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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hans and Franz

worries that using John Bolton's malevolent personality as a reason for scuttling the nomination is bad news for us because it gives people like Bill Kristol an excuse to make the argument that Democrats are sissies.

It seems to me that nominations are almost always scuttled on trivial charges rather than the substantive ones. Nowadays, people are creating nanny problems for troubled nominees who don't even have nannies. There seems to be a unspoken agreement that nominees will be allowed to bow out for some mistake or character quirk rather than a charge of incompetence or malfeasance. Perhaps it's a strange form of face saving for the president who nominated the person.

And anyway, this isn't really the Democrats' play. As we all know, if it were only Democrats opposing Bolton he'd be in New York destroying the UN as we speak. It's Republicans who are standing in Bolton's way and it's Republicans who Kristol is really taunting with that painfully stupid "girly-man" line.

I guess Voinovich is a girly man by Kristol's standards, but he looks like a he-man to everybody else. He's bucking a very powerful Republican machine and that takes cojones. That's what Kristol is trying to stop. Who knows what might happen if the Republican moderates really start to flex their muscles?

How Ever Will They Resolve This?

Can you believe this kabuki bullshit?

The Bush administration issued a veto threat again Tuesday against a popular highway bill, saying the president would be likely to reject any legislation that exceeds a White House-set spending ceiling or adds to the deficit.

The administration, in saying the legislation "should exhibit funding restraint," was at odds with many in Congress, including some conservatives, who say the deteriorating state of the nation's roads, bridges and public transport demands more aggressive spending.


The bill currently on the Senate floor, like the House bill passed in March, approves $284 billion over a six-year period for highway, mass transit and safety programs. The White House says anything above that number would subject the legislation to a veto.

It issued a second veto threat Tuesday on any new borrowing that "negatively impacts the deficit."


The popularity of the bill was demonstrated when the Senate voted 94-6 on Tuesday to proceed with it. All six voting no were Republicans, several because they said the bill was too expensive.

But the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, R-Okla., said, "Those of us who are conservatives really believe this is something we should be doing here."

Man, that codpiece is tight. Junior's not gonna let a renegade Republican Majority pass that deficit spending crap. He's tellin' 'em to straighten up and fly right, damn it.

Still, with a vote of 94-6, it's a little but unusual for a president to issue a veto threat since it could easily be over-ridden. How odd.

But hey, guys like Inhofe can at least say they voted for the highway bill which is almost as good as actually passing one. And heck, even if they end up passing one, The Big Kahuna shows that he's a tough guy, which is almost as good as actually being one.

Giving Voice To The Voiceless

I must admit that I too am very excited about Ariana Huffington's new blog. As Roger Ailes put it so well:

The "MSM" has for too long silenced the voices of Jann Wenner, Barry Diller, Walter Cronkite and Norman Mailer.

Tony Blankely for too long has been denied a platform to slander George Soros.

Where else could Conrad Black's dogsbody, David Frum, find a space to suck up to his beleaguered master?

Where else would Michael Medved find an wide audience for his completely sane theory that "oil companies are always anti-semitic."

Where would the malnourished John Fund find a buffet that hasn't blacklisted him?

And where but such a blog could Mort Zuckerman publish his thoroughly researched, scholarly papers on tort reform?

Finally, a forum for those who've been shut out of the dialog for far too long. This could be the blogging breath of fresh air that could finally shake up the establishment.

As the New York Times reports:

Having prominent people join the blogosphere, Ms. Huffington said in an interview, "is an affirmation of its success and will only enrich and strengthen its impact on the national conversation."

Absolutely. None of these people have nearly enough influence on the national conversation. It's long past time they spoke out.

Update: Lest anyone think I'm being a snotty nobody, let it be known that I think it's great that Democrats (which Huffington now proudly calls herself) are putting some money into countering Drudge. But I do think the idea that these people need a separate media platform to be heard is kind of hilarious. Is anyone in the least bit in the dark about what Tony Blankley thinks about everything?

I am, on the other hand, curious to see if Maggie Gyllenhall has anything interesting to say. She was one of the few celebs who had the guts to speak out against the Iraq war when she was getting an acting award (Independent Spirit) so I find her admirable. Everybody ese, except for the Dixie Chicks and Michael Moore were disgustingly chickenshit. So, I'll give her posts a read, out of appreciation for her courage if nothing else.

Reading The Tea Leaves

Citing Yglesias for the second time (how does he do it?) I have to wholeheartedly agree with him on this one. This report by the PPI on why we should take on popular culture seems to follow all the blog talk in which it's just assumed that this is an issue that will move votes. I've seen absolutely no actual data to indicate that people will vote Democratic if we join the moralizing bandwagon.

I do however, see evidence in the polls that says people don't like this incursion into people's personal lives by the Republican party --- which would suggest that adopting this "morals-lite" agenda may just backfire.

Here's some data from the Washington Post poll (pdf):

Do you think a political leader should or should not rely on his or her religious beliefs in making policy decisions?

Should Not:55%
No Opinion:2%

Would you rather see religion have GREATER influence in politics and public life than it does now, LESS influence, or about the SAME influence as it does now?

No opinion:1%

23; Do you think that people and groups that hold values similar to yours are gaiing influence in American life in general these days, or do you thinks that they are losing influence?

No opin:2%

No opin:4%

24. Which political party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you think better represents you own personal values?

No Opin:2%

No Opin:3%

25. Generally speaking, which political party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you think is more:

a. tolerant of different
kinds of people and
different points of view:

No opin:4%

b. sympathetic to religion
and religious people

No opin:7%

a. tolerant of different
kinds of people and
different points of view:

No opin:8%

b. sympathetic to religion
and religious people

No opin:11%

27. Do you think religious conservatives have too much influence, too little influence or about the right amount of influence over the Republican Party?

Too Much:40%
Too Little:17%
About the right amount:37%
No Opin:6%

Do you think liberals have too much influence, too little influence or about the right amount of influence ovewr the Democratic Party?

Too Much:35%
Too Little:21%
About the right amount:38%
No Opin:5%

Now, none if this proves anything with respect to whether the Democrats should attack popular culture as a way of connecting with voters on the allegedly all important values issues. Clearly, this doesn't address that specifically. But it does address the fact that people seem to be more concerned at this point that politicians are too influenced by religion than that they are not influenced enough. And that tells me that we would be going in exactly the wrong direction if we think to capture a majority by twisting ourselves into pretzels on morals and values. The proponents certainly haven't produced any data that would say otherwise.

It is true that the Republicans are perceived as more sympathetic to religion nowadays than they were back in 2000, but why wouldn't they be? They are drenched in religious rhetoric and seem to be wholly at the mercy of the religious right. (You'll note that at least some of their gain on the issue stems from many fewer people saying they have no opinion on the matter. It didn't used to be understood that politics and religion were so intertwined.)

And in that respect, it doesn't appear to be a net positive that they are now perceived as more sympathetic to religion, particularly considering the first question I highlighted, which is "do you think a politician should or should not rely on his or her religious beliefs in making policy decisions?" A clear majority say no. And 71% of people say that religion should have the same or less influence as it has today.(Significantly, more people think it should have less influence than think it should have more.) It does not appear to me that people are clamoring for more religious moralizing from politicians.

Indeed, the most interesting result in all of this is that more people say that Democrats represent their personal values than Republicans, and that number hasn't changed since 1999. So if more people have identified with Democrats on personal values since 1999, the genesis of the Bush Frist Travelling Salvation Show, it seems pretty clear to me that values aren't the reason we are losing. In fact, if they keep it up, it's looking as if the Republicans will be the ones to lose on that issue in 2006.

I think that the question that pollsters have to ask is if people think it is more important for the government to be tolerant of different kinds of people and different points of view or if they think it's more important for government to be sympathetic toward religion. In that choice lies the answer to how we should proceed.

Living In The Now

Matt Yglesias makes thepoint today (along with a number of other liberal publications and intellectuals) that the Democrats would be better off without the filibuster:

"...however opportunistic the judges-only anti-filibuster stance is, the reality is that the nuclear option will pave the way for Democrats to eliminate legislative filibusters as well whenever they find themselves in the majority. When that happens, the GOP will find that while their only big legislative idea -- tax cuts, tax cuts, and more tax cuts -- is already immune to the filibuster, they can no longer block Democratic ideas."

I think that this would be true only in a world where double standards and lack of accountability did not rule. One would think that in the future, you could argue quite reasonably that the Republicans insisted back in 2005 that the filibuster against judicial nominees was undemocratic and the Democrats now just want to end that undemocratic practice altogether. Surely, since the Democrats acted out of principle then, the Republicans will act out of principle now and support this change. After all, they wouldn't want to be called hypocrites for saying one thing in 2005 and another now, would they?

Needless to say, this will never happen. The modern Republicans do not worry about such things as consistency and the press shows no inclination to hold them accountable for anything they've ever done.

Crooks and Liars has the video today of the Walter Cronkite broadcast of October 2, 1968 --- the day that Abe Fortas withdrew his nomination for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Why? Because THE REPUBLICANS FILIBUSTERED IT!!!!

Here's the quote from the Republican minority leader at the time Robert Griffin:

I believe that any chief justice should have widespread support among the people and the senate of the United States. In view of the deep division and the controversy that surrounds this nomination, I think Mr Fortas' decision was very wise.

Just as the GOP argues that the fact that Orrin Hatch routinely prevented Clinton's nominees from getting an up or down vote bears no relationship to filibustering nominees for the same end, the Republicans say that the principle involved in the Fortas filibuster was entirely different. He was being nominated for Chief justice which is nothing like being nominated for federal judgeships or just plain old Supreme Court judges. The principle is entirely different! Apples and oranges, my friends.

And I have read almost nothing in the press that makes it clear that the Republicans are being hypocritical on this issue. In fact, the Sunday gasbags and the likes of Dean Broder seem to be more concerned about the "principle" that Bush should be allowed to get anything he wants while the Democrats negotiate for the right to breathe the same air as he does. And Broder, anyway, should surely remember that Fortas was filibustered. He wasn't young, even then.

And just as the Republicans would not be held responsible for their hypocrisy on this issue, neither would the Democrats be given any credit for being consistent. Nobody in the chattering classes gives a shit about any of that so it has absolutely no salience for future battles. The only thing that matters in these situations is if one of the parties reaches a point at which it will force the other to play chicken. This only happens when one party is so arrogant that they are willing to bet that they will not be retaliated against in the future. This battle is the Democrats' way of saying that they most certainly will face retaliation --- and right here and right now. Damn the future of the filibuster. At some point you just have to let bullies know that you won't be rolled.

I suspect that the American people would find it disconcerting if they knew that the GOP is shamelessly hypocritical, but there is no evidence that they will be informed of this, so it isn't going to happen. What does appear to be happening is a common sense response to majoritarian bullying --- by more than 60%, the public doesn't want the filibuster to be eliminated. I suspect this is because they figure it's always good to have some brakes on the party in power. And that would very likely be the response if Democrats tried to end it when they are in power as well.

At this point I think there is no margin in trying to strategize with the idea that we will want to do something when we get back into power. As they have often done in the past ten years, the Republicans will merely adjust the argument to suit their needs at the time and the media will not call them on it.

Besides, we need to win as many battles as we can, right now. Our biggest problem isn't that the American people don't agree with us on the issues; I think it's that they don't think we are willing to fight for them. Look at this Washington Post poll (pdf). Not only does it show that a majority of Americans agree with our position on the issues, it shows that they agreed with our position on the issues before the election. The Repubicans have convinced themselves that our losing record on elections proves that the country is strongly behind them and that they cannot lose again. And just as they did in 1992, they are going to lose their minds when this is proven wrong.

This Democracy Corps (pdf) poll says:

The most visible political battles of the last three months have taken place around the Congress – the president’s Social Security initiative, Terri Schiavo, Tom DeLay’s ethics issues and the debate around the filibuster rule for consideration of judicial nominees. Even when presented in the most neutral way, people respond to the totality and say, most often, that something is very wrong. Indeed, in the open-ended follow-up to this discussion in the survey, the mostfrequent reactions are “wrong, wrong, wrong,” “very wrong,” “wrong in every sense.” One in five offers a simple declarative negative: “bad,” “horrible,” “pathetic,” “unbelievable,” “disturbing,”or “shocking.”

Other sets of comments, each mentioned by about 6 percent, focused on the Republicans
acting irresponsibly or recklessly (“out of control”) and the Republicans being intrusive and (interfering in personal matters.]

The open-ended reactions focused on the totality, though more about Schiavo than any
other piece – which included interfering and being moralistic – and some talked about wrong priorities, wrong direction and the conservatives’ ideological agenda, but there was very little specific recall of the Social Security reforms.

When given a list of options that might describe these events, the voters gravitated to “arrogance of power” (35 percent) and priorities (26 percent), that is, Republicans devoting their time to the wrong things. Somewhat further down were people saying “out of touch” (20 percent)and “forcing views on others” (20 percent). But for independents and moderates, 45 percent say this is arrogance, the top mention by far.

The Republicans are finally showing their spots. We must allow that revelation to unfold and as we do it, we will show that we stand for something by standing together against this arrogance of power. I doubt that eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees will accrue to our advantage even when we obtain a majority; I'm certain it will not accrue to our benefit today. Acceding to the Republicans' arrogance and hubris is the surest way to reinforce the idea the Democrats are simply useless.

Updtae: This is rich. Read this post by DHinMI at The Next Hurrah about the Fortas nominations. The son of above mentioned Republican leader Robert Griffin, is one of the judges being denied an up or down vote. Sweet.

And be sure to read the tortured argument from that hack C. Boyden Gray about why this is entirely different. Not only is it absurd, it's factually incorrect.

Public Service

I am on a couple of right wing mailing lists for which I am grateful because it allows me to keep up with the real Americans and what they are thinking. Here's what they are sending around on social security.


Democrats, and Republicans too, have got us all confused about Social Security, but here is an explanation that even the mentally retarded can follow. The average American makes $16.05 per hour according The Bureau of Labor Statistics; lives to age 77 according to the Center for Disease control, officially retires at age 66 according to a law passed by Congress, and contributes 12.4% of his income to Social Security according to a legalized scam perpetrated by the Democrats.

So, $16.05 (per hour) x 40 (hours per week) x 52 (weeks per year) x 46 (years worked) gives you $153,566 that is now stolen by the Democrats, but might have been put in your mattress. To disguise this grand larceny the Democrats give back $952 (average Social Security monthly check) and say, " the math is very complicated but trust us, this is a great deal; we love you and care for you, and those Republicans are just so selfish and mean."

But, if you had been free from Democrats to put the 12.4% each pay period ($153,566 in total ) in your mattress until retirement, and then lived the average 11 years longer, you could take 22% more ($1163) per month in retirement income than the Democrats give you!

For those who are fortunate enough to fall above the retarded level of intelligence it is known that money, rather than being invested in a mattress, can be invested in a balanced Republican fund of stocks and bonds where it might return, conservatively, 5%, in which case the return would not be 22% above the Democratic grand theft return, but rather 422% above the Democratic grand theft return.

In point of fact, many Americans retire to a life at or near the poverty level because the Democrats steal their money by convincing them they are the caring Socialist Party. Sadly, those who can't understand this are not functionally above the mentally retarded level, but rather have fallen prey to the same pack animal mentality that throughout history caused them to worship and trust strange Gods and stranger men who were far more likely to use that trust to kill or abuse them rather than to care for them. It all makes you wonder if the Jeffersonian concept of freedom from Gov't is too unnatural to prevail in the end.

It's interesting that they use the term mentally retarded, isn't it? But then, it's real Americans like this who elected fellow math whiz and actuarial expert, Junior Codpiece, to the presidency.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Diluting The Argument

Via Talk Left, I find this interesting article by constitutional scholar (and self-professed moderate) Marci Hamilton. She seems to be a true centrist, seeing the limitations and extremism coming from both sides of the political divide. She's obviously very smart, which is why I cannot believe that she begins her argument with this:

In recent years, the Supreme Court has been pilloried by the far right for being "activist" - while at the same time also being castigated by the far left for being "imperialistic." When these kinds of allegations are trotted out by both ends of the political spectrum, it is very good evidence that what the Court is doing is neither activist nor imperialistic.

That's not good evidence at all. All it means is that both sides have criticized the court; it says nothing about whether those criticisms are correct. Her reasoning is that if two parties criticize something, the object of their criticism must,therefore, not be guilty of either sides' criticism. That's nonsense. It could very well be true that the court is activist or imperialist or both or neither.

The press often uses this fallacious reasoning to fail to investigate whether criticisms of them might be true. If both liberals and conservatives are angry with something they wrote, then what they wrote must be correct. It's lazy rubbish.

In fairness Hamilton goes on to make a persuasive case that the court is neither activist nor imperialist, but it is based upon her analysis of the arguments not the "evidence" that the court is criticized by both sides.

I would argue, however, that there is a difference in scale and power that she should have taken into account. The alleged attacks coming from the "extreme" left about imperialism are many magnitudes less significant than those coming from the right. By framing this argument as if both "extremes" are equal in the daily discourse she gives a false impression of the weight of the arguments and their practical implications in the coming judicial battles.

The liberal argument about "imperialism" is simply not on the table. Nobody is talking about it and there is no notion that any judicial nominee or any public criticism of the court is going to be swayed by this point of view. Hamilton makes an excellent argument against the idea that the Supreme Court is activist. But to offer this analysis as if the left's criticism of the Court has the same level of relevance at this time and place is to dilute the power of her reasoning.

These are difficult times for moderates of all stripes, I know. But the present danger is coming quite clearly from the far right. Left wing legal arguments are simply not important at the moment and trying to use their academic musings to create a sense of balance, when the real danger the court faces is from right wing extremists who have the ear of a very powerful and ambitious Republican establishment, is a mistake. This is no theoretical discussion. Moderates can make a real difference this time and they need to be careful that they don't give anyone reason to believe that this is politics as usual. This is one issue on which they need to take a clear and uncompromising stand --- if they don't, the default goes to those with the political power and the consequences of that are quite stark.

correction: spelling corrected

Master Of Disaster

Republicans who have been lobbied by Bush say he is uncommonly engaged in the issue and more passionate than they have seen him since he was pushing his signature education initiative in 2001.

"You could see him sitting on the edge of his chair," said Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.).

Bush typically focuses his pitch on detailing the long-term strain on Social Security's resources and argues that it should be addressed sooner rather than later. "If we are going to be able to address and fix this problem, people need to be educated about the scope of the problem," one Republican quoted him saying.

Whereas some analysts and associates have portrayed Bush as a brusque manager impatient with policy details, lawmakers see a different picture when he discusses Social Security. He has become a master of actuarial arcana, such as the concept of a "bend point" — a feature of the complex formula for calculating benefits.

Yes. His mastery of actuarial arcana is very impressive:

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

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

One can certainly understand why people would feel comfortable trusting their financial security in retirement to this man. I'm quite sure it's why he's been so successful with the issue so far.

Confirmation Conundrum

I haven't written much about the Bolton nomination because I pretty much said everything I thought about him in the first year of this blog, when I railed considerably about the bizarre notion that an insane, Jesse Helms protege should be in charge of arms control. Garance writes about this over on TAPPED today confriming one of the things that's bothered me about the Bolton fight; if he isn't confirmed for the UN, he just goes back to the State Department where he can do even worse damage in his current position. Remember, he was given the UN nomination in order to get him out of there in the first place.

I have no reason to believe that the loyal Bolton will be shamed into quitting the administration entirely. Has anyone? It just doesn't happen. No, he'll just continue running around the world having temper tantrums in front of people like Kim Jong Il and browbeating the intelligence community into giving him the names of Americans on whom they are spying.

Nobody leaves a Bush administration official in the corner...any Bush administration. Hell, they've revived Eliot Abrams and John Negroponte. Unless Bolton wants to leave, nobody will ask him to. He'll be back in charge of arms control.

Not that we shouldn't have fought to take him out. The Republicans have shown that in modern politics you fight every battle to the death and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. It's a helluva way to run a country, but there it is.

I Know You Are But What Am I

Matt Yglesias wonders why the Republicans have been so blase about nominees lying outright to the Senate during their confirmation hearings when they may very well be at the mercy of Democrats in the future. Yesterday, Bill Frist righteously rebutted the argument set forth by some Republicans that the nuclear option would leave them powerless when Democrats came into power, by saying that if it was wrong for Democrats today it would be wrong for Republicans tomorrow. In truth it doesn't matter.

The trouble is that the IOKIYAR (it's ok if you're a republican) phenomenon is not just a little blogospheric joke. It's quite real and it's been demonstrated over and over again. There is absolutely no reason for the Republicans to fear that they will be held to the same standard as they hold Democrats, ever. These lies by Bush appointees are not going to be investigated and they will always remain in the realm of he said/she said, old news, whyareyoubringingthisupnow. Fuggedaboudit.

For instance, Matt brings up the fact that the Bush administration has hired convicted congressional liars from the iran Contra era. But, one must also remember that those same convicted liars were all pardoned by George Bush Sr at a time when he was personally under investigation by a special prosecutor, thus effectively ending the probe. Immediately after Senior left office, however, there began a relentless series of demands by Republicans for special prosecutors investigating a list of shockingly trivial charges that eventually led to the impeachment of the president. The Republicans didn't worry that someone would make comparisons that would embarrass them. They are unembarrassable because they have found that they can ignore the prinicples of relevant difference, the universality principle, the golden rule or whatever you want to call it, and there will be no repercussions.

It may be that this is caused by a media that refuses to take a stance on even factual matters, which leaves people with the impression that there are no standards except those which are imposed by the loudest, the most powerful, the most entertaining or whatever. It's a big problem for us in the reality based community, however, because we remain stuck in this rational mode of argumentation while they careen off into a relativist fallacy whenever they choose.

In other words, there are no rules --- only actions that will keep them in power or strip them from it. The fight each battle separately and don't worry about the one they are going to fight tomorrow. And when the worm has turned and Democrats gain power again, everything will go back to square one and all of the the crimes that we spent that last five years screaming to get covered and investigated will be turned by the Republicans into indictments of Democrats.

Yesterday, James Dobson, alleged arbiter of moral standards, came to a ringing defense of Tom DeLay. Using the approved right wing talking points, he claimed that DeLay was the subject of a witchhunt financed by liberal millionaires. This is, of course, exactly what they did to Bill Clinton for eight long years. They have no sense of embarrassment at this; no sense of irony; not even a little bit of shame for unoriginality. No, it is as if these arguments have never been uttered before and have the full force of moral righteousness even though it is, to our eyes, infuriatingly absurd. And, in truth, because we have uttered these words for so long they are out in the ether with some feeling of received wisdom to those who don't follow the details of political warfare. (They are good at taking our received wisdom and turing it to their advantage. I wish we would start doing the same.)

The Republicans are rejecting reason in science, economics, rhetoric and governance and therefore we cannot expect that rules based upon a rational assumption that they will be applied to both sides equally are even relevant. We fight each battle anew. It's never over. Nothing is settled. This is why they hate the courts. Reason and finality are their enemy. These are the "I Know You Are But What Am I" Republicans and they have taken us into a new world of post enlightenment reality. We'd better get used to it.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Who Made Mr Gannon?

Huckster Sunday is positively reeking with big huckster news. Raw Story has the results of the Gannon FOIA requests that show that he had some very unusual access to the White House. Why, he was there on days there weren't even any press briefings. And he frequently appears to have spent the night. (Well, he didn't sign out, anyway. One wonders if that's normal protocol.)

But that's not all the Gannon goodness we have today and it's not even the best. Michael Dietz of Reading A1 has a great investigative piece on Alternet about how Jimmy became Jeff.

Reading this would almost make you think that somebody helped him form a new identity.

When JD pulled up stakes at the beginning of 2002, Bulldog went with him, at least for a time. His profiles, some of which were live on the web until recently, seem to have stopped being updated after May of that year. His last client review, though, posted Nov. 12, comes weirdly late in the game. Perhaps significantly, that review describes Bulldog as "a very well-rounded man who is interested in talking about everything from the Orioles to politics." It seems almost like a coded message, a kind of sly wink. Because politics, now, was on the agenda: and Jeff Gannon, the D.C. insider of Bulldog's dreams, had that very day published his first editorial.

The Birthing of Jeff Gannon

Jan. 18, 2003, a day of nationwide Iraq war protests, was clear and cold in Washington hovering just above the freezing point. The tens, even hundreds of thousands who rallied on the Mall and marched to the Capitol needed whatever warmth they could husband. So did the relative handful of counter-protesters organized by an apparently one-off group called MOVE-OUT (Marines and OtherOther Veterans Engaging Outrageous Un-American Traitors) and by the D.C. chapter of the national Free Republic organization. For those 50 or so pro-war right-wingers, who managed to attract almost as many attending press, warmth was conveniently available in the form of a sympathizer's apartment located close to their rally point at 8th and I Streets. Joel Kernodle of MOVE-OUT made sure to mention it in his after-event thank-yous:

I would like to thank the Marines who went there with me, the folks at FreeRepublic and especially Kristinn Taylor and Raoul [Deming], U.S. Navy Capt. Frank Davis who gave us a place to call home while we were there, [and] Jeff Gannon "The Conservative Guy" who has a web site and writes and speaks to conservative issues, who let us use his place just off the march route for an on-site headquarters.

JD Guckert had left his two-bedroom duplex in Wilmington just a year earlier, and he had left "his guys," the TKEs, under a small cloud of mystery. It was a deliberate effect. "The only time [JD] had ever actually mentioned working for a living," the Mu Alpha brother who spoke to us said, "was when he moved to D.C., and even then all that he mentioned was that he needed security clearance and that he would be working as a 'contract negotiator' for a DoD subcontractor." Though likely no more real than JD's Marine play-acting, in one respect the hush-hush fantasy rings true: having arrived in D.C., James Guckert vanished. His appearance in the background of the Free Republic rally (along with his attendance at another D.C. Freeper event, a Sean Hannity book-signing) marks one of the only times in an entire year when the man who had been JD is visible in any location outside of cyberspace.

Everything solid in JD's life -- his residence, his place of work, his circle of friends -- melts into air. We can surmise the actual date of his move only from its probable trace in the internet records: on Jan. 25, 2002, the domain "theconservativeguy.com" was created. (The registration, to a "J. Daniels" of Bedrock Corp., referenced a Delaware address, a mail drop just down the road from JD's old duplex.) It would be at least another four months of silence before a web site appeared at the new domain, and the Conservative Guy announced his existence.

What was happening in those blank, incubatory months? (An almost identical period of latency, oddly, separates the registration of "jeffgannon.com" in mid-June from the first appearance of Jeff Gannon's byline on the web in November.) With its crude layout, minimal graphic design and limited, untimely content, the Conservative Guy web site itself hardly demanded so much lead time. Perhaps the work had gone into crafting the identity.

And how, exactly, did he make a living during this period? Did someone "meet" him and think that a man who not one person remembers ever making a political remark in this life could be a perfect blank slate? Did this man whose entire life has been spent as an office worker in dull and colorless businesses in rural Pennsylvania just suddenly have a Walter Mitty fantasy that happened to come true?

Who created Jeff Gannon?

Huckster Sunday

James Dobson is quoting Thomas Jefferson right now, a man who would never stop PUKING if he knew what these religions extremists were trying to do.

The delusion is so extreme that he just said that the ultra conservative Rehnquist Court is out of control --- because they aren't conservative enough.

And the Supreme Court caused the civil war.

Bill Frist said some Republicans are opposed to ending thefilibusters, because they may someday want to use the same tactics against the Democrats. He said, "that may be true. But if what Democrats are doing is wrong today, it won't be right for Republicans to do the same thing tomorrow." He could have added, "besides, right or wrong for Republicans is irrelevant because we did it yesterday and got away with it and we can get away with it tomorrow; nothing we say or do is based upon any principle whatsoever."

It is important for people to understand how the Republican Party sold its soul to these radicals and blame those who made it happen. An article from some years back in TNR called "The Right's Robespierre" which predicted a conservative crack-up back in 1997, laid it all out. The crack-up didn't happen then and it may not happen now. But if it does, there are some very particular individuals to blame --- Paul Weyrich and Morton Blackwell notably at the top of the list:

Finally, on the verge of realizing his right-wing utopia, Weyrich harvested what his friend Morton Blackwell termed "the greatest track of virgin timber on the political landscape": evangelicals. "Out there is what one might call a moral majority," he told Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Pennsylvania [sic], in 1979. "That's it," Falwell exclaimed. "That's the name of the organization." Weyrich, who had converted from Roman Catholicism to the Eastern Orthodox church after Vatican II, did more than coin the name; with a handful of activists, he engineered the alliance between the Republican Party and the growing number of evangelicals angry over abortion rights and federal intrusion in parochial schools. Less than a year later, Ronald Reagan walked into the White House.

It seems that people like me have been predicting that the Republican party would splinter because of these extremists in their midst for a long time now. The coalition has never made much sense. Weyrich and Blackwell and their proteges like Grover Norquist don't give a damn about religion, of course -- or at least any religion other than "conservatism." Evangelicals are just a special interest voting block to these people. And I suspect that being the hucksters they are, most of the preachers who are agitating for political power today don't really give a damn either. Most of them are simple hypocrites at best and violent immoral power mongers at worst.

Regardless, I think it's clear that they believe their time has come. They are flexing their muscles. Maybe Weyrich and Blackwell think it's just fine and maybe they will win in the end. But, when they invited religious zealots to sit at the table with them and run their movement they gambled that a majority of the American people would go along if it came down to it. It looks like we're about to see if it paid off.

And it's interesting to note that on Tim Russert's Sunday Mass, it wasn't even mentioned.

Update: Here's a sincere and righteous liberal vow on Justice Sunday from Shakespeare's Sister.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Shaking 'Em Up

Just in case there's any question about what the Religious Right is up to:

An audio recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times features two of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, at a private conference with supporters, laying out strategies to rein in judges, such as stripping funding from their courts in an effort to hinder their work.


"There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, according to an audiotape of a March 17 session. The tape was provided to The Times by the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

DeLay has spoken generally about one of the ideas the leaders discussed in greater detail: using legislative tactics to withhold money from courts.

"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay said at an April 13 question-and-answer session with reporters.


The March conference featuring Dobson and Perkins showed that the evangelical leaders, in addition to working to place conservative nominees on the bench, have been trying to find ways to remove certain judges.

Perkins said that he had attended a meeting with congressional leaders a week earlier where the strategy of stripping funding from certain courts was "prominently" discussed. "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and re-creating them the next day but also defunding them," Perkins said.

He said that instead of undertaking the long process of trying to impeach judges, Congress could use its appropriations authority to "just take away the bench, all of his staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."

These curbs on courts are "on the radar screen, especially of conservatives here in Congress," he said.

Dobson, who emerged last year as one of the evangelical movement's most important political leaders, named one potential target: the California-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."


"Folks, I am telling you all that it is going to be the mother of all battles," Dobson predicted at the March 17 meeting. "And it's right around the corner. I mean, Justice Rehnquist could resign at any time, and the other side is mobilized to the teeth."

The remarks by Perkins and Dobson reflect the passion felt by Christians who helped fuel Bush's reelection last year with massive turnout in battleground states, and who also spurred Republican gains in the Senate and House.

Claiming a role by the movement in the GOP gains, Dobson concluded: "We've got a right to hold them accountable for what happens here."

Both leaders chastised what Perkins termed "squishy" and "weak" Republican senators who have not wholeheartedly endorsed ending Democrats' power to filibuster judicial nominees. They said these included moderates such as Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. They also grumbled that Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and George Allen of Virginia needed prodding.

"We need to shake these guys up," Perkins said.

Said Dobson: "Sometimes it's just amazing to me that they seem to forget how they got here."

Every day that Dobson and Perkins are on television is a good day for Democrats. Keep them in the spotlight.

Via Crooks and Liars. (Go there for the latest Jeff Gannon media appearance.)


Terrence Samuel writes a very interesting article on legislative strategy in The American Prospect that I hope gets wide readership. He discusses the fact that the Democrats have found "their inner no" and are realizing that as the opposition party their primary job must be to stop the other side from doing their worst. Tom DeLay and his minions are going to continue to screech that democrats have no ideas and no beliefs and that is why they are opposing the GOP agenda. Aside from being an asinine statement, it is also overlooking one important thing and it's something that Samuel mentions in his final paragraph:

Chafee, who had once been the Dems' best hope for stopping Bolton, seemed to be back on the fence. "The dynamic has changed," Chafee said. "A lot of reservations surfaced today. It's a new day."

And maybe for the Democrats as well. "The passion on the other side on this -- I don’t think it’s political," Voinovich said. So the Democrats may be becoming not just the opposition but the principled opposition. A new day, indeed.

This is what happens when Democrats fight for something that hasn't been poll tested and focus grouped to death. They actually persuade some people by the virtue of their passion and their argument. Voinovich apparently was simply struck by the fact that his Democratic colleagues really seemed sincere about this which made him stop and think about it.

Of course Democrats have to put forth a vision and they do and they will do more of it. The lesson is that, in the immortal words of Al Gore, sometimes you have to "let it rip," even if you are going to lose. It's how people come to see what you care about --- and even if they disagree they respect the fact that you give a damn.

Which brings me to this Salon interview with the new Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, which I've been mulling over for a couple of days now. As all of my 4 readers know, I'm a proponent of an electoral strategy to capture back the mountain west. I don't say that the south is lost forever, but short of an economic disaster (which may very well happen) I just don't see Democrats winning it back for a while. So, I'm extremely interested in Democrats who win in the mountain red states and how they believe that they did it.

I've read a lot about Schweitzer and am predisposed to like him. Contrary to myth, latte swilling liberals like me don't actually look down on everybody but coastal elitists. I happen to like fiesty political personalities with regional color whether they are flinty Vermonters or silky Mississipians. I find the TV anchor style of politics boring. And I agree that part of the way to gaining ground in the heartland is to embrace a cultural style with which people who aren't like me feel at home. Fine.

Schweitzer says some very smart things:

"You know who the most successful Democrats have been through history?" he asks. "Democrats who've led with their hearts, not their heads. Harry Truman, he led with his heart. Jack Kennedy led with his heart. Bill Clinton, well, he led with his heart, but it dropped about 2 feet lower in his anatomy later on.

"We are the folks who represent the families. Talk like you care. Act like you care. When you're talking about issues that touch families, it's OK to make it look like you care. It's OK to have policies that demonstrate that you'll make their lives better -- and talk about it in a way that they understand. Too many Democrats -- the policy's just fine, but they can't talk about it in a way that anybody else understands."

I'm with him on the message being straight and true and talking in language that people can understand. But there are times he's so over the top "aw shucks" that I've got to tell you that I find it hard to believe that he's being straight himself. His "authenticity" sometimes sounds contrived --- this is a guy who spent many years all over the world as an expert on irrigation techniques. He's a trained scientist. But there are times in this interview that he seems quite shallow. I know he's a real rancher and down home guy, but c'mon, the whole point of the interview is to find out what Democrats should do to win in the heartland, and he dispenses advice about it quite freely. But then he says stuff like this:

Q: Do you have to show the voters that you're a regular guy -- the "who would you most want to have a beer with?" test -- or is it a matter of building some kind of link with voters on political or social issues?

You're asking me? Hell, I'm out here in Montana. I don't have any idea what the big shots in Washington, D.C., are doing. I don't think I've got any great solutions for the rest of the world, but I think I understand Montanans.


Q:Does that kind of personal authenticity trump everything else in the minds of voters?

There's more that the big shots from big cities will never understand. I probably shook hands with at least half of the people who voted for me, maybe two-thirds. You can do that in a place where there's only 920,000 people.

Q:But you can't do that when you're running for president. How would you translate that sort of personal appeal into a national campaign?

You're asking me about a national campaign? What the heck would I know about a national campaign?

Look, I started this out by saying that Democrats can win if they lead with their hearts. Let people feel you! Don't try to verbalize. Let them feel you first. If you're not a passionate person -- I happen to be. If I'm for something, you're gonna know it pretty quick. And if I'm agin it, you're gonna know it too. I'm straight about those things. Some people can't do that. Maybe they've had a lot of time in politics, or they're lawyers, or it's just their makeup. And they have all these highfalutin pollsters and media people, and they say, "Well, there's this demographic that kind of bleeds into this demographic, and you don't want to lose these over here because you were on this." I don't believe any of it. I think most people will support you if they know that you'll stand your ground.

I get the straight shooter business and I agree with the essence of what he's saying. I think that people will be particularly receptive to some straight talk after the Bush administration is done. But I've got to tell you, after George W. Bush I have a feeling that people aren't going to be too impressed with leadership that goes overboard to pretend that they don't understand the way the world works. I don't think that will work again.

And frankly, I just don't underestand what the hell he's saying here, other than that the voting public is stupid:

Q: Howard Dean, who earned an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association as governor, has said almost exactly what you've just said about guns. But people in Montana probably don't think of him as a friend to rural gun owners.

Most people that matter in Montana have never heard of Howard Dean or anybody else we've talked about today. People who are into politics -- they've already decided how they're going to vote not only in 2008 but in 2012. They're not persuadable. The more people follow this, the less persuadable they are. Anybody that knows the names I just talked about is either a hard "R" or a hard "D." They already know how they're going to vote for the rest of their lives.

So Joe and Mary Six-Pack, they don't have time to watch "Hardball With Chris Matthews." They haven't any idea who Pat Buchanan is, or Robert Novak. They don't watch that stuff. They don't read about it. They open the newspaper; they read a couple of headlines on the front page to see if they know anybody that got in a pickle, and then they go right to the sports page or the comics. And if they see something about politics in there -- hoo, they're not reading that.

Q:Don't you think any of it seeps through? The Republicans' involvement in the Terri Schiavo case, for example?

Sure it does. Maybe a little [on] Terri Schiavo because it was blasted on the national news. But I don't think anybody figured out what was going on there, except that it looked to them like it was a big political move by some rascals in Washington.

Do they make any distinction about which "rascals" those were?

You know, Joe and Mary Six-Pack, they don't disassociate. They're pretty much all in the same box.

Q: They may not differentiate among Democrats, either. Again, Howard Dean has a record that's not at all unlike what you're trying to pull off in Montana, but it's hard to imagine Dean as the kind of national candidate who would do well here.

The first time people heard of Howard Dean, they heard of him as some guy from Vermont -- and people vaguely know where that is, but it sounds like it's where lots of hippies live -- and that he was against the war. So even before they saw him on TV, they figured he had a ponytail and a nose ring. Turns out, if they had gone three or four pages deep, they would have found out that the guy was a well-respected, moderate Democrat. But in the course of national politics, you've got about a blink or two to make up your mind whether you like somebody.

I just don't get that. You couldn't possibly have formed an opinon of Howard Dean if you didn't follow the news at least somewhat. And what's the point of being a straight shootin' sonofagun if nobody listens to what you're saying? If Joe and Mary Six Pack know nothing about politics and haven't formed any opinion, then they are not likely to vote. Besides, there definitely are swing voters and ticket splitters in Montana, which is proven by the fact that he won the governorship while Bush won the presidency there.

I spent many years in Alaska, a quintessential western red state, where guns are worshipped and individualism is a religion. I thought that the ethos was fierce independence, not unwillingness to understand the details. And I certainly thought they didn't like anybody telling them what they think.

But, this guy knows more about it than I do, so perhaps he's right and we should rely almost entirely on style and not sweat the details.

I like him and I understand his basic message. I'm grateful that he's out there as an example. But he seems a little bit shallow in this interview so I'm not sold on the idea that he's the guy to lead us out of the wilderness.

Update: After reading the comments and having an e-mail exchange with a very smart friend, I think the problem is that guys like Schweitzer should not give interviews about strategy. His mystique is all about not caring about strategy, just telling it like it is. There's a little cognitive dissonence in someone like him trying to finesse that. He's better off talking about what he believes, not talking about how other people should talk about what he believes.

This was one of my biggest gripes about Dean. He talked about process constantly --- "I want guys in pick-up trucks to vote for us" --- when a candidate ought to just make his pitch to the guy in the truck. (Now as the Democratic chairman it's his job to talk about process, so it's perfectly approcpriate.)

Straight talking guys should never talk about politics in purely political terms. It takes away their mystery and makes 'em look like politicians. Which they are --- but it's exactly the image we are trying to dispel.


Comedia del Morte

Miguel Estrada says that Ann Coulter is "lively and funny." John Cloud wonders if she is really a "hard right ironist." She herself thinks that she's wickedly hilarious.

Well, this certainly is.

And the really, really cool thing is that this is a talking doll. Here's an example of the hilarious one-liners she gets off: (click here to hear her do a perfect impression of Amber Waves in "Boogie Nights.")

"Liberals can't just come out and say they want to take our money, kill babies and discriminate on the basis of race."

Irony has never been so subtle. Here's another of her screamingly funny bon mots (again, click the link to hear it delivered as if she's just swallowed a fistfull of Rush's Oxy)

"Liberals hate America, they hate flagwavers, they hate abortion opponents. They hate all religions except Islam post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do; they don't have the energy; if they had that much energy they'd have indoor plumbing by now."

Cloud says, "the officialdom of punditry, so full of phonies and dullards, would suffer without her humor and fire." I suppose if you are the kind of person who thinks that tying cats tails together and throwing them over a clothesline is funny, you might think this is too. There's always a market for that kind of "humor" among racists, bullies and their sycophants.

One thing I notice in all this back and forth is that Cloud and other Coulter defenders don't seem to grasp the fundamental difference between what Coulter says and what other, allegedly equally vicious, liberals like Eric Alterman say. Cloud is offended by Eric Alterman's use of the phrase "journalistic venereal disease" to describe the current state of Time magazine. (Apparently, he cannot appreciate the literary imagery of the phrase.) What he fails to understand is that Alterman is condemning a specific article, magazine, person etc, while Coulter is dehumanizing an entire group of people.

To be fair, it isn't just her, although she's probably the most egregious offender. Rush has been making this same argument for years. They are fomenting a form of tribal hatred which is not something that Eric Alterman or others are doing when they caustically criticize Time magazine.

There is an overt advocation of group hatred evolving here that should be offensive to everyone. Politics is a rough game and nobody says that we all have to speak as if we are at a tea party for Queen Elizabeth. But you have to look at the substance of what people like Coulter and Limbaugh are saying. They are making millions of dollars selling the message that liberals are enemies of America. Not just wrong. Not just stupid. Not just ugly. Dangerous traitors in a time of enormous challenge and global military action. People are reading and listening to this stuff and if they don't know better they might just think she isn't joking. Which I would argue, she isn't.

I don't suggest that she shouldn't be allowed to say what she wants (although Red State quotes her at the CPAC conference saying "this whole free speech thing is a canard.") But it isn't too much to ask that one of the mainstream national magazines of record not enable her overt hate mongering with a puff piece.

Cloud ends his letter to Alterman with the convenient chestnut that since both sides are screaming at him he must be fair. Coulter's defenders are mad at him because the cover doesn't flatter their gal enough. Liberals, on the other hand, are angry that Time magazine has seen fit to give mainstream credibility to someone who wants to annihilate them. That means he's fair and balanced.

Check out Sommerby on this subject if you've forgotten to. His series is a keeper.

Oh and just for a laugh here's a classic comment to the Red State post that expresses qualms about Coulter:

I don't know what you guys are whining about. Ann Coulter doesn't go on television ranting and raving like the liberals do. Remember Lawrence O'Donnell? Paul Begala? James Carville? Try Maureen Dowd. Ann is nothing like these losers but she does have a sharp wit and biting tongue and knows how to dish it out. These conspiracy theory wingnuts deserve nothing less.

That is the problem with Republicans. They don't know how to go for the throat while the Democrats are pros at aiming for the head.

I hope Ann keeps it up and never gives an inch. She is a strength for us conservatives, not something to be ashamed of.

The Incredible Shrinking President

Ezra makes an interesting observation today:

That reminds me: Is anyone else thinking Bush term two looks a lot like Clinton term one? Tough fights on nominations, unpopular cultural battles (gays in the military then, Schiavo now), collapse of primary domestic initiatives (Health Care reform then, privatization now), ethical investigations weakening friendly congressional leaders, and so on. The resemblance is quite close.

As a matter of fact, I've been noticing the same thing. Except Bush actually is a lame duck and that means his agenda is toast.

I was struck the other day as he and his cadre of ugly Republican sycophants gathered for the signing of the MBNA Usury Bill that I didn't see much of him anymore. This after four long years of hearing his fake Texas twang day in and day out like an ear worm. Suddenly, he's not there all the time.

It's true that it is reminiscent of Clinton's first term, but Clinton was always the focus of what was going on, even when they claimed he was shrinking. The press couldn't get enough of him. Bush, on the other hand, looks lamer and lamer by the day. Now we are headed toward a new version of the government shutdown and Bush isn't even a player. The action is in the congress and it's a lot more interesting than listening to him repeat his sub-literate mantras day in and day out. The media isn't that interested in him any longer.

Clearly, we are going to have to start a new front in the GWOT. It's the only thing that will save Karl Rove's legacy.

The Even Greater Generation

Here's an interesting little factoid from Utopian Turtletop


1,347: Number of days from the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, to VJ Day (Victory in Japan) on August 15, 1945.

1,317: Number of days from the airplane-bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, to today.

If Osama makes it to May 21, he will have survived the self-declared world's only superpower in a presidentially-declared war longer than Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini combined.

The 101st fighting keyboarders will soon be able to proudly say that their epic war has gone on longer than the biggest conflagration in human history. And with similar results. Except for the winning part.

But damn, we typed and shopped bravely, didn't we?

Falling Star

Arnold is beatable. From the LA Weekly:

Arnold Schwarzenegger could well be a one-term governor. Unbelievable as that seemed at the beginning of the year, which the action superstar entered as arguably the most popular governor in California history, it may end up that way.


A telling scene came last week at a strange little event at the Capitol. Billed as a “Thank You, Arnold” rally, heavily promoted with blast e-mails, robocalls and talk radio, it was a complete bust. A mere 100 supporters turned up to see the strange duo of Hollywood libertine Tom Arnold (the comedian who was Schwarzenegger’s sidekick in True Lies) and abstemious conservative 2003 gubernatorial candidate Tom McClintock.

Read the whole article for the litany of problems the Governator is facing as his "reform" agenda is resisted by pretty much everybody.

Unsurprisingly, I think that Warren Beatty understands the problem:

“This is an Arnold picture,” says Oscar-winner Beatty. “Superman walks in the room, and shit happens. That can be pretty spectacular. As long as all the characters follow the script. But this isn’t a movie.”

This is another example of the folly of voting for superficial politics. Schwarzenneger is alleged to be a pretty smart guy. I think it was Hollywood hype. He's a hard worker who parlayed his body into a successful Hollywood career. (Many women have done the same before him, and none of them have been called geniuses for doing it.) If he really believed that he could do something like destroy California's public employee pension plan purely by dint of his celebrity --- a little fallacy that seems to common among big shot Republicans these days --- then he's stupid.

Hollywood is full of delusional people who think that they are geniuses. The worst offenders aren't even stars like Arnold who can, at least, prove that they can make a movie profitable merely by their presence in it more often than not. The movie executives, who are the only organizational role models Arnold has ever had, are the real offenders.

Nikki Finke has this fascinating little window into the Hollywood boardroom:

Hypocrisy, thy name is EW’s parent company, Time Warner. Chairman and CEO Dick Parsons gave himself a perk that’s a monument to ego: a 5,000-square-foot, 21st-floor, marble-and-rare-wood dream suite (a supposed $25 mil to build out) inside the swankiest and priciest NYC office space, the new Time Warner Center. Parsons and the other heads of the Mammoth Media conglomerates feeding America its infotainment — Disney, Sony, Viacom, General Electric and News Corp. — may gag on celebrity greed, but they never stop indulging their own corporate gluttony.

Wanna hurl? Look at the latest shareholders-be-damned headlines this week about Viacom — owner of Paramount, CBS, MTV, VH1, and Infinity radio — disclosing that it gave its top three moguls a 58 percent pay increase even though the company’s stock price fell 18 percent in 2004. A Viacom spokesman noted that the bonuses for all executives were tied to operating income, not share price.

It’s not just the arrogance of rich, old Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone claiming he cuts costs at every corner while at the same time lining his own pockets at the expense of investors that’s so nauseating. It’s also the profligacy of a public company shameless enough to reimburse Les Moonves, who lives in Los Angeles but also has a New York apartment, $105,000 for the period he stayed in New York at his apartment instead of at a hotel, or Tom Freston, who is based in New York but also has a residence in Los Angeles, $43,100 for the time he spent staying at his L.A. home instead of a hotel.

Years ago, in another life, I used to receive Christmas baskets from Sumner Redstone. Instead of muffins or popcorn, however, he sent Omaha steaks. He was a cheapskate in every other way, but he did know his perks.

Battlefield Biloxi

Mississippi is among the first states in the nation to make it lawful to allow religious documents to be posted on public property.

By signing the law today, Gov. Haley Barbour "thrills" the Christian conservative base of the Republican Party, which he'll need if he plans to seek re-election or launch a presidential campaign, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Virginia.

The law gives permission to those in authority of public buildings to post The Ten Commandments, excerpts of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and the motto, "In God We Trust."

"Fundamentalist Christians can be a majority of those who turn up in caucus primaries. This would be very useful in seeking the Republican nomination for president," Sabato said.

There is only one way to deal with this. Scientologists, fully recognized as a religion by the US government, should insist on displaying their sacred documents as well. If the government of Mississippi isn't establishing Christianity as the state religion with this act, then it will be open to displays of all religions that Americans practice, right?

I honestly think this may be a better tack to take than constantly fighting purely on the principle that no religious displays should be allowed. People evidently need to have someone draw them a picture of the problems that ensue when the government starts taking sides in religious issues. (They could read European history, but that would take time away from "Desperate Housewives".) The hard core fundamentalists would not care because they actively seek to wipe out any religious expression but their own. However, there are many people who don't see the harm in displaying The Ten Commandments in a courthouse. It is those people who need to be shown what happens when the government allows one religion to have official standing over another. Things get ugly. Apparently we need a demonstration of that before people will understand it.

We have been very fortunate in this country to have religions of all kinds flourishing without interference. The establishment clause, it should be remembered, was supported by evangelicals at the time because they were the most likely to be oppressed if freedom of religion was not made explicit in the new constitution. Without the establishment clause, and American government's overall hands-off attitude, the Mormon and Pentacostal churches would never have become world religions.

I don't know if the following is true (got it on these here internets) but I think it's a fair illustration of the lesson:


"On seeing several criminals being led to the scaffold in the 16th century, English Protestant martyr John Bradford remarked, 'There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.' His words, without his name, are still very common ones today for expressing one's blessings compared to the fate of another. Bradford was later burned at the stake as a heretic." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File, New York, 1997.

Update: Matt Yglesias has more on the difficulties awaiting the new Republican "religious" party/

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Harry Started It

David Brooks says that if it weren't for Roe vs Wade we wouldn't be having all this nastiness in our political discourse. And the fight over the judiciary -- my gawd -- nobody would even think of it:

Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Roe vs. Wade decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter -viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.

Religious conservatives became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.

I think he's right. In fact, all those right wingers who agitated for the impeachment (and worse) of Earl Warren in the 1960's were not actually upset about Brown vs board of education or Griswald vs Connecticut or any of the other decisions that we thought had set the wingnuts aflame during the era. It was because they were anticipating that the Supreme Court was going to find a right to abortion in 1973.

Here's how The Eagle Forum so cleverly covers their tracks:

The Warren Court (1953-1969) fueled the Culture War into an inferno and then placed the federal judiciary squarely in the white-hot center of the conflagration. "Impeach Earl Warren" signs exploded like rockets across the nation as Americans began to realize what was happening. But the courts and the Constitution have remained at the center of our culture conflict, and much of the Warren Court's legacy remains in tact.

Clearly, they refuse to admit that until Roe vs Wade in 1973 the right had no issues with the courts. Indeed, everyone got along just great. They bore no ill will for the court that found "separate but equal" to be unconstitutional. Oh no, it wasn't until poor Harry Blackmun found that a woman had a right to the privacy of her own body that the right decided that the "robed elitists" had usurped their democratic rights. All that impeachment talk before then was just good clean fun.

Thus, the culture war is all about abortion and not, as some have erroneously assumed, a half century of struggle over fundamental issues of social justice, tolerance, individual rights and modernity in general. This whole thing is a simple disagreement between upstanding conservatives saving cute little babies from black robed elitists and lazy liberals refusing to admit that equal rights under the law is a matter for legislative negotiation with Rick Santorum.

That Brooks, he's a keen social observer and historical analyst. He figured this out, I'm sure, over a Bud light and a plate of popcorn shrimp down at Coco's.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ball Gag

So Howard "I couldn't even beat a stiff like Bill Jones" Kaloogian has another one of his fun little smear jobs up on his "Moving America Back To The Dark Ages" site. (He is, for those who don't know, one of the guys who instigated the California Recall.)

Here's the transcript of the "ad":

Wife: Honey, were you watching C-SPAN today? Did you hear how disloyal Senator Voinovich was to Republicans and President Bush? Voinovich stood with the Democrats and refused to vote for John Bolton, the man President Bush has chosen to fight for the United States at the UN

Husband: No, I was streaming it on the Internet at the office, but from what I could tell, Senator Voinovich played hookey from the hearings?

Wife: Yeah that’s right. He’s missed most of the Bolton confirmation hearings, but then shows up at the last minute and stabs the President and Republicans right in the back.

Husband: That’s ridiculous – the United Nations needs reform, we need someone who will stand up for the United States and fight the UN’s corruption and anti-Americanism.

Wife: Shame on Senator Voinovich. After the Democrats smeared Condoleeza Rice for Secretary of State and Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, how could Voinovich side with the Democrats in smearing John Bolton?

Husband: It seems like Senator Voinovich has become a traitor to the Republican Party.

Wife: Enough’s enough. I’m logging on to Move America Forward dot com to register my protest with Senator Voinovich’s office.

Husband: What was that site? Move America Forward dot com ?

Wife: Yep, Move America Forward dot com

It must be awfully uncomfortable being told that either you become a submissive slave to the right wing or you are a traitor. Welcome to our world Senator Voinovich.

Unlawful Combatants

The word that Moussaoui may be pleading guilty today reminds me that we haven't heard anything about the alleged dirty bomber, Jose Padilla, for a while. His name will be remembered in history as the the Supreme court ruling that held that the government could keep someone imprisioned with no due process indefinitely simply by moving him or her from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As it happens, The Talking Dog did a lengthy and interesting interview with Padilla's lawyer just this week:

Talking Dog: Do you think that, by and large, the American people actually care about this case, and care about what happens in it?

Donna Newman: I'm afraid the answer is no. Most people think that at least they're taking a terrorist off the street- they're making ME safer. But they're not, of course. This makes us less secure-- not more secure. What's that famous statement...

Talking Dog: Ben Franklin's quip that "they who would trade their precious liberty for a little temporary security
deserve neither"?

Donna Newman: Exactly. What we have here is a decision not made by the people-- but by their government. In this country, the Congress makes the laws, and the President executes them. The President MUST follow the laws of Congress. Congress passed a law [18 U.S.C. § 4001(a) (2000) (the "Non-Detention Act")] expressly prohibiting the President from detaining citizens on U.S. soil without CONGRESSIONAL authorization to do so, and the President had, and has, no such authorization. The President didn't ask Congress to pass a law to give him such authorization. And even if he did, such a law would probably be unconstitutional. Not because anyone condones terrorism, or anything like that. But there are reasons we do things. In Germany-- and I hate to use that as an example, but it's true-- in Germany people turned their backs on the first few infringements and it just kept going. For another thing, we need to protect our soldiers over in Iraq and elsewhere fighting for us. That's why we're strong. It's our laws and that we follow them that make us strong. Without them, how are we different from other countries? I believe in our Constitution. YOu just can't take someone on the street, lock them up, and say that the rules don't apply to them. You just can't.

Well, apparently you can. My favorite part of this is that she had filed the original writ of habeas corpus in New York because that's where she thought her client was. She did not know for sure, of course, because she wasn't allowed to see him and the government wouldn't tell her. And then the court decided that because she had filed in the wrong jurisdiction they could not deal with the merits of the case. Needless to say this opens up a whole lotta possibilities for the government in future cases like this one.

This court has made some doozy decisions and this one will be right up there with the worst of them. Gawd help us if we have another terrorist attack.

Of course, this shouldn't be surprising considering that the government was sending around requests in Iraq for a torture "wish list."

Army intelligence officials in Iraq developed and circulated "wish lists" of harsh interrogation techniques they hoped to use on detainees in August 2003, including tactics such as low-voltage electrocution, blows with phone books and using dogs and snakes -- suggestions that some soldiers believed spawned abuse and illegal interrogations.


In both incidents, a previously disclosed Aug. 14, 2003, e-mail from the joint task force headquarters in Baghdad to top U.S. human-intelligence gatherers in Iraq is cited as a potential catalyst.

Capt. William Ponce wrote that "the gloves are coming off" because casualties were mounting and officers needed better intelligence to fight the insurgency. Ponce solicited "wish lists" from interrogators and gave them three days to respond. That message was forwarded throughout the theater, including to officials at Abu Ghraib, where notorious abuse followed.

At the 4th Infantry Division's detention facility in Tikrit, the e-mail caused top intelligence officials to develop a list including open-hand strikes, closed-fist strikes, using claustrophobic techniques and a number of "coercive" techniques such as striking with phone books, low-voltage electrocution and inducing muscle fatigue. The list was sent back to Baghdad on Aug. 17.

Interrogators used the perception of newfound latitude to interview an unidentified detainee on Sept. 23, 2003. According to the detainee's statement, he was made to lie across folding chairs while an interrogator beat the soles of his feet with a police baton. He said he was later hit in the back and the buttocks with the baton while in a painful stress position.

This is what we do when we are the ones who invade the country allegedly to liberate the people. Imagine what this nation will do if another catastrophic terrorist attack happens. The Padilla case precedent will undoubtedly be used to justify holding large numbers of people in secret detention in unknown jusrisdictions indefinitely. Since they won't have access to a lawyer or advocate of any kind, God only knows what will be done to them.

Correction: Original habeas corpus filed in NY. Corrected in the post.
Speaking of Superstition

Evidently people believe that the water stain on this overpass looks like the Virgin Mary:

Personally, I think it looks like this:

or maybe this:

That water stain brings all kinds of things to mind that are worthy of reverence.

The Pope Show

My cable has been out for several days so until this morning I hadn't had the pleasure of watching "The Pope Show" on CNN for a while. In fact, I thought that it might be on hiatus since the old pope was dead and the new one had been named. Not so. The show has been renewed. Now it's "The New Pope Show." (They were going to call it "God's Rottweiler" but it didn't focus group well among dog lovers.) Episode one was today. He led a mass and had a photo op. He also plays the piano. Wadda guy.

I am not surprised that Catholics like Andrew Sullivan are worried and depressed or that conservatives would be excited and thrilled to see a re-affirmation of their authoritarianism and bigotry. These are the good old days for reactionaries, after all. But liberals needn't fear. CNN's Jennifer Eccleston just said that this new pope is "sending a message, saying 'hey, guys, I'm not as conservative as you think!'"

Like, he is so totally not, like, super conservative, even! Kewl.

John Powers wrote a wonderful piece this week in the LA Weekly about death, declinism the conservative capture of the media. I urge you to read the whole thing, but I think this captures what so enraptures the conservatives and their media handmaidens --- simplicity and infallibility. That's what people like about this papal orgy and that's why they voted for Dubya.

As often happens these days, the pope’s death and funeral took on a ghastly reactionary tinge. The right tried to hijack everything from John Paul II’s most conservative ideas — you didn’t exactly hear Fox News analysts talking up his criticisms of capitalism or the Iraq war — to his aura of unassailable rectitude. President Bush was especially eager to wrap himself in the papal robes. Whereas Bill Clinton said that John Paul II had been right about some things and wrong about others, Dubya said he couldn’t think of a case where the pontiff had been wrong. That seems reasonable to me. After all, if one infallible leader can’t spot another, who the hell can?

I had heard that the church has trouble recruiting priests these days so it would seem that every single priest in the country has appeared on CNN these last three weeks. Every day it's someone new with more warm words for the old pope and even warmer ones for the new pope with Wolf and Darryn and the rest genuflecting and squealing like a bunch of 7th graders at an N Sync concert. One of the priests just said that Ratzinger's election was the work of the Holy Spirit (rather than the result of keen political maneuvering.) This is America, after all, where only most superstitious interpretation of anything is deemed credible. And just now Kyra Phillips showed us how to get to the new pope's fan club, which is totally awesome. Miles says that we are going to a papal photo-op in a couple of minutes and I'm so excited.

I would really like to hear anyone say with a straight face that the American news media are hostile to religion. To one who is not religious, it's become an oppressive and suffocating ubiquitous topic that feels an awful lot like proselytising. Whatever. The new supah-star, meaty-cheesy Pope Benedict is saying "hey guys, I'm not so ultra-conservative!" But he is indubitably infallible, so that's good.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Flame On High

I've been having some major Adelphia cable problems so posting is sporadic and I apologize. It's been a rough couple of days for me anyway. Seeing Ann Coulter feted on the cover of Time magazine as a mainstream political figure instead of the deranged, murderous extremist she actually is was quite a shock. And then a friend sent me the links to the Free Republic thread discussing the death of Marla Ruzicka, which made me so nauseous that I had to shut down for a while.

It has become clear to me that we are frogs being slowly boiled to death. And the media are enjoying the hot tub party so much that they are helping to turn up the heat.

Ann Coulter is not, as Howie Kurtz asserts today, the equivalent of Michael Moore. Michael Moore is is not advocating the murder of conservatives. He just isn't. For instance, he doesn't say that Eric Rudolph should be killed so that other conservatives will learn that they can be killed too. He doesn't say that he wishes that Tim McVeigh had blown up the Washington Times Bldg. He doesn't say that conservatives routinely commit the capital offense of treason. He certainly doesn't put up pictures of the fucking snoopy dance because one of his political opponents was killed. He doesn't, in other words, issue calls for violence and repression against his political enemies. That is what Ann Coulter does, in the most coarse, vulgar, reprehensible way possible.

Moore says conservatives are liars and they are corrupt and they are wrong. But he is not saying that they should die. There is a distinction. And it's a distinction that Time magazine and Howard Kurtz apparently cannot see.

I have long felt that it was important not to minimize the impact of this sick shit. For years my friends and others in the online communities would say that it was a waste of time to worry about Rush because there are real issues to worry about. Likewise Coulter. Everytime I write something about her there is always someone chastizing me for wasting their time. Yet, here she is, being given the impramatur of a mainstream publication of record in a whitwash of epic proportions. Slowly, slowly the water is heating up.

It's kind of funny that I and others spent last week arguing whether Democrats ought to be encouraging Hollywood to stop selling sex, (which even David Brooks agrees doesn't seem to correlate to any real negative change in the way kids behave.) But, here we have a real problem, a real coarsening of the discourse which has resulted in our politics becoming so polarized and rhetorically violent that it's as if we live on two different planets.

While Ann Coulter makes the cover of Time for writing that liberals have a "preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason," her followers actually side with Iraqi insurgents against an American charity worker. At freeperland and elsewhere they laughed and clapped and enjoyed the fruits of the enemy's labor. This is because if you listen to Ann and Rush and Sean and Savage and all the rest of these people you know that there is no greater enemy on the planet than the American liberal. That's what Ann Coulter and her ilk are selling and that is what Time magazine celebrated with their cover girl this week.

I'm not going to argue with my fellow Democrats any more about how Janet Jackson's nipple and Desperate Housewives' double ententres are coarsening American media culture. This is not because American media culture isn't being coarsened. But T&A is clearly not the problem. It's the sick, depraved fucks who are selling liberal death fantasies to the public and being aided by idiots in the mainstream press who are so in the (ever heating) tank that they have lost all sense of perspective.

The recently annointed GOP saint, Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was the one who coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" and I think he's been validated. When a deranged, flamthrowing fascist like Ann Coulter is called "amusing" and "entertaining", deviancy has definitely been redefined.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Swallowing Their Pride

Tom Delay's supporters are awfully upset about having things forced down their throats and would like Tom to ram something down the Democrats' throats instead:

Josh, You have to tell the whole story of anything or you are not credible. I never take anything democrats say because in the last 10 years the Minority is trying to force everything down our throats. You speak in such disrespect about Delay, the bug man, that I have suggested to many senators by email, that Delay should quit and start running or the presidency. He is just what we need. With his style we could ram down your throats.

Lotta forcing and ramming going on there. Of course,the big man himself likes to turn a colorful phrase in this regard only he prefers "stuffing" over "ramming." Here's a classic :

Americans "have been tolerant of homosexuality for years, but now it's being stuffed down their throats and they don't like it." DeLay said.

Tom DeLay's vivid rhetoric (like that of his biggest fan) apparently just burst out despite his best efforts to contain it. That'll happen.