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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saturday Night At The Movies

SIFF-ting Through Celluloid-Part 4

By Dennis Hartley

I am continuing my series on a few of the highlights from the 2007 Seattle International Film Festival, which ran nearly 400 features, documentaries and shorts this year.

This week we’re looking at a powerful new Scandinavian documentary, “The Planet”.

The “planet” in question would be the Earth. The issue would be how we are methodically destroying it. Now, I know what you’re flashing on (and it has something to do with a former VP, PowerPoint presentations and a Melissa Etheridge song, right?).

Yes, directors Johan Soderberg and Michael Stenberg do trod upon much of the same ground that was covered in “An Inconvenient Truth”, but speaking from a purely cinematic viewpoint, I would have to say they execute their message in a less prosaic, more attention-grabbing manner.(Before I get jumped in an alley, let me say that I would recommend “An Inconvenient Truth” to strangers on the street, it is an important film, and Al Gore is a sincere and passionate crusader, but there is something about the man’s languid drawl that lulls me into a drowsy state of alpha. But that’s my personal problem.)

“The Planet” appears to take some visual inspiration from Godfrey Reggio’s classic observation on the global environmental zeitgeist, “Koyaanisqatsi ” and mixes it up with sobering commentary from environmentalists, scientists and academics.

The visuals are quite stunning, yet simultaneously distressing. Zebras and gazelles graze against the backdrop of a modern urban skyline, whilst a renowned wildlife photographer reminds us in voiceover that all those documentaries depicting boundless expanses of habitat untouched by human encroachment are just so much puerile fantasy. Kind of takes all the joy out of watching “Planet Earth” on Discovery HD Theater, doesn’t it?

One of the more chilling observations comes from geography professor Jared Diamond, who makes a convincing case citing Easter Island’s man-made and irretrievable ecological devastation as a microcosm of what is now occurring to the planet as a whole.

And it gets even better (er-don’t ask me about what could be happening as early as 2010).

The interviewees are all insightful, and they certainly pull no punches (viewing this film may be traumatic for depressives and those who have empathic tendencies). In a nutshell? If we don’t change our present course, we’re fucked. And it will not be cinematic.

This island earth: An Inconvenient Truth, Koyaanisqatsi , Powaqqatsi , Naqoyqatsi, Baraka, Sans Soleil.

Unnatural resources: Silent Running, Soylent Green, Godzilla VS the Smog Monster, The Day After Tomorrow , Nausicaa Valley Of The Winds,Princess Mononoke.

Week-end Follow-up

by digby

I have a couple of fascinating articles to recommend for you today if you're looking for something to think about besides a picture of a burning car. (Don't you think it's a little irresponsible for the press to fail to report all the good news in Glasgow today?)

The first is this great article by Rick Perlstein in the Columbia Journalism Review about the phenomenon of the "average American" which the likes of David Broder and Melinda Henneberger have made into their special professional niches.

In my post about Henneberger's rather dishonest anti-choice op-ed, I discussed this notion of elite reporters making anthropological forays into the exotic heart of middle America and inevitably returning totally reassured that all those good-hearted average Joes and Janes were actually just, like, them. I noted that I preferred cold, hard polling to such self-serving delusions, but after reading Rick's piece, I'm informed that polling about the average American carries a bias as well --- as do academic studies.

Indeed, any attempt to figure out what the "average American" thinks is a fools errand. The only thing you can be sure of is that this allegedly average American thinks very much like the person who's telling you about it. And more amazingly, even if the Average American is portrayed in all his or her complicated humanity, the reader or listener will see this average American as a reflection of their own biases too --- the Average American is just like them and guess what? He's a terrific guy.

Naturally, Perlstein gives us the historical evidence, and I particularly enjoyed this bit about the "Middletown" study in the 20's:

“This was looking at yourself in the mirror,” Good Housekeeping’s reviewer enthused, and, as another review suggested, people liked what they saw: “More cities like Middletown are needed here—good, sane, substantial, hard-working communities that breed the best citizens.” The only problem: that was the opposite of what the authors intended to convey. The Lynds worried that the typical Middletowner was shallow, irrational, and greedy—and yet their book was systematically misread through a prejudice: if they’re writing about the typical American, they must mean to describe a decent American. But Middletown was larded with Veblenesque scoldings: “More and more of the activities of living are coming to be strained through the bars of the dollar sign.” Even religion “served the instrumental function of furthering social status.” What’s more, whenever the Lynds revealed the Middletowners’ core values as inadequate or untrue, there would be “a redoubling of emphasis upon the questioned ritual and a cry for more loyalty to it.”

You might say, if you were being ungenerous, that the Lynds stumbled into a mess of their own creation. They had found in Muncie what they thought was the typical U.S. city, even if, as Igo points out, it was a “demographic curiosity,” “populated largely by farm-born factory workers . . . more ‘old stock’ . . .than any other city in the Midwest of its size, apart from New Albany, Indiana.” To further their scientific quest for pristine homogeneity, the Lynds decided to include no answers from African Americans in their tabulations—though Muncie’s black population was proportionally larger than those in Detroit and Chicago. They were trying to make themselves scientists, but they ended up endorsing a mythology: that the typical American was native-born, midwestern, and white—when a truer social science would have shown that that was no longer true.

The kind of place that social critics like the Lynds, Gallup, and the others took to be “typical” resembled the towns depicted by those with no such social scientific agenda: the novelists Sinclair Lewis (Main Street; Babbit) and Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio). It was also the same kind of town with which the Good Housekeepings of the world saturated their pages—only to idealize it, rather than to criticize it.

I would just add that there was another big influence at the time, which was motion pictures. The idealized midwestern American town of countless movies, with the white picket fences and the beautiful little town square and all white population was largely an invention of a bunch of Russian Jewish immigrants who were just giving the people what they figured they wanted. And they were right.

It's important to always remember that there are no "Real" Americans. There are only Americans. And while there might be some sociological or literary value in trying to discern certain common traits among all Americans, it is highly unlikely that it will be done successfully by other Americans since they will almost always believe that their countrymen are, at heart, just like them. (I think we can all agree that David Broder is no Alexis de Toqueville.)

In my other update, some of you will remember that last week I also wrote about Ken Silverstein's undercover investigation of lobbyists. Today he has responded to the astonishing criticism he's received at the hands of the media elite for his ethics. (I know... they are just shameless.)He writes in today's LA Times:

Now, in a fabulous bit of irony, my article about the unethical behavior of lobbying firms has become, for some in the media, a story about my ethics in reporting the story. The lobbyists have attacked the story and me personally, saying that it was unethical of me to misrepresent myself when I went to speak to them.

That kind of reaction is to be expected from the lobbyists exposed in my article. But what I found more disappointing is that their concerns were then mirrored by Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, who was apparently far less concerned by the lobbyists' ability to manipulate public and political opinion than by my use of undercover journalism.

"No matter how good the story," he wrote, "lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects."

I can't say I was utterly surprised by Kurtz's criticism. Some major media organizations allow, in principle, undercover journalism — assuming the story in question is deemed vital to the public interest and could not have been obtained through more conventional means — but very few practice it anymore. And that's unfortunate, because there's a long tradition of sting operations in American journalism, dating back at least to the 1880s, when Nellie Bly pretended to be insane in order to reveal the atrocious treatment of inmates at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island in New York City.

In the late 1970s, the Chicago Sun-Times bought its own tavern and exposed, in a 25-part series, gross corruption on the part of city inspectors (such as the fire inspector who agreed to ignore exposed electrical wiring for a mere $10 payoff). During that same decade, the Chicago Tribune won several Pulitzer Prizes with undercover reporting and "60 Minutes" gained fame for its use of sting stories.

Today, however, it's almost impossible to imagine a mainstream media outlet undertaking a major undercover investigation. That's partly a result of the 1997 verdict against ABC News in the Food Lion case. The TV network accused Food Lion of selling cheese that had been gnawed on by rats as well as spoiled meat and fish that had been doused in bleach to cover up its rancid smell. But even though the grocery chain never denied the allegations in court, it successfully sued ABC for fraud — arguing that the reporters only made those discoveries after getting jobs at Food Lion by lying on their resumes. In other words, the fact that their reporting was accurate was no longer a defense.

The decline of undercover reporting — and of investigative reporting in general — also reflects, in part, the increasing conservatism and cautiousness of the media, especially the smug, high-end Washington press corps. As reporters have grown more socially prominent during the last several decades, they've become part of the very power structure that they're supposed to be tracking and scrutinizing.

Chuck Lewis, a former "60 Minutes" producer and founder of the Center for Public Integrity, once told me: "The values of the news media are the same as those of the elite, and they badly want to be viewed by the elites as acceptable."
And like the good boot sniffing courtiers to power they are, they immediately call for the smelling salts when an enterprising reporter actually gets a real story about how their little world operates. Do they have any self-awareness at all?

Silverstein's story was a real expose of one of the filthiest, unpatriotic practices in American politics. It showed a side of the lobbying industry that should make everyone in Washington who participates (and plenty do, on both sides of the aisle) hang their heads in shame. That the biggest criticism coming from the political establishment is toward the reporter goes a very long way toward explaining why 77% of the population feels this country is on the wrong track. It is. And this is why.


by digby

Watergate conspirator Egil Krogh has an essay in the NY Times today that is worth reading. He writes about his experience in Richard Nixon's white house, when "national security" became the catch-all excuse for political lawbreaking and he explains how he came to regret what he had done:

I no longer believed that national security could justify my conduct. At my sentencing, I explained that national security is “subject to a wide range of definitions, a factor that makes all the more essential a painstaking approach to the definition of national security in any given instance.”

Judge Gerhard Gesell gave me the first prison sentence of any member of the president’s staff: two to six years, of which I served four and a half months.

I finally realized that what had gone wrong in the Nixon White House was a meltdown in personal integrity. Without it, we failed to understand the constitutional limits on presidential power and comply with statutory law.

In early 2001, after President Bush was inaugurated, I sent the new White House staff a memo explaining the importance of never losing their personal integrity. In a section addressed specifically to the White House lawyers, I said that integrity required them to constantly ask, is it legal? And I recommended that they rely on well-established legal precedent and not some hazy, loose notion of what phrases like “national security” and “commander in chief” could be tortured into meaning. I wonder if they received my message.

No, they didn't receive that message. With the demands for the pardon of Scooter Libby, we can see that today's entire Washington establishment, not just the Bush administration, believes that lawbreaking and smearing of reputations in the name of national security is just the "dark art of politics." Indeed, people who practice these "dark arts" are extolled as the greatest patriots in the land by people like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Senators and national opinion leaders.

I think the reason for this is pretty simple. Modern Big Business Republicanism has thoroughly entrenched its amoral worldview into politics, which over time absorbed its belief that civic virtues are irrelevant. (The denizens of DC did, however, attempt to cover this worldly sin by adopting the GOP's cynical and manipulative stand-in for virtue --- puritanical sexual morality --- a grotesque and ill-fitting substitute for personal integrity coming from such decadent creatures.) Krogh must be pretty old by now and his sense of shame at having lost his personal integrity seems, in the words of David Addington, almost quaint. In today's world he's just a chump and a loser for ever believing he was wrong. There is no "wrong."

I remember after the 2000 election debacle, a rather exasperated acquaintance explained to me that Americans respect winners and it didn't matter how Bush took office, all that mattered was that he did. Even at my advanced age I was a bit shocked by such cynicism. But as I watched the way the media and the political establishment treated Bush, I had to admit that, at least as far as the leadership class of America was concerned, he was right. But it was even worse than what he said. There was a distinct undercurrent of special respect for the fact that Bush had not only won, but that he'd done it in such a way that everybody knew he'd manipulated the system and there was nothing they could do about it. That audaciousness made people bow down. On some level he wanted people to know he cheated and he wanted them to recognize that he got away with it. That's real power.

Of course Krogh is right about the administration. (In fairness, there are a few examples of people whose personal integrity forced them to resign, but precious few, and certainly none in the highest positions that could have made a difference at the time.) But this is a bigger problem than just this administration. It is a defining characteristic of our entire political culture. We are in an era of ruthless power politics --- institutions arrayed against institutions, levers of influence and action set against each other in a battle for supremacy. Those who have the superior ability to dominate and manipulate those institutions are able to advance their goals and agenda. The Republicans have been far better at this than Democrats.

So, it remains for liberals and progressives to figure out how to traverse this culture without losing their souls. It's clear that most of the DC establishment and the political media lost its way some time ago, allowing themselves to be led by corporate values and slick GOP public relations. It does us no good to be naive and expect everyone to "just say no" and "do the right thing." As I said, this is an era of power politics and if you don't exert power with intelligence and energy (and integrity) when you have it, average citizens who will pay the price when the Republicans return to power by any means necessary. The situation is what what it is, and if we are going to change it, it's going to take time and dedication to changing the entire political culture in fundamental ways.

The founders understood how power can corrupt, which is why they designed a clunky system of government that would impede its application. But nothing can stop it when so many people are working in tandem to do so. The answer then, is not to depend upon personal integrity but to insure that our systems are working properly and that those who corrupt it are held accountable for what they have done when they lose institutional power at the hands of the people. If there is one consistent mistake that Democrats have made over the past 40 years, it's the impulse to forgive and forget which has created a radical Republican party that believes it can get away with anything. ("Reagan proved deficits don't matter ... this is our due...") Our system has been so thoroughly corrupted by this lack of accountability that partisan impeachments, stolen elections and illegal wars are taken for granted as perfectly normal (if "dark") political arts.

So, as much as I value it as a personal virtue, personal integrity is beside the point. There have always been crooks and liars in politics. It's the failure of our institutions to properly guard their prerogatives and police the political system that is the true failure. And that is something that we can fix. The Republicans must be held to account for their reckless rule, and that means following these investigations all the way to 2020 if that's what it takes. We may not have time to impeach Bush or Cheney, but if we hold both houses of congress we have years to ensure that these crimes are not covered up and that the people of this country are reminded that corruption and cheating have negative consequences.

Maybe this guy can show everyone how its done.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Running From The Down Low

by digby

Steve Benen brings up a little blogospheric brouhaha that I guess I ought to address, since I wrote about it last night, but actually gave Obama props for doing what others are criticizing him for today.

Benen writes:

I have to admit, I'm puzzled by the reaction in some corners to what seemed like one of the more amusing and lighthearted moments of last night's debate.

NPR's Michel Martin asked the candidates, "[W]hat is the plan to stop and to protect these young people from this scourge?" When it was Joe Biden's turn, the senator suggested the key to combating AIDS is prevention: "I got tested for AIDS. I know Barack got tested for AIDS. There's no shame in being tested for AIDS. It's an important thing."

The audience laughed nervously. When Biden was done with his answers, Obama, smiling, interjected.

OBAMA: Tavis, Tavis, Tavis, I just got to make clear -- I got tested with Michelle. (Laughter, applause.)


OBAMA: In -- when we were in Kenya in Africa. So I don't want any confusion here about what's going on. (Applause continues.)

SMILEY: All right.

BIDEN: And I got tested to save my life, because I had 13 pints of blood transfusion.

OBAMA: I was tested with my wife.

SMILEY: And I'm sure Michelle appreciates you clarifying it.

OBAMA: In public. (Laughter.)

It honestly didn't occur to me that he was making a big point that he wasn't gay. I thought he was making a big point that he was faithful to his wife. I even thought it may have been a little jab at Hillary --- or at the very least was a continuation of the Obamas' little "Honeymooner's" sit-com routine. (She's always talking about him being a slob and how she has to pick up his socks etc.)

I usually have fairly good radar for such things, but the context of this remark may have blocked it. I don't think I expect a black, Democratic candidate for president to make a bigoted remark in a presidential debate so I didn't see it. Looking at it now, I can certainly understand why people would assume he was going out of his way to say he wasn't gay, however. It's a perfectly logical assumption.

I do wonder how most people took it, however. If they took it the way I did, as a sort of "henpecked husband" sit-com routine where he wanted to explain that he was faithful to his wife, then maybe that's a sign of progress. I'm pretty sure I would have assumed immediately that it was homophobic a few years ago when any mention of AIDS was almost automatically associated with homosexuality in our minds. Today, that just isn't the case, at least not in my mind.

On the other hand, I confess that I'm a little bit surprised that I wasn't more sensitive to how it would be taken by gay people or why I wasn't the least bit suspicious of what he actually meant. You just never know when you're going to find out that you've become complacent. It's always a bit of a shock.

I'd be interested in what you think about this. It's an intriguing issue.

Update: Haha. It seems that one of the other likely interpretations I missed is that he wanted to make sure nobody thought he was having an affair with Joe Biden, which is perfectly understandable from members of either sex.

Obstruct The Obstructionists

by digby

I know everyone is probably headed out for the holiday, but if you have time for one more thing, read this post by Robert Borosage of the Campaign For America's Future:

In its first 40 hours, the new majority of the House of Representatives kept their promise to voters and passed legislation—increasing the minimum wage for the first time in a decade, empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prices on drugs, cutting interest rates on student loans in half, revoking big oil subsidies and using the money to invest in renewable energy—that provided a down payment for a new direction for this country.

These bills are overwhelmingly popular, and are simply common sense reforms. Yet every one of them—and many more—got held up in the U.S. Senate.

Conservatives boast about the “success” of their strategy in discrediting the new majority. As Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., put it, “the strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it’s working for us.”

How is it working? It’s dragging the reputation of the Congress down to the level of the failed president. Conservatives lie in the road of progress and then complain that nothing is moving.

This values partisan posturing over reforms vital to the country. It must be challenged.

It’s time to take the gloves off.

The first step is to expose the obstruction to the American people. Let’s urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to force a real filibuster. Keep the bills on the floor and force vote after vote, exposing the obstructionists. We’ll organize in states across the country to insure that their constituents know exactly who is standing in the way of progress.

Campaign for America’s Future is creating a petition to Reid, urging him to expose the obstructionists. Please join the petition. Let’s insure that Americans are clear on who is pushing for change and who is standing in the way.

This is important for setting the terms of the debate as well as actually getting some of these initiatives off the ground. The congress is suffering in the polls because the Republicans are blocking any progress on issues that people care about. Now is the time to begin educating people about who is really responsible for this and it's going to take some drama. (Who knows when the next damsel in distress is going to hit the airwaves?)

I realize that the machinery is rusty and that it isn't easy with the Blue Dog/Lieberdem contingent. But the Democrats need to know that their voters have their backs on these issues. This is one way to do it.

The petition is here.

One More Thing, Dean

by digby

Atrios and Josh Marshall both have interesting comments today on the changing zeitgeist in DC regarding Dick Cheney. This column by David Broder, along with the earlier story by Sally Quinn reporting in from the wilds of the McClean Bar-B-Que circuit, does indicate that King Dick has suddenly gone out of fashion.

Broder wrote:

Cheney used his years of experience, as a former White House chief of staff, as the secretary of defense and as the House Republican whip -- and all the savvy that moved him into those positions -- to amass power and use it in the Bush administration. He was more than a match for the newcomers to the White House, and he outfoxed even the veterans of past administrations when it came to the bureaucratic wars.

He was not the ultimate decision-maker. Bush retained that authority, and he used it to decide on war in Iraq, the final numbers in the budget and who got to sit on the Supreme Court. But Cheney shaped all of those decisions with his recommendations to the president -- often in ways that were unknown to the other players and unseen by Congress and the public.

Secrecy was one of his tools and weapons, and his lawyers -- Scooter Libby first and now David Addington -- frustrated other policymakers by their willingness to shape or reshape the law to suit Cheney's arguments.

Broder seems to have at long last recognized that something is very rotten in Dick Cheney's office. Huzzah. But it is curious that he mentions Scooter Libby's name without addressing whether he still thinks it's such a great idea to shield one of these lying, power-mad zealots from the consequences of his actions. (Maybe Sally Quinn ought to crank up the phone tree and find out.)

With all the Claud Rainsing about Dick Cheney's power grab, you have to wonder when Broder will finally break to the surface of his beltway wet dream long enough to recognize that a federal prosecutor dealing with one of Dick Cheney's minions repeatedly lying to his face might have justifiably been suspicious that something more than "just politics" was going on. After all, he was seeing this operation close up, in all its glory, years ago. Cops and prosecutors tend to get curious about why people are lying and covering things up. It's just the way they think. And when people continue to do it, even when they are caught red handed and everyone knows it, prosecutors have no choice but to charge them. The stench coming from Cheney's office had to have been extremely pungent.

Broder admits that he was wrong to think that Cheney would be a good second in command and that's a big admission for him, I'm sure. But he also makes the flat claim that what Cheney has done was constitutional and legal. Again with the knee-jerk defense of the Bushies. Just because they say it doesn't make it true and there are so many secrets still unrevealed that it's impossible to properly assess that fact. It's long past time for these insiders to stop automatically giving the administration the benefit of the doubt.

And it is also long past time they offered an apology to Patrick Fitzgerald who was just doing his job, quietly and deliberately, while Cheney and Scooter's compatriots both in and out of the administration shrieked like wounded harpies at the prospect of any of the Vice President's good and honest men being held to account for anything. These courtiers were so caught up in defending one of their own that they didn't even realize that the bastard in all this was the guy who sent Scooter out to lie and cover up --- their great pal, Dick Cheney, the man who learned everything he ever needed to learn about politics by watching Dick Nixon and then doing it better. These people look more and more foolish every day.

Poor Babies

by digby

I think what I love most about Kathleen Parker is her sensitivity. She's always looking out for the down trodden and the disadvantaged. For instance today she discusses the incident in which columnist Leonard Pitts Jr has been threatened by white supremacists because he disagreed that a certain black on white crime was a "hate crime" just because it featured black criminals and white victims. She writes:

Adding still more fuel to the media bias claim is a group of white supremacists on one side and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. on the other. Mr. Pitts pointed out that the Knoxville incident wasn't considered a hate crime and refuted claims that black crime is underreported. He ended his column with four words for whites who feel oppressed: "Cry me a river."

That's pure columnist flare, but decidedly, um, gutsy considering the likely reaction from people who are not widely known for tolerance. A neo-Nazi group has posted Mr. Pitts' address and phone number and his wife's name on its Web site. Mr. Pitts has received several death threats.

In 2005, among about 7,000 hate crimes - mostly intimidation (48.9 percent) and simple assault (30.2 percent) - just six murders and three rapes were reported as fitting the hate crime definition, according to the FBI's Hate Crime Statistics report. Though we may hate "hate crimes," those numbers hardly seem sufficient to justify extra laws designating a special category for certain victims.

Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League have insisted that hate crime laws are necessary because crimes that make minority communities fearful "damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities." The Duke and Knoxville cases cast doubts on that premise. It is human nature to resent groups and individuals deemed more special than others.

Signaling through laws (or media treatment) that one group's suffering is more grievous than another's - or that one person's murder is worse than another's - is also likely to fragment communities, as well as to engender the very animosities such laws are meant to deter.

The reason we shouldn't have hate crimes laws is because when you make it a crime to target minorities because of their race, religion or status it upsets the people who commit those crimes, and that makes them commit more of them. Right now we have so few it's hardly worth mentioning, but they'll go up unless you stop making these white supremacists and homophobes feel so bad about themselves. It's a self-esteem problem not a matter of law.

"Signaling" that, as a group, blacks or jews or gays have suffered more than the white majority is just a bad idea, even though it is ... the truth. Best not stir that pot and get everyone all riled up. After all, if a few blacks or gays get dragged behind the back of trucks or beaten to pulp by men screaming "faggot", well, that's just not justification enough to make the Aryan brotherhood feel bad about themselves. In fact, it's downright "gutsy" to even bring it up.

This is yet another chapter of the endless American soap opera called "As The Racist Turns" in which a scrappy but put-upon white minority has been egregiously discriminated against for years and they are not going to take it any more. George Will wrote just the other day that the white conservative southern followers of George Wallace were an "aggrieved minority," so perhaps Parker should reconsider her stance and simply lobby to have southern, white conservatives fall under the rubric of the hate crimes laws themselves. Then maybe they wouldn't be so upset about not being as "special." There's nothing more delicate than the tender feelings of racist hate mongers. The least we can do is treat them with the sensitivity and sympathy they deserve.

H/T to BB


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Debate Thoughts

by digby

I thought this was actually a much more substantive debate than what we've seen --- none of the silliness we had with Matthews and Blitzer. Good for Tavis Smiley and Howard University for hosting a dignified event. The questions were interesting and all the candidates got a chance to answer. In the end I was reminded once again how superior our field is to that freakshow they're putting up on the Republican side.

If I had to pick a winner, I think tonight was Obama's night. He seemed loose and comfortable and in charge. He certainly had the best laugh line --- after Joe Biden inexplicably felt the need to reveal that he and Barack had both been tested for AIDS, Obama played the "husband on the hot seat" perfectly, hurriedly explaining that he'd been tested with Michelle when they were both in Kenya. Big laughs. He's good.

But all these people are so much better than the non-sequitor dribbling absurdists on the Republican side that every time I see them I feel a little bit better about the future. If any of the Dem contenders make it, we will have a president who speaks normal English, in complete sentences and responds to questions fluently and with real meaning. I can't tell you what a relief that will be after these last six years of alien gibberish and bizarre, robotic responses that everyone has been pretending are normal ways of speaking.

Luntz Bucket

by digby

So Tavis Smiley is insisting on letting Republican operative Frank Luntz run his little poll operation for the Democratic debate and he's pissed that anyone would question his judgment. The latest from Media Matters
LEHRER: You know, I've been getting emails from the liberal media watch group Media Matters, and they don't like some role that Republican pollster Frank Luntz has tonight. Is Luntz involved in some way?

SMILEY: Luntz is not involved tonight, and the person behind that Media Matters website, David Brock. I -- I always say where persons like him are concerned -- and I don't mean to cast aspersions on him, but his history is well documented of flipping back and forth between being a liberal and a conservative -- I always say, one, consider the source. That's true of anything. He's the guy behind Media Matters. So one, consider the source. Number two, his facts are wrong. Number three, PBS put out a statement two days ago, checking him on his facts, which to my knowledge, as yet he has not posted that response on his website. The bottom line is Frank Luntz, like any number of other pollsters, is people-metering 30 African-Americans who are all Democrats in a separate room adjacent to the main stage.

Tomorrow night, on my television show, I'll be joined by those 30 persons with the data that Mr. Luntz and company have collected about what they thought of the debate while it was going on. So how anyone, Republican, Democrat, black or white, could spin what 30 persons who are black and Democratic voters said, is nonsensical. So we will have, on our regular PBS program tomorrow night, a recap with the 30 persons who are, again, all African-American, all registered Democrats, and we'll do the same thing in the Republican conversation later in September. But that drama, that nonsense at Media Matters is just that. The facts are wrong, and I don't have any more time to waste responding to people who don't know what they're talking about.

Smiley thinks Luntz is a terrific guy while he insults David Brock by saying "consider the source?" Wow. That's some serious misunderstanding of the issue. Luntz is a right wing character assassin in good standing as well as a professional pariah. Smiley is oddly stubborn in his defense of the guy.

I would guess it's because Luntz appeared on Smiley's show just recently, and they got along famously. I happened to catch it and could hardly believe it. If you want to see something nonsensical:

Tavis: Dr. Frank Luntz is a respected political pollster and communications consultant who founded the Luntz Research Company back in 1992. Since then, he has consulted for numerous Fortune 500 firms, and is a frequent TV commentator for “NBC News,” among others. His new book is called “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” And I actually like this book, I like it a lot. Frank Luntz, nice to have you here.

Dr. Frank Luntz: It’s a pleasure, thanks.

Tavis: Good to see you. “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” What’s the trick?

Luntz: The trick is to imagine what your audience wants to get out of it, and then put yourself into their shoes. I always hear these stories, try to imagine your audience in their underwear when you're speaking to them, it makes you feel comfortable? Baloney. You wanna imagine what’s going on in their heads. What they expect, what they want.

When they walk out of there, what’s the message you wanna get into their minds? And that’s why I wrote the book. It was to basically say to CEOs, to senators, to even people like yourself, there is a way to communicate more effectively using the right words, the right visuals, the right tone, even the hand gestures...

Tavis: How do you know what words are right on any given occasion?

Luntz: It’s all based on research. I've now done polling and focus groups in 46 different states. I was on the road 281 days last year, I did 270,000 miles. I'm actually qualified to land planes in about five different cities, (laugh) based on how much flying that I've done. And it’s listening. And what we will do is we will test different phrases...

Tavis: The Republicans. Let’s talk politics for a second. The Republicans historically, not of late, of course, but historically, certainly in my lifetime, your lifetime, they’ve been better at this word game than Democrats have been. Gingrich was really good at it.

Luntz: He was really good at it. The problem with Newt Gingrich is that too often, he got too angry. And nobody wants to get yelled at. Republicans were effective in the 1990s and early in this decade not just because they had good language, but because they're able to communicate policies and principles that the American people supported.

And the Democrats in response were always angry. They would yell, and even their tonation was very loud. In 2005, 2006, it’s switched. And the Republicans didn’t seem to represent anything. I asked people, I’ll ask you. What did the Republican party stand for in 2006? I can't get an answer from Republican candidates. And if you don't know where you stand and you don't have a message that the public is hearing, then you're not communicating well.

Tavis: Okay, so if you were asking me that question legitimately or rhetorically, my answer would be they stood for freedom and Democracy around the world. It’s up to us to make sure that the terrorists don't win. That’s what their party stood for.

Luntz: Congratulations on being a Republican. That’s better than any of the Republicans I heard. (Laugh) Man, if you wanna come over, I’ll give you $10 right now if you'll sign up. Republicans weren’t communicating anything in 2006, and everyone out there knows it. I'm not saying anything that people haven’t heard. Look, there is more that unites us than divides us.

You and I could go through a list of issues, and while we may disagree on the solutions, we are going to agree on the problems. And in some ways, how to tackle them. The question is, which politicians are those using words that work, using communication that says, let’s not blame. Let’s solve...

Luntz: It’s interesting that – and this is something I'm also critical about the – here I am, with – and I acknowledge that I come from the Republican side. And there are plenty of people, a lot more people in the media, that come from the Democratic side and will never admit it. At least you know what my own personal biases are, although hopefully that doesn’t come out in my research.

There's a problem when you raise your own pay as a member of Congress to 150 or $160,000 and you don't vote for an increase in the minimum wage for people who are earning six or $7.00 an hour.


We need freedom, we need the free market system, which, by the way, communicates better than Capitalism. Capitalism says there are winners and losers. The free market system says that everyone at least has an opportunity to succeed. But Wal-Mart is an example of Capitalism. And to help their customers, they’ve hurt their employees. And I don't think that’s right.

Tavis: Wal-Mart, my full disclosure, is a sponsor of this program. No, no, no…

Luntz: Now you tell me.

Tavis: No, no, no, (laugh) you…

Luntz: You guys can’t see this, but there are guns that are coming out…

Tavis: No, no, no, no, no.

Luntz: …from the crew people over here.

Tavis: You gotta always stand on your truth, and speak truth to power. That’s not what this program’s all about. I only raise that because – not defending Wal-Mart, because I know what they would say. I've heard it and read it, you know as well as I do. What Wal-Mart would say is that, “We are giving people an opportunity to work. When we come into these depressed communities, there are no jobs. We help to give people an opportunity to,” you know the spiel.

Luntz: And more power to you for doing it. That’s a great thing that they do. I believe that Wal-Mart gives people the chance to buy goods and services that they need at affordable prices. But they have such a high profit, surely they could afford healthcare for their workers.

Tavis: We’ll move off the Wal-Mart thing. Let’s go from Wal-Mart to…

Luntz: I just caused you an awful lot of trouble, didn’t I?...

Tavis: Not at all, not at all. I was surging by moving in my seat 'cause I'm anxious to get to, before these two minutes run out, these names I wanna throw at you. George Bush. Apparently, he and Rove had it right for a long time. What went wrong? Was it just the language, or was it public policy?

Luntz: The American people changed. And you have to stay up with them. The addendum in “Words That Work” talks about the failures of 2005, 2006 very specifically. And what happened was, this administration’s language that it was using so effectively after 9/11 did not work in 2006. the same words that you used five years ago should not be the same language you're using today, because we’re a different country.

Tavis: Okay, but you mentioned Bill Clinton and that thumb. Bill’s irrelevant nowadays. Well, not really, never will be. But Hillary is trying to make herself relevant. What’s the skinny on her language issues?

Luntz: That she is, the conversation. Why is she not having a conversation with “The New York Times?” Why does she not engage in more Q&A with reporters, with interviewers, with audiences? The word conversation is very powerful, just as she went on the listening tour back in 2000. But she needs to be more interactive. She’s got the right language, but it doesn’t embrace enough. It’s not from the heart.


Tavis: Barack Obama.

Luntz: Best communicator out there, because he doesn’t sound like a politician. Because he doesn’t sound like he hires people like me. He’s the only one who doesn’t have to read this book. He talks in stories. He talks about hope and opportunity. It’ll be interesting to me to see how he does in the African American community, because he’s kicking butts in the liberal White community.

Tavis: He’s trailing Hillary two to one inside of Black America.

Luntz: Yes, he is, and that support is not just about her, it’s also about Bill Clinton.

Tavis: Right quick, gotta get some Republicans in. Giuliani.

Luntz: Rudy Giuliani, it’s about results and success. All you have to do with him is forget 9/11, that’s obvious. Forty-Second Street, Times Square, this is a guy who took a city that was on its knees and brought it back to its feet. You can now take your kids there. You can hang out on Times Square at 11:00 PM on a Friday night and not be afraid. New York’s a different place. Imagine if you could do that for New York, what he could do for America?

His brave criticism of his party's lousy messaging last November and Bush's failure notwithstanding, Luntz is always shilling for Republicans even when it sounds like he isn't. (Read the whole thing, I excised quite a bit.) I don't know if Tavis Smiley is a closet Republican (he certainly sounds like one at times there) or if he's just a fool for Frank, but he appeared to me not to know that he was being played by a master.

The interview is full of examples, like that beautiful Wal-Mart switcheroo, but I particularly liked his artful swipe at Obama: the guy is a great "communicator" who the effete white liberal elites all love but blacks don't care for. A bit "inauthentic," don't you think? But Rudy, now there is an awesome leader.

Luntz told Smiley to his face what he does and then he did it. Smiley didn't seem to have a clue. Neither will the PBS audience tomorrow night.

Ace Supreme

by digby

Via Adam B at Kos, I see that Scotusblog has compiled some interesting statistics about the latest Supreme Court term. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that they have a conservative majority after all, with Anthony Kennedy playing his Hamlet role mostly in service of conservative outcomes:

Nineteen of the twenty-four 5-4 cases broke down along strictly ideological lines and, as in most every recent Term, the Court’s five more conservative members won a greater share of 5-4 victories than the four more liberal justices. The Roberts-Scalia-Kennedy-Thomas-Alito combination prevailed in 13 of 24 (or 54%) 5-4 decisions, while the Stevens-Souter-Ginsburg-Breyer grouping prevailed in only six of 24 (25%) decisions.

As Adam B pointed out this has had some rather predictable results:

In one full term, this Court has severely curbed local efforts to promote racial diversity in schools, upheld a right-wing ban on a necessary medical procedure for women, curbed students' free speech rights, crippled Congress' ability to keep corporate money out of political advertising, prevented taxpayers from challenging the constitutionality of Bush's faith-based initiatives, made it almost impossible for women to prevail on claims of longterm sex discrimination . . . and they're just getting started.
I recall during the Alito fight that some people argued that there wasn't really a fifth vote to overturn Roe or any number of other settled cases because good old Kennedy was still there. Everyone was supposed to gird themselves for the day Justice Stephens shuffled off his mortal coil. I thought that was nonsense because Justice John Roberts struck me as a very, very smooth operator who would know exactly how to manipulate someone with this kind of temperament:

From the beginning, Kennedy's performance on the Court has been defined not by indecision but by self-dramatizing utopianism. He believes it is the role of the Court in general and himself in particular to align the messy reality of American life with an inspiring and highly abstracted set of ideals. He thinks that great judges, like great literary figures, have both the power and the duty to "impose order on a disordered reality," as he told the Kennedy Center audience. By forcing legislators to respect a series of moralistic abstractions about liberty, equality, and dignity, judges, he believes, can create a national consensus about American values that will usher in what he calls "the golden age of peace." This lofty vision has made Kennedy the Court's most activist justice -- that is, the justice who votes to strike down more state and federal laws combined than any of his colleagues. ...

Roberts certainly seemed like someone who would figure out how to stroke Kennedy's famous ego and I'd bet money that's exactly what he did. He'll let him vote with the other side just enough to make him believe he's still the independent swing vote and BMOC but he'll make sure Kennedy swings the way he wants when it's important. Grandiose utopians who believe their own hype are always easy to manipulate. Just ask Dick Cheney.

King Dick

by digby

Man, I just hate it when left wing radicals go all crazy on us and give liberalism a bad name, don't you?

Under Dick Cheney, the office of the vice president has been transformed from a tiny acorn into an unprecedented giant oak. In grasping and exercising presidential powers, Cheney has dulled political accountability and concocted theories for evading the law and Constitution that would have embarrassed King George III. The most recent invention we know of is the vice president's insistence that an executive order governing the handling of classified information in the executive branch does not reach his office because he also serves as president of the Senate. In other words, the vice president is a unique legislative-executive creature standing above and beyond the Constitution. The House judiciary committee should commence an impeachment inquiry. As Alexander Hamilton advised in the Federalist Papers, an impeachable offense is a political crime against the nation. Cheney's multiple crimes against the Constitution clearly qualify.

What's the deal? Are Dennis Kucinich and Cindy Sheehan writing for Slate these days? Well, not exactly. That's Bruce Fein, former Reagan Justice department official. And he helpfully made this nice list of some of Cheney's high crimes:

  • The vice president asserted presidential power to create military commissions, which combine the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes.
  • The vice president initiated kidnappings, secret detentions, and torture in Eastern European prisons of suspected international terrorists.
  • The vice president has maintained that the entire world is a battlefield. Accordingly, he contends that military power may be unleashed to kill or capture any American citizen on American soil if suspected of association or affiliation with al-Qaida.
  • Mr. Cheney has championed a presidential power to torture in contravention of federal statutes and treaties.
  • He has advocated and authored signing statements that declare the president's intent to disregard provisions of bills he has signed into law that he proclaims are unconstitutional,
  • The vice president engineered the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance program targeting American citizens on American soil in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
  • The vice president has orchestrated the invocation of executive privilege to conceal from Congress secret spying programs to gather foreign intelligence, and their legal justifications.
  • Cheney scorns freedom of speech and of the press. He urges application of the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists who expose national security abuses, for example, secret prisons in Eastern Europe or the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. He retaliated against Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, through Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, for questioning the administration's evidence of weapons of mass destruction as justification for invading Iraq.
And that's just for starters.

But I have to say that nobody should be surprised by this when you consider how this lawless cabal took power in the first place. They showed very early on that they would let nothing stand in their way and from their first moments in office they governed as if their institutional power meant they had a mandate to enact their entire agenda by any means necessary. (Bush like to call it "political capital" --- I suspect Cheney just called it raw power.)

I think the most amazing thing about all that is that 9/11 was just frosting on the cake for these guys --- they were prepared to do all this stuff anyway. Cheney said he'd taken office with the intention of "restoring" presidential power. The GWOT made it easier to do the national security stuff, but he would have done it anyway.

Girls and Boys

by digby

So Pat Buchanan had some very effective talking points yesterday when he said that poor little Ann Coulter was sandbagged by the evil Edwards machine. The AP's Nedra Pickler picked it up and writes a piece that says that the take away from this weeks Hardball episode is not what Coulter said but the Edwards' campaign fundraising.

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Wednesday encouraged his supporters to donate to his campaign in response to "hateful" comments from conservative author Ann Coulter.

Edwards made his first comments to The Associated Press in response to Coulter's suggestion that she wished he would be "killed in a terrorist assassination plot." His campaign cited her remarks in two e-mails and a telephone text message to supporters for donations, with the fundraising deadline on Saturday.

It's not the first time Coulter has given the Edwards campaign a financial boost. In March, she called Edwards a "faggot" and the campaign used video of the comment to help raise $300,000 before the end of the first quarter.

Why, you'd almost think Coulter and Edwards were on the same side from that article. This morning there has been a tons of chatter implyingt that the Edwards's seem to have been asking for it. Whatever.

Edwards actually isn't the point either, at least not all by himself. Ann Coulter is sent out in all her blond glory to carry the message that all Democrats are pussies and bitches. Sorry for the language, but that's the only way to truly convey what they are doing. They have always done this, but the newer style of the past few years has featured an attractive woman taunting a Democratic male about his manhood instead of a beefy, white male screaming "hey, faggot." I suppose we could call that progress...

She also taunts Democratic females about their alleged lack of femininity. Here's perhaps her most famous line to that effect:

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

This is along the same lines as her remarks about Hillary Clinton's "chubby legs" etc, which Chris Matthews felt the need to repeat over and over again, to gales of laughter in the crowd, while allowing Coulter to pretend she didn't know what he was talking about. You could also see this at work when, at the prompting of one of her psycho-phants, Coulter started calling out Edwards for having his wife do his fighting for him. "Feminizing" male Democrats and "masculinizing" female Democrats is pretty much all she does.

This isn't brain surgery. Faggots, smelly fat women, it's right out of the adolescent lizard brain, and sadly it works on a certain type of voter --- probably more than we would be comfortable knowing about. Coulter is an extreme version of a conservative archetype whose entire worldview is shaped by primitive notions of male dominance. It's interestingly twisted in her case, in which she both extols and embodies what are traditionally thought of as masculine virtues, yet is packaged as a modern, waiflike child-woman. It's very confusing, especially to someone with the issues Chris Matthews has (and it's why she shouldn't be on his show.)

But at the end of the day, this entire debate is really about one thing and one thing only --- making liberals look weak using ancient archetypal notions of leadership. It's the most important thing they do and every politician should remember it when dealing with her and her ilk.

I was hoping against hope that when Edwards went on the show yesterday, he would say that he doesn't care what what Coulter says about him --- it's part of the game and he doesn't expect any better coming from her --- she's shilling her books and god bless her if she has to scrape the bottom of the barrel with childish insults to do that. But while he knows that his wife is a capable adult who can stand up for herself, it still makes him see red when people like Coulter attack members of his family. If she were a man he might want to have a private meeting to "discuss" that with her a little further.

I know it's somewhat stupid, but that's the archetypal leadership response to a lizard brain gender attack like Coulter's. While I think it's great to engage in a dialog about "hate speech" and try to educate the nation about how we should all get along, while we jabber they are out there behaving like miscreant adolescents and pushing powerful primitive buttons against which rational dialog just can't compete.

I guess I just wish he'd let Elizabeth do the arguing about how Coulter's hateful comments are harmful and while he took a straightforward, tough line against assholes attacking his family. It's Marshall's "bitch-slap" effect. People tend to personalize politics and put politicians into roles to which they can relate. When candidates have the opportunity to demonstrate how they handle situations in which ordinary Americans can see themselves, they should take it. It's a way of communicating leadership in a visceral, instantly comprehensible way. I'm not saying that Edwards failed in that. He acquitted himself just fine. But I think he missed an excellent opportunity to push back hard against the GOP's most useful tactic.

Meanwhile, in the wtf department, David Gregory says that underneath Coulter's vile spew is some kind of honest critique. Apparently, it's just impossible that someone of Coulter's caliber (she's on TV! She writes books!) could possibly just be completely full of shit. I honestly don't know how these people can get themselves dressed and in to work every day if they are that muddle headed.

Also, catch Joan Walsh on Scarborough tonight as she does battle against Pat Buchanan's talking points that the Edwards campaign somehow set up poor little Ann, who never saw it coming. It should be good.

Update: Greg Sargeant has footage of Coulter on Scarborough's show earlier today. Seems she getting a bit shrill.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Kids Are Alright

by digby

I'm sure this was widely reported around the blogosphere, but I missed it:

While meeting with a group of high school seniors from the Presidential Scholars program in the East Room of the White House, President Bush received an unexpected surprise: a letter signed by 50 of them urging Bush to halt "violations of the human rights" of terror suspects held by the United States.

According to the Associated Press, "The White House says Bush did not expect the letter but took a moment to read it and talk with a young woman who'd handed it to him."

White House spokesman Dana Perino said Bush let the student know "the United States does not torture and that we value human rights," a statement seemingly contradicted by Bush's signing statement which gave him power to largely ignore a Congressional ban on torture spearheaded by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Raw Story has the video of three of these great young people here, talking on CNN. They give me hope for the future, especially in light of this:

Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage, according to a New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll. The poll also found that they are more likely to say the war in Iraq is heading to a successful conclusion.

The poll offers a snapshot of a group whose energy and idealism have always been as alluring to politicians as its scattered focus and shifting interests have been frustrating. It found that substantially more Americans ages 17 to 29 than four years ago are paying attention to the presidential race. But they appeared to be really familiar with only two of the candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Democrats.

They have continued a long-term drift away from the Republican Party. And although they are just as worried as the general population about the outlook for the country and think their generation is likely to be worse off than that of their parents, they retain a belief that their votes can make a difference, the poll found.

More than half of Americans ages 17 to 29 — 54 percent — say they intend to vote for a Democrat for president in 2008.

Welcome aboard kids. Glad to have you.

Candy Hearts Hollywood

by digby

Hollywood Fred, that is.

Candy Crowley on CNN characterized dreamy Fred Thompson's speech to the South Carolina GOP like this:

"Hitting all the right notes, his speech was what he hopes to be --- Reaganesque --- both optimistic and tough."

Gosh if only he could be president right now!

Speaking of which, I originally agreed with Atrios' analysis, but Bonnie Erbe delivers a lethal little pin prick to the Sally Quinn sewing circle's desperate trial balloon to save the Republican party that I think is probably more on the money:

She ... suggests that the affable former Sen. Fred Thompson would make a formidable replacement, while giving Thompson a better shot at the Republican presidential nomination next year.

Down, girl! I beg to differ. First of all, Cheney and this administration are not only toxic, they are downright radioactive. It is almost as if they covet the No. 1 spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the worst administration in American history. Any Republican running for president knows that an affiliation with the Bush administration is the political equivalent of Superman touching green kryptonite. Democrats will be able to posture and do nothing for decades and win elections merely by running against the Bush legacy...What Republican in his right mind would want an affiliation with this crowd?

Good question. But as far as I'm concerned, they are not going to have any choice. Bush and Cheney ARE the Republican party and their stench (and I'm not talking about English Leather) will be on all Republicans for a very long time to come. Every time they try to wash it off, I know I'm going to be standing there with another bucket of fetid Bushisms and sycophantic quotes to throw back on them.

The Hate Boat

by digby

Johann Hari has a wonderful piece up today about the National Review cruise. (Sadly No! has appropriately redone the Love Boat song to accompany it.)

It's so disturbing and yet so funny that I'm sure TNR won't mind if I share a few choice excerpts with you:

From time to time, National Review--the bible of American conservatism--organizes a cruise for its readers. Last November, I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. But, mostly, I just tried to blend in--and find out what conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.


To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parker, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the U.N. building," the Floridian says to one of the ladies after the entrée is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently.

The conversation ebbs back to friendly chit-chat. So, you're a European, one of the Park Avenue ladies says, before offering witty commentaries on the cities she's visited. Her companion adds, "I went to Paris, and it was so lovely." Her face darkens: "But then you think--it's surrounded by Muslims." The first lady nods: "They're out there, and they're coming." Emboldened, the bearded Floridian wags a finger and says, "Down the line, we're not going to bail out the French again." He mimes picking up a phone and shouts into it, "I can't hear you, Jacques! What's that? The Muslims are doing what to you? I can't hear you!"

Now that this barrier has been broken--everyone agrees the Muslims are devouring the French, and everyone agrees it's funny--the usual suspects are quickly rounded up. Jimmy Carter is "almost a traitor." John McCain is "crazy" because of "all that torture." One of the Park Avenue ladies declares that she gets on her knees every day to "thank God for Fox News." As the wine reaches the Floridian, he sits back and announces, "This cruise is the best money I ever spent."

Virtually all the usual suspects are there, crazy as bedbugs, ranting about the Muslims coming to kill us in our beds -- or worse, outbreed "us". But there are a few exceptions, such as Rich Lowery:

Then, with a judder, the panel runs momentarily aground. Rich Lowry, the preppy, handsome 38-year-old editor of National Review, announces, "The American public isn't concluding we're losing in Iraq for any irrational reason. They're looking at the cold, hard facts." The Vista Lounge is, as one, perplexed. Lowry continues, "I wish it was true that, because we're a superpower, we can't lose. But it's not."

No one argues with him. They just look away, in the same manner that people avoid glancing at a crazy person yelling at a bus stop. Then they return to hyperbole and accusations of treachery against people like their editor. The aging historian Bernard Lewis declares, "The election in the U.S. is being seen by [the bin Ladenists] as a victory on a par with the collapse of the Soviet Union. We should be prepared for whatever comes next." This is why the guests paid up to $6,000. This is what they came for. They give him a wheezing, stooping ovation and break for coffee.

Norman Podhoretz kept rambling on about how we've won the war and Robert Bork even criticized FoxNews for failing to trumpet the fact that we are killing way more Iraqis than are killing us. (Neither Norm nor wife Midge have turned in their "Rummy 4 Evah" buttons --- he's still their favorite rock star.)

The animating idea behind all of this is, as one would expect, racism. Arabs ("Muslims") and Mexicans will have to suffice since hating Jews and Blacks is temporarily inconvenient, but it's all the same.

Several days later, the nautical counter-revolution has docked in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where passengers will clamber overboard into a nation they want to wall off behind a 1,000-mile fence. One expresses horror at my intention to find a local street kid to show me around, exclaiming, "Do you want to die?" D'Souza summarizes the prevailing sentiment by unveiling what he modestly calls "D'Souza's law of immigration": An immigrant's quality is "proportional to the distance traveled to get to the United States." In other words: Asians trump Latinos.


The table nods solemnly before marching onward to Topic A: the billion-strong swarm of Muslims who are poised to take over the world. The idea that Europe is being "taken over" is the unifying theme of this cruise. Some people go on singles' cruises, some on ballroom-dancing cruises. This is the Muslims Are Coming cruise. Everyone thinks it. Everyone knows it. And the man most responsible for this insight is sitting only a few tables down: Mark Steyn. He is wearing sunglasses on top of his head and a bright shirt. Steyn's thesis in his new book, America Alone, is simple: The "European races"--i.e., white people--"are too self-absorbed to breed," but the Muslims are multiplying quickly. The inevitable result will be "large-scale evacuation operations circa 2015" as Europe is ceded to Al Qaeda and "Greater France remorselessly evolve[s] into Greater Bosnia." He offers a light smearing of dubious demographic figures--he needs to turn 20 million European Muslims into more than 150 million in nine years, which is a lot of humping--to "prove" his case.

But facts, figures, and doubt are not on the itinerary of this cruise. With one or two exceptions, the passengers discuss "the Muslims" as a homogenous, sharia-seeking block--already with near-total control of Europe. Over the week, I am asked nine times--I counted--when I am fleeing Europe's encroaching Muslim population for the safety of the United States.

They were all there, Kate O'Beirne, Kenny boy Starr, even William B Fuckley himself, dyspeptic as ever, proclaiming victory over communism (again) while trying to sidle away from the modern nazi generation he spawned as quietly as possible.

If there is ever any doubt in your mind as to what truly gets these people up in the morning, this lays it to rest. They are so afraid of dark people they must have a supply of Depends on hand at all times. Dinesh D'Souza, who is quite dark himself, tries awfully hard to be one of the "Real Americans" but he must wonder what they think when they see him out of the corner of their eye when they are alone in a ship's corridor after a few too many martoonis. (If he doesn't, he's an even bigger fool than he seems.)

It nearly impossible to believe that these are the people who have been running the world for the last six years --- and they are. These are Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld's people. We put a bunch of rich, deluded, paranoid racists in charge of the most powerful nation on earth. It's a miracle we're still alive.

Update: Wolcott on this subject --- not to be missed.

Defending The Indefensible

by digby

Pat Buchanan was just on MSNBC saying that the Edwards campaign set up Coulter on Hardball yesterday. I'm not kidding. And he agrees with Coulter's comments about their dead son (which he blames on Bill Maher?) because it is so unseemly that the Edwards's are shamelessly exploiting the tragedy. In fact, Coulter was bravely defending conservatism against the deplorable liberal commentary that's out there.

Buchanan has stood out in recent years as someone who goes against the prevailing conservative grain from time to time. But he has always represented the conservative id, which you can see in its full glory when he talks about Mexicans ruining America. And that id is the characteristic they all have in common -- neo and paleo alike. When it comes down to it, they simply have no limits. As much as you are seeing them shoot wildly in a circular firing squad right now, don't lose sight of the fact that they are circling the wagons at the same time. Eventually, they are going to turn all that frustration and anger outwards as they realize that they have to protect the tribe.

I hope everyone is prepared for what is undoubtedly going to be a shockingly indecent election. They have nothing to lose.

Update: Just a word to my readers. One of the things I do, and have always done, on this blog is media commentary. I realize that some of you don't care for this and think all liberals should stop watching and reading the mainstream media. That is a legitimate position, but it simply is not what I do or what I believe. There are other blogs that never talk about the political media, however, lots of them. So there is very little use in trying to batter me into submission and insult me over and over again for posting on the subject. I'm not going to stop.

Off The Reservation

by digby

Something very strange happens when you stop drinking that DC water. Here's Asa Hutchinson, who's now back in Arkansas:

Hutchinson, the 2006 Republican candidate for Arkansas governor, said Monday he was surprised by a response to a question in a recent debate among Republican presidential candidates.

When asked, many of the GOP presidential hopefuls at a recent debate at least did not immediately rule out the idea that Lewis “ Scooter” Libby should get a presidential pardon.

They should have ruled out a pardon for Libby, said Hutchinson, who addressed a meeting of the Bella Vista Republican Women.

Libby, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of perjury after being questioned under oath. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald questioned Libby and others in connection with his investigation of a CIA-leak case.

Hutchinson is a former U. S. attorney and, as a member of Congress, served as a manager when the House impeached President Bill Clinton, in part for lying under oath in a separate investigation.

Respect for the rule of law dictates that Libby not receive a presidential pardon, as some in the GOP have advocated, Hutchinson said.

“ I do not believe there should be a pardon for ‘ Scooter’ Libby. In order for democracy to succeed, the rule of law cannot be weakened. … While we can have great sympathy (for Libby personally ), the fact is that he was convicted of perjury. The system worked, ” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson is a wingnut with whom I would disagree politically on virtually everything. He was shameless during the Clinton impeachment. But he is at least living in the same dimension with the rest of us instead of the bizarroworld of the DC elite, where consistency is something that only applies to cake frosting. "Law and order" Republicans clutching their pearls about poor little Scooter is absurd and makes the GOP candidates seem odd and out of touch. It flies in the face of everything they allegedly stand for. (Hollywood Fred especially, the man who plans to win on the basis of his acting role as the manly Manhattan DA, has gone completely around the bend defending lil' Scooter.)

I believe that Democrats should go after the Republican candidates about this all the way to the election. It makes them look like soft, effete insiders and defenders of the failed presidency of George W. Bush. Wringing their tiny hankies over one of their rich and powerful friends while they talk tough about crime and terrorism just doesn't scan. They took a weak position and the Democrats shouldn't let them forget it.

H/T to BB


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who's Minding The PBS Store?

by digby

There must be something in the air. First, Matthews feels the need to give Ann Coulter a full hour to spew genocidal vomit and now I find that PBS has hired the notorious fraud Frank Luntz to analyze "public feedback" on the Democratic debate. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. He is one of the architects of the Republican Revolution and along with Newt Gingrich is the man most responsible for the distorted, propagandistic political discourse we spend our lives on the blogs trying to unravel. He has no business "interpreting" Democratic voters' reaction to Democratic candidates based upon his political affiliation alone. But the fact that he has been completely discredited as a pollster and analyst by his own profession should make him radioactive for any respectable news organization. I can't imagine what is wrong with PBS that they don't know about this man.

He is obviously rooting for his former client Giuliani, although he says he isn't advising him --- and perhaps he's not. He just goes all over television telling anyone who will listen that Giuliani is the only candidate who "says what he means and means what he says" and that just happens to be the quality everybody most wants in a candidate. (The Democrats, sadly, just don't have anyone who does that.)

Something odd is going on at PBS lately. They also invited that Coulter wannabe Melanie Morgan on Lehrer recently, apparently under the misapprehension that she was a sane spokeswoman of the right, and she proved to be a complete disaster. Now they have hired straight up right wing political operative Luntz to "interpret" the impressions of Democratic voters. Are they getting their bookers from the Heritage Foundation web site too?

This isn't difficult. There are plenty of pollsters and social scientists who aren't dishonest and aren't partisan hacks. Some of them are even Republicans. This guy isn't one of them. He's been a very important cog in the machinery of the right wing noise machine for years, manipulating the political language of our country to favor the Republican party and he's very, very good at it. He's the last person anyone should hire to "analyze" Democrats fairly. They might as well have hired Karl Rove.

Media Matters has put out an action alert
if you care to send a little note to PBS and ask them not to hire Republican operatives so they can sandbag the Democratic presidential candidates on their airwaves.

Psychopathic Freakshow

by digby

Coulter is on Hardball today saying that our problem in Iraq is because we haven't killed enough civilians. Really.

"We need to be less concerned about civilian casualties...we bombed more people in Hamburg in two days ... I'd rather have their civilians die than our civilians... we should kill their people."

You know, I often hear about how the liberals are sending the wrong message to the enemy. Yet, they let this unhinged homicidal maniac on television to spew this toxic swill.

If Matthews is so desperate for ratings he should have just showed Paris Hilton's sex tape. It's far less obscene than what I'm looking at right now. This is just vile.

Update: She also just said categorically that Saddam was working with Al Qaeda and made fun of Matthews for saying otherwise. Her psychotic confidence is awesome.

Goebbels would be so proud of his beautiful, extremely disturbed grandaughter today.

Update II:
John Amato has the footage of Elizabeth Edwards calling Coulter to ask that she stop spewing hate speech --- particularly about her dead son. It's quite dramatic, but Coulter gets off on stuff like this so I don't really think it's worth it to engage her.

Matthews sank to a new low today -- he's incapable of handling someone like Coulter and ended up giving her and her little fan-thugs a very good time. It made me feel a little bit sick. Seriously.

Man The Phones

by digby

This looks like a week for action, which is always a good thing. It's difficult getting our representatives to move on the things we care about but it can be done.

First of all, Move-On is working to push our representatives to restore habeas corpus. (I can hardly believe I have to write that.) If you have a few minutes, make a phone call or two. Christy at FDL has all the particulars. (And here's a YouTube of Chris Dodd giving a rousing speech at the ACLU Rally today.)

Second, while you are dialing your congressman, give a thought to calling the members of the Financial Services Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, who will be deciding whether to pass out Rahm's proposal to cut off fund for Cheney. This is a very nice moment to make a statement about Cheney's nonsense, and with Sally Quinn reporting that the sycophantic courtier phone tree is ready to toss Dick overboard, this is a propitious time to keep this in the press.

Todd Gitlin made the case for pushing this yesterday over at TPM Cafe:

Rahm Emanuel has introduced a bill to delete spending for Cheney's office on the ground that Cheney claims, when convenient, that the vice-president's office is not "an entity within the executive branch." Rep. Emanuel, who's taken a beating from the liberal wing of the Democrats for refusing to stand up, is standing way up. The House is supposed to vote later this week.

Is this not one of those extraordinary moments when the people's representatives will actually vote on whether to fund the horrific farce that is this administration?

The Republicans keep daring the Dem majority to stop funding the things they object to and the Democrats keep getting tied up in knots over it. I don't know if this is constitutional or if it is p[ractical, but I do know that a debate on the floor of the House over Vice President Cheney's assertion that he answers to no one is the kind of thing that might be able to compete with Paris Hilton and some roid-raged killer wrestler on the evening news and bring home the fact that our government has gone completely batshit crazy.

Here are the names of the committee members and you can find your representative's numbers here:

Chair: José E. Serrano (NY)
Carolyn C. Kilpatrick (MI)
C.A "Dutch" Ruppersberger (MD)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL)
Peter J. Visclosky (IN)
Robert E. "Bud" Cramer, Jr. (AL)
Maurice D. Hinchey (NY)
Adam Schiff (CA)
Dave Obey (WI), Ex Officio

The Republicans are:

Ralph Regula (OH)
Mark Steven Kirk (IL)
Dennis R. Rehberg (MT)
Rodney Alexander (LA)
Ken Calvert (CA)
Jerry Lewis (CA), Ex Officio

And lest you think that this is solely for political theatre, consider this letter from Henry Waxman to the White House Counsel today. The people who thought nothing of spreading Valerie Plame's name all over the press have been treating classified information like it's back fence gossip, something everyone should have realized when some flunky dropped Karl Rove's super-duper top secret 2004 strategy memo in a DC park.

Bush Is His Own Bush

by tristero

I share Digby's opinion that these articles on Cheney's influence provide a detailed portrait of the extent to which Cheney has seized power over a weak, ignorant, and uninterested president. However, I have a concern that many readers - not Digby, of course - may read those pieces and conclude that Bush is merely a smirking flake. That's just George's day job.

As we have seen many times in the past, notably with Woodward, the press has a habit telling us it's not Bush who makes bad or heartless decisions. It's always someone else, like a frat boy caught with drugs who blames his girlfriend. Today's article, as well as the entire series, goes out of its way to push the notion that Bush's genuine "compassionate conservatism" was thrust aside time and again by the scheming machinations of The Evil Bald One. One could easily infer from the series that, if Cheney were removed (see this piece in Salon), much of the war-mongering and trashing of the America Consitution would stop, and that Bush would demonstrate a far more moderate, conciliatory streak.

Not a chance. Bush is no "compassionate conservative" for two very simple reasons, First, and foremost, there is no such thing. And if there was, Bush is far too much of a sociopath to have so much as an ounce of compassion for anyone but himself. Remember how he mocked Carla Faye Tucker to Tucker Carlson, mincing, "Please don't kill me?" And remember how hurt he was by what Rev. Coffin said to him at Yale, about his father? Despite the fact it almost certainly never happened?

Sure, maybe they wouldn't have gone after the capital gains tax the way they did. But there'd still be Katrina. And Schiavo. And the anti-family amendment. And the loss of habeas. And the overall incompetence. And the wars. And the failure to obey any law he doesn't like. And the domestic spying. And the rigged elections. And the torture. Let's never forget the torture. All this is quintessential Bush behavior, an all-too-plausible extension of the maliciously aggressive liar, cheater, and drunkard of his earlier years.

No argument: Cheney is an unspeakably vile manipulative thug who treats all around him like they were puppets. The world would be a better place if he would resign today.

But young Churchill certainly doesn't need a Dick to be himself.