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Now it's the left's turn to try to do much the same.

Uh huh. That's a nice story. It's true that William Buckley chastized the birchers for accusing Eisenhower of being a communist. But cast them out? Nah.

From the Columbia Encyclopedia:

"...the society was founded to fight subversive Communism within the United States. Its other objectives have included the abolition of the graduated income tax, the repeal of social security legislation, the impeachment of various high government officials, the end to busing for the purpose of school integration, the end to U.S. membership in the United Nations, and the nullification of the treaty that turned over the Panama Canal to Panama."

Now where have I heard that agenda before? Give me a minute....

Replace "communist" with "liberal" (when they even bother with the distinction) and there is very little difference between what you hear coming out of the mouths of modern conservatives and the John Birchers. As far as conspiracies go, there is nothing like the myth of the liberal media to keep those paranoid juices flowing. They weren't cast out, they were simply asked to be loyal Republicans.

Who's Counting The Votes?

Following up on my post below, Matthews just reiterated the apeculation that Ahmad Chalabi is likely to be part of this new government. Pat Lang, the intelligence expert said that he hoped that Chalabi won't be given the Ministry of Interior because he would be in charge of the police. No shit.

Is it at all possible that Ahmad Chalabi is going to be "elected" under American occupation and be allowed to take an active role? It sure seems like a funny way to establish the legitimacy of this election.

I guess they can get away with absolutely anything. After all, they got away with Florida, they can certainly install every neocon's favorite Iraqi if they damn well please. Legitimacy is for losers.

Let Freedom Ring: Second Verse Same As The First

James Wolcott writes

Yesterday on one of the Fox financial shows, James Rogers, author of Investment Biker, commodities guru, and neighbor-down-the-block (an utterly irrelevant detail I thought I'd toss in to make this blog sound more "personal"), was asked by host Neil Cavuto whether the elections in Iraq would be successful. Rogers said, "They'll be successful because the media will say they're successful," adding impishly, "Fox News probably already has the results."

And I think they got them from CNN. I haven't seen this much gushing since Asheigh Banfield threw on a little black burka and hitched a camel ride to Kabul.

Clearly, the media loves these trumped up Iraq milestones. They sent Anderson and Campbell over to hang out in the Green Zone and get "the feel" for the place while they patch up their pancake blush and admire each other's groovy winter desert wear in the bar.

They all agree that there was an excellent turn-out. 72%! (But I hear that Warren Mitofsky may have screwed up the exit polling, so don't hold your breath. This number is subject to change.) It's bigger than most people predicted, only rivaled by the phenomenal 98% turn-out for Saddam in the last election thus proving that Iraqis have always been big on voting. You can't blame them. Abu Ghraib is murder this time of year.

I agree, of course, that democracy is the bestest thing in the whole wide world (except the Bible) and that we have a responsibility to spread it and layer it and smooth it and sprinkle coconut on it it wherever there are people who don't have it. Nobody argues with that. (Praise democracy. Praise freedom. Praise liberty. Praise God. Praise George W. Bush. Amen. nowletmego.)

The counting is sure to be transparent to all. That's how we do these things in Murikin democracy. Needless to say, no Iraqi will ever have cause to believe that the vote was rigged in favor of American interests. Why, I'm pretty sure that Lil' Judy Miller just told Chris Matthews that Ahmad Chalabis "list" looks to be doing very well. She's quite the reporter. Always has the big scoop. She knows which lists have done well already. Matthews posits that Chalabi ends up as oil minister.

But, whaterver. This is a great day for Americademocracylibertyandfreedom. As Judy just reminded us, the president is on a roll. "He" has just had three free elections --- Afghanistan, Palestine and now Iraq. She didn't mention the US.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Oh Maggie, I Wish I'd Never Seen Your Face

Thanks again to Kathy G, here's some more from traditional morals maven, Maggie Gallagher:

(Via Lexis-Nexis) August 10, 1998, Monday

SUPPOSE you're an intelligent 17-year-old single girl who has just had a baby. Suppose you're even smart enough to know that, as one such young unwed mom named Chasity told The New York Times, "I made a mistake ... I'm not recommending this." Now suppose your local school's chapter of the National Honor Society, worried about sending a message that an unwed teen parent is a good role model, turns you down for membership, despite your high G.P.A.

What do you do?

If you are Chasity Glass, or her friend Somer Chipman, two 17-year- old students at Grant County High School in Kentucky, you agree to become poster girls for a new national legal campaign by the ACLU to establish unwed motherhood as the right of minor children everywhere.

Not that I blame Somer and Chasity so much. They're teen-agers after all, and teens are notoriously obsessed with their own feelings and rights. That's one of the reasons that youngsters shouldn't be parents, especially outside of marriage. But what's the ACLU's excuse?

Gender equality, intones ACLU lawyer Sara Mandelbaum self-righteously, as if the natural first step to raising women's status is to confer on teen-age girls a right to have babies. There is no social attitude or law on the books that is as big an obstacle to career achievement for women as having babies outside of wedlock, especially before adulthood.

And, incidentally, research shows that becoming an unwed mom is an equally large obstacle to eventually building a successful marriage; not only is it harder to find a good mate, but having a child with a man who is not your husband makes divorce more likely. All the way around these two girls have taken a step that may injure their own and, more important, their babies' chances in life for years to come. I wish them luck.

Yeah, a mother fighting for the right to an honor that she already earned because screeching moralists like Maggie Gallagher are worried "the message" it sends is sure to harm their babies' chances in life for years to come. I'm just sure of it. it must be true. She's an expert.

Maggie waited until she was 21 before she got knocked up by her kid's father whom she didn't bother to marry. By her own standards she was too selfish to marry for the next ten years. But she always finds others to castigate for their immorality and selfishness, rarely copping to what she would call a decadent lifestyle if another woman lived it. Her story remains vague and unknown to most people who read her material. Her close friends, the right wing think tankers and pundits in Manhattan and DC don't see anything amiss, however. (Falafels and strip poker anyone?)

The timeline suggests, although I don't have proof, that she may have been in a delicate condition while she was at Yale. I wonder what kind of message Maggie would think it sends for a pregnant college student to be allowed to receive a diploma when she is unwed. But, we needn't worry about that. If Maggie (being the paragon of honesty that she is) were pregnant at the time of her graduation from college she undoubtedly would have stayed home from the ceremony because it would set such a bad example for others.

You have to give her credit, though. She became a hypocritical wingnut harpy lecturing others about their mistakes right out of the box. That's the way it's done girls. Get with the "do as I say, not as I do" party and make some big bucks. Even an "illegitimate" child and really bad haircut won't hold you back.

Here are some more of those anti-feminist traditional values that sell so well:

...amazingly, deep within the bowels Title IX regulations (mostly used
heretofore to encourage women's sports), the federal government does define unwed pregnancy as a young girl's gender rights.

The intentions of Title IX were no doubt good: encouraging pregnant teens to stay in school. But time has proved even a high school diploma does not magically eliminate the enormous hardship that out-of-wedlock childbearing imposes. The ACLU's misguided campaign will not advance women's equality; it will no doubt encourage at least a few more immature teens to think about motherhood in terms of their own desires rather than their child's needs.

Like a lying apple cheeked Yalie mom who forgot to get married for ten years while she created a "career" as a "marriage expert."

But perhaps they might take a cue from another single young woman from Chasity and Somer's high school, who had a child a few years back. She too had good grades and she too was denied entry into the National Honor Society. But unlike Somer and Chasity, Krissy Ford decided it was not worth making a federal case of it: "I had no hard feelings at all," Krissy Ford told the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader last May. "It's something that's not worth dragging your school down. ... It's a mistake I made."

Krissy respects the decision the two younger unwed moms made, but recalls, "My focus was on my child."

If only the rest of us could be so mature.

Oh my yes. There is no doubt in my mind that the world would be a better place if Maggie had been mature enough to "focus" on her child instead of helping to create a multi-million dollar industry devoted to indoctrinating "the people" in backward bourgeois values (at which they themselves scoff) for political gain and financial profit.

In light of Maggie's love-child, I wonder how all of her fellow up-tighty righties explain the strange advice to fellow travellers (from February 1999) such as "If you are going on the moral attack, wash your own hands first," and "those of us who see clearly the connection between the privatization of morality(especially sexual morality) and the public squalor we must all live in have to be in the business not of rallying troops but of making conversions," in light of the fact that she stands accused of not only greed, avarice and mendacity in taking payola from the government, but she's also obviously someone who lived a secret life as an elitist libertine while making a living chastizing young girls for being as immoral as she is?

(Oh, what am I saying? They will resort to their usual sophistry and say that Gallagher never explicitly condemned unwed motherhood for dark haired women who graduated from Yale and besides keeping it a quasi secret is the right thing to do because she was trying to set an example. Next?)

Maggie Gallagher believes that unwed motherhood is the scourge of modern American life. In one of the self-serving screeds in which she failed to disclose that she was on the take from the Bush administration, she wrote:

But $300 million is a tiny fraction of what we spend to deal with the social problems created by high rates of illegitimacy and divorce. You know what really costs big bucks? Having one-third of our babies born outside of marriage. These children, through no fault of their own, are more likely to be poor,
welfare-dependent, to need special education, to get physically ill (Medicaid
dollars), to become substance abusers, experience mental illness, commit acts of
juvenile delinquency and become adult criminals, drop out of high school, be
held back a grade, and to go onto become young unwed mothers and fathers
themselves, perpetuating an expensive cycle of downward mobility.

Well, yes. Unless one is a high paid GOP shill who works as a "marriage expert" in no less than three of the bogus GOP propaganda front groups that call themselves "think tanks." Then you can fuck to your hearts content, get knocked up, stay unmarried for ten years while you pursue your elitist career as a "scholor" and "columnist" and still be able to hector the rest of the country about traditional morality.

Man, oh man, The right is really where the money is. I'm beginning to feel a little bit foolish for not taking advantage of it. If you can cast off all personal integrity and can bear to kiss the asses of people like James Dobson, they don't care what kind of a freak you are. What a great scam.

Update: Media Matters has all the data of the GOP front groups our gal Maggie has been sucking from for her entire "career" as a "marriage expert." (I was going to say "who do you have to blow to get some of that action" and then I realized...ohmydeargawd)

Correction: I misspelled Kathy G's name. It has been fixed in this post and the one below.
Charles Pierce

Did I just hear Richard Perle on Nightline say that the biggest mistake we made in Iraq was not handing the country over to Ahmad Chalabi three years ago? Yes, and the biggest flaw in our national economy is that we haven't turned the Federal Reserve over to Ken Lay. Yes, and the biggest mistake I am likely to make in trying to understand this Festival of Fruitcakes is failing to have laid in enough mushrooms to get me through the State of the Union. To be fair, Perle tap-danced all around the name until Koppel finally brought it up, and then he said "Ahmad Chalabi" the way most people say, "trichinosis." Still, sweet storebought Jeebus.

What do you suppose it would take to get Pierce to write these pithy gems more often than once a week?

Maggie Was A Bad Girl

Commenting on Eschaton yesterday, reader Kathy G let Maggie's cat out of the bag:

Gallagher just looooves to rant about "family values" and how important it is that "elites" set an example (presumably so the lower orders remain properly deferential).

By any definition, Gallagher herself must be considered a member of the elite class - she went to Yale, after all. And her explanation about why she never went public about taking taxpayer money to ho for Bush - that she "forgot" about the $20,000 - kind of speaks for itself. Man, I sure as hell wish *I* could "forget" about $20,000.

Which brings us to this: Gallagher is yet another member of the wingnut "do as I say, not as I do" family values crowd. It turns out that, once upon a time, Ms. Gallagher was - gasp! horrors! - an UNWED MOTHER.

Apparently, as a young and lusty college-age lass, Maggie enjoyed her fun a little too much, and got knocked up. (Undoubtedly, the dastardly perpetrator of this deed was one of them Ivy League libruls, who did it solely with the plan of crediting our virtuous heroine).

How do I know this? Gallagher has written about it - though only in the context of a pious wingnut column about the horrors of abortion.

Anyway, she had the kid but, to my knowledge, did NOT marry the father. She didn't meet and marry the present Mr. Gallagher (or whoever) until later.

I wish I had access to Lexis-Nexis right now, because I'm sure I could pin this story down if her old columns for the NY Post are up there. Hopefully Atrios or one of you other Eschatons can find it and broadcast it throughout the land. Maggie, you shameless hussy, you!

Of course, NOW Gallagher is unctuously, properly remorseful about her "sin." But that didn't prevent her from having her fun when she wanted it. It never does with these guys and gals. They want to be able to do anything they damn please, but then they turn around and with hell's own fury castigate anyone else who wants to do the same.

Especially if, you know, they're "not the right class, dear." Or are the wrong color.

Frankly, I'm shocked. How unlike a wingnut to be so hypocritical.

Now, I know all of you Maggie defenders out there will probably say this is just some kind of Desperate Housewives catfight. Mags would never mislead her readers this way. But, you would be wrong. Maggie herself has written about it, rarely to be sure, and mostly a long time ago, but it's not a complete secret. Just a little something she doesn't advertise.

Maggie has been telling everyone who will listen, ad nauseum, that she has been a "marriage expert" for twenty years. But for ten of those years, fully half of her career, she was an unwed mother. That's quite a CV.

Kathy Grier was kind enough to send along some links to a few of the rare Maggie writings in which she admits to her little moral boo-boo.
Here's the evidence. (I know it's early in the day, but you should pour yourself a stiff drink before you read it. You're going to need it. Wow.)

And here's an interview with the hedonistic San Francisco liberal mag, Salon, in which she says "I was an unwed mother for ten years."

Let's just say that there isn't a paper trail showing that quote amongst her voluminous writings for right wing publications. She certainly doesn't mention it when she's hectoring girls about sex out of wedlock or decrying the husbandless home.

One can understand how difficult it is to find a mate and all, but if you believe so strongly that children should not be raised without both parents, ten years seems like quite a long time to wait to find a father for your child. There are matchmaking services on the Right that could have found Maggie a nice Christian man from Ardmore,Oklahoma who needed a mother for his five children. Maggie believes that any father is better than no father (unless he's gay, of course) so the proper thing to have done would be for her to sacrifice her "career" as a "marriage expert" and you know, actually get married to any man who would have her in order to provide a proper home for her son. Otherwise she's just another liberal feminazi putting her own need to live where she wanted and put her education to work and find a man she loved before the needs of her child. What will we tell the children?

This is an epidemic on the right. Gallagher reminds me of Susan Carpenter McMillan anti-abortion zealot (and Paula Jones stylist) who was revealed to have had two abortions to which she had never admitted.

I'm beginning to feel sorry for the poor sincere red state schmucks who believe in all this traditional values stuff. A bunch of slick, elitist, wingnut hucksters are taking them to the cleaners.

Calling Hollywood. Time for a remake of "Elmer Gantry."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Spongebob Goes To Church

Via Amy at Political Animal, I see that it is possible for church leaders to have a sense of humor. This is funny.

You have to give it to the UCC. They are taking action. I like 'em.

High Level Diplomacy

I'm awfully glad that taxpayers are paying for the highest caliber of diplomats --- intelligent, restrained, sophisticated. And with a wit that is just breathtaking. People who write things like this:

A friend of The Diplomad has provided us this letter which he "swears it's real." Of course, he also thought PanAm was a good investment . . . but, we can dream, eh?

Dear Concerned Citizen:

Thank you for your recent letter roundly criticizing our treatment of the Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Our administration takes these matters seriously, and your opinion was heard loud and clear in Washington.You'll be pleased to learn that thanks to concerned citizens like you, we are creating a new division of the Terrorist Retraining Program, to be called the "Liberals Accept Responsibility for Killers" program, or LARK for short. In accordance with the guidelines of this new program, we have decided to place one terrorist under your personal care.


Although Ahmed is sociopathic and extremely violent, we hope that your sensitivity to what you described as his "attitudinal problem" will help him overcome these character flaws.

Perhaps you are correct in describing these problems as mere cultural differences. He will bite you, given the chance. We understand that you plan to offer counseling and home schooling. Your adopted terrorist is extremely proficient in hand-to-hand combat and can extinguish human life with such simple items as a pencil or nail clippers. We do not suggest that you ask him to demonstrate these skills at your next yoga group He is also expert at making a wide variety of explosive devices from common household products, so you may wish to keep those items locked up, unless (in your opinion) this might offend him.

Ahmed will not wish to interact with your wife or daughters (except sexually) since he views females as a subhuman form of property. This is a particularly sensitive subject for him, and he has been known to show violent tendencies around women who fail to comply with the new dress code that Ahmed will recommend as more appropriate attire. I'm sure the women in your household will come to enjoy the anonymity offered by the bhurka - over time. Just remind them that it is all part of "respecting his culture and his religious beliefs" - wasn't that how you put it?

Thanks again for your letter. We truly appreciate it when folks like you, who know so much, keep us informed of the proper way to do our job.

You take good care of Ahmed - and remember...we'll be watching. Good luck!


Your Buddy,
Don Rumsfeld

How many of you vote that the first LARK letter go to Teddy Kennedy followed by one to Michael Moore? Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, has certainly earned himself the right to participate in LARK, too.

Man is that some hilarious material, or what? I'm proud to pay his salary, I can tell you that. Especially in light of this:

Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man's face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider's written account.


In November, in response to an AP request, the military described an April 2003 incident in which a female interrogator took off her uniform top, exposed her brown T-shirt, ran her fingers through a detainee's hair and sat on his lap. That session was immediately ended by a supervisor and that interrogator received a written reprimand and additional training, the military said.

In another incident, the military reported that in early 2003 a different female interrogator "wiped dye from red magic marker on detainees' shirt after detainee spit (cq) on her," telling the detainee it was blood. She was verbally reprimanded, the military said.

Sexual tactics used by female interrogators have been criticized by the FBI (news - web sites), which complained in a letter obtained by AP last month that U.S. defense officials hadn't acted on complaints by FBI observers of "highly aggressive" interrogation techniques, including one in which a female interrogator grabbed a detainee's genitals.

Yeah, it's some kind of a wonderful free society when female interrogators are used as dominatrix whores to humiliate a bunch of unlucky putzes who were sold for 5 grand by an Afghan warlord who's still laughing his ass off at how easy it was to get rid of his hated brother-in-law.

I'm awfully impressed with all these kinky sexual interrogation techniques they are using against Muslim males. Clearly, this stuff wasn't thought up by a single group of fucked up prison guards from West Virginia. In fact, we know where it came from --- the fascinatingly stupid neocon bible called "The Arab Mind", a cartoon anthropological guidebook that says things like "the Arab view [is] that masturbation is far more shameful than visiting prostitutes".

The frightening thing is that presumably smart people actually believed that hard core terrorists would be so upset by masturbation and sexual humiliation that they'd crack like little bitty babies. The men and women in charge of our security are obviously puerile adolescents who think that "arabs" are so fundamentally different from us that they are a lesser species.

I think we might actually lose this thing. Thong panties and menstrual blood interrogation is so disturbingly on the wrong track that I think more Americans are going to die. These people are just too stupid, racist and deluded to understand what it's going to take to win.

DNC Dance

For what it's worth (which is nothing) I endorsed Dean for DNC chair many months ago. I felt that it was very important that Dean's followers join the Democratic party with their full hearts because I thought the party needed them. I have long believed that the constant harping about hating the DNC and Democratic politicians by those of us on the left is doing almost as much harm to the party as what the Republicans have done. Indeed, it seems to me that those two forces have worked together in some ways to make it very difficult for some swing voters to vote for us. I believed that Dean as DNC chair might give people a reason to strongly defend the party for a change.

I have to say, however, that I'd be just as happy with Simon Rosenberg. His Plan sounds right on the money to me. If he does not become the chair, I certainly hope that he will remain influential in the party. These ideas are very thoughtful, forward looking and innovative. Whoever wins, I hope that this kind of thinking will lead the way.

Popular Kulturkampf

I missed this yesterday, but apparently the little mice in The Corner believe that lefties should be as dumb as the wingnuts who are embarrassing themselves with nonsensical cries of "liberal bias" because "The Passion" didn't get nominated for Best Picture. The fact is that people who follow politics and popular culture (and don't live in a right wing prayer group telephone tree) know how these things work and don't pitch fits when the world works in thoroughly predictable ways.

For instance, people who read know that Michael Moore declined to submit "F9/11" for the "Best Documentary" category (in which he was the odds on favorite to win another Oscar) back in September because he was hoping to get a TV airing prior to the presidential election. The rules specify that you can't air a documentary within nine months of it's theatrical release to contend for a Best Documentary Oscar. Therefore, the only category for which his film could qualify was Best Picture, an extreme long shot.

The Academy can vote en masse for documentaries and it's highly unlikely that the highest grossing documentary of all time would have been overlooked in that category. It is highly likely that he would have won that award. Therefore, it was actually quite a sacrifice on Moore's part. Winning Oscars is no small thing and any filmmaker would love to have a couple of them on his mantle. He gave up what he knew was his best shot at winning --- and getting a chance to make a big speech that would be heard around the world --- in order to try to get his film seen by more people before the election.

He certainly has my gratitude for doing that, and for all he did during the campaign. I believe that he and many other representatives of popular culture helped our turn out. And for those who think we should distance ourselves from Hollywood, I can only laugh. Popular culture is our single most potent weapon in the post modern political world in which we live. It continues to prove day in and day out that the liberal consensus still exists in this country and that the way people actually live (as opposed to how they think they are supposed to say they live) is tolerant, progressive and as far from the cramped, hypocritical Republican worldview as can be.

But, we've barely scratched the surface of how to use it for partisan purposes. Any thoughts that we should leave Democratic politics completely in the hands of dry, boring wonks and political junkies is about the most obvious recipe for ongoing disaster I can see. In a world of millions of competing voices, we'd better find a better more hueristic way of translating the liberal consensus into political action or before we know it, the other side will have completely cowed the public into believed that up is down and wrong is right.

The other side has created its own blatantly partisan politico-entertainment sector with talk radio and FOX News. But they are a bunch of angry, ugly wankers. We can do much better than that if we put our minds to it. In fact, we must.

Do the Democrats have guys like these working for them? Do they think in these terms?

Mr. Schriefer said he and a team of White House big shots transformed Madison Square Garden into a giant TV studio, "stealing" elements from network TV newsmagazines, awards shows, David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. Mr. Bush's intimate podium-in-the-round was designed by Joe Stewart, who has created set pieces for magician David Copperfield and Comedy Central's The Man Show. The giant movie screen used for broadcasting video shorts and Reagan requiems was ripped directly from the Academy Awards. "We realized the big screen actually became a character in the whole thing," said Mr. Schriefer.


"We live in a time when there's a real cross-pollination between politics and pop culture," he said. "As Republicans, we're often thought of as behind the curve in popular culture, and we don't have to be, and we can certainly compete on that level just as well as the Democrats can."


"If you think about what images you have in your head from the Kennedy years, it's really not video -- except one awful piece of video," he continued. "It's stills. They deliberately modeled the West Wing intro after that; they've modeled it after these famous photos of Kennedy, standing by the window and stuff like that. They clearly studied this. These are the images you have of the Presidency. So in that sense, if you're trying to elicit an emotion more than tell a linear narrative, stills can work -- with great words."

The movie also used "rotoscoping," the technique used in the Robert Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, that allows moving 3-D elements to be added to still photos. For instance, in the images from Yankee Stadium, they made the flash bulbs flash. They also used natural sound, "like a radio play," said Mr. Stevens, "like an NPR story, so you'd hear these live sounds. You hear their breath and their footsteps. We wanted to get the other voices of the people in there -- the firefighter. Those are obviously their real voices."

Sure, Spielberg comes in and makes a nice film for Kerry, but he isn't devoting his entire life to putting on the Democratic Show like these guys are. He doesn't create a seamless road show from lighting to backdrop to sound to music that follows the campaign everywhere it goes that fellows like Stuart Stevens do. We are all aware of how they compose the shot to make Bush look more presidential and how they put the words they want people to absorb in a backdrop, but did anyone ever notice how they compress the sound at a Bush rally to sound as if the roar of approval builds to a frenzy? They are into all these details of presentation that we just seem to overlook. Our campaigns look old fashioned and ragged by comparison. Our TV pundits are tired and haplessly unprepared. We have no sense of drama as a party, as a movement. (This was, in my opinion, one of Clinton's great gifts. For better or for worse, he was interesting.)

I'm hearing a little rumbling though that sounds promising and its coming from our own little corner of the political world. When an establishment expert like Stuart Rothenberg feels that it's worth making derisive comments about you by calling you "clueless" and having an "exaggerated sense of your own importance," you know that an upstart revolution is taking place.

Somebody isn't being boring and that's an excellent step in the right direction. Right now the left blogosphere is a nascent rag tag grassroots reform story that shows incredible energy and some long needed idealism. If Dean (or Rosenberg for that matter) becomes the chairman of the DNC, that's the image this party is most likely to have going forward. I'd love to see a Democratic Stuart Stevens start working with this right now to market that energy and idealism to the public. We're using media in a new way that's fresh and exciting and it's making the old guard nervous. Now that's something we can work with. There's a new revolutionary narrative emerging and if the Democrats are smart enough to see it, they'll begin to build a popular culture presence right now to go with the substance of the reformation of the party. That's how smart politics are played these days; you work on several different levels --- it's all part of the same thing.

And while Michael Moore is a flame throwing polemicist who serves a very particular function in this whole thing, he's probably got some very good contacts in Hollywood who'd be more than interested in helping with this project. I would hope that any part of the Democratic establishment, new or old, that gets approached by people who know something about this stuff will listen. It's one of the keys to our future.

Here's another interesting article about how the two parties handle advertising. Very illuminating.

Update: To those who have written to me complaining that I have mischaracterized Michael Moore's withholding his admission to the Academy Awards, here are the rules for submission to the Best Documentary Awards.

And as for your complaints that "F911" would not qualify as a documentary because it is not factual, bite me.

With Friends Like These

Nathan Newman
and Atrios point to today's NY Times analysis of Chile's privatization scheme. It's a very interesting article and one that will come as a huge surprise to anyone who was listening to NPR's "The World" with Lisa Mullins on Monday afternoon and heard the glowing report on Chile's program which then segued into an interview with an analyst/scholor Matt Moore from the "non-partisan" National Center For Policy Analysis who proceeded to say that privatization was working wonderfully well in the countries where it's been tried. They provide some excellent lessons to be learned about how to properly privatize our system.

I, like most Americans, am not an expert on social security privatization schemes around the world and were it not for the fact that this is a hot topic on blogs and liberal news sites, I would not know that the benign sounding National Center For Policy Analysis was a group devoted to private sector solutions to everything under the sun. I urge you to check out it's web site, particularly the social security page,linked above. This think tank's spiel is one of the most dishonest I've yet come across in the Right Wing Noise Machine. It goes out of its way to advertise itself as being devoted to debating both sides of the issue and then it proceeds to egregiously propagandize for Republican policies.

Apparently, the leftist socialist NPR (and BBC) didn't bother to investigate what their neutral non-partisan guest has ever written, because he was presented as a neutral policy analyst and his views went completely unchallenged. (He does sound like such a nice boy.)

Here's the link to the program (scroll down to the "Other Models Interview 5:00").

This is the type of thing that's going to kill us if we don't deal with it. This guy sounded completely reasonable. The lead in story about Chile's wonderful privatization scheme sounded completely reasonable. But, it was completely bullshit and it was on NPR, not Limbaugh or Fox. We should scream bloody murder that they would use this obviously agenda driven think tank for "non-partisan" analysis.

We are all agog at the Maggie Gallagher and Armstrong Williams payola scandals. And it is outrageous (but not surprising) that the Republicans have become so greedy that they are dipping into taxpayer funds to propagandize. It's not like they don't have enough millionaire GOP money floating around for just that purpose.

But the idea that these pundits' failure to disclose is the real problem is to swat ineffectually at flies. The real problem is that guys like this Matt Moore routinely fail to disclose that they are working for a Republican Policy Shop and that the so called liberal media is either too stupid or too lazy or too sympathtic to disclose it themselves. All you have to do is google the name of the think tank and you come up with this from the People For The American Way, which should at least make a journalist sit up and do some investigating if nothing else:

National Center for Policy Analysis
12655 North Central Expressway, Suite 720
Dallas, TX 75243-1739

Established: 1983
President/Executive Director: John C. Goodman
Finances: $5,237,217 (total expenditures in 2001)
Employees: 22
Affiliations: NCPA is a member of the State Policy Network, a network of national and local right-wing think tanks, and of townhall.com, a right-wing internet portal created by the Heritage Foundation.
Publications: NCPA sponsors two of its own syndicated columnists: Pete du Pont (Scripps Howard) and Bruce Bartlett (Creators Syndicate). Bartlett's column appears under contract twice a week in the Washington Times and in the Detroit News.

NCPA’s Principal Issues:

# A right wing think tank with programs devoted to privatization in the following issue areas: taxes, Social Security and Medicare, health care, criminal justice, environment, education, and welfare.

# NCPA describes its close working relationship with Congress, saying it “has managed to have more than a dozen studies released by members of Congress – a rare event for a think tank – and frequently members of Congress appear at the NCPA's Capitol Hill briefings for congressional aides.”

# Right-wing foundations funding includes: Bradley, Scaife, Koch, Olin, Earhart, Castle Rock, and JM Foundations

# In the early 90s, NCPA created the Center for Tax Studies. NCPA’s website describes the inspiration for the Center: “Very few think tank studies are released by members of Congress.”

Does that sound non-partisan to anyone? Are these "studies" considered to be non-partisan?

This is happening all over television and radio. Those of us who are sophisticated in these matters know how to peg guys like this Moore based upon his pitch. But if you are average Joe Democrat last Monday afternoon listening on NPR, your trusted source of non-right wing news, you would have no way of knowing that this guy was completely in the tank.

This is our problem folks. This crap is seeping out of the right wing echo chamber and it's infecting people who don't believe in their philosophy. That's the percentage we are losing in these close elections.

I suppose the miracle is that we are able to keep 49% in this environment. It's a testimony to the tenacity and intelligence of busy American liberals that they continue to be able to sort through this mess. But, we have got to start cleaning it up. This bought and paid for right wing media and their dishonest shills are the single most dangerous thing we face going forward.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Just in case there's anyone out there who holds with the ridiculous notion that Daniel Patrick Moynihan was anything other than an incoherent, self-serving (drunken) twit in his later years as the Lion of The Senate, read this.

He gave more aid and comfort to the enemy over the years than Joementum could ever dream of giving. It's not surprising that they would exhume him now to serve his usual role as facilitator of GOP criminal ravishment. It's what he specialized in.

Bizarre Reaction

James Wolcott points out that Chatty Kathy Lopez at The Corner thought Junior was in an especially good mood today. I agree. He seemed downright jovial. Wolcott also notes that this joviality was just a tad inappropriate since it was only hours since we'd heard that 31 American soldiers had been killed in a helicopter crash. (But then, Bush has always had a macabre bent. After all, he thought mocking Karla Faye Tucker was a real laugh riot.)

Wolcott notices something about Bush that I haven't seen anyone else mention and it's something that drives me completely nuts.

When Bush did address the soldiers' deaths, he said that we "weep and mourn" when Americans die, but as he was saying it his hand was flatly smacking downwards for emphasis, as if he were pounding the table during the business meeting, refusing to pay a lot for a muffler. The steady beat of his hand was at odds with the sentiments he was expressing--he didn't look or sound the least bit mournful or sombre.

Somebody, somewhere (Karen?) told Junior that he would sound authoritative if he said...each...word...in....a...sentence...with...equal...emphasis. Unfortunately, he does it all the time and it makes him look like a halfwit with a wierd anger management problem. Actually, now that I think about it, it's probably the way he talks naturally.

And listen, the story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. We value life. And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life. And -- but it is the long-term objective that is vital, and that is to spread freedom. Otherwise, the Middle East will be -- will continue to be a cauldron of resentment and hate, a recruiting ground for those who have this vision of the world that is the exact opposite of ours.

Hand slapping on podium for emphasis, words clipped and distinct, pissed demeanor, impatient tone. "Have you got that you little bastards? Now go clean your rooms."

He's the Dad who is always mad. So when the press brought up the fact that today had the highest single daily death toll in Iraq thus far, he was irritated. He told America to stop that crying or he'd give them something to cry about, damn it.

He was in a good mood all right. If he could have kicked the dog he would have been walking on air.

Ezra's new (Type)Pad

It appears that Ezra Klein of Pandagon has taken up residence at a new address. He and Jesse were probably getting a little old for roommates anyway. And from what I can tell, Jesse's doing just fine carrying on on his own. Man, that youthful energy is just amazing.

When I look at these guys' output I wonder what in the hell I did with my time when I was their age? Well, I was awfully busy. It was the 70's sexual revolution and all that.

(Who'm I kidding? But weed was cheap...)

In my humble opinion, Ezra's one of the best bloggers around. He's a very smart writer, but what I really like about him is that he's a moderate with a heart. You don't find those around Ye Olde Blogopheyre too often. There are plenty of moderates, of course, but they tend to be technocrats and wonks. Ezra's politics combine centrist instincts with emotional exhiliration and idealism. I find that very intriguing. Check it out.

PoMo Politics

Matthew Yglesias understands how the game needs to be played. I hope that the Democrats in Washington are listening because this is very important. Regarding this clumsy "reframing" that Luntz and his fellow propagandists are doing with "personal accounts" it should be clear by now to all Democrats that relying on the media to "see though" these gambits if only we present them with the facts is a fools game. This is postmodern media we're dealing with here. We must present an alternate reality, which they can then use as our version of the truth. Only then they can be manipulated into using the correct frame-up:

This calls, basically, for someone at the DNC (or DSCC or AFL-CIO or MoveOn or wherever) to hire someone to do some focus groups and come up with a serviceable term that focus groups even worse than private accounts. Then you send around a memo getting all Democrats to start calling them "X accounts" while the White House calls them "personal accounts." Then "private accounts" will look like a decent compromise and it may well get back in the stories.

It's insane, yes, that the very term invented by proponents of private accounts is now considered to be off-limits. But that's the game. If you want to work the refs, you've got to work the refs. "Forced savings accounts" strikes me intuitively as something that focus groups won't like, but actual research should be done.

I'm sorry it has to be this way. But I'm even sorrier that we still don't seem to get that we have to modernize our strategy in this fundamental way.

It doesn't really matter if the The New York Times understands that the Republicans are changing their marketing slogans. I'm sure it's very edifying to know that some smart people in the press are not impervious to
reason at least some of the time. What really matters, however, is that they use the marketing slogans we want them use.

Once again, the Republicans left us a very useful blueprint for how to derail a major initiative like this. The Clinton Health Care Plan. Their frame was "government run health care", "they want to choose your doctor" "they'll make going to the doctor like going to the DMV or the post office." The took their favorite boogeyman and used it to completely distort the plan in a simple, creepy way.

Is there any reason that we shouldn't use similar scare tactics about taking your guaranteed retirement money and letting Wall Street to play with it? Nope. And once we do that, the press will be obliged by its he said/she said "objectivity" to not only choose the term "private accounts" to split the difference between what the two parties want, they will also be obliged to report our demagoguery along side Bush's demagoguery. Let the best scare tactic win.

Reason, logic and objectivity are required for good governance. In the current environment they are antithetical to good politics. They take up too much time. They lack the sensation and visceral knee jerk identification that's needed to capture the public's attention. We need to be able to explain our positions but we have to be operating on other more subjective levels if we expect to win these things.

Social Security seems to be going our way but I am far from sanguine that we've got it in the bag. Rove is very good at pushing past people's instincts and creating a new reality. He does it by manipulating the media with relentless pressure and exerting a masterful command over the presentation. He succeeds by wearing down both the media and his opponents and tying them up in knots with a cacophany of noise while competing and illogical assumptions are set forth with visual clarity. He knows his optics.

Yesterday he composed a ridiculous but compelling tableau in which Bush was seen showing his compasionate conservatism by illustrating that private accounts would benefit African Americans because they have shorter life spans. Now, anybody with a brain knows that this life span data is based upon the fact that blacks have higher infant mortality and young deaths due to violent causes. In fact, African Americans who reach 65 can be expected to live very close to the same life span as whites. But, who's going to listen to that except a bunch of political junkies who are already convinced? All that mattered was that there was a big picture in the Times this morning showing Bush sitting at a table with a group of black leaders talking about social security. He's reaching out to "the other side."

But it's not blacks he's trying to reach. It's whites who like the idea that privatization is good for poor people but haven't quite found a good argument that supports it. This pitch allows Bush supporters to hoist liberals with their own petard by saying they are racists who want to keep blacks from getting their fair share. This kind of sophisticated obfuscation comes as second nature to Republicans these days. We are seeing it in both the Gonzales and Rice debates on Capital Hill right now.

Dave Johnson wrote a fascinating must read piece today called "How Republicans Win" that addresses some of this:

The Republicans win because the modern Right has developed around the core idea of persuading people to support their ideology, which then leads to support for their issues and candidates. In other words: marketing. The Right developed this persuasion capability in reaction to the dominance of the existing "liberal establishment." Because of this, most of their organizations are designed as advocacy and communications organizations, with the mission of reaching the general public and explaining what right-wing ideas are and why they are better for people. Today's Progressives, on the other hand, think there already is a public consensus supporting their ideals and values, so they have not developed a culture that is oriented around persuading people, and their organizations are not designed at their core to persuade the public to support them.

For example, everyone used to think that it is moral to help the poor or protect the environment, so there are organizations that are designed to do that. Then along comes the right, funding organizations designed to convince people it is wrong to do these things. The result today is that on one side you have organizations trying to help the poor, protect the environment, etc. On the other you have organizations telling people what those organizations are doing is wrong. But now you have no one explaining to people that it is GOOD to help the poor and protect the environment so over time support for helping the poor obviously will erode and eventually the organizations that help the poor will be in trouble and have little public support.

I agree that this is the process and the end result, but I would argue that the right has done this not by persuading people to their ideology but by persuading them that Republican ideology is the one they already have.

They tell people that they are helping the poor more by bleeding government programs. (Remember, faith based programs arebetter at helping those in need because they offer the spiritual dimension.) They call their anti-environmental programs "healthy skies" and they refuse to do more than literally phone in bromides about a "culture of life" to their anti-choice base. This was a lesson they learned during the Gingrich years when they precipitously lost favor when they were honest about their agenda. With Bush, they learned the lesson that they needed to couch their ideas in liberal rhetoric in order to win. I believe this is born out by the fact that the polls show not only that Republican voters have a completely different set of priorities than the president for whom they voted, but they actually believe that the president holds their views even though he clearly doesn't.

The most recent PIPA poll confirms this:

Bush supporters also have numerous misperceptions about Bush's international policy positions. Majorities incorrectly assume that Bush supports multilateral approaches to various international issues--the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the treaty banning land mines (72%)--and for addressing the problem of global warming: 51% incorrectly assume he favors US participation in the Kyoto treaty. After he denounced the International Criminal Court in the debates, the perception that he favored it dropped from 66%, but still 53% continue to believe that he favors it. An overwhelming 74% incorrectly assumes that he favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements. In all these cases, majorities of Bush supporters favor the positions they impute to Bush. Kerry supporters are much more accurate in their perceptions of his positions on these issues.

That takes nothing away from Johnson's larger point about the Republican success at marketing. In fact, it confirms it. The Republicans are so good at this that they've been able to convince large numbers of people that they are something they're not, even in the face of absolute facts that refute it.

This is a masterful use of marketing and it's one that we need to recognise and begin to use ourselves. The good news is that the liberal consensus remains intact (if somewhat tattered) and if we are smart enough to expose the other side for the hucksters they are and reaffirm our committment to the values we and most of the country hold dear it shouldn't be too hard a sell.

We'll have to get past the media, however, and takes us back to Yglesias' point. We won't get there by refusing to play the game. We have to get better at manipulating the press and that means understanding the pressure they are under from the right and giving them something to use as a counterpoint so they can say they are "objective."

Personal Accounts vs Mandatory Gambling = privatization.