Tuesday, October 31, 2006

[Bill Maher]

Barney Frank is Smarter Than You.

If you're a Republican, anyway. I encourage you to read the transcript from the Oct 20 Real Time, wherein Barney offered several stinging rebuttals on the economy, GOP corruption, Iraq, and gay rights to a stooge from the GOP. I'll give you one exchange, but the whole interview is strongly worth a read. Below the transcript, I'll link to Youtube video of the entire show, should you wish to actually watch it. There's also free audio on iTunes.

STEPHEN MOORE [Republican Stooge]: If this – if we had this economy, and Bill Clinton were president, this guy would be doing cartwheels down Pennsylvania Avenue.

BARNEY FRANK: Oh, please, Steve, that’s nonsense.

MOORE: [overlapping] This – this economy is solid, with the lowest unemployment rate. We have solid job growth. We’re outgrowing our competitors. [audience reacts/boos]

FRANK: Let me respond.

MOORE: Those are just the facts!

FRANK: No, these are not the facts. Because, job growth, you want to compare it to Clinton – and by the way, I haven’t done cartwheels in a long time; it wouldn’t be a pretty sight—[laughter]

MOORE: I want to see that.

FRANK: Certainly not on – and I’m certainly not going to do them on television. But what you have is job growth under George Bush, as you know, has seriously lagged job growth under Bill Clinton. The amount of jobs – let’s make – you think there has been greater job growth in the Bush years than in the Clinton years?

MOORE: In the last three years, we’ve had six million new jobs.

FRANK: No, but – three years! How long has George Bush been president? Almost six years. Now, you want to look at intellectual dishonesty? Bush has been president for nearly six years, so you count just three years. And, in fact, the six million – that’s two million a year – Clinton averaged more than two million a year.

MOORE: Yeah, but you know what? When the—

FRANK: [overlapping] No, wait a minute—

MOORE: [overlapping]—when the economy turned around? When the Republicans took over Congress in 1994.

FRANK: [overlapping] Steve, you’re changing the subject. You’re changing the subject. You claimed – you said the Clinton years versus the Bush years. Job growth has been significantly – was significantly greater in the Clinton years than under the Bush years. Wages grew much more in the Clinton years. Real, take-home wages for employees than in the Bush years! [applause]

Video (the Frank bits start halfway through Part 2 and go to Part 5): Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 |

Monday, October 30, 2006

[Culture, Islam]

The Burqa Meme.

I'm not really sure why this has become an issue right now, but there is of a sudden a sweeping national imperative to force Muslims out of burqa. Anne Applebaum caught my eye with her piece a few days back:
And yet, at a much simpler level, surely it is also true that the full-faced veil -- the niqab, burqa or chador -- causes such deep reactions in the West not so much because of its political or religious symbolism but because it is extremely impolite. Just as it is considered rude to enter a Balinese temple wearing shorts, so, too, is it considered rude, in a Western country, to hide one's face. We wear masks when we want to frighten, when we are in mourning or when we want to conceal our identities. To a Western child -- or even an adult -- a woman clad from head to toe in black looks like a ghost. Thieves and actors hide their faces in the West; honest people look you straight in the eye.... It isn't religious discrimination or anti-Muslim bias to tell her that she must be polite to the natives, respect the local customs, try to speak some of the local patois -- and uncover her face.
First of all, to the extent that law forces us to expose our faces, then there can be no exemption based on religious rights. (The USA could be less nativist and allow burqa-ed women being searched by airlines to do this in screened privacy, by a woman, but that seems to violate American cultural norms.) But there's a lot of hogwash about women being "oppressed" and forced to wear burqa. That's a pretty slippery slope. Theres an Indian family on my block, and the mother still wears a sari. India is a fairly patriarchal country, so should we also demand that she throw off her persecutor and wear jeans? When I hear white Americans place themselves in the position of judging who is "oppressed," I wonder, "does the woman have any say over her emancipation?" Even when it's Anne Applebaum, it's a pretty patriarchal argument.

But what about violating our culture? Another slippery slope. Should we legislate fashion norms? What about people who violate the headscarf rule who hail from, say, Romania? Rip their headcloths off, too? And what about Sikh men, who wear turbans as one of the external signals of their faith? Verboten, too, or do we make exemptions when the headgear is worn by men? If we're banning headgear, how about Yankees caps?

The more I look at the burqa issue, the more I find subtle racist and sexist overtones. The real issue is cultural: we have never lived in a more anti-Muslim time than right now. We impute meaning to burqa of our own creation and then condemn Muslims for our missunderstanding. There's a lot to criticize the Muslim world for right now, sadly. But American Muslim women, the full measure of any American, shouldn't have to suffer the indignity of being targeted by a skittish majority culture who doesn't know how to handle her.

Wall Street and the Dems (Pt. 2)

Further evidence that the catastrophic Bush/GOP regime is getting a thumbs down from Wall Street:
You wouldn't think hedge funds would favor the party of taxation and regulation. But the Center on Responsive Politics says about two-thirds of the money the top 50 hedge funds have given this election cycle has gone to Democrats.

Hedge funds and private equity are part of a larger industry: Wall Street. And for the first time in 12 years that industry is also contributing more to Democratic candidates and committees than Republican. The latest score is about 51 percent blue, 48 percent red.
Whattaya bet an increasing share of military ballots turn blue this year, too?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

[2008 Presidential Election]

Lessons of John and Barack.

I just got around to listening to my podcast of This Week, which this week featured interviews with President Bush and John Kerry. The Bush interview got a lot of attention, particularly the part where he claimed never to have held a "stay the course" position. But the Kerry interview was actually more interesting. Here was his response to Stephanopoulos's first question, about whether Dems were, in Bush's words, "waiving the white flag of surrender."
"It's reprehensible; it's a lie. The administration has lied in the walk-up to the war, they've lied in the conduct of the war, and they have made America less safe."
This is the 2008 version of John Kerry, the new-improved, straight-talker John Kerry. It was not the "I voted against the war before I voted for it" Kerry who took no cues from the Dean campaign two years ago. Kerry is planning to mount a charge up the hill again in '08, but it's a sad, losing venture. He had his shot, and having failed to talk straight the first time around, he's forever doomed to have the reputation of a guy who won't talk straight when it really counts.

Many things are very wrong about this fact. Kerry has more experience than almost anyone in the country on exactly the issues that we desire in a president. He is smart and measured and respected both among his colleagues and abroad. In every single dimension, he is ten times the candidate Bush will ever be--and we have seen what a dear price we pay for electing a slow-witted man with no experience, a record of failure, and an inclination toward corruption. But never mind, Kerry's wife is strong and foreign and Kerry is admired by the French and in his measured way he could not stand up to the smears of the corrupt powerbrokers and so he's done. His time will never return.

That takes us to Barack Obama, a man with very little experience, but a good mind and an almost unique gift for transparency. Should he run, or should he allow himself to season in the Senate? When Tim Russert asked him that question, he answered with that unique transparency--yeah, he was considering it.

Obama's not the most qualified for the job, obviously. But that's a specious argument--have we ever elected the best guy? But he may have something that we need more than we need experience--his transparency. The Bush White House has so fully exploited every action for political gain that transparency is dead in Washington. Everyone has become a slimy PR man, "framing" issues rather than addressing them. A truly transparent person, who had the credibility to call bullshit when he saw it, would arguably be the most valuable thing we could hope for.

It's probably his only shot, now that he's risen to the level of potential candidate. I'm still thinking Gore, with his focus on global warming, is the best guy. But I could get on board with Obama. He ain't no Kerry, and he could break us out of the rut of exploiting everything for political gain. Dems do this as readily, if less adeptly, as the GOP. Wouldn't it be shocking to see substance become the currency of politics? It can only happen with a guy who actually talks straight. Obama may be the only one with that cred. I guess we can only watch and wait.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


GOP House of Cards?

I have a sense that many people care far less about election strategies and analysis than I do, but hey, cut me a break, we're two weeks out from the election (to the day, actually).

In any case. Andrew Sullivan has some interesting analysis about the structure of the GOP support depending on the rural base and gerrymandered districts--which you knew. In his words:
One of the things Mann emphasizes is how the electoral college and the Senate strongly favor rural areas over urban ones in American politics and how the Republican gerrymandering of the past decade or so has accentuated this still further by wedging in small majorities of rural voters in seats that might otherwise be dominated by suburban and urban (i.e. Democratic) voters.
So what happens if the GOP loses enough of the rural voters to start losing elections? The geometric structure of the GOP machine begins to implode in on itself:
If these rural voters were to abandon the current GOP, or stay home in sizable numbers, then the entire strategy collapses. Many, many more seats would fall to the Dems than most of us now expect. Republicans have lost a lot of support in the suburbs and cities this past decade and a half - making them more than ever dependent on the rural base and exurbs....

But if the facade cracks, if these rural voters begin to believe they have been misled, or their president has been criminally negligent in the conduct of this war, then the rock-solid patriotic support could become something else. It would not fade into indifference. It could turn in an instant into rage.
Okay, probably it won't happen. But in these dark times, fairy tales are a soothing comfort.

The Pendulum Swings Back.

Finally. After thinking for years that the national mood would follow past patterns and begin swinging away from the jackboot right, I had begun to worry lately that voters might be permanently brain-damaged, masochistic toadies for the GOP. Appears it's not so. From ABC, yesterday:

Fifty-four percent of registered voters in this ABC News/Washington Post poll prefer the Democrats in their districts, 41 percent the Republicans. This is the highest level of Democratic preference we've seen in ABC/Post surveys this close to Election Day since 1984....

The Democratic lead comes mainly from the center, which simply is not holding for the Republicans: Independents, the quintessential swing voters, favor Democrats for the House by 28 percentage points, 59-31 percent.

The WaPo echoes these findings (it's the same poll):

The independent voters surveyed said they plan to support Democratic candidates over Republicans by roughly 2-to-1 (59 percent to 31 percent), the largest margin in any Post-ABC News poll this year.

Indies are breaking left, and lefties are breaking Dem. Bush, incidentally, is tracking south again, and headed back toward his six-year low. He's now at 37% (60% disapprove) according to the ABC/WaPo, his third-lowest showing, and in spitting distance of the 32% they measured back in June.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Wall Street Hates the GOP, Too.

Wall Streeters may finally be wising up. Over the past decade or so, Wall Street has dutifully lined up behind the GOP, no matter how idiotically they run the country. Hints of Democratic victory send the Dow plummeting.

What to make, then, of the news that the Dow is absolutely skyrocketing right now? It's up 115 points today to another record close. Meanwhile, traders, familiar with how to read a balance sheet, are surely reading the polls which say the Dems are about to sweep back into power. The only conclusion? They've also decided that it's time for the incompetents to take a seat. Give the adults a turn at the helm.

Bush Still Sucks.

My posting has gotten spotty, and probably will remain so the next couple weeks before stopping completely for most of November, whilst I galavant around the Indian Himalayas. Also, I have this feeling that news and politics are being held in suspended animation while we wait for the election. A world holds its breath. Anyway, I can offer you this, a relevant post over at BlueOregon on the changing demographics of voters. It ain't much, but it's what I got.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

[End of Life]

On Death and Suicide.

A post on BlueOregon alerts us that Oregon's assisted suicide law ("Death with Dignity") will no longer be referred to as suicide. It's now "physician assisted death." The title of the post is "Death with dignity: it's not suicide," which is roughly Claire Simon's (the writer) whole point. Ah, but it is suicide, no matter what bureaucratese renders it. From Merriam-Webster:
"Latin sui (genitive) of oneself + English -cide; akin to Old English & Old High German sIn his, Latin suus one's own, sed, se without, Sanskrit sva oneself, one's own."
Suicide is an act, death is an event. Death happens to us all, but the manner of that death is rarely suicide. From a linguistic point of view, "suicide" addresses both the actor and the act. "Death," on the other hand, is a softening of the original meaning, and throws the act into question. It removes the agency of the patient.

End-of-life issues are extremely important, and as we enter this new medically-assisted phase of evolution, we must balance nature's imperative with our ability to stave it off. Oregon was one of the few places on the planet where we had a serious, honest discussion about this issue, and I think calling a suicide a suicide is part of that honesty.

Politically, too, I distrust this distancing. It seems to me like a lack of nerve. I am a fan of the law, though I would never use it. I tend to be very libertarian about people having control over the acts that affect their bodies. I think the serious debate we had about this issue is hidden slightly as we lose the forthrightness of what the law's intention was. It is a suicide law, not a "death" law. We may give citizens the right to control the manner of their own death--via suicide--but I would hate to see the state grant doctors the right to control death.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


November Scenarios From a Paranoid Mind.

Call me paranoid. I still don't believe the polls, I think something's going to go sideways between now and the election, I still don't trust the GOP to stay away from the polls or punch any name with a (D) after it. NPR is touting a poll this morning that echoes all the rest--the GOP is in trouble and fading, and GOP voters are feeling disinterested. The war in Iraq has jumped out to be the major issue (therefore bad for the GOP). And the Dems lead in all issues except terrorism and immigration, which are statistical dead heats.

On the other hand, I've watched an unsettling pattern wherein all the news suggests a Democratic gain, until election day, when voters hand the GOP more power. I know, this is a new year, things are different, Foley, Iraq, yadda yadda, and yet still I remain paranoid. Here's why:

It's all about turnout. This is really the issue. Despite Dean's 50-state strategy and impressive improvements in infrastructure, the GOP still has a far more impressive get-out-the-vote machine. They are purported to have far greater cash reserves to produce beautiful ads and an election-week slime-o-rama. Elections are marathons, and the GOP are great finishers. Maybe Republican strategists can adequately scare people with the specter of a "Speaker Pelosi" (instructive, isn't it, that that's the most scary image they can invoke--losing power, aaaaiiieeee!).

Remember the gerrymander. If the GOP can get their usual 11th-hour turnout, they may well keep both houses. The Senate is the longer shot, and if they can keep Allen in Virginia, beat back Harold Ford in Tennessee, and win with Talent in Missouri, they will keep a bare majority. So then it falls to the House. The difficulty here is that Dems are running in predominantly gerrymandered districts that have statistically-calculated GOP advantages. Winning in these districts isn't like it was in '94. It's still an uphill battle.

All or nothing. On the other hand, if what everyone says is true, the likelihood that Dems take both chambers is probably as good as just taking the House. It would signal the final death-knell of a fear-powered machine, with conservative Christians and fiscal conservatives sitting this one out or voting Dem. If you can win in gerrymandered House districts, you can probably also take state races in the Senate.

An irony this election is that I'll be in India when the ballots come in. I won't be sitting with my usual celebratory bottle of Scotch--that turns palliative by 8 o'clock--watching darkness descend on the land. Instead, I'll be at a monastery in the Himalayas very far from liquor and other vices, blissfully ignorant of the petty affairs of our collapsing democracy. I spent one other election abroad, again in India. That time I was able to watch the returns via Star TV. It was 1994.

So maybe our luck is turning after all.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Adios Amigos

Most of the Ramones are dead, the Talking Heads are dead, and now, so is CBGB. Rest in peace, venerable ghosts of punk--

Main attraction in a freak side show
Down in the basement where the cobwebs grow
On my last leg just gettin' by
Halo round my read,
too tough to die

At the concert when the band comes on
I am in the ring where I belong
On my last leg just gettin' by
Halo round my head,
too tough to die

Friday, October 13, 2006

[Nobel Prize]

Art and Politics.

Orhan Pamuk is a controversial figure in Turkey. Actually, it seems that he's not controversial so much as hated. His principle crime is talking--not writing--about Turkish purges of Armenians and Kurds:
Pamuk earned Turkish government ire last year when he talked in an interview with a Swiss newspaper about the World War I massacre of 1.5 million Armenians and the deaths of 30,000 Kurdish separatists in the 1980s and '90s. Ultra-nationalists in Turkey persecuted him and he was soon prosecuted under the Turkish penal code for "insulting Turkishness, the republic and state institutions". Although the charges were dropped as a demonstration of the social progress needed for membership in the European Union, the law remains on the books.
If this morning's NPR story is accurate, it sounds like most Turks agreed with the government. The very fact that he is lauded by the West has made him a traitor to Turkey. I suppose the Nobel is in some ways an affirmation of the tension--the Swedes love to use the award to tweak oppressive regimes almost as much as rewarding literary merit.

(I've never read a word of Pamuk's prose, but by all accounts, in this case, his literary stature seems widely regarded as equal to his political. The Times offers this description of his books: "...multi-layered, allegorical, sometimes fanciful, Proustian in their attention to detail and Borgesian in their dazzling complexity.")

This is an interesting case. I suspect righties will seize on it as an example of Muslim oppression, evidence that they could use a little of that good 'ol American democracy. Of course, that cuts both ways--these are the same righties who want to silence Hollywood and who in past eras attempted to jail Allen Ginsberg for obscenity (he mentioned gays!), among others.

All art is dangerous, to greater or lesser extents. The best art seeks truth and, using the power of metaphor, symbol, and form, the truth it produces is often more potent than bland facts presented in the news. Pamuk, writing honestly, seems to have struck a raw Turkish nerve. But what if he turned his attention to France, which yesterday approved a law that makes it illegal to deny the Turkish genocide Pamuk referenced. Would he be as charitable to a country that forbids schoolgirls from wearing a head scarf? What ironies might he locate; what indictments might result?

The best of art is transparent and honest, without agenda. Pamuk seems to have hit this mark, and the Nobel committee, almost in spite of themselves--this is the group that awarded Dario Fo their prize in '97--have given his work a larger stage. I have known of him for a few years, but only now has this awareness become motivation to go buy a novel. I will, however, avoid reading it as a political document.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

[Election 2006]

Great Horse-Race Site on the House.

A project called Majority Watch has a wonderful site that is tracking polling in key races for the House. It's very cool.

(Their current tally: Strongly Dem 198, Strongly GOP 188; weak Dem 7, weak GOP 7, tie 6.)

Blossoms of Death.

One of the rhetorical (and false) axioms the the power-consolidating White House has relied on is this one: your pretty civil liberties mean nothing to you if the Islamo-fascists get you, and so you best give up a few so I can prevent Osama from shimmying down your chimney like an evil Santy Claus. It has been by this (false) logic--and the resulting fear of many Americans--that Bush has seized extra-Constitutional powers. It is also by this logic that Bush has justified his half-witted invasion of Iraq. Yeah, sure, things are "a little rocky" in Baghdad, but the blossoming garden of Democracy is far better than the torture chambers of Saddam Hussein.

As have so many of the paradoxes upon which Bushian policies rest--we must cut down the trees to create healthy forests, we must give tax dollars to the wealthy to feed the poor, etc.--this one is beginning to collapse inward. With yesterday's report of 600,000 dead, with the flowering civil war (Baghdad's only blossoms are IEDs), with the simmering rage rippling across the Mideast, it is well to point out one more: Bush, for all his fine intentions, has killed more Iraqis than Saddam ever could. If life is the ultimate civil liberty, Bush's unshakeable faith in Democracy will do little for the hundreds of thousands killed in his grand experiment. Worse, they did not sacrifice their lives for their own vision of the future, but the vision supplied by the arrogant, ignorant brain trust at the Project for a New American Century. Saddam or Dick Cheney--does it much matter to the dead?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Report: 600,000 Dead Iraqis.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have released the results of their epidemiological study about Iraqis killed in the invasion and subsequent civil war. It's the same group who in 2004 asserted that 100,000 had been killed--a finding that still exceeds the highest estimate. Despite the shocking finding, the methodology seems pretty sound:

The survey was conducted between May 20 and July 10 by eight Iraqi physicians organized through Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. They visited 1,849 randomly selected households that had an average of seven members each. One person in each household was asked about deaths in the 14 months before the invasion and in the period after.

The interviewers asked for death certificates 87 percent of the time; when they did, more than 90 percent of households produced certificates.

According to the survey results, Iraq's mortality rate in the year before the invasion was 5.5 deaths per 1,000 people; in the post-invasion period it was 13.3 deaths per 1,000 people per year. The difference between these rates was used to calculate "excess deaths."

Of the 629 deaths reported, 87 percent occurred after the invasion. A little more than 75 percent of the dead were men, with a greater male preponderance after the invasion. For violent post-invasion deaths, the male-to-female ratio was 10-to-1, with most victims between 15 and 44 years old.

Gunshot wounds caused 56 percent of violent deaths, with car bombs and other explosions causing 14 percent, according to the survey results. Of the violent deaths that occurred after the invasion, 31 percent were caused by coalition forces or airstrikes, the respondents said.

Let the spin begin.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Kirin Desai Wins the Booker

On the eve of the Nobel announcement, news out that Kirin Desai has just won the Booker for her novel The Inheritance of Loss. She's the daughter of Anita Desai, one of the old guard of Indian expats, who was nominated three times but never won the Booker. (Here's a video clip of her discussing the novel; here's a Times review.) She is apparently a student at Columbia in creative writing, which ought to make for an awkward time for her professors.

One for the reading list...

Monday, October 09, 2006


Google Gobbles YouTube.

It wasn't that long ago that Google introduced Google Video as a competitor to YouTube. It looks like they couldn't compete:
Google announced this afternoon that it would buy YouTube, the popular video-sharing Web site, for stock that it valued at $1.65 billion....

The acquisition of the privately held YouTube will enable Google to thrive in one area of the Internet where it has so far failed to gain footing. According to Hitwise, which monitors Web traffic, has the lion’s share of online video traffic. YouTube has a 46 percent share, MySpace has 23 percent and Google Video has 10 percent.
If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.
[Elections 2006]

GOP Tribalism.

Based on the most touted (and doubted) finding from the '04 election, what keeps the GOP in power are the "values" voters--aka fundamentalist Christians. Using a purely political filter, one might imagine that values voters would abandon their party if an event or series of events revealed that politicians violated their trust on the "values" issue. One can imagine no better test of this thesis than having the party cover for a gay sexual predator--who continued his hunt for adolescent flesh--merely to stay in power. And yet:
Most of the evangelical Christians interviewed said that so far they saw Mr. FoleyƂ’s behavior as a matter of personal morality, not institutional dysfunction. All said the question of broader responsibility had quickly devolved into a storm of partisan charges and countercharges. And all insisted the episode would have little impact on their intentions to vote.
Belief in the GOP is not a matter of political alignment, it's literally a matter of faith. And if the Foley scandal doesn't shake "values" voters, nothing will. What's more, even mentioning the scandal seems to have drawn the ire of GOP voters, who have apparently concluded that faithless Dems are the cause of the scandal by their relentless politicization:
But all also noted that the swift Democratic efforts to broaden the scandal to Mr. Hastert and other Republicans had added more than a whiff of partisanship to the stink of the scandal.
The GOP have managed to cast politics in a tribal mode. It doesn't actually matter what the leaders of one's team do--proof is in the loyalty. Each scandal--tax cuts for the wealthy, the Iraq invasion, Mission Accomplished, Abu Ghraib, Abramoff, Schiavo, Katrina, Foley, et. al.--become opportunities to demonstrate the faith of one's conviction. It's very easy to cast this as a purely religious phenomenon; faith in the GOP being an extension of faith in God. But I think there's also a strongly cultural issue to it.

In college football, it doesn't actually matter how a team does--the fans still support it. I went to an Oregon State Beavers game over the weekend and watched 42,000 fans cheer as their poor team made mistake after mistake. But hey, you don't jump ship just because the team sucks. Matter of fact, since it's your team, the fact that it sucks is an even greater motivator to support it. I'll show you.

Culturally, the GOP has appealed to the underdog sense within rural, suburban, and--notably--Christian communities. You're the runts nobody likes, you're the fools who believe in god. Don't expect the "elites" to respect you. A vote for the GOP is a vote for true America, a rejection of your university-educated, Hollyweird-loving, Prius-driving elitist tormentors.

Never mind that such a group never existed, this is powerful stuff. It is so powerful that each failure actually becomes a mark of pride. Each misstep a forgivable lapse by the underdog. Each attempt by the Dems to win your heart a condescending lie to try to win back the power with which to oppress you.

It means that the Dems have no cards to play. It doesn't matter how carefully they craft a policy on Iraq, how well their health care solutions are designed, or how authentic their own downtrodden histories and Christian faith are. The only thing we can hope for is that in the privacy of their own living rooms--and voting booths--the GOP tribal loyalists will secretly begin to doubt. (And of course, they won't tell the New York Times about this doubt.) The Dems' only real hope is the continued greed, stupidity, corruption, and arrogance of the GOP leadership.

Is that moment now? Maybe.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Foley Scandal: No Effect. Wait, This Just In ...

In the first week following the great Foley Coverup Scandal, it looks like the fracas is having no effect on voters. This according to the most recent Pew poll:
The Foley story has not significantly affected the midterm race: In interviewing conducted before news of the scandal surfaced, Democrats led by 51%-38% among registered voters; in the days after Foley resigned, the Democratic advantage was unchanged (50%-37%). Similarly, the scandal's impact on opinions of GOP congressional leaders ­ and the Republican Party's image for honest and ethical governance ­ has been fairly limited.
So while this may have an effect on selected races (Foley's vacated seat and Reynolds'), it doen't seem to affect things on a macro level.

But wait! Fox News says it ain't so. According to an internal poll they got wind of:
"The data suggests Americans have bailed on the speaker," a Republican source briefed on the polling data told FOX News. "And the difference could be between a 20-seat loss and 50-seat loss."

...The GOP source told FOX News that the internal data had not been widely shared among Republican leaders, but as awareness of it spreads calculations about Hastert's tenure may change. The source described the pollster who did the survey as "authoritative," and said once the numbers are presented, it "could change the focus" on whether the speaker remains in power.
No doubt that GOP source was someone hoping to help Hastert out the door, but this is mighty interesting (particularly given that Hastert doesn't want to go). Very interesting.

Kevin Drum on the Rubes.

Once the GOP's very public effort to pass legislation to fence off Mexico had reaped its political fruit, a very private effort to defund that project followed. Kevin Drum has a wonderful quote on this classic bait-and-switch.
The rubes, who party bigwigs hope aren't "minding the details," think they're getting something like the Great Wall of China, but in reality they'll get a few miles of showpiece fortification plus a billion dollars worth of "tactical infrastructure" and "virtual fence."

Political parties play politics. But I have to say that the 20-year dance that Republicans have played with the social conservative wing of the party has been about as cynical as anything in modern history. I'm fine with that, of course, since I'd just as soon see social conservatives confined to their basements churning out angry mimeographed newsletters about the horrors of secular humanism, but it really makes you wonder if they're ever going to catch on. How many times can Lucy pull the football away before they figure out they're being had?

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. But hey, Charlie Brown never did figure it out, did he?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

[Foley Scandal]

How Long Will The Story Live?

Let's do a little thought experiment. It now emerges that Foley's follies began not in the last session or even 2001, but as early as his entry to Congress in 1995. Meanwhile, Denny Hastert, the vast old wrestler, has planted his feet and refuses to step down as Speaker. Follow a logical progression from these facts: Hastert refuses to step down, and so keeps his own incompetence and GOP in-fighting on the front page. With now 11 years of history, reporters work to dig up more dirt on Foley. Will they find only more emails? Is it possible Foley spent 11 years pursuing pages and never acted on it?

Or, let's take a charitable view: Hastert steps down. With a history going back 11 years, which leader is going to stand up with clean hands? Surely not Roy Blunt or John Boehner. They would instead find themselves on the same hot seat Hastert vacated. Casting about for a leader who is not tainted by the scandal leading up to the election--a strategy for killing the story? Not likely.

While I doubt it will remain all the news all the time as it is now, this thing looks like a tire fire for the GOP--a slow-burning, stinking mess. Or am I missing something?

[A moment later.] Oh, and one more thing. This leaves aside the money Foley funneled to the RCCC and the whole Reynolds connection. That brings even more sticky politics--and a few more tires--into the whole thing.
[Politics, Foreign Policy]

Defeating Republicans on Terrorism

My main touchstone with successful debate framing is not through mainline Democratic channels or even on blogs (though they're great in fragments), it's Bill Maher. Fortunately, HBO makes available podcasts of his show, so I get to hear it after a week or so. The show's great strength is in its non-politicians, who take the hacks and flacks on with the kind of insight we almost never see from actual Democrats.

The September 22nd show was a texbook example--and by textbook, I mean one that Dems should study. The guests are Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman from West Wing), Reza Aslan, a CBS foreign correspondent, and Sandy Rios, a right wing hack extraordinare. Watch how the Rios's language is flushed out as the embarrassing hackery it is in the face of plainspoken fact. Without the he-said/she-said framework--which, sadly, the Dems willingly participate in--her rhetoric seems bizarre and extremely harsh.

What follows is a little long, but worth reading. I've cut the crosstalk from the transcript.

WHITFORD: But there’s a perception that [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] is – he is playing off, in a politically-productive way for his point of view, which I’m not endorsing, which is that we are there for the oil and we are there as imperialists.

RIOS: If we’re there for the oil, why haven’t we taken it?

WHITFORD: Why do we not say that we will not put permanent bases there? Joe Biden sent a bill down three times—

RIOS: [overlapping] Why shouldn’t we? We have earned the right to have permanent bases in that country. [derisive laughter] We have given up so many lives. We have sacrificed so many lives; we have earned the right to have—

WHITFORD: [overlapping] We have sacrificed so many lives?! They have lost 130,000 innocent civilians. [applause]

RIOS: And that’s our fault?


RIOS: No, no.

WHITFORD: These are – these are God’s children. These are not—

RIOS: Well, of course.


RIOS: [overlapping] No, the insurgents are the ones who have killed the innocent. Not the Americans.

MAHER: Wait, wait, wait. “Insurgent” is a very interesting word. Because what you’re talking about is, our country went over there and attacked a country that didn’t attack us. Okay, and then you call them insurgents and terrorists. I would think they would say they’re just people who are fighting because there’s somebody occupying their country. [applause] [cheers]

RIOS: No, no, insurgents are people that come from other countries. Insurgents are the people who come from other countries besides Iraq. They’re not Iraqi fighters. And they weren’t there before we attacked Iraq.

MAHER: No, they weren’t. And we all know they weren’t. Let’s stop that bullshit right now! [applause] [cheers]

And then (in a monument to very, very low expectations):

MAHER: [overlapping] I know, but even the president says he will not talk about the present. What he’s confident about is 50 years down the road.

RIOS: Well, what’s wrong with that, Bill?

MAHER: He always – he can’t get the present right. His every prediction he has made has been wrong. But he says, “Trust me on 50 years down the road.”

RIOS: [overlapping] That’s not true. No, that’s not true, Bill. Every prediction he’s made has not turned out wrong.

MAHER: Name one.

RIOS: Well, I think there are a lot of people in Iraq – have you seen those commercials on television where the Kurds are thanking the American people for freeing them? [laughter and scorn]

ASLAN: The Kurds – the Kurds are doing just fine.

It goes on in this vein. Part of the video can be found here, and I'll paste in the second half below. (It's a pretty big file and slow-loading, but it's higher res than most Youtube vids.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The Argument Against Torture.

Last week, following my plaintive wail of despair over the Senate vote on torture, I got an email with a link to this: Sam Harris' "Defense of Torture." In it, Harris argues that torture may be bad, but it's no worse than modern, civilian-killing smart bombs--and is probably more effective. He says we don't like torture because it's a hands-on activity, whereas sanitized bombing from overhead is palatable. Having dismissed ethical distinctions, Harris argues about the efficacy of torture versus bombing:
Make these confessions as unreliable as you like—the chance that our interests will be advanced in any instance of torture need only equal the chance of such occasioned by the dropping of a single bomb. What was the chance that the dropping of bomb number 117 on Kandahar would effect the demise of Al Qaeda? It had to be pretty slim.
Harris would rather not be right, but "no one has pointed out a flaw in my argument." I see several flaws, though I can make not claims about whether Harris would find them persuasive. They persuade me.

According to the Harris argument, there can be no distinction between torture and bombing. In a certain sense, he's right: I'm pursuaded that pacifism is a more useful intervention than war. (Harris brushes the whole of pacifism aside using a single Gandhi quote, borrowing from the Rove toolkit of the straw man defense. But we aren't talking pacifism, so I'll leave that aside.)

Actually, we can make distinctions between torture and bombing. To use the kind of rhetorical technique Harris employs, take this hypothetical: if torture is no worse than bombing, all torture must be permitted. Imagine the horror of flaying. If waterboarding is kosher, what about flaying? Is there no act you cannot commit against another human to achieve your end? No. The very act of torture itself is a debasement and a barbarism, and it's one compelling reason civilizations have outlawed torture. Where war may be necessary, we attempt to hew to rules to preserve our humanity. Tormenting a helpless being is indecent and immoral. Wars are conducted against populations; torture is a debasement of the individual. It's not particularly murky, ethically.

In my earlier screed, I gave the two reasons why torture is ineffective: it produces as much or more misinformation as it does no information--never mind the tiny chance of usuable info. This poses obvious strategic consequences merely bombing a city doesn't have. Now that the US has an established program of torture, I expect our enemies will train in planting misinformation through captured troops.

Second, it creates an environment in which our own troops and citizens become targets for capture for reciprocal acts of torture--as happened following Abu Ghraib. Another issue not created by a sanctioned war effort.

It doesn't really seem like a close call. You gain almost nothing by torturing, and it costs you an enormous amount, both strategically and morally.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

[Foley Scandal]

Put a Fork in 'Em

Okay, I'm finally willing to admit that the Dems have a shot. I figure this scandal will depress the election pretty dramatically--and depress exactly the hard-core "values" voters that have kept the party afloat for six years. They just lost House.

This may also put Webb over the top in Virginia (will the bigoted "Macaca" voters show up?--fewer, for sure). That puts the Senate in play. If I were NJ's Menendez, I'd be running on taking back the Senate--I think it comes down to him. That means control over who gets on the Supreme Court, which of Bush's appointees go fowards, and more.

More analysis at BlueOregon.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Also Not Satire.

Denny Hastert, desperately trying to deflect attention from the stinking mire of his party, offered this in his own defense. I kid you not.
“Would have, could have, should have,” Mr. Hastert said, responding to questions about whether Republicans should have done more.
That's a hell of a record to run on.
[White House]

Just Naughty Emails.

Hey, it's not as if he lied to Congress about WMD or anything. White House Press Secretary Snow on CNN this morning:

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: I would assume everybody would want to know, including the president. I mean, we’re not talking about any old person. We’re talking about the leadership of the Republicans in Congress.

Why would he not hear something that’s disturbing, or his office — over-friendly — when I see that word as a parent — and I think any parent would say, Whoa, over-friendly? Any communication between a 16-year-old and a congressman, why doesn’t that raise red flags — major, massive red flags?

TONY SNOW: Yes, look, I hate to tell you, but it’s not always pretty up there on Capitol Hill. And there have been other scandals, as you know, that have been more than simply naughty e-mails.

You know, look, again, I reiterate my point. I think it’s important to protect these kids and make sure that they have a good experience. And look, like you, I want to find out what happened. But before we prosecute, let’s figure out what all the facts are. That’s probably the most important thing to do is to be fair to all parties.

Snow continued, "Come on Soledad, Congressmen have been chasing boys around since the Civil War. What do you expect, they're from the South." Okay, not really--but he might as well have.
[GOP Corruption]

Mark Foley and His GOP Defenders

Never mind that fellow GOP are now disowning Florida Congressman Mark Foley of his attempted pedophilia: when they first found out about it, they demonstrated rare cynicism by trying to protect their own asses--the teens can fend for their own--by trying to keep it quiet. There can be no greater metaphor for not just the corruption of the modern GOP, but it's nature: in order to keep power, this is a party that will protect a pedophile who has chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. Even while they were publicly agitating for a gay marriage amendment, they were protecting a gay predator. The bottom of this well of hypocrisy is deep indeed.

The theater proceeds along its banal course: now Foley has gone into rehab for alcoholism, for the GOP know that the sins of the flesh may be washed away with the confessional waters of cheap bourbon.

This continues a remarkable run of of GOP corruption since the last election. From memory (read: inexhaustively):
  • House Majority Leader Tom DeLay resigned under indictment for felony conspiracy;
  • Duke Cunningham (R-CA) jailed for taking bribes;
  • Jack Abramoff found guilty for fraud, tax evasion, and bribing public officials;
  • David Safavian, the top federal procurement officer, was found guilty of obstructing justice in the Abramoff corruption case;
  • Bob Ney (R-OH) pleads guilty to lying and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Will the electorate notice? Probably not. Still, the evidence is in, for whomever does happen to look.