Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cretin Cards

This is really appalling, and a reminder about the essentially amoral nature of corporations. I don't really have a better alternative to capitalism, but the whole "letting the market run itself" doesn't work when the profit motive (and in particular short-term profit) governs corporate activity.


The last installment in the sputtering-to-a-halt phenomenon that has been Battlestar Galactica for the past two or so seasons continued its movement toward the end yesterday. To be fair, this was one of the better recent episodes. For one thing, I was never bored. I didn't once look to see how much time was left in the episode. That's not nothing with BSG these days. And I actually felt kinda engaged in the storyline, which is also atypical. It was better than the "let's just be sad" crapfest from last week, but not exactly up to BSG in its prime, when the "Best show on television" moniker could be applied without a smirk.

It does seem to be silly to hold television shows to really high standards--after all, it's just a show--but BSG and other shows like The Wire and The Sopranos have asked for our attention, and for us to think about more than just whether we're entertained. And we have, and as they are obviously intended to be of artistic merit, why can't a person say that the fifth season of Wire was not up to snuff, or that Sopranos was sucky for actually a significant portion of its run, and was only redeemed with an occasional "very special episode" where a main character was killed off? BSG is like The Sopranos in that way, but it's also similar in that it's repeating itself a lot as well. We're seeing ships refusing to allow troops to board them? Saw it. Civil unrest and authoritarian overreach? These have been explored before. The show has had the courtesy to give us a new idea to puzzle over with the coup, but they don't actually let us puzzle over it: from the moment that that likeable old crew chief got killed, the show was telling us who was right and who was wrong. There's no sublety there. Rather than letting us come to our own conclusions, as Battlestar has done historically, it is now telling us how to think. This is not a positive development. And it ends with the possibility of a standoff where Hot Dog is ordered to shoot down a shuttle carrying the president. We've never seen that before...except that we have, and Hot Dog didn't pull the trigger then. Basically, this season is quickly turning into the second season opener. Talk about everything has happened before and is happening again.

At this point I'm not really sure what to say about the show. The show has long lost any sort of political or social relevance, which it had in spades during the early years. I was actually a little intrigued by the season's opening, but rather than try to resolve the narrative questions raised in the episode it appears we're going to have three episodes about the coup, which is baffling. The fat lady is, after all, warming up.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Gregg to commerce?

It would be a masterstroke. Obama gets another Republican in the Cabinet, and he gets either a new Democratic Senator or a liberal Republican who won't run in two years, leaving the Democrats with an easier Senate pickup. This Obama guy has got some game.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Adios, Blago!

Thank God it's over. I will admit that it was an entertaining sideshow for a while, and arguably an example of the media's obsession with easy-to-report news stories rather than difficult ones, but it's done and I wish Governor Quinn luck.

Of fiscal conservatism

Can it really be the case that every Democratic President since Truman has presided over a drop in the national debt, while every Republican President (save Ike and first term Nixon) has presided over an increase? Matthew Gagnon makes a different argument here, and makes a few good points. Supply-siderism first came in vogue among Republicans during the 1970s, and since then a Republican President has not managed to reduce the debt. Republican Presidents before then (i.e. actual fiscal conservatives) routinely did. Conclusion: MORE TAX CUTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!1!!

Of intelligence and unions

I've heard union-bashing rhetoric before, but it's usually not this bizarre:
It is glaringly obvious that Liebman does not think the individual worker is smart enough to be able to deal with his employers. And, worse, it seems that Liebman has no intention of allowing the worker to even have the chance to experience that freedom of individual choice but is rather more interested in supplanting such messy freedoms with total collectivism.

The idea that unions exist because liberals think that average folks are too dumb to deal with management is, well, dumb. Management has enormous power and leverage in the business world, and while asking your boss for another week off for vacation might work, but it probably won't. If everyone does, then it stands a better chance. Yes, it's "collectivism" as far as it goes, but the idea that collectivism is always bad is laughable. If you define "collectivism" this widely, not as some sort of socialist concept but rather as a group of people trying to argue for their interests against the caprices of their leadership, then you have just dismissed the fundamental point of republican democracy, which is that people should be allowed to do this very thing. The first amendment, of course, provides for freedom of assembly. But there is no principle at work here, it's just gobbledygook.

In fact, smart workers are the ones most likely to see the benefits of union membership, as union employees make more money, get more vacation and are harder to fire. One can debate whether specific labor policies are helpful to management, but if someone likes more money, more vacation and more job security then it's pretty clear what path to take. Still, the "smart" argument baffles me. Is this a way of invoking the old "liberal elites condescending to regular 'mericans" shtick? It's got nothing to do with smart, it's all about leverage. One worker has little to none. A bunch have more. Look, unions bring problems along with them, and sometimes they do stand in the way of significant reform, as in education. But this is just stupid.

The "freedom of choice" argument is nonsense as well. Since Taft-Hartley became law in 1947 closed shops have been illegal, so nobody is forced to join a union to work at a job. If you're a teacher and you don't want to join the teacher's union, you can just not join. You'll pay a tiny amount to the union since they represent you as well as everyone else, and that's all. But if your objection to unions is that there isn't enough freedom of choice involved, then the Employee Freedom of Choice Act ought to be right up your alley, as it allows workers an immediate and clear choice on whether to form a union. If they're so bad, then union membership shouldn't tick up, right? If Americans are so smart, they'll see through it, won't they? Have some faith in America, dude.

Another Republican who doesn't oppose science

It's Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. Encouraging. From what I hear Corker is more of a traditionalist, dealmaking type of conservative like Bob Bennett than a movement zealot like Jim DeMint. Corker's election was basically an accident--he was an underdog who wasn't the movement's first choice for the seat--but the GOP could use more guys who are willing to look at the evidence and try to work toward a solution.

I guess that makes me a fan, for now.

A tale of two chambers

Daniel Larison offers his take on the GOP opposition to the bailout:
Indeed, the sudden unanimous opposition of House Republicans to this bill mainly accomplishes one thing, which is to remind everyone of how gutlessly the Republican leadership acquiesced to whatever the Bush administration wanted and how they only managed to discover some interest in resisting massive expenditures when someone from the other party is in the White House. This highlights the past fecklessness and opportunism of the current Republican leadership. Given the current mood in the country, the House GOP in ‘10 will probably be received in the country about as well as the House GOP was received during the ‘98 midterms. The lesson to draw from the Democrats’ defeat in 2002 is not that cooperation with the White House loses the opposition party seats in the next elections, but that challenging a very popular President on a major piece of legislation (especially when the legislation is also popular) usually ends up costing the opposition party seats.

He actually opposes the bailout, which I think is a good idea that could get better (and hopefully will, since the need to get Republicans on board has passed). I tend to think he is right on the politics, though. It is unclear how the GOP benefits from mass opposition to the stimulus, especially when it is quite popular with the public. I've heard the argument that, by backing it, they wouldn't be able to use its failure--if it fails--as an issue in 2010. Why not? After all, Democrats backed the Iraq War and they still campaigned against it in 2006 and 2008, and gained considerable traction in my opinion. Why couldn't a Republican in 2010 say, "Hey, we tried it Obama's way, and we hoped it would work. But it didn't, so elect us because we were right!" Actually, that would be a much stronger argument to make, as just mindlessly opposing everything Democrats do just makes you look like easily dismissed cranks who would vote against anything the Obama administration favors.

I'm not a huge fan of Mitch McConnell (though I readily admit he's a far more talented politician than Harry Reid, our hapless leader) but he also appears to be smarter than John Boehner. Notice how, aside from Jim DeMint, not too many Senate Republicans have been complaining about things like contraception in the stimulus? My guess is that a good chunk of Senate Republicans will support the bill, and there is a reason for this: Boehner doesn't really have any power. The GOP can't do much, the Dems have a big House majority and can pass whatever they want. Now, as Obama was offering Boehner influence the latter's actions are pretty stupid, as without it being given to him he has none.

McConnell, on the other hand, works in the Senate, where getting 60 votes is often necessary. When one assumes that both Boehner and McConnell are going to want to appear to be in charge (even if they're not), it makes sense that Boehner will move hard to the right with his caucus (which he is unlikely to push to the center), while McConnell will move more toward the center with his, which contains a lot of moderate, deal-making, and blue state representing Senators. And I can imagine a scenario such as with EFCA where the GOP lets it pass if only Obama drops the card check provision. That way, McConnell is a conservative hero and labor gets a big win, and Obama could even fix some of the problems with respect to intimidation of labor that exist in current labor law. Everybody wins!

A lot of people seem to think the Senate will be the tough nut to crack to pass Obama's policies. If that's the case, then there's not too much to worry about. I could be wrong, but I suspect that human vanity will be a factor here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The stimulus passes without any GOP support

A little surprising, actually. I figured the GOP would lose a few votes. I guess moderate Republicans (the three or so left) are on board with the "No Future" Boehner Brigade. Then again, the idea that there are actual "moderate Republicans" might well be a myth: those that aren't wingnuts live in constant fear of being primaried of those who are. I suppose now is not the best time to become a Maverick.

The only objection I have to this whole charade was the show that Republicans put on. Okay, so if you oppose Keynesian stimulus, just say so. Just say you oppose spending. Perfectly valid viewpoint, just not a terribly compelling one after eight years of GOP fiscal profligacy. But don't come up with a bunch of bullshit about birth control as the reason why you're opposing the bill. Then again, this assumes congressional Republicans are willing to negotiate in good faith. Not the best assumption.

Adventures in Bizarroland

i.e., where modern-day conservatives live:
The NRCC is banging the good old culture wars drum today, sending out a raft of press releases asking if rookie Dems from conservative districts back the inclusion of anti-sexually transmitted disease programs.

The title of the release: Do Freshmen Dems Support $335 Million for STD Prevention in "Stimulus"?
Um, yes?! I thought we were supposed to prevent STDs. I don't think they realize that conservatives, by setting up Democrats as pro-prevention, are tacitly saying they're pro-STD. Nice work, guys! This is what happens when you go all in on culture wars: eventually you tie yourself up in knots, and you eventually don't know what you're talking about.

Another unhinged conservative statement, this one from Senator John Ensign of Nevada, attacking Herbert Hoover for being too liberal:
Hoover was very interventionist. He raised taxes, increased spending, and tried very much to [intervene in] the economy.

"A lot of us would not like to have the level of government involvement" that the stimulus involves, Ensign added.

Yeah. Hoover raised taxes to balance the budget, which was silly. And he did try a little bit of what FDR would do later with the New Deal. He, however, was assuredly not a Keynesian and believed fervently that the market would correct itself, and thus didn't commit to government intervention. I'm not exactly sure that Ensign--who hails from my hometown in California, by the way--really wants the new rallying cry of the GOP to be: "Herbert Hoover: Too Liberal!" Not exactly, "Yes We Can!" Of course, Ensign was NRSC Chair during the last election cycle, so this is an example of the political mind that lost Republicans eight senate seats in 2008.

Only five red states left?

Bad news for Republicans, although it is only fair to note that there are quite a few Southern "Democrats" who are functionally Republican. And it is usual for Republicans to be outregistered, as Democratic turnout is lower than Republican turnout. So, while the Republicans probably shouldn't worry about Oklahoma going for Obama in 2012, they should be worried that Ohio strongly favors Democrats right now.

I guess this all means that Howard Dean's 50-state strategy was a waste of resources, no?

You come at the king, you best not miss...

People are blogging about this, so I will therefore wade in. From what I understand, a conservative Republican did a little minor Rush Limbaugh bashing, basically saying that he's not elected and he doesn't have any responsibilities, which both seem true to me. But, since Rush is one of the Republican tribe's leaders, he cannot be badmouthed, so said representative apologized. I didn't see any video to verify if his tail was between his legs, or if his hat was firmly in hand, but you get the point.

I'll admit that, while I often talk about intramural conservative politics, largely because I'm totally fascinated by the whole thing and hopefully with some level of insight there is much I don't know. I have noticed that the right tends to be less than willing to depose leaders (and former leaders) who have done them ill. Newt Gingrich would be an example--regardless of his success at helping Republicans win in 1994, he was nothing less than a disaster as Speaker, and was largely responsible at hastening the end of the conservative era, and has been offering an alternating stream of nonsensical and bad advice to Republicans for over a decade now. Limbaugh is similar, and ever since helping Bush get the GOP nomination Rush has championed the same sort of racial and xenophobic sludge that turns off swing voters.

And, despite failing to actually help the Republicans win for the past decade and a half, their influence continues unabated, if not even more intensified. I respect that Republicans like to dance, so to speak, with the girls that brung them, but sooner or later they're going to have to realize that they ought to listen to better leaders. I'm betting on later.

Reid going down in 2010?

This is just a pipe dream. I don't really fault the Republicans for trying it, though I take some issue with the "Republicans challenging Reid" storyline. Of course, Republicans will challenge Harry Reid. They'll field a candidate, that candidate will conduct a campaign, and will win or lose. This will happen. But it ignores the fact that the Republicans do not, as of now, have an actual candidate to oppose him. So, while "Republicans" are challenging him, no one in particular is challenging him, electorally.

Honestly? I wouldn't be too sad to see Reid go. I think he's been--at best--a bumbling leader, prone to barking loud and then caving at the critical moment. Since he seems intent on not making way for Chuck Schumer to take over the leadership, and since Senate Dems seem to be willing to keep him on (why didn't Schumer make a leadership challenge?), this wouldn't be a bad way of ditching the dude.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

News flash! Corruption in the Beltway!

Um, yeah, I don't usually read Gleen Greenwald, but he definitely hits it out of the park here in panning D.C. journalists. It basically boils down to this: Beltway journalists see themselves as the protectors of, rather than the scourges of, the political elites they cover.

Another tiresome disquisition on constitutional law

Things like this annoy me:
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. voters (64%) say U.S. Supreme Court decisions should be based on what is written in the Constitution, but only 35% think President
Obama agrees with them.
The opposing idea is that rulings should be decided based on "justice and fairness". When two thirds of Americans think that following the letter of the law is more important than justice, something has really gone wrong. The point of the Constitution--indeed, of all law--is to promote justice. Justice is the objective. Laws are our way of trying to achieve it.

But there is also something disturbing about conversations on the judiciary in this country, and it boils down to the simple fact that nobody--not the public, not pundits, not even a lot of lawyers, though I just assume they're lying--seems to understand even the most basic facts about our judicial system. There are broadly two types of judicial systems: the first is a civil law system, in which judges determine which lawyer has a better constitutional argument, and that person wins. The end. There's another system called a common law system, in which rulings establish precedents that are, for all intents and purposes, law. Lawyers can cite precedents in a court of law alongside legal texts. This system has some real advantages: it's quicker and more dynamic, though it does give judges a lot of power.

America, of course, uses a common law system. So do 49 of the 50 states. But I bet that, if you described both of these legal systems most Americans would figure we use a civil law system. This is due to conservative arguments over the years about "strict constructionalism" and "originalism", as well as the left's inability to formulate a coherent alternative or point out that these terms tend to be hollow, but that's a discussion for another time. The judiciary has quite a bit of power, but that's the price of the legal system we've chosen. Going the civil law route has some real costs as well, such as its sheer impracticability. It moves slower, and in emerging areas of law there is literally nothing the courts can do.

The poll also notes that most people don't think Obama shares their "what's literally written in the Constitution" metric, but Obama actually was a con law professor so he should be fine. Unfortunately, jurisprudence is a pretty complicated domain that is, sadly, ripe for lots of demagoguery. Let's just say there is much need for education at this point. Hopefully Obama will have a more full discussion on the challenges of making the legal system work in the future.

I have an idea...why don't we start more wars on abstract nouns?

I missed it initially, but there's a pretty compelling article against the drug war here. I'm leaning more and more toward the "legalize it" approach. I'm personally a teetotaler, and that extends to drugs, but I'm frankly tired of the government trying to protect the virtue of its citizens. That's not what government is supposed to do. It's supposed to provide essential services, promote the rule of law and keep us safe. It's clear that the drug war is not keeping us safe and that it's undermining the rule of law. Therefore, I oppose it.

The nonexistent affair

"There is a lot more to Obama’s election than just a starry-eyed media but most don’t recognize how that massive — unplanned and unspoken — movement truly pushed the country. This book is not simply post-election complaining, though. It is just as relevant today as we move forward in covering the Administration. In fact, that embarrassing Washington Post line was printed after the election and Goldberg doesn’t foresee an end to the tilted coverage. It’s not about liberal or conservative — it’s about a responsible media that has embraced a new culture of biased journalism. If journalism is going to be biased, then let those reporters proclaim their leaning — but don’t do it under a non partisan facade." -- Ericka Andersen
For some time now, the right has dismissed Barack Obama's success as the result of a biased news media. This is not unexpected. After all, a lot of Democrats blame the media (with some truth) for the failure of the Gore campaign, and even for some of Clinton's failings. When you lose some close fights badly, it's always tempting to try to shape events in such a way that you wind up with the least amount of responsibility. While Clinton had a famously hostile relationship with elite media I don't think it's really fair to lay the blame for Clinton's failings on pundits, as much of it was Clinton's own fault. With Gore it is far more justified, as media outlets were just publishing Bush campaign rhetoric verbatim. This is how the "Al Gore invented the internet" meme spread. The media didn't much care for Gore because he was colorless and not too much fun to cover. Bush, on the other hand, was lots of fun to cover. I wish I could say that it was more complicated than that--and I suspect another aspect is that many of the "liberal" media are actually self-loathing liberals who climb all over themselves to show their independence (think Mickey Kaus)--but I do think that a lot of that campaign's trajectory just had to do with Gore's personality.

And, actually, the media's campaign didn't work as Gore won by the only reasonable standard: he got more votes than Bush. I'll save the electoral college lecture for another time, but while the media's campaign against Gore was partly responsible for the 2000 result it wasn't the only factor. You can only be painted as a boring, stiff treehugger if you let yourself get painted that way. Gore's problem was the same as so many recent Democrats': listening to too many "consultants" whose chief job seems to be only to say, "Don't alienate anyone." Post-2000 Gore has been an entirely different animal: nerdily amusing, wryly ironic, more passionate and human. Had Gore just been himself in 2000 it wouldn't have been close. At the end of the day, Gore ran a bad campaign and didn't have the best public image. The media exploited these things, but it wasn't the media that created them.

Let's fast-forward eight years. In 2008, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and John McCain in the general election. Obama got generally good coverage during both races, while his opponents both got generally negative coverage. Conservatives then make the leap that Obama is therefore the recipient of media favoritism. This does not exactly ring true, as Obama was raked over the coals several times for some pretty silly shit: Wright, Ayres, and Blago were all analyzed at great length despite no wrongdoing to be found, and nothing unusual that couldn't be easily and innocently explained. In the meanwhile, Clinton came under fire for making up stories about being shot at in Bosnia, for her "kitchen sink" strategy leading up to the Texas and Ohio primaries, for her 3 a.m. ads insinuating that Obama wouldn't be able to handle a crisis, and for her refusal to disavow Geraldine Ferraro. Now, politics is politics, and the 3 a.m. spot wasn't entirely unreasonable, but the rest of it was pretty appalling, especially after it became mathematically clear that Obama would be the nominee. Obama, on the other hand, viciously attacked Clinton with...what, exactly? I can't think of anything Obama did that compares with some of Clinton's antics. That's not media bias--that's taking the high ground.

With respect to John McCain, the difference is even more ridiculous. McCain accused Obama of being an outright socialist, of wanting to teach sex ed in kintergarten, of calling his running mate a pig (a sheep would be a better comparison), of being unpatriotic and wanting, yes, wanting to lose the War in Iraq. Obama responded with...nothing. Sure, he attacked McCain for being out of touch, for saying that the fundamentals of the economy were strong, and so forth. But there was no concerted effort to bring up the Keating Five, no effort to bring up some of the nastiness of his first marriage, no effort to bring up the paucity of McCain's "honor". Obama ran as a statesman.

So, really, what emerges is not a portrait of media bias but rather a generally clean and ethical politician who ran a generally honest campaign. Obama certainly had a good PR apparatus, but the notion that the media was "in the tank" for Obama ignores the fact that the media was desperate to report stories to hurt Obama, such as Wright and Ayres, in order to counteract the bias meme on the right. Now, if you're Sean Hannity, this kind of knuckleheaded stuff is disqualifying in and of itself. Fine. But that's an entirely different sort of media bias.

Basically, my argument is that good media coverage is not indicative of media bias. GW Bush got some fairly good media coverage in 2000--yes, there were the word flubs, but there was very little reporting on his failed management of everything he touched before 1994, and very little detailed policy analysis (heh!) of his agenda, which was pretty darn conservative but was invariably described as centrist. But Bush had an awfully good PR machine and ran a good campaign, and his opponent didn't. This is not to say that there is no media bias, but rather that the bias is different from what the Andersens of the world might think.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Jeff Goldberg:
A recent European poll showed that 23 percent of French people said the Palestinian Hamas group was primarily responsible for the war while 18 percent mainly blamed Israel.
Well, of course Hamas was responsible for starting the war. No rocket fire = no Gaza war. But Israel doled out $50 million of punishment for a fifty buck crime. The rocket attacks did little damage to Israel, but Israeli bombing has made hundreds of innocent Palestinians dead. It's made tens of thousands homeless. It has, if anything, strengthened Hamas's control over Gaza and made Fatah even more of a dirty word in the region. And it wasn't a proportional response by any means. Had Israel taken limited military action to stop Hamas's amateur rocketry I would have backed such action wholeheartedly. That they used the rocket fire as an excuse to execute political strategy via the military at such a dear cost is simply wrong, and it has really eroded much of my respect for Israel's leadership.

What's more, this war was so political that you can't help but view it cynically. It was initiated by a hated outgoing PM named Ehud Olmert whose unpopularity would make George W. Bush look like Barack Obama by comparison. It was backed by the three potential heirs to the throne, each of whom wants to play the "tough on Hamas" card for next month's Knesset elections, and two of the contenders are members of the current cabinet. Honestly, I understand how political pressures could bring something like this about, but that doesn't mean we should sanction it and thus become complicit in the senseless brutality.

Israel's actions here and in Lebanon 2006 show a lack of regard for international opinion and, also, a lack of interest in the peace process. Why should they care? After all, they're winning! When you're winning, you want to try to impose peace on your terms. But Israel is winning largely because we give them a lot of aid. We have a responsibility to let them know that this isn't right. Every attack like this is like removing a brick from the foundation of the Jewish state. If we care about Israel, we need to tell it to them straight.

Gitmo Closure

Republicans don't want the prisoners in their respective backyards. The idea that terrorists would attack prisons to break out their compatriots is insane and reflects a fundamental lack of understanding about how al-Qaeda and similar groups work. These people blow themselves up, for cryin' out loud! They don't care about one of their own rotting in jail. With these terrorists, attacks are successful if they kill a lot of people. The more people killed, the better. Using a bomb to stage a prison break at Supermax is a waste of a bomb that could go in a stadium or shopping mall, as far as they're concerned.

This is just another in the continuing series of examples of how only the right understands the threat posed by Islamic terror, and those of us lefties who oppose them only reveal our own ignorance. Giuliani for Governor of New York!

But, of course, Republicans don't want to admit that the Bush-era power grabs they sanctioned were wrong. They want to keep the fear going. That's the only way that they can justify a lot of this garbage. That's why 24 and the "ticking time bomb" scenario exist. The Bush team's spin on that scenario was interesting: though they never had an actual ticking time bomb, they figured that there might well be a ticking time bomb somewhere, so torture was justified to find out if there was something like that going on. The reasoning, of course, is gobbledygook. It's similar to the post hoc case for invading Iraq that some conservatives made, which was that going into Iraq was still the right move because we didn't know if they had WMDs, and now we know for sure there is no danger from that threat. Such thinking is driven by the extreme, gut-level paranoia we've come to expect as standard operating procedure from the conservative movement, and without some sort of standard or burden of proof for taking excessive action to eliminate marginal or nonexistent threats, such measures are bound to be counterproductive. Indeed, they have been incredibly counterproductive, and have made us less safer. Luckily, we now have a president who understands this. There is hope for us yet.

Wheels coming off the Paterson wagon

Not especially surprising. David Paterson really hurt himself with the Caroline Kennedy scenario, and his appointment of a none-too-progressive Democrat in one of the most progressive states in the union--one which voted over 70% for a governor who supported gay marriage in 2006--smacked largely of internal state politics and Paterson's own personal considerations for reelection rather than who best represented the state's interests and values. Plus, his budget proposals aren't popular at all. Paterson should just have picked Andrew Cuomo for the Senate seat. Now Cuomo is likely to take Paterson's. Some poetic justice there.

I suppose my only concern at this point is that Rudy Giuliani's stock is ticking up. I really thought we were done with this dime store Mussolini, but evidently not. I would figure that, after an endlessly mockable presidential primary campaign ridden with poor management and constant and usually irrelevant invocations of 9/11, coupled with an extraordinarily obnoxious media presence throughout the campaign which culminated in the very apex of ridiculousness when Rudy Giuliani--he of the rooming with gay guys and crossdressing fame--accused someone else of being too "cosmopolitan". Let's not even get into his personal history. And yet, a majority of New Yorkers still like the guy? Crazy.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Guilty Displeasure

Scott Tobias nails it at the A.V. Club:
For the most part, I don't feel guilty in being displeased by things many respectable people like, because I'm confident enough in my judgment to recognize that a revered work like, say, Network, is in fact a leaden, indigestible hunk of social commentary populated by straw men (and women) and noble martyrs.
Correct. But incomplete. The problem is that the film doesn't really know what approach it wants to take with respect to its subject matter.

The problem isn't necessarily with the story itself, but there are different ways of telling it. One is to be satirical: to tell the story straight but in such a way that internal tensions are exposed, which in turn shows just how ridiculous the premise to be refuted is. Or one could go the route of agitprop, which basically consists of hammering home the problems through volume. Had the creative crew decided upon an approach to the story it could have been a great movie. Unfortunately, it's not a great movie. It's actually quite a bad movie, largely because the filmmakers wanted to do both of these things. So you have the understated, satirical messages--such as the relationship between Bill Holden and Faye Dunaway, which are often clunky and overdone--alongside the ridiculous and over the top, "hey, man, ARE YOU LISTENING? THIS SHIT IS REALLY HAPPENING, MAN!" monologues. Nathan Rabin makes a different case here. It's basically like taking a Lars von Trier movie and adding a bunch of farcical comedy with funny wigs and spit takes. That's what Network is like.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I wonder

How much of the right-wing bloviating about the fairness doctrine's apparently unlikely revival is due to the fact that these folks would do something similar if they had power? Not only that, but they tried to do so repeatedly--anyone else recall when Karl Rove laid out his governing agenda and, like, everything on it was explicitly stated to be to crack the Democratic coalition? You know, like tort reform to clean out Democratic-donating trial lawyers, or Medicare Part D to break off seniors? School vouchers to appeal to Blacks? All of the GOP issues were put in precisely such terms. Everything the Bush Administration did--and I do mean everything--was done out of a desire to win, and to advantage the Republican Party. It's unsurprising when you consider that a cheerleader was running the party at that point.

Let the revolution die

If there's one thing that annoys me about some parts of the left, it's the lionization of people like Che Guevara or, to a lesser extent, Fidel Castro. These guys were anti-liberal--individual rights, human rights, the rule of law and human dignity, which are the cornerstones of my liberalism--were despised by these men. Sure, maybe they overthrew some bad guys, and maybe they wound up creating some effective social services, but even if one accepts that their motives were entirely kind-hearted one cannot excuse the means for the ends. Hell, even the ends are bad--any nation that keeps political prisoners is an enemy of liberalism.

So, basically, I won't be seeing Che, and I find Culture 11's review pretty much on the money as a broader statement of how Che was viewed. And it isn't just the murders--I recommend the film Before Night Falls if you want to see how the Che/Castro regime treated homosexuals (answer: not too well). Now, I do think we ought to drop the embargo and normalize relations with Cuba--why China and not them?--but let's not forget that the architects of this state performed monstrous acts. That they should receive anything but the opprobrium from fair-minded people (I'm excepting the dopey frat boys with Che shirts) strikes me as insane.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

I'm not sure what to think about this appointment, aside from that the poor management of the selection process ought to make hungry NY Dems (like Cuomo) consider running against David Paterson. Gillibrand doesn't seem to be a good fit for the state's politics. She'd be a good choice for Senator in a state like Kentucky or South Dakota, where a forthright progressive cannot really win. But for NY? It reeks of internal state politics--and Paterson's reelection desires--rather than a concern at who would best fit the state's politics. Paterson is going to have a problem with progressives in 2010 now, and if you couple that with his budget ideas it sure seems like he's running to the right (although she's evidently become better on gay rights now). I guess we'll have to see, and Gillibrand might well shift a bit to reflect her new constituency. But Paterson looks bad with this. I must also confess that I don't understand the imperative for upstate New York to have one of their own as a Senator. I live in California, and both of my Senators are from San Francisco.

More and more, especially after the nominations of Senators Kaufman, Burris and Gillibrand, I'm thinking a constitutional amendment for special senatorial elections is necessary. There is way too much hanky panky going on here these days. (The exception is Michael Bennet of Colorado, who might prove to be a promising Senator. Having an education expert in the Senate can't help but be good.

Update: Russ Feingold, that prince of a man, has done what I asked. This blog is POWER!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Palin to write a book

Usually, one starts by reading books and then writing about them, but goshdarnit, our Sarah has different plans! I make this promise to you right now: I will buy this fucker if there isn't a ghostwriter. It would be hilarious! It would be just like the time I had a college professor who talked a little like an ultracaffeinated valley girl, and then wrote tests in his own speaking voice. Craziest damn thing I ever saw.

So many questions: like, is it going to be fiction? Is Sarah going to treat us all to a new installment of Twilight? Let me guess what it's going to be about: Sarah Palin gets selected for a job for which she is woefully underqualified. She tries to make up for it with an almost creepy level of self-assuredness that reminds people of George W. Bush, and her interviews with the media are nothing short of disastrous as they expose her as a lightweight, while home state scandals show an executive comfortable with abusing public power to her own personal ends. More Bush. Clamor begins, even among the right, to dump her from the ticket--this is forestalled by a mediocre but not disastrous debate performance. As her popularity plunges, she begins a desperate freelance campaign to blame the media for her problems, because it couldn't possibly be her fault. America doesn't buy it. As the race wraps up, polls begin showing large chunks of the population saying they wouldn't consider voting for McCain because of Palin. McCain/Palin loses, and she goes back to being governor of a state nobody cares about, but she's desperate to keep her name alive for a desperate 2012 presidential bid, so she writes a book about how the media mistreated her. Oh, no? Gee, what a shock.

I actually kinda liked her when she was picked, but Palin has turned out to be a sheer disaster for the GOP. I am beginning to doubt that she will ever be elected to anything again, as she has spent the last few months reminding everyone that she lost in a particularly embarrassing way possible. If she somehow gets the 2012 nomination it's going to be like McGovern '72, but with the parties flipped. You just see.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

I think that Israel should talk to the Palestinians. This would obviously be a good thing. But they have little reason to right now. They are expanding West Bank settlements with impunity, and even though they just reinvaded Gaza and newly radicalized anti-Israeli sentiment in the Middle East it seems unlikely that any Arab nations will actually declare war on Israel. Israel seems more and more comfortable with being hated, I suppose because they still have the most powerful nation in the world on their side.

If he wanted, Obama could have a significant impact on this issue. We'll see how he deals with this conflict--his choice of George Mitchell as envoy seems like a promising start.

Franken further from danger?

I think, as always, Nate Silver has a good take on the Al Franken situation: they just want to bloody up Al Franken a bit more, and drag the thing out long enough so that people will be tired of it and won't object if Coleman somehow wins.

Here's something for fun:

It could take months before Norm Coleman's lawsuit is done. Harry Reid is evidently going to try to seat Franken this week. So it could be months before Coleman is seated.

Obama's cabinet

Can it really be that Obama's cabinet has four political independents? Plus a Republican, too. This really is a change--and evidence that Obama isn't interested in partisan affiliation so much as finding the right people for these jobs.

Quite a departure from the Bush years, when there were only Bush-loving hacks to be found.

Caroline off my mind

As someone who was ambivalent about the notion of Caroline Kennedy being appointed to the Senate--I even wrote a kinda-sorta defense that you could easily find if you wish--I'm not too torn up about Caroline bowing out of the "race". It seems to me that the major problem was that she just didn't have the right kind of personality for electoral politics. It's not the best profession for painfully shy, inarticulate, oversensitive scions. One wonders why she bothered in the first place.

Unfortunately, we might be trading one scion for another, as Andrew Cuomo seems to be the frontrunner now.

No Gitmo

Very encouraging news for those of us who expect great things for Obama. He's wasting no time in addressing the most shameful aspects of the Bush years--ending secret prisons, closing Gitmo, mandating CIA officers use the Army Field Manual. These are all very promising signs, and it could have been very easy for Obama to put them off--a terse "My lawyers are looking into it" kind of statement, followed by inaction.

I think this shows one of several non-mutually exclusive things: first, that he personally feels that torture is wrong, ineffective and counterproductive. Second, he is sensitive to his base and wants to make sure that he keeps his promises to them--to show them that his administration will not be the Nineties, Part II. Third, he is desperate to become a world-renowned leader and can't be seen to prevaricate in reinstating rights in place since the Magna Carta.

I tend to think all of these things hold sway, but I would like to think that Obama opposes torture on a moral level. Compare this to moral relativists like Jim Geraghty, who only see the political upsides of Gitmo and torture. That is all this stuff ever was to the right--at least to movement conservatives, I'll exclude principled conservatives like Daniel Larison. Rove and Co. turned torture into just another tiresome culture war issue with which to beat Democrats over the head. I agree that there are legitimate differences in the sort of culture that the left wants and the sort of culture the right wants, but this isn't that. It's just wrong, and political considerations aren't worth a damn here.

Obama gets this, and the public says that they agree with him. I find it weird that there is a 30 point gender differential. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has historically been effective at appealing to macho assholes.

(Hat tip: Appel)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No comment required

I agree totally with what Ezra Klein says here.

Mocking Obama

This strikes me as about right. Obama seems, from what I've seen and read, to lack the mockable characteristics of Bush (illiteracy, self-delusion, unwarranted confidence) or Clinton (libido, self-immolation, secrecy). Making fun of his fans is much easier--even I've done it on occasion, and I'm among the doe-eyed Obamaphiles.

On a related topic, it's just weird to actually have a president who is 1) way smarter than me, and 2) that I respect as a person. With Bush there was neither, with Clinton there was (1) but not (2). I don't even remember any other presidents. That most definitely is change that I can believe in.


Read Matt Yglesias's case for parliamentarianism. If you want my opinion, a British style system, minus a House of Lords, seems damn near ideal.

The one thing that nobody seems to want to mention with respect to the Constitution is that it has some pretty obvious flaws for the age we live in. This is not to diminish from the Framers, but they were writing a document based on 18th century realities. It is intentionally very difficult to pursue fundamental change under the Constitution because the Framers didn't want that. There was no need to change things too quickly back then, especially with their conception of the federal government.

Nowadays, having a fast-acting government seems like a necessity. And we simply don't have one. The government is set up to allow small groups of people--such as small state senators--to stop majoritarian measures pretty easily. That was the Framers' fault, though a necessary one if one wanted to retain the whole quasi-sovereign states concept (which seems silly now). But I highly doubt the Framers thought their system would still be in service, unmodified, two centuries later. Parliamentary governments are much more dynamic and must necessarily be more centrist and responsive to public opinion--they can do whatever they want, but so can the other side if they win. Britain, for example, has historically had a far more moderate political culture than America (Thatcher notwithstanding) because of these realities. I suppose my major gripe with our political system is that there are too many checks and balances. The Framers were a excessively concerned about concentrated power and overcompensated to avoid a system that created an all-powerful king. As we've seen during the Bush years, you can build in all the checks and balances you want, and it's not going to matter if nobody else wants to take responsibility aside from an elected king. What is needed are better public servants.

I wonder about the extent to which right-wing conservatism has prospered in America simply because the political system is set up to keep major change from occurring, thus facilitating a message of "government doesn't work." Obviously, it's silly to say that the Constitution is the only reason why someone like Reagan came to power. But I don't think the inertial effect of the system is negligible in the rise of the Right.

No late night pardons?

Not really surprising to me. Bush is really big on protocol and formality and always has been. It's important to him that he be seen as honest and trustworthy on personal matters. That's why the Isaac Toussie pardon got retracted--Bush didn't want a mini-Marc Rich pardon scandal of his own. I'm not saying this as a blanket compliment, as Bush has often been far less scrupulous about telling the truth to the American people (for fear of ruining morale, as crazy as it sounds), but he's not the guy who gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I guess that's something in his favor.

I was also unsurprised that he commuted the border agents' sentences. Okay, well a little surprised. All things being equal he wouldn't have done it, I believe. Bush seems to truly believe that the GOP should be more moderate on immigration, and doing something granting clemency to two ICE guys who shot an unarmed man and tried to cover it up doesn't really grease the skids for that. But Bush is in full legacy mode, and not clearing those guys would be a sour note to end his presidency, at least for the Lou Dobbs crowd. I personally find it ironic: the self-styled "law and order" party doesn't seem to care all that much about the rule of law when it comes to their friends like Scooter Libby. Then again, they didn't care about it when conducting the War on Terror, despite the fact that we've faced far more formidable foes in the past that could literally have annhilated this country. This is a group that treats Ollie North as a hero and buys his books. But Ollie is one of the tribe. Virtue to movement conservatives begins and ends with being one of them and following conservative ideology. Even more ironic when you consider decades' worth of conservative politicians decrying moral relativism.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The New President

I have to say that I've been enjoying the inauguration coverage, which has been making me think about the journey getting here. I've always believed that Barack Obama would be president, and that he would be president this year. Even when he supposedly had no shot, when he was supposedly running for Vice President, I knew that there would be some way that things would fall into place to make this happen.

I was attracted to his life story, but I definitely fell in love after reading The Audacity of Hope. It wasn't as good as his first book, which I read later, but it made Obama out to be a guy who was thoughtful, reasonable, who understood what needed to be done. After a while, after looking at the offerings, I determined that Obama simply had to be president. Not a perfect candidate, to be sure, but I sensed from him the makings of a great statesman. I never got that from anyone else: Edwards was a hairdo. Clinton would have probably been more competent than Bush, but she had a nagging Bush-like tendency to appeal to the worst in people instead of the best. Clinton's act might have worked better in 2004, but Americans have come to believe that Bush broke America and that renewal is necessary. Clinton offered a restoration of sorts, and continuity in some areas, like political style. But she didn't really offer a new way forward. I think she'll be a fine Secretary of State, because she is very smart. She is not, and never was, a leader. History is not a vision. Obama had vision. And the Republicans had nothing. They gleefully proceeded down the path to annhilation, and the one man who might have been of presidential timber--John McCain--turned out to be unworthy of the office, perhaps even more so than George W. Bush.

Obama was the only choice, really. He was the only one who offered renewal, who offered the possibility of a new page. He'll certainly have his shot, and I think it's too early to say that we've seen that new page yet. But it has to be pretty terrifying to be a conservative right now: they're facing an actual liberal leader instead of a hack, while all they have in their leadership are hacks. The next two years ought to be interesting.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Just Hew-itt

He's crazy. But we all knew that.

(Hat tip: Sullivan)

The old turnaround

Joe Carter tries on a counter-meme to Andrew Sullivan saying that Bush is the worst president ever. The shorter version is: well, Bush did a lot of bad things, but for most of those bad things there was another president who was worse at each one, so therefore Bush isn't the worst? It doesn't seem to occur to Carter that these deficiencies ought to have an additive effect, and that the only person who he can say was generally worse than Bush--Richard Nixon--is objectively much better than Bush? Sure he is! Aside from some serious diplomatic and domestic policy accomplishments (civil rights and the environment, for starters), Nixon's crimes against the presidency were basically that he was polarizing, that he was a "dirty" politician, and that he lied a lot to the American people. Bush is just like that, only minus the accomplishments.

Seriously, if this is the best that current Bush supporters can come up with, they might as well just admit he was the worst.

My exodus from the GOP

John Cole reflects on why he bolted the Republican Party. Interestingly, I bolted the GOP about the same time he did. I first voted in 2002--I voted for Bill Simon for Governor of California, which is not particularly something I regret, although voting for John Doolittle is something I regret. I wasn't a registered Republican, although I identified with the GOP I was actually pretty moderate in high school. Center right, you might say.

In the 2003 special election I voted for Tom McClintock for Governor, and still considered myself reasonably conservative. But by the summer of 2004 I had made up my mind to vote for John Kerry. I wonder why that was, exactly. Bush wasn't as much of a screw-up then as he became later. At times I even considered voting for Bush. But for some reason I just couldn't. It's hard to remember why I moved in that direction, but I do think that it had partly to do with Bush's mismanagement of Iraq--I figured that a civil war was imminent--and that it had much to do with Abu Gharaib. Something happened there that tarnished not only Don Rumsfeld, but also the Bush Administration and America for good. After that, as far as I was concerned, Bush was a compromised man. And I just thought Kerry would be better at the job.

I was still a decline to state voter at this point, though. Bush's second term pushed me quite a bit further away from the GOP, and Sarah Palin completed the cycle. I used to be a Republican because the Republican Party once held the principles that I still hold: a strong but realist foreign policy, a belief in the importance of hard work and success, a belief in human rights and leaving people the hell alone when it comes to their personal lives. Now, I've definitely changed my outlook in some areas: I went from being pro-life to pro-choice, for example, and I've done a complete 180 on gay issues, and my point of view on economic policy has changed a bit. But I might have been a gettable vote for the Republican Party of George H. W. Bush.

Ultimately, though, the Republican Party is a spent force, fighting the same old battles because that's comfortable for them. Conservatism hasn't had a big, unambiguous policy victory since 1995 with welfare reform, which might have ironically helped out liberalism more by reforming one of the most notorious big government programs. Subsequent conservative ideas--like vouchers--have been unpopular, so conservatives eased off of cultural messages and kicked up the cultural appeals. Nowadays, that's virtually all they have.

And that's what has been really eye-opening for me. Before I went to college I had met two gay guys who were both nice but both were mere acquaintances, not friends. I met many more gay people in college and, after a fashion, came to realize that there was nothing wrong with them. The GOP's continuing campaign to demonize gays and restrict their rights is, in my opinion, no different from the Democrats' campaign to do the same thing to Blacks a few generations ago. Yes, there has been far less violence involved, but in both cases it's about the majority group trying to maintain the established social hierarchy by demonizing an innocent minority. This is a sign of a deep moral dysfunction within this group--breaking up peoples' marriage as an ongoing campaign to win social conservative votes? Craven doesn't begin to describe it. History will not look kindly on this. In fact, the GOP will demonize and marginalize any group it can that's not part of the White middle-class suburbanite dude clientele it caters to.

And then there's the actual culture of the GOP. Poisonous is the word I'm looking for. This is a party that has, in the previous two elections, assaulted the reputations of two good and patriotic men. Al Gore served his country in uniform and spent decades in public service, as did John Kerry. To go even further, Kerry raised two daughters on his own. Bush, on the other hand, dodged Vietnam, spent about six years in public service before 2000 and generally accomplished nothing despite his many advantages. He raised two daughters whose antics were perpetual tabloid fodder. On any metric, both Gore and Kerry have got to be considered better men than George W. Bush, and either one would have been a better president. I realize that elections are rough and that regrettable things are always said, but questioning a man's war heroism baselessly is unforgivable, and points to a lack of decency in today's Republican party. Democrats never have a good point. They're never just principled patriots who have different ideas. It's always vitriol. Where does the hate come from? I don't know, but I know I never shared it. But it always seemed to go over big among conservatives.

So, there's all that. But Bush's second term has been absolutely crazy: he's failed us so badly and in so many ways. Iraq, Katrina, and the financial collapse have been very dispiriting, and anyone with eyes to see has to know by now that deliberate mismanagement is at play. Throw in torture, shredding constitutional liberties, polarizing the country instead of uniting it, squandering a real opportunity to remake the Middle East after 9/11 and instead pursuing his own little set of goals--his failures of leadership have been so many that his supporters can only point to a handful of accomplishments that are laughable by comparison. And, yet, three-quarters of Republicans like the guy still. Everyone else has been horrified.

I believe that F.D.R. was our finest president, especially if you look at what America was when he took office and what it was when he was done. The man made this country, and defeated totalitarianism, too. Bush has, in many respects, unmade it. Once-sacred truths--like America standing for human rights--are now sad jokes. We don't know what we are anymore. That's always been the promise of Obama: a new start. I'm looking forward to see how it will work.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jon Chait is right...

about why liberal bloggers aren't upset about Obama's right-wing columnist dinner. I'd add that Obama has built up a great deal of trust among the left in his progressivism--the main worry among some bloggers is that Obama's natural tendency toward incrementalism, coupled with a desire to be seen as bipartisan, would lead him to water down progressive policies too much. But nobody really doubts his ideological inclinations, not in the way that Bill Clinton gave them reason to.

Chait does bring up another interesting point, though, which is that conservatives probably would have been outraged had Bush pulled a similar stunt. I think the reason why has to do with the dichotomy of the right: on the one hand, they're obsessed with ideology. On the other hand, they don't really seem to care what Republican presidents actually do in the White House. The truth is that most Republicans are what they are because of tribal affiliation. One of the right's biggest accomplishments in the past forty years has been the creation of a quasiethnic identity--let's just call it "Americanist"--and exploiting it to the GOP's advantage.

I actually wonder whether the GOP can come back any time soon. Put simply, the GOP contains an awful lot of people that, aside from being against abortion and taxes, don't really care much about policy but will happily defend Republicans--even morons like Bush--against the evils of the liberal media. The rest doesn't matter to them, but it should, because it seems unlikely that a genuine center-right reformer would be able to fix the party when faced with such obstacles as powerful and intransigent special interest groups and a base that only cares about an issue or two. That's why I support a Mike Huckabee nomination unironically, as he has both the ability and the inclination to lead a revolt against the top of the GOP establishment, and that he'd lose would be doubly sweet for me: I don't want him to be president, and he'd probably lose a McGovern-like landslide. The GOP would be finished. The rebuilding could begin. Or they could intentionally nominate an obstinate, dim right-winger who will fill their shopping lists and run things for everything else terribly. Right-wing interest groups are actually doing pretty well these days. I guess it all depends on how much of a death wish the right has.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

F*ck me, but...

Jamie Kirchick actually makes some good points in his blog post on the Arab political party kerfuffle, and is suprisingly un-prickish in general (which is the greater accomplishment?). But this point is all wrong:

In the United States, if the Ku Klux Klan were to form a political party, advocating the dissolution of the American government and inciting violence from within and without, it would be banned, and rightly so.

Evidently Mr. Kirchick--in his zeal to defend this admittedly pretty questionable move by Israel to ban certain Arab political parties--has forgotten about this little thing we call the First Amendment, specifically the right to assemble. Banning a political party seems like a pretty egregious infringement on the constitution in that respect. So, I'm sorry, but this just doesn't hold water.

Plus, I think there's another factor to consider: it would be one thing if Kirchick's KKK party wielded serious power and influence and another if it had a tiny number of members and maybe a single congressional seat. Banning a political party under the latter circumstances would be pretty hard to swallow, despite the odiousness of the people involved.

Look, I get that Kirchick is Israel's self-appointed defender against any criticism, spurious or serious (though he treats them all as spurious). But he goes too far afield with this analogy in a pretty obvious attempt to manipulate American readers on an emotional level that plainly contradicts the principles upon which this nation was founded. Try again, son.

Monday, January 12, 2009

AVC is awesome

The A.V. Club is the best entertainment periodical around. Check out their skewering of An American Carol's commentary track. I feel like I saw it, and I didn't!

A tale of two Christianities

Sully flags a Christian who doesn't seem to like Jesus much. For some Christians, it's all about keeping score, about knowing you're better than a lot of other people out there and taking solace in that you're getting into Heaven at the end of your days--while all the people you hate are going to go to Hell. For other Christians, though, talk of the afterlife is avoided because the thought of so many people living forever in torment is unimaginable, and keeping score and that sort of moral vanity are unthinkable because we know that our "scores" are incredibly low and we don't for a second believe that we're morally superior to anyone.

I, of course, identify with the latter group.

I always blanch at saying that someone's Christianity is less than mine, or isn't legitimate, but in this case I will make an exception: one of these versions of Christianity is illegitimate. And it isn't mine, if one actually looks at what Jesus said.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Roland Burris, George W. Bush, and me

Ezra makes a good point about Roland Burris: basically, he's a man of seemingly infinite vanity who wants to have more items to put on his masoleum, so that future generations can marvel at his accomplishments. Of course, all anyone is going to remember him for now is for being Blago's tainted pick to replace Barack Obama in the Senate, if for that. In fifty years, is anyone going to remember some random senator? I would think not.

It reminds me a little of George W. Bush, who prided himself in not reading newspapers but seems to be obsessed with his own narrative: strong leader, compassionate conservative, not afraid to make the tough calls. All of it is bullshit, of course: Bush's "strength" is usually to try to cover up his own inadequacies and insecurities. His compassionate conservatism has not made life better for average folks, so one must assume that the compassion was used up on the likes of Bernie Madoff. And his "tough calls" are usually half-cocked, emotional responses that don't fit the situation. Read The Dark Side if you want to get a feel for this. But Bush believes these things about himself, and it hasn't all been bad: the "tough choices" quality probably led to his adoption of the financial bailout, for example. Still, I think that the reason why Bush was so engaged and energized in 2005 and so whipped and defeated these days is because a lot of those things he believed about himself have proven to be false. It's almost enough to make you feel sympathetic toward Bush.

Burris is also obsessed with his internal narrative, which is that he is a trailblazer of historic proportions. He was the head of the C.P.A. society, dammit! And he wasn't even a C.P.A.! His historians, who I am sure he thinks there will be many, will eat that shit up. We're saying good bye to one Bush, but a conservation of Bush law must be in effect, because we're getting his spiritual partner in the Senate. Burris held two statewide posts and is going to be an interim Senator who will never get Blago's stench off of him. Burris is his own chief biographer, except that nobody really cares that much about him, and in a few generations he'll be forgotten, as will almost all of us. Come to think of it, I think that I am the opposite of Burris: I could care less about being remembered and I'm more interested in actually doing things that matter, not that I think should impress other people. Does that make me more like Dick Cheney? In at least one respect, I suppose so.

Connery, Theo Connery

Rod Dreher gets me thinking. Despite a number of events, including women's lib, decades of female empowerment in society and industry, and even the selection of a woman on the Republican ticket last year, many conservatives simply haven't abandoned regressive gender and sexual thinking. They might not be telling women to get back into the kitchen anymore, but that is the intent.

Why else would a pro-lifer oppose birth control? If the pro-life movement is about not killing babies, then oral contraception is fine, right? No babies are killed because none are created. Easy. Same deal with condoms. If no babies are made, then none can be killed. Same with Plan B. Rod notes that contraception has led to declining birth rates in the West. Well, duh. That's kind of the whole point: having, say, eight kids is extremely expensive, not only in terms of money but also in terms of natural resources they are going to use. Unless the human race is going to die out--and my information suggests it won't--it doesn't seem to be too much of an issue to me.

What I find interesting is that, if theocons somehow reach their goal of eliminating contraception, will they be satisfied? What if it were a narrow 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court and about half the country--actually it would be much more--were really upset by that? As every Sunday School teacher I ever had told me, good deeds don't really count if one is doing them with an angry and ungrateful heart. So, presumably, theocons would have to either persuade people to follow their dictates on reproduction, which would involve things like persuasion and outreach. My question is: why can't they just do that instead of trying to fuck with the laws? If the outcome is going to be the same? It's not even like lives are potentially at risk when we're talking about contraception--are we talking about potential lives?

Honestly, I can understand why pro-lifers want to ban abortion--they consider it murder, and it's a matter of opinion. They could be right. But contraception is in no way murder. In no way. It's only a threat to antiquated gender norms.

Isn't it a checks and balances question

Ezra, on Blagojevich's impeachment:

The vote was 114 in favor, 1 against, 1 "present."

Since when was Barack Obama a member of the Illinois House?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More Reiding

Jane Hamsher has a hilarious Harry Reid takedown, and her conclusion is the same as mine. Reid needs to go. He's just not a closer.

A vote of no confidence in Harry Reid

or, Why the Democrats need to dump Reid and make Chuck Schumer their Senate Leader, lest they fall prey to Reid's anemic vision and weak leadership.

In our American system of government, the Senate is the most obvious obstacle to reform of any sort. With its nonrepresentative structure (Wyoming and California get the same amount of members), its obscure parliamentary procedures to block action and its six-year member terms, what you have is a legislative body that is difficult to manage under any circumstances. It becomes even harder when the body politic is intensely partisan and polarized. A good Senate Majority Leader must have the confidence of his (or her) members, must be an able spokesman of their party's principles, must know everything there is to know about Congress and must have the power and will to push for their party's priorities. It's a hard and thankless job, but both parties have produced some pretty good leaders back in the day: George Mitchell, Bob Dole, Howard Baker, and Mike Mansfield, to name four, were all strong and memorable Senate leaders.

I think it's safe to say that Harry Reid will not find his way onto any such list. Reid, who has been the Senate Democrats' leader since 2005 and Majority Leader since 2007, has been proven again and again to be a paper tiger, an impotent leader who was unable to pass most of the Democrats' agenda in the past Congressional term and has, since this year's election, set about further cementing his reputation as a poor leader at a far more exponential pace. If Democrats are serious about change, they ought to start by dumping Reid as soon as possible and replacing him with Chuck Schumer, the man more responsible than anyone from taking Democrats from a depleted 45-seat minority to a 59-seat supermajority. Or Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip who has managed to get Democrats to mostly vote in unity while Reid stumbled to frame his party's positions coherently. Or Chris Dodd, who gained the favor of many progressives last year with his long-shot presidential campaign. Really, virtually any of the other members of the Senate ought to be able to do a better job than Reid, even most Republicans, as their mismanagement of the country still ranks better than Reid's performance as the Dems' leader, and it's arguable that someone working explicitly against the Democrats' interests couldn't do any worse.

Perhaps I jest too much. It wasn't always apparent that Reid was incompetent as his job. His tenure as Senate Minority Leader in 2005 wasn't too bad, really. He didn't have too many accomplishments to show for that term (that would be the year the Democrats were looking down the barrel of a 55-45 minority status) but he managed to hamstring the Bush Administration's second term agenda to some degree, most notably by torpedoing President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. It is quite possible that the passage of such a plan would have brought about the wholesale dismemberment of the welfare state that Democrats often accuse Republicans of desiring, and Reid managed to end that threat. However, Reid was unable to stop the nominations of two arch-conservative Supreme Court Justices and was unable to make the most of political openings such as the Terri Schiavo case and the sale of American ports to a Middle Eastern firm. Still, Bush's forward momentum was halted, and Reid regularly prevailed over his counterpart, the none-too-bright Sen. Bill Frist, who is now remembered more for his laughable beliefs that AIDS could be transmitted through tears and that Ms. Schiavo was, in fact, not in a vegetative state. It's almost hard to believe that Frist was considered a frontrunner for the 2008 presidential nomination at one point.

Unfortunately, as they say, all good things must come to an end. After the 2006 elections, Reid faced the much smarter and much tougher Sen. Mitch McConnell, rather than Frist, as the Republican leader. McConnell used procedural tactics like the filibuster far more often than ever before as a way of stopping legislation, but Reid did not force Republicans to read a phonebook for 18 hours, as in popular myth. Instead, he merely allowed McConnell to invoke endless debate under cloture motions. Why he chose to do this is unclear: the optics of Mitch McConnell reading a phonebook for 18 hours are much better than the optics of having a popular measure go down in defeat when it looks like it's Reid's fault. This, however, merely highlights Reid's lack of an instinctive knowledge of media management and public spectacle. He simply doesn't know how to capture the public's attention or to shape public opinion, which has been painfully clear when one looks at how little legislation has made it out of Reid's Senate. Perhaps the most painfully inept attempt at this was Reid's infamous "all night" session of Congress to debate a timeline for Iraq withdrawal, as if mere sleepiness would make Republicans suddenly antiwar.

But, as John Cleese would say, don't mention the war! This is Reid's most pathetic display, after all. Democrats won in 2006 by taking a firmly antiwar stance. They were, however, unable to deliver on their promise, and Reid's fecklessness has much to do with it. It became clear early on that Bush wasn't going to withdraw on his own, so Senate Democrats decided the best way to induce Bush to end the war was to cut off funding. One attempt at that, in mid-2007, was to tie funding to a timeline for withdrawal. The proposal passed the House and (amazingly) passed the Senate, largely because everyone knew Bush would veto the bill and Reid didn't have the votes to override. But Reid wasn't completely powerless. Bush let it be known that he would veto any Iraq funding bill with a timeline attached, and Reid could have stood tall and said that he wasn't going to send Bush a funding bill without a timeline. Those of us following the story know how it ends, and those vaguely familiar with the Democratic Party's recent history can guess: Reid buckled under and sent Bush a bill to the president's liking. One can argue that it turned out for the better: Iraq has improved a bit since the middle of 2007, after all. Reid, however, proved one thing with this entire display: that he wasn't tough enough for his job, and that all you had to do was get a few Southern Democrats worried before Reid knuckled under to avoid losing them on the vote. The lost Iraq chicken match would have been enough for a no confidence vote in most parliamentary systems, but Reid stayed on for the same reason why Democrats lost consistently throughout the 1980s and 1990s: an excessive focus on intraparty Democratic politics rather than pushing an agenda and acquiring political power. This has become a pattern.

The Iraq vote (and, indeed, there were other Iraq votes that followed a similar pattern) was merely the first of many failed threats emanating from Harry Reid's office. Consider the relatively recent case of Joe Lieberman. Lieberman needs no introduction, and in 2008 Lieberman crossed party lines to support John McCain's presidential bid. Everyone figured that Lieberman was toast after the 110th Congress ended, along with his status as the Dems' 51st Senator (and therefore critical for keeping a majority). Reid himself did more than hint that Lieberman was finished after the latter agreed to speak at the Republican National Convention. But Reid bungled this as well. Lieberman, a man who thought it was politically savvy to tie himself to George W. Bush after 2006 and John McCain in 2008, nevertheless managed to outmaneuver Reid. By excusing the threat of booting Lieberman out of the Dem caucus (or actually, you know, doing it) and making the loss of Lieberman's Homeland Security Committee chair the opening bid for Lieberman's castigation, Lieberman was able to frame that punishment as the maximal option, and then subsequently argue that it was too harsh. Rather than taking decisive action, Reid avoided accountability by turning the decision over to the full caucus. And the caucus gave Lieberman a slap on the wrist. Once again, Reid was more interested in internal Democratic politics at the expense of showing actual leadership and following through on his threats. As a result, a man who is functionally a Republican on national security matters will be chairing the Homeland Security and Government Oversight Committee. This is, shall we say, scary.

The most recent test for Reid is the Roland Burris affair. Reid said he wouldn't seat Burris, despite media reports that he would and a legal commentary that suggests he cannot help but give Burris his seat. This is, of course, the Reid leadership in a nutshell: making threats that he cannot back up and being unable to see the broader political ramifications of what he's doing. If Reid were constutionally unable to seat Burris, I would say that would be a politically savvy move. Unfortunately, Burris was legally appointed and there appears to be no hint of foul play. While most people don't want Burris to be seated, it appears inevitable that he will be, regardless of Reid's objections, and it will only serve to make Reid appear even more impotent, which is difficult even to imagine.

The effects of Reid's incompetence are becoming more and more apparent as party discipline has broken down in the Senate. Right now, two high-ranking Democratic Senators on the Intelligence Committee are openly trashing President-elect Barack Obama's choice of who ought to run the CIA. One of those, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is going even further and contradicting Reid by saying that Burris ought to be seated. And why shouldn't she? She's not going to face any retribution, and it only reinforces the old conceptions of Democrats as basically chickens following a decapitation. Compare this to the House, which is under particularly strong leadership by Nancy Pelosi. No Members of Congress have stepped on the Democrats' message so far as I can tell. There is simply no substitute for strong leadership in making things happen. Reid can issue all the threats he wants, but anyone who has been watching knows that Reid will not back them up. I cannot think of a single instance of Reid standing tall and flexing his muscles on anything. He has lost his credibility, and new blood is most assuredly needed in the Democrats' Senate Leadership.

It is becoming clear to me that Reid is going to be the biggest obstacle in the Democrats' plans for change. He simply cannot deliver on his promises. It is unclear why he's still The Man in the Senate. In 2005, the choices for leadership were relatively meager. Now the Democrats have quite a bit of options. I personally think that Schumer is the best choice: he's got a safe seat, he's gotten about a quarter of the Democratic caucus elected and they owe him, he's not bad at shaping public opinion and he has shown repeatedly that he is concerned with how things play on Main Street, if you will pardon the cliche. He is, in other words, the anti-Reid. Dems need to seriously rethink their leadership if we want to see the sort of change that Barack Obama has promised.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

They deserved it...right?

Sullivan flags a post from the nutballs over at Commentary that is true, but also irrelevant. Hamas hates America, it is true. But they haven't attacked us, or helped anyone who has attacked us. I know that, to neocons, merely hating America ought to be enough to get war declared on you. But I honestly don't see how Hamas's politics have much to do with whether Israel was justified in striking as it did. Either Israel was justly provoked or it wasn't. Either they overreacted or they didn't. Once you start saying that Palestinians deserved those bombs because of how they feel you're getting into some pretty dark territory.

I always hear this from neocons: that groups like Hamas are our enemy because they hate us and wish us harm. It is true that Hamas dislikes us but they haven't actually taken action to hurt us and they don't seem particularly interested in trying. Ditto Hezbollah. We have some real enemies, like al-Qaeda, though I think their capabilities have been quite exaggerated. I guess there are two types of people in the world: those who want to try to get everyone to get along, and those that look around the world looking for enemies to dominate. I've heard quite enough from the latter group for a while, thanks.

As goes Texas, so goes the GOP?

A moderate Republican will be the next Speaker of the Texas House.

The hammer falls

Matt Yglesias comes out: Deep Space Nine is his favorite Star Trek series and Voyager is his least favorite. Pretty much the same here. And it's not like there are too many protesters on his comment thread: most of the Voyager defenders are making arguments along the lines of "Seven of Nine was hot", "it was dopey fun sometimes", or "Enterprise was worse". The fact that all of these are true, and that nobody seems to be insisting that Voyager actually had great acting (impossible) or great stories tells you everything you need to know.

America's Next Bush to remain Bush In Waiting for a while longer

Yeah. I was about 75% sure from the announcement onward that Jeb wouldn't actually run for the Florida Senate seat. The most surprising thing is that Bush didn't drag it out for a few months, form an exploratory committee, try to milk it while staying in the limelight before deciding not to run. Is it possible that he wants to give the Bush name a little time to air out (so to speak)? I figured he was going to feign interest to keep his nemesis and successor, Gov. Charlie Crist, from running for the seat. I can't imagine why he would--Crist is a popular first-term governor in a very important and big state. He might well have presidential ambitions--ambitions that would be better served by running in 2012 as a sitting governor, or better yet in 2016 as a former governor, so as to have no distractions during the run. In any event, I don't think a move to the Senate helps Crist in any way, and it adds in a lot more plane travel and boring meetings instead of, you know, running something.

I think it might be the airing out thing. Plus, it's not necessary. If Jeb wanted to run for President in 2012, he's a former two-term governor from a key swing state. I don't think he lacks seasoning. Plus, spending another two years campaigning and raising money for a job that would be a springboard to a national nomination he'd win hands down anyway? Don't make sense. The Bushes just aren't Senate types, anyway.

As for Crist, he's by far the GOP's best shot at taking back the White House in 2016. Crist is in a position to actually bring the GOP back to something resembling constitutional conservatism, which is something he really believes in. He's very much opposed to disenfranchisement with respect to voting, and that would be a good first step if the GOP wants to pick up culturally conservative black voters. Crist is phenomenally popular in Florida, and he's conservative generally but he knows how to bring people together and to give a little something to Democrats now and then. Plus, he's sort of a good politician. I think the GOP could do a lot worse...and likely will.

Theocon alert

I generally respect Daniel Larison, and I find him a persuasive and cogent (if overly pessimistic) writer on foreign affairs and intra-right squabbles, among other things. But his writings on church/state issues are often bothersome--not because we disagree, but because he simply cannot adequately defend those positions as well as his others. In this post he calls same-sex marriage unnecessary change. His reasoning is, that because gay marriage will not necessarily strengthen straight marriage, it isn't necessary to enact it. It's a neat trick: rather than prove how men marrying other men will destroy society like other theocons--something I have yet to hear--he establishes an entirely different standard, in which it is up to us to prove that it is an affirmative good. Sullivan, as one would expect, is all over this, and even the premise underlying the argument (that gay marriage doesn't improve straight marriage) is ill conceived, but I just find the way he sets up his analysis to be really unsatisfying. Why should the burden of proof be upon us to prove that gay marriage is a positive good, and why should that even matter? We allow a lot of things, like alcohol and cigarettes, which don't lead to "good" outcomes but whose use is, nevertheless, permitted because our nation believes in freedom of choice. I think that a lot of the Warren Court's rulings on criminal issues didn't necessarily lead to a safer society, and weren't a "good" as such, but they did clamp down on a lot of police departments that were doing all sorts of illegal shit in the name of justice, and those rulings increased the amount of liberty that we all enjoy. I don't think that anyone likes the thought of more criminals on the streets, but it's a small price to pay for a, um, legal legal system.

This is the theocon mind in a nutshell: only "good" things should be allowed, and anything else should be banned. The "good" things are determined from the prevailing religion of the region, of course. Never mind that this nation was founded on precisely the opposite idea, which was that people ought to be free. Theocons don't much like freedom because it makes their jobs more difficult, I suppose, but I simply don't think that God meant for this stuff to be easy. Otherwise He would have made it easy, y'know? Think about it: the argument Larison is making is that he wants to ban something that he doesn't even assert will harm anyone--something that isn't harmful--solely because his religious dictates say so. It's the same sort of logic that led kite flying to be banned in Afghanistan, or dancing in Footloose. It is disappointing that someone who is generally very lucid about any number of subjects clings to such shoddy reasoning on such an important issue.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A proud day for American conservatism

That John McCain's spokesperson is sounding eerily like bin Laden these days does not surprise me. In fact, it follows nicely from a feature of conservatism from Goldwater on: the notion that the barbarians are at the gates, that all is most likely lost, and that the only way to salvage anything of civilization is, in effect, to violate every norm of civilization. This, in turn, degenerated into a subculture that celebrated any lawlessness if it were done by people claiming to have the country's best interest in mind (e.g. Oliver North). One would have thought that this strain of thinking would have died with the Cold War, but it has proven pretty durable: to some extent it has been repurposed to oppose liberal and Democratic politicians (like Bill Clinton) but the terrorist threat has given it new breath, even though there is no evidence that abiding by treaty obligations like the Geneva Convention is not sufficient to fighting such people. What about September 11? Well, a few of those guys were actually in the "do not fly" list, and a lot of people knew a lot about this stuff but weren't listened to. 9/11 was due more to bureaucratic insolvency than anything else--at least, that's what the 9/11 commission said. That the Bush team used it as a pretext for a massive power grab is disappointing but, considering the aforementioned lawlessness that has ruled conservatism for some time, it is not really too surprising.

Change, of course, can be hard. But it's interesting how conservatism has reverted under Bush's terms in office: it has gone back to a pre-Lockean conception of conservatism that defends, in different terms, the divine right of kings. Actually, it only defends the divine right of Republican kings. The others are mere usurpers. And any barbarism that a king wants to do must be defended, lest you be against the country--which is embodied in the presidency, of course.

Boy, am I glad to be rid of these people for a while.

Al Franken wins...

Aside from all the legal challenges, that is. Not sure why Minnesota has a law stopping a duly elected public servant from taking office until all challenges are dispensed with--it seems to me that this would be frequently abused by sore losers.

I often wonder whether such displays of poor sportsmanship hurt candidates for future runs for office. Dino Rossi kept the legal process going for nearly a year after he lost the Washington state governor's race in 2004, which I would think would have made people tired of the sight of him, but he was actually comptitive in this year's rematch (which he lost by a wider margin). Of course, in Minnesota there was a third party candidate that won a good chunk of the vote, and Coleman only got around 40%, so about 60% of the public didn't want him elected. That's a smaller base than around 50% like Rossi. The fact that 60% of his constituents didn't vote for him ought to send Norm Coleman a clue: he's worn out his welcome.

Of course, if the Dems had gotten behind someone like Rep. Betty McCollum, it's likely that this race would have been like Santorum in 2006.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.