Monday, April 30, 2007

Addendum to previous post

I just want to add that, if the press won't sufficiently report what "de-funding" the war would actually do, the democrats could always show everyone. If they successfully de-funded the war, and people saw that this didn't result in troops running out of ammo, but, rather, resulted in troops coming home, they'd go into the next election as the party that just stopped the opposition's miserably failed war.

Of course, this isn't without its risks. I'm sure some Republicans would argue that the troops' ongoing shortage of proper armor was now the Democrats' fault for cutting funds off. And if the effort failed to pass, and the public continued to fail to grasp what de-funding would actually have done, I suppose Republicans would, in 2008, accuse Democratic opponents of "trying to cut off funds for our troops in the field."

However, no political move is without risks. Overall, I think this is one of those happy occasions when what's right and what's politically smart are the same thing. Congress, move to cut off the funds.

Defending de-funding

Pretty much every poll these days seems to indicate two things:

1. A majority of Americans want to get the smeg out of Iraq, with all deliberate speed.
2. A majority, however, also oppose doing so via de-funding the war.

If one understands what de-funding would actually do, this makes no sense--a majority wants to get out of Iraq but opposes the most obvious thing Congress could do to achieve that end.

The sense I get, though, is that people in fact don't understand this. They assume, I suppose understandably, that the phrase "cutting off funding to the troops" means we'd just stop sending them supplies, or something. The troops will still be in harm's way but they won't have ammunition or armor because Congress cut off funds.

That's absurd, of course; if funds were cut off, the military would simply be forced into withdrawing the troops, precisely the result a majority wants to see. If they don't understand this, I think it's a failing of the press.

The media, in my opinion, should spend less time asking people what they think about ideas like de-funding the war, then writing articles about the numbers that produces, and more time making sure that people actually know what they're saying yes or no to. Of course, it's not a new problem. Remember how they were more interested in informing us that a majority of Americans thought Saddam helped plan 9/11 than in explaining that he very clearly did not?

Except maybe it's more like how the media and the Republicans tried to manufacture a scandal out of the fact that Clinton was letting donors sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. The Lincoln bedroom is not Abraham Lincoln's bedroom--it has some Lincoln artifacts in it, but Lincoln slept in the master bedroom like every other president. Besides, George H.W. Bush let everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Kenneth Lay sleep in that room, and the press didn't seem to think it was any big deal.

But articles about the "scandal" never seemed to bother with this information, so people were left with the impression that Lincoln's sacred, previously untouched sanctuary was being desecrated.

So the fact that people are always being asked if they favor "de-funding the war," without being told what that would actually do, is a lot like that. Only way bloody serious, this time. Come on, reporters. More reporting, please.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Energy: Where do we go from here?

An old teacher of mine had a joke about a friend who would say, "What do you mean, my account is overdrawn? I've still got checks in my checkbook."

What isn't widely known among the American public is that we may have reached Peak Oil production a year or more ago. The Peak Oil definition goes something like this: the minute we have mined 50% of Earth's oil reserves, production declines, oil becomes more scarce, and since global population has been rising, civilization "gets knocked about somewhat."

Of course, there are people who believe there are other sources of oil to be found, in the ANWR, Colorado, Mexico, your face, etcetera, but it doesn't mitigate the current oil reserves' depletion. New oil production plants and refineries take a lot of R&D to actually get started, and considering what kind of a devastating effect we're having on the environment already, we may have to be even more careful than we were before.

So where do we stand with other solutions? According to this article, other solutions such as hydrogen and solar power don't have quite the strength to take on the energy demands that we as a society have put on it. Nuclear power, ironically enough, may be the safest alternative and may have what it takes to level off increasing carbon emissions.

Without putting too many of my 2004 hopes into play and jinxing things, I do feel very optimistic that once this worthless lump is out of the White House, we'll see an administration and a Congress who will put forward ideas for energy alternatives that could be rushed into development. Yes, optimistically, it would be ten years before the American public sees any real benefit from it. But that may be for the best.

Because, adding my own dash of cynicism, I think societal change only happens as a reaction to massive crises. Right now, Americans are still steeped heavily in a sense of entitlement, though the "greening" of society is beginning to catch on. One energy crisis after another may have to happen before alternative energy solutions become a primal survival mechanism for Americans and others around the globe. Eventually, you have to abandon the sinking ship in order to save your life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Liberal media, my tailfeathers

Dennis Hastert didn't get picked on by the media until it was unavoidably proven that he'd been covering for a sexual predator.

His Democratic successor as House Speaker, on the other hand, pretty much can't blow her nose without the wise men of the media calling it a "new scandal."

George W. Bush has arguably has his name on more serious scandals than every previous president combined, and yet the media has only reluctantly begun noticing, and they still seem convinced he's going to bounce back any day now.

His Democratic predecessor as president, on the other hand...well, our august fourth estate was convinced that everything from his haircuts to his Christmas card list to his daughter's sleepovers was a massive "scandal," and when he was caught having an affair, they pretty much wet themselves with glee.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

How to really protect marriage

Washington's Democratic Governor, Christine Gregoire, has signed domestic partnerships into state law.

Three cheers for this development; it will be a relief to be guaranteed hospital visitation rights, the right of inheritance, etc. It's not everything, but it's something.

But, oddly, I find myself in a sort of agreement with the one dissenting quote in the article. It's from Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who is the leader of Positive Christian Agenda (yes, folks, nothing is more positive than trying to treat one tenth of the population as second-class citizens), and he said:

"I think it's an unfortunate step backward, not knowing where it will lead us culturally. Giving marriage-lite benefits without the benefit of marriage strikes me as not a good idea."

Well, you know, Joe (can I call you Joe? Would you freak out if I put my arm around you? I promise you won't catch queer cooties from me), you have a point, you know. It seems entirely reasonable to wonder if, once you make the legal rights conferred by marriage available to gay people and senior citizens via a non-marriage legal arrangement, it's only a matter of time before someone successfully argues that the equal protection clause requires you to offer domestic partnership to straight couples who want them, too. And then, potentially, the institution of marriage will be fundamentally diminished, because straight people will have other options and not everyone is going to find "traditional" marriage as appealing as a somewhat less binding legal relationship that confers many of the same benefits.

But, Joe, here's the thing. I'm sure the solution you prefer is to say, well, domestic partnerships might alter marriage, so let's just leave gay people out in the cold. The problem you run into there is, most people aren't cool with that. It's blatantly unfair, and every time they poll the public, more and more of them agree with me--if you take the number of people who support gay marriage outright, and add the number of people who support civil unions, you have a majority. Poll people under 30 and you can find majorities who support actual gay marriage. History is not with you on this one. You have to give us something. You don't have a choice.

In the long run, I tend to think you don't even have a choice about what you give us, gay marriage is coming. But in the short run, you have two choices. Create a "separate-but-equal" institution, domestic partnerships/civil unions (and we all know how well that worked with black people and how favorably history views racial segregation). In doing so, invite a future in which marriage is not the only option, when perhaps legal relationships between two people become a buffet table almost, with numerous arrangements conferring different benefits and responsibilities, with "marriage" being the name merely of one of the options.

Or, leave marriage precisely as it is, except lift the gender restrictions.

If you want to "preserve" traditional marriage, Joe, your best bet is to let us into it. It's a lot less likely to be disruptive than creating a lot of semi-marriage alternatives.

The thing is, for all the talk about "preserving traditional marriage," that's really a pretty meaningless phrase. Marriage changes all the time. Go back a few decades and you find a world where, within a marriage, the man is king, and always the breadwinner, and the woman is basically his maid, his concubine and an empty vessel to his ambitions. Go back much further and you find a world in which marriage is primarily an economic relationship, with men basically selling their daughters, and powerful families intermarrying for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with love (the very thought would have been absurd).

Go back to Biblical times, Joe--the time of the stories on which I'm sure you believe you're basing your worldview--and you find polygamy, spousal abuse, men beating their new wives to death with rocks for not being virgins, dozens of attributes of "marriage" which we today would find repugnant and even criminal. And that's a good thing, because the institution has evolved, and must evolve as society does, to stay alive.

We are at a turning point now, Joe, and society is going to accept gay relationships as legitimate, and the laws are going to reflect that, and therefore, from a legal standpoint at least, if you freeze marriage where it is and start letting new legal relationships evolve instead, eventually marriage will become, legally at least, an irrelevant institution.

And I personally don't even have a problem with that. There are over one thousand legal rights conferred by marriage, and I believe I am as entitled as any straight person to every last one of them, but I really don't care what name they travel under. I actually think it might solve a lot of problems if we called the legal rights "domestic partnerships" and had every couple, gay or straight, get one, and then left "marriage" to religious institutions, to confer or not confer as they saw fit. To me that'd be a hell of a lot more sensible than what we do now.

You're the one for whom "saving marriage" is a big deal. So which will it be, Joe? Marriage has to either let people like me in, or be left behind.

Friday, April 20, 2007

It's all about the rug

As Seagull noted, Bush has been making a lot of appearances lately at high schools; in fact, was making one yesterday as Gonzales was imploding in front of Congress, in which he seemed interested, above all, in talking about the rug he has in his office:

"My job is a job to make decisions. I'm a decision -- if the job description were, 'What do you do?' -- it's decision-maker. And I make a lot of big ones, and I make a lot of little ones. Interestingly enough, the first decision I made happened right before I got sworn in as president. I was at the Blair House, which is across the street from the White House, getting ready to give my inaugural address. And the phone rang, and the head usher at the White House said, 'President-elect Bush.' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'What color rug do you want in the Oval Office?' I said, 'This is going to be a decision-making experience. The first lesson about decision-making is, if you're short on a subject, ask for help. So if you're a student listening and you're not very good at math, ask for help. Don't be afraid to admit that you need help when it comes to life. I wasn't afraid to admit I wasn't sure how to design a rug, so I called Laura. I said, 'They've asked me to design a rug in the Oval Office; I don't know anything about rug designing; will you help me?' She said, 'Of course.' But I said, 'I want it to say something' -- the president has got to be a strategic thinker -- and I said to her, 'Make sure the rug says 'optimistic person comes to work.' Because you can't make decisions unless you're optimistic that the decisions you make will lead to a better tomorrow.'"

And later:

"The goal [for Iraq] is a country that is stable enough for the government to work, that can defend itself and serve as an ally in this war on terror, that won't be a safe haven, that will deny the extremists and the radicals. I happen to think there will be an additional dividend when we succeed -- remember the rug? I'm optimistic we can succeed."

Oh, good, see, it doesn't matter that Bush has no plan, and a real problem telling the truth even to himself, and won't admit he's gotten himself in way over his head: he's optimistic. Just look at his rug.

"People get pretty tired of war, and I understand that. It's really important as we -- that we have a sober discussion and understand what will be the consequences of failure. As I've told you, on the rug -- the reason I brought up the rug was to not only kind of break the ice, but also to talk about strategic thought. The president's job is to think not only about today, but tomorrow."

Frankly, George W. Bush, unscripted, is a train wreck. Scripted, I've always found him robotic, like he's reading the teleprompter phoenetically. (In National Review Online, T.J. Walker, in an apparently unironic attempt to praise Bush, once declared "Whether you love or loathe George W. Bush, you cannot deny that he has learned how to read a teleprompter.")

And I've just never bought the usual excuse that, okay, he's not a great public speaker, but that doesn't really affect his ability to run the country. That isn't necessarily true. The way someone speaks unscripted says a lot about the state of his or her mind. And Bush doesn't just mispronounce words occasionally. He says things that demonstrate a fundamental failure to understand the subject, like "interballistic missiles." He invariably talks to audiences of adults like he's addressing a group of kindergartners, demonstrating, I think, an authoritarian streak a mile wide. And he cannot stay on message or focus on anything genuinely complex or serious. Talking endlessly about the symbolic significance of your rug during an alleged speech about the "War on Terror" is, to me, a sign of an unserious, disorganized mind.

Of course I am not privy to the inner workings of the white house. But, come on, making an appearance at a high school during Gonzales's testimony seems like a laughable attempt to distract people. And, the fact that Bush looked so totally unprepared suggests that it was a last-minute thing. Then again, Gonzales had weeks to prepare and still looked like a kid who hasn't done the reading and gets called on in class. So maybe Bush did prepare. I don't know which would reflect on them more negatively.

But that's what has always struck me about this administration. They're comically bad at everything--including manipulating the public and the media. And yet, somehow, for years everyone in the press agreed to play along with it. Karl Rove isn't actually a genius, it's just that he's been thrown slow pitches over the heart of the plate for years. I think what history is going to wonder most about this era is how the political equivalent of "your shoe's untied" and "hey, look behind you" worked for these people for so long.

Seeking friendly audiences (though they're getting harder to find)

Does anyone else feel like Bush's choices of venue for his recent appearances are often really cheap? Take his appearances at military bases, for example. A crowd of active-duty military members is guaranteed to be friendly; he's appearing in front of a group of people who are legally forbidden from criticizing him*. Or his appearances at high schools, where students are generally not allowed to do anything disruptive. What we have is a President who refuses to acknowledge how unpopular he is, to appear in front of a general audience and take it on the chin. I don't blame him, exactly, but I'd respect him more if he didn't insulate himself so much from dissent.

* Making public statements critical of President Bush was one of the original "conduct unbecoming an officer" charges against Lt. Watada, for example.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Put out the fire

In the sorrow-filled wake of today's Virginia Tech bloodbath, we have to evaluate at least one thing, whether people like it or not.

The Democrats have had to bow to the gun lobby and the pro-gun libertarians to make as many gains as they have. Jon Tester, for example, probably could owe his squeaker victory to being strongly pro-gun. A quote from him:

"With things like the Patriot Act," Tester said, "We'd damn well better keep our guns."

So, pro-gun lobby, now that you're with us in preventing the bloodbaths abroad, how can we work together to prevent the bloodbaths here? Arming everybody is off the table. There are some people out there with a certain amount of emotional immaturity that would cause me to lose sleep if I knew they could pick up a gun in a second. A gun, you must admit at least, is as dangerous as a car. And sure, some guns are less dangerous than others, obviously, but no matter what, their primary purpose is to put metal pieces through other things. Unsafe at certain speeds, if you catch my drift.

So, snark aside, we're here for your freedom that, as you've said, has been given to you by the Bill of Rights. Now help us work for the freedom of schoolkids who want to live.

Stewart/Colbert 2008

Sunday, April 15, 2007

On stories

Eric Alterman has a good column here in which he examines the media's dominant narratives about the four top-tier presidential candidates (I would also have included John Edwards and Mitt Romney, but maybe he had space constraints).

This is one of the major problems with American press coverage of elections. Rather than simply examine a candidate's policies and public statements and report objectively on that, they filter their coverage of any candidate through the narrative they've chosen for that candidate. And if the facts suggest otherwise, and can't be made to fit that story, well, screw the facts.

This was particularly disgraceful in 2000, when the national press, terrified of the Limbaughs and Hannitys and completely unafraid of any kind of liberal backlash, essentially bought wholesale the narratives being offered by the Bush campaign. George W. Bush was a down-to-earth, honest, decent, folksy guy you'd love to have a backyard barbecue with. Al Gore was a two-faced serial liar who would say anything at all to be president and also he was a big boring policy wonk (when you think about it, aren't those two things almost mutually exclusive?).

Facts that interfered with this storyline just vanished. Never mind that Bush was the multimillionaire son of a former president, whose business career was defined by failure and corruption and almost certainly illegal insider trading. Can you imagine if there'd been even a whiff of insider trading in Clinton's past? They'd have had his head. But with Bush, it didn't fit their narrative, so the national press made the story disappear.

And never mind that, while Gore, as a politician, has certainly stretched the truth in his life--it's pretty much a job requirement--nearly all the "lies" he was supposedly telling were media inventions. Gore never said he "invented the internet," never said he "was the one that started it all" at Love Canal, didn't invent the idea that he was part of the inspiration for Love Story (the author has acknowledged that that's true), etc. And, honestly, all that drivel about how he was wearing suits with too many buttons, or that were the wrong color, or what have you? They really really had to reach, to try and back up the storyline on Gore the RNC had given them that they'd decided to use.

The result? People were unable to make an informed choice, and we ended up with arguably the most disastrously bad presidency in history. Democracy only works if people can vote intelligently, and when the press pushes irrelevant and untrue narratives about the candidates at the expense of important policy information, we get George W. Bush.

I'd like to think that won't happen this time, but of course some version of it will. That's what we have to push back against.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Okay, but why really?

The ginned-up "controversy over Nancy Pelosi meeting with the government of Syria really has reached epic levels of stupidness, levels not seen in a fake controversy since we were told it was a constitutional crisis that Clinton had sent Christmas cards to some of his contributors (Congress heard 140 hours of sworn testimony on the subject) or that Chelsea Clinton had had slumber parties (once-great media outlets like the Washington Post were beside themselves with rage over the number of White House overnight guests Clinton was having--72 of whom, by their own numbers, were middle-school kids Chelsea was having over for slumber parties).

Do you ever wonder why only Democrats are ever the target of fake scandals? I mean, for the last six years, George Bush and his Squad of Doom have been getting into more actual scandals than anyone since...well, ever, really. Lying us into an illegal war, illegally wiretapping people, outing covert CIA agents for nakedly political reasons, staffing the entire government with unqualified yes-man ideologues, justifying and practicing torture, eating cake while a hurricane sank a great American city, holding people without charges, failing to give the troops it had deployed life-saving body armor, editing inconvenient scientific studies to contain more friendly language, putting pressure on intelligence agencies to back administration claims, shooting old men in the face and then making them apologize for getting shot...I could go on for pages.

The press thought all of this was an enormous yawn that only partisan left-wing loons cared about. I mean, come on, why other than irrational loathing of Bush would we care about all the absolutely rational reasons to loathe him? It makes no sense! Certainly it pales in comparison to the very very pressing question of whether Clinton got a haircut in his airplane.

The press is only covering the current attorney-firings scandal (which still lacks a punchy name, though I do like Olbermann's "Gonzo-gate") because a combination of relentless coverage by bloggers like Joshua Micah Marshall and subpoena power wielded by Democrats forced them to. For as long as they possibly could, they took a kind of "nothing to see here, folks, move along" attitude toward the whole thing. Which is of a piece with how they've seemed to regard pretty much everything the Bush administration has done. Really, folks, it's all just politics! We rub elbows with these lovely people like Rove and Cheney at dinner parties, and they're just charming, so stop worrying your pretty heads that they're torturing and shooting people and sending your children to die in unnecessary, delusional wars, okay? That's a good voting public. Have a biscuit.

Contrast that with the glee with which they've pounced on the Pelosi in Syria story. There's an unmistakable resemblance to a shark that smells blood. I mean, it's something I remember well from the Clinton years. The press can't wait to nail Pelosi.

Never mind that it's an incredibly stupid story. Never mind that if a Republican did it the press wouldn't even have mentioned it. Speaker Gingrich visited both Israel and China and told them, basically, to ignore President Clinton and deal with Congress; soon-to-be-speaker Hastert did the same in Colombia. Remember how big those stories were? Exactly.

By contrast, Nancy Pelosi goes to Syria and CNN's Suzanne Malveaux speculates that she may be on her way to becoming "the most controversial speaker yet." Never mind that a delegation of Republicans was dealing with Syria at around the same time. Never mind that, by all accounts, Pelosi merely affirmed the Bush administration's existing Syria policy. Never mind that the Iraq Study Group recommended the U.S. start talking to Syria, and never mind that a very large majority of Americans say they want the U.S. to talk to Syria.

And I've been sitting around wondering why it is that the major American media outlets do this, and have been doing it for a long time. They contort, exaggerate, sometimes even invent scandals about major Democrats like Clinton and Gore and Pelosi, and furrow their brows and ponderously discuss how this is going to damage the Democrating Party and the country. Meanwhile in the background, some major Republican will be running by with bags of pilfered cash, Hamburgler-like, and they'll ignore it completely.

Partly I think this particular story might be a matter of timing. The major media, to some extent, fetishizes "balance." So, when a Republican scandal is spiraling out of control with no end in sight and they've been put in the position of having to cover it, they're itching to have a Democratic "scandal" to cover, so they can say "see? We nail them all! We don't actually have a liberal bias!"

It seems to me that they bend over backwards to innoculate themselves against charges of "liberal bias." And this often takes the form of going after major Democrats with both barrels, for reasons that would pass unnoticed if a Republican did them. And of covering Republican scandals only when there's basically no choice.

You often hear members of the media rebut accusations of bias by saying "well, we get criticized by both sides, so we must be unbiased." Which is faulty logic. All criticism is not created equal. If you look at the substance of media criticism from the right and left, the picture gets more complicated. Liberal media critics generally complain that the media isn't doing a good enough job getting the facts right. Conservative media critics generally complain that the media isn't serving as enough of a propaganda outlet for the Bush administration. (Yes, I approach this with a heavy and unapologetic liberal bias of my own--but this is honestly how it looks to me.)

As Roger Ebert once said:

There's an interesting pattern going on. When I write a political column for the Chicago Sun-Times, when liberals disagree with me, they send in long, logical e-mails explaining all my errors. I hardly ever get well-reasoned articles from the right. People just tell me to shut up. That's the message: 'Shut up. Don't write anymore about this. Who do you think you are?'

So, basically, in a town that has been ruled by Republicans for two decades (Clinton was obviously treated as an interloper by establishment Washington, though his people have since become pretty establishment themselves), and in a media environment ruled by Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh, reporters bend over backwards not to seem to be attacking Republicans too hard, or letting liberals off too easy--which results in their ignoring Republican scandals whenever they can, and going after Democratic scandals even if they basically have to make them up. With Democrats seizing more power in the government, and liberal blogs and web sites ascendant as a source of pressure on the media from the left, the balance is shifting, as we've seen with Congress and Josh Marshall forcing the Gonzales scandal into the spotlight, but it's going to take a while for the press's habits to shift.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

War: protecting us from the threat of diplomacy

From the Guardian:

The US offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, including buzzing Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions with warplanes, the Guardian has learned...

The British declined the offer and said the US could calm the situation by staying out of it.

Wow. By this time, our itchy trigger finger has gotten us a pretty bad reputation, no? The United States now has the international image of a escaped lunatic with explosives and gasoline strapped to his midriff.

Take George Bush's response to Pelosi's trip to Syria:

On Tuesday, President Bush denounced Pelosi's visit to Syria, saying it sends mixed signals to Assad's government. "Sending delegations doesn't work. It's simply been counterproductive," Bush said.

Considering that the war in Iraq seems to be designed to have no end, I'd wonder exactly what he calls productive. Perhaps war is our latest growth industry, feeding valuable dollars to Fox News employees so that they can put food on their families. Diplomacy only hurts the pocketbooks of a sector of the American public. With our soon-to-be-opened branch offices of the Iraq war, we'll stave off recession yet. And can you imagine the Democrats want to fight that?

(I'm going to be moving over the next month or so, so my additions to the weblog might be really light. I thank Eagle and Seagull mightily for taking up the slack while I'm gone. Thanks, everyone.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Baby Turdblossom

This CBS Evening News broadcast from January 1972, which explores the Nixon reelection campaign of that year and contains a very young Karl Rove, really goes to show you that, over time, evil makes you ugly.

Hosted by KEENSPOT: Privacy Policy