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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"Anonymous" Is A Putz

Campaign Desk points out that Joe Klein is pulling things out of the ether:

Finally, there was the boorish and possibly unprecedented hooting of the President by Democrats during the [State of the Union] speech.

"No! No! No!" they shouted, inaccurately, when Bush asserted that the Social Security trust fund would, in a decade or so, start paying out more money than it takes in. If nothing is done, it surely will.

Campaign Desk correctly notes:

Beyond the fact that such "hooting" was far from unprecedented, Klein's short-term memory must be playing tricks on him. Democrats did not start crying out "No! No! No!" when the president asserted that the trust fund would soon start paying out more money than it takes in. Rather, the Democrats accurately started calling out "No! No! No!" when the president inaccurately asserted that "By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt." You can hear for yourself on the White House video of the address (Real Media or Windows Media) -- the moment in question is about 15 minutes into the speech.

You can also hear the boorish boos of Republicans when Clinton said in the 1997 address that we didn't need to change the constitution to balance the budget. (Little did we know then that the 90's GOP balanced budget amendment hobby horse was actually designed to stop themselves from bankrupting the country.)

Here's a nice little reminder from way back in 1999 of what the country was like in the days when our un-boorish representatives practiced civility and decency:

Reps. Robert Schaffer (R-Colo.) and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) sent a letter to colleagues last week arguing that they should skip the speech because Clinton "is demonstrating his lack of respect for the Congress and its legitimate role."

But Schaffer had few illusions that his absence would be noticed: "What happens tonight is Congress and the president coming together to send a message there's some semblance of normalcy in Washington, and the detestable conduct of the president is somehow tolerated," he said. "The president doesn't care and nobody cares. The theatrical production is going to go on unimpeded."

Klein, no doubt, was sitting in front of a camera somewhere that night, hunched over the desk like a slobbering beast, so intensely focused on Clinton's manly member that he simply didn't hear a thing.


salto mortale thinks that the "very ill" Deep Throat might be....

I doubt it. Tools don't talk. But you never know.
It's Hard Work:

President Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove, will take on a wider role in developing and coordinating policy in the president's second term, the White House announced on Tuesday.

Rove, who was Bush's top political strategist during his 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, will become a deputy White House chief of staff in charge of coordinating policy between the White House Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, National Security Council and Homeland Security Council.

Funny, I thought that's what the president did.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Institutional Blindness

I hate to bring this up because it's so indelicate and all, but can someone explain to me again why we should rely on religion to restore the moral fabric of our nation and smite the pernicious influences of the kinky sex loving Hollywood liberals? I keep forgetting.

The Last Temptation

Matthew Yglesias points out the growing Putinization of the Republican Party as it again tries to shut down dissent with legal intimidation. That first amendment sure sticks in the craw of the people who are running our government.

The RNC letter reads:

"The advertisement in question falsely and maliciously makes reference to 'George Bush's planned Social Security benefit cuts of up to 46 percent to pay for private accounts ...' "

In his State of the Union address, the president said that "Social Security will not change in any way" for Americans 55 and older."

Yeah. He said a lot of things. And?

Apparently, at least one of the station owners said he would investigate the ad and if he determined it was false, he would pull it. (The indefatigable Josh Marshall proves that the Move-on ad in question is factually correct and deconstructs the RNC letter to expose the obfuscatory mumbo jumbo that actually proves the case. Jayzuz, these guys never give up.)

Might I suggest that the DNC lawyers send letters to the same stations asking them to issue a disclaimer every time President Bush says that social security is going "bankrupt" or "bust." Otherwise, somebody might get the idea that these media outlets were in the business of falsely and maliciously spreading misinformation about the status of the social security system.

With their usual up-is-downism, these are the same guys who claim that frivolous lawsuits are killing America. Evidently, it's only frivolous if somebody has been disabled for life. It's perfectly acceptable to use the courts to quell dissent.

Matt calls it Putinization. Neiwert calls it psuedo-fascism. I call it Republican totalitarianism. Whatever you call it, it's long past time that we started to speak out clearly about what is really happening here. Interestingly, some of the most pointed criticism of this nature is now coming from the right:

A reader alerted me to this fascinating article from this month's American Conservative in which yet another conservative goes off the reservation and utters the F word.

Students of history inevitably think in terms of periods: the New Deal, McCarthyism, “the Sixties” (1964-1973), the NEP, the purge trials—all have their dates. Weimar, whose cultural excesses made effective propaganda for the Nazis, now seems like the antechamber to Nazism, though surely no Weimar figures perceived their time that way as they were living it. We may pretend to know what lies ahead, feigning certainty to score polemical points, but we never do.

Nonetheless, there are foreshadowings well worth noting. The last weeks of 2004 saw several explicit warnings from the antiwar Right about the coming of an American fascism. Paul Craig Roberts in these pages wrote of the “brownshirting” of American conservatism—a word that might not have surprised had it come from Michael Moore or Michael Lerner. But from a Hoover Institution senior fellow, former assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, and one-time Wall Street Journal editor, it was striking.

Several weeks later, Justin Raimondo, editor of the popular Antiwar.com website, wrote a column headlined, “Today’s Conservatives are Fascists.” Pointing to the justification of torture by conservative legal theorists, widespread support for a militaristic foreign policy, and a retrospective backing of Japanese internment during World War II, Raimondo raised the prospect of “fascism with a democratic face.” His fellow libertarian, Mises Institute president Lew Rockwell, wrote a year-end piece called “The Reality of Red State Fascism,” which claimed that “the most significant socio-political shift in our time has gone almost completely unremarked, and even unnoticed. It is the dramatic shift of the red-state bourgeoisie from leave-us-alone libertarianism, manifested in the Congressional elections of 1994, to almost totalitarian statist nationalism. Whereas the conservative middle class once cheered the circumscribing of the federal government, it now celebrates power and adores the central state, particularly its military wing.”


But Rockwell (and Roberts and Raimondo) is correct in drawing attention to a mood among some conservatives that is at least latently fascist. Rockwell describes a populist Right website that originally rallied for the impeachment of Bill Clinton as “hate-filled ... advocating nuclear holocaust and mass bloodshed for more than a year now.” One of the biggest right-wing talk-radio hosts regularly calls for the mass destruction of Arab cities. Letters that come to this magazine from the pro-war Right leave no doubt that their writers would welcome the jailing of dissidents. And of course it’s not just us. When USA Today founder Al Neuharth wrote a column suggesting that American troops be brought home sooner rather than later, he was blown away by letters comparing him to Tokyo Rose and demanding that he be tried as a traitor. That mood, Rockwell notes, dwarfs anything that existed during the Cold War. “It celebrates the shedding of blood, and exhibits a maniacal love of the state. The new ideology of the red-state bourgeoisie seems to actually believe that the US is God marching on earth—not just godlike, but really serving as a proxy for God himself.”


The warnings from these three writers would have been significant even if they had not been complemented by what for me was the most striking straw in the wind. Earlier this month the New York Times published a profile of Fritz Stern, the now retired but still very active professor of history at Columbia University and one of my first and most significant mentors. I met Stern as an undergraduate in the spring of 1974. His lecture course on 20th-century Europe combined intellectual lucidity and passion in a way I had never imagined possible.

Stern is an expert on the rise of fascism in Europe. Here are some of his remarks upon receiving the Leo Baeck medal:

...the rise of National Socialism was neither inevitable nor accidental. It did have deep roots, but the most urgent lesson to remember is that it could have been stopped. This is but one of the many lessons contained in modern German history, lessons that should not be squandered in cheap and ignorant analogies. A key lesson is that civic passivity and willed blindness were the preconditions for the triumph of National Socialism, which many clearheaded Germans recognized at the time as a monstrous danger and ultimate nemesis.

We who were born at the end of the Weimar Republic and who witnessed the rise of National Socialism—left with that all-consuming, complex question: how could this horror have seized a nation and corrupted so much of Europe?—should remember that even in the darkest period there were individuals who showed active decency, who, defying intimidation and repression, opposed evil and tried to ease suffering. I wish these people would be given a proper European memorial—not to appease our conscience but to summon the courage of future generations. Churchmen, especially Protestant clergy, shared his hostility to the liberal-secular state and its defenders, and they, too, were filled with anti-Semitic doctrine.

Allow me a few remarks not about the banality of evil but about its triumph in a deeply civilized country. After the Great War and Germany’s defeat, conditions were harsh and Germans were deeply divided between moderates and democrats on the one hand and fanatic extremists of the right and the left on the other. National Socialists portrayed Germany as a nation that had been betrayed or stabbed in the back by socialists and Jews; they portrayed Weimar Germany as a moral-political swamp; they seized on the Bolshevik-Marxist danger, painted it in lurid colors, and stoked people’s fear in order to pose as saviors of the nation. In the late 1920s a group of intellectuals known as conservative revolutionaries demanded a new volkish authoritarianism, a Third Reich. Richly financed by corporate interests, they denounced liberalism as the greatest, most invidious threat, and attacked it for its tolerance, rationality and cosmopolitan culture. These conservative revolutionaries were proud of being prophets of the Third Reich—at least until some of them were exiled or murdered by the Nazis when the latter came to power. Throughout, the Nazis vilified liberalism as a semi-Marxist-Jewish conspiracy and, with Germany in the midst of unprecedented depression and immiseration, they promised a national rebirth.

Twenty years ago, I wrote about “National Socialism as Temptation,” about what it was that induced so many Germans to embrace the terrifying specter. There were many reasons, but at the top ranks Hitler himself, a brilliant populist manipulator who insisted and probably believed that Providence had chosen him as Germany’s savior, that he was the instrument of Providence, a leader who was charged with executing a divine mission. God had been drafted into national politics before, but Hitler’s success in fusing racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity was an immensely powerful element in his electoral campaigns. Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics, but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas.

German moderates and German elites underestimated Hitler, assuming that most people would not succumb to his Manichean unreason; they didn’t think that his hatred and mendacity could be taken seriously. They were proven wrong. People were enthralled by the Nazis’ cunning transposition of politics into carefully staged pageantry, into flag-waving martial mass. At solemn moments, the National Socialists would shift from the pseudo-religious invocation of Providence to traditional Christian forms: In his first radio address to the German people, twenty-four hours after coming to power, Hitler declared, “The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. They regard Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life.”

Jeebus H. Christ

Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

'Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

'Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.'

I'm sure the hand-picked audience broke into rapturous cheers and began drooling and speaking in tongues as they always do when in the presence of Dear Leader. However, those who are not members of the Codpiece Cult might be expected to stay implanted on the reservation if they see this "explanation." If any ads are done, this might be a good little piece of political theatre to show to the non-indoctrinated.

Via Salon.com Politics:

Believing His Own Hype

I wrote a post a while back musing about Bush's newfound confidence:

This is the big story of the second term. Bush himself is now completely in charge. He did what his old man couldn't do. He has been freed of all constraints, all humility and all sense of proportion. Nobody can run him, not Cheney, not Condi, not Card. He has a sense of his power that he didn't have before. You can see it. From now on nobody can tell him nothin. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, doesn't it?

Today, I ran across a post by Yuval Rubenstein on the Left Coaster who points to this interesting article (via Gilliard) that discusses Bush's determination to destroy SS:

During the 2000 campaign, then-Texas Gov. Bush overruled his horrified political handlers and insisted on pressing for Social Security privatization - particularly when speaking to Florida's millions of geriatric voters.

To this day, Bush adamantly believes the issue was a political plus for him in Florida - a contention considered pollyannaish by many of his closest aides.

Some, in fact, say if he had kept quiet about tinkering with the most sacred of all domestic political cows, Bush would have won the Sunshine State easily, instead of needing the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold his 537-vote victory.

"He still thinks it helped him then," a senior Bush political adviser remembered. "We all still think he's crazy."

Bush keeps reassuring legislators that it's safe for them to vote for privatization because he ran and "won" on the issue. This report explains why he thinks that. He made the call to talk about it in 2000 and he "won" despite his handlers advice that it was dangerous. Therefore, everyone can feel safe (if they can manage to get the Supreme Court to decide the election for them.)

We know that the butterfly ballots would have tipped that election and if Bush was pushing privatization in Palm Beach County Florida, it would have been right and fair if he'd lost it just for that reason. Nothing could be more stupid. Except, perhaps, trying to actually do it.

I had been giving a lot of thought as to why he thought he could get away with destroying social security after two such narrow wins and small majorities in congress. They own the real estate for sure, but they are far from having a mandate for massive change. Even Tom Delay has been reported to be nervous that this will derail their majority.

Certainly, the polls do not show the kind of support that is normally needed to affect such a huge change:

1. Bush receives a 34 percent approval rating on handling Social Security, with 52 percent diapproval. And among independents, his rating is markedly worse: a mere 23 percent approval and 59 percent disapproval.

2. A question on the seriousness of the problems with Social Security yields just 18 percent saying the system needs to be completely rebuilt (12 percent among independents), with 33 percent saying major changes are needed and 43 percent calling for only minor changes.

3. By 61-29 (66-21 among independents), voters say that keeping Social Security as a program with a guaranteed monthly benefit is more important than letting younger workers decide for themselves how some of their Social Security contributions are invested, with varying benefit levels depending on the success of their investments.

4. By 61-24 (66-16 among independents), voters say Bush's November election victory does not mean the American people support his ideas on Social Security.

5. By 54-42 (61-33 among independents), voters say they would not be likely to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market if they were allowed to do so.

6. By 50-33 (53-25 among independents), voters say they "disapprove of proposals to incorporate personal accounts into the Social Security program". (Interestingly, despite the Republicans' now-religious belief that saying "personal accounts" rather than "private accounts" somehow makes these accounts much more attractive, the half-sample that was asked this same question with private accounts substituted for personal accounts actually had a slightly less disapproving reaction.)

Those numbers put an absolute lie to Bush's assertion that he "ran and won" on the SS privatization issue. Clearly, he did not.

But, his natural arrogance and tendency to listen to courtiers who flatter his ego means that he sees his narrow win in 2004 as a mandate to dismantle the New Deal. And it appears that he has completely misinterpreted the lessons of his "win" in 2000. He believes that defying the experts on the social security issue has already proven him to be a man of great courage and political instincts that far surpass those who would advise against it.

I suspect strongly that putting social security at the top of the agenda was Bush's call. He really believes that he "won" on the issue and interprets that to mean that he has the support of the American people no matter what the polls, the experts or even other Republicans say.

Both Napoleon and Hitler thought they could invade Russia in the winter, too.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Witnessing History

Kevin Drum nicely deconstructs this tiresome Ward Churchill witch hunt. I realize that we soulless, decaying leftists are supposed to step up and repudiate him (or maybe tie him up and throw him in water to see if he floats) but I'm just too tired. Since I'd never heard of the guy before the right raised him to the status of leftwing icon I don't really feel like I have much of a stake in his allegedly treasonous three year old book. Anyway, I'm still busy disavowing Jane Fonda and and Joseph Stalin, my personal role models.

Kevin ran a lexis search on the story and concludes that it really took off when the NY Times picked up the story after the right wing noise machine had slavered over it like a bunch of Atkins dieters with a big bowl of bacon grease. It has been blazing since January 27th when Drudge first trumpeted the story and the next day when Rush and O'Reilly both held forth on the topic. By the time the NY Times wrote its piece, it was already known and believed by tens of millions of people --- which means they had to write about it; "it was out there!"

Kevin thinks it's fascinating how an obscure story like this finds it's way into the mainstream, but it's much more than fascinating. It's pernicious. This is also how lies and smears are spread and validated and there is almost no way to tell the difference anymore between a valid story and a right wing feeding frenzy. It's supremely ironic that the minute the "liberal" NY Times decides to engage, even if it refutes the allegations and sets the record straight, it helps spreads the story everywhere because of its massive influence. Its mere entry into the discourse helps turn a contrived right wing smear job into a national scandal and puts one more nail in the coffin of truth and objective reality. Once people hear what they want to hear, it doesn't matter if it's been debunked as a total fraud. They'll continue to believe it:

People Believe a 'Fact'That Fits Their Views Even if It's Clearly False

Funny thing, memory. With the second anniversary next month of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, it's only natural that supporters as well as opponents of the war will be reliving the many searing moments of those first weeks of battle.

The rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch. U.S. troops firing at a van approaching a Baghdad checkpoint and killing seven women and children. A suicide bomber nearing a Najaf checkpoint and blowing up U.S. soldiers. The execution of coalition POWs by Iraqis. The civilian uprising in Basra against Saddam's Baathist party.

If you remember it well, then we have grist for another verse for Lerner and Loewe ("We met at nine," "We met at eight," "I was on time," "No, you were late." "Ah yes, I remember it well!"). The first three events occurred. The second two were products of the fog of war: After being reported by the media, both were quickly retracted by coalition authorities as erroneous.

Yet retracting a report isn't the same as erasing it from people's memories. According to an international study to be published next month, Americans tend to believe that the last two events occurred -- even when they recall the retraction or correction.[emphasis added] In contrast, Germans and Australians who recall the retraction discount the misinformation. It isn't that Germans and Australians are smarter. Instead, it's further evidence that what we remember depends on what we believe.

"People build mental models," explains Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychology professor at the University of Western Australia, Crawley, who led the study that will be published in Psychological Science. "By the time they receive a retraction, the original misinformation has already become an integral part of that mental model, or world view, and disregarding it would leave the world view a shambles." Therefore, he and his colleagues conclude in their paper, "People continue to rely on misinformation even if they demonstrably remember and understand a subsequent retraction."


"People who were not suspicious of the motives behind the war continued to rely on misinformation," Prof. Lewandowsky said, "believing in things they know to have been retracted." They held fast to what they had originally heard "because it fits with their mental model," which people seek to retain "whatever it takes."

This is where the right wing noise machine is really powerful. They create the "mental model" and then hammer it home day after day after day. People exposed to this mental model are told that the MSM is biased and that liberals are traitors and cowards. You have respected bloggers like Instapundit saying things like:

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.

while radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh says:

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?

And then there is something like this coming from a mainstream opinion writer and television pundit Fred Barnes:

At his news conference last week, Bush reacted calmly to their [Democrats] vitriolic attacks, suggesting only a few Democrats are involved. Stronger countermeasures will be needed, including an unequivocal White House response to obstructionism, curbs on filibusters, and a clear delineation of what's permissible and what's out of bounds in dissent on Iraq.

These statements are not made on rare occasions. This is the ongoing "mental model" that is being promulgated day after day after day by highly successful opinion makers in media both new and old. Bloggers like Instapundit are considered mainstream and thoughtful, not bomb throwing partisans. He is linked approvingly by many establishment web sites and works for MSBNC. After all, he's not saying anything unusual.

Neither is Limbaugh. MSM media critic Howard Kurtz said, "Sure, he aggressively pokes fun at Democrats and lionizes Republicans, but mainly about policy. He's so mainstream that those right-wingers Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert had him on their Election Night coverage."

So when these mainstream voices say that Ward Churchill represents the left with his obscure unknown thesis that the 9/11 victims were complicit in their own deaths, the view that the left is soulless is not difficult to accept. See how that works?

And, of course, the true irony is that all this breast beating and calls for dismissal and censorship comes on the heels of years of braying about political correctness in academia squelching free speech and dissenting points of view. It seems like only yesterday that I was reading conservative intellectuals like Walter Williams saying universities are "the equivalent of the Nazi brownshirt thought-control movement" and Paul Hollander calling it "the most widespread form of institutionalized intolerance in American higher education." (I won't even mention that champion of intellectual diversity David Horowitz.) Well now, it would appear that "political correctness vs academic freedom" comes in all flavors.

And it's always a-ok for mainstream, influential intellectuals like Frank "cakewalk" Gaffney to say things like "The U.N. is a hateful and anti-Semitic mobocracy" or Michael Ledeen to publicly float a theory that 9/11 was the result of a "Franco-German strategy ...based on using Arab and Islamic extremism and terrorism as the weapon of choice, and the United Nations as the straitjacket for blocking a decisive response from the United States." These inflammatory statements at a time of great global unease are not repudiated by anyone. Indeed, such dangerous rabble rousing is completely accepted and in some cases endorsed by the Republican establishment. No one questinos whether such statements might endanger American security or its stated foreign policy. Indeed, one is left to ponder whether it might actually be American foreign policy, considering the fact that those who write these screeds are welcome in the White House.

And that brings us to the crucial difference between Ward Churchill's politically incorrect ravings and Gaffney, Ledeen and Williams' politically incorrect ravings --- the latter are powerful, well known intellectuals in the conservative movement who are on the inside of government policymaking at the highest reaches. Churchill on the other hand is a nobody.

Liberals have nothing to apologise for. Indeed, intellectual honesty requires that we do not. These conservative critics' facts are wrong and their analysis is self-serving. They have concocted a "mental model" that is designed to marginalize and intimidate those who speak out against them. I'm not talking about obscure college professors with eccentric views. I'm talking about average Americans with mainstream views that don't hew exactly to the Republican party line who are now viewed with suspicion as UnAmerican by association with this leftist chimera that sides with terrorists.

There has been some very interesting thinking on this the last week in the blogosphere. If you haven't read it already, I especially recommend Max Sawicky's pithy analysis:

...the Right doesn't cast slurs on people because they are communist, anti-American, or cross some line of non-radical, patriotic acceptability. It casts slurs indiscriminately as a routine task of political warfare. That's why they lump people like Ward Churchill with for god's sakes Teddy Kennedy or Howard Zinn. They're not using a faulty litmus test. They are trying to destroy political criticism.

This is absolutely correct. Someone asked me if I believe that conservatives are acting in good faith when they say things like this:

The Belmont Club:
"One could hardly expect that the end of the Cold War, the decline of Europe, the ascendancy of India and China, the collapse of the UN and the advent of terrorism would leave political relations between Left and Right unchanged. But it was the declining vigor of Marxist thought coupled with new conservative ideas that poured the most fuel on the flames. Discourse between Left and Right could only remain civil for so long as Conservatives remained meek or had no counter-pulpit. . . The weakening of the traditional media and the stresses caused by war have created a kind of 'play' in the system which now allow unchained weights to crash about. What has changed is that, with the decline of the MSM, there is nothing which prevents incivility from becoming a two-way street. And I'm not sure either the Left or the total system can contain the stress."

I have no way of knowing if this person sincerely believes that the decline of civil discourse in our politics can be pegged to world events and their supposed galvanizing effect on the right to finally defend itself against a failing Marxist left. I do know that it does not square with the facts or history. The Republicans have been throwing rhetorical nuclear bombs our way and getting away with it for decades. This harsh, no holds barred rhetorical style was ushered into the modern era by Newt Gingrich and other movement conservatives in the 1980's. It was a conscious, tactical decision designed to intimidate.

From a 1989 article about Gingrich in Vanity Fair:

Gingrich, the new face, quickly recognized an opportunity. The House, which limits the length of debate over legislation, has a rule allowing so-called special orders --permission to give lengthy speeches at the end of each legislative day. These have long been a means by which congressman could read into the Congressional Record various matters of importance to their constituents, usually matters of trivia. But Gingrich, concerned less with the Record than with the potential television audience, began to use special orders regularly as his platform for advancing ideas and, especially, for attacking the Democratic majority.

At first, his approach gave the impression that he was a brave young crusader, taking on the opposition in heated floor encounters, but, in truth, most of his diatribes were delivered before a virtually empty House. When, in 1984, he escalated his attack on Democrats to the point of questioning their patriotism-- accusing them of being "blind to Communism" --Speaker O'Neill lost his cool. In a legendary head-to-head encounter on the floor of the House, the Speaker blasted Gingrich : "You deliberately stood in that well before an empty House, and challenged these people, and challenged their patriotism, and it is the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my thirty-two years in Congress."

That was 21 years ago. These incendiary insults to Democrats' patriotism did not begin on 9/11. Gingrich went on to institutionalize the demonization of liberals as a political tactic with his "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control."

If some people are unaware of that or have salved their consciences by creating a myth that today's harsh political climate was the result of external events, is no excuse. This scorched earth style of politics was quite deliberately put into play for political gain. If these true believers have convinced themselves that the right wing has been meek and mild until it had to bravely step foward and defend the country against terrorists, a little google trip through the 90's would surely cure that misapprehension.

And I frankly do not see why they should be given any consideration for their sincere belief in a toxic political strategy that wants to see people like me silenced and this country changed in ways that will make it unrecognizable. Shame on them for their unwillingness to step in and take responsibility for what they've wrought.

Shame on anyone who says that this is not the history of the last 25 years. I was a witness. I know what happened.

Friday, February 04, 2005


You'd think that the story of a president who cannot appear in a 90 minute debate without the help of an electronic transmitter to feed him his answers would be worthy of reporting in a major newspaper if they had the goods.

What is truly scary about this is that even despite the help, he sounded extremely stupid and unprepared. This is the man with his finger on the button. The NY Times had excellent evidence that he had cheated in the debates and they punted. What would it have taken for the press to feel it was important to reveal this to the public, Bush screaming into his tie "Turd Blossom, I'm dyin' out here?"

Link via Suburban Guerilla

Star Power

So Dean is going to be chair. Bobo Brooks just said that he was a bit too "secular" and "strident." Oh my goodness, have we made a big mistake in not electing a santimonious wimp? I always get so worried when we don't take the GOP's sincere advice about such things.

Look, one of the biggest problems the Democrats are going to have over the next three years is getting the attention of the media. Media Matters has documented the over representation of Republicans on the cable gasbag shows and it's truly alarming. And the liberals they do invite are often boring and ill prepared compared to the more "strident and religious" Republicans.

This is a huge problem. One of the reasons, I believe, that Bill Clinton was able to succeed was because he had a very high Q rating. (Don't hassle me, readers, about using this obnoxious term. It's relevant whether we like it or not.) He has tremendous personal charisma and he performed a high wire political act that was irresistable to the media. And it helped us get our message out, even when he was taking a lot of heat.

Howard Dean is like that in his own way. He creates a stir; you never know quite what's going to happen. He fascinates the media and they will be paying very close attention. I don't doubt that he will be undisciplined at times and create some trouble, but he will be visible. And every time the media calls on him is another chance for him to pound home our message.

Right now the biggest danger for Democrats is that we are becoming media ciphers. It's not that we don't have some power in DC. The social security debate shows that we can affect the process if we stand together. But as far as the country is concerned we are becoming invisible and we have to deal with that if we are to compete.

They are going to slam us no matter what we do. Dean, as a fascinating political figure, will be invited to personally respond. And he tends to do it memorably. It's a mistake to underrate that talent.

Very Slick

Update on the DOD payola scandal from below:

Here's one of the fake news sites:

This is quite amusing:

... media standards are also at stake. The eagerness of some media organisations to repeat sensationalistic rumors without verification has raised serious concerns about journalistic standards at a time when Turkey -- which hopes to receive a date for starting EU membership negotiations at the Union's summit later this month -- is anxious to demonstrate how far it has progressed.

Delicious. A DOD front site from "eastern europe" using "media standards" to issue a veiled threat about Turkey's admission to the EU. Awesome.

Will He Certify That It Is Accurate

Reader W sent in this interesting observation by one of Mark Kleiman's readers:

Did you notice that our esteemed President essentially committed securities fraud in representing that private investment accounts WILL perform better than anything the present system could do? Certainly, no one can honestly make that statement and any stockbroker making such a statement would be violating Rule 10b 5 of the Securities Act of 1934.

To which Kleiman added:

Which reminds me of my favorite snarky policy suggestion: How about applying the Sarbanes-Oxley certification process to budget submissions and other communications from the Executive to Congress or the public? Someone ought to be prepared to say about each submission, "Yes, I understand what's in this document, and certify that it is accurate."

This is another good line of argument. I think it hits a certain common sense chord to say that the president is overselling the market, especially right now. People just went through a very thorough retrenchment with their 401k's and are very well aware that the market does not always go up. We should force the Republicans to explain why people should feel confident that they are guaranteed to make more money in the market as Bush says they will. And after they sputter their bromides about the long term gains in the last 70 years, blah,blah,blah, perhaps the Democratic spokesperson or legislator ought to turn around and say "everyone knows past performance is no guarantor of future returns. It's the most basic and essential disclaimer given by anyone who works with stocks and bonds."

Since we are talking about exposing millions of retirees to the stock market, shouldn't the president be willing to apply the same rules to himself and certify his proposal with the standard Oxley-Sarbanes disclaimer: "Yes, I understand what's in this document, and certify that it is accurate."

It would be an interesting television moment anyway.

DOD Payola

I think that CNN just reported that the DOD paid hundreds of "writers" to write for fake web sites. We're not sure just who is involved though. (Wanna guess?)

My stars. Can it be true? Our government is using propaganda to influence foreigners? Say it ain't so. Somebody get Jeff Jarvis some smelling salts, stat. He's going to swoon the minute he hears about this...

the story:

Pentagon sites: Journalism or propaganda?

From Barbara Starr and Larry Shaughnessy

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Defense plans to add more sites on the Internet to provide information to a global audience -- but critics question whether the Pentagon is violating President Bush's pledge not to pay journalists to promote his policies.

The Defense Department runs two Web sites overseas, one aimed at people in the Balkan region in Europe, the other for the Maghreb area of North Africa.

It is preparing another site, even as the Pentagon inspector general investigates whether the sites are appropriate.

The Web sites carry stories on subjects such as politics, sports and entertainment.

Information warfare

The sites are run by U.S. military troops trained in "information warfare," a specialty than can include battlefield deception.

Pentagon officials say the goal is to counter "misinformation" about the United States in overseas media.

At first glance, the Web pages appear to be independent news sites. To find out who is actually behind the content, a visitor would have to click on a small link -- at the bottom of the page -- to a disclaimer, which says, in part, that the site is "sponsored by" the U.S. Department of Defense.

"There is an element of deception," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "The problem," he said, is that it looks like a news site unless a visitor looks at the disclaimer, which is "sort of oblique."

The Pentagon maintains that the information on the sites is true and accurate. But in a recent memo, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz insisted that the Web site contractor should only hire journalists who "will not reflect discredit on the U.S. government."

The Defense Department has hired more than 50 freelance writers for the sites.

Some senior military officers have told CNN the Web sites may clash with President Bush's recent statements. "We will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda," Bush told reporters on January 26. "Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

Bush made those comments after it came to light that the administration had paid several commentators to support U.S. policies in the U.S. media.

Many Democrats have called for an end to what they call administration propaganda within the United States.

But many lawmakers view the rules for handling information overseas as a separate issue.

On Thursday, Lawrence Di Rita, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, asked the Pentagon inspector general to examine Defense Department activities, including the Web sites in question, to see that they fall within the guidelines Bush laid out.

Di Rita said the department wanted "to make sure that we are staying well within the lines, and I believe we are."

Rosenstiel said there is a reason why rules exist to separate journalism from government information. "Anytime that the government has to assure you, 'Believe me, take my word for it, I'm telling you nothing but the truth,' you know you should be worried," he said.

According to Powerline, it's CNN who is guilty of propaganda:

When Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, groundlessly slanders the American armed forces by accusing them of "targeting" journalists for assassination, one could reasonably wonder whether he was engaged in journalism or propaganda. Many have also been wondering when the news side at CNN--as opposed to the public relations side--would start reporting on Jordan's incendiary speech in Davos.

A reader pointed out that earlier today, CNN finally did address the issue of journalism vs. propaganda. You might think they've finally broken their silence about Mr. Jordan. But no! It's the Pentagon CNN is accusing of putting out propaganda


There you have it: CNN spreads misinformation about the American military; but when the military tries to defend itself against misinformation, it's "propaganda." And, while it's perfectly OK for CNN's top newsman to "reflect discredit on the U.S. government," CNN criticizes the Defense Department because DOD prefers not to do the same. This is the topsy-turvy world of the mainstream media.

Hohkay. Except, you know, government propaganda is a slightly different animal, isn't it? The DOD is perfectly within its rights to put up a web site defending against misinformation. But these web sites are designed to look like "news sites" that are giving unbiased information. Call me crazy, but that just doesn't seem like an upfront operation.

And it certainly will be interesting to see who these taxpayer funded "freelance" writers are, won't it?

And whatever stupid thing Eason Jordan said, it doesn't really fit the term "propaganda" very well. I'm sure they'll say (absurdly) that it reflects the hatred of all things military in the liberal media, but unless there is a systematic intention to portray the military as assasinating journalists, then it's really more of an off the cuff remark than actual propaganda. And, you know, it's really hard to take seriously anyone who decries propaganda when Republican mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh are out there spewing eliminationist rhetoric about liberals to 20 million ditto-heads all day long.

Modern Scalawags

Let's face facts. The extremely dishonest approach that the Republicans are taking to bring African Americans on board with their privatized personal retirement plan is just downright racist. I'm sure that the creationist right believes that the fact black men don't live as long as whites is God's intention but the truth is that they wouldn't die younger if it weren't for poverty, disease and crime which are immoral reasons in a rich country such as ours. It's bad enough that this is happening today, but the administration is selling the idea as something that will continue for at least the next forty years as a selling point for destroying social security. It's is another case of their outrageous pomo up-is-downism.

Farhad Manjoo has written a definitive piece on this issue for Salon (cute day pass today) in which he points out that the slack jawed media has gulped down the entire meme and is regurgitating it whole:

The idea that blacks are being cheated by Social Security could prove to be a powerful rhetorical weapon for Republicans. Already, the media is falling for the story line. CNN, for example, broadcast a heart-tugging story Thursday that focused on the plight of the dependents of African-Americans who die young. The network interviewed Barbara Haile, a black woman whose husband died of cancer in 1997. He was 50 at the time of his death; through payroll taxes, he'd been contributing to Social Security for about 30 years. But because he hadn't reached retirement age, neither he (nor his dependents) were eligible to receive any money from Social Security.

Under the Bush plan, conservatives say, Haile would have been eligible to receive the money that her husband had been collecting in his "personal account," invested in the stock market. Because blacks (especially black men) have lower average life expectancies than whites (especially white women), the current system is unfair to them, Republicans contend, and private accounts would be a boon for them. Although CNN did interview supporters of the current system, the emotional upshot of its report was clear: Social Security screws poor black people and President Bush wants to help them out.

There's another side to this,too:

Anti-Social Security agitators such as Stephen Moore, who heads the Free Enterprise Fund, have taken to calling Social Security a "massive income redistribution program" that sucks money out of African-Americans' pockets and spits it out to whites.

Agitator is the right word. The African American constituency isn't going to fall for this nonsense. They've been handed this kind of flim-flam many times before and they are much too savvy to trust rich white men who try to dazzle them with BS. This stuff goes back a long, long way. Despite the fact that the history of reconstruction has been rightly revised to show that the "scalawags" of the era were not all despicable opportunists as they had been portrayed by southern apologists, it is true that there were southerners who used the newly freed slaves for their own political and profitable enterprises. Many African Americans may have been naive enough to believe their phony pitch one hundred years ago, but they aren't naive anymore. Stephen Moore is spitting into the wind if he thinks black Americans can't see through his little shuck and jive.

And they also aren't idiots. They know that grandma needs that check:

In a Social Security briefing paper, Shelton declares that "almost 80 percent of African Americans over age 65 depend on Social Security for more than half of their income, and more than half rely on it for 90 percent or more of their income." Basically, he writes, "without the guaranteed Social Security benefits they receive today, the poverty rate among older African Americans would more than double, pushing most African American seniors into squalor and poverty during their most vulnerable years."

But the main problem with the Republicans' argument that private accounts would be better for blacks than the current system is not that it's economically wrong. It's that it's gravely pessimistic. As the president took pains to point out in his State of the Union address, Social Security reform won't affect today's generation of retirees; it will benefit today's young people, who will retire 30 or 40 years from now. By that reasoning, conservatives are conceding that blacks will die young not only now but 40 years from now. Apparently, they aren't concerned about working to ensure that young African-Americans live as long and healthy lives as today's young white people.

Of course, that's because the main purpose of this phony sales pitch isn't really to gain the support of African Americans at all. These modern scalawags hope to gain the support of a few African Americans so that they can use their image to portray their plan as helping poor people.

This is racist on a number of levels, not the least of which is that the Bush administration has made a fetish of portraying themselves as "compassionate" toward the poor with images of adorable black children and high level tokenism. They know very well that the African American community is the most reliably Democratic constituency in the nation. They are not actually making a play for their votes. Their bogus imagery is racist because it has no substance in policy terms and is actually aimed at white suburban voters who mistrust the southern red-neck edge that defines the sound of the modern GOP.

This Social Security marketing campaign, however, takes it to an unprecedented level. The Republicans are trying to convince their suburban white voters that because blacks tend to die young from social causes (which they don't intend to fix,) they will be "helping" poor blacks if they vote for a privatization scheme (that will cut their guaranteed benefits.) It just doesn't get any more cynical than using white Americans' compassion to hurt black Americans --- or perhaps using phony white compassion to excuse hurting black Americans. This is low, even for them.

Here's a little Rovian epistemic relativism for all those staunch Republican southern heritage and new confederacy types to have fun sorting out:

Today's Republicans are modern scalawags who use blacks to get rich northern white votes. And just like the bad old days, you poor white fellas are going to get screwed too. Which side are you on, boys?

Breathe In A Big Ole Whiff 'O Freedom 'N Liberty

In one hearing that led up to Monday's decision, Judge Green attempted to see how broadly the government viewed its power to hold detainees. Administration lawyers told her, in response to a hypothetical question, that they believed the president would even have the right to lock up "a little old lady from Switzerland" for the duration of the war on terror if she had written checks to a charity that she believed helped orphans, but that actually was a front for Al Qaeda.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Mr McBobo

Tom Tomorrow has his number.

Road Trip

For those of you who are cocooned in the urban conclaves of the Blue state liberal elite, here's an interesting film series on Truthout by talented guerilla filmmaker Chris Hume (who I knew in a former life) called "Red State Roadtrip."

Seeing as the Red States cover a lot of ground, many of you liberal Red Staters might get a kick out of it too. This country is incredibly diverse yet we are all so familiar...

A Bold New Plan

May I just make one little observation that seems to have escaped those who believe that Democrats should offer an alternative to the Preznit's Personal Privatized Individual Retirement Account Security plan? We already are offering an alternative. It's called Social Security. And we have reams of data about how well it works and how well the experts believe it is going to work in the future.

If the Democrats were as willing as Republicans to present a competing discourse to the public and call it "reality" we would simply take Roosevelts plan with all the added tweaking over the years and present it as our "bold, new" alternative saying that it will cover all retirees AND we will be able to add in death benefits and disability payments too! And you won't have to do anything but let your employer deduct the same amount its already deducting from your check! This is the step forward we've been waiting for! We'll call it... Super Social Security 2.0.

I think our "alternative" is very marketable. After all, we have 45 million customers right now. Let's just let them tell the nation how much they like it and propose that everybody should get the same thing. Our new and improved Super Social Security is the innovation everybody's been waiting for. Order yours today.


This pearl clutching about Bush being booed last night is hilarious. The following incidents don't even discuss the 1998 SOTU when the Republicans were in the midst of their witch trial and a large contingent refused to attend. The president received fellatio and was, therefore, too tainted to be in the presence of the little old lady circle jerk and tatting society known as the GOP. Those who bothered to come booed him.

1999: Republicans Booed Clinton's Entrance Many Republican lawmakers gave him a cool, though not impolite, reception. There were a smattering of boos when Clinton first entered the House chamber, but they were quickly drowned out by applause. Some Republicans barely applauded, or refused at all to clap. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) were conspicuously silent. [Boston Herald, 1/20/99]

1998: Republicans Booed Clinton's Medicare Proposal
Clinton's health-care initiatives, chiefly in the form of a medical bill of rights, found support on both sides, especially his attack on managed-care health-care plans. ... Clinton's proposal to expand Medicare to allow Americans as young as 55 to buy into the system drew shouts of "no" and some boos from Republicans during his speech. [Chicago Tribune, 1/28/98]

1997: Republican's Booed Clinton's Opposition to the Balanced Budget Amendment The Republican response was far warmer than perhaps any of Clinton's previous four State of the Union speeches. Time after time, Republicans jumped to their feet to join Democrats in applauding the president. Only once did they unmistakably and collectively show their disapproval--when Clinton spoke disparagingly of a GOP-sponsored constitutional amendment to balance the budget. Many Republicans hissed and some booed. [LA Times,2/5/97]

1995: Republicans Booed Clinton and Walked Out During Speech
The upheaval wrought by the Republican election landslide was visible throughout the president's State of the Union address - from the moment Speaker Newt Gingrich took the gavel to the striking silence that often greeted Clinton from the GOP. At one point, Republicans even booed. About 20 of them left as Clinton went on and on for an hour and 20 minutes. [AP,

The little Claude Raines act they are pulling right now deserves as much derision as we can possibly muster. The Republicans can either call for the smelling salts every time the Democrats get combative or they can be the biggest swinging dicks in town. We shouldn't let them have it both ways.

When they act like little old ladies we should deride them for being delicate little flowers who can't play hardball. When they act like thugs we should haul out the phony sanctimony and call them on their uncivilized behavior. Two can play at this game.


The Poorman noticed something that struck me as odd, as well. The Preznit kept saying "rahther" rather than "rather" during his speech last night. There were times he sounded like Madonna during her kabuki period. Or maybe he was doing a Shirley Mclain and actually trying to channel FDR instead of just using his rhetoric to destroy his programs.

I realize that Dear Leader is beyond reproach and all, but don't you suppose that an All American Nascar Dad or two had a fleeting moment when they wondered why their straight talking cowpoke had turned into Queen Elizabeth?

Making It Up

Not that it matters, because the spin is firmly emplanted in the public's mind that the Iraq election turnout was phenomenal, but Editor and Publisher shows that the reports are very likely to have been wildly off the mark. Imagine my surprise.

I'll be delighted if the turnout figure, when it is officially announced, exceeds the dubious numbers already enshrined by much of the media. But don't be surprised if it falls a bit short. The point is: Nobody knows, and reporters and pundits should stop acting like they do know when they say, flatly, that 8 million Iraqis voted and that this represents a turnout rate of about 60%.

Carl Bialik, who writes the Numbers Guy column for Wall Street Journal Online, calls this "a great question ... how the journalists can know these numbers -- when so many of them aren't able to venture out all over that country." Speaking to E&P on Wednesday, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post -- one of the few mainstream journalists to raise questions about the turnout percentage -- referred to the "fuzzy math" at the heart of it.


"Election officials concede they did not have a reliable baseline on which to calculate turnout," Kurtz concluded.

He also quoted Democratic strategist Robert Weiner as saying: "It's an amazing media error, a huge blunder. I'm sure the Bush administration is thrilled by this spin."

They spun it and the media gladly got spun because it was one of those hallmark card stories that makes Wolf and Kira and Chris just feel so damned good about themselves. Every once in while they need a narrative that allows them to believe that they are part of something gosh darned wonderful.

As I watched the news shows last Sunday, I was struck by the lockstep maudlin sentimentality of the coverage --- a sure sign that it is complete bullshit. Apparently, the word went forth that the tone was to be "proud parents" --- America herself had just birthed the Iraq democracy in the back of a humvee. The purple thumbs evoked a collective "awwww" as if the Iraqi voters were sheet swaddled newborn babes or a big ole pile 'o kittens.

One of the most disturbing (and embarrassing) aspects of this entire enterprise is the air of cultural superiority emanating from Americans as we enlighten the primitives, dahling. This coming from a country that produces a president who says things like:

"We're still being challenged in Iraq and the reason why is a free Iraq will be a major defeat in the cause of freedom." —George W. Bush, Charlotte, N.C., April 5, 2004

Yeah, we're very superior people. And we re-elected him too.

Update: Attaturk is on this one too:

Well, the enablers of the so called liberal media have worked their wonders to make sure that they emoted every ounce of the Bush Administration's ejaculatory load in Iraq...right down to the last little sperm. Judy Miller didn't even ask for a virtual towel as she got each prescious drop down her vacuum powered 10 amp gullet.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Generational Warfare!

Grooviosity. Reform social security, man, because you can't trust anyone over 30. Cool.

These doughy, briefcase GOP baby boomer geeks have always had a case of arrested development. They started their "revolution" in their 40's. In their 50's they've discovered the "generation gap." The rest of us got over this intergenerational squabbling a couple of decades ago. It's never too late to act like a teen-age ass.

For younger workers, the Social Security system has serious problems that will grow worse with time. Social Security was created decades ago, for a very different era. In those days people didn't live as long, benefits were much lower than they are today, and a half century ago, about 16 workers paid into the system for each person drawing benefits. Our society has changed in ways the founders of Social Security could not have foreseen.

Man, if only those old people would just die younger, or at least take less money, we wouldn't have this problem.

Right now, a set portion of the money you earn is taken out of your paycheck to pay for the Social Security benefits of today's retirees. If you are a younger worker, I believe you should be able to set aside part of that money in your own retirement account, so you can build a nest egg for your own future.

... instead of having to worry about your revolting, diseased parents.

As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.

Awesome. A better deal for me!

It is time to extend [the same] security, and choice, and ownership to young Americans.

Listen kids. Here's your choice. Either keep social security as it is or plan to have your parents ---- people my age --- living with you for the last twenty years of our sick, decrepit lives. This will be as you're putting your kids through the privatized school system and saving for medical expenses with your "medical savings account" while putting something aside for your kids' college and your own meager retirement. Good luck with that. That's the "choice" you're getting here.

Bush says nobody over 55 will see any change. I'm 48. Somehow, I don't think I'm one of those "younger workers" who is oging to experience the miracle of the market. I'm not the solution, I'm the problem. There are a huge number of people my age out there. We who were born in the mid 50's are the biggest bulge of the baby boom cohort. And we are the ones who are first in line to get fucked if this social security "reform" is passed.

But the good news is that by that time our children will have these lovely fat portfolios. They'll be happy to take us in if our "personalized social security" doesn't stretch quite as far as George W. Bush says is will. Right?

Oh, and by the way, kids. You'll be the ones stuck with the gazillions of dollars in debtthis whole useless scam is going to cost. Don't be fools.

Update: Josh speaks to this as well:

the president is now saying -- and saying emphatically and militantly, with an eye on his critics -- that if you're 55 you're home free, nothing to worry about when it comes to phasing out Social Security.

One might observe that this is a rather unfortunate dividing in half of the country. If you're 50 today, you spent most of your highest earning years not only paying into Social Security, but advance-paying even more, under the 1983 Social Security Commission which put in the extra level of tax to build up the Trust Fund. Now you're hosed. Too bad.

The important point though is that this is simply not true. And the defenders of Social Security would be straight-up fools to let the president get away with a guarantee as obviously bogus as that one.

Maybe they can try to finesse those older than 55 into believing him with a direct, straight up lie, but he's not even trying to finesse those of us who are just slightly younger than that. And we are a huge demographic cohort. The transition costs, which the Preznit doesn't address at all, are going to hit this bulge of the baby boom right between the eyes because most of us are under 55. And ALL of us have been paying "extra" since Uncle Alan Greenspan told us to in 1983.

I think we need to start talking to people my age. We are following this closely because retirement issues in general are beginning to get our attention. We are the biggest single age group in the country and we are about to get fucked.

Update, Update:

Ooooh. I see that we are talking about "benefit offsets" which just means that any "extra" money you make in your "personal" account goes into the pot. No ownership, no guarantee, no nothing.

This is more and more ideological by the day. It's just about tearing up the new deal and destroying people's trust in government, period.

Surviving The Speech

For those who cannot drink during your SOTU house party, and therefore will not be able to participate in the "freedom 'n liberty drinking game", our good friend South Knox Bubba has another approach. Good works.

Personally, I plan to do both, and maybe a little drunk blogging as well. There's no way in hell I can get through that mush without a little help from Demon Rum.

Here's something to think about, however. This is the first speech done by Bush's new speechwriter William McGurn. David Kushnet wrote about him in TNR recently:

As president Bush begins his second term, he's likely to sound less affable and more argumentative, reflecting the rhetoric of a new chief speechwriter who has constantly criticized the American Catholic clergy for being too tough on capitalism and too soft on abortion.


Gerson made Bush sound like a preacher, but McGurn made his name as a polemicist. He's a Catholic conservative, with a distinctive intellectual pedigree. Liberal Catholics such as E. J. Dionne and even some conservative Catholics such as Pat Buchanan have criticized capitalism's excesses for weakening families and communities. But McGurn favors free trade, opposes even the most basic regulations of corporate conduct, and has harsh words for an American labor movement that the Catholic Church has historically supported. McGurn's allies appear to be the late Treasury Secretary William Simon and the theologian Michael Novak, both of whom thought the U.S. Catholic Bishops were too favorably disposed toward the government's role in regulating the economy and assisting the poor.

When he writes under his own byline, McGurn's views on economics are just as conservative as, and even more quirky than, The Wall Street Journal's unsigned editorials. In 2003, he and liberal economist Rebecca Blank coauthored a debate titled, Is the Market Moral?, which was published by the Brookings Institution. In the book, McGurn compares the thriving free-market economy of Hong Kong, where he once worked as a reporter, with the regimentation of old-style Chinese Communism. He contends that capitalism not only creates wealth but also rewards good behavior because it "depends on virtues--self-restraint, honesty, courage, diligence, the willingness to defer gratification." Presenting himself as both an economic realist and a conservative moralist, McGurn concludes that the best way to make sure that the economy advances social goals is not through government regulation but rather by changing corporate culture. He suggests that moral suasion can discourage executives from cooking their books, exploiting their workers, or despoiling the environment.

Bring it on, baby. We'll run Elliot Spitzer against Ken Lay.

Displaying talents that will serve him well as a presidential speechwriter, McGurn's style is eloquent, simple--and slippery. He makes the case against communism, socialism, and the most heavy-handed forms of government regulation in this country; but he also criticizes programs that have existed since the New Deal and have been accepted by Republican as well as Democratic presidents: the minimum wage, job safety standards, environmental protection, and American opposition to child labor overseas. He explains his skepticism about public institutions by citing three of the least popular: welfare as we used to know it, the post office, and urban public schools. While acknowledging that his views contradict many Catholic social teachings, he repeatedly refers to Pope John Paul II to support his arguments, even though the Pope seems to support a much more regulated kind of capitalism than McGurn. And McGurn has also published pieces differing with the Pope's opposition to the war in Iraq and criticizing Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, for saying that there is no such thing as a just war anymore.


Like Gerson, McGurn is a graceful writer, capable of crafting clear and original prose. But unlike Gerson, McGurn is also a brawler who loves to take hard shots at his adversaries and even his allies. He attacked Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu for opposing school vouchers but sending her own kids to private schools. He told the Denver Archdiocese, "On the great issue of life, the bishops failed America's unborn children at about the same time they were failing the living American children molested by the priests under their charge."

So while Gerson's rhetoric soothed, McGurn's will singe. Writing in The Wall Street Journal five years ago, John Fund credited McGurn with this "iron law of politics": "Conservatives win by clarifying issues, liberals by fudging them." Maybe so, but George W. Bush--and Ronald Reagan before him--made warm-hearted arguments for policies that Americans might otherwise have rejected as hard-hearted. Bush couldn't ask for a writer who's less likely to fudge distinctions than McGurn. Now let's see if Bush benefits from clarity.

"Conservatives win by clarifying issues, liberals by fudging them."

Yeah. Tell it to Frank Luntz. That's why we are going to hear all about "personalizing" your retirement tonight instead of privatizing social security. They're "clarifying" the issue.

This could be good. If McGurn has Bush coming out swinging this term it could end up being the Newt Gingrich Story, Part II. Without all those nice little sermons, George W. Bush is a pinched, mean man and it shows. I have a feeling that McGurn may just bring out the real him.

Award Mania

Wampum has all the Koufax semi-final nominations up. I highly recommend that you check out the category for best post. I just spent an hour over there reading the best of the blogosphere over the last year and it was awe inspiring. There are some very, very fine writers in the left blogosphere. (And Hugh Hewitt can kiss my ass*)

Once again, toss some coin to Wampum for doing this thing. It's a labor of love but nobody should have to pay for the privilege.

* Hewitt claims in his little roll of toilet paper called "Blog" that the only good writers are on the right which I suppose would be true if you consider smug circle jerking and squealing Bush pompom shaking actual writing. Heh. Indeed.

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?