August 31, 2004

Hearts and Heads of Stone


Republicans: We Support the Troops
(Except When We Mock Them for a Good Laugh).

You know, I could pretend to be all insulted and victimized by this nonsense like a Republican would, but honestly, all it does is depress me. See, the latest little trick at the Republican National Convention is that some guy (who turns out to be a chickenhawk, pro-war draft evader) is passing out little bandaids with purple hearts on them to mock Kerry's injuries he got while fighting for our country in Vietnam.

Republican delegates, sadly, are lapping them up, plastering them all over their bodies, and they can't wait to get on camera with great big smiles like the misguided lady above (who looks a little bit like "shut up lady" from a couple of weeks ago). What leads people to this kind of senseless stupidity? These people are so blinded by hatred of anything not-Bush (honestly, I can understand somewhat about Clinton, but what the hell did Gore or Kerry ever do to deserve such hateful, mocking derision?), that they aren't even thinking about how deeply dishonorable this kind of stunt is toward our troops.

We have thousands of troops sitting in places like Walter Reed medical center nursing serious injuries (not all physical) from the senseless war our cowboy president decided he wanted. And that's just from this war. How do you think they feel seeing pinheads like these on their screen making fun of purple heart awards? I really don't know, but my guess is that it has to burn a little bit.

It's just plain sad. What are these delegates thinking? What kind of poisonous rhetoric leads one to slap on a purple heart bandaid with a laugh while holding up a "support the troops" sign and cheering for a president who has treated our military and our veterans like shit? I'm beyond anger these days. If Bush gets elected, I'll be deeply sad for this country. And also for the people who were duped into voting for him.

As Michael Moore has pointed out in his USA Today column from the convention, most of these people who say they support Bush don't really support what he stands for, so one is left to wonder why they support this guy? Why do they make such fools of themselves?

Hanging out around the convention, I've encountered a number of the Republican faithful who aren't delegates. They warm up to me when they don't find horns or a tail. Talking to them, I discover they're like many people who call themselves Republicans but aren't really Republicans. At least not in the radical-right way that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft and Co. have defined Republicans.

I asked one man who told me he was a "proud Republican," "Do you think we need strong laws to protect our air and water?"

"Well, sure," he said. "Who doesn't?"

I asked whether women should have equal rights, including the same pay as men.

"Absolutely," he replied.

"Would you discriminate against someone because he or she is gay?"

"Um, no." The pause — I get that a lot when I ask this question — is usually because the average good-hearted person instantly thinks about a gay family member or friend.

I've often found that if I go down the list of "liberal" issues with people who say they're Republican, they are quite liberal and not in sync with the Republicans who run the country. Most don't want America to be the world's police officer and prefer peace to war. They applaud civil rights, believe all Americans should have health insurance and think assault weapons should be banned. Though they may personally oppose abortion, they usually don't think the government has the right to tell a women what to do with her body.

There's a name for these Republicans: RINOs or Republican In Name Only. They possess a liberal, open mind and don't believe in creating a worse life for anyone else.

So why do they use the same label as those who back a status quo of women earning 75 cents to every dollar a man earns, 45 million people without health coverage and a president who has two more countries left on his axis-of-evil-regime-change list?

I asked my friend on the street. He said what I hear from all RINOs: "I don't want the government taking my hard-earned money and taxing me to death. That's what the Democrats do."

Money. That's what it comes down to for the RINOs. They do work hard and have been squeezed even harder to make ends meet. They blame Democrats for wanting to take their money. Never mind that it's Republican tax cuts for the rich and billions spent on the Iraq war that have created the largest deficits in history and will put all of us in hock for years to come.

The Republican Party's leadership knows America is not only filled with RINOs, but most Americans are much more liberal than the delegates gathered in New York.

The Republicans know it. That's why this week we're seeing gay-loving Rudy Giuliani, gun-hating Michael Bloomberg and abortion-rights advocate Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As tough of a pill as it is to swallow, Republicans know that the only way to hold onto power is to pass themselves off as, well, as most Americans. It's a good show.

It's hard to believe that people who put so much stock in fiscal issues would support Republicans. You would think that if it were that important, they would actually sit down and figure out that Republicans are screwing most of them, running up the deficit, making them pay more both now (due to other taxes and fees that are more regressive and pick up the slack for what the feds don't do but people still want) and in the future (to pay off the monster debt).

And of course if Kerry is elected and wants to be responsible, he'll have to raise taxes (on the wealthy) just like Clinton did in order to be responsible to the country and its citizens, and the media will go into a screaming baboon hysteria over it. Republicans have realized that being fiscally responsible is for suckers.

The state of politics in this country is just so fucking depressing.

Posted by Observer at 01:01 PM | Comments (2)

August 30, 2004

Stake Out


Jack Crow and Friends Prepare to Hunt Vampires

John Steakley has written a couple of really good books. The one he is probably better known for is "Armor", which is similar in some respects to Heinlein's "Starship Troopers". It deals mostly with the ordeal of a soldier encased in a suit of body armor that makes him nearly invulnerable. The soldier battles alien bugs on another world in a pointless war and kills them by the thousands, but they just keep coming. It's good science fiction and just an interesting read in general.

The other book is "Vampire$". The book's main character, Jack Crow, is a professional vampire hunter (he gets paid, usually by the Catholic Church). What I liked most about this book is the simple fact that Crow isn't stupid. When the team enters a house full of vampires, they don't all split up and go their separate ways. More likely they isolate the vampires, one by one, impaling them with a powerful crossbow with an arrow attached by a sturdy chain to a car parked outside in the sunlight. After staking the vampire, the car pulls away, pulling the vampire out to expose it to sunlight, which reduces it to ash.

And so, systematically, while putting themselves in minimal danger, Crow's team has learned to exterminate vampires very effectively. But then the vampires start to get smart, and they fight back, trying to lure Crow into a trap, and so on. Great book, very fast paced. It's one of those I read in probably about 5-6 hours over the course of a single day, couldn't put it down.

It was recently made into a movie, "John Carpenter's Vampires", but the movie is only based on the novel in the sense that the main character name and the tactics the team uses are sort of the same. The plot in the movie has almost nothing to do with the book. It's not a bad movie. I always like James Woods as a tough guy. I really hate Daniel Baldwin. He just annoys the hell out of me, and based on the other times I've seen him (like once on Celebrity Poker), I really don't think he's stretching it to play a crude, macho, slobby jackass of a character.

Anyway, saw the movie again on SciFi the other day, and a DVR'ed the sequel, which I had never heard of until I saw it in the TV listings (never a good sign). I'm not holding out much hope for the sequel, but if I'm truly bored in the next week, I might sit down and give it a try.

Posted by Observer at 06:29 PM | Comments (8)

August 29, 2004

Rallying Rangers


The Rangers Are In the Hunt!

When we last left our continuing coverage of the Texas Rangers, they were just barely in first place ahead of Oakland and heading in to Baltimore for a four game set (that I thought was three at the time). Well, lowly Baltimore flattened Texas, taking four straight. Oakland, meanwhile, continued their hot streak that started when they beat up on the Rangers after the All-Star Break.

If you had told me then that over the next 20 games, Oakland would go about 16-4, I would've written off the Rangers. But the Rangers somehow woke up after Baltimore, and they've gone something like 15-5, sweeping lots of series (just finished taking two of three from Baltimore in Texas) and splitting with the very good Twinkies.

Unfortunately, the other two contenders for the wild-card spot have also been smokin'. Texas went 9-1 over one stretch before this week, and Anaheim and Boston matched them. Seems like even when Texas has swept a series, they just can't gain any ground. And so after today, they will remain 2-3 games out for the wild card and looking forward to a very tough week with games in Minnesota and Boston. That series next weekend in Boston will be a great one if Texas can stay close until then.

Hell, this team is so hot (but so desperate for a starting pitcher) that even Chan Ho Stink came back from minor league purgatory to pitch a victory. Anything is possible this season. It is going to be a fun September, which is pretty rare in Ranger country, even if we don't end up in the playoff crapshoot.

Posted by Observer at 04:36 PM | Comments (2)

August 28, 2004

Off-Camera Truth


Normal People Exhale Carbon Dioxide,
ConservaBorg Exhale Poisonous Shit

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

This article from Slate tells you all you need to know about the credibility of right wing establishment heroes like Bob Dole.

For pretty much the duration of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth controversy, the Kerry campaign has been trying to demonstrate that the smear campaign being conducted against the Democratic presidential nominee is all the more loathsome because it is part of a pattern of behavior by George W. Bush: the use of front groups to damage his campaign opponents by putting false statements into the political bloodstream. Particularly salient, Democrats believe, is the 2000 campaign conducted against John McCain during the South Carolina primary.

Democrats now have an unlikely ally in their quest to prove that Bush has a history of these kinds of dirty tricks: Bob Dole. No one has done more to lend establishment respectability to the falsehoods being peddled against Kerry than Dole. The former Senate majority leader and 1996 presidential nominee of the Republican Party made several demonstrably false statements about John Kerry's war record this past Sunday on CNN's Late Edition before saying that "not every one of these people can be Republican liars. There's got to be some truth to the charges."

But Dole also made another statement that day, one that hasn't been aired until now. Of McCain's charge to President Bush during a 2000 debate—"You should be ashamed"—Dole told Wolf Blitzer, "He was right." Dole made the remark off-air, while CNN broadcast the Kerry ad called "Old Tricks," the one featuring McCain's 2000 debate remarks. The campaign stopped airing it recently at McCain's request.

Although the remark was made off-air, it wasn't made off-camera. A CNN employee who asked not to be named made a digital file of the raw camera feed from the Late Edition studio. The footage does not include the graphics or other video, such as the McCain ad, that was shown during the live broadcast. "Once the control room punches the ad, it automatically kills the mics in the studio," the CNN employee told me. "He knows he can speak to Wolf and no one will hear him." Slate has posted the video, so you can see Dole's remark for yourself.

Question for Bob Dole: If President Bush should be ashamed of his behavior four years ago, why aren't you ashamed now?

You should follow that link above and go see the video for yourself. It is amazing how the guy opens up and is Mr. Candor when he knows that camera isn't on. Makes you wonder why he speaks out and says things like Kerry probably never got hurt, that the Swift Boat guys are probably being honest, etc. These things are false, the same kind of shit Bush threw at McCain in 2000, and Dole knows it. He fucking *knows* it.

Shame is not in the right-wing nutball vocabulary. It just isn't. They say whatever the fuck they want about any liberal you name, and hey, it's just politics, you know? But off-camera, among decent people about whose opinion they care, they show a little tenderness. Why is it that Bush-supporters are all frothing at the mouth in public but then diplomatic and friendly in private? Isn't politics and leadership supposed to work the other way around?

Posted by Observer at 05:41 PM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2004

Comrades in Crime


The Russian Mob Is Here, and They're Not Very Nice.
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Well, thanks to a DVR and Michelle's persistence, I am starting to get sucked into "Third Watch", a spinoff from ER that follows some police and firefighters around on their exploits. It is on TNT (I think) five times a week, but I'm not sure which season it is in right now, how close it is to ending its run and starting over (or getting pulled, like Ally McBeal once we started getting into the habit of watching it ... grrr).

Anyway, I liked ER when I used to watch it, so I figured this would also be pretty good. I'm always a sucker for cop dramas. One of these days I'm sure I'll get sucked into watching the trillion "Law and Order" reruns that are always on. I've seen several of those before, and I always like them. It's nice to have something good to sit down and watch when we want it, and we get to blaze through the commercials, too.

So in the current storyline, the cops have run afoul of the Russian mob. The chief mobster is being played by Roy Scheider very effectively (he was the sheriff in Jaws, among many other roles), and I've always liked him. A few years ago, I saw a review of Robert Friedman's "Red Mafiya" somewhere, so I picked it up. It's a pretty readable overview of the major Russian mob activities in America, their history, their way of life, their tactics.

I was pretty skeptical of a lot of the stories the author told. He claims that there's a price on his head for him publishing all of these stories, and I'm a little dubious about someone willing to be targetted by such a horrible organization just to write a book (and this wasn't exactly a #1 bestseller). He supposedly interviews a bunch of mafia insiders, FBI guys, etc. so that he can tell stories from first-hand accounts. What I've seen on "Third Watch" seems a lot like what Friedman was talking about in his book.

I guess the main problem I had with the book was that there was so much detail and so many different stories, I eventually got a bit desensitized to all of the violence and dirty details of the various crimes. By the time I was done with the book, I had had one too many stories about a guy getting killed in some gruesome way over a bad debt or a drug deal or whatever. Probably the best part of the book dealt with the Russian influence on the NHL, which I've heard a lot about elsewhere. If I cared about hockey at all, that might have made the book a lot better for me.

Posted by Observer at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2004

Coward-in-Chief


When It Comes to Tough Fights and Hard Decisions,
Our President Is a Moral Coward

(Image credit)

Why do some politicians just rub people the wrong way? There have been plenty of powerful Democrats, including presidents, but were any hated with nearly the ferocity as Clinton? And yeah, you can go into your reasons. There were plenty of reasons to hate or at least be upset with Clinton. I know I was after the truth came out, no matter how seedy the process of getting to the truth. I was mad that he blew it for the Democratic party and couldn't overcome his own personal problems for the good of the country.

Still, there are little lies and big lies. When all is said and done, we didn't lose 1000 troops, create a new breeding ground for terrorists and make most of our allies hate our guts just because Clinton got a blow job. In fact, when Republicans in the government wanted to force Clinton out, the rest of the world was actually fairly well embarrassed for us that we were making such a big deal of Clinton's behavior. Their perspective was probably must closer to an appropriate level.

So why did people get so mad? It is something about Clinton's personality. The reason "Slick Willie" stuck as a nickname is because it rang true. Maybe it is because I've been exposed to so much of the stupid media's coverage of the guy, but honestly, he seems slick to me. He just seems too smooth, too much like a stereotypical politician. He doesn't connect with me personally, but that's just me.

Gore didn't really get saddled with any nicknames, and he didn't stir up nearly the level of hatred as Clinton. I've always liked Gore. Even though he comes off like a weird robot sometimes, I really like his earnestness and his apparent idealism. I really think he wants to serve his country in a corny heart-and-soul kind of way, and we need that in our leaders. The main reason conservatives hated Gore as much as they did (much more so than your typical Democratic candidate) was because of his association with Clinton, in my opinion.

And now all the hate against Kerry comes from the fact that, first of all, Republican operatives can see that a good dose of hate motivates the base to get out and vote. Second, Republicans can see that they can make all these crazy-ass attacks and accusations, and the media will step aside. Finally, I think a lot of Republicans have forgotten that it is possible for a Democrat to be a principled representative of the opposition. Hate radio has a lot to do with this, as does the media which channels their stories into the mainstream consciousness.

But what about liberal hate? Do liberals hate Bush? Hate is a pretty strong word for me. Hate is a word I would reserve for someone who causes harm to me or my family. Hate is a word I would reserve for someone truly base and evil (words many conservatives openly use about the Clintons). Take my favorite troll, the drunk nutball. For all his idiotic nonsense, bluster and threats, I don't hate the guy. I feel sorry for him, sure, but more than anything I just treat him with amused contempt. He's like a cartoon character.

When I see him post, I think of Yosemite Sam outside the castle trying to get to Bugs Bunny. I get a good laugh out of his really really angry and serious attempts to make jokes at the expense of me, my wife or any liberal, because in the end, he's just embarrassing himself and making my case look stronger. How can you hate that?

Bush isn't like that. I talk about him as a cartoonish figure sometimes, but I really shouldn't. It's just a guilty pleasure. At his core, I think Bush is just a cog in the machine that has carried him comfortably through life, a kind of Forrest Gump in the Oval Office, though obviously Bush is not that stupid.

He's just overwhelmed and way out of his depth. Hell, I'm sure I would be the same way if I were president. I just don't have the kind of life experiences to serve as a background for that sort of thing, and honestly, neither did Bush. What makes me dislike and disrespect the man is his dishonesty and his cowardice. Josh Marshall has more on Bush's moral cowardice:

I've said several times over recent days that it is an example of the president's moral cowardice that he has such a long record of having others savage his opponents -- for sins of which he is usually more guilty than they -- and then denying any responsibility for what's happening. It's like the moment captured in that recent Kerry campaign spot where John McCain tells Bush to stand by his attacks or apologize, and the now-president is painfully caught off guard, bereft of the protective phalanx of retainers.

He's not used to having to stand behind what he's done. And when McCain comes at him one on one he's jelly. His life has always been a matter of others doing his dirty work for him, others bailing him out. And in that moment it shows.

The current debate about these two men's military service has put the spotlight on physical courage. But that really is a side issue in this campaign, if we're talking substance. The real issue isn't physical bravery but moral cowardice.

President Bush is an examplar of that quality in spades. And it cuts directly to his failures as president. Forget about thirty years ago, just think about the last three years.

Before proceeding on to that, one other point about the two men's service. On the balance sheet of moral bravery, as opposed to physical bravery, the two men are about as far apart as you can be on Vietnam. On the one hand you have Kerry, who already had doubts about whether we should be fighting in Vietnam before he went, and put his life on the line anyway. On the other hand, you have George W. Bush who supported the war, which means he believed the goal was worth the cost in American lives. Only, not his life. He believed others should go; just not him. It's the story of his life.

That is almost the definition of moral cowardice.

We have a more immediate sense of what physical bravery and cowardice are. In fact, when we speak of bravery and cowardice, the physical variety is almost always what we're talking about. It's whether or not you can charge an enemy position while you're be fired at. It's whether you're immobilized by the fear of death.

Moral cowardice is more complex. A moral coward is someone who lacks the courage to tell the truth, to accept responsibility, to demand accountability, to do what's right when it's not the easy thing to do, to clean up his or her own messes. Perhaps we could say that moral bravery is having both the courage of your convictions as well as the courage of your misdeeds.

As I've been saying here for the last couple days, the issue isn't that Bush ducked service in Vietnam. It's that he tries to smear other people's meritorious service without taking responsibility for what he's doing. He gets other people to do his dirty work for him. Again, that image of McCain calling him on his shameless antics and his look of fear, his look of feeling trapped.

The key for the Kerry campaign to make is that the president's moral cowardice is why we're now bogged down in Iraq. It's a key reason why almost a thousand Americans have died there. President Bush has set the tone for this administration and his moral cowardice permeates it.

Consider only the most obvious examples.

The president didn't think he could convince the public of the merits of his reasons for going to war. So he lied to them. He greatly exaggerated what was thought to be the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and completely manufactured a connection between Iraq and al Qaida. He couldn't get the country behind him on the up-and-up. So he took the easy way out; he took a shortcut; he deceived them. And now the country is paying a terrible price for it.

He and his advisors knew that if they levelled with the public about the costs of war -- in dollars, years, soldiers -- he'd have a very hard time convincing them. So he didn't level with them. He took the easy way out.

The sort of forward planning that would have made a big difference in post-war Iraq was scuttled or attacked because it would make the job of selling the war harder. Those who sounded the alarm had their careers cut short.

Once we were in Iraq and it was clear that we had been wrong about the weapons of mass destruction -- a judgement that's been clear for more than a year -- he wouldn't admit it. And he still hasn't. A year and a half after we invaded Iraq and he still can't level with the American people about this. He still relies on his vice president to try to fool people into thinking Hussein was tied to al Qaida and the 9/11 attacks.

More importantly, once it became clear that the president's plans for post-war Iraq were producing poor results, he refused to shift policy or to reshuffle his team. He refused to demand accountability from his own team because of how it would have reflected on him. He's preferred to continue on with demonstrably failed policies because to do otherwise would be to admit he'd made a mistake and open himself to all the political fall-out that entails. And that's not something he's willing to do.

The stubborn refusal ever to change course, which the president tries to pass off as a sign of leadership or devotion to principle, is actually an example of his cowardice.

For the same reasons, he runs from soldiers' funerals like they were burying victims of the plague -- because it's the easy way out. If there's a problem, he denies it or finds someone else to take the fall for him.

Everyone has these tendencies in their measure. No one is perfect. But they define George W. Bush.

The same sort of moral cowardice that led him to support the Vietnam war but decide it wasn't for him, run companies into the ground and let others pay the bill, play gutter politics but run for the hills when someone asks him to say it to their face, those are the same qualities that led the president to lie the country into war, fail to prepare for the aftermath and then refuse to take responsibility for any of it when the bill started to come due.

That's the argument John Kerry needs to be making. And he needs to make it right now.

Unfortunately, Kerry can't make this argument directly. He's going to have to show it with examples, and the media is going to have to transmit his message without a bunch of skeptical filtering, just as they've done for the Swift Boat Vets. I don't expect that to happen. Every time a Kerry person tries to bring up Bush's past, they'll get the "Hey, let's talk about the issues now, don't change the subject, how can you defend Kerry raising taxes 23,456,950 times as the Bush campaign has claimed?" Meanwhile, every time a liar opens his mouth and says, "Kerry probably didn't even get hurt," the interviewer just says, "Well, an interesting and controversial perspective! Thank you for your time, sir, and for your service to our country!"

If Kerry wins in the face of this avalanche, it will be a great day in America. Maybe once Kerry (and with any luck, at least one Democratic branch of Congress) shines some light and what really went on behind closed doors under Bush's reign, maybe the media will belatedly show us where the real scandals have been.

Posted by Observer at 07:31 AM | Comments (3)

August 25, 2004

Changing Times


The Media Elites Look Down Their Noses
at Jon Stewart, But the Revolution Has Already Begun.

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

The traditional news media has its collective panties in a wad, which is never a good sign for Democrats (witness their treatment of Clinton and Gore). Why are they upset this time? Well, because John Kerry is giving a lengthy interview to an important news outlet, and they're all mad they didn't get picked. It's isn't Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC or CNN. It's not a major newspaper like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, the Wall Street Journal. Nope. It's Comedy Central's "The Daily Show".

For an explanation, an intrepid reporter asked the producer of the show to explain Kerry's choice:

We spoke to "Daily Show" executive producer Ben Karlin, a charming man who did not take offense at our questions and who promised that the Comedy Central program would try especially hard to resemble an actual TV news show tonight during its Kerry encounter.

"We're going to focus exclusively on events of 30 years or more ago . . . and not on anything relevant to anything beyond 1964," Karlin said.

He's referring, of course, to the previously mentioned attack ad campaign, which has been funded in part by a top GOP donor in Texas, featuring Vietnam veterans who question Kerry's war record and criticize his congressional antiwar testimony (though that actually took place in the 1970s).

"All of us [on 'The Daily Show'] are just blown away by the turn the campaign has taken," Karlin said. "We cannot believe that this is what is being talked about at this juncture. It's so astounding to us. We are trying to work through our amazement and to conduct a meaningful conversation absent of incredulity, because [the interview] is not going to go anywhere if you just say, 'What the [expletive] is going on?' "

Karlin said he will nonetheless suggest that that be the first question Stewart puts to Kerry tonight.

"If you just want to pinpoint the success of the Republican Party and Bush, this is a perfect case study," Karlin continued, "because George W. Bush has put a moratorium on talk about his behavior under the age of 40 and everyone [in the press] is abiding by it. 'Were you or were you not an alcoholic or did you just have a drinking problem?,' 'Were you or were you not a drug abuser?' Meanwhile they're debating whether [Kerry's war] wounds drew blood or were they superficial, or occurred in the same day, or whether he shot a guy wearing a toga. . . . How is that possible?"

Meanwhile, Stewart and his brilliant cast of writers continues to skewer the media for its arrogant stupidity. This transcript which Atrios posted is from Monday night's show, with anchor Jon Stewart talking to "senior political correspondent" Rob Corddry about the media's role in the Swift Boat Veterans nonsense:

STEWART: Here's what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry's record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven't been disputed for 35 years?

CORDDRY: That's right, Jon, and that's certainly the spin you'll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.

STEWART: Th-that's not a spin thing, that's a fact. That's established.

CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontravertible fact is one side of the story.

STEWART: But that should be -- isn't that the end of the story? I mean, you've seen the records, haven't you? What's your opinion?

CORDDRY: I'm sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don't have 'o-pin-i-ons'. I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called 'objectivity' -- might wanna look it up some day.

STEWART: Doesn't objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what's credible and what isn't?

CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well -- sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] 'Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.' Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

STEWART: So, basically, you're saying that this back-and-forth is never going to end.

CORDDRY: No, Jon -- in fact a new group has emerged, this one composed of former Bush colleages, challenging the president's activities during the Vietnam era. That group: Drunken Stateside Sons of Privilege for Plausible Deniability. They've apparently got some things to say about a certain Halloween party in '71 that involved trashcan punch and a sodomized piñata. Jon -- they just want to set the record straight. That's all they're out for.

STEWART: Well, thank you Rob, good luck out there. We'll be right back.

Everyone else in the media (except Air America Radio and the very small number of liberal voices you see scattered about) is too afraid to call liars out, even when they have been obviously discredited. The LA Times editorial page, overseen now by my hero Michael Kinsley, is a notable exception with a great editorial that ends with:

Not limited by the conventions of our colleagues in the newsroom, we can say it outright: These charges against John Kerry are false. Or at least, there is no good evidence that they are true. George Bush, if he were a man of principle, would say the same thing.

Sadly, the behavior of most of the media leads to a whole bunch of disinterested "pox on both houses" voters who figure there isn't much difference between the candidates. It leads to the kind of corrupt, incompetent government that leads us into a dangerously unnecessary war, huge deficits and no serious efforts to help with problems facing the middle class, like health care, education and quality job creation (oh, and a big "fuck you" to the environment as an afterthought).

This kind of mainstream corporate media campaign coverage makes people think that pundits like Paul Krugman are "shrill" and that the Daily Show shouldn't be taken seriously. About the only thing the media does understand is profits. Sooner or later, enough of these "on the one hand, on the other hand" idiots are going to realize there are a lot of people out there willing to pay or otherwise go out of their way to be treated like adults with brains. I'm glad the DVR enables me to catch the Daily Show every night now. The archives they have online (linked in my sidebar) are great, but it's less than half the show content. And streaming lets me catch Air America any time I'm in the mood.

No one is saying the liberal viewpoint on everything is correct and proper. I just want it to be heard. And when something is false, I want to see the media investigate and state their results clearly (and when the results aren't definitive, give some context, some kind of qualitative "error bars" so we know what we're dealing with). I know it's crazy. It almost sounds like I expect the media to serve the public as its first priority rather than make money.

If some media outlets want to go purely for profit, that's great. Let them pay through the nose a proper price to the government for their slice of the electromagnetic spectrum if they are going to broadcast. If they are cable, let them pay their fair share if the infrastructure costs rather than letting the gummint subsidize it all. Otherwise, if they are getting a break from the public, they need to serve the public.

Posted by Observer at 06:56 AM | Comments (3)

August 24, 2004

Digital Fluff


Hackers Play a Big Role in Crypto Novels,
But Dan Brown's Hackers Aren't Nearly As Cool
As Any of Neal Stephenson's Characters.

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Speaking of hackers, the spam flood on this site continues. I decided not to block IP's anymore but instead just pay close attention to MT-Blacklist's filtering and make sure it stays current. Since my post yesterday, MT-Blacklist is a perfect 122 out of 122 at blocking attempted spam comments. Most of the comments are advertising the same two or three sites, but they come at all times from all different IP's, so they must be some form of spyware/virus attaching themselves to Windows systems, I guess. Without a blacklist, I would have to shut down comments. Good thing Congress passed that great anti-spam law, eh?

Anyway, after finishing Covenant, I still have a couple of days left before classes start, so I burned through a Dan Brown book, "Digital Fortress", in a few hours. Boy am I glad I didn't buy this one (thanks, library!) because the price of best-selling paperbacks is just ridiculous these days. This one is listed at $7.99. Unreal.

Anyway, this book has a lot of the weaknesses of "The Da Vinci Code" (which I reviewed earlier) and few of the strengths. I can tell Brown has gotten a bit better with time (I think this may be his first novel, but I didn't care to do a detailed search of publishing dates). The plot here involves the National Security Agency trying to figure out what to do about claims of a new uncrackable code. They send one guy (a college professor, like in Da Vinci, but a different character) over to Spain to track down a code key, but he doesn't realize he's being tracked by an assassin. Back in the US, most of the book is spent in the lab as different characters try to figure out what's going on while various conflicting plots and claims are played out internally.

The Spain subplot was weird, because in the end it turned out to be pretty much completely pointless. I mean, in a way, that's good, because it surprised me. But then I wondered why the hell I had to go through *SO* much suspension of disbelief, so many ridiculous chases and unlikely coincidences, not least of which was a college professor outwitting and ultimately killing a supposedly flawless professional assassin (who apparently shoots like a Stormtrooper)? But the fact that it was all for nothing is completely dropped and forgotten about as soon as it is revealed because we have to move on to the next plot point and the timer is counting down, etc.

As techno-thrillers go, I'll take Michael Crichton over Dan Brown. Probably the main weakness in Brown's books that I've read so far is a total lack of character development. I mean, near the end of this book, I guess I'm supposed to be struck by how poignant one man's love is for the main female character, but it just feels contrived. Chrichton's character development is nothing to write home about, but his books are just more fun to read. There is a lot of intentional misdirection in the book to add to the twistiness of the plot, but I guess I've read too many of these kinds of books to be surprised.

I shouldn't completely bash it, though. It had enough stuff going on, and the pace was very quick, like his other book, so I finished it in a day. It's a perfect airplane book, but the problem is, I haven't been on an airplane in nearly three years.

Posted by Observer at 10:41 AM | Comments (3)

August 23, 2004

White Gold


Covenant and Linden Confront the Raver
in a Crucial Scene of the Second Chronicles

(Thanks to this Chronicles fansite for the image.)

There are plenty of reviews of Donaldson's first and second Covenant trilogies floating around out there. Here is one I think is pretty good, but that was more of a standard book review. I don't want to summarize the whole story here and talk about its strengths and weaknesses. I'd rather talk about what the books are like and how they compare to other recent epics I'm familiar with.

Of course, the first thing every epic fantasy is compared to is "Lord of the Rings". I've now read both works many times over, including once each within the past couple of years, so I feel pretty well qualified to compare the two. When it comes to use of language, storytelling, craft and sheer greatness, I don't see how you can argue against Tolkien. It's almost unfair to compare anything to Tolkien's magnificent vision (and I know LOTR has its flaws, and it is derivative from various ancient stories, etc., but it is still without question the standard by which all other fantasy epics are judged), but Donaldson holds up pretty well in his own right.

That may be because a more apt comparison than Tolkien may instead be to an American writer, like maybe Stephen King. It's a very limited comparison. King and Donaldson both write gritty, pseudo-realistic stories about humanity's inner struggle, and Donaldson's two series (especially the second) are in some sense closer to horror than pure fantasy. And both write a really gripping page-turner of a story. But it pretty much ends there.

For a lot of people, Donaldson is just repulsive. They can't get past the idea that the hero with whom we are supposed to sympathize (or empathize) rapes a girl before 100 pages have gone by. They hate the idea of all the suffering and anguish heaped on top of one another at every turn, especially in the second Chronicles. They hate that Covenant is just such an ass (once, even the characters in the book chastise Covenant for his pigheaded obtuseness) to everyone around him.

Oh well. Donaldson isn't for everyone. It is a complex story, full of inner struggle, but it is unlike just about anything you've read before. Oh sure, you've got your big battles, your evil bad guys, your final confrontations, etc. There are always going to be elements of any fantasy that have been ripped off from things in the past (whether it is from the Ring Cycle, LOTR, the Odyssey, whatever). But Donaldson throws them at you in a new way with a fresh perspective, and I really appreciate this series.

If you've never read the books or aren't familiar and want a more standard review, follow the link I gave above. If you read much speculative fiction or fantasy, then I would say that lacking this experience, you have a fairly gaping hole in your reading list. It is a significant work and worth the time and energy. Now is a good time to acquiant yourself with it, since Donaldson is just about to start a new series set in the same world (as you can see from his official website).

I'll be there on the first day to follow the story further. I can't wait.

Posted by Observer at 02:26 PM | Comments (6)

August 22, 2004

Deprogramming the Message


The Next Phase in the Conservative Plan
to Control Political Discourse in America

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Thanks to The Sideshow for the link to this excellent essay by Philip Agre about conservative philosophy and how it is sold to the masses. It is a good 15-20 minute read, and the whole thing is really great. I highly recommend it. I want to quote just a couple of relevant parts today:

Liberals in the United States have been losing political debates to conservatives for a quarter century. In order to start winning again, liberals must answer two simple questions: what is conservatism, and what is wrong with it? As it happens, the answers to these questions are also simple:

Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.

Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

These ideas are not new. Indeed they were common sense until recently. Nowadays, though, most of the people who call themselves "conservatives" have little notion of what conservatism even is. They have been deceived by one of the great public relations campaigns of human history. Only by analyzing this deception will it become possible to revive democracy in the United States.

Ok, so Agre isn't exactly dancing around the issue. At first glance, you want to think Agre isn't really talking about the current American brand of conservatism. After all, the Republican party doesn't solely exist to protect the "aristocracy", right? But then when you stop and look at the substantive actions Bush has taken over the past four years, he's done an awful lot for the wealthy while making only incremental changes to appease the social conservatives. For all the talk about gay marriage, all the federal government has done really is, well, nothing. But when it comes to putting more money in the pockets of the rich, these guys are a well-oiled machine.

Agre goes on to talk about conservatives operate in theory and practice.

Conservative rhetors, for example, have been using the word "government" in a way that does not distinguish between legitimate democracy and totalitarianism.

Then there is the notion that politicians who offer health care reforms, for example, are claiming to be better people than the rest of us. This is a particularly toxic distortion. Offering reforms is a basic part of democracy, something that every citizen can do.

Even more toxic is the notion that those who criticize the president are claiming to be better people than he is. This is authoritarianism.

Some conservative rhetors have taken to literally demonizing the very notion of a democratic opposition. Rush Limbaugh has argued at length that Tom Daschle resembles Satan simply because he opposes George Bush's policies. Ever since then, Limbaugh has regularly identified Daschle as "el diablo". This is the emotional heart of conservatism: the notion that the conservative order is ordained by God and that anyone and anything that opposes the conservative order is infinitely evil.

This is one of many reasons it is difficult to have a constructive debate with nutball conservatives. I'm not talking about people who want to have a rational discussion over just how progressive the income tax rates should be or about where we should strike the balance between economic and environmental interests. No, when I say "nutball", I am talking about the Rush Limbaugh fanatics, the freepers, the people who spit out hate just as fast as they can consume alcohol. These kinds of people are easily fooled and are being used as tools by Republican message-men to poison debate, intimidate opponents and generally support conservatism. Rational debate just doesn't happen with these people:

What most people know nowadays as conservatism is basically a public relations campaign aimed at persuading them to lay down their capacity for rational thought.

Conservatism frequently attempts to destroy rational thought, for example, by using language in ways that stand just out of reach of rational debate or rebuttal.

Conservatism has used a wide variety of methods to destroy reason throughout history. Fortunately, many of these methods, such as the suppression of popular literacy, are incompatible with a modern economy. Once the common people started becoming educated, more sophisticated methods of domination were required. Thus the invention of public relations, which is a kind of rationalized irrationality. The great innovation of conservatism in recent decades has been the systematic reinvention of politics using the technology of public relations.

The main idea of public relations is the distinction between "messages" and "facts". Messages are the things you want people to believe. A message should be vague enough that it is difficult to refute by rational means. (People in politics refer to messages as "strategies" and people who devise strategies as "strategists". The Democrats have strategists too, and it is not at all clear that they should, but they scarcely compare with the vast public relations machinery of the right.) It is useful to think of each message as a kind of pipeline: a steady stream of facts is selected (or twisted, or fabricated) to fit the message. Contrary facts are of course ignored. The goal is what the professionals call "message repetition". This provides activists with something to do: come up with new facts to fit the conservative authorities' chosen messages. Having become established in this way, messages must also be continually intertwined with one another. This is one job of pundits.

To the public relations mind, the public sphere is a game in which the opposition tries to knock you off your message. Take the example of one successful message, "Gore's lies". The purpose of the game was to return any interaction to the message, namely that Gore lies. So if it is noted that the supposed examples of Gore lying (e.g., his perfectly true claim to have done onerous farm chores) were themselves untrue, common responses would include, "that doesn't matter, what matters is Gore's lies", or "the reasons people believe them is because of Gore's lies", or "yes perhaps, but there are so many other examples of Gore's lies", or "you're just trying to change the subject away from Gore's lies", and so on.

Many of these messages have become institutions. Whole organizations exist to provide a pipeline of "facts" that underwrite the message of "liberal media bias". These "facts" fall into numerous categories and exemplify a wide range of fallacies. Some are just factually untrue, e.g., claims that the New York Times has failed to cover an event that it actually covered in detail. Other claimed examples of bias are non sequiturs, e.g., quotations from liberal columns that appear on the opinion pages, or quotations from liberals in news articles that also provided balancing quotes from conservatives. Others are illogical, e.g., media that report news events that represent bad news for the president. The methods of identifying "bias" are thus highly elastic. In practice, everything in the media on political topics that diverges from conservative public relations messages is contended to be an example of "liberal bias". The goal, clearly, is to purge the media of everything except conservatism.

The word "inaccurate" has become something of a technical term in the political use of public relations. It means "differs from our message".

Public relations aims to break down reason and replace it with mental associations. One tries to associate "us" with good things and "them" with bad things. Thus, for example, the famous memo from Newt Gingrich's (then) organization GOPAC entitled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control". It advised Republican candidates to associate themselves with words like "building", "dream", "freedom", "learn", "light", "preserve", "success", and "truth" while associating opponents with words like "bizarre", "decay", "ideological", "lie", "machine", "pathetic", and "traitors". The issue here is not whether these words are used at all; of course there do exist individual liberals that could be described using any of these words. The issue, rather, is a kind of cognitive surgery: systematically creating and destroying mental associations with little regard for truth. Note, in fact, that "truth" is one of the words that Gingrich advised appropriating in this fashion. Someone who thinks this way cannot even conceptualize truth.

Conservative strategists construct their messages in a variety of more or less stereotyped ways. One of the most important patterns of conservative message-making is projection. Projection is a psychological notion; it roughly means attacking someone by falsely claiming that they are attacking you. Conservative strategists engage in projection constantly. An commonplace example would be taking something from someone by claiming that they are in fact taking it from you. Or, having heard a careful and detailed refutation of something he has said, the projector might snap, "you should not dismiss what I have said so quickly!". It is a false claim -- what he said was not dismissed -- that is an example of itself -- he is dismissing what his opponent has said.

Projection was an important part of the Florida election controversy, for example when Republicans tried to get illegal ballots counted and prevent legal ballots from being counted, while claiming that Democrats were trying to steal the election.

Ironically, there are *still* conservative books coming out claiming that Democrats tried to steal the election in Florida! Can you imagine how conservatives (who were all "let's get behind the commander-in-chief" after the Supreme Court's ridiculous ruling) would have revolted if all the votes had been counted, after all, including overvotes where the voter intent was obvious (i.e. a double-vote for Gore), which would've given the election to Gore handily?

The heart of the Agre essay, for me, is his discussion of the use of language, and very recently, I've seen an example of this used against me by my favorite nutball:

More importantly, conservative rhetors have been systematically mapping the language that has historically been used to describe the aristocracy and the traditional authorities that serve it, and have twisted those words into terms for liberals. This tactic has the dual advantage of both attacking the aristocracies' opponents and depriving them of the words that they have used to attack aristocracy.

A simple example is the term "race-baiting". In the Nexis database, uses of "race-baiting" undergo a sudden switch in the early 1990's. Before then, "race-baiting" referred to racists. Afterward, it referred in twisted way to people who oppose racism. What happened is simple: conservative rhetors, tired of the political advantage that liberals had been getting from their use of that word, took it away from them.

A more complicated example is the word "racist". Conservative rhetors have tried to take this word away as well by constantly coming up with new ways to stick the word onto liberals and their policies. For example they have referred to affirmative action as "racist". This is false; it is an attempt to destroy language. Racism is the notion that one race is intrinsically better than another. Affirmative action is arguably discriminatory, as a means of partially offsetting discrimination in other places and times, but it is not racist. Many conservative rhetors have even stuck the word "racist" on people just because they oppose racism. The notion seems to be that these people addressed themselves to the topic of race, and the word "racist" is sort of an adjective relating somehow to race. In any event this too is an attack on language.

A recent example is the word "hate". The civil rights movement had used the word "hate" to refer to terrorism and stereotyping against black people, and during the 1990's some in the press had identified as "Clinton-haters" people who had made vast numbers of bizarre claims that the Clintons had participated in murder and drug-dealing. Beginning around 2003, conservative rhetors took control of this word as well by labeling a variety of perfectly ordinary types of democratic opposition to George Bush as "hate". In addition, they have constructed a large number of messages of the form "liberals hate X" (e.g., X=America) and established within their media apparatus a sophistical pipeline of "facts" to support each one. This is also an example of the systematic breaking of associations.

As I said above, I have been accused of spewing hate in this blog. Seriously! I mean, I know I take a few sophomoric gibes here and there that I probably shouldn't (i.e. "Boy King"), but hell, it's my blog. I'm writing for me, not for some generic newspaper to be consumed by the voting public. How is that hate? I'm questioning what's going on, participating in the kind of healthy, vigorous, skeptical debate that has made America the envy of the world in the past. But it's another example of projection. Here's a final quote from the piece:

Another common theme of conservative strategy is that liberals are themselves an aristocracy. (For those who are really keeping score, the sophisticated version of this is called the "new class strategy", the message being that liberals are the American version of the Soviet nomenklatura.) Thus, for example, the constant pelting of liberals as "elites", sticking this word and a mass of others semantically related to it onto liberals on every possible occasion. A pipeline of "facts" has been established to underwrite this message as well. Thus, for example, constant false conservative claims that the rich vote Democratic. When Al Franken recently referred to his new radio network as "the media elite and proud of it", he demonstrated his oblivion to the workings of the conservative discourse that he claims to contest.

Further examples of this are endless. When a Republican senator referred to "the few liberals", hardly any liberals gave any sign of getting what he meant: as all conservatives got just fine, he was appropriating the phrase "the few", referring to the aristocracy as opposed to "the many", and sticking this phrase in a false and mechanical way onto liberals. Rush Limbaugh asserts that "they [liberals] think they are better than you", this of course being a phrase that had historically been applied (and applied correctly) to the aristocracy. Conservative rhetors constantly make false or exaggerated claims that liberals are engaged in stereotyping -- the criticism of stereotyping having been one of history's most important rhetorical devices of democrats. And so on. The goal here is to make it impossible to criticize aristocracy.

For an especially sorry example of this pattern, consider the word "hierarchy". Conservatism is a hierarchical social system: a system of ranked orders and classes. Yet in recent years conservatives have managed to stick this word onto liberals, the notion being that "government" (which liberals supposedly endorse and conservatives supposedly oppose) is hierarchical (whereas corporations, the military, and the church are somehow vaguely not). Liberals are losing because it does not even occur to them to refute this kind of mechanical antireason.

It is often claimed in the media that snooty elitists on the coasts refer to states in the middle of the country as "flyover country". Yet I, who have lived in liberal areas of the coasts for most of my life, have never once heard this usage. In fact, as far as I can tell, the Nexis database does not contain a single example of anyone using the phrase "flyover country" to disparage the non-coastal areas of the United States. Instead, it contains hundreds of examples of people disparaging residents of the coasts by claiming that they use the phrase to describe the interior. The phrase is a special favorite of newspapers in Minneapolis and Denver. This is projection. Likewise, I have never heard the phrase "political correctness" used except to disparage the people who supposedly use it.

Conservative remapping of the language of aristocracy and democracy has been incredibly thorough. Consider, for example, the terms "entitlement" and "dependency". The term "entitlement" originally referred to aristocrats. Aristocrats had titles, and they thought that they were thereby entitled to various things, particularly the deference of the common people. Everyone else, by contrast, was dependent on the aristocrats. This is conservatism. Yet in the 1990's, conservative rhetors decided that the people who actually claim entitlement are people on welfare. They furthermore created an empirically false association between welfare and dependency. But, as I have mentioned, welfare is precisely a way of eliminating dependency on the aristocracy and the cultural authorities that serve it. I do not recall anyone ever noting this inversion of meaning.

Conservative strategists have also been remapping the language that has historically been applied to conservative religious authorities, sticking words such as "orthodoxy", "pious", "dogma", and "sanctimonious" to liberals at every turn.

Now you know what to look for. Go see how many articles and stories from the mainstream media are using these kinds of rhetorical devices. Then come back and tell me all about the "liberal media", k?

Oh, and go read the rest of that essay. It's a real intellectual call to arms.

Posted by Observer at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2004

The Parable of the Clock


Just the Facts, Ma'am.
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

I started by writing a letter to the editor this morning in response to another stupid article about Kerry versus the Swift Boat Liars, but it got so long that it will never be published. Who knows, though? They've asked for people to submit sample editorial columns of 720 words or less, so I'm submitting this for fun (it is 700-ish words). Big kudos to Josh Marshall who has been all over the Swift Boat story this week with helpful links and thoughtful analysis.

So here's my letter.

Suppose Joey receives a nice antique clock as a gift. If he sold it in a shop at the catalog price (let's say this is a price trusted and used by all dealers, a universally agreed-upon value for this clock), Joey could get as much as $500 for it, but he doesn't know this. Joey decides to sell it to Peter, who tells Joey it is worth $5 even though Peter knows the catalog value of $500. Peter is trying to make a quick profit at Joey's expense.

An antique dealer nearby overhears the transaction. Looking in his catalog, the dealer can easily verify the facts involved. As a Good Samaritan, the dealer feels he has a responsibility to inform both parties of the true value of the clock, even though Peter might not find the dealer's input welcome. Peter might claim that the dealer has a personal dislike or bias against him, whether that is the case or not (that shouldn't stop the dealer from simply providing honest, impartial advice). Joey has no way of evaluating Peter's claim.

You might argue that the dealer doesn't have the responsibility to intervene here, but what if Joey asks for the dealer's input? Suppose Joey asks the dealer how much the clock is worth, and the dealer replies that Peter's value is perfectly reasonable and just as valid as the catalog value. Has the dealer done Joey a disservice? Yes, of course.

The media has a role to play like this Good Samaritan dealer. Every once in a while, someone like Peter comes along trying to tell the public a lie, except these days "Peter" comes in the form of a thoroughly discredited group of partisans known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The media, like the antique dealer, has the capability to easily check on the facts of the matter. And the media is being implicitly asked by its readers for impartial, honest advice.

Some media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Slate, The Chicago Tribune, The New Republic and The Boston Globe, have done some checking and reported their results (though none as prominently as the original accusations): the Swift Boat Veterans are not telling the truth when it comes to the few verifiable claims they made. It might not be something that "Peter" sympathizers want to read, but it is in the public's interest to get the facts out there so we can all make a well-informed decision on whom to support in the election.

The local paper, on the other hand, reprints articles (from the supposedly liberal New York Times) like "Veterans Group, Sen. Kerry joust over Vietnam record", giving equal time to both sides, as if "Peter's" version of the facts is just as valid as the actual truth. Or they write stories along the lines of White House talking points, that groups like the Swift Boat Veterans are just as guilty as liberal groups like MoveOn.org of stretching the truth, even though the MoveOn.org commercials that have aired have simply made verifiable (and verified) claims about the huge budget deficit and Bush's spotty military record, among other things.

The impression left in the minds of the readers (especially those who just skim headlines or don't read the entire story) is that both sides have a case to make, and the truth is muddled. This is a disservice to the readers, and there's no excuse for it. None. Amazingly, even that isn't enough for the "Peter" sympathizers, who accuse the media of bias when they offer some evidence that "Peter" is not being honest!

The Swift Boat Veterans know they can get away with the "Peter" role because the media allows itself to be used in this way. The media is so afraid of bias accusations, they go out of their way sometimes to MISinform readers, just to give the appearance of fairness. At some point, the media is going to have to make a choice between reporting the truth and submitting to intellectual bullies like Peter. Maybe they already have. For the sake of the voting public, I hope they remember their duty to serve the public interest, not necessarily to serve the interests of the Peters of the world.

Posted by Observer at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2004

Survival of the Fittest


Unfortunately for Us, Some Vietnam Veterans Who
Support Bush Have Chosen to Make a Joke of
Themselves and the Election. Will the Media Help Them?

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

The way the press is treating Kerry's service in Vietnam is something worth following. It is one of many small little conflicts between the two candidates that is indicative of how the press will cover the whole campaign. In case you haven't been following it, a Texas Republican who is a good friend and longtime supporter of Bush, has helped fund this group of Vietnam veterans who are putting out a story that Kerry is lying about his Vietnam history, didn't deserve his honors, etc.

They are basically trying to nullify Kerry's advantage on this issue, trying to muddle the issue in the minds of the Moron American. The Bush strategy, aided and abetted by the "liberal" media, is to turn Vietnam into a "pox on both houses" thing in the minds of voters. They are trying to plant that seed of doubt so that people take the lazy way out and look no further into the implications or the history of either candidate. The Bushies want voters to figure that Kerry has to be covering *something* up (where there's smoke, there's fire) or else why would there be so much controversy? Clever, cynical, and evil.

It turns out, of course, that this group of veterans, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, deserves to have no credibility. I started to summarize the various problems they have, but why reinvent the wheel when Media Matters has got it all in one handy place if you care to look at it.

Conservatives are responding to all of this by saying, well, the liberal side is doing the same kind of thing, a bunch of "shadowy" political groups playing fast and loose with the truth in attacking the president. For example, they equate the Swift Boat Vets with MoveOn.org. Here's where the media analysis begins. How will the media cover this? Josh Marshall discusses the main points.

Catching a liar lying isn't a coup; it's a definition. Indeed, these aren't just lies. The whole campaign is probably literally libelous -- an effort coordinated between various parts of the right-wing slime machine, as Weisberg aptly calls it.

What Weisberg also makes clear is how ridiculous it is to even compare the Swift Boat ad with those now being run by Moveon.org. One has demonstrable falsehoods, while the other contains two statements which are certainly true and have been reported by newspapers around the country (viz, that Bush got into the Guard with family connections and was later grounded) and another that is almost certainly true but not provable from available evidence (viz, that he 'went missing').

There is a great desire among journalists to appear even-handed in such cases and create equivalences where there simply are none. And this is a great case of that.

This is the sort of character assassination that our domestic Falange specializes in, the sort of effort that the standard Washington types usually lament as a grievous wrong several years after it happens, but never at the time. The effort is being put together by the president's supporters. He is benefitting greatly from it. And he and his aides have gone out of their way not to criticize it in any way.

On the campaign trail President Bush makes no effort to distance himself from it at all. Quite the contrary, in fact, as in this exchange from an 'Ask President Bush' session last Friday in Oregon ...

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.

Q On behalf of Vietnam veterans -- and I served six tours over there -- we do support the President. I only have one concern, and that's on the Purple Heart, and that is, is that there are over 200,000 Vietnam vets that died from Agent Orange and were never -- no Purple Heart has ever been awarded to a Vietnam veteran because of Agent Orange because it's never been changed in the regulations. Yet, we've got a candidate for President out here with two self-inflicted scratches, and I take that as an insult. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for your service. Six tours? Whew. That's a lot of tours.

Let's see, who've we got here? You got a question?

What a stand-up guy ...

In any case, Kerry does need to hit back harder. Probably not directly, as that might exacerbate the problem, but with surrogates who will hit back much harder and start putting into play the president's record if he doesn't relent. Really, though, this comes back to the press, whether they'll allow the president to play the silent accomplice in this character assassination and pay no price for his actions.

As Weisberg puts it, "The ad is a carefully crafted lie ... beyond vile."

Unfortunately, lies like this, once uttered, are impossible to counter in their entirety, just as mud thrown against a wall makes a terrible mess even though it doesn't stick. The only way to counter such misdeeds is to shine a light on those cynical and deceitful enough to seek to gain from them. That would be the president and his supporters. But on this front most of the media are content to act as indifferent bystanders to the offense.

As Marshall later points out, Kerry has decided to avoid Gore's mostly passive routine in response to these attacks, and he's hitting back. He has to. Bushies are using the veterans on many different levels, one of which is the meme that Kerry isn't tough enough to fight back against their charges, so how can he be tough enough to fight a War on Terror? What a ridiculous Wonderland we live in where this kind of logic rules the day, you know?

This is Kerry's official response, given at a speech to some firefighters:

Over the last week or so, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been attacking me. Of course, this group isn't interested in the truth – and they're not telling the truth. They didn't even exist until I won the nomination for president.

But here's what you really need to know about them. They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They're a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything you need to know—he wants them to do his dirty work.

Thirty years ago, official Navy reports documented my service in Vietnam and awarded me the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Thirty years ago, this was the plain truth. It still is. And I still carry the shrapnel in my leg from a wound in Vietnam.

As firefighters you risk your lives everyday. You know what it's like to see the truth in the moment. You're proud of what you've done—and so am I.

Of course, the President keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: "Bring it on."

So how will the media respond? Will they do the public a service and clearly distinguish between lies and honest statements? Or will they talk about haircuts and earth tones again? Read Bob's Howler today for a little history on the Gore-Bush debates in 2000 and how the media are still talking about them today. It isn't inspiring.

Posted by Observer at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2004

Suppressing Dissent


The Conservative Solution to Kerry Voters
(Image from Preemptive Karma)

I've mentioned this whole stupid thing with loyalty oaths at Bush rallies before. As Bush and Kerry cross the country to campaign, Kerry's rallies are open to the public. I've never seen a political rally that was otherwise, but I don't get out to political rallies much these days (I used to when I lived in Austin). Anyone can walk up to cheer or jeer Kerry, and he's dealt with his share of hecklers (I heard at one rally, he gave a heckler the microphone and asked him to elaborate or explain his position, and the guy all of a sudden got real quiet and apologetic and had nothing to say). Not with Bush.

If you want to see the Boy King, you either have to get an invitation from the Republican Party or you have to sign a loyalty oath or somehow prove that you are a genuine supporter before they'll let you in. That's why tens of thousands have been showing up for Kerry while Bush has only got a few thousand at a time. If you try to go while wearing anything supporting Kerry, they will kick you out as a troublemaker. Case in point (courtesty of Buzzflash):

Kathryn Mead wanted to see her first sitting president when George W. Bush visited the city.

Instead, Bush campaign staffers tore up the 55-year-old social studies teacher's ticket and refused her admission because she sported a small sticker on her blouse that touted the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards.

"I had my ticket and photo identification, but they would not let me in because of this sticker," said Mead, a teacher at Traverse City West Senior High, who said she has seen Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul in person.

"I have never found this kind of screening anywhere in my travels around the world. I can't imagine being denied access to hearing the president of the United States speak."

Several people outside the campaign event tried to console Mead, who was visibly upset. [...]

Lynn Larson, chair of the Grand Traverse Democratic Party, said the move is typical of other Bush rallies that only allow Republican supporters to see the president.

"The very reason that we are here protesting is to protect our First Amendment rights," she said. "When the Secret Service rips somebody's sticker off and takes their ticket away, it makes me even more determined to march to protect our rights."

Mead, who has taught for two decades, instead stood on the sidewalks with other John Kerry supporters, listening to Bush from behind a fence.

"I really, truly wanted to have the experience of having seen the president and hear him speak, which is very important to me as a social studies teacher," she said. "How can anyone in the United States deny someone entry? Isn't this a democracy?"

Now keep in mind that people aren't being kept out of Bush rallies as some kind of post-9/11 security measure. This isn't the Secret Service making this call or else they'd be doing the same thing for Kerry. No. This is the Bush team making a conscious decision, and it is really a head-scratcher.

I mean, surely they know that this "loyalty oath" thing is going to get around and end up making them look horrible. All the rules against protest in New York may end up reinforcing this idea that dissent is being squashed by this president and this party. And hey, that's fine by me. Let these guys show their true fascist colors, you know? Hell, they've been stifling protesters for pretty much the whole presidency, what with free speech zones and all that.

What's weird is that I'm sure they are smart enough to realize that this strategy is going to have some negative consequences (especially among the libertarians who lean conservative but are mad about the Patriot Act and other suppressions of free speech, etc). What they figure is that the local media which covers these rallies will always get a 100% positive picture of the president every single time, and apparently, that outweighs the negatives. And maybe they're right. The media has really done a crappy job of contrasting the way protesters are treated in this administration vs the way they have been treated in the past, so maybe the Bushies figure it won't hurt them much to squash protesters just like they've been doing.

Or, if I'm feeling paranoid, maybe the Bushies feel like they've already got the election in the bag with the untraceable and fixable electronic voting. I can imagine a scenario in, say, Florida where exit polls show John Kerry winning by 49-45% but the numbers come up Bush 48-47. What would we do then? What recourse would we have? I don't want some trashy fascist bitch stealing our Democracy again like last time with the "liberal" media doing nothing to stop it.

Krugman has mentioned this on and off in his columns, and he recommends lots and lots of quick exit polling by different independent organizations so as to track any discrepancy, but that kind of stuff is not going to convince your average conservative nutball, and they'll be right back to foaming at the mouth saying we all have to support our Commander-in-Chief as soon as Fox News calls it. I really hope the election just isn't close (especially because Kerry is going to need at least one house of Congress to work with him or he'll never get anything done and the Republicans will investigate every microbe to ensure no good news for Kerry), and I hope Kerry works hard to make sure every vote can be verified in the future.

Posted by Observer at 06:19 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2004

Charter Cult Science


The Kids Are Back in School!
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Michelle and I are both very happy that the kids are finally back in school, even if it means I have to get up before the crack of dawn every morning to tote Justin down to the high school for his cross country practices, double the number of store runs for miscellaneous lunch/school supplies, etc. It is nice to have a quiet house again during the daytime, and we'll take advantage of it over the next several days with Michelle taking some time off. We'll show little Daniel all around the metroplex as we have our brief vacation together before I start back to work next week.

Since school is starting up, I thought this article about the performance of charter schools vs public schools would be a good topic today. It turns out that the evidence is starting to come in about the performance of charter vs public schools (in terms of standardized test scores, for what they are worth), and so far, it doesn't look good for charter schools.

Now I know that is going to come as a stupendous, jaw-dropping surprise to all of you, but the Bush Administration tried to bury this information (!!!). Yeah, can you believe that shit? What a fucking shocker.

The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable students in regular public schools.

The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.

The data shows fourth graders attending charter schools performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in both reading and math. Put another way, only 25 percent of the fourth graders attending charters were proficient in reading and math, against 30 percent who were proficient in reading, and 32 percent in math, at traditional public schools.

Because charter schools are concentrated in cities, often in poor neighborhoods, the researchers also compared urban charters to traditional schools in cities. They looked at low-income children in both settings, and broke down the results by race and ethnicity as well. In virtually all instances, the charter students did worse than their counterparts in regular public schools. [...]

The results, based on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the nation's report card, were unearthed from online data by researchers at the American Federation of Teachers, which provided them to The New York Times. The organization has historically supported charter schools but has produced research in recent years raising doubts about the expansion of charter schools. [...]

Federal officials said they did not intend to hide the performance of charter schools, and denied any political motivation for failing to publicly disclose that the data were available. "I guess that was poor publicity on our part," said Robert Lerner, the federal commissioner for education statistics. Mr. Lerner said further analysis was needed to put the data in its proper context.

To be fair, the definitive data on charter schools isn't in, and I'm sure some schools in some situations with some kids and some educational plans will vastly outperform public schools. But for "let the market decide" Republicans, it's funny to watch them sit on this news and/or otherwise ignore it. I guess the market is ok when it tells you what you want to hear. I'm sure Mr. Lerner would've done a dandy job getting out the news had the data come in to favor the charter schools.

To contrast this story, I offer a quote below from Richard Feynman's famous essay "Cargo Cult Science". I've quoted different parts of this before when talking about this administration's disgraceful approach to science. IT seems very fitting here.

I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down--or hardly going up--in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? [...]

These things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way--or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one. Or a parent of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels guilty for the rest of her life because she didn't do "the right thing," according to the experts. [...]

That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school--we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest; but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest; it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will--including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with. [...]

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. [...]

One example of the principle is this: If you've made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish BOTH kinds of results.

I say that's also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would be better in some other state. If you don't publish such a result, it seems to me you're not giving scientific advice. You're being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don't publish at all. That's not giving scientific advice.

The ConservaBorg are always fun to watch when their smug certainty smacks up against the brick wall of the scientific method. Suddenly, they aren't quite so loud and cocky anymore, you know? Suddenly, they aren't quite so sure that they have all the right answers to everything, that everyone else who disagrees with them is crazy or stupid. Pretty soon, though, Rush is back on with another hilarious song about Clinton molesting his daughter or something, and all is right with the world. What were we talking about anyway?

Posted by Observer at 07:28 AM | Comments (1)

August 17, 2004

Past and Present


Conservative Philosophy on Clinton-Bashing
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Kevin Drum has a couple of interesting things to say today:

Jonah Goldberg, in the middle of a post about Clinton haters and the people who hate them, says this:

The Bush-haters — who are just as extreme and nasty as the Clinton-haters were, and in many ways more so....

Tell you what, Jonah. As soon as the most popular liberal editorial page in the country accuses George Bush of murdering one of his aides, maybe I'll give your argument a hearing. And as soon as one of the most influential liberal interest groups in the country starts distributing hundreds of thousands of videos suggesting that George Bush ran a coke ring out of Austin, then I'll really perk up. And when Senate Democrats spend $70 million investigating the Valerie Plame affair — compared to the current $0 — and end up bringing impeachment charges against George Bush, then you'll have me. You'll really have me.

But until then, sell it somewhere else. Michael Moore calling Bush a liar and a moron just isn't in the same league as what your side did to Bill Clinton, and nobody who was sentient during the 90s can find the contrary suggestion anything but laughable.

I don't know why, but a lot of conservatives seem to forget just how serious all the things were that they believed (and still believe) about the Clintons. They seem to forget, also, that these nutty charges were given all kinds of credence and visibility by the "liberal" mainstream media. You compare the Clinton administration with Reagan or either Bush, and it's just no contest. Now maybe Clinton brought some of it on himself, and there's no question he was a shameful liar at times.

But as I've said before, there are big lies and little lies. I'll take a president who lies about a blowjob any day over a guy who lies about going to war, outing a CIA operative, the distribution of tax cuts, etc., you know, things that actually affect this country significantly. Why are Bush-supporters so incredibly angry at the Clintons while giving the Boy King carte blanche on everything?

Drum goes on about the proper persepective on Bush:

James Joyner thinks George Bush is a genuine man of the people:

The reason Bush can pull off the image of "he is a plain-spoken conservative who knows his mind and is resolute in crisis" is because that's who he is. He's not very comfortable with a teleprompter in front of him and isn't particularly good at news conferences. He is, however, quite comfortable just speaking his mind in front of ordinary folks.

But this isn't quite right, is it? Bush seems to be pretty good at chatting with handpicked groups of fervent supporters who have to sign loyalty oaths in order to see him, but it's not clear that he's otherwise all that great in front of small groups. In fact, he seems downright lousy at dealing with anyone who's hostile to him — senators, reporters, foreign leaders, you name it — and since this is an important part of being president it strikes me as a pretty serious deficiency.

Now, it is true that he's a "plain-spoken conservative who knows his mind," but you can find one of those at any neighborhood watering hole. And that pretty much describes George Bush: a man who picked up his opinions in a bar 30 years ago and has never gone much beyond that. After all, guys in bars also know their minds pretty well and want everyone else to know it, don't they?

Along these lines, Ron Brownstein makes a similar point today: by mocking John Kerry for not saying unequivocally that he would have invaded Iraq no matter what, Bush is acting like a guy in a bar who just wants to kick Saddam's ass and will lick any man in the house who says otherwise. After all, what kind of nitwit, knowing for a fact in advance that Iraq had no WMD, no serious ties to al-Qaeda, posed no regional threat, and would chew up thousands of American lives in a years-long guerrilla war, would invade anyway? A guy in a bar.

Alternatively, Matt Yglesias goes old school on us and suggests that it's simpler than that: Bush is just kind of dumb. I guess we all had him pegged correctly back in 2000 after all.

Yeah, I remember the whole thing in 2000. When people questioned Bush's intellect, he responded that he would surround himself with great people. So, how are Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Karl Rove, and that whole lot doing these days? Pretty brilliant, eh? I think now we're seeing the problem of overreliance on your staff...when one of them fucks up, you really don't have the credibility or even the presence of mind to fire them. You would think after all the nonsense over Iraq, someone would lose their job (and not just George Tenet, who wasn't a Bush guy anyway).

Oh yeah, and Bob Somerby has some good stuff lately about the differences between the "liberal" media's treatment of Gore vs Mr. Mission Accomplished. Remember how Gore was mocked for wearing "Earth tones", for using clothing as a calculated tool in his campaign? The stupid press (namely Jody Wilgoren, who wrote endlessly stupid crap about Gore in 2000) is even getting on Kerry for telling different jokes at every campaign stop on his train tour! Can you believe it? Atrios summarized it best:

Can anyone comprehend the inanity of an editor who would run a story which is critical of a candidate who dares to actually come up with new jokes for every campaign stop?

The local crowds generally eat it up, their laughter and applause drowning out the collective groan from the traveling press corps.

That's what it's all about. Story should be "Local Crowds Love Kerry Humor," but instead it's "Jody Wilgoren: Bored now."

Posted by Observer at 06:58 AM | Comments (2)

August 16, 2004

Stamping Out the Vote


Alive and Well and Voting Republican
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

One of my bigger complaints about the Florida election in 2000 was the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters. You may not remember much about it because it wasn't really reported on as a big story. It's not clear why it wasn't. Maybe it is because people just don't want to believe that this kind of stuff still happens, you know, the police cars with sirens going parked outside of largely black voting areas, supposedly to "check i.d.'s" before people can vote, the flyers distributed in black neighborhoods telling them that they'll be arrested if they try to vote, the systematic undercounting of votes from black districts (due to antiquated voting machines or processes or maybe just plain malice), the "felon lists" that illegally take voting rights away from thousands of eligible black voters.

Well, they tried the "felon list" thing again recently, but this time they got called on it, and it looks like Florida will have to fix things before the election is done this time around. That doesn't mean the people in charge down there aren't trying to figure out other ways to suppress the black vote:

State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.

"We did a preliminary inquiry into those allegations and then we concluded that there was enough evidence to follow through with a full criminal investigation," said Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Department of Law Enforcement.

The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes, have questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some of those questioned have been volunteers in get-out-the-vote campaigns.

I asked Mr. Morales in a telephone conversation to tell me what criminal activity had taken place.

"I can't talk about that," he said.

I asked if all the people interrogated were black.

"Well, mainly it was a black neighborhood we were looking at - yes,'' he said.

He also said, "Most of them were elderly."

When I asked why, he said, "That's just the people we selected out of a random sample to interview."

Back in the bad old days, some decades ago, when Southern whites used every imaginable form of chicanery to prevent blacks from voting, blacks often fought back by creating voters leagues, which were organizations that helped to register, educate and encourage black voters. It became a tradition that continues in many places, including Florida, today.

Not surprisingly, many of the elderly black voters who found themselves face to face with state police officers in Orlando are members of the Orlando League of Voters, which has been very successful in mobilizing the city's black vote.

The president of the Orlando League of Voters is Ezzie Thomas, who is 73 years old. With his demonstrated ability to deliver the black vote in Orlando, Mr. Thomas is a tempting target for supporters of George W. Bush in a state in which the black vote may well spell the difference between victory and defeat.

The vile smell of voter suppression is all over this so-called investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr. Thomas, said: "The Voters League has workers who go into the community to do voter registration, drive people to the polls and help with absentee ballots. They are elderly women mostly. They get paid like $100 for four or five months' work, just to offset things like the cost of their gas. They see this political activity as an important contribution to their community. Some of the people in the community had never cast a ballot until the league came to their door and encouraged them to vote."

Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police officers going into people's homes as part of an ongoing criminal investigation related to voting is threatening to undo much of the good work of the league. He said, "One woman asked me, 'Am I going to go to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?' "

According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and don't want to risk a criminal investigation."

Florida is a state that's very much in play in the presidential election, with some polls showing John Kerry in the lead. A heavy-handed state police investigation that throws a blanket of fear over thousands of black voters can only help President Bush.

The long and ugly tradition of suppressing the black vote is alive and thriving in the Sunshine State.

I hope the election isn't close enough for this kind of crap to matter, but to be honest, that's what the people of Florida (the majority of them, anyway) seem to want. They had their chance in 2002 to kick Jeb Bush out, but they reelected him handily, which really surprised me. But I don't know much about internal Florida politics. Maybe they figured Florida would get more pork if the Boy King's brother was in charge (and they were right). I just can't believe it is 2004 and this kind of shit is going on.

In other news, here's a good reading from "The Nation" about the status of reconstruction in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the news is grim because we have a failed administration in charge of everything that didn't want to listen to bad news or contingency plans before going in with "Bring 'em on!" guns blazing to shock and awe the embedded corporate media cheerleaders.

Posted by Observer at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2004

Heinlein Books


It's Time for a Sunday Book Review
(He's Holding "Footfall", Which I'll Review Another Time)

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Today, I want to review a type of book that I don't normally like, a collection of short stories/novellas. This one is kind of old and probably hard to find. It's called "The Past Through Tomorrow" by Robert Heinlein. I've read some of Heinlein's novels and generally been unimpressed. Even perhaps his most famous "Stranger in a Strange Land" didn't really do much for me, though I read it as a teenager. I might appreciate it more now.

Anyway, this collection of short stories isn't flawless. I found the longer novellas near the end to be weaker, but there is a cohesive set of stories in the first half that is well worth reading. It starts with perhaps one of the most unforgettable short stories I've ever read, entitled "Lifeline", about a guy who figures out a way to predict the moment of someone's death. Then there is "The Roads Must Roll" about labor issues in a mechanized society and the clever "The Man Who Sold the Moon". Lots of classic science fiction gems are in here, unique plots and ideas I've never seen anywhere else (certainly not written about as skillfully).

Posted by Observer at 05:53 PM | Comments (9)

August 14, 2004

Divided We Stand


They Seem Perfectly Normal, Until You Realize
They Have Lost Their Capacity to Think Critically

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

I've been scanning blogs as usual, and as we get closer and closer to the election, I get more and more depressed. Not really about Kerry's chances, which I think are very good. Just about the state of discourse in this country, about the attitudes Bush-supporters are wearing on their sleeves. What Mr. "Uniter Not a Divider" has done to this country is an absolute disgrace, and we are weaker because of it. The "watch what you say" or "that question has been noted in the building" Bush Administration is out to label virtually all dissent as treason (or crazy, hence the label "Coalition of the Wild-Eyed" and the treatment of Dean and his supporters), and the Nutball brigade is marching in lockstep.

This is the kind of crap the right-wing nutballs are echoing back and forth to one another every day. They think there is some kind of conspiracy in which Kerry hasn't released the full and complete record of his military service (which they say can be found in a form 180, but I thought it was DD 214 that was definitive about when and where someone served and got paid, etc., something the Boy King still hasn't released):

Surely the Kerry campaign knows what a Form 180 is -- they pestered George Bush into signing one by calling him a deserter for months. In fact, even after Bush signed it and released his records showing he fulfilled his service, they still call him that. So why doesn't Kerry do the same?

Where do you even begin addressing a mentality like this? In Nutball World, it is apparently Kerry whose Vietnam-era deserves to be questioned, and not Bush. There is just all kinds of documentation (try AWOL Bush, for a good list) that puts the "Bush fulfilled his National Guard obligations with honor" among other conservative myths about his service. There is also lots of documentation about Kerry kicking ass in Vietnam, and all kinds of (again, documented) problems with the credibility of the guys questioning him. I mean, how can you just blithely ignore all of this and think like the ConservaBorg above? It's depressing to see that people still really think this way at a time when reliable information is so easy to come by.

The same bloggers go further and fantasize that the Kerry campaign is "imploding" over the campaign of the deeply offensive "Swift Boat Veterans". Are you kidding? Imploding? Kerry is the one drawing tens of thousands to spontaneous trackside rallies across the country while Bushco is only going to places where he can be surrounded by "invitation only" loyalists. Meanwhile, people are (properly) linking O'Neill (one of the chief spokespeople of the Swift Boat nutballs) to Nixon's dirty tricks operation, and Corsi's (another Swift Boater) nutball freeper past is coming back to haunt him, so nobody who didn't already hate Kerry is even giving these guys the time of day.

I've excerpted a couple of comments below that reflect people who are getting to be as cynical as me about Bush-supporters, but I can't find the original links to the post they were commenting on:

Don't assume that all people are willing to engage in and respond to a dialectical pursuit of truth. I'm finding that several right-wing adherents I correspond with are exhibiting a more faith-based, a priori mental activity these days, and are utterly immune to a logical conversion of their position. The pattern seems to be: 1) I believe proposition x; 2) you purport to show me evidence disputing proposition x; 3) this evidence contradicts what I know of proposition x; 4) I therefore know you are fabricating or distorting what you are showing me.

This seems about right. The whole mantra of the Bush-supporter is just completely illogical. About the best they can ever do in an argument, since the facts are rarely on their side (take Iraq, for example) is to proclaim that there must be lots of stuff going on that we don't know about. And if I could somehow see all the same classified info the Bush officials are looking at, I would support their actions 100% (this from the same people who shit their pants when Clinton went into Kosovo or fired cruise missiles at bin Laden's hideout in Afghanistan). You can't really refute it, but you also can't claim that everything we don't know points in their favor.

So a lot of liberals are taking the same kind of attitude that I have when I think about talking to members of my family who vote Republican:

My recommendation is not to try to persuade likely conservative voters to share your point of view or assessment of reality. Such a course is futile. If these people were open to logical argument, they probably would not be conservative voters in the first place. The Republican Party circa 2004 is a coalition of the greedy rich with the stupid or ignorant. If you are talking to one of the greedy rich, their interest governs; if you are talking to the stupid and ignorant, your only real hope is to discourage them from voting.

My mom tried recently to get me into a political conversation. She asked me a few days after the Democratic Convention what I thought about John Kerry, that she thought his speech was pretty good, etc. I'm sorry, but I know the drill. It is pretty common for conservatives to throw compliments toward John Kerry before ultimately convincing themselves that they want to vote again for Mission Accomplished, and I'm not going to take the bait (I told my Mom I would rather not get into politics with her this time around and that I'm sure she knows how I feel and that I have very strong opinions, based on lots of reading and research, against Bush). I took the bait and argued with my family over politics back in 2000, and I wish I had read the two comments above and taken them to heart before I did. Would've saved myself and them a lot of stupid grief.

Now don't get me wrong. I know there are some liberals who are off the deep end for Kerry, in my opinion. Take Steve Gilliard, whose writing I always like. I just think he's way too optimistic about Kerry's chances, and he thinks virtually every Bush tactic, because it is so incredibly obtuse or mean, is a new sign of their growing desperation. By that logic, the dirty tactics Bush used against McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000 were a sign of desperation, but look who won the primary...

Amidst many good points that I would like to believe, Steve kinda goes off the deep end talking about John McCain:

I can see McCain waiting until six weeks to go in the election, then leaving the Bush campaign in a huff, and giving him massive payback. He needs McCain. Desperately. And they both know it. If McCain were to say, I supported the president, but this (whatever incident he needs) has convinced me that he has neither the moral strength or courage to lead this country. I stuck with him out of party loyalty and that was a mistake I deeply regret.

I'm sorry, but this is wishful thinking. We liberals just love to tout John McCain, but when the chips are down, he's out there on stage giving big ol' bear hugs to the Deserter-in-Chief. There is no way he's going to jump ship. I think Atrios has the right level of cynicism regarding McCain (and Kerry's chances to win, his strategy, etc), and I don't think McCain will ever be a friend to liberals. Does that mean he'd make a bad president? I really don't know. I mean, you can be a good guy (like Bush I, if I'm feeling generous), but if you are surrounded by nutballs who are calling the shots, you are going to drive the country into a ditch.

Or maybe I'm just cranky today.

Posted by Observer at 01:27 PM | Comments (1)

August 13, 2004

Adolescent Comparative Literature


I Highly Recommend This Leather-Bound Edition
of "Lord of the Rings" for Any Serious Fan

Lunchtime conversation today:

Justin: I can't believe you don't like "Lord of the Rings".

Sarah: So? You don't like "Beetleborgs"!

Me: Sarah, you argue like a Republican.

Sarah: Huh?

In other news, here is a great proposed campaign poster for the Boy King:

Posted by Observer at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2004

Focus


The Media Has Awesome Power, But It Is Forgetting
About the Awesome Responsibility That Comes with It.

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

I found lots of neat, unrelated stuff today, so I'll do some metablogging. Bob Somerby points to a very good column by Nicholas Kristof about what the media ought to be talking about:

If a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon, a midget even smaller than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, exploded in Times Square, the fireball would reach tens of millions of degrees Fahrenheit.

It would vaporize or destroy the theater district, Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal and Carnegie Hall (along with me and my building). The blast would partly destroy a much larger area, including the United Nations. On a weekday some 500,000 people would be killed.

Could this happen?

Unfortunately, it could - and many experts believe that such an attack, somewhere, is likely. The Aspen Strategy Group, a bipartisan assortment of policy mavens, focused on nuclear risks at its annual meeting here last week, and the consensus was twofold: the danger of nuclear terrorism is much greater than the public believes, and our government hasn't done nearly enough to reduce it.

Graham Allison, a Harvard professor whose terrifying new book, "Nuclear Terrorism," offers the example cited above, notes that he did not pluck it from thin air. He writes that on Oct. 11, 2001, exactly a month after 9/11, aides told President Bush that a C.I.A. source code-named Dragonfire had reported that Al Qaeda had obtained a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon and smuggled it into New York City.

The C.I.A. found the report plausible. The weapon had supposedly been stolen from Russia, which indeed has many 10-kiloton weapons. Russia is reported to have lost some of its nuclear materials, and Al Qaeda has mounted a determined effort to get or make such a weapon. And the C.I.A. had picked up Al Qaeda chatter about an "American Hiroshima."

President Bush dispatched nuclear experts to New York to search for the weapon and sent Dick Cheney and other officials out of town to ensure the continuity of government in case a weapon exploded in Washington instead. But to avoid panic, the White House told no one in New York City, not even Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Dragonfire's report was wrong, but similar reports - that Al Qaeda has its hands on a nuclear weapon from the former Soviet Union - have regularly surfaced in the intelligence community, even though such a report has never been confirmed. We do know several troubling things: Al Qaeda negotiated for a $1.5 million purchase of uranium (apparently of South African origin) from a retired Sudanese cabinet minister; its envoys traveled repeatedly to Central Asia to buy weapons-grade nuclear materials; and Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, boasted, "We sent our people to Moscow, to Tashkent, to other Central Asian states, and they negotiated, and we purchased some suitcase [nuclear] bombs." [...]

William Perry, the former secretary of defense, says there is an even chance of a nuclear terror strike within this decade - that is, in the next six years.

"We're racing toward unprecedented catastrophe," Mr. Perry warns. "This is preventable, but we're not doing the things that could prevent it."

That is what I find baffling: an utter failure of the political process. The Bush administration responded aggressively on military fronts after 9/11, and in November 2003, Mr. Bush observed, "The greatest threat of our age is nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists, and the dictators who aid them." But the White House has insisted on tackling the most peripheral elements of the W.M.D. threat, like Iraq, while largely ignoring the central threat, nuclear proliferation. The upshot is that the risk that a nuclear explosion will devastate an American city is greater now than it was during the cold war, and it's growing.

Wait a second, is this America-hater trying to tell us that the Boy King has made America less safe? Perish the thought! The ConservaBorg are too worried about dragging John Kerry's war heroism down so that their Deserter-in-Chief doesn't look so bad, and the rest of the mainstream media is just as hopeless.

I did find, via Cursor a couple of other interesting things, though: Here is a very long story about a month in the life of a Marine recruiter. How he works, why he's doing it, etc. I guess it is the more complete story of how the military recruits these days, something that was touched on in Michael Moore's movie.

Then there is this excellent and thorough piece comparing the (now deleted from the official website) campaign promises of Bush in 2000 against what really happened. Such charts are often helpful, and I'm used to seeing them in the paper when an incumbent leader is trying to be reelected. I can't wait to see it this time, whether it appears, how they'll spin it to favor Bush, etc.

Posted by Observer at 11:15 AM | Comments (1)

August 11, 2004

Long Day


Kids and Needles Just Don't Mix

Yesterday was a day to get a lot of school preparation done. When Michelle got home, I had to take 15-year-old Justin and 12-year-old Sarah to get immunizations. We had originally planned to do this last night at a school district sponsored event, but Justin was worried that they wouldn't freeze the spot on his arm so that the needle would hurt less, which is what our last doctor did for him. Anyway, because of this, we had it on our big kitchen dry erase calendar (without which, the organiziation of life in this house would be impossible), and that was a mistake since we ended up going to the doctor instead at the last minute (he has walk-in immunizations on certain days of the week in the afternoons).

These two kids are nuts about needles. Hmmm, I wonder where that comes from? Couldn't be that their mom has a pathological fear of needles, now, could it? Heh. Anyway, so with the immunizations being on the calendar, these two had been quietly working themselves into a lather, I think. I'm glad I put "immunizations" on the calendar instead of "booster shots", because both kids had the impression (I found out later) that booster shots hurt a lot worse than ordinary needles. Ahem.

Anyway, the moment Michelle got home, it was time to swing into action, and Justin and Sarah both because babbling idiots. "We don't want to go! Do we have to? Why? Do we have to? Can we do it tomorrow? Why not? Do we have to go? We don't want to go! This is gonna hurt! etc." I had to sit them both down on the couch and tell them to be quiet for five minutes before we left just to keep the house quiet. It didn't help that 10-year-old Cody, who is Mr. Bravery when it comes to shots ("All I ever do is go 'ow, ow, ow' and it really doesn't hurt and I don't care."), was taunting them both mercilessly. And they can't taunt him back because he honestly doesn't care and isn't afraid of any shots he has on the horizon.

So we got in the car, and in the 10 minutes it took to drive there, I could not shut those two up about their needles. Justin, who already has a motor-mouth problem we're working on, was the worst. He knew that this tetanus shot was going to make his arm sore, and he was talking about how he was going to be paralyzed, suffering for days, etc. I was suddenly glad that we didn't end up going to the school-wide clinic, because these two would have really embarrassed themselves in front of their peers. I mean, I'm sure a lot of kids hate needles, but I've never seen anything like this (and I've taken each of these two separately to have needles before, and they weren't nearly as afraid as this ... it's like they were feeding off each other).

We got there and sat in the waiting room for 20-30 minutes, then we got called back. They got into a big fight over who had to go first, so I flipped a coin and Sarah was first. Oh, by the way, did I mention that the nurse said they don't freeze the spot before the needle here? Makes the needle less effective, apparently. Wonderful, just panic them even more.

Justin waited outside the room. Sarah started squirming immediately, and it took about 3-4 minutes to calm her down, get her seated, still and geared up for her shot ("Don't give me poison!"). She tends to use silliness as a defense mechanism. She screamed for about 2-3 seconds just before the needle went in, then after it was over, she couldn't believe she thought it was such a big deal. On the way home, I pleaded with her to remember this experience the next time she has to get a needle.

Meanwhile, standing outside, Justin was suitably freaked out by Sarah's scream. I came out to get him, and he said, "I need a few minutes to get ready." I told him he had three weeks to get himself ready for this, so get in here and sit down. It took about 2-3 minutes of telling him he didn't need any more time to prepare before he finally bent over into a fetal position ready for the shot. Don't look at the needle, Justin (he glances at the needle), you know we talked about this and you know you shouldn't look at it (nurse says don't look at the needle, he glances at the needle again, she hides it behind her back, he moans, etc).

Afterwards, he was worried he was going to get "disneyed" (dizzied), but he managed to shake it off without throwing up (he did throw up on one needle previously, which shocked me, but I'm told that kind of reaction isn't uncommon among teenagers getting needles). Now he'll spend the next three days soaking us with information about how much his arm hurts. Oh well.

Later, I took Justin to get his physical. I forgot to mention that yesterday began at 730am when I had to take Justin down to the school for a physical. See, the cross country coach had told us the night before that we could get a physical in the morning, but he apparently didn't know what he was talking about. So there's an hour of my life I'm not getting back. So we had to go to the little CareNow clinic down the road to get it overwith, just like last year. It ended up taking about 90 minutes.

Apparently, the way they protect their profits is by calling you in from the waiting room about 2-3 minutes after you arrive, and they must have 20 little rooms back there. Instead of waiting in the main area, they make you cool your heels in a little office in the back so you are less likely to get up and walk out. I could tell because while I waited for Justin, I swear at least a dozen people came out whom I didn't see go in. I didn't really mind because I had a good book with me, but it seemed ridiculous to sit for 90 minutes just for a physical. Why not call us in when they are really ready for us?

We got that over with, and then the last thing of the night was to take Sarah to her orientation night for 7th grade. Michelle offered to do a lot of this stuff that I did yesterday for the kids, but I actually don't mind getting out of the house and running errands, especially if I've spent the whole day in the house. And I like the start of school. It was always exciting when I was a kid. So Sarah and I took the tour to find out where all her classes were. She held my hand pretty much the whole time. I thought about mentioning to her that she might be too old for that, but then I figured it was her call. It was a rough day for her.

It did *not* help that the end of my day, we watched last week's ER episode on TiVo. In the episode, Dr. Carter and his wife find out that their baby died just hours before it was due to be born thanks to a knotted umbilical cord. That kind of plot really can't affect you nearly as much if you haven't already been through childbirth. As it is, I couldn't help but imagine what we would've gone through if we had lost Daniel. Argh, how painful.

Posted by Observer at 09:43 AM | Comments (2)

August 10, 2004

Change Is in the Air


Lots of People Turning Up to See Kerry and Edwards
Realize It Is a Lot More Fun to Be an American
When You Are Led by Hope Instead of Fear

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Here is a very nice essay by Athenae of the First Draft blog about why the numbers favor Kerry and why such huge crowds are turning up to see him on the campaign trail (I guess it helps that they don't have to sign any loyalty oaths to be there):

When you get right down to it, we're in this war on terrorism, and we've been given nothing to do as a country but be freaked out and shop.

During the Second World War, Americans bought war bonds and planted Victory Gardens and saved cooking grease, and maybe all of that was necessary and maybe it wasn't, but it gave non-military, non-governmental people a way to feel a part of the struggle. It gave them something to do besides sit in their houses, listen to the radio and worry. It gave them a direction for their energy, and it gave them, most of all, the feeling that they had power over world events. Suddenly the war didn't seem so big anymore, my grandmother told me once, because we were doing something to win it.

For three years now, those of us lucky enough not to have to go to war ourselves have been told by the government that there's nothing we can do, really. Go on with your lives, Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft tell us, but be very, very afraid. They're telling us terrorists hate us for stuff we can't or shouldn't change, that peace isn't possible, that the only thing people of good will can do to help matters here at home is to buy, buy, buy.

But shopping doesn't give people a sense of power over their lives. It doesn't help them feel they're doing something to support their son or daughter fighting overseas, it doesn't give them a way to help the neighbor who just lost her job and can't pay for her medication. Leaders, in the end, should tell us about ourselves as a people, about the kind of country we are. Apparently, in Bush's America, beset with all of its problems and struggles, we are a country that buys shit.

We have two men on the trail right now, across the country, who are telling Americans to have faith, have courage, and have hope. They're telling Americans they can fix a health care system that is broken, they can re-declare war on poverty, they can cure disease through scientific advancement and combat terrorism with the support of others so our men and women in uniform will not be alone out there. They tell us we can do this by voting and working and volunteering. Republican or Democrat, after three years of listening to a shaved chimp in a suit scream about evildoers, is it any surprise that people turn out by the thousands to hear them?

I have no illusions that any serious positive progress is going to be made on any of these issues as long as Republicans control one or both houses of Congress. The Senate is the more important one because of their role in confirming judges, and I imagine there will be at least two vacancies on the Supreme Court to fill by whomever is the next president. After they fucked over the election in 2000, I will admit it has been pretty decent of them to at least hang around until we can have a real election before any of them get replaced.

Posted by Observer at 06:56 AM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2004

The Rich Get Richer


Things Have Never Been Better!
(If You're a Millionaire or Bush Crony)

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

I bitch all the time about the media making Kerry look bad by bringing up stupid issues, like the fact that he and Edwards are millionaires (without mentioning the same about Bush and Cheney, including the very significant fact of how each made their fortunes). So, in the spirit of recognizing when the media does a stupid story that actually makes Bush look bad, I would like to say: more of this please. To be fair, this story, like the story describing Kerry's butler and "patrician manner", should have equal time on the front page of the New York Times. I'll be surprised if it is in there at all. I sure had to dig for it (wasn't in my local paper, of course):

A clergyman implored his affluent congregation, including President Bush's family, to jettison their material possessions, gently mocking George H.W. Bush's struggles on the golf course to drive home his point.

The Very Rev. Martin Luther Agnew preached Sunday to a packed Episcopal church just down the road from the Bush family's seaside estate. Its oceanfront parking lot was filled with luxury cars made by Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW and Volvo, testament to the wealth of the summer visitors at this southeast Maine resort.

"Gated communities," Agnew said, "tend to keep out God's people." But, he said, "Our material gifts do not have to be a wall."

"They can very well be a door. Jesus says, `Sell your possessions and give alms,'" Agnew said. "I'm convinced that what we keep owns us, and what we give away sets us free."

Agnew, a guest minister from Louisiana whose summer assignment ended Sunday, swung a golf club to get his message across to the vacationing congregation.

The sermon culminated with a joke about the first President Bush's battle to chip a golf ball out of an anthill. Swinging the club in a mock re-enactment, Agnew said Bush had swung twice and whiffed completely, wiping out hundreds of ants.

The ants got together and agreed: "If we're going to live, we better get on the ball!"

The former president sat stone-faced through this parable, even as his family, including the current President Bush, looked at him and smiled.

The ex-president gamely high-fived Agnew when the priest approached the second pew.

"Brothers and sisters, what God is inviting us to do is get on the ball," Agnew said, again imploring his audience to part with their possessions.

The Bush family that gathered at the front of the church Sunday morning is wealthy by any measure. They convened here at the 11-acre family compound owned by the former president and perched on the Atlantic Ocean. It is worth millions of dollars.

The current president lists among his assets his Texas ranch, worth between $1 million and $5 million. He also has U.S. Treasury notes valued at $5 million to $8.7 million. He sold his share of the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1998 for more than $15 million.

Also in the stone-and-mortar church were Bush's three brothers, Jeb, Neil and Marvin, first lady Laura Bush and Barbara Bush, the former first lady.

The family were gathered here for the wedding Saturday of Jeb Bush's son George Prescott Bush.

From church, the president and former president went fishing, their third expedition on the power boat in three days.

Hmmm, let's see, terror warning - check. Leaks to the media that make us look good but compromise our national security and the fight against Al Qaeda - check. 18 soldiers dead in Iraq since August 1 with virtually no reporting done by the media - check. Latest job report shows economy heading south again - check. Tens of millions of Americans still without access to any health insurance - check. Timber and mining industry still writing all the environmental regulations - check.

Yup, time for a three-day fishing trip with dear old dad!

Posted by Observer at 08:23 AM | Comments (2)

August 08, 2004

Loose Lips Sink Ships


Compromising National Security? IOKIYAR!
It's OK If You're a Republican!

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Atrios has a saying that comes in handy all the time: It's OK If You're a Republican (IOKIYAR). It's a simple philosophy that explains so much of the behavior of the mainstream media and Republicans in general. It explains, for example, why the media (and the 101st Fighting Warbloggers and the rest of the ConservaBorg) have gone off the deep end talking about Sandy Berger taking (and then returning) copies of classified documents from the national archives while ignoring major security leaks by conservatives and members of the Bush Administration.

Now, I can't honestly say I know the significance of what Berger did. It is entirely possible that he did something really bad, and I trust the non-partisan prosecutors at, uh, the Justice Depart-, uh, well, ummmm, let's just hope they keep it fair for the guy, you know? But why go nuts over Sandy Berger (the fake theory that he stuffed documents in his socks, for example, is now a part of the conventional wisdom, kind of like the idea that Al Gore said he invented the internet and so on) while ignoring the Plame scandal. And there may be stuff much worse than that on the horizon, just to tick off a couple of relatively recent examples...

There's the case of Richard Shelby, a Republican formerly on the Senate Intelligence Committee (he was rotated off recently). Follow the link for the longer version of the story, thanks to Digby. It appears that Shelby leaked the contents of some classified messages intercepted prior to 9/11, and he's been busted.

From what I can tell, it looks like the Justice Department was told "hands off" on this one, and they were asked to refer it back to the Republican-controlled Ethics Committee for an Official Slap on the Wrist. Someone at Justice, probably a career non-partisan prosecutor, decided to talk about the investigation so that at least this story didn't get buried. I wonder if Shelby will get any kind of punishment? I wonder if he's in line for any kind of criticism or ridicule at the hands of the ConservaBorg out there?

I wonder if I can be any more sarcastic.

Here's another leak story from Juan Cole. Apparently, in order to justify the latest terror alert, the Bush Administration outed an al-Qaeda double agent, which pissed off the British (who had to scramble to arrest suspects before they were tipped off). All of this could've been avoided had the administration quietly tightened security around what they considered to be vulnerable spots rather than trying to scare the hell out of everyone publicly. The British think we're pretty stupid putting our alerts out in public, but then, the British don't need to worry about distracting the press on demand with an election coming up, do they? Lambert over at Corrente (another excellent tag-team blog) has a good analysis of the whole thing, too.

Oh, and one other thing definitely worth a look (from First Draft). Bush-supporters love to talk about how they were so thankful that Bush was in office to lead us after 9/11. They wonder what would've happened had Bush not been in charge, if Gore had been president. Well, here's a handy little chart giving you an idea of how the War on Terror might have been fought a little differently (a lot of these ideas are proposals Gore made before and/or after 9/11), how the $144 billion we've spent so far in Iraq might have been used to do some good. For people who tend to think "a pox on both your houses" or that either candidate would be equally crappy if elected or what have you, this chart should be required reading.

Posted by Observer at 10:01 AM | Comments (1)

August 07, 2004

Hot on the Trail


According to Bush-Supporters, This Just Means
Better Beach Weather for Everybody!

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

First Draft is a new collective blog being run by the same great bloggers who regularly sub for Atrios during his vacations. They always seem to find good stuff, and they update all the time. It's a great bookmark. Today, they pointed me to this article in which one of the few Democrats with a spine that the media actually pays attention to, Henry Waxman, asks some questions that need to be asked:

A top House Democrat called on Attorney General John Ashcroft on Friday to explain why the Justice Department was letting federal officials cooperate in a Congressional inquiry into the case of Samuel R. Berger despite a current criminal investigation.

The representative, Henry A. Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, said the department position regarding Mr. Berger, a national security adviser to President Bill Clinton accused of mishandling classified documents, was at odds with how inquiries tied to the Bush administration had been handled.

"For example, in the investigation into the leak of the identity of covert C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame, officials have said repeatedly that they cannot comment because the matter is currently under investigation," Mr. Waxman wrote. He said the policy was "intended to maintain the integrity of the investigation and protect the individuals involved." [...]

In his letter to the Justice Department, Mr. Waxman said the House committee staff was initially told by prosecutors and archives officials that they could not provide details of the case because of the investigation. But he said more senior department officials reversed that position after being asked to intervene by Republican committee aides.

Mr. Waxman said archives officials were scheduled to be questioned by House investigators on Wednesday and had been told they were "in no way constrained" from talking about the details with lawmakers or their aides. Mr. Waxman asked Mr. Ashcroft to explain why the prosecutors were overruled and whether he would "similarly 'clear' " officials to discuss other cases, like Ms. Plame's.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said he could say nothing about the letter from Mr. Waxman other than "we will review Congressman Waxman's letter as we do all Congressional requests."

You would think at some point, Bush-supporting nutball conservatives who claim to love America would show some signs of concern about the way this administration always puts politics ahead of national security. The only time national security wins is when it just happens to correspond to the most politically expedient thing to do, the same way that even a stopped clock is right twice a day. But don't bother trying to tell this to the nutball brigade.

When it comes to the truth, Bush-supporters just don't give a shit. The latest thing I've seen them bandy about is an article from the Washington Times about global warming. The article just summarizes some basic research that's going on with global warming, and it includes a reference to scientists who are studying the possibility that variations in solar activity may be contributing to global warming.

Did I say "studying the possibility"? Well, to the nutball brigade, that reads "have conclusively determined". They're quoting that article right and left, saying that the big shot researchers at the Max Planck Institute (one of those places over in socialist Germany, you know) have proved that liberals are all wrong, etc. The sad part is that even though the article itself does an incredibly poor job of describing the actual research being done, it includes enough caveats that even the casual reader can see that this is just scientists saying the same thing we've always said: we just don't know what is going to happen.

The Bush-supporters never disappoint. Remember when I talked about Pine's great book, "Science and the Human Prospect", back here? One of Pine's key statements was, "It is important to note that what for most people is the conclusion of an investigation is only the beginning of an investigation for a science." Science is all about getting at the truth objectively, about disregarding theories that have been convincingly discredited, about intellectual honesty. That's why it is so dangerous to Bush-supporters and why I continue to enthusiastically teach scientific principles in my classes. I'm lucky to have the opportunity.

By the way, I talked some about what we *do* know about global warming here as Stupid Conservative Myth #5.

Posted by Observer at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)

August 06, 2004

The Big Story


Lucky for Halliburton, Congressional Republicans and
the Media Have Lost Their Interest in Pursuing Scandals

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

It's not that I'm surprised. It's just that once in a while, just to save themselves from utter embarrassment, you would think some Republicans would speak out about the obvious unlawful and unethical crap that Vice President Dick Cheney was involved in while he was the CEO at Halliburton. Or, I don't know maybe the ultra-liberal left-wing socialist mainstream media might devote a front page story to something like this after putting fucking Whitewater news on the front page for eight years. In the meantime, Josh Marshall develops some of the details:

Today the Times reports that the the SEC has fined Halliburton $7.5 million for, in effect, defrauding its shareholders.

The charges stem from a change in accounting methods Halliburton made in 1998. The SEC found that the old and the new accounting methods were both permissible under accepted practices. The key, however, is that Halliburton did not inform investors of the change. That allowed Halliburton to "report annual earnings in 1998 that were 46 percent higher than they would have been had the change not been made ... [and] a substantially higher profit in 1999."

This change came just as Halliburton was struggling with falling share prices that threatened to sink its proposed merger with Dresser Industries.

Again from the Times ...

It reported a 34 percent gain in profit for the quarter, far better than other oil services companies were reporting, and Mr. Cheney said then that "Halliburton continues to make good financial progress despite uncertainties over future oil demand."

The commission said yesterday that the gain would have been just 6.7 percent without the undisclosed change in accounting policies.

This is sorta like, "Hey, we just changed the temperature reading in our refrigeration trucks from Fahrenheit to Celsius without telling you. So what's the problem?"

The SEC and the even the Times goes to some length to avoid the colloquial term for this sort of behavior: i.e., fraud. The SEC did levy the fine. And it did point the finger of blame at two lower levels Halliburton officials. Yet the SEC, in the words of the Times, "did not detail the extent to which [Cheney] was aware of the change or of the requirement to disclose it to investors." And not surprisingly, in the article, Cheney's lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell is trumpeting the results of the investigation as a clean bill of health for Cheney.

Now, with a whitewash, you might at least expect that Cheney would be denying knowledge that this took place, as implausible as it might sound. But he won't. After taking down O'Donnell's crowing about the results of the investigation, the Times asked whether Cheney "had been aware of the effect of the accounting change on the company's profits." But O'Donnell wouldn't answer.

So here you have the Vice President of the United States. His company gets caught in about as clear a case of cooking the books to inflate profits as you can imagine during the time he was CEO. (His salary and bonuses are tied to company profits.) And he won't even go to the trouble of denying that he was aware of the wrongdoing.

Can we have some more aggressive reporting on this one?

Sorry, no, the media apparently has caught wind that Ben Affleck has a new girlfriend or that Tom Cruise is looking for one or something. At least, that's what the media thinks the Moron American ought to be reading about.

I think maybe the media ought to be pushing a little harder this story plus maybe the fact that the economy is really struggling right now, contrary to what the Boy King promised would be the result of these huge tax breaks for the rich and huge deficits we're piling up.

Or maybe they ought to be talking about Iraq a little bit more. Oh, wait, I forgot. We transferred power over there to the new regime, so I guess that doesn't really count any more. Not our problem. Oh, we still have over 100,000 troops over there for God knows how long, and we may have to reinstitute the draft (after the election, of course), but since there isn't an American officially in charge, the media has allowed Iraq to fall off the table, even though things have only been getting worse, as Krugman reports:

A funny thing happened after the United States transferred sovereignty over Iraq. On the ground, things didn't change, except for the worse.

But as Matthew Yglesias of The American Prospect puts it, the cosmetic change in regime had the effect of "Afghanizing" the media coverage of Iraq.

He's referring to the way news coverage of Afghanistan dropped off sharply after the initial military defeat of the Taliban. A nation we had gone to war to liberate and had promised to secure and rebuild - a promise largely broken - once again became a small, faraway country of which we knew nothing.

Incredibly, the same thing happened to Iraq after June 28. Iraq stories moved to the inside pages of newspapers, and largely off TV screens. Many people got the impression that things had improved. Even journalists were taken in: a number of newspaper stories asserted that the rate of U.S. losses there fell after the handoff. (Actual figures: 42 American soldiers died in June, and 54 in July.)

The trouble with this shift of attention is that if we don't have a clear picture of what's actually happening in Iraq, we can't have a serious discussion of the options that remain for making the best of a very bad situation.

The military reality in Iraq is that there has been no letup in the insurgency, and large parts of the country seem to be effectively under the control of groups hostile to the U.S.-supported government.

In the spring, American forces won an impressive military victory against the Shiite forces of Moktada al-Sadr. But this victory hasn't curbed the movement; Mr. Sadr's forces, according to many reports, are the de facto government of Sadr City, a Baghdad slum with 2.5 million people, and seem to have strengthened their position in Najaf and other cities.

In Sunni areas, Falluja is enemy territory. Elsewhere in western Iraq, according to reports from Knight Ridder and The Los Angeles Times, U.S. forces have hunkered down, manning watch posts but not patrolling. In effect, this cedes control of the population to the insurgents. And everywhere, of course, the mortar attacks, bombings, kidnappings and assassinations go on.

Despite a two-month truce between Mr. Sadr and the United States military, heavy fighting broke out yesterday in Najaf, where a U.S. helicopter was shot down. There was also sporadic violence in Sadr City - where, according to reporters, American planes appeared to drop bombs - and in Basra.

Meanwhile, reconstruction has languished.

This summer, like last summer, there are severe shortages of electricity. Sewage is tainting the water supply, and typhoid and hepatitis are on the rise. Unemployment remains sky-high. Needless to say, all this undermines any chance for the new Iraqi government to gain wide support.

My point in describing all this bad news is not to be defeatist. It is to set some realistic context for the political debate.

One thing is clear: calls to "stay the course" are fatuous. The course we're on leads downhill. American soldiers keep winning battles, but we're losing the war: our military is under severe strain; we're creating more terrorists than we're killing; our reputation, including our moral authority, is damaged each month this goes on.

So am I saying we should cut and run? That's another loaded phrase. Nobody wants to see helicopters lifting the last Americans off the roofs of the Green Zone.

But we need to move quickly to end our position as "an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land," the fate that none other than former President George H. W. Bush correctly warned could be the result of an invasion of Iraq. And that means turning real power over to Iraqis.

Again and again since the early months after the fall of Baghdad - when Paul Bremer III canceled local elections in order to keep the seats warm for our favorite exiles - U.S. officials have passed up the chance to promote credible Iraqi leaders. And each time the remaining choices get worse.

Yet we're still doing it. Ayad Allawi is, probably, something of a thug. Still, it's in our interests that he succeed.

But when Mr. Allawi proposed an amnesty for insurgents - a move that was obviously calculated to show that he wasn't an American puppet - American officials, probably concerned about how it would look at home, stepped in to insist that insurgents who have killed Americans be excluded. Inevitably, this suggestion that American lives matter more than Iraqi lives led to an unraveling of the whole thing, so Mr. Allawi now looks like a puppet.

Should we cut and run? No. But we should get realistic, and look in earnest for an exit.

It's funny how we went over there to save the Iraqi people, apparently, but they seem to have a better understanding of what's going on than the American people. They have no illusions that we are still in charge, and a lot of that is because they don't have the luxury of spending their day inundated with a media that desperately is trying to find out the truth about when Britney is going to get married again.

Posted by Observer at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2004

Another Flip Flop


Orel Hershiser: Miracle Worker?

Well, three days after I decided to start writing off the Rangers thanks to their crappy pitching (and the fact that they got their asses handed to them by Oakland over the past 10 days), they go off and sweep Detroit, allowing 5 runs in 3 games, one of which was a 4-hit shutout performance (over 7 innings) by an untested rookie given a chance to spot start. The pitching coach (seen above) has the Ranger staff in the top half of the American League in ERA, which I don't think has ever happened this late in the season (ok, maybe exaggerating, but not by much).

Although Ranger starting pitching has sucked over the past few weeks since the All-Star Break, the bullpen has remained consistent, and there is still time to turn it around if we can get quality starts here and there by young guys (and if Rogers and Drese, our #1 and #2, can stay steady). We just pulled back into first place thanks to the Yanks taking two of three from Oakland, and we've got three now against poor Baltimore. Texas isn't a good road team, but if we can take two of three there they should still be in first place when they get back home.

I went my whole life rooting for a sorry team, and I didn't realize how much fun a playoff team can be until I cheered for the Mariners many years ago. Then the Rangers got humiliated a couple of times in the first round by the Yankees, and I realized not *all* playoff teams are fun to watch. I just hope this year's bunch doesn't get intimidated and can make it interesting if they do get to the playoffs.

Posted by Observer at 06:34 PM | Comments (2)

August 04, 2004

He Blew It


This Is What Happens to (Bad) Starting Quarterbacks
Who Are Stupid Enough to Fail an Easy Drug Test

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Shock waves throughout Cowboy-land today. Last year's starting QB, Quincy Carter, was just cut a couple of hours ago. Rumor has it that he failed a drug test because he's been using cocaine (which is doubly stupid because in the NFL, you know weeks ahead of time when you are going to be tested). I just hope Vinny Testaverde can hold the fort until Drew Henson is ready, and I hope Drew is the real deal (shouldn't be hard to have a bigger upside than Quincy).

I love Dallas Cowboys training camp because it means two great things. First, the incredible heat of the summer is going to be coming to an end. By the 3rd or 4th week of the season, our nighttime lows will be back in the 50's, and it will be fun to be outside again while the sun is up. And of course, it means football season is cranking up, and me loves me some football. Extra fun now that the Cowboys have a real coach again.

Oh yeah, it also usually means we can let the Rangers' failed season die the quiet death it deserves. This year, they're competing, and it's actually exciting, but their pitching is just so bad (and getting worse as the season goes on), I think it's best that we forget about the false hope of another playoff loss to the Yankees and start following football.

Posted by Observer at 01:33 PM | Comments (1)

August 03, 2004

Tough Questions, Anyone?


Something the Media Desperately Needs
When Talking to Conservatives

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

If you can, catch "The Daily Show" in reruns today. Jon Stewart's interview with Republican representative (and "truth squad" member) Henry Bonilla is priceless. Im paraphrasing here, but I know I have the gist of it. Bonilla came on with that whole mock humble attitude, "You know, Jon (can I call you Jon?), the whole reason we were at the convention was to get at the truth. All we want is for John Kerry to be honest."

Jon responded, "Oh yeah, I totally agree. I mean, take for example that thing about you know how John Kerry is the number one liberal in the Senate and so on."

Bonilla said, "Oh yes, definitely. And you know that's all we want people to understand. I'm a conservative, and if John Kerry is a liberal, we just want him to say so, you know?" Big smile, but the poor bastard didn't realize he wasn't talking to some Wolf Blitzer/CNN/Fox news clone.

The conversation went on for a while, somewhat confused, and finally Stewart just came out and asked, "Look, do you know where that #1 liberal ranking thing comes from?"

Bonilla couldn't answer. He tried to duck and dodge and answer vaguely with a little laugh. Most of the time, that would get him a nod, a smile, maybe a courtesy laugh, then move on without follow-up. Not here. Jon finally had to answer for him, after politely pointing out, "Um, you're making all this up, aren't you?" He pointed out that the #1 ranking was from "National Journal" for a given year of votes, but that for their whole careers, the two men were actually more conservative, either the median of Senate Democrats or more conservative than that.

Bonilla didn't know what to say. He's used to throwing out lies (or, more technically, intentionally misleading facts out of context) and just having the host nod and smile and cue the commercial. Instead he's got Jon Stewart laughing politely and saying, "So you see, I completely agree with you. It's nice for there to be some honesty out there. I see that whole #1 liberal point, and I get really sad."

Bonilla got a little flustered and said, "Look, Jon, what do you want from me?"

Jon smiled and said, essentially, "Just a little honesty, you know? Stop saying stuff like '#1 liberal' or 'Kerry voted for 350 tax increases' and all that. Stop with all the spinning." It was brutally effective. You could tell from the look Bonilla was giving Stewart going into the break that Bonilla was pissed off that he just got schooled on a basic cable comedy show.

How is it that the anchorman on a comedy show has the assertiveness to ask the tough questions when CNN anchors don't bother? Oh, and Jon's interview with Wolf Blitzer is up now (look under Celebrity Interviews). This is the one where he begs Blitzer to cover the false premises of the Iraq War with maybe a little more enthusiasm that, say, Filegate (an obscure old Clinton scandal that amounted to nothing). Trust me, it's a classic. Jon has a way of making the same points about the stupid media as me, except he's really funny and not so verbose. Go watch it.

In closing, Krugman had more to say today about the problems with our lazy media:

A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like campaigndesk.org, mediamatters.org and dailyhowler.com. It's good to see ourselves as others see us. I've been finding The Daily Howler's concept of a media "script," a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence, particularly helpful in understanding cable news.

For example, last summer, when growth briefly broke into a gallop, cable news decided that the economy was booming. The gallop soon slowed to a trot, and then to a walk. But judging from the mail I recently got after writing about the slowing economy, the script never changed; many readers angrily insisted that my numbers disagreed with everything they had seen on TV.

If you really want to see cable news scripts in action, look at the coverage of the Democratic convention.

Commercial broadcast TV covered only one hour a night. We'll see whether the Republicans get equal treatment. C-Span, on the other hand, provided comprehensive, commentary-free coverage. But many people watched the convention on cable news channels - and what they saw was shaped by a script portraying Democrats as angry Bush-haters who disdain the military.

If that sounds like a script written by the Republicans, it is. As the movie "Outfoxed" makes clear, Fox News is for all practical purposes a G.O.P. propaganda agency. A now-famous poll showed that Fox viewers were more likely than those who get their news elsewhere to believe that evidence of Saddam-Qaeda links has been found, that W.M.D. had been located and that most of the world supported the Iraq war.

CNN used to be different, but Campaign Desk, which is run by The Columbia Journalism Review, concluded after reviewing convention coverage that CNN "has stooped to slavish imitation of Fox's most dubious ploys and policies." Seconds after John Kerry's speech, CNN gave Ed Gillespie, the Republican Party's chairman, the opportunity to bash the candidate. Will Terry McAuliffe be given the same opportunity right after President Bush speaks?

Commentators worked hard to spin scenes that didn't fit the script. Some simply saw what they wanted to see. On Fox, Michael Barone asserted that conventioneers cheered when Mr. Kerry criticized President Bush but were silent when he called for military strength. Check out the video clips at Media Matters; there was tumultuous cheering when Mr. Kerry talked about a strong America.

Another technique, pervasive on both Fox and CNN, was to echo Republican claims of an "extreme makeover" - the assertion that what viewers were seeing wasn't the true face of the party. (Apparently all those admirals, generals and decorated veterans were ringers.)

It will probably be easier to make a comparable case in New York, where the Republicans are expected to feature an array of moderate, pro-choice speakers and keep Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay under wraps. But in Boston, it took creativity to portray the delegates as being out of the mainstream. For example, Bill Schneider at CNN claimed that according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, 75 percent of the delegates favor "abortion on demand" - which exaggerated the poll's real finding, which is that 75 percent opposed stricter limits than we now have.

But the real power of a script is the way it can retroactively change the story about what happened.

On Thursday night, Mr. Kerry's speech was a palpable hit. A focus group organized by Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, found it impressive and persuasive. Even pro-Bush commentators conceded, at first, that it had gone over well.

But a terrorism alert is already blotting out memories of last week. Although there is now a long history of alerts with remarkably convenient political timing, and Tom Ridge politicized the announcement by using the occasion to praise "the president's leadership in the war against terror," this one may be based on real information. Regardless, it gives the usual suspects a breathing space; once calm returns, don't be surprised if some of those same commentators begin describing the ineffective speech they expected (and hoped) to see, not the one they actually saw.

Luckily, in this age of the Internet it's possible to bypass the filter. At c-span.org, you can find transcripts and videos of all the speeches. I'd urge everyone to watch Mr. Kerry and others for yourself, and make your own judgment.

Speaking of the terrorism alert that was just put out over the weekend, it is nice to see (finally) some media outlets are starting to question the timing as being political (Stewart had a funny take on that at the beginning of the show with Bonilla that aired last night and today). Without access to all of the classified information, none of us can know for sure if any given terror alert is genuine or a manipulation. With this administration, though, I hope you'll forgive me for a little healthy skepticism.

Posted by Observer at 01:10 PM | Comments (1)

August 02, 2004

Stay Healthy


We Know What We're Voting Against.
What Are We Voting For?

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Thanks to the silly corporate media, most people really don't have much of an idea of what John Kerry stands for. They just know that he is running against Bush, and presumably, he's a liberal (most repeat the false claim he is the #1 liberal or something like that, without addressing how conservative Bush has been, among other things). Paul Krugman has more:

Under the headline "Voters Want Specifics From Kerry," The Washington Post recently quoted a voter demanding that John Kerry and John Edwards talk about "what they plan on doing about health care for middle-income or lower-income people. I have to face the fact that I will never be able to have health insurance, the way things are now. And these millionaires don't seem to address that."

Mr. Kerry proposes spending $650 billion extending health insurance to lower- and middle-income families. Whether you approve or not, you can't say he hasn't addressed the issue. Why hasn't this voter heard about it?

Well, I've been reading 60 days' worth of transcripts from the places four out of five Americans cite as where they usually get their news: the major cable and broadcast TV networks. Never mind the details - I couldn't even find a clear statement that Mr. Kerry wants to roll back recent high-income tax cuts and use the money to cover most of the uninsured. When reports mentioned the Kerry plan at all, it was usually horse race analysis - how it's playing, not what's in it.

On the other hand, everyone knows that Teresa Heinz Kerry told someone to "shove it," though even there, the context was missing. Except for a brief reference on MSNBC, none of the transcripts I've read mention that the target of her ire works for Richard Mellon Scaife, a billionaire who financed smear campaigns against the Clintons - including accusations of murder. (CNN did mention Mr. Scaife on its Web site, but described him only as a donor to "conservative causes.") And viewers learned nothing about Mr. Scaife's long vendetta against Mrs. Heinz Kerry herself.

There are two issues here, trivialization and bias, but they're related.

Somewhere along the line, TV news stopped reporting on candidates' policies, and turned instead to trivia that supposedly reveal their personalities. We hear about Mr. Kerry's haircuts, not his health care proposals. We hear about George Bush's brush-cutting, not his environmental policies. [...]

This seems like a good place to note, as an aside, that the day after Clinton's rousing speech to the Democratic National Convention, the supposedly "ultra-liberal" Washington Post ran very prominently a non-story about Monica Lewinsky. We've run up a debt just in the past year of over $1000 for every man, woman and child in America thanks to Flight Suit Georgie, dramatically reversing the surpluses we gained with Clinton's economic and taxation policies, and all the Post can think to talk about is Monica Lewinsky. Boggles the mind, it does.

And since campaign coverage as celebrity profiling has no rules, it offers ample scope for biased reporting.

Notice the voter's reference to "these millionaires." A Columbia Journalism Review Web site called campaigndesk.org, says its analysis "reveals a press prone to needlessly introduce Senators Kerry and Edwards and Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, as millionaires or billionaires, without similar labels for President Bush or Vice President Cheney."

As the site points out, the Bush campaign has been "hammering away with talking points casting Kerry as out of the mainstream because of his wealth, hoping to influence press coverage." The campaign isn't claiming that Mr. Kerry's policies favor the rich - they manifestly don't, while Mr. Bush's manifestly do. Instead, we're supposed to dislike Mr. Kerry simply because he's wealthy (and not notice that his opponent is, too). Republicans, of all people, are practicing the politics of envy, and the media obediently go along.

As a follow-up (thanks, Atrios), CBS responded angrily to Krugman, saying that had indeed covered many issues on the news, but as Krugman notes in his response:

I did not say that there has been no issue reporting at all over the past two months; I said that issue coverage is very thin, and that there has in particular been no clear explanation of even the most basic elements of the Kerry health care plan.

That statement is, alas, true. The CBS evening news report from June 29 was the best coverage of the competing health care plans I could find. But did it explain that the Kerry plan would cover most of those now uninsured? No. Did it explain that the plan would, according to the Kerry campaign, be financed by a tax-cut rollback? No. In fact, by giving time to Bush claims that "the Kerry plan would break the bank", without mentioning Kerry's plan to pay for it with a tax-cut rollback, the CBS report conveyed the false impression that the plan is unfunded pie in the sky.

Bear in mind that this is not one among many issues: health care-cum-tax cut rollback is Kerry's signature domestic policy proposal. Yet a voter who gets his or her news from TV, even CBS with its "issues" series, would have little or no idea of what Kerry is offering, or how it differs from Bush.

So if you want to know what Kerry really stands for, you'll have to actually read the platform (big yawn) or find someplace that summarizes the big ideas in language any Earthling can read, such as here, where you can see the highlights of what Kerry *is* proposing about health care, among other things:

Kerry plans to expand eligibility for Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), a long overdue move that will all but eradicate the number of uninsured children in America.

But the second, most expensive, part of his proposal -- the plan to have government insure catastrophic illness -- is the main event. Everyone has his or her own pet candidate for "the big problem" with health care in America. To give an example: health care costs rise dramatically simply because there will always be new health services, and people will pay nearly anything to get them. So in the absence of any financial disincentive, doctors will provide a lot of unnecessary -- even inappropriate -- care. On the other hand, look what happens if the government uses market competition to put bottom-line pressure on HMOs and insurance companies. The companies reduce unnecessary coverage, but they also try to avoid covering catastrophic illnesses. (This is known as "adverse selection"; a more detailed paper can be found here.) Furthermore, a few big illnesses can ratchet up premiums in a company pool, as The Washington Post recently discovered.

Under John Kerry's proposal, the government would pay for 75 percent of medical bills over $50,000 a year. Because the costs of covering catastrophic illness would be greatly reduced, insurance companies would no longer have incentive to avoid those who need health care the most. Insurance rates would fall, and younger, healthier people would be more likely to buy health insurance, since they no longer have to pick up the tab for the less fortunate. Kerry's plan attacks the worst aspects of private insurance, while preserving its benefits. If Kerry can stress this point, and allay fears about a government takeover of health care, he could well convince moderate Republicans to sign on.

Kerry has a number of other, smaller ideas for health care. Perhaps most significant is his plan to close the legal loopholes that allow "brand-name" pharmaceutical companies to stop cheaper, generic drugs from entering the market. Ever since the Hatch-Waxman Act was passed in 1984, drug companies have used hordes of lawyers to exploit the patent laws and extend their protections. It's high time to end corporate welfare for the drug industry.

Sounds good to me, but then I'm a wild-eyed ultra-left-wing liberal wacko, I guess.

Posted by Observer at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2004

Why Lie?


Pundits Lie So Politicians Don't Have To!
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Steve Gilliard summarizes one reason the Boy King is having difficulty convincing voters he deserves any more of our patience:

The Bush campaign wants to depict Kerry, despite all available evidence, as a man unsure of himself, unable to make up his mind, someone too weak to make hard decisions. Coming from the man who read My Pet Goat as 3,000 Americans were being roasted alive by jet fuel, this would be funny if it weren't sad.

As the campaign draws to a close, it will become easier to spot common (false) conservative talking points coming from the mouth of the mainstream media. Just listen for any story that depicts Kerry as a flip-flopper, for example.

ConservaBorg like to say Kerry flip-flopped on whether he supports the troops. He voted to go to war, they say, but he didn't vote for additional funding. But Kerry had good reason: he wanted the extra money paid for, not put on the national debt. He wanted the money to come out of the tax cuts for the rich.

Most mainstream media outlets just leave you with this impression, without completing the story. You see, Bush actually threatened to veto the additional funding, too. He would've voted against it had it not met his condition that some of the money be a gift, not a loan (or maybe that's the other way around, I can't recall, but there are decent arguments to make both ways). In other words, if Kerry is a flip-flopper for this, then Bush is *EXACTLY* as guilty of the label as Kerry.

Then there's this stupid bit about Kerry and Edwards being the 1st and 4th most liberal members of the Senate. Bob Somerby has covered this to death. There was a survey done of something like a total of one year of Senate votes (many of which were missed by both men), but if you look at their career average, both are pretty close to the center of the Democratic ideological spectrum (by the way, where exactly are Bush's policies on this spectrum ... you think we're gonna hear that?).

Pundits and news stories that try to make this point about flip-flopping or "how liberal is he?" are lying to you. Take a deep breath and let that sink in. It's a hard truth to swallow.

Most of them are smart enough to realize that they are lying, so then you have to realize that the most important thing you just heard isn't the false spin point. It is the fact that the spin point is false on purpose. So then you have to ask yourself, "Why would they do that?"

Lots of reasons, really. That's why they're the corporate media. The editors and publishers are conservatives, and they know it is less trouble for them to just pass along the spin of the day. At best, they just ignore it all together and tell you about Ben Affleck's latest romance.

These aren't my words, but I can't find the link to properly credit this right now. Says what I want to say, though: "Since when does the media think that reporting what interests the public is actually in the public's interest?" The Moron American crowd that doesn't take responsibility to Get Informed is taking its freedom for granted. Don't claim to love this country, then spout off some bullshit that tells me you don't know what the candidates stand for.

But if the media fails at its job, how are people supposed to find out the facts? If conservatives convince everyone they can't trust the media because they're too liberal (especially when the bias is largely corporate or conservative), how are people supposed to trust when they are being told something straight? Anyway, it drives me crazy, and it's why the most important question you should be asking is why we are being told lies by people who know better.

Posted by Observer at 07:28 AM | Comments (0)