Hog is dead--long live Hog!


Friday, September 30, 2005

[Politics]

So This is What "Bringing Together" Looks Like

Just two days ago, Tom DeLay told a rapt Brit Hume that his indictment was bringing the GOP together. Appears not everyone got the memo:
Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, upset with Congress's spending, said they are prepared to challenge some of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's top lieutenants if the case against DeLay isn't resolved by year's end. They warned that the three-way power-sharing arrangement Hastert set up in Delay's absence can't last into the next House session, which begins in January....

Meanwhile, some moderates who have clashed with DeLay were already speaking as though his temporary resignation from leadership is permanent.
And as for the glue that holds together the DeLay bloc? You know, that green stuff? Trouble:
Troubling to the Republicans is that DeLay's indictment combined with other GOP gloomy news --President Bush's declining approval ratings, rising gas prices and other scandals--could convince big-money donors that the Democrats have a chance of winning next year. They fear this will depress contributions to the GOP and increase the numbers for the Democrats.
So by "bringing together," DeLay must have meant his intra- and extra-party rivals. Or maybe he just didn't get their memo.
[Daily Brief]

Valerie Plame Edition

I'll probably regret this, but the theories are so rich and lustrous that I can't avoid a full briefing on them. Today's version will be about the grand conspiracy to out Valerie Plame, as seen through the lens of yesterday's juicy news that Judy Miller is out of jail. I recognize we have a new supreme court justice, and that Bill Bennett has set the blogosphere on fire. They'll have to wait.

If the names Miller and Plame rattle off your pate like summer rain, you may want to cut your losses. If, however, they inspire grassy-knoll like delight, read on. At the end of the post, I'll include a thumbnail sketch of the issues for those of you wishing to disappear down the rabbit hole.

Okay, to yesterday's news: Judith Miller was released from the slammer, freed by the source she was protecting, one Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who apparently gave her permission to reveal his name a year ago. So why did Judy sit in jail for three months? Let us first turn to the ur-source, Tom Maguire, who suspects that she's protecting her own arse, having inadvertently slipped Scooter the news that began the whole affair. (This may exonerate the White House, which conservatives like, but also doom Miller, which liberals will applaud.)

Needlenose is not convinced. Swopa sees a noose tightening around Scooter's neck that Miller can't loosen: "By admitting (through his lawyer the Post's anonymous source) that he was trying to get information from the CIA -- and then passing details to Schmidt -- he's provided all the circumstantial evidence needed to convict himself of leaking classified information."

If the NY Times is trying to polish their reporter's incarceration with Bernsteinian sheen, the WaPo is not. Froomkin shares my skepticism: "The least charitable explanation is that going to jail was Miller's way of transforming herself from a journalistic outcast (based on her gullible pre-war reporting) into a much-celebrated hero of press freedom." Froomkin follows it up with a nice rundown of the relevant MSM commentary and news.

Arianna Huffington has taken a keen interest in the Plame affair, and predictably weighs in this morning. It's a bit of a broadside, but there is this interesting question: "And so we don’t forget what this story is really about, and given that the aluminum tubes crap that Miller put on the front page of the New York Times was being heavily promoted by Cheney, how much of that bogus information came to Miller via Libby?"

David Corn weighs in with his own thoughts at the Nation, at length, and I find no sentence pithy enough to quote. You're on your own.

Finally, Liberal Oasis steps back for a bigger picture look, and concludes on this note: "It is indisputable that both Karl Rove and Scooter Libby have violated their national security clearance agreements. They have yet to be punished by their boss."

And there you have it.

We will apparently know more soon. Miller is scheduled to testify this morning on the case. Having given you the main courses, I now alert you to the table scraps, should you wish to keep sifting. In no particular order: John Friedman | Laura Rozen | Middle Earth Journal | Murray Waas | Media Nation | Left Coaster

______________________
A Primer on the Plame Affair
In the lead-up to the war, the administration was sifting through a variety of dubious leads about the existence of Iraqi WMD. The most dubious was a document that appeared to show Iraqi efforts to buy low-grade uranium from Niger. Dick Cheney sent a former Gabon ambassador, Joe Wilson, to Africa to find out what the story was. With little effort, Wilson exposed the document as a forgery, found no evidence that Iraq had tried to buy uranium, and reported back to the administration on this point. The case might have been closed there, except that the evidence re-emerged in Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, claiming the Niger link. Wilson, appalled at the lie, wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times disputing the evidence cited in the SotU.

Everything's clear to this point, right? Now comes the cloak-and-dagger bit. In apparent retribution, someone at the White House started leaking the identity of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, to the press. She was a covert CIA operative at the time, and "outing" her constituted a felony. The WH spoke to several journalists, including Robert Novak, who wrote about Plame. Following the leak, the Deputy Attorney General appointed a independent counsel, who began an investigation. As a part of that investigation, Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, subpeonaed various journalists, and two refused to appear before a grand jury. One, Matthew Cooper, was released by his source and revealed him: Karl Rove. The other, Judith Miller, did not, and ended up in jail. All of which takes us to yesterday, when she was released.
[Affaire du Bugman]

The Piano Player in a Fancy Bordello

Tom DeLay's defenders have all taken the same tack: he's innocent and the prosecutor is targeting him for solely political purposes. Yesterday Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA and one of my long-time favorite bloggers, pretty handily refuted this claim. He outlined the various possibilities based on the indictment, and in no case can the defenders reasonably argue he's innocent. Not guilty? Kleiman allows that exoneration is possible in these cases:
  • TRMPAC orchestrated a violation of the law, but DeLay had no knowledge of that fact.
  • TRMPAC orchestrated a violation of the law, and DeLay knew of the facts but not of their illegality, and therefore didn't "conspire."
  • It's all true, but the prosecutor can't prove one or more of the elments beyond reasonable doubt.
At best, Kleiman argues, "DeLay will be offering the defense of the man who played the piano for twenty years in the parlor of a fancy bordello but claimed he had no idea of what was going on upstairs." Great stuff.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

[Media]

Judy's Out; Fingers Scooter

I'm guessing this will rouse little more than a yawn, but NY Times reporter Judith Miller* is out of the pokey. She was initially jailed for her refusal to identify the administration official who had (apparently illegally) leaked the name of a CIA operative, later published by Robert Novak. That official has released her from her confidentiality pledge--it's Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, which everyone already knew.

The Times, embarrassed by her reportage (much of which was later proved wrong), has been making much hay about her noble imprisonment, and so expect more of the same. About the only thing I find interesting is this bizarre passage, which has the unavoidable scent of coverup:
Ms. Miller spoke with Mr. Libby by telephone earlier this month as their lawyers listened, according to people briefed on the matter. It was then that Mr. Libby told Ms. Miller that she had his personal and voluntary waiver.

But the discussions were at times strained, with Mr. Libby and Mr. Tate asserting that they communicated their voluntary waiver to Ms. Miller's lawyers more than year ago, according to those briefed on the case. Mr. Libby wrote to Ms. Miller in mid-September, saying that he believed her lawyers understood that his waiver was voluntary.

Others involved in the case have said that Ms. Miller did not understand that the waiver had been freely given and did not accept it until she had heard from him directly.
So what was she still doing in the pokey? Strange.

_______________
*In my effort to make these posts more coherent, here's a quick backgrounder: Judy Miller is a writer for the Times who famously riled liberals by administration-friendly stories in the lead-up to the war.

"In July of 2005, Miller was jailed for contempt of court by refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating a leak naming Valeria Plame as a covert CIA agent. Miller did not write about Plame, but is reportedly in possession of evidence relevant to the leak investigation. (Plame's CIA identity was revealed by political commentator Robert Novak on July 14, 2003.)" [Source: Wikipedia]
[Affaire du Bugman]

The Best Part

It's worth pulling out one quote from that Brit Hume interview. Here's the Bugman:
"The best part about it is the members saw this for what it was--the members of the Republican caucus--and the Democrats couldn't have done more to bring us together and unite us when we were actually falling apart."
Oh really? Anyone care to place bets on this observation?

(incidentally, I'm told not everyone understands the "Bugman" reference. DeLay was formerly an exterminator, which has given rise to endless entendres on his bugginess. This Slate article, for example.)
[Politics]

When Hacks* Rule

Every major newspaper has a similar story this morning: "Troubled Year Gets Worse for GOP" (WaPo), "For GOP, DeLay Indictment Adds to a Sea of Trouble," (NY Times), "GOP Loses Powerful Enforcer," (LA Times), "Loss of leader, taint of scandal is a double hit for Bush," (Boston Globe), and so on. Boy, are they right:
  • House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is under indictment
  • Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is under investigation by the SEC
  • Bush is in deep political trouble over Iraq, the fallout from Katrina, and the revelation of rampant cronyism
  • Hurricane Abramoff threatens to deal a larger blow to the GOP than Katrina
One of the themes the stories hit is comparing the GOP of 2005 to the Democratic Party of 1994. According to their own hagiography, the GOP stepped into this corrupt breach with shining goodness, bent on restoring ethics. Now newspapers are rehashing that line, describing the current GOP collapse as an ironic turn-around.

Hogwash.

The GOP seized control in 1994 with nothing on their minds but keeping the power. And not just that temporary, fleeting power they achieved then--they wanted a kind of lasting power, the power to reshape the country and to stay in power. The triumphalism following the election underscored it. Conservatives had held both branches of elective government for four years, and now it was time to seize the judiciary. The GOP immediately set out to overturn issues that had rankled for decades as the Social Security "debate" and Terri Schiavo debacle demonstrated.

The notion that the GOP was the party of reform is absurd. The Contract with America, supposedly the instrument of reform, was actually a trojan horse of old conservative ideas gussied upin ethics garb. In fact, you could argue (and I guess I am) that the Contract with America was moment the GOP got wise and quit trying to forward their ideas as policy positions--always a failure with a public that always leans left on safety net issues--and recast them through pure spin. Looking at the Contract now, the issues appear to be the standard Norquist agenda of trashing government. The brilliance of the document is that it was offered as a reform: in order to get people to sign on, Republicans didn't announce that they wanted to get rid of popular programs, they said they wanted to get rid of "waste."

It is the particular genius of the modern Republican Party that they can turn black into white. All that business of trying to craft policies people like is so inefficient:. It's far easier to just lie. The modern Republican Party isn't a party of governance, it's a party of hacks. Spin is drafted in one room while the policies--increasingly just crude profiteering--are drafted in a different room. If the rhetoric about a policy reform actually represents that reform accurately, it's purely accidental.

How else to explain yesterday's spectacle of an indicted politician receiving not a single, even provisional rebuke from his own party? If the GOP were concerned even passingly with governance, it might have occurred to someone to throw out the once-obligatory "while we don't have all the facts, these allegations are disturbing...." Instead, they start spinning invective about the prosecutor (remember when it was the GOP who loved prosecutors?).

The GOP has perfected the art of the spin--they actually can make voters believe black is white, Saddam is Osama, the estate tax will impoverish farmers--but it has forgotten that whole governing piece. The most disturbing thing isn't even that they've forgotten to govern--it's that they don't seem to recognize that they aren't governing. In making their politics all about spin, they've made the fatal error of so many corrupt regimes: now they actually believe their own propaganda.

_______________________
*Hack (n) - a political operative; one concerned with the functions of the political machine. (Fourth edition Hog Dictionary, abridged.)
[Daily Brief]

All Blog Edition

Kevin Drum links to a list of nicknames Dubya has bestowed on various people. To actually make the list means you've hit his radar, and even though some of them are patronizing, it's interesting to see Dennis Kucinich there ("Mayor.") Maureen Dowd is the cobra. Appropos of my post below, Brad DeLong provides the obverse example--intellectual honesty in defending Bill Bennett against racism charges. And another example: yesterday, David Dreier was the replacement Majority Leader for about ten minutes--the length of time it took the GOP to run him out on a rail. Now a debate is breaking out about whether it's appropriate to even mention the Dreier may be gay. Hey, look, one party has made a cottage industry out of depriving gays of their rights, and when they 86 one of their own, we're not supposed to mention why? Fair is fair, but that's just stupid.

DeLay is rousing the usual opinions (no need to link elsewhere--just scroll down!), but today's lead WaPo editorial is getting a lot of run. The editors, despite admitting that they haven't a clue what Earle has on DeLay, think it ain't enough. Righties have seized on this as evidence of an Earle vendetta (liberal media, why do you torment them so?): Cap'n's Quarters, GOP Bloggers, Sully. TAPPED has a nice rebuttal. Also, Jerome at MyDD recounts the largesse DeLay lavished on his party.

Finally, on the absent Democrat meme, Oliver Willis has some great thoughts.

And that's today's brief.

(Oh, one more thing. Crooks and Liars has a 10-minute clip of a Brit Hume interview of Tom DeLay. I'm not sure which one is spinning harder. I think it's time for FOX to change its name to WGOP.)
[Supreme Court]

Roberts Approved

John Roberts was just approved by the full Senate to become the Supreme Court Chief Justice, presumably for the next few decades, on a 78-22 vote. This is about what I expected (I predicted an 85-12 vote). I'll update the post with a list of the 22 dissentors when it becomes available.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

[Affaire du Bugman]

More Odds and Ends

The first line of defense for the Bugman's men is ... offense. Of course. And the current line is that Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor who indicted DeLay, is a partisan hack. (Or, as DeLay characterizes him modestly, a "vengeful partisan fanatic.") But this was the same line the bugman's men trundled out when House Republicans tried to change their own rules to allow a sitting leader to be indicted. And Media Matters, among others, refuted the claim. They refute it again, pointing out that of the 15 elected officials Earle has indicted, 12 were Democrats.

Also, it looks like Dreier may not get the nod. Wait, maybe he will. Wait, maybe he will get a partial nod and tag team with Roy Blunt:
Blunt will move up from Republican whip to temporarily fill DeLay's post and will be aided by Dreier, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, and Eric Cantor of Virginia, the chief deputy whip.
Roy Blunt, incidentally, just recently made the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington list of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress. Read his rap sheet here. I like particularly that Blunt is wrapped up in the Abramoff scandal:
If, as it appears, Rep. Blunt was accepting campaign contributions from Mr. Abramoff in exchange for using his official position so support a view of gambling law that would benefit Mr. Abramoff’s client, he would be in violation of the law.
So, it's good to see the leadership will remain in ethical hands.
[Politics]

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

David Dreier may or may not be gay. This is irrelevant except for these two facts:
  1. He's the new (GOP) House Majority Leader
  2. Karl Rove just got George Bush re-elected by drumming up and turning out the homophobic base
Personally, I'm delighted to see some diversity in the leadership. I'm not sure the leadership is. An interesting wrinkle to the affaire du Bugman.
[GOP Corruption]

Thoughts on the Indictment

So how will the righties respond to this news? DeLay, as has been well-documented, is one of the most well-connected members of the Republican Party. Yet last summer (Spring?), when the GOP held a fete in his honor, the affair was poorly-attended by major pols. With all the trouble the GOP finds itself in, they're going to start needing scapegoats. When Bush dropped the ball on Katrina, Brownie's head rolled. So, will DeLay become the sacrificial lamb, or will the GOP rally round their man?

Indications thus far look like a rally. In what I can only describe as a depressingly predictable response, they're playing the "blame the whistle-blower" card. The Corner is calling it an "egregious abuse of prosecutorial power." Jonah is "inclined to give DeLay the benefit of the doubt," which is itself mind-boggling. If ever there was the stink of crookedness on a politician, if ever a guy deserved serious doubt, it was Tom DeLay. Michelle Malkin has a vast catalogue of claims against the prosecutor, and she's still posting madly. Tom Maguire plays his classic card: misdirection. He's talking about DeLay's replacement. Powerline calls prosecutor Ronnie Earle a "notorious Democratic Party hack." And so it goes.

But DeLay is almost certainly guilty, just as Bush was almost certainly lying about Iraq, and soldiers were almost certainly instructed to torture prisoners, and on and on. Each time, we see the same vitriol from the same usual suspects with the same level of predictability. And when the almost certain events do come to pass, the righties apologize, right? Of course not--they ignore the facts or change the subject or--most commonly--spew more vitriol. So DeLay is probably guilty, and i it comes to pass that he is found guilty, then we'll welcome another round of vitriol. And so that goes.

Just as a note, it was the US House that tried to change their own ethics laws to protect DeLay in case of this indictment, which they felt was almost certain to come down. And the reason they changed the rules wasn't because they wanted to prevent "partisan" attacks, it's because they know DeLay, and they know he's crooked as Dick Nixon, and they didn't want to have to investigate a fairly well-known crook who happened to be leading their party.

And just one other note, it's the party DeLay leads that refuses independent investigations into grave events like 9/11 and Katrina. So don't expect the GOP to immediately call for investigations into DeLay--like the Dems did with Clinton.

Who knows how it will play out, or whether the GOP faithful who elected these crooks will finally see through them. In any case, I'm going to enjoy sitting ringside to watch it play out.
[GOP Corruption]

Tom DeLay Indicted

A grand jury in Texas has indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay:
A Travis County grand jury today indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on one count of criminal conspiracy, prompting the Sugar Land Republican to give up his leadership post in Congress....

The charge, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years incarceration, stems from his role with his political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, a now-defunct organization that already had been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money during the 2002 legislative elections.

"I have notified (House Speaker Dennis Hastert) that I will temporarily step aside from my position as majority leader pursuant to rules of the House Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County District Attorney today," DeLay said in a statement.
Oh, how sweet it is.

[Update (12:56 pm): The Austin American-Statesman has great coverage of the breaking story.

Statement from DeLay's office
"These charges have no basis in the facts or the law. This is just another example of Ronnie Earle misusing his office for partisan vendettas." (Etc.)

Statement from DeLay's press conference
"This morning, in an act of blatant political partisanship, a rogue district attorney in Travis County, Texas named Ronnie Earle charged me with one count of criminal conspiracy, a reckless charge wholly unsupported by the facts. This is one of the weakest, most baseless indictments in American history." (Etc.)

The indictment (.pdf)
Videos: AP video | White House reaction (Scott McClellan) | DeLay

Elsewhere, here's a timeline of the events. ]
[GOP Incompetence]

Brownie: A Piece of Work

Note to the DNC: archive the footage of Michael Brown's testimony yesterday (the WaPo has some footage, as does CNN) . Come midterm time, it might be nice to remind the people what GOP leadership gets you. You elect these guys because they talk the talk, but when it comes time to walk, they give you sarcasm:
BROWN: We moved all of those in there. We did all of those things. And things were working in Mississippi and things were working in Alabama. I guess you want me to be the superhero that is going to step in there and suddenly take everybody out of New Orleans.
Superhero isn't necessary, but simple competence, maybe a little humility, and something other than rank dishonesty might be nice.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

[Foreign Policy]

Where are the Dems?

Here's a scary thought: the most articulate foreign policy voice in the Democratic Party is … a grieving mother. (Okay, that’s not entirely true–Russ Feingold seems to have given the question some thought.) There’s a serious problem with any party that fails to craft a coherent foreign policy. It’s unforgivable during wartime. Yet that’s what’s happening.

There seem to be three schools of thought among Democrats: 1) support the neocon invade-first position and then transition quickly to domestic issues; 2) ridicule Bush for incompetence and lies and then transition quickly to domestice issues; 3) just stick with domestic issues. The problem is that ignoring foreign policy hasn’t won Dems many elections lately. Shifting to domestic issues puts candidates on firmer ground, but it doesn’t hide the fact that they don’t have a coherent foreign policy plan. Oh, and then there’s this: we need a foreign policy. We’re in a war and we’ve got lunatics trying to bomb our cities. While it’s true that Bush has bungled Iraq, that observation doesn’t actually do us any good.

As Joan Vennochi points out in today's Globe:

[O]n Iraq, a big disconnect exists between what registered Democrats believe about the war and what elected Democratic officials and alleged party leaders like Howard Dean are willing to do. Only two Democratic officeholders -- Representatives John Conyers of Michigan and Cynthia McKinney of Georgia -- planned to be anywhere near the antiwar rally scheduled this weekend in Washington. Forget about standing up alongside Michael Moore. Merely speaking up against the war in Iraq continues to terrify Democrats.
If I had to diagnose the Democratic fugue state, I'd say it stems from accepting the GOP frame: either you're for war or you're for the terrorists. America has exactly flip-flopped from its early 20th-century reluctance to enter foreign wars. Where Roosevelt was pulling out his hair trying to get Americans to understand the danger of a Nazi romp in Europe, all Bush has to do is declare a country "evil." Where the pro-war stance was political death in the first world wars (Wilson famously won as the "antiwar" candidate), now pacifism is. It is American to kick ass, and no Democrat wants to look weak or unAmerican.

Well, maybe it's time to challenge the frame. If war is not the answer--and every Democrat should now be on record as saying the Iraq war was not--what is? Bush wants to hold the line because he sees no other alternative. But do Dems really lack other ideas? This is the perfect moment for a coordinated challenge to the failed ruling foreign policy--it is early enough to affect the midterms, and would lay the groundwork for Americans accepting a completely new frame by 2008 (which would, incidently, free us from the useless hot air of national leaders like Joe Biden--whom I actually love--who offer something like "responsible neoconservatism").

I have a few ideas, but I'm wondering if others in the blogosphere do, too. If you were to start from scratch and craft a new foreign policy, what would it look like? (Maybe the Dems, apparently bereft of their own ideas, will listen.)

(originally posted at The American Street)
[Daily Brief]

The Brief, Briefly

MSM
The MSM blundered
when it reported unverified Katrina rumors. True, but these blunders were microscopic compared to FEMA's, which, it turns out, continues to employ Mike Brown. Other Katrina news: churches are getting federal reimubursement for offering aid to Katrina refugees, mainly at the behest of Tom DeLay. The GOP, meanwhile, is suffering blowback from conservatives for their gross financial management of the country (woulda been helpful for that blowback to have come a year ago, but hey).

And how about this: eight months before Katrina, an internal Homeland Security review warned that the country was unprepared for a mass disaster.

On that Sheehan business, the Globe reports that the Dems are still too frightened to speak up about Iraq. Yesterday I wrote that Cindy may be the problem, but reading an article like this reminds me that the reason she's taken the point is because Democratic leaders refuse to.

Blogosphere
Speaking of Iraq, Juan Cole says it's time to get out. Pithy quote: "Basically, if all the US military in Iraq is capable of is operations like Fallujah and Tal Afar, then they really need to get out of the country quick before they drive the whole country, and the region, into chaos."

Brad DeLong has discovered the stupidest people alive: editors of the National Review. (Satisfyingly snarky.) Nathan Newman has a take on yesterday's antiwar march I haven't considered: it was a huge waste of money. When ideology and politics collide: Billmon has funny quotes. eRobin adds analysis. Finally, if the Jack Abramoff story has you spellbound (as it does me), Josh has a must-read post.

And that's today's briefing.
[Meta]

Busy Morning

Nothing before noonish.

Monday, September 26, 2005

[Dissent]

Cindy Sheehan Arrested

Cindy Sheehan was apparently arrested today with other protesters outside the White House. It was intentional. For those of you following the nutty right, they're in a lather: see Michelle Malkin and Powerline for the usual commentary.

Personally, I'm afraid Cindy has confused, rather than clarified, the left's position on the war. Although she's turned the righties apoplectic with rage, she doesn't exactly come off as a clear organizer for the left. Is the issue the pullout? George Bush's culpability following a mendacious campaign to take us to war? Political opportunism?

I fear Sheehan may end up driving the left over a cliff unless actual leaders step forward with something coherent. It's cool that she has captured the mood of the nation, but should a distraught mother be driving foreign policy for the Democratic Party?
[Politics]

America the Fascist

Lewis Lapham happened across an old article by Umberto Eco recently, and it sent him on his most recent tirade, available in the October issue. (I use tirade--instead of, say, jeremiad--advisedly. Lapham, reliably more outraged than any writer in America, does not muse--he rages. One wonders, though, why the regime of George Bush produces only one really mad writer--in the MSM, anyway.) In the article, published in 1995, Eco discusses the qualities of fascism that describe the political movement, as opposed to the metaphor for evil "fascism" has become. Lapham distills Eco's key elements like this (sorry, no link):
  • The truth is revealed once and only once.
  • Parliamentary democracy is by definition rotten because it doesn't represent the voice of the people, which is that of the sublime leader.
  • Doctrine outpoints reason, and science is always suspect.
  • Critical thought is the province of degenerate intellectuals, who betray the culture and subvert traditional values.
  • The national identity is provided by the nation's enemies.
  • Argument is tantamount to treason.
  • Perpetually at war, the state must govern with the instruments of fear.
  • Citizens do not act; they play the supporting role of "the people" in the grand opera of the state.
Striking, isn't it? But aside from the cynical pleasure we derive from giving this label to the GOP's current brand of politics, there's an important point to be made here. The Republican Party is no longer just misguided. The problems presented by their corrupt arrogance aren't merely ones of ideology or policy--they are a threat to our constitutional democracy.

In the first half of the century, liberals made a similar miscalculation when they praised and courted Stalin, Mao, and Castro. Had leaders begun to consolidate power in the federal government--using it to seize private property and crush dissent--they would have threatened democracy the way the GOP now does. Fortunately, Democratic leaders didn't follow the Maoist wing of the base.

But the GOP has begun to follow the fascist wing of its base--has, in fact, pretty much ceded decision-making to that wing. The founding fathers wisely put a number of barriers in place to prevent an easy power grab, but one sees in the actions and intentions of the GOP the same elements Eco identified ten years ago. That they haven't succeeded in seizing more power is no evidence that they aren't trying. The danger of the GOP is not just the usual threat one party poses to another: the current leadership actually threatens the bedrock law that define our delicate democracy.
[Daily Brief]

Good Monday

MSM
On Saturday, Cindy
Sheehan rallied 100,000 antiwar protesters. Yesterday, the pro-war faction mustered but 400. (The NRO calls it an undisciplined, anti-Bush snit; maybe, but I hardly see how that's good for the GOP. Worse, Bob Novak writes that Republicans are slagging him, too.) A Gallup poll verifies that sentiment has turned: only 43% think the US will win the war.

It seems like each day brings more news of fraud or corruption, so I'm considering opening a new crime beat here at Hog HQ. Today's examples include a WaPo editorial wherein Jack Abramoff wrote in an email that the reason now-indicted OMB head was put there by the administration was his a "total business angle." Ouch. The Times, meanwhile, call out Bush for "faking the Katrina inquiry." (But badly, obviously.) Human Rights Watch has published a new report accusing the US of more Iraqi prisoner abuse. And the Times has a report on those no-bid contracts, even as more bay in the offing following Rita.

Also: new studies (not shockingly) back evolution. This news coincides with a trial in Pennsylvania on intelligent design. In other science news, the snowmelt is coming earlier and earlier in Alaska. The rich are getting richer, which is perhaps why Bush keeps talking about the "healthy economy."

Last, perhaps least to most of you (but not Badger fans!): on Saturday, Wisconsin edged the once-mighty Wolverines to leap into the top 25. As you all know, the Badgers were expected to have a poor year in this, Barry Alvarez's final season coaching.

Blogosphere
Josh reports on more corrupt cronies and their placement within the national government in the ever-widening political payola scandal. TalkLeft hints that Frist may be in big trouble for the stock dump. No, not for dumping stock--that's always hard to prove. It's the lies that get you. Tom Maguire bothers to defend Frist, but barely. Apparently he's no more popular across the aisle.

It's actually pretty quiet in the blogosphere today, so I'll leave it there.

Which concludes today's briefing.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

[White House]

Drunken Bush Update

The rumors flying around the blogosphere of Dubya's drinking have spurred an online gambling site to offer "drinking odds" on the Prez. Somehow this seems like evidence of the end of civilization.

Now you know.

Friday, September 23, 2005

[White House]

Dubya on Drunk Tirades?

Capitol Hill Blue repeats a National Enquirer report that Bush is drinking again.
“The President all too often is out of control,” a White House source tells me. “People are afraid to risk his anger by telling him things he does not want to hear. Newsweek magazine reported the same thing last week in their story: “How Bush Blew It.”
Another report by the same guy--Doug Thompson--suggests he's been going on obscene tirades (sorry, no link). Anyone have any idea whether this is just grist for emails (which is how I just learned of it)? Seems dubious, but where else will you get salacious and dubious news but on blogs.

Oh right, everywhere else.
[GOP Corruption]

Frist: Probably a Crook

As mentioned in a daily brief earlier this week, it turns out that Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, earlier dumped all his stock in the family business, just before it took a dive. The Times picks up the narrative:
It's long been known that the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, a man deeply involved in rewriting the nation's health-care and medical-malpractice laws, derived most of his wealth from HCA, the hospital company his father and brother helped found....

HCA stock, which had plunged below $20 a share back in 1999 because of a federal fraud investigation, had been climbing steadily, reaching a high of $58.22 on June 22, nine days after Mr. Frist told his managers to start selling. By July 8, all the shares of HCA held by Mr. Frist, his wife and his children had been sold.

Five days later, a bad earnings report drove the price down 9 percent in a single day. Since then it has dropped even further.

Did Frist dump the stock? The Post relays some strange language from Frist's spokesperson, suggesting he's been consulting a lawyer:
There's no evidence that Mr. Frist had inside information or traded on it, though Ms. Call's [the spokesperson] careful phrasing -- that the senator "did not have any conversations with HCA executives about HCA stock when he was making the decision to divest" -- is curious.
Word came out today that the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors have taken notice: they announced they're investigating.

Three observations: 1) as Martha demonstrated, it's not always the act that gets you, it's the lying about it--and Frist seems to recognize this, using Amy Call to field all questions; 2) it is notoriously difficult to prove insider trading, but 3) guilt by implication may be enough to doom Frist's chance of a Presidential run, even if he's never indicted.
[Politics]

Democratic Values

For the past 25 years, the GOP has very successfully defined the value set of the two major parties. They have styled themselves the party of "freedom"--the freedom from the oppressive horrors of taxes, government, and cultural elitism. Freedom, being the nation's ur-emotion, strikes a strongly populist note, which the GOP have successfully fostered. You just want to drive your SUV and watch NASCAR and tell off-color jokes. The nannies of the Democratic Party prevent these red-blooded activities in their elitist way. If only they'd settle down and drink a beer with the rest of us.

Of course, the GOP has also seized morality: family values, God, patriotism. In the face of secular baby-killers, Hollyweird, and anti-troop longhairs, the GOP is the last stop before the apocalypse. For more than a generation, the intersection between "politics" and "moral" has been the Republican Party.

(To be fair, Dems likewise were the moral party at mid-century, when the GOP were seen as cigar-chomping industrialists who wanted to crush workers. They used their power to continue to foster that image, just as the GOP do today.)

Democrats, or if you prefer nonpartisan language, liberals, are today mainly understood through the lens of the Republican spin. They are the cultural elites, "limosine liberals" who hate the common man. They are the defenders of government, not the people. They are weak in the face of threats. They are financially irresponsible and anti-business, and they favor nothing so much as a government boondoggle funded by your tax dollars. They are godless and amoral and anti-family. In their pursuit of "diversity," they show that they have no real beliefs.

The Democratic Party has abetted this conventional wisdom by either agreeing with it on the one hand ("the era of big government is over"), or playing into the stereotypes (Kerry's emabarrassing goose hunt, for example). And, over the course of the past generation (I'm dating it from Reagan's election, but you could go back further, to '73--Roe--or even '68, when Nixon was elected), liberals and Democrats saw an erosion of their own understanding of values. Clinton, who was such a friend of corporate America, hastened this confusion. Old populists like William Jennings Bryan must have been spinning in their graves to see Clinton approve mergers of industrial giants while ending welfare protections for the poor.

From the middle 80s, as they tried to understand and react to the Reagan revolution, to the election of Bush in 2000, Dems thought they could cleave a "third way," marrying a pro-business stance with good social policies. The result was that Dems looked outwardly duplicitous--conservative wannabes--and inwardly, began to drift away from what their own values were.

In some ways, the winds of Hurricane Katrina have blown away the old definitions created by GOP spinmeisters. The GOP is no more the party of small government than it is the party of the working class. Dems found that their association with government wasn't looking too bad, and everyone was reminded again that the Republicans, no matter how thick their good-'ol-boy drawls, don't give a damn about the poor.

So it's a good opportunity to revisit Democratic values. Are we the party of the people, or the party of the jet-set? Are we Wilsonian anti-war globalists or FDR ass-kickers? Can we be pro-business and pro-labor, or do we have to choose? Are we the party of the cities? Where does God fit in?

Over the next few days (probably weeks), I'll try to offer my thoughts on the subject. With any luck, I'll get some other bloggers discussing it, too. And of course, for the handful of folks who have found this site (many of whom I exhort to visit personally), I hope you pile on, too.
[Natural Disasters]

Recordings: FEMA Dropped the Ball

NPR got ahold of some taped conversations between local officials in New Orleans talking on conference calls in the days before and after Katrina. The story that accompanies the tape is perhaps more judicious than it should be--additional clips on the NPR site record local officials pleading to get some support from FEMA. Below are a couple of the comments between Walter Maestri, the Jefferson Parish Emergency Manager and Jeff Smith, deputy director of Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness.
MAESTRI: The second issue: generators for our sewer system. As you recall, on the last conference call--before the storm hit--we requested the Gen packs. They are still not here. I'm about to have a medical catastrophe in this parish because of the lack of a sewage system.... FEMA tells me, and they've told me since they arrived on the scene three days ago, they're coming, but [off-telephone crosstalk]. I don't know what's going on, but not one generator through that system has arrived here.

The other problem. For instance, next door, where FEMA is billeted, there are 50 or 60 fireman from Kansas whom they have there. They say it's a FEMA resource, they're not relinquishing [them], and my fire department is screaming for help.
Another conversation:
SMITH: Now again I assume you are talking about the emergency food, the water, the MREs and the ice.

MAESTRI: Correct, that's exactly right.

SMITH: And has that been requested and turned down, or are you just requesting it now?

MAESTRI: No. We requested it, have requested it, been requesting it, and nothing's coming.

SMITH: All right.
And a little on Brownie:
MAESTRI: And if you remember, a day after the storm, assistant secretary Brown went on Nightline with Ted Koppel and said "the locals didn't ask, and that's why they didn't come." And I mean that is so far from the truth it's unbelievable.
Hard to add any meaningful commentary. What a debacle.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

[Daily Brief]

Just the Blogs, Ma'am

Although I like the WaPo's "who's blogging" feature (look here, for a porcine example), I nevertheless eschew the mainstream press this morning. Instead, an all-blog brief.

Let's start first with a duet from Body and Soul. (Which represent, incidentally, why blogs are a necessary, new medium and what their potential is.) First, Jeanne posted a rumination on race and class fallout from Katrina:
"Race and class are the fundamental issues here. Not only were they the primary factors determining who got left behind (or blocked from leaving, or forced at gunpoint to stay back), they continue to effect everything.... It's twenty-first century racism, not the historical legacy, that keeps us from responding humanely to the crisis we witnessed this month."
This morning, she posted an comment from a reader and continued the analysis:
But despite the fact that they consciously reject racist ideology, [most Americans] act as if they did believe it. The myth of savagery in New Orleans spread not because most white Americans are closeted David Dukes, but because you don't have to be David Duke to have internalized racist assumptions.
This is the kind of thoughtful commentary you're unlikely to find except from the most astute editorial writers--and you'll never see the back-and-forth with readers and other bloggers. Great stuff.

Elsewhere
David Neiwart has a nice comparison between Katrina and the 1976 failure of the Teton Dam in Idaho "Their similarities, as well as their differences, are instructive." Go see why.

The Carpetbagger reports that Dems are trying to prevent Bush from suspending the Davis-Bacon Act (which demands the feds to pay the prevailing wage on its contracts, when, say, there's a massive hurricane clean-up effort). Josh and Angry Bear comment on yesterday's story about Bill Frist dumping stock. (As a testament to blogger malaise, the WaPo identifies only 8 links to the story.)

Digby has argued on several ocassions that the Bush administration looks uncomfortably fascist. He continued mounting the evidence yesterday. John Cole says he hates America. Are conservatives allowed to do that? Liberals v. conservatives: Crooks and Liars have a couple of great clips. First, Bill Maher has a chat with Tucker Carlson and then Phil Donahue goes after Bill O'Reilly. It's fascinating to see talking points backfire--and they do in both these clips (though the O'Reilly one is, naturally, painful to watch). Finally, Matt Yglesias points to the kind of policy attack the Dems need to start launching. He discusses Medicare, but the possibilities are nearly endless.

And that's today's brief...
[Environment]

Connect the Dots

As Hurricane Rita lazily saunters toward North America, I observe several facts. In Rita's line is Texas, ground zero for the anti-government movement. It was Texans who defunded federal agencies charged with managing levees, Texans who ignored the warnings of Katrina, and Texans who yawned with disinterest when the storm left the city under water. In the bigger picture, it was also Texans who pushed for low CAFE standards, who tried to engineer an all-fossil fuels "energy bill," and Texans who chortle dismissively at sustainable energy sources. For good measure, throw in the Texans who gerrymandered Texas districts to ensure a GOP majority in the House.

Of course, others were involved. But there is something particular about the virilently anti-environment Texas oilmen and the nation's willful disregard of global warming. And with the House Majority Leader and President hailing from Texas, there's more than enough Texas think guiding national policy. So to those facts add these: it was a Texan who ignored a report he commissioned that said global warming is definitely happening, and the same Texan who said he wouldn't support the Kyoto accord. The same Texan who dismisses global warming and cites scientists who say that the climate is not changing and that the intensity of hurricanes are not worsening.

Of course, that Texan lives 200 miles inland, so he's probably not too worried. But maybe others are beginning to.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

[Politics]

Portland: How Can it be So Livable with All those Liberals ?

A minor meme in the mainstream press: Portland's livability (the one on the left coast). Yesterday, Dionne waxed lovingly about Portland's famous livability, calling Portland congressman Earl Blumenauer's ideas about urban development the prescription for rebuilding New Orleans. Then in today's local paper, a reprint from Denver, where local columnist Linda Seebach calls Portland a hellish mire of anti-business communism in which people very lazily enjoy very pleasant, if unstressful lives. But! That may end if, you know, those 28-year-olds quit moving here, which they stubbornly refuse to quit doing.

Over at Blue Oregon, I've asked the ultraleft just why they so hate business. Join in the discussion if you wish.
[Daily Brief]

Short and Sweet

MSM

Harry Reid to
John Roberts: nope. WaPo to Reid: careful. (Question: does a presidential judicial nomination actually carry a "heavy presumption of confirmation," or is that the WaPo knuckling under to power again?) France to US (re: Katrina): boneheads. Meyerson on the administration and Katrina (call it a shorter Rich). Applebaum: Do you want to pay to rebuild Trent Lott's house? Also: Frist pulls a Martha (stock dumping), GOP dischord, Bush and the trees of mass destruction, and Limbaugh calls Hillary a murderer (again).

Around the Blogosphere
Sometime later today.
[Meta]

Politics and Blogging in 2005

I quit blogging
in August 2004, just before the election, after 20 months or so of regular posting. Picking up a year later, I'm aware of a fairly profound shift in my mental orientation toward politics, one I noticed as a reader, but am far more sensitive to as a blogger.

In the years following Bush's first election, liberals had a simultaneously apocalyptic and hopeful attitude toward politics. We were apocalyptic about the direction of things--first the constitutional crisis that inauspiciously ushered in the Bush era. Then 9/11, followed closely by the train wreck of the "axis of evil" talk, the disregard of the international community, and ultimately, the Iraq invasion. Domestically, there were the idiotic tax cuts and the policies of transferring the nation's funds to corporate behemoths and Republican donors. Thus were we hopeful: surely this kind of bankrupt, dangerous, and incompetent leadership would finally end GOP dominance.

The election has shifted things. In 2005, life is more apocalyptic than ever. But somehow the hope has drained from the liberal troops. Before the election, documenting the transgressions of the GOP carried the hope that these truths, laid out before the sun, would turn people against the transgressors. But now, I am far more resigned to the darkness. The transgressions are so many, the hole we've dug so deep, that to keep mentioning them is like filming an execution. Sure, these things are happening, but do we have to watch them?

In the next few days, I'm going to write a series of posts on "Democratic Values"--those core beliefs we hold (or did once, anyway) that are only guide we have for rediscovering the light. The Dems, who seem genetically predisposed toward inaction, may well never find their way back to these values (never mind this blog), but it will be a nice break from documenting the apocalypse.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

[Polls]

Forty and Falling

At some point in the not-to-distant future, Bush's polls will hit a valley and I'll quit talking about them. But we're not at that point, yet. Gallup today reports an all-time low of 40% approval for Bush, and Gallup is notoriously pro-GOP. Last year, they reliably oversampled conservatives and undersampled independents, so the actual approval is probably lower. (For example, last week they had him at 45%--several points above other pollsters.

The area in which Bush enjoys his highest approval is, remarkably, the Katrina response--at 41%. Even so, 56% believe he had purely political reasons for his response. Asked how to pay for the clean-up, 54% said (more or less) "get the hell out of Iraq." (A stalwart 17% say raise taxes.) And 81% believe an independent investigation is preferable to a congressional probe.

In summary: Americans disapprove of Bush's presidency, believing he acts for political reasons, and think he should pull out of Iraq. Yep, that political capital served him well.
[Media]

Oregonian Redesign

A post on Blue Oregon, for those of you who know and care about the Oregonian newspaper.
[Daily Brief]

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to brief we go

In the News
Let's start with
the big stuff: Jack Abramoff's gangrene has been discovered creeping up the White House's leg:
"The Bush administration's top federal procurement official [David H. Safavian] resigned Friday and was arrested yesterday, accused of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government."
This is huge. Not only did Safavian obstruct justice, he tried to acquire control for Abramoff of federally-controlled lands in Washington. More: he was a former lobbying partner of Grover Norquist. And he was, until last week, working on Katrina cleanup. Expect the GOP to begin to cauterize itself against this rot by eviscerating some of their most loyal, highly-placed, and long-standing lieutenents. Will Norquist go down? How far up does Abramoff's corruption climb? Wait and see. (Laura Rozen has some analysis. Other papers have more news: Times, The Hill.

In other corruption news, the Dems, displaying a new, still-fragile backbone, have vetoed Bill Frist's kangaroo court to investigate the Katrina debacle. Frist wouldn't give Dems veto power or equal representation; Dems gave Frist the finger. Yet more corruption: Bush wants Julie Myers to head the Immigrations Dept. She is, of course, a long-time political hack with no experience in immigration nor in running large departments. It stinks enough that Michelle Malkin balks. Oh, what the hell, one more: the FEC is suing the Club for Growth, a Republican PAC, for violating campaign finance laws in 2004.

Also, here's a faith-based twist on what blind ideology can do to you (follow the link, it's a must-read):
"Immediately after the hurricane, there were only two secular organizations to which FEMA's Web site urged that contributions be made; all the others were faith-based. What's worse, in at least some instances, FEMA relied on faith-based charities to spearhead the emergency-relief effort, regardless of whether they had expertise."
Finally, the World Wildlife Fund reports that illegal fishing in the Atlantic could lead to the extinction of cod and other species.

Around the Blogosphere
Good stuff with little commentary. Consider the links worth clicking.

Sam Rosenfeld on Safavian. Brad DeLong on the dollar's decline. John Quiggen says instant runoff voting is great, but Americans is too stoopid to use it. Kevin Drum says we're not cutting our way back to solvency. Scott Shields on Mitt and Karl. Dwight Meredith takes a dip in the hypocrisy pool (in a good way).

And that's today's briefing.

(Incidentally, there is a way to continue to get Times editorials--at least two ways to get Krugman--but because I don't want to be the linker who queered the deal, email and I'll tell you how.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

[Strategies]

Construction Politics

A number of observers have pointed out that, in the aftermath of their several high-profile failures (Social Security, Terri Schiavo, Iraq, Katrina), the GOP are particularly helpless at managing the political fallout. They're all about the assault. This made them particularly successful at dismantling the Democratic bloc. They created a politics of destruction. For every problem, the solution was destruction. Tax cuts, for example, are the quintessence of modern GOP politics. They are technique of dismantling government. The rhetorical solution is a healthy economy, but the actual effect is almost always the opposite. In Bush's case, five years of tax cuts begat no economic recovery, but they have sowed the seeds of future slowdowns with massive indebtedness.

The modern GOP is also a lot better at the politics of politics. Karl Rove's strategy of crippling candidates by attacking their strength has a kind of mesmerizing genius. You don't have to offer a solution to any policy problems, or even mention policy. You just Cleland your opponent.

So it's not surprising that, having inherited the mantle of power, the GOP would botch it. They haven't spent much time thinking about sustaining or constructing. It didn't occur to them that cabinet heads might actually do something--these posts were given to the warriors of destruction like Bernie Kerik and Michael Brown. Nor do they handle the fallout of the failure of these heads any more ably. Tooled for attack, the GOP doesn't know how to play defense.

So what of the Dems? They've found themselves in the opposite position. Having spent so long on defense, the Dems are emulating the politics of the right--attack and destroy--but badly. They've handled that task no better than the GOP has handled governance. Following Katrina, the Dems should have lept forward with plans. But having been on the defense so long, they weren't prepared with plans and don't seem to muster much more than feeble attacks on the failures of the GOP.

If the Dems are going to appeal to the population, they're going to have to return, foursquare, to the politics of construction. It's what liberalism means. Global warming (which all serious scientists agree is happening, even apologists who say it's not human-caused) will result in more serious disasters. The conservative response to this should be market driven. People will live where they live, and they'll take risks based on what they can afford, and the actuarial tables will tell insurance companies how to charge them. Which is, obviously, an untenable position in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.

But the liberal position should be to fund agencies to handle these increasingly harmful disasters and spread the cost throughout society. We should have increasingly strict regulation on development and stronger environmental protections. These are the two positions--liberal and conservative. Somehow liberals have lost their ability to plan and construct. We instead wait for the opportunity to jump from the bushes and point at the predictable GOP failures. Yet isn't it the liberal position to fight to stop the disasters in the first place?

Katrina proved that the GOP isn't ready to handle real responsibility. Unfortunately, it showed that Dems aren't, either. Shouldn't this be the moment we decide to change that?
[Meta]

Posting Later

Much to discuss this morning, but it will have to wait until the afternoon. Ta ta--

Sunday, September 18, 2005

[Daily Brief]

One More for the Road

The last of the feebies are on the Times. Rich, giving Bush his weekly spanking (man, am I going to miss that). So does Kristof. Brooks, meanwhile, is back to his apologist ways.

One note from the blogosphere: Josh plans to look into the "Gulf Coast wage cut" Bush threw into the relief package he delivered to Halliburton, err, Louisiana. Bears watching.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

[Supreme Court]

Dionne's Case for a "No"

In todays' column, EJ Dionne calls the Roberts hearing a "charade." He cites Roberts' evasions as a precursor to a "no" vote. But what really stops him is the continued transfer of power the legislative is ceding to the executive:

If senators simply vote "yes" on Roberts, they will be conceding to the executive branch huge power to control what information the public gets and doesn't get about nominees to life positions. The administration has stubbornly refused to release a share of Roberts's writings as deputy solicitor general. This is a dare to the Senate, and the administration is assuming it will wimp out. A "yes" on Roberts would be a craven abdication of power to the executive branch.

It's really odd that the Dems remain so docile in the face of a president who is so clearly weakened by his own craven incompetence. Since his re-election, the Bush presidency has been marked mainly by the national realization that he's a liar (WMD, Social Security, firing Rove), weak and incompetent (Katrina, Iraq), and an idealogue willing to sell Americans out for a cause or donor (Schiavo, tax cuts, "Brownie").

Dems, forever unwilling to play rough, seem incapable of even playing fair on their constituents' behalf. Dionne is right: the decisions they make on the Roberts nomination not only affect the Supreme Court's composition over the next generation, but the nomination process--which may, unbelievably--have even longer consequences. And this isn't even a partisan issue--the next president refusing to released documents may be a Democrat, which serves Americans no better.

In comments to an earlier post, eRobin made the rather cynical observation that the Dems "half-assed opposition" will inevitably lead to "cowardly buck-passing" about their inability to stop Roberts. It seemed a little harsh at the time, but the facts on the ground appear to be bearing out her prediction.

Friday, September 16, 2005

[Media]

Are Newspapers Doomed?

[I posted this on Blue Oregon this morning. For non-Oregonians, there's a number of references to local media, but I think the main points will be clear.]

In the 21st
Century, if you want to receive news, you have a seemingly endless number of sources: radio, television, internet, your cell phone, podcasts. Or, you can go the 18th Century route and have a kid bring you day-old news printed on the pulped skins of dead trees. Of all these modes, guess which one is in serious trouble?

This weekend, The Oregonian debuts its newest attempt to halt the march of obsolescence. The following day, the New York Times tries a different strategy. Yet with newspaper circulations down 13% in the last 20 years, the rise of a raft of new satellite media nipping at their heels, and a whole generation who have abandoned daily subscriptions, are they just delaying the inevitable?

Functional Obsolescence
Newspapers survived the radio and television eras relatively unharmed. Why, then, has the internet been so devastating? Historically, local newspapers have performed several functions, and only one of these is news delivery. They also create a touchstone between advertisers and consumers, provide information about local events and happenings, and serve as a marketplace. Radio and television have never been able to provide these other functions, but with online auctions, email listservs, and e-tailing, the internet can. In particular, classified sales, long a major breadwinner for newspapers, are slumping rapidly in the face of Craigslist, Monster, and eBay.

Nationalization of News
A second phenomenon afflicting local papers is the trend toward nationalization. Fifty years ago, the amount of national news came in at a dribble through radio, the nightly news, and the few stories newspapers could fit into section A. Now we get torrents of information from around the globe. Entertainment, sports, business, and news are all readily available at any moment. Our physical orientation has grown, and we now relate to the country, and even world, as an extended community. It's difficult for dailies to make the small happenings in a hometown as exciting as the big events on offer from across the country. As a result, more and more news coverage becomes nationalized, and worse, sensationalized, in an effort to attract eyeballs. The biggest story in a city may be the sale of a local utility, but if Michael Jackson is being tried for child molestation, he's going to get more coverage.

Loss of Community
Because they performed the multiple functions of delivering local news, serving as a marketplace for commerce and a bulletin board for upcoming events, newspapers helped define the local community. That's why, when USA Today was launched in 1982, the concept of a "national" paper seemed so bizarre--it defied our concept of what a newspaper was. As fewer and fewer people read the newspaper, that community begins to fragment. Now we get news via the internet, we learn about upcoming events through emails, and we shop online, in our jammies. An inadvertent effect of newspapers was that we all had a single touchstone, like a community center we came to each day. Now we liberals listen to NPR and KPOJ while conservatives tune in Lars and Limbaugh. I get updates from the Northwest Film Center and the Bus Project, while other citizens receive emails from Michael Medved and pastors.com (or whatever--you get the point). We have far less in common to talk about because we don't get the same news.

The Future of Newspapers
Newspapers are in real trouble. For the first time in 350 years, newspapers don't have a unique function. In the past month, The Oregonian has changed up its Metro page, and now the paper is trying to lure Sunday readers back with shorter news and a new features section (which sounds sort of bloggy to me). We've watched as the Portland Tribune has tried to stave off a slow death with various changes in content, personnel, and focus. Nationally, the New York Times hopes it can get people to pony up $50 to read Paul Krugman, which will please advertisers who want a more highly selective demographic to target. Yet it's not clear that content changes are an adequate solution--after all, content is the one thing consumers have in spades.

I hope they're able to figure it out. Without local papers, we'll be subject to even more sensationalism, even less texture and local color. Papers like the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal will survive, but they won't be covering Portland, Oregon. It's likely that free weeklies like Willamette Week, with smaller overhead, will also survive. But no matter how good a weekly is, it will never adequately cover all local news. We'll feel further erosion in the local community, and we will know less about what our local leaders are up to. Or each other. Readers may not be clamoring for the content local newspapers provide, but to a city, it's critically important. That's the intractable problem confronting papers as they study the media landscape in the new millennium.

I wish them luck.
[Daily Brief]

I Brief, Therefore I Am

In the MSM
Without ceremony, here's
the last free Krugman. Enjoy. Last night, after the emperor addressed his subjects, I considered a post, but felt that I'd find scores of commentary today saying the same thing. I was perhaps hasty. Here's the Times: "He forthrightly acknowledged his responsibility for the egregious mishandling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina." That wasn't exactly what I was thinking. The other coast's Times does better: "But his goal clearly was to rescue his presidency, which Katrina's storm surge tattered as well." John Nichols agrees: "Nothing gets the Bush White House's damage control operation moving like declining poll numbers. And so it should come as no surprise that the president is suddenly "Georgie on the spot" in New Orleans."

We're number ten--in terms of standard of living.

The most important article in today's MSM is from someone decidedly un-mainstream: David Mamet, who writes in the LA Times. Using a game--poker--now familiar to Americans unfamiliar with the game of politics, Mamet says the Dems need to get in the habit of raising, not folding.
Control of the initiative is control of the battle. In the alley, at the poker table or in politics. One must raise. The American public chose Bush over Kerry in 2004. How, the undecided electorate rightly wondered, could one believe that Kerry would stand up for America when he could not stand up to Bush? A possible response to the Swift boat veterans would have been: "I served. He didn't. I didn't bring up the subject, but, if all George Bush has to show for his time in the Guard is a scrap of paper with some doodling on it, I say the man was a deserter."
Today's must-read.

Around the Blogosphere
For five years, liberals have regarded Bush as a puppet thrust onto a stage to mouth the words of his political masters. Now the right agrees. Andy Sullivan has the details. E-Robin believes Rove is no genius. I don't actually agree, but it's a sentiment with legs. Did somebody say pork? I don't think he was referring to Hog, but you never know. (Warning, insider link approaching.) Kari defends skinny-ass, fixed-width blogs, like this one. Hey, even smart guys get it wrong from time to time. Brad DeLong was conferencing in the Tetons and discovered a "deep fault" among economists about the dollar's imminent decline. No, it wasn't that some thought it wasn't imminent: some just didn't think it would be catastrophic. He has the details. Max, meanwhile, detailed where Bush will get financing for Katrina clean up. (It's a visual, so follow the link.) Recall that I knew someone would post my thoughts about Bush's speech? Josh has. And Matt rings in with much the same.

Which concludes this week's briefings...