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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Self Defense

Kevin Drum has an interesting post up regarding this article by Dana Milbank in which Milbank decries a "postmodern morass where there are no such things as facts, only competing perceptions of reality." It's nice that Milbank's finally noticed, but really, this has been in the works for a long time.

Kevin agrees that this is unhealthy and sees signs that the left is beginning to follow the right's example and only tune in to its chosen media. I agree with him, but I really think it's unavoidable. For the left it's largely a matter of self-defense. And it's because of what Milbank says here:

Would liberals really favor the absence of a press that calls into questions the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's weapons and ties to al Qaeda? Would conservatives really favor the absence of a press that brought the Clinton scandals to light?

That Milbank continues to see these things as being equivalent is the problem.

The Clinton scandals were contrived political character assassination that were investigated to the tune of 70 million dollars by numerous Republican congressional committees and Republican special prosecutors and WERE PROVED TO BE WITHOUT MERIT!!! The mainstream press were not muckrakers, they were willing whores and shills for a partisan agenda. They obsessed over a decades old land deal, the firing of some employees in the travel office, some bozo in the basement reading FBI files and Clinton's sex life among many other trivial charges. None of them came to anything. These facts are clear. If there is any doubt in anyone's mind that the right wing was willing to do anything to cripple Clinton's presidency one need only remember that they IMPEACHED him over a consensual extra-marital affair that he lied about in a trumped up sexual harrassment case that was thrown out of court.

Now, I know that official Washington remains upset that the Clintons allegedly came in and "trashed" the place, but I really think it's a bit much to compare that pathetic tabloid witchhunt with the uninvestigated, officially sanctioned lies that got us into a WAR.

I can't speak for everyone on the left, but this is why I cannot trust the mainstream media. It's not because they are biased. I don't know what the individual reporters' politics are and I don't care. I mistrust the media because they get played over and over and over again by the right wing and keep coming back for more. I don't know if they are stupid or weak, but it's clear to me that they are addicted to spoonfed puerile right wing generated gossip and completely unwilling to pursue serious Republican scandals beyond a perfunctory story or two before they move on to the next atrocity. (And I mean right wing generated gossip because it's clear that they will not breathlessly pursue a Republican sex scandal with equal fervor even when it features a gay prostitute in the conservative White House press room who plastered pictures of his erections all over the internet.)

I recognize that a lot of this is because there is no partisan left wing media that can pound away at the stories that are damaging to Republicans thereby keeping the mainstream media focused and aware of the drumbeat. Indeed that is why many of us are advocating that we create such a thing. It's been clear for more than a decade that the mainstream media responds almost unthinkingly to the deafening sounds of the right wing noise machine and now seems paralyzed by the power the Republican establishment exerts over it. They simply are incapable of speaking truth to power and employing the kind of skepticism that is required if this body politic is to be healthy.

I struggle with this issue as Kevin does because I really don't want to have two competing discourses out there. It's a risky and frightening thing to do and I honestly don't know where it will lead. But I think we have no choice but to enter this fray and just hope that we can keep things straight in our own minds. I know that I am not crazy. I know what I am seeing with my own eyes. This bullshit by Frank Luntz is not something out of my fevered imagination. Neither was the stage managed tabloid circus that I watched with stunned disbelief in the 90's. Or the jingoistic spectacle that led up to this misbegotten war in Iraq or the continuing glassy-eyed servility that they show toward this administration every single day. This stuff is really happening.

As it stands, we have a Republican alternate version of reality and a mainstream press that is apparently impotent to take it on with any real zeal. I don't know what else to do but create our own discourse that hopefully provides the flaccid media with another point of view that they can then flog with equal fervor. I hope that our discourse is more honest and more true, but I cannot guarantee it. All I know is that we have to pull on the other end of the ideological rope or we are all going to be dragged off the cliff together.


I was busy yesterday and didn't weigh in on Matt Stoller and Sean Paul Kelley's open letter to bloggers regarding the Brookings panel. Since the letter was inspired by a post of mine and furthered by an e-mail from a reader of mine, I feel that I should weigh in.

On a personal note, I must make it clear that I wasn't agitating for a spot on the panel. Believe me, I have a voice made for writing. My original comments were more of an amused observation of the thickheadedness of the DC establishment about blogging rather than pique.

After reading Kelley and Stoller's letter, along with comments to my post and those by Gilliard and Armstrong, I realize that I should probably address this issue a bit more seriously. There seems to be a controversy developing about whether bloggers should even appear in the MSM at all. My feeling is that if they are good at it, of course they should. Any chance we have to force new liberal voices out into the ether is a good thing.

Since blogging seems to be the pet rock of 2005, we should take advantage of that opportunity to get some new, articulate people out there. Who knows when we will get the chance to breathe some new life into the punditocrisy again. If you appear in public and do well, there is a good chance you will be asked to speak again. If you can bring some bloggy stimulation in the form of edgy, fearless informed commentary, you could become a valued television speaker. Gawd knows we need some. I'm awfully tired of being represented by colorless, frightened journalists who are presumed to be liberal because the wingnuts say they are.

I was extremely impressed with John Aravosis of Americablog, for instance, in his television appearances. He took his blog personality right on TV with him, showing no sense of the cliquish, beltway insiderism you see so often. Instead, he challenged the conventional wisdom and took the conversation in the direction he wanted it to go. I don't know if others would have the same presence, but I sense something refreshing in his approach that I think may stem from his immersion in the combative world of blogging.

In a different way, I thought that Peter Daou's appearance on the Crowley/Reagan show yesterday was effective. He was called upon to do a round-up style spot and took the opportunity to mention the Volokh brouhaha (and, yes, gave me a plug --- thank you Peter.) This is important because Volokh is often mentioned for a federal judgeship, so its nice to have this statement (since retracted) disseminated. Moreover, a segment like Daou's is a way for the liberal blog arguments to seep into the MSM. Daou was attractive and articulate and if someone like him were to have a regular segment it could offset the Jeff Jarvis monopoly which slants the coverage to topics of interest and advantage to the right thus reinforcing the Republican CW tilt of the media in general.

The establishment is pretending to be bimbos about blogging as a way of covering for their ignorance. We have seen a pattern emerge in which they excuse the rightward bias of their blogger choices by saying that their spot/panel/conference isn't really about politics, it's about "new media" so balance isn't required. The logical conclusion I draw from that is that the only new media these people read is gossip and rightwing blogs. We should not let them get away with this argument. When you choose political bloggers you are making a political statement in itself. When only rightwing blogs are representing new media then new media is perceived as right wing. These bloggers are unabashed partisans and to ignore that fact is to ignore their purpose.

Furthermore, liberal and rightwing bloggers see the blogosphere differently, interact differently and deal with their parties differently. If you think that "new media" can be explained without looking into how the two political spheres approach politics in entirely different ways then you are missing the story. The right blogosphere is an extension of the right wing message machine and the Republican party. The left is a grassroots political constituency of its own. Exclude the liberal bloggers from this discussion and you are missing the most important new development in the new media.

I am glad to see that the action taken yesterday resulted in the inclusion of two excellent bloggers in the Brookings discussion, Laura Rozen and Ruy Teixeira. I'm of the same mind as Atrios that "live blogging" is a little bit dumb --- there's really no good reason to have people writing down their comments at a live event. Blogging isn't a "live" medium. But whatever. It's good news that smart liberals get their names into rolodexes so that when somebody wants a "blogger" the only name that comes to mind isn't Andrew Sullivan, Wonkette or Hinderocket.

The most important thing about this brouhaha isn't really defending the honor of the blogosphere or explaining why it is innovative and different. This matters because liberals need to take every opportunity to get the word out any way we possibly can --- not for the sake of blogging but for the sake of the country. If articulate bloggers can worm their way onto panels or TV shows or radio shows because blogging is the flavor of the week then they should do it. Whatever it takes to get our views heard, we should do it. Always.

Family Schamily

Ok, everybody. It's time to flood the news outlets with the talking points that Linda Douglas reported last night. The senate is holding a prime time Saturday sideshow to vote on this Schiavo issue and the networks should be FORCED to report that the Republicans are pulling this garbage for political reasons. Via Oliver Willis and NoMoreMisterNiceBlog here is the report:

ABC News has obtained talking points circulated among Republican senators explaining why they should vote to intervene in the Schiavo case. Among them: "This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited..." and "This is a great political issue... this is a tough issue for Democrats."

This circus is being produced purely for the benefit of the right to life zealot base of the Party for political reasons. They admit it. Here's Peggy Nooner:

Here's both a political and a public-relations reality: The Republican Party controls the Senate, the House and the White House. The Republicans are in charge. They have the power. If they can't save this woman's life, they will face a reckoning from a sizable portion of their own base. And they will of course deserve it.There is a passionate, highly motivated and sincere group of voters and activists who care deeply about whether Terri Schiavo is allowed to live.

This should concentrate their minds.

So should this: America is watching. As the deadline for removal of Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube approaches, the story has broken through as never before in the media.


The supporters of Terri Schiavo's right to continue living have fought for her heroically, through the courts and through the legislatures. They're still fighting. They really mean it. And they have memories.

Nice little party you have here boys. It'd be a shame if something happened to it.

Gosh it seems like only yesterday that Peggy was complaining about anti-smoking laws because of their pernicious intrusion into people's liberty. I sure can't wait to hear another lecture on how Republicans just want the government out of our lives. I need for Peggy to tell me again how government can't solve the problem, it is the problem. I keep forgetting how that's supposed to work. Is it that the government is only interfering if it charges Republicans for the services that Republicans so willingly use? Is that the problem? Because it sure looks as if the only thing people like Peggy don't want the government to do is send them a bill. Other than that it's just fine if the Republicans use the strong arm of the law to step right into the living rooms, bedrooms and hospital rooms of American citizens because a "sizable portion of their ... base" doesn't approve of the difficult moral decisions that they make. What a very interesting view of limited government these people have. What a twisted, greed-soaked view of freedom.

On the other side of this debate, one would assume there is an equally well organized and passionate group of organizations deeply committed to removing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. But that's not true. There's just about no one on the other side. Or rather there is one person, a disaffected husband who insists Terri once told him she didn't want to be kept alive by extraordinary measures.

I don't know why she thinks this, but it clearly isn't true. It may be that there isn't a group of blindered fetishists who have devoted their pathetic lives to interfering in the intimate personal lives of their fellow humans as the pro-life people have, but there are millions of people who have had to face these situations and who have strong opinions about it. Many, many of them have decided to let their loved one die a natural death rather than live as they would never have wanted to live --- with no mind. These decisions are faced every day all over the country and it is not, as Nooner suggests, that nobody cares. People care deeply and she may just be surprised how much people despise the sick openness with which Republicans are using this issue for political purposes.

This reminds me of another issue in which the Republicans were willing to flout all the known laws that really protect families in their zeal to pander to the radicals in their base. Little Elian. In that case they were more than willing to keep a little boy from his own father because they didn't approve of the father's politics. In this case they are flouting the very essence of what constitutes a family by insisting that they have the right to veto the wishes of both the patient and the patient's spouse.

The Schiavo case also shows that their braying about the sanctity of marriage is a load of rubbish. One of the things that gays want from the marriage contract is the right to make decisions for their spouse in case like this one. Clearly, those rights are only applicable even to straight people if Bill Frist and Randall Terry approve. Otherwise, they may actually enact an act of Congress to stop you --- especially if it's "a great political issue" that "excites their base." I guess the traditional view of marriage isn't so sacred after all, is it? And here I thought this stuff was handed down from God. Go figure.

Update: For those who would like a clear rundown of the medical aspects of this case Respectful of Otters has a full compendium of links and analysis.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Greatest Show On Earth

What do you suppose would happen if the congress and the media spent as much time on say, torture, as they are on this absurd inquisition on steroids in baseball?

If Democrats think that this is good theatre for them they are nuts. The "optics" on this are not good judging from the off hand comments I've heard from varous people today. This is America's pastime, not the tobacco industry. It is highly unpleasant to watch a bunch of politicians browbeat famous players and then grill baseball owners as if they are a mafia family --- while we are at war, the treasury is being bankrupted and unprecedented government corruption is happening right before their eyes. Listening to them sanctimoniously lecture baseball about its ethics and practices is just mind boggling.

If they really want to tackle the issue of steroid use they should call one person --- Arnold Schwarzenneger. He knows everything there is to know about the product and he would be an exceptionally good witness who would provide them all with the limelight they apparently need so badly. Publicly humiliating Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa et al, just looks gratuitous. This faux outrage wouldn't get first place in an 8th grade talent show.

Dennis Kucinich is the only one who made any sense all day when he pointed out that this is rally about America's "win at all cost" ethos in athletics, business and politics. But he's the only one. Everybody else is publicly accusing people willy nilly of taking steroids without any proof and then riffing on and on about the shocking, shocking nature of this most important public health matter.

This country is in big trouble.

Intuitive Barbarity

The blogosphere is gobsmacked by Eugene Volokh’s startling admission that he approves of this Iranian style justice:

Mohammad Bijeh, 24, dubbed "the Tehran desert vampire" by Iran's press, was flogged 100 times before being hanged.

A brother of one of his young victims stabbed him as he was being punished. The mother of another victim was asked to put the noose around his neck.

The execution took place in Pakdasht south of Tehran, near where Bijeh's year-long killing spree took place.

The killer was hoisted about 10 metres into the air by a crane and slowly throttled to death in front of the baying crowd.

Hanging by a crane - a common form of execution in Iran - does not involve a swift death as the condemned prisoner's neck is not broken.

The killer collapsed twice during the punishment, although he remained calm and silent throughout.

Spectators, held back by barbed wire and about 100 police officers, chanted "harder, harder" as judicial officials took turns to flog Bijeh's bare back before his hanging.

The condemned collapsed twice during the pre-execution flogging
Bijeh was stabbed by the 17-year-old brother of victim Rahim Younessi, AFP reported, as he was being readied to be hanged.

Officials then invited the mother Milad Kahani to put the blue nylon rope around his neck.

The crimes of Mohammed Bijeh and his accomplice Ali Baghi had drawn massive attention in the Iranian media.

The condemned collapsed twice during the pre-execution flogging

Volokh, a professor of constitutional law, writes:

I particularly like the involvement of the victims' relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he'd killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging. The one thing that troubles me (besides the fact that the murderer could only be killed once) is that the accomplice was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, but perhaps there's a good explanation.

I am being perfectly serious, by the way. I like civilization, but some forms of savagery deserve to be met not just with cold, bloodless justice but with the deliberate infliction of pain, with cruel vengeance rather than with supposed humaneness or squeamishness. I think it slights the burning injustice of the murders, and the pain of the families, to react in any other way.

This is awfully interesting, don’t you think? How long has it been since we were talking about torture for the alleged higher purpose of obtaining information a suspect may or may not have? A couple of months? Yesterday? And now the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment has entered the dialog as well.

I have to agree with Roy Edroso on this one:

When critics say that radical professors have "a unique hostility toward Western traditional and commonsense attitudes," and that their "true raison d'etre is in practice nothing other than to destroy utterly whatever allegiance a young person might have to traditional conceptions in morality, religion, politics and culture," are they talking about this guy [Volokh]?

They should be. This kind of “moral intuition” coming from a law professor is a rejection of just about everything the West and particularly the enlightenment has been progressing toward for hundreds of years. He rejects empiricism, reason and logic for a primitive bloodlust that can only be described as barbaric.

(I can hardly wait to hear the PoMo spin on this in which it will be argued that flogging, choking and stabbing are long standing Christian traditions and cannot be construed as torture or cruel and unusual punishment when the person actually dies from the activity.)

It’s not really all that surprising. We have been leaning this way for a while with our move away from the idea of dispassionate justice to revenge. Listening to the inescapable rundowns of the Peterson verdict yesterday, I was struck as I often am by the sarcastic angry tone of the victim’s family in front of the cameras just as I’ve often been struck by the spectacle of the families inside the courtroom when they get their chance to confront the perpetrator in the penalty phase. It’s not that I blame them for feeling such rage. But I find it very disconcerting that our justice system believes that this revenge and catharsis should be part of the judicial process itself. Justice is supposed to be blind. Or so I thought.

I don’t believe in the death penalty because I think that the only justification for killing is self defense and when someone is locked up forever that is protection enough from their depredations. But I’m beginning to wonder if accepting the death penalty as we have presents another problem. So much focus is placed on the feelings of the victim’s families these days that I think we may have lost sight of the fact that there can be no recompense for the loss of a loved one. Therefore, the death penalty can never really be enough to satisfy the need that we are trying to make it satisfy.

As Volokh suggests, people will want to inflict pain to try to ease their own but that will not be sufficient either, will it? If one were to ask those relatives who helped in the torture and execution of that criminal if they felt satisfied, I would bet you that they don’t believe that real justice was served. Perhaps they think they should have been allowed to inflict the exact kind of pain that was inflicted on their kids, forced sodomy. Maybe they think that they should have been allowed to relive the murders with him as the victim. But would even that be enough? Could he suffer exactly the same way a child would have suffered in similar circumstances? It’s never going to be enough. And once you go down this road the line between those who kill because of mental defect, disease and evil and those who do it for revenge becomes very hard to see.

Volokh goes on to say that he thinks the constitution should be amended to allow cruel and unusual punishment in certain cases:

Naturally, I don't expect this to happen any time soon; my point is about what should be the rule, not about what is the rule, or even what is the constitutionally permissible rule. I think the Bill of Rights is generally a great idea, but I don't think it's holy writ handed down from on high. Certain amendments to it may well be proper, though again I freely acknowledge that they'd be highly unlikely.

That is exactly why I gave up on arguing for gun control. You cannot even go near the Bill of Rights until Americans have evolved much, much further than we already have. When influential conservative constitutional law professors start giving the Bill of Rights only tepid support then we have to just say no. The Bill of Rights may not be a sacred writ, but it’s the best thing this misbegotten country ever did and it’s the single thing that makes the American system worth a damn.

Of course we have a brand new democracy of our very own creation taking shape before our eyes. Perhaps this will be legally institutionalized in a way that Volokh could heartily endorse: (Via Spencer Ackerman)

When Iraqi and American soldiers detained a suspected Sunni insurgent in Haifa this week, a group of the Shiite troops crowded around him. A sergeant kicked him in the face. Another soldier grabbed him by the neck and slammed his head into a wall. A third slapped him hard in the face.

Ali Abdul Mohsen, a 22-year-old Shiite, pointed his AK-47 at the man and screamed, his eyes bulging, "You will confess or I swear to God I will shoot you here." Most of the Iraqi soldiers nearby smiled in approval. "This is revenge for everyone who has been killed," Mohsen said.

Check out the posts commenting on this subject for a real eye opener.

Update: Matt Yglesias makes the erudite philosophical argument.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Training the Messengers

Parker Blackman of Fenton Communications has an interesting piece on TomPaine.com regarding every liberal’s favorite topic framing. First he suggests that we stop using the terms conservative and neoconservative and simply use "radical." I, of course, agree since I've been doing it since I started this blog. (And in fairness to Carville and Begala, they wrote an op-ed back in '01 that said the same thing.)

Still, it's past time that every Democrat committed to doing this. The fact that Tom Delay and Rush Limbaugh are considered mainstream is partially the fault of those who failed to decouple them from the word conservative, which people today believe to be a positive, virtuous word. We need to be disciplined about this kind of thing the way the Republicans are. They are careful and conscious of the words they use and it is very effective.

In that regard, I would highly recommend that everyone read Chris Hayes' fascinating article about a budding young conservative talking head called "The Message Machine." It's creepy and fascinating. This guy's no Ben Shapiro:

We’d just returned from the first College Republicans meeting of the semester. The Northwestern group is a branch of the College Republican National Committee, whose membership has more than tripled in the past six years. On the surface, it had looked like any other gathering of college kids: about a dozen students sitting around a classroom, sipping Diet Coke and munching on Papa John’s pizza. But as the group started discussing its agenda, I realized I was witnessing something extraordinary. If you’ve ever wondered where the legions of conservative pundits are trained and schooled, where the talk-radio hosts and cable news guests and best-selling authors of jeremiads with inflammatory titles come from, it all starts here, in little classrooms like this one. These humble gatherings, full of kids in Greek-lettered T-shirts and sweats, are the incubator for the future of the right wing.

What the entire meeting would boil down to was message discipline. College Republican President Henry Bowles III, a junior whose vintage T-shirt and carefully tousled hair made him look like the lead singer of an indie-rock band, got things started. He told the group that for the duration of the semester, each session would start with a presentation on some important issue. This week Ben Snyder, a member of Students for Life, would give a PowerPoint presentation about the upcoming Supreme Court battles titled “Us vs. Them.” And next week, said Henry, someone would be talking about the flat tax.

“Fair tax. It’s fair tax now,” said a guy in the front row wearing a Zeppelin T-shirt.

“Right,” said Henry. “Fair tax. That’s the euphemism.”

A little later, as Ben discussed the impending battle over Supreme Court nominees, he mentioned the possibility that Senate Republicans would rewrite filibuster rules so Democrats couldn’t filibuster judicial nominees. This strategy is often called the “nuclear option” because it could provoke a war between the two parties, but has, Ben told the group, “now been renamed the constitutional option.”

Guy was the most vocal person in the room, gently correcting his comrades’ facts and terminology, offering up tidbits and arguments that others might want to employ when arguing with liberals. It was clear that he’d done his homework. When Ben talked about renaming the nuclear/constitutional option, Guy raised his hand and provided some background. While liberals express outrage at the thought of amending Senate rules, he said, the practice of filibustering nominees “is at the very least extraconstitutional, perhaps unconstitutional.” Everyone in the room listened intently. In fact, he went on, during the Constitutional Convention no less a figure than James Madison had taken the president’s power to appoint his cabinet to be so strong he proposed that a two-thirds majority be required to vote down a nominee. “So,” he concluded, “I think that’s an interesting tool to use when you’re debating this issue with people.” The other kids nodded, looking serious.

I graduated from college four years ago, and I happen to have spent a good percentage of my time as an undergraduate talking about politics – in my case, sweatshop labor and other lefty causes – with my activist friends. With the possible exception of a few mild admonitions for language that wasn’t sufficiently PC, I never saw anyone interrupt anyone for slipping off message. I was also surprised to see the Republican kids collectively generating arguments to use when fighting with liberals, sharpening their talking points, and preparing for battle. My fellow liberals and I didn’t see ourselves as engaged in a war of ideas. We probably didn’t even realize there were any conservatives around to fight with.

The meeting ended with an announcement that the club would soon be conducting elections for officers. Someone asked Guy if he was going to run for president, since he seemed the obvious successor to Henry. Guy demurred, though, saying he thought an official position with the College Republicans might limit his future journalistic career.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm unaware of anything like the Republican clubs on and off campus where liberals talk politics on this tactical and strategic level. Do we do this at all?

We also don't believe in saying that someone is "off message" and it's hurting us. One of the only ways you can break through the white noise of the infotainment cacophony is through endless repetition of certain words and phrases used in particular ways that become so familiar that people believe it even if they don't know why. If serious little Republican college kids are on to this in campus bull sessions it would be nice if our leadership and punditocrisy could get with the program.

If you are interested in framing and message, both of these articles are extremely informative on the topic.

Power To The Owners

Kevin discusses the new CAP tax proposal as a way of putting a wedge between shareholders and rich CEO's which I think is a great idea. It also raises the question about shareholder clout in general and big pension funds in particular.

We should, as a matter of course, be looking for ways to leverage shareholder power for our causes. A fair number of Democrats are invested in the market through their 401k's and the big public pension funds, the latter of which are the 800 pound gorillas of Wall Street. We have been remiss in not using that clout to put countervailing pressure on business when it acts against its shareholders' interests, otherwise known as “the people.” If you combine the organizing power of consumer protests we could, through some savvy collective action, make business wonder if it's such a good idea to let the hoi polloi join their so-called ownership society after all.

For instance, check out what this guy says:

When Marshall Field's employed a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs theme for its 2004 holiday festivities, the Chicago-born retailer received some complaints that it was promoting the homosexual lifestyle, an executive said recently.

The concerned citizens divined that there was a "hidden gay agenda" in Field's theme "because seven men were living together," Gregory Clark, vice president of creative services for Field's in Minneapolis, recounted last month at a Retail Advertising & Marketing Association conference in Chicago.

A few years back, Rev. Jerry Falwell went after purse-toting Teletubby Tinky Winky. More recently, conservatives accused cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants of promoting a homosexual agenda.

When Field's receives such complaints, the department store chain listens to them, Clark said. But unless it receives, say, 10,000 letters and phone calls, it doesn't change its strategy, he said.

Setting aside the sheer freakishness of people who are so twisted that they think of sex when they see seven little men together, this guy says that he would change his strategy if he got 10,000 letters and phone calls. That’s not all that many. And look how little it takes to get the FCC to act.

This is one area where the organizing types in the left blogosphere could exploit our natural inclination and belief in collective action. Remember Sinclair.

I’d volunteer, but I’m terrible at organizing. You should see my desk. But there are others out there who are very good at this sort of thing and I think it would be worth a try. Business is very sensitive to its image and reputation. We should be pressuring them the same way we pressure politicians. After all, they are the ones who own the politicians.

Neocon Hitmen

Via ThinkProgress:

“If we want stability on our planet, we must fight to end poverty. Since the time of the Bretton Woods Conference, through the Pearson Commission, the Brandt Commission, and the Brundtland Commission, through to statements of our leaders at the 2000 Millennium Assembly - and today - all confirm that the eradication of poverty is central to stability and peace.” – Outgoing World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn, 10/3/04

“These people are not fighting because they’re poor. They’re poor because they fight all the time. ” – President Bush’s nominee for World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, Congressional Testimony, 6/6/96

“We hear a lot of talk about the root causes of terrorism. Some people seem to suggest that poverty is the root cause of terrorism. It’s a little hard to look at a billionaire named Osama bin Laden and think that poverty drove him to it.” – Wolfowitz, 11/15/2002

I have little doubt that Wolfowitz feels that way. As a card carrying neocon of the PNAC persuasion, he thinks that all this namby-pamby handwringing about poverty is rubbish. He believes in Empire, specifically the American Empire, as the answer to the world's problems. And his new job is to carry out yet another aspect of that assignnent:

Under Wolfowitz, the Bush administration may now try to narrow the focus of the World Bank, returning the international lending institution to its roots of primarily financing large infrastructure projects and limiting the practice of handing out zero-interest loans, analysts such as Alan Meltzer, who led a 2000 congressional inquiry into the World Bank, said.

How does that translate to Empire, you ask?


For much of his career, as a consultant in international development, John Perkins says he was an empire builder… though maybe not in ways you'd think.

Perkins calls himself an "economic hit man" — a kind of secret agent of U.S. power, armed not with a Walther PPK pistol but a set of corrupt economic spreadsheets. His job, he says, was to convince developing countries to borrow money to build expensive projects. Projects like roads, dams and power grids that would ostensibly improve the quality of life.

But there was a catch: These projects would also leave these countries with more debt than they could ever hope to repay. This crushing debt, Perkins says, left those countries with little choice but to follow America's lead on foreign and economic policies. His controversial book, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN has been on THE NEW YORK TIMES best seller list for 11 weeks.


DAVID BRANCACCIO: But just for the sake of living with yourself when you're a younger man, I mean you must have said to yourself, "I am helping the population of this developing country, be it Indonesia, be it someplace else, by bringing, for instance, a hydroelectric project to them." Yes, it'll cost them a lot, yes, they'll have to borrow a lot. But ultimately you must have been guided by the sense that you're trying to help out poor folks.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, that's what I'd learned in business school and that's the model that the World Bank presents. But if you really get to know these countries, and I did, I spent a lot of time in them, what I saw was that the money that was going to build these projects like the hydroelectric projects or the highways or the ports, hardly ever actually made its way to the country.

The money was transferred from banks in Washington, DC to banks in Houston or San Francisco or New York where most of it went to big US corporations. The ones we heard a lot about these days like Halliburton and Bechtel. And these corporations then built these projects and the projects primarily served the very rich in those countries.

The electricity, the highways, the ports were seldom even used by the people who needed them the most. But the country would be left holding a huge debt and it would be such a large debt that they couldn't possibly repay it. And so at some point in time, we economic hit men, we go back into the country and say, "Look, you owe us a lot of money, you can't pay your debts. Therefore sell us your oil at a real cheap price or vote with us at a UN vote or give us land for a military base or send some of your troops to some country where we want you to support us."

DAVID BRANCACCIO: You think that from the word go that this kind of lending was meant to essentially put these countries into hock?

JOHN PERKINS: There's no question in my mind that this was what I was intended to do was to go out and create these projects that would bring billions of dollars back to US corporations and create projects that would put these countries into such deep debt, that in essence, they became part of our empire. They became our slaves in a way.


The reason I wrote the book, David, is because finally after 9/11 I realized that the American people must know what's going on. Because most Americans don't know. And the that 9/11 was just symbolic of a tremendous amount of anger around the world. And we in the United States don't are not aware of that. September 11th made us somewhat aware of it although I think we've really covered that aspect of it over. We say this is a rogue terrorist.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Or that it's based in sort of religious passion. Or that it's something about Saudi Arabia in particular. This isn't really about the United States and its international relations. That's the argument.

JOHN PERKINS: That's the argument. But in fact, if you go to Catholic countries in South America, you'll see that Osama bin Laden is a is a hero amongst a lot of people. He's on billboards. He's on T-shirts. It's very unfortunate that this mass murderer has become the symbol of a David who is standing up to a Goliath. The way they see it. He's like a Robin Hood to many people.


DAVID BRANCACCIO: You know, I saw a World Bank official quoted in regard to your book, hadn't read the book. Saw some account. But thought that your view of all this was really out of date. And regardless of whether or not your vision of this is really what happened, World Bank has moved on.

Even now they've shifted. I saw a statistic in 1980 something like three or five percent of their lending went into things like health and pensions and education. Now it's up to 22 percent. They're not giving so much money to big dam projects that runs up the debt.

JOHN PERKINS: If you really look behind those numbers of schools and hospitals and those kinds of things, you'll see that yes, we've spent more money on constructing those types of facilities — building the schools and the hospitals. The big construction companies have gotten rich building them.

But look behind the numbers and see how much money we've put into training health specialists. Doctors and nurses and technicians or how much money we've put into teaching into training teachers. To fill the schools. It's not enough to build schools and hospitals. You've also got to create the whole system that allows for better education and better health care. It's- I'm very sad to say it's a system that has really pulled the wool over people's eyes. We paint a very good picture, but when you go deep in, you find a very different story.

Clearly, even that 22% is too much for the Empire builders. We must get them heavily in our debt so that we can own them.

Wolfowitz is a true believer that the way conditions in the world will improve is through American power. Others are simply greedy. But it doesn't matter. The result is the same.

Whatever small amount of progress has occurred since Perkins was working in the field is now going to be turned back in order that American has the strength to strong arm countries into giving us their oil and allowing military bases and any number of other things we wish to take. (And, of course, we need the money for Halliburton and Bechtel and the others.)

I read somewhere recently, maybe even in my comment section, that the neocons are achieving their goals one by one while our howls of protest just fly out into the void. I once compared them to sharks, lethal predators who never stop swimming --- they just circle menacingly and systematically bite off one item of their agenda after the other.

Wolfowitz in charge of the World Bank is simply another phase of the plan. Their project is going swimmingly. As they were convinced that Iraq would be a cakewalk, they are convinced that all this hatred we are creating is irrelevant, that our awesome power can overcome anything.


Hitler Finds An Audience In Turkey

Why this nation — which welcomed millions of Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and was the first Muslim country to recognize the state of Israel — now appears so fascinated with Hitler is a question that sparks heated debate. Booksellers said buyers tended to be men between the ages of 18 and 30.

Like several other vendors here, Oznur insisted that the newfound popularity of "Mein Kampf" was a factor mostly of price. Sales soared after several new translations were published at the beginning of the year and priced at about $3.50 a copy. Most books of a similar length cost nearly double that.

Some analysts say the appeal of "Mein Kampf" probably has to do with the rising anti-Americanism here, a result of the U.S.-led invasion of neighboring Iraq. Among the work's chief rivals on the bestseller lists is "Metal Storm," a gory thriller that depicts a U.S. invasion of Turkey. The hero, a Turkish spy whose training includes shooting his puppy, avenges his homeland by leveling Washington with a nuclear device.

In a country where conspiracy theories are commonly used to explain international politics, "it is accepted wisdom in some circles that Israel dictates U.S. policy," said Dogu Ergil, a Middle East expert at Ankara University. Thus, his theory goes, anti-Americanism morphs into a hybrid strain of anti-Semitism that in turn arouses curiosity about Hitler.

Nothing to see here folks. Proceed with the empire building.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Big Time

Another exciting panel discussion on blogging and the new media! It's going to be thrilling.

Here's the roster:

E.J. Dionne, Jr.
Senior Fellow, Brookings; Columnist, Washington Post Writers Group

Jodie T. Allen
Senior Editor, Pew Research Center

Ana Marie Cox

Ellen Ratner
White House Correspondent, Talk Radio News Service

Jack Shafer
Editor-at-Large, Slate

Andrew Sullivan
AndrewSullivan.com; Senior Editor The New Republic, Columnist, Time Magazine Live Bloggers

The following individuals will be watching the event, either in person or via the webcast, and providing online commentary in real-time on their respective blogs. Their commentary will also be shown on a projector screen at the event and on the webcast.

Daniel Drezner

Ed Morrissey

Josh Trevino

I'm awfully glad that Wonkette will be there to represent the liberal blogosphere by saying fuck a lot. It is, after all, the very essence of what we all do.

Spanking Uncle Alan

In 1983, Greenspan, a Republican, chaired a bipartisan commission that recommended a package of tax increases and benefit reductions to shore up Social Security's finances. Congress followed the panel's recommendations.

Today, he said, the debate is far more partisan. Earlier this month Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Greenspan a "political hack." Tuesday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., pounced on him harshly as well. She said his support of tax cuts in 2001 "helped blow the lid off" a government budget surplus and led to last year's record $412 billion deficit.

Greenspan countered that he warned in 2001 that tax reductions could lead to deficits and that a trigger was needed to force automatic spending cuts if deficits appeared. Congress didn't do that.

"It turns out we were all wrong," Greenspan said.

Clinton interrupted him.

"Just for the record," she said, "we were not all wrong, but many people were wrong."

Damned straight. Greenspan got up before the country and said that it was dangerous to run a surplus and we simply had to cut taxes. Now he is feverish on the subject of getting the savings rate up. Perhaps I'm wrong here, but from an economic standpoint I thought it didn't matter a whole lot if the government saves the money or the private sector saves the money, the economy benefits more or less the same.

Randians like Uncle Alan, however, don't really see these things in terms of the health of the overall economy so much as the imperatives of a moral system that must be followed regardless of the consequences. They believe capitalism is a religion in which it is always wrong for the government to tax the heroic John Galts of the world, as a matter of virtue, not economics. Therefore, their dogma requires that the idea of surplus is positively wicked if the Galt strata are being taxed even a penny.

This strange erratic behavior we see in Uncle Alan these days is to be expected of people who follow the teachings of speedy, chainsmoking Russian romance novelists. They tend to serve their goddess as needs be. One could call them hacks. I prefer cultist.


Over at The Poor Man, The Editors take issue with Max Boot's triumphalism while recognizing that history is usually written by the wankers.

Boot says:

Well, who’s the simpleton now? Those who dreamed of spreading democracy to the Arabs or those who denied that it could ever happen?

In an attempt to get another view into the record before we all break into "I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke" the Editors point this out:

Fifteen hundred Americans, who volunteered to defend their country, are dead in Iraq. This is in addition to however many American and other coalition civilians, and coalition troops, have also been killed - a thousand more, perhaps. Now add in the Iraqi civilians killed - estimated, with almost complete uncertainty, to be in the range of 100,000. And now consider the maimed. And the cost of this is in the range of $200 billion. All these numbers are increasing daily.

Terrorism in the region has unquestionably increased. This doesn’t require defining anyone attacking our troops or civilians or Iraqi allies as a “terrorist” - if killing 125+ people at prayer is not terrorism, then the word has no meaning. Iraq isn’t a democracy, nor is Iraqi democracy inevitable - it is unstable, violent, with sharp ethnic/religious divisions. Some parts are better than other parts, some parts are much, much worse. And some parts are rubble.

Saddam had no WMD, nor any WMD programs, nor any connection to international terrorism, over perhaps the last decade. On this score, as a result of the “framing of a guilty man” that our government engaged in, our credibility around the world has been devastated. In Abu Ghraib, our reputation for respecting human rights has been devastated. By virtue of the bloodshed we have unleashed in Iraq (and by virtue of the tall tales which grow up around it), our reputation for peace and forbearance has been demolished. And by virtue of the fact that we have not honestly come to grips with any of this, have taken no action to correct our mistakes, our devastated credibility has been devastated some more.

And Saddam is gone. And Hosni said there’d be elections, some day. Sweet.

But other than that, remember folks, it's been a huge success and anybody who doesn't see it that way is a nattaring nabob of negativism. It's long past time to break out the Budweiser and move on to destroying social security and shutting down the bong industry.

Do read the whole post if only for the description of the annual Indy 500 kegger at Tim Russert's place in Martha's Vinyard. Talk about sweet.

Rogue Element

Brad Plumer, subbing for Kevin over on Political Animal, links to a wikipedia definition of "rogue state" in order to clarify an earlier discussion in which commenters took exception to his use of the phrase:

Wikipedia has a good discussion: "rogue state" is used almost exclusively by the United States, and has been used to refer to other states that: don't follow international law, don't follow standards of proper governance, try to acquire weapons of mass destruction, sponsor terrorism, reject human rights, squander natural resources, or just plain don't engage in "good" diplomacy. Of course, that could refer to a very wide range of states; in practice, it mostly just refers these days to Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and maybe Libya—states the U.S. government doesn't particularly like and doesn't mind antagonizing. (No official calls China a rogue state, for instance.) Venezuela might find itself on the list soon, but right now it's only a measly "rogue element."

I can think of another country that is acting decidely roguish these days what with it's abrogation of international treaties, it's spokesmen being on the record saying that international law doesn't apply to it, that supplies money to terrorist regimes like Uzbekistan, believes in indefinate detention and torture, squanders its natural resources and talks trash to its allies and enemies alike. And it's crowing about spreading its system of government all over the world as fast as it can. One wonders how long it's going to take for other countries to have a little meeting and decide that they need to protect themselves from this powerful rogue nation?

Party Orthodoxy

Jeffrey Goldberg writes on the Democratic "toughness" problem in this week's The New Yorker, mostly by focusing on Joe Biden:

He has come to realize, he said, that many Democrats still haven’t grasped the political importance of September 11th, and again he recalled how he had urged Kerry to keep his campaign message focussed on terrorism. Kerry, Biden said, would tell voters that he would “fight terror as hard as Bush,” but then he would add, “and I’ll help you economically.” “What is Bush saying?” Biden said. “Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. I would say to John, ‘Let me put it to you this way. The Lord Almighty, or Allah, whoever, if he came to every kitchen table in America and said, “Look, I have a Faustian bargain for you, you choose. I will guarantee to you that I will end all terror threats against the United States within the year, but in return for that there will be no help for education, no help for Social Security, no help for health care.” What do you do?’

“My answer,” Biden said, “is that seventy-five per cent of the American people would buy that bargain.”

Have you ever read anything more stupid than this? Does he really believe that seventy-five percent of the country is so afraid of terrorism that they would make that bargain? Absolute rubbish.

It's not fear of terrorism, Joe. I'm sure New Yorkers and Washington DC'ers are truly afraid of terrorism for very good reason and THEY DIDN'T VOTE FOR BUSH! If Bush won because of the terrorism issue it was patriotism, not fear, that got him over the line. People responded to his simple Hollywood tough guy image because it looks heroic. Even "Ashley's Story" was a made for Oprah moment, not a call to Bush's great fatherly ability to keep us safe. He ran as Top Gun, not George Washington. There's a big difference.

For most people in this country "terrorism" is an abstract thing, not a source of everyday fear. Biden is wrong that Americans would trade education, health care or social security for an end to terror threats. They don't even feel the terror threats. What they cared about in this last election was patriotism and national pride (with a touch of old fashioned bloodlust and revenge) and that is something, particularly in this age of the televised campaign and pop politics, that can move people. But never think that people will trade their own immediate, personal well being for what up to now has been for most people a reality television show. They want it all. Bush's war has not called for sacrifice for a reason.

This article is an interesting insight into this argument within the party about both the foreign policy differences and the fiercely partisan nature of our politics today. In my mind, they may be intertwined in certain ways, but it's a mistake to think that we can solve the problem simply by speaking more hawkishly and voting with Republicans on military matters.

The fundamental misunderstanding is that we will be seen as "tough" if we just back a tough foreign policy. I don't think that our alleged lack of toughness is the result of soft policy but rather a carefully designed negative image forged from years of Republican marketing. Most importantly, it once again completely misses the most important fact about our current state of politics. Bill Richardson doesn't get it:

The Democrats need to stand with the President when he’s right,” Bill Richardson told me. “His emphasis on being more pro-democracy in the Middle East seems to have galvanized some movement. The Democrats need to establish their credentials on national security, and we get hurt by reflexive negativism.

Interestingly (and when you think about it, naturally) here's someone who does:

Hillary Clinton says that she has been “forthright in agreeing with the Administration where I thought we could agree,” but she believes that the Administration has taken advantage of Democratic support—particularly in the days after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. “Joe and I and others offered our support to the President and stood unified with him in response to these attacks,” Clinton said last week, referring to Biden. “The Administration saw our actions as a sign of weakness,” she said, adding that it “had a campaign strategy to exploit the legitimate fears of the American people.” Clinton also said that the Democrats must criticize the Bush Administration for its foreign-policy failings—of which, she said, there are many—but that they are hindered by their role as the opposition party. “It’s hard to describe a Democratic Party foreign-policy position, because we’re not in charge of making policy,” Clinton said. “We are, by the nature of the system, forced to critique and analyze and offer suggestions.”

It will not matter if we are agreeing with Bush and Cheney that we should immediately launch nuclear missiles and kill every arab in the middle east, by our very agreement the Republicans will deride us as weak. Politics are playing out on both a real and a kabuki level in which the theatre of the issue is actually more important than the reality in political terms. It's not a matter of being right or wrong on an issue, as sad as that may be. It's a matter of being willing to be aggressive against people who quite publicly hold you in contempt whether you agree with them or not.

Sam Rosenfeld on TAPPED, referring to what Josh Marshall calls the "convulsively neoliberal" pundit establishment points out:

The DC chatterers rank no value higher than “political courage,” and their special brand of policy dramaturgy demands that ennobled lawmakers demonstrate said courage by screwing over some constituency or another. Somebody has to pay. Someone must be sacrificed. Hence, when discussing Social Security reform, it is sacrosanct that benefit cuts will happen, one way or another, and that the only honorable lawmakers are those who assess the situation with cold-eyed realism and exact the necessary sacrifices in the name of reform.

This is where I think the real disconnect exists between the punditocrisy/party elites and the grassroots. The argument isn't really about policy although their are some differences. It's about what we define as political courage. Insiders still believe that the key is to distance itself from the base of the party as it did in the 90's, as Rosenfeld outlines above. Out here in the hinterlands we think that political conditions obviously require us to unify behind what feels to us like an existential battle with the Republicans.

Here's an example
of the kind of beltway discussion that seems to me to entirely miss the point:

CROWLEY: With me now to talk more about the Democrats, including their new party chairman, is Bruce Reed. He is president of the Democratic Leadership Council.

We were interested in an article that you and your fellow chairman wrote in blueprint, which said in part about Democrats, "Voters don't know what we stand for and have grave doubts about what they think we stand for." You went on to say that changing this is going to require challenging party orthodoxy.

What part of party orthodoxy has to be challenged?

BRUCE REED, PRESIDENT, DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL: Well, Candy, politics is like anything else in life. The most important thing is what you stand for. And Democrats' biggest problem is Americans don't have a clue, most Americans don't have a clue. And some Democrats don't seem to either.

So the voters have given us some extra time. We think the best use of that time is to have a good, healthy debate within the party about what our values are, what our principles are, and what big ideas we have to back them up.

CROWLEY: So what is it in the party orthodoxy that you think has to be challenged from the DLC point of view.

REED: Well, the central issue in the last election, and a big issue going forward is, what are we going to do to keep the country safe? And, you know, it's all well and good to criticize the administration's many mistakes on this issue, but going forward, we need to come up with our own plan to promote democracy around the world, and come to terms with where we will be willing to use military force if necessary.

That seems pretty benign. But, in fact, when I heard this interview on in the backround I was fuming at the tone and the substance of those comments, but even more at what he wasn't saying. "Party orthodoxy" is a code word --- and I hate using code words against our own party --- for the liberal wing. I've been hearing this trope about party orthodoxy for almost twenty years and it's as stale as "tax and spend" and "hell no, we won't go." The only people who are still listening to this shit are the "convulsively neoliberal" DC establishment.

I was once an adherent of the view that moving to be middle was the smart move. But I finally hit a wall, a wall that apparently has knocked the Democratic establishment unconscious or stupid instead of awake. The other side now holds all institutional power in Washington and its power is strengthened by what the DLC is doing, namely promoting the position that the base of the Democratic party is outside the mainstream of the country. You never hear Republicans doing that.

Mostly, I am infuriated when Democrats do not properly defend our party against the Republicans and call the republicans out whenever they get the microphone. Reed could have made his points and still taken the opportunity to take the fight to the Republicans. Here's what he did instead:

CROWLEY: You also talked about it's not enough to say what we're against, we have to say what we're for. Looking at Congress right now, one of the criticisms coming from Republicans, but coming apparently through the poll, is that, look, what do the Democrats stand for when it comes to Social Security? Are they handling the Social Security issue well at this point, the Democrats?

REED: Well, I think they're doing a very good job of pointing out the flaws in Bush's plan, and they need to do that because it is a bad plan. President Bush seems to have finally found common ground in Washington, and most Republicans are scared of what he's doing on Social Security as Democrats.

CROWLEY: But is it enough for the Democrats to say no?

REED: Once that plan crashes and burns, Democrats are going to need to step up with our own ideas. Because it's an important issue for the country over the long haul, and we're going to have to address it.

CROWLEY: One of the things that you also talked about in your article is, look, this is a false choice between sort of the DLC more moderate and the base. But I want to read you something from "The Nation," which said this about the DLC: "After dominating the party in the 1990s, the DLC is struggling to maintain its identity and influence in a party beset by losses and determined to oppose George W. Bush."

When you look at it, moderation and compromise is not what the Democrats have said from the grassroots that they're about right now. They're about confrontation. There's no way you can square that, is that, with the DLC position?

REED: Oh, I think this is a false choice. We're not about compromise. We're about putting forward good, new ideas that bring together a majority of the American people.

Look, there are some -- Bill Clinton is the only president to get re-elected. We've lost five of the last seven elections. There are some Democrats who would like to leave behind the one guy who broke that curse. We think there's an important lesson from the Clinton years, which is that if you put forward a compelling agenda, you can excite your base and you can persuade new voters to come join your cause.

Well yes, it is about compromise. If Democrats put forward good, new ideas that bring together a majority of the American people, we'd like to think that the fifty fucking percent of us out here who don't vote Republican are considered a part of that majority. When the moderates fail to get the support of Democrats either in the country or the congress, then they are not doing what they say they are doing, they are enabling the Republicans. Even worse, they are helping to promote the erroneous idea that Republicans are mainstream and we are not. Could we all agree that if a bill cannot garner the support of a majority of Democrats in the Senate and House --- it isn't a Democratic bill. Is that too much to ask?

I'm sure there are some Democrats who hate Clinton. There always were. Most Democrats, however, see Clinton as a man of his time. And if the DLC guys don't recognize that TIMES HAVE CHANGED then there is no reason to listen to them anymore. The Republicans that were the minority leaders in the house and senate when Bill Clinton got elected were Bob Michel and Bob Dole. Those guys have been turned out to pasture. The Republicans today are systematically starting wars, bankrupting the country and repealing the bill of rights. Excuse me while I get a little more alarmed about that kind of thing than whether Michael Moore and Move-on are a little but unruly. I don't think it's too much to ask that centrist and moderate Democrats look at the Republican orthodoxy at least as often as they complain in the direction of the base of the Democratic party. I certainly think that they should take their ample opportunities in the media to make that point as long as they are distancing themselves from the "party orthodoxy." Indeed, if I were asked to define what party orthodoxy is these days, I would have to say that it is the reflexive recoil against the unwashed masses out here in the grassroots who are tearing our hair out and screaming for the establishment to look at the rogue elephant that is trampling on everything we believe in.

Update: It's good to see the Senate hanging tough with Reid on the nuclear option. more of this please.

UpdateII: James Walcott: Read Now


Saturday, March 12, 2005

Under Lenin's banner for the second Five Year Plan!

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

This winter, Washington has been roiled by revelations that a handful of columnists wrote in support of administration policies without disclosing they had accepted payments from the government. But the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.

Federal agencies are forthright with broadcasters about the origin of the news segments they distribute. The reports themselves, though, are designed to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the "reporters" are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government's news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.

Some reports were produced to support the administration's most cherished policy objectives, like regime change in Iraq or Medicare reform. Others focused on less prominent matters, like the administration's efforts to offer free after-school tutoring, its campaign to curb childhood obesity, its initiatives to preserve forests and wetlands, its plans to fight computer viruses, even its attempts to fight holiday drunken driving. They often feature "interviews" with senior administration officials in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.


In interviews, though, press officers for several federal agencies said the president's prohibition did not apply to government-made television news segments, also known as video news releases. They described the segments as factual, politically neutral and useful to viewers. They insisted that there was no similarity to the case of Armstrong Williams, a conservative columnist who promoted the administration's chief education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, without disclosing $240,000 in payments from the Education Department.

What is more, these officials argued, it is the responsibility of television news directors to inform viewers that a segment about the government was in fact written by the government. "Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution," said William A. Pierce, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. "This is not our problem. We can't be held responsible for their actions."

Yet in three separate opinions in the past year, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress that studies the federal government and its expenditures, has held that government-made news segments may constitute improper "covert propaganda" even if their origin is made clear to the television stations. The point, the office said, is whether viewers know the origin. Last month, in its most recent finding, the G.A.O. said federal agencies may not produce prepackaged news reports "that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials."

It is not certain, though, whether the office's pronouncements will have much practical effect. Although a few federal agencies have stopped making television news segments, others continue. And on Friday, the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget circulated a memorandum instructing all executive branch agencies to ignore the G.A.O. findings. The memorandum said the G.A.O. failed to distinguish between covert propaganda and "purely informational" news segments made by the government. Such informational segments are legal, the memorandum said, whether or not an agency's role in producing them is disclosed to viewers.

And Comrade Gonzales serves the Party once more.

Talking Big

Daniel Munz sitting in over at Ezra Klein's place takes issue with Matt Welch's post in which he says:

There's a better and arguably more attractive ideological option than being anti–"pro–free market," and it's sitting right in front of the Democrats' noses. When the party you despise controls most of the levers of government, it's an excellent time to run against government.

Disparate threads of limited-government rhetoric have begun to pop through the seams of the New Old Left unity. In the wake of the gay marriage wipeout and unpopular federal laws concerning the environment and medical marijuana, many Blue Staters are rediscovering the joys of federalism. "Fiscal responsibility" has cemented itself as boilerplate Democratic rhetoric, and not just as an excuse to jack up tax rates: Rising Democratic star Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, has been drawing praise from Cato for slashing his state's income taxes, and pushing his fellow Democratic governors to follow his lead.

Munz disagrees entirely saying:

Unless we're willing to abandon things like Medicare, Social Security, and good public education, we'll never be able to take the argument to its logical conclusion. Opponents will say we're half-assing an ideological commitment because it polls well. And if we adopt any strategy that garners Megadittoes from the guys at Cato, they'll be right. More importantly, it's not who we are. Liberals don't dislike government. To many liberals, Reagan's declaration that "government is the problem" amounted to political hate speech. I still bristle at Clinton's "era of big government" schtick.

Just to make it confusing, I'll agree and disagree with both of them.

I think Muntz is right that any tack to the right on "big government" will just further enable the wingnuts. We've gone as fur as we can go. (Richardson, in my opinion, is further degrading the liberal philosophy with his harping on more tax cuts.) Munz offers "We are the party of Real Solutions That Help Real People," as a slogan. It's not bad but I think liberalism is a lot bigger than that and we can make a much more compelling case.

Liberal beliefs are rooted in a belief in civil liberties and the American ideals of justice, fairness and equality, which offer a bit more inspiration than just saying that government helps people. American liberalism holds that democratic government is the only institution that can guarantee those ideals. Our concept of social justice follows from that. I think it's important that we continuously marry these concepts together so the principles are entwined in people minds along with the practical result. People need to feel that their politics are tied to big ideas, even if it's really just "freedom plus groceries" as Matt Yglesias so prosaically summed it up. And, in fact, liberalism is tied to big principles that we should constantly reinforce in our rhetoric. One of the reasons our politicians sound dull as dishwater is our laundry list style of communication.

In a practical sense, however, I think that Welch is right to say that there are some attractive ideological options presenting themselves but they have nothing to do with the specific issues he discusses. They are interesting in that they come from a slightly different direction than the usual liberal agenda, but they are representative of liberal first principles and give us a fresh opportunity to talk about our beliefs in a bigger sense. (Some of you are aware that I'm intrigued by the idea of forming a privacy/civil liberties coalition within the party to work on splitting off certain western MYOB types from the southern conservative evangelical base of the GOP and I think this might be helful to that end as well.)

This Choice Point scandal, for instance, is just the tip of the iceberg regarding corporate intrusion into people's personal business without their knowledge and then selling the information to anyone who asks for it. This is a huge unregulated business that illustrates once again how dangerous the market can be to the individual when there is no government oversight. This issue represents an opportunity for us to make an affirmative case for regulation and consumer rights, pulling our belief in a personal right to privacy into the argument.

It also dovetails with the Republican assault on the Bill of Rights (the second amendment excepted, of course.) Liberals have a long and illustrious history of fighting for civil liberties. Freedom is not a word that traditionally belongs to conservatives except when it comes to property. As we see them willing to justify shredding the 4th amendment with a sweeping redefinition of executive branch power, I think we have every right to question whether their alleged commitment to liberty as expressed in the Bill of Rights, and the principles they represent, is anything more than an elaborate marketing scheme.

Whether or not there is any practical point in appealing to certain libertarian impulses in the American character is debatable but I think it is incumbent that we bring our big principles into the argument in some way. The bible isn't the only source of "values" symbols and I would argue that liberals actually have a greater claim to the shared American symbols of the founding documents.

Here's a little insight into how the GOP plans to "market" liberty from Frank Luntz:

As you are well aware, communication does not exist solely in our words, either written or spoken. Americans draw upon a shared well of symbols, images that evoke concepts fundamental to our country. As our politics are produced with these concepts in mind — freedom, liberty, opportunity — there are timeless American images that match them. Communicating policies within that context and harnessing these symbols to match their principles is perhaps the most powerful form of communication there is.

When you speak of the 2005 legislative agenda, do not be afraid to wax poetic about this link between American icons of freedom and opportunity and the very legislation that you are discussing. It will not seem trite. It will not appear sordid. Indeed, will resonate with a power that cannot match that of your words and phrases. Language is your base. Symbols knock it out of the park.

He's right. But rather than being cheap and manipulative and trying to finesse words like fairness to mean "equality of opportunity" let's just tell it like it is. I'll give it a stab.

The case for responsive government that provides services to the people and keeps the market functioning in a healthy way springs from the liberal belief in justice, equality and liberty. The bill of rights is the founding document of American liberalism.

We believe that while property rights are fundamental to American law, liberty means more than property rights only. There is a reason that Thomas Jefferson wrote "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness" instead of the more familiar (at the time) "life liberty and property" in the declaration. Even then, America was about more than this cramped view that freedom is nothing more than freedom from taxes. Freedom is also the inherant right of each individual to dominion over his or her identity, body and mind.

We believe in free speech and freedom of religion with almost no exceptions because no individual can be trusted to make such distinctions without prejudice. We believe in the right to a fair trial and we believe that those who represent the government must be held to a very high standard due to the natural temptations the government's awesome judicial and police power can present. We cannot have a free society where government does not adhere to the rule of law.

We have fought for universal suffrage, labor laws, civil rights and the right to privacy among many other things because we believe in fairness, equality and social justice. We believe those principles require a society such as ours to ensure that all people can live a decent and dignified life. We think that democratic government, being directly accountable to the people, is the best institution through which those pinciples can be successfully translated into action. We are always on the side of progress, looking forward, stepping into the future.

The founding fathers were liberals. Our tradition is as American as apple pie.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Talking Ids

The Atlantic features a fascinating article this month about talk radio in which the author goes behind the scenes of a popular radio show here in LA. He examines the entire ethos of the business while focusing on one right wing talk show host named John Zeigler.

A couple of things about the business itself stuck out at me. Evidently, they really do make the case that it isn't right wing politics that make them successful; it's the "stimulating" nature of their format:

KFI management's explanation of "stimulating" is apposite, if a bit slippery. Following is an excerpted transcript of a May 25 Q & A with Ms. Robin Bertolucci, the station's intelligent, highly successful, and sort of hypnotically intimidating Program Director. (The haphazard start is because the interviewing skills behind the Q parts are marginal; the excerpt gets more interesting as it goes along.)
Q: Is there some compact way to describe KFI's programming philosophy?
A: "What we call ourselves is 'More Stimulating Talk Radio.'"
Q: Pretty much got that part already.
A: "That is the slogan that we try to express every minute on the air. Of being stimulating. Being informative, being entertaining, being energetic, being dynamic … The way we do it is a marriage of information and stimulating entertainment."
Q: What exactly is it that makes information entertaining?
A: "It's attitudinal, it's emotional."
Q: Can you explain this attitudinal component?
A: "I think 'stimulating' really sums it up. It's what we really try to do."
Q: [strangled frustration noises]
A: "Look, our station logo is in orange and black, and white—it's a stark, aggressive look. I think that typifies it. The attitude. A little in-your-face. We're not … stodgy."

Ok, she's a bozo, but probably less of a bozo than she sounds. The article doesn't go there, but I strongly suspect that when you have an 800 pound elephant like Rush as your drive time cash cow, you'd better stimulate in a very particular way, if you know what I mean. She just can't say that. This is particularly true in a business that is monopolized by a very few companies:

Radio has become a more lucrative business than most people know. Throughout most of the past decade, the industry's revenues have increased by more than 10 percent a year. The average cash-flow margin for major radio companies is 40 percent, compared with more like 15 percent for large TV networks; and the mean price paid for a radio station has gone from eight to more than thirteen times cash flow. Some of this extreme profitability, and thus the structure of the industry, is due to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which allows radio companies to acquire up to eight stations in a given market and to control as much as 35 percent of a market's total ad revenues. The emergence of huge, dominant radio conglomerates like Clear Channel and Infinity is a direct consequence of the '96 Act (which the FCC, aided by the very conservative D.C. Court of Appeals, has lately tried to make even more permissive). And these radio conglomerates enjoy not just substantial economies of scale but almost unprecedented degrees of business integration.

Example: Clear Channel Communications Inc. now owns KFI AM-640, plus two other AM stations and five FMs in the Los Angeles market. It also owns Premiere Radio Networks. It also owns the Airwatch subscription news/traffic service. And it designs and manufactures Prophet, KFI's operating system, which is state-of-the-art and much too expensive for most independent stations. All told, Clear Channel currently owns some 1,200 radio stations nationwide.

The article goes on to discuss just how specious the ratings system really is and how much it depends on guesswork to determine who is listening and in what numbers:

An abiding question: Who exactly listens to political talk radio? Arbitron Inc. and some of its satellites can help measure how many are listening for how long and when, and they provide some rough age data and demographic specs. A lot of the rest is guesswork, and Program Directors don't like to talk about it.

These big companies control as much as 35% of a market's total ad revenue and they set the prices for these ads based mostly on "guess work." Deregulation is credited with creating these big companies and enabling the economies of scale that are bringing them such huge profits. And the political view that dominates almost all talk radio station in the nation is Republican, the party that supports deregulation. A coincidence I'm sure.

The article looks closely at this guy John Ziegler who may or may not be typical of right wing radio hosts. His self righteous sense of victimization sounds so typical, however, that I think he may be fairly indicative of what makes people like this get up in the morning. He's certainly a misfit. His main beef (although there are endless beefs) is that political correctness has cost him a decent life. He said something that people called racist and he thinks it was unfair. He said some things that people called sexist he feels put upon. The author of the piece is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt but I see the problem entirely differently.

He used the word "nigger". Speaking of "the Arab world" he says, "We're not perfect, we suck a lot of the time, but we are better as a people, as a culture, and as a society than they are, and we need to recognize that, so that we can possibly even begin to deal with the evil that we are facing." And he goes absolutely nuts when people say that he is racist for saying these things.

What wingnuts like him don't understand about this is that when they openly embrace the party of Strom Thurmond and Phyllis Schlaffley and Jesse Helms, they carry their extra baggage and they need to choose their words more carefully than others. The context in which he said those things could show that he wasn't a racist but when you are a card carrying right winger don't be surprised if people jump to conclusions.

They certainly have no trouble applying this standard to members of the party of alleged traitors like Michael Moore when they do not carefully choose their words on the subjects of terrorism and war. For some reason conservatives believe that the scourge of "political correctness" only goes one way when it is clear that they are enforcing speech codes just as rigid as anything seen on an ivy league campus. Instead, when they are called on their insensitive and racist remarks they immediately retreat into a whining mass of self pity (while they sit in the corner sputtering that liberals must disavow Ward Churchill's every utterance.) As Thomas Frank so convincingly proved in "What's The Matter With Kansas" this sense of grievance is simply what makes guys like him tick. In fact, there seems to be an abiding sense of grievance in parts of the American character that has manifested itself successfully in the right wing talk format.

I urge you to read this whole article if you can. It's a fascinating look into a world that is as unglamorous as you can get and still be called media. (Well, except for blogging.) Talk radio is more than entertainment. Way more. It's the conservative id.

High School Confidential

Hudson over at Daily Kos has posted a provocative piece about a Republican tactic he calls "fencing." He accurately describes this process of ritual humiliation that's become a standard part of the Republican playbook over the last few years, the purpose of which is to "fence off" voters from feeling comfortable identifying with the Democrats and candidates who are widely seen as socially marginalized objects of derision --- effeminate geeks. I suspect this tactic works particularly well with certain sub-sets of white males whose identity is wrapped up in machismo and high school jock style social hierarchies ---- and the women who buy into those simple heuristic methods of determining leadership capability.(Old Mudcat pretty much came right out and said it. "It's a macho thing.")

Clearly, this tactic has been used to great effect in the last two presidential elections and I think it plays particularly well into the existing stereotypes of the two parties with respect to national security. Of course, one of the reasons this works so well is that it is partially designed to appeal to the media's puerile sense of bitchy good fun, as well. It would not be nearly as effective if the MSM could resist the immature temptation to side with those they perceive as "real guys" and help them deride Democrats as weirdos and sissies.

Bob Sommerby has meticulously detailed the media's heinous treatment of Al Gore in 2000. Here's just one example:


Washington (June 14)—As Al Gore kicks off his presidential campaign on the front porch of his family’s hobby farm near Carthage, Tennessee, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson will lead credentialed reporters on a tour of the real Gore homestead—the 8th floor hotel rooms that used to be the Gore suite of the former Ritz Carlton on Washington’s Embassy Row…

Nicholson will arrive at the hotel (now known as the Westin Fairfax and previously called the Ritz Carlton) in a mule-drawn carriage at 10:30, and will then hold a news conference at the hotel’s “Terrace Room” before giving reporters a tour of the former Gore suite.

Here's how Time magazine dealt with the charming little stunt:

Meet Al-oise

Al Gore's childhood is the stuff of classics. Specifically, the children's classic Eloise, by Kay Thompson. Both Al and Eloise lived in a hotel, both were born in the late '40s, both had busy parents, both have had to wage wars on boredom. And this month, the Eloise licensing campaign heats up with dolls, furniture and collectibles.

I won't bore you with all the reasons that was such a nasty little piece of work but it doesn't take a genius to see that the mention of Gore with dolls, boredom, rich parents and a spoiled little girl was no accident. Suffice to say that the press corps snorted in derisive delight and never looked back.

However, this ritual humiliation goes all the way back to Dukakis, at least, with the tank picture. Clinton was a little more difficult to paint with this stuff because he was a known womanizer and they weren't able to turn him into a sexless geek or a cartoon pansy, even with the allegedly ballbusting wife. In the end they were reduced to calling him a pervert for liking blow jobs which didn't work all that well, for obvious reasons. Kerry, however, was the subject of constant derision along this line. As Hudson points out:

In the Bush-Kerry campaign, "fencing" mostly took the form of playground insults and other humiliations:

Kerry looks French. Kerry spends a fortune on haircuts. Kerry is vain and pompous. Kerry has funny hair. Kerry's voice is funny. Kerry reminds people of Lerch on The Munsters. Kerry wears Lycra--fluorescent-striped Lycra. Kerry rides a fancy European bike. Kerry looks fruity when he windsurfs. Kerry wears expensive suits, ties, sunglasses, shoes and belts. Kerry asks for French mustard when he orders a hot dog...

They didn't exactly make a secret of it.

Karl Rove telegraphs a punch: "the GOP convention will portray Kerry as "an object of humor and calculated derision." Meanwhile, Senator Trent Lott throws a haymaker at a 'French-speaking socialist'

The convention, of course, famously featured those cute little band-aids. Dirty trickster Morton Blackwell took the heat before the press for it, but clearly it was planned at a much higher level. Perversely, this playground bully humor actually plays better if some "grownups" wag their fingers and show their disapproval. Mudcat's macho guys just roar off in their fast cars spraying gravel in everybody's faces while their sycophants cheer wildly on the sidelines. They actually gain currency when people tut-tut their nasty little jokes.

While talk radio is a purely macho power game, I think it's interesting that in the mainstream media so many of the right wing pundits and their allegedly objective colleagues characterize a slightly different version of high school power structure --- the snotty Heathers. Tucker Carlson, Robert Novak and chief dominatrix Ann Coulter personify the nasty tone and rigid hierarchy of the "popular girls." Perhaps it is because guys like Tucker and Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg simply cannot credibly be seen as macho so this is the best they can do. (Coulter is in a class by herself.)But regardless of whether they are the macho jocks in the fast cars or the mean girl Queen Bees, they all smoothly work together to inflict the same adolescent ritual humiliation.

All of this is to say that there has long been a campaign to emasculate Democrats. (I suspect that there is a corollary in the defeminization of Democratic women as well.) This is powerful stuff and we'd best admit that it is going on so that we can formulate a response that actually works. Right now, we either try to out-manly them or we laugh it off, neither of which are working. (The worst advice that Paul Begala ever took was when Tucker Carlson told him to laugh when these kind of insults are hurled. He often sounds like a nervous hyena they come so fast and furiously and it has the effect of making him appear slightly unhinged.)

I think this tactic plays into many people's anxiety about changing social and gender roles in our fast moving society. A lot of folks out there are genuinely freaked out by the rapid pace of change and because of it are very susceptible to rigid stereotypes. They just feel more comfortable on the side of the fence where the macho high school boys and the girls who love them are. It's very hard to even get them to peek over and see what's on the other side.

And all people refuse vote for someone whom they think of as weak. It goes to the very essence of what leadership is. Half the country is obviously able to see past this little high school game and evaluate the strength of a candidates on the basis of something other than image and macho rhetoric. The other half is clearly in thrall to the manufactured Hollywood image of manly leadership.

I'm not entirely sure what to do about this, but I think dealing with it is far more important than any single stand we take on foreign policy. The people who Peter Beinart thinks to reach are not going to be impressed with historical references to faceless "fighting liberals" of the 50's. This aversion to voting for Democrats on the basis of national security is much more primal than that and it needs to be dealt with in the same way.

Any ideas?