Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Saturday, November 29, 2003  

[Zipping off for an impromtu trip to Seattle. So I leave you with a little Friday Satire--a day late.]

WASHINGTON: In what is likely to change politics in America forever, all but three congressional Democrats yesterday became Republicans. Following three years of humiliation and defeat at the hands of of unifed GOP, former Senator Minority Leader Tom Daschle (R-SD) yesterday called his party obsolete. "We're not an effective opposition party anymore. We've stood by while our colleagues have systematically removed us from the process of governing: we're no longer included in drafting or considering legislation, are not allowed to ask the President questions--hell, they even called the cops on us when we got uppity! At least this way we wll be able to listen in on the process. It's long been a tenet of my leadership style that you should take what you can get." Just three Democrats, Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis) and Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore) refused to join the majority. Said DeFazio, "I'm still damned proud to call myself a Democrat."

The unprecedented move will have profound effects on the Presidential race. President Bush now finds himself in a primary battle against three powerful former Democrats, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman, and one middling legislator, freshman Senator John Edwards. The Democratic field has now narrowed--front-runner Howard Dean finds his competition weakened to just Al Sharpton, Carol Mosely Braun, and the Ohio Democrat, who now finds his profile substantially raised. General Wesley Clark was ambivilent about his status. "I wish I knew they were planning this two months ago, said the general, who was ironically himself a former Republican. "I would have been in a strong position to challenge the President. Now we have a decision in front of us."

According to sources close to Daschle, the decision came during the recent debate over Medicare. "We were so disorganized. You have the DNC putting out an action alert to defeat the bill, and meanwhile Tom's thinking it looks pretty good. Total confusion. Watching Denny [Hastert] and Tom [DeLay] pull out the thumbscrews in the House to get those votes--man, that was organization. We got to thinking, 'Well, maybe that's the kind of organization we could use. One thing led to another, and here we are." Democrats will now have access to a number of key committees and caucuses to which they were previously barred by Republicans.

Boise State political scientist Martin Mumford pointed out that, strategically anyway, the plan had merit. "If you look strictly at politics, Democrats have a slight edge. The moderate Republicans from New England who tend to side with them outnumber the Zell Millers who side with Republicans. So now, with everyone being a Republican, you could make the argument that moderates can finally wrest control from the neocons." Mumford added, "Though of course, they've sacrificed a lot. They have no party now, and the states and DNC are livid. It could also backfire pretty spectacularly."

For the moment, the GOP and White House are welcoming the defectors. Said the President in prepared remarks, "We want to welcome those fine legislators and commend their wisdom. We have long felt that the Democratic Party was the last barrier to a number of initiatives we'd like to enact. We now congratulate these former foes for their decision to join the patriotic fight against terror which they previously opposed, to help in reviving the economy through tax cuts to those who need them most--which they also opposed, and to cut out the depraved rot that gnaws at the fabric of our great nation--rot they once defended. I said years ago that I would be a uniter, not a divider, and I'm pleased today to deliver on that promise."

Speaking from an undisclosed location, the tiny band of remaining renegade Democrats remained defiant. "Not only are we not alarmed by this development, we are grateful for it. Now we have a united party, one that champions the rights of everyday citizens. As we are now vastly outnumbered, we've made a few changes. Instead of the donkey, we are replacing our mascot with a pirate. We intend to raid the power of the wealthy from our hardy little sloop. And this is our new symbol." With that, Dennis Kucinich unfurled a black and white Jolly Roger. "Let the fight begin!"

posted by Jeff | 10:24 AM |

Friday, November 28, 2003  

Maybe we can all put down our swords long enough to regard Krugman's column today neutrally. Digging around for economic positives, he pointed at the growth of developing economies as a result of globalization. It's not a position a lot of lefties are that comfortable with, but I strongly agree with his main thesis. As we know, I'm no ecomonist, but I do have some personal experience with developing economies. Between 1988 and 1999, I spent about two years over four visits in India (studying not econ, but religion and language). From personal experience, I've seen the benefits of free markets.

As an undergraduate I spent six months studying in India, over the winter and spring of 1988-'89. India then had a strongly protectionist economic policy: it was all right for foreign countries to come set up shop, but they had to sell 51% of managing ownership to Indian investors. This had several results. The first, superficial, was that India had a kind of shadow economy. Some companies flatly refused to come to the country, so in their place sprang knock-offs (Campa Cola, white cursive on a red background, instead of Coca Cola). Others came and did sell 51%. When I was there, the hot car was a Maruti Suzuki. But more profoundly, it meant that India resisted the forces that turned Japan and South Korea into economic powers and what was turning Southeast Asia into the "Asian Tigers."

And so, in 1989, India looked a whole lot like it had in 1969. Very little was computerized--they still went with the ancient ledger model of accounting. To place a telephone call, you had to go to particular centers and wait in line for hours to get a horrible connection that went dead with no warning after exactly three minutes. Listening to loved ones over those lines was the sound of 1935. Roads were festooned with chickens and cows and bikes, all competing with lorries and rickshaws and cars. They were often unpaved. I could go on and on. Anyone who visited India before the 90s will tell you similar stories.

But then somewhere around '91, India liberalized its economy. It was still protectionist, but the markets were open. I visited again in '92 and already the signs were visible. Now computers were not the rare exception, but the slight norm. Telephones and telephone lines were being laid at a furious pace. Coca Cola was on the shelves (all right, maybe that wasn't progress). The changes were quite subtle, but something was afoot.

I went back again for a fellowship in 1994-'95, and the change was remarkable (but perhaps only to eyes who had seen pre-liberalization India). Telephones were everywhere and no longer cost $7 a minute. Much of India had become computerized. There were internet cafes. We took a trip South to visit Mysore (always one of India's most beautiful towns), and were shocked to see Bangalore. In 1988, I had stopped through the city long enough to catch a screening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly while I waited for a train to Kerala. It was the usual chaotic Indian city. In 1994, we beheld its paved streets and clean air with wonder: it looked like South Korea.

In 1991, the year of liberalization, India's GDP growth was a meager 1% (thoughout the 80s, agriculture netted India 5% GPD growth). Since liberalization, India's economy hasn't grown by less than 5% in any year, and averaged almost 7% growth--even while agriculture declined. There are still many, many problems with India's economy--the benefits still do not affect many Indians, and it remains a very poor country. But it's headed in the right direction.

The new millennium may well be remembered in America as the beginning of the decline. But in may places on the globe, it might represent the opposite. It's hard to tell that from the United States, particularly when you know your own job may now be held by one of those Bangalorians. But if you'd seen the country fifteen years ago, and seen the pervasive level of poverty and complete hopelessness about finding a good job (there were so few), you couldn't begrudge India those jobs now. Krugman's right, it is good news. "We are not, it turns out, condemned to live forever on a planet where only a small minority of the global population has a decent standard of living."

posted by Jeff | 11:01 AM |

Thursday, November 27, 2003  

What do lefties have to be thankful for? Look beyond the obvious blessings in our own lives, and there's not a whole lot (certainly not that Green Bay game!). You can parse this question a lot of ways to drum up some good news, but I'd like to play it a little differently. Instead of praising the good bones of the country (the Constitution) or the good candidates we have on our side (gooooooo Dennis!), the thing I'm thankful for isn't even a widely acknowledged phenomenon.

Allow me to expound.

Whatever happens in November 2004 will depend on what is, or is not, happening at the ground level of politics in America. If nothing's happening, expect a predictable outcome: Clark or Kerry are the candidates, and after holding their own for a few months, are buried under the slime of the Rove machine. The Senate and House stay GOP. The country remains bitterly divided and we have round two of the Bush years, which will be bloodier and more grim than anything anyone on this earth has seen.

But what if something is happening. What if the 80% of registered voters who didn't cast a ballot for George Bush are not slumbering. What if they're awakening and mad as hell about what the GOP has done to the country? If they are, we could see a minor revolution, ala 1994. Or, we could see a massive revolution for which there is no precedent.

You listen to the news (that's the corporate news who are part of the GOP military/service complex), and you get a lot of smug Republicans pointing out that, based on the assumptions of conventional politics, Bush and the GOP are sitting pretty. The only alternate view plays here on the blogosphere and--rarely--on NPR or on ill-funded and little-heard/read lefty news outlets. It's not even a whisper on the national scene, so no one hears it. Instead, we must speculate about what boils under the placid smiles (or, if they've just watched the Pack, grimaces) of those 80%.

The GOP is an echo-chamber based feedback loop that does its best to present a bizarro world view of what's actually happening--they have no idea about what might be happening. So we're left with speculation. All I know is the people I see. A preponderance of them are moderate to very liberal, but a lot of them are also a part of the slumbering horde. But you know what? They aren't slumbering now. They're mad as hell and they're making the first political donations of their lives, they're attending rallies, and they're meeting in living rooms to strategize about how to elect "anyone but Bush." (And they get little notice on Fox.)

So for this Thanksgiving, I'd like to offer up a toast to the slumbering horde. I think you're going to cause a revolution, and I'm thankful for that prospect. Don't let me down.

posted by Jeff | 2:43 PM |

Wednesday, November 26, 2003  

One of the most senior British judges has criticized China's treatment of prisoners. He said on Tuesday that they were being held:

"beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts. The procedural rules do not prohibit the use of force to coerce the prisoners to confess. It's not quite torture but at close as you can get. As a lawyer brought up to admire the ideals of ... democracy and justice I would have to say that I regard this as a monstrous failure of justice."

The judge is considering urging sanctions on the rogue nation.

"It may be appropriate to pose a question - ought our government to make plain publicly and unambiguously our condemnation of [this] utter lawlessness."

Just kidding. He was actually talking about the US's treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. Stinkin' Brits--what kinda lousy friends are you, huh? Oh, that's right, you're our only friends.

posted by Jeff | 9:29 PM |

You know what would cheer me up? A nice screening of "Bad Santa."

posted by Jeff | 12:52 PM |

All right, I'm a dirty, rotten liar. Not only did I not manage to stay away from politics, but here I am posting again. It began innocently: I just stopped by Site Meter to see what the hits were looking like (I don't know about other bloggers, but I'm drawn irresistably to see who's coming by the blog), and then I noticed a fair amount of traffic from Nathan Newman's site. Another innocent click (I'm on the slippery slope now) and I see that he's posted a response to my response to his post yesterday. (Clear?) So here we are.

Emma joins in disputing the idea that the Medicare bill is anything good for progressives, citing the popular E.J. Dionne essay a lot of folks are linking to. She sees the loss on the bill as being "about kicking the prone body of the Democrats in the head."

...As for the politics, passing a shitty bill is worse for the GOP than if the Dems had defeated it. If the Dems had defeated it, Bush could have said, "Well, I tried to fulfill my promise to give seniors a drug benefit, but the obstructions Dems stopped me." Now, Bush has full responsibility for the details of the bill and seniors won't be happy. They'll recognize that the trillions of dollars in tax cuts meant they only had this pathetic benefit available.

Nathan's point is perfectly reasonable, as is the analysis he links to by Liberal Oasis. But the reason I'm not ultimately convinced by it is the same reason I'm in a grim mood today--I think the rules have changed. Time and again, Republicans have shown they'll pass legislation that will damage the country and be wildly unpopular so long as it solidifies their position in power. Tax cuts that benefit their donors, regressive legislation that damages workers, the environment, and free trade but benefits PACs and corporate donors, a cynical war that plays a political role and benefits private contractors long connected to the White House (and who are, of course, donors): none of it makes sense by the old calculation of poll-based victory. But they don't care about popularity.

In every case, they go ahead with the legislation and worry about spinning it to the public later--this is effective for two reasons: 1) the scope of the deception (that is, the real reason for the action) is unthinkably large and dark for most Americans to accept, 2) the cost hasn't come due yet. In most cases, the legislation is set to phase in after the 2004 election. Political benefit now, expense later. Meanwhile, the GOP spin machine has been reasonably successful at turning say, a massive, dangerous giveaway to industrial polluters into the "Clear Skies" initiative.

So the question arises--what are they up to? And here we come to my "kicking in the head" theory. I believe the GOP, currently guided by revolutionary ideologues, is trying to turn momentary, fluctuating political advantage into permanant dominance. Their assault seeks to control the critical points of rule: the media, judiciary, campaign finance, markets, foreign policy, and federal programs (homeland security, education, medicare). At the same time, they have systematically targeted areas of opposition strength: the environment, labor, social programs, and the Democratic Party.

I was shaken by the Medicare success because it struck so deeply at the Dems and showed them to be so poorly organized. (If Nathan and the Liberal Oasis are right, that this doesn't cause retribution and in-fighting among Dems but does among the GOP, I'll eat some crow--happily.) Because of the success of the GOP spin machine, voter malaise, and the phasing of the Medicare Bill, I expect it to principally profit Republicans. They will have stolen a major issue from the Dems, managed to further gild their corporate donors' bank accounts, and paid no penalty by next November. When the bill does come due, I worry that Republicans will have successfully created such an impressive bulwark of K Street influence, corporate money, and political might that it won't matter anyway.

But of course, I'm in a grim and hopeless mood, and that's probably a good enough reason not to have blogged today. I'll cut my losses and quit babbling now.

posted by Jeff | 11:34 AM |

I'm not sure why my radio is tuned into NPR. Waking up to news of the Bush Administration's activities is a kind of sado-masochism. This morning, news that the Labor Department is putting the screws to unions--in what amounts to a bureaucratic assault. Death by paperwork. I then followed up this fine bit of self-flaggelation by reading the lovely LA Times' Wal-Mart series. This of course follows the hangover I got from Medicare debacle . All in all, a damn fine week.

So, for the sake of my mental health: no more politics today.

posted by Jeff | 8:51 AM |

Tuesday, November 25, 2003  

This is a bit obscure, but if you're dying for a description of Oregon tax and budgetary issues, I've got one at the Oregon Blog. It's one reason posting has been a bit skimpy here--I'm spending a lot of time blogging for even fewer people. I'm an eejit.

posted by Jeff | 4:10 PM |

Some folks think the Medicare bill isn't so bad. Not to dispute with the estimable Drum and Newman, but it's not only bad--it's a nightmare.

Here's why. Sure, as legislation, there's something in there for the citizens. (It's a sad day when "something for the citizens" is regarded as not bad--but that compares, I guess, with "wholesale federal fund transfer to corporations.") But that's just the window dressing. This was never really about Medicare. It wasn't even, I suspect, particularly about kickbacks to the medical/insurance lobby (they're doing all right at the moment). It was about kicking the prone body of the Democrats in the head. Dems have been on the ground for awhile, but lately we've been showing signs of wanting to get up. Republicans wanted to put a quick end to that.

EJ Dionne hits it on the head this morning:

If anyone doubted the rules had changed, House Republican leaders ended all illusions in the early hours of Saturday morning by holding open a 15-minute roll call vote for an unprecedented two hours and 51 minutes. At the end of the normal time for voting, Republican leaders faced defeat on the drug bill by a two-vote margin. Eventually, two Republicans were hammered into switching their votes....

Kennedy said in an interview that he had no regrets about trying to get the earlier bill passed. But he acknowledged that Republicans had shown far more discipline than Democrats have ever mustered. Kennedy recalled a conversation he had with then-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas in the early 1990s about the wall of Republican opposition to President Clinton's health care bill. Gramm, he said, explained that Republicans were determined not to let Clinton and a Democratic Congress prove they were capable of "performing."

Normally I don't want to look like an alarmist, but now it's time to be alarmed. The calculation has changed, folks. Darth is in power, and the Empire is marching (on those spindly walker-legs) right at the rebels. We've got two choices: pull ourselves together and fight ,or continue to screw around and be wiped out. Seriously.

How many times are we going to get kicked in the head before we get organized and start fighting back?

posted by Jeff | 12:41 PM |

I've been following the MSNBC candidate "embeds" fairly closely. They have a bit of a unscripted bloggish quality. For the most part, following around a candidate has had the effect of turning the embedded reporter into a bit of a booster--or at least a sympathizer. So it was with interest that I noticed the Kerry piece this morning regarding last night's debate:

I spent just a few moments after the debate with Kerry. I asked him how it went and he gave the obligatory “really well” answer. Then he said he wished he had had more time to talk about the issues. I asked him what he felt he missed and he said “talking about terror.” David Wade explained that he wanted to talk more about terrorism and his unique credentials to be commander in chief in this post-Sept. 11 world. As for the new, improved John Kerry, he was more focused on special interests and health care but I thought his appearance at this debate was like those in the past -- not a winner or a loser.

Oy. That's a bit, ah, neutral, isn't it? I keep seeing articles talking about how Clark's history isn't littered with happy colleagues--but how about Kerry's campaign staff (and this embed)? Not particularly wowed by the senator, it seems.

On the other hand, maybe the poor embed was just getting tired of the debates. Lord knows I am. I look forward to Iowa so we can get this show on the road.

posted by Jeff | 10:41 AM |

Barbarians at the Gates:

Royal officials are now in touch with the Queen's insurers and Prime Minister Tony Blair to find out who will pick up the massive repair bill. Palace staff said they had never seen the Queen so angry as when she saw how her perfectly-mantained lawns had been churned up after being turned into helipads with three giant H landing markings for the Bush visit.

The rotors of the President's Marine Force One helicopter and two support Black Hawks damaged trees and shrubs that had survived since Queen Victoria's reign.

posted by Jeff | 8:15 AM |

Monday, November 24, 2003  

Update on the American Consensus Documentary

After an initial push, I've gotten something in the neighborhood of 15 filmmakers who have tentatively agreed to participate in this project. In terms of geographical distribution, I have good coverage in the Northeast and West Coast (though, oddly, no Cali filmmakers), two from the South and two from Texas. What I really need is help in the Midwest. So, if you live anywhere in that massive area north of Texas, west of Colorado and east of Pennsylvania, give me a holler.

In fact, if you live anywhere, give me a holler.

I should have some web information up soon. Ultimately, I might try to create a multimedia project with the footage I receive--which will definitely exceed screen time by a factor of ten or greater. In the meantime, go here to learn more about the project, or email me.

posted by Jeff | 9:47 PM |

You might have noticed that I've spent the day gingerly avoiding any talk of this Medicare bill. Trying to polish the apple by talking about draft dodging and Kucinich's immanent selection as the Dem candidate. It's because I'm a little to sick to write about it. (That's a metaphoric sickness, unlike the real sicknesses people will be more vulnerable to after this horrid beast goes through.) My own senator, who was before that my congressman, and who was before that a celebrated local politician in the People's Republic of Portland--even he couldn't be counted on to oppose this bill. (That's Ron Wyden, by the way.) Hesiod does a pretty good job of characterizing my feelings:

R.I.P. DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well...I may as well hang up my keyboard, and close down this blog.

The dumbass Senate Democrats, mislead by Tom Daschle have handed the 2004 election to George W. Bush and the Republican party.

I am so utterly disgusted right now, I can hardly type.

The Democrats aren't an opposition party. They are a supplication party.

The Democratic Party is in such disarray that the DNC is trying to lobby citizens to sign a petition blocking the legislation. Addressed to Bush and the GOP, the petition reads:

Your Medicare privatization bill is a raw deal for America's seniors. I oppose your attempts to undermine Medicare through privatization, and I demand real health care reform and a real prescription drug benefit. It's time for you to scrap your bill written by the big drug companies and the big insurance companies and start over. Take the lead from Democrats and fight for real reform.

Apparently the Dems didn't get the memo. Nice, the national party is trying to organize the people to oppose a horrible piece of legislation that the party itself doesn't even have the cojones to oppose. That's disarray. Even before the debate, aforementioned Wyden, along with Daschle and Feinstein, had declared they supported the legislation, so forget about hoping for a filibuster.

A dark day indeed for Democrats.

posted by Jeff | 1:34 PM |

This morning, Josh Marshall notes that he's surprised at Dick Gephardt's strong numbers.

When Gephardt threw his hat in the ring last November I mocked him rather mercilessly. But the biggest news I've seen of late was the early November Des Moines Register poll which showed Gephardt opening up a 7 point lead over Dean.

On the other hand, as the frontrunner and with the kind of campaign he's running -- one geared to grassroots support -- Dean needs to win there too. Wearing the frontrunner crown changes all the expectations. A Gephardt win in Iowa would be a very big deal on a number of counts.

I'm not surprised. Even losing some support among unions, it was clear Gephardt was going to run a strong campaign. As much as we focus on polls, it's wise to remember that polls reflect far less well than infastructure--and Gephardt has a huge advantage there. In early October, I ranked the candidates based on how well they'd do in the primaries and general election (compared to each other). I had Gep ranked number two in the primaries. I think that still applies.

Interestingly, although I had Clark at three in both polls, I agree with Josh's analysis of his campaign: he's stronger now.

On Clark, a few weeks back I said that Clark had no campaign, no message, not no nuthin', but close. Now, he finally seems to have one. He's running ads, showing up on the shows -- the fundraising is decent. He gave a solid foreign policy speech and, in general, his operation is putting together a clear and consistent message.

Below are revised rankings. First number is rank in the primaries, second is the rank in the general. For what it's worth, I think the only candidates who wouldn't beat Bush are Lieberman, Sharpton, and Braun.

1) Dean (1, 1)
2) Clark (3, 2)
3) Gephardt (2, 5)
4) Kerry (4, 3)
5) Kucinich (5, 5)
6) Edwards (6, 6)
7) Braun (7, 7)
8) Lieberman (8, 8)
9) Sharpton (9, 9)

October Rankings
1) Dean (1, 1)
2) Clark (3, 3)
3) Edwards (4, 2)
4) Gephardt (2, 5)
5) Kucinich (6, 4)
6) Kerry (5, 6)
7) Braun (7, 7)
8) Lieberman (8, 8)
9) Sharpton (9, 9)

Quick thoughts. Unless something changes, Dean is still the man to beat. Kerry and Edwards are in weaker positions than 6 weeks ago--Kerry's campaign is faltering (he's trailing in NH and Massachusetts), and Edwards has failed to find a message. Both handled the Dean confederate-flag snafu badly, but that hurt Edwards the most. Gephard plugs along and with a little wind, could beat Dean in the primaries. He's running a classic shoe-leather campaign; hard work, avoiding gaffes.

I don't expect anyone to agree with where I have Kucinich. I know that conventional wisdom has him dead. But after Dean and Gephardt, I believe he has the broadest base of voters actively working for him. He's started to get press as the one candidate who opposes staying in Iraq (a view I don't hold), and he's distinguished himself on economic issues as well. Other second-tier candidates have no such unique messages.

Lieberman is absolutely dead, and I don't care what the national polls say. He's polling well because he received 50 million votes in 2000, but he is a candidate with no consituency. If people are as moderate as Joe, they're behind Bush; if they're even remotely critical of Bush, they're not going to hoist the Lieberman flag.

Clark is a wild card. I buried him a month ago, but I think it was premature. If he can hang around in the upper tier long enough to get a campaign on track, he could be the good-looking moderate that election-day voters might go for. I doubt seriously he'll stir stong emotions among the base, but he might back into the nomination anyway--but Dean will have to stumble first.

posted by Jeff | 11:23 AM |

Dean has admitted to dodging the draft. Is this a serious problem?

Howard Dean, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has admitted dodging the Vietnam draft, obtaining a medical deferment for a back condition and then spending 10 months skiing.

Asked if he could have served 33 years ago despite his back condition, Dean told the New York Times: "I guess that's probably true. I mean, I was in no hurry to get into the military."

My guess is that this will be the most damaging in the primaries, but probably not particularly so even there. And in a general election, you could make the argument that it will work to his advantage. As the war in Iraq grows worse by the day, and stories of poor treatment of soldiers become more common, parallels between Iraq and Vietnam will become increasingly obvious. This will bring into sharp focus the judgment of a government who didn't seriously consider an optional war. Dean can point out that bad policy is bad policy, and it's not unreasonable for young men and women to want to avoid having to pay the price for the failures of arrogant chickenhawks. And of course, if Bush presses the draft-dodging issue too hard, he will open himself to criticisms of his own embarrassing military record. So I think Dean will weather this storm.

On the other hand, you might reasonably see this as further evidence that Dennis Kucinich as the superior candidate. Not that I'm, you know, partisan or anything.

posted by Jeff | 7:53 AM |

Saturday, November 22, 2003  

There's quite a debate going on about the Dems and gay marriage at Open Source Politics, should you care to weigh in.

Big doin's in Congress, which I've barely had time to consider. It looks to me like we're about to go into the One Year War. Salvos have been fired, lines have been drawn, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the cops called in again. Gonna be ugly and probably morbidly fascinating.

Prediction: this will arouse exactly no outrage or even interest outside the blogosphere:

More than three dozen of President Bush's major fundraisers are affiliated with companies that stand to benefit from the passage of two central pieces of the administration's legislative agenda: the energy and Medicare bills.

The energy bill provides billions of dollars in benefits to companies run by at least 22 executives and their spouses who have qualified as either "Pioneers" or "Rangers," as well as to the clients of at least 15 lobbyists and their spouses who have achieved similar status as fundraisers. At least 24 Rangers and Pioneers could benefit from the Medicare bill as executives of companies or lobbyists working for them, including eight who have clients affected by both bills....

The energy and Medicare bills were drafted with the cooperation of representatives from dozens of industries. Power and energy company officials; railroad CEOs; pharmaceutical, hospital association and insurance company executives; and the lobbyists who represent them are among those who have supported the bills and whose companies would benefit from their passage.

This is, of course, not unreported and has already failed to elicit a raised eyebrow from the average American (Nicholas Confessore has a great article about the power of K Street lobbying on exactly this topic). But somehow the flood of money back and forth between corporations and the White House seems wholly natural to most Americans. Care to lay odds that you'll hear about this as an election issue? I'll give you 10-1 against.

posted by Jeff | 6:22 PM |

I was recently chastized for turning to the sports card, but what'cha gonna do? In the 107th meeting of the Civil War, the Oregon Ducks beat the Oregon State Beavers, salvaging a pretty good year. Congratulations, Ducks!

(But let's just not talk about those "Lightning Yellow" uniforms....)

posted by Jeff | 5:26 PM |

Friday, November 21, 2003  

It looks like I'm not going to get an edition of Friday Satire up today, due to busy-ness. ANd so, let me ask you all something by way of misdirection. What are your favorite blogs? I've been bogged down lately by not being able to discover any new ones. There are just too many, and predictably, most aren't that interesting to me (blogs by their nature being idiosyncratic). But maybe someone else has some suggestions. Seen anything I should know about?

Oh, and while I'm asking around, what are your thoughts about Open Source Politics? I really loved the idea, but I don't think we've hit on the right formula. Any thoughts as to what's not right, what improvements might be made?

posted by Jeff | 2:37 PM |

Well, this was inevitable:

After months of sustained attacks against President Bush in Democratic primary debates and commercials, the Republican Party is responding this week with its first advertisement of the presidential race, portraying Mr. Bush as fighting terrorism while his potential challengers try to undermine him with their sniping....

With somber strings playing in the background, the commercial flashes the words "Strong and Principled Leadership" before cutting to Mr. Bush standing before members of Congress. Intended to call out the Democrats for their opposition to Mr. Bush's military strategy of pre-emptively striking those who pose threats to the nation, the screen flashes "Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others," then urges viewers to tell Congress "to support the president's policy of pre-emptive self defense."

posted by Jeff | 11:19 AM |

The NY Times paperback nonfiction list demonstrates that America is Cuckoo for Kucinich.

Kucinich. (Thunder's Mouth/Nation, $11.95.)

"Kucinich is the man to light the fire" (Studs Terkel)

Yes folks, it's time to ride the K Train!

posted by Jeff | 11:05 AM |

The ground for justifying the Iraq war diminishes by the day. That, of course, does not stall the President's confidence--no matter how well or badly things are going, he's convinced invasion was the proper course of action.

Our shared work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq is essential to the defeat of global terrorism. The spread of freedom and the hope it brings is the surest way in the long-term to combat despair and anger and resentment that feeds terror. The advance of freedom and hope in the greater Middle East will better the lives of millions of that region, and increase the security of our own people.

Before the war, there were several half-assed arguments: WMD, oppression, Al Qaeda links, and spreading democracy. All but the notion of spreading democracy have proven to have been formulations based on bad, raw data mined from the CIA--or outright lies--and now he's left with this "spreading democracy" argument. But no matter how blithely he expresses confidence that the ripples of equality and liberty are spreading throughout the Mideast, reality holds the trump card. Bombings in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq show that the opposite is happening: fanatacism is spreading.

Sometimes intention doesn't matter. Whether Bush was wagging the dog or really believed that invasion would lead to democracy is of little interest now. Each morning I lurch into wakefulness with the reports of yet another catastrophic bombing. This morning, an analyst mentioned how little affected Bush and Blair seemed by the throngs of people marching against the war. It seems almost a point of pride to Bush not to listen to the people. This appears to be the biggest botched operation in US foreign policy history.

It's wierd, in the back of my mind, I keep waiting for the adult to step forward and say, "all right, George, that's enough. Let someone else handle it from here." I guess I'll be waiting another year, though.

posted by Jeff | 8:31 AM |

Thursday, November 20, 2003  

Last night, Stephen King was honored at the National Book Awards for his "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters." It was a controversial selection; past winners have included Arthur Miller and Philip Roth, but also Oprah Winfrey (1999). So, is this an appalling sell-out by a media-funded foundation (as the National Book Foundation is), or an admirable nod of the head to a man who has, if not exactly enriched the American literary canon, at least promoted it? Well, to this question, we have a fairly clear answer: sell out. It appears the National Book Foundation was trying to get a little press. (It worked.) From a Times article two months ago:

In interviews board members and the executive director of the foundation said they chose to honor Mr. King for a host of reasons: his storytelling skill, his promotion of less-established writers, his donations to libraries and schools and the sheer volume of his work, which has found a multitude of readers. Although the honor denotes a contribution to American letters, several board members said they also considered the cultural influence of his many works adapted for film and television....

Several board members said they believed it was time that the awards began to define "American letters" more broadly than just the kind of literary fiction read by an elite.

"It has to take more chances, and it has to explore different areas of writing," said Isisara Bey, a new board member who is also vice president of corporate affairs at the music division of Sony

A subsequent question--and a more interesting one--is: so what? Why should we care about whether the publishers of American literature are selling out? It's partly interesting because it's at the heart of a culture war. You would expect the King selection to ignite delicious derision from the likes of Harold Bloom, and you'd be right. So:

THE DECISION to give the National Book Foundation's annual award for "distinguished contribution" to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis. The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat. If this is going to be the criterion in the future, then perhaps next year the committee should give its award for distinguished contribution to Danielle Steel, and surely the Nobel Prize for literature should go to J.K. Rowling.

But it's not just that culture wars are fun--there's something else here. Bloom can be dismissed, at least partly, because he refuses to admit that there are writers not educated at Oxford or Harvard who are every bit a match to his beloved Kipling and Keats (all right, maybe not Keats), and that some of them have pushed literature back towards pop fiction. Bloom's always been at the center of things because he loves to conflate culture and the arts, and people love to attack him for it.

But substantially, I agree with him here. The real question is whether literature and pop fiction are different. It's a question the postmodern critique has dealt a punishing blow. If art is subjective, why can't we call pulp fiction literature? But the postmodern critique doesn't argue that all definitions are useless--subjectivity doesn't mean we call science fiction science, for example. Literature and pop fiction are different--as different as literature is from poetry. This isn't a subjective statement--they're intentionally different; they're not just two ends of quality on the same spectrum, they're actually different things altogether.

Literature is an art, and this means using sophisticated and original techniques to communicate something more complex than plot. When an author creates a novel, she isn't trying to tell a story, she's trying to deepen understanding. The plot is one of several elements--metaphor, symbol, form, themes among others--that accomplishes this. Pop fiction, on the other hand is only trying to tell a story. We call pop fiction "genre fiction" for a reason--the "genre" describes the form and parameters of the story. Working within a genre means conforming to those standards.

Stephen King is a quintessential pop fiction writer. In book after book he's honed his structure so that there's absolutely no deviation. No one is seriously going to argue there's some deeper meaning, some kind of complexity, to a Stephen King book. What's the basis for judging a Stephen King novel? Whether it's got an interesting story or not, right? Definitionally, that is pop fiction.

What's sad about the National Book Foundation's award isn't that they honored King, though. It's that they yet again missed an opportunity to engage a new generation of literature readers. Folks like Bloom decry the death of literature in America, and he's hard to argue with. Despite the dozens of MFA programs across the country, the state of American literature is dismal (now that's a subjective statement). But look elsewhere and literature is thriving. Each year I study the Booker short list, knowing that I'll enjoy four of the five novels nominated--and yet probably won't have heard of more than one or two of the authors.

If the National Book Foundation wanted to boost sales and get a lot of press, it should be promoting risky, bold literature, not tired pop fiction. In his condemnation of the King nomination, Bloom used the Harry Potter series to make an astute point: "'Harry Potter' will not lead our children on to Kipling's Just So Stories or his Jungle Book." And neither will reading Stephen King encourage readers to pick up Roddy Doyle, Philip Roth, or Stephen Millhauser. The reason isn't because King's not good enough--it's because he's writing in a different genre. You might as reasonably expect readers of the Dalai Lama to pick up the new Peter Carey. The saddest part of the whole story is that the publishers who back the National Book Foundation seem not to know that. Is it any wonder they're not publishing relevant literature?

posted by Jeff | 11:27 AM |

Lilith Devlin takes Republicans to task for their misuse of the word "lynching."

In this case, the conservatives' repeated use of the word "lynching" to describe legitimate parliamentary opposition to administration nominees (many of whom themselves have dubious racial skeletons in their professional closets) is designed for one reason only: to attempt to paint Democrats, who in the last century have represented the interests of people of color far more thoroughly and consistently than the GOP, as racists. Of course, they all - and Hatch and Rove in particular - seem blessedly oblivious of any sense of the irony in using "lynching" to describe opposing a white Protestant male from Mississippi.

Good stuff.

posted by Jeff | 9:01 AM |

Wednesday, November 19, 2003  

Look at this and see if you can identify a pattern:

posted by Jeff | 4:39 PM |

A few more words on gay marriage (but not by me).

Kucinich: "Hey, who should care? I mean, if two people love each other and they want to get married, what difference should it make? I mean, why would anyone be concerned about who someone else marries? I mean, think about it." (From spokesman David Swanson: "He sees this as a civil rights issue and there should be absolutely no question that the Democratic Party should stand for civil rights. It’s a clear cut civil rights issue and not something to compromise on or play political strategy or political tactics with.")

Dean: "As governor of Vermont, I was proud to sign the nation’s first law establishing civil unions for same-sex couples. Today, the Massachusetts Court appears to have taken a similar approach to the Vermont Supreme Court and its decision that led to our civil unions law. One way or another, the state should afford same-sex couples equal treatment under law in areas such as health insurance, hospital visitation and inheritance rights. There will be those who try to use the decision today to divide Americans. Instead, this decision should be viewed as an opportunity to affirm what binds us together — a fundamental belief in the equality of human beings, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation."

Clark: "As president, I would support giving gays and lesbians the legal rights that married couples get. If the Massachusetts legislature decides to legalize same-sex marriages, it will be up to each state to decide whether those marriages will be valid in their state — and that is a choice each state, not the courts, will have to make."

Lieberman: Issued a statement (not available on his website) in which he said he doesn't support gay marriage, but "will oppose any attempts by the right wing to change the Constitution in response to today’s ruling, which would be unnecessary and divisive."

Kerry: According to press secretary David Wade, he believes that "a that marriage is between a man and a woman." Quixotically, he also believes his civil rights "record on it is stronger than other people in the field."

Edwards: "While I personally do not support gay marriage, I recognize that different states will address this in different ways, and I will oppose any effort to pass an amendment to the United States Constitution in response to the Massachusetts decision."

[Update: Gephardt: "While I support civil unions for same-sex couples, I also support the right of states to make decisions regarding the protections afforded same-sex couples. I do not support gay marriage, but I hope the Massachusetts State Legislature will act in a manner that is consistent with today’s Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling. As we move forward, it is my hope that we don’t get side-tracked by the right wing into a debate over a phony constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I strongly oppose such an effort as purely political and unnecessarily divisive at the expense of those who already suffer from discrimination."]

posted by Jeff | 1:28 PM |


[Update, 11:11 am: rain.]

[Update, 11/20: documentation.]

posted by Jeff | 10:22 AM |

The Bush visit gives English newspapers an opportunity to review his presidency. I spent some time this morning reviewing what they're saying.

The Independent is rich with news. As with everyone, they have a story on the reporter who got employment as a footman. But they have have done the best survey of articles on administration policies--most of which they find troubling.

But lawyers and activists say the prisoners - to whom the Bush administration refuses to grant the protection of the Geneva Conventions - face a form of psychological torture by being refused information about their future or access to legal advice. There are regular reports of suicide attempts among the prisoners and recently Commander Louis Louk, the officer in charge of the prison's hospital, revealed that one in five of the prisoners received medication for what he termed "clinical depression".

Steel Tariffs
The Chancellor said it would be "extremely unfortunate" if the EU and US found themselves in a "tit-for-tat protectionist war" reminiscent of previous disputes that hit the sale of goods, including bananas, clementines and cashmere sweaters.

The environment represents a widening chasm between the United States and Britain. America has been criticised for years by green campaigners and George Bush has made it worse.

At the heart of the complaints is the huge, and many think, profligate US consumption of natural resources, with energy the most important of all. America uses nearly twenty times as much energy as India.

Other coverage:

The Scotsman
With tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators planning to converge on the city, more than 5,000 police officers working 14,000 shifts will protect the presidential entourage.

The estimated £8 million cost of the operation and the disruption caused by the exceptional security measures have clouded what was planned as a celebration of the special relationship between Britain and the US.

A discordant note was struck by Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, who said the cost of the state visit would add £2 to the average council tax bills of Londoners.

"I think most Londoners would be happy to give £4 for him not to come," said Mr Livingstone, who also urged people to take to the streets in protest at the "illegal" war in Iraq.

The Times
Last-minute security fears have led to Mr Bush, whose Secret Service codename is Trailblazer, cancelling his only major public appearance during his three days in London. The President has hurriedly dropped plans to meet the families of the British victims of the September 11 attacks, at the memorial garden outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square this afternoon. This event would have been the longest time that Mr Bush was in public view and the closest that he would have got to wellwishers and demonstrators.

The official reason for the sudden change of heart is that Mr Bush wants this emotional meeting with the families to take place away from the public glare, so that their private talks will now be held inside the heavily fortified embassy. The President agreed to this change just before he boarded Air Force One to begin his journey....

This means that apart from his official welcome from the Queen in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace this morning, all the public will see of Mr Bush is him getting in and out of his armour-plated car after a 100-yard drive from the side of the Palace to the front.

The Mirror's famous security article
The security scandal will send shock waves across the world. Our investigation exposes the serious flaws in the £10million security operation to protect Mr Bush.

Our probe began less than two months after police vowed royal security had been tightened following “comedy terrorist” Aaron Barscak’s gatecrashing of Prince William’s 21st birthday at Windsor Castle.

But it was the ease with which Parry, 26, got the job that is so shocking. His credentials were never properly checked, although a simple search on the internet would have shown his name and picture next to another Mirror investigation he carried out last summer into security at the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

posted by Jeff | 9:19 AM |

Seventy-five words about gay marriage

The issue of gay marriage is not: a religious issue, a moral issue, or a medical issue. When the idea is assailed, it is generally for one of these reasons. Gay marriage, like interracial marriage, is a legal issue. The question isn't whether gays have the right to marry, but whether the offence taken by bigots has sufficient shield in the states' and US Constitution to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. It does not.

Update, 11/19: Tom Toles

posted by Jeff | 7:55 AM |

Tuesday, November 18, 2003  

Hey, are any of you getting this email from Krugman's publicist? Apparently he's alerted them to the fact that we in the blogosphere follow his pronouncements fairly closely--which is fine, as he follows ours, too.

Dear Friends,

A number of you have helped turn Paul Krugman’s THE GREAT UNRAVELING into one of the publishing sensations of the season. We thank you and particularly Paul thanks you. However, many of you have asked, “But what else can we do to encourage a regime change in Washington?”

We think there are three things anybody can do:

1. Give a copy to your local library – college and school libraries are especially appreciative of donations.

2. Order another copy for those in your network who are sitting on the fence and need a little help in determining the extent of the damages wrought by the Bush administration. has a nice price on the book right now:

3. Forward this message to other like-minded people who might not have bought the book just yet.

As Molly Ivins says, "You need to read this book, and when you do, you’ll find there’s only one possible response: it’s time to get mad, for most of the media are in denial about how far the takeover of this country by the radical right has already progressed."

Thanks so much,

Monteiro and Company

I really hope they sent this email to Tom. No doubt he's off donating copies at the local library now. (That's Tom Maguire, the anti-Krugman, who has his usual Tuesday Krugman post up. All right, no more links for you.)

posted by Jeff | 3:02 PM |

Via a network of bloggers (link train below), we learned yesterday that Wes Clark and Fox News tangled on Sunday (or yesterday?). I've been a little hard on Clark, but the way he handled this exchange was extraordinary, and may offer a solution to the constant spin of the media. Listen (edited for brevity; link to full transcript below):

FOX: On the Meet the Press you said something about Iraq. You said "President Bush has said (the war in Iraq) is the centerpiece for the war on terror. It isn't. It's a sideshow. It's simply their easiest means of access to attack American soldiers. That's all it is." You really think that Iraq is only a sideshow?

CLARK: For the war on terror it's a terrible distraction and we should have gone directly after Osama Bin Laden. Let's be clear about what happened. This administration decided to go to war against Saddam Hussein, or at least to set all the plans in motion, while we were still bombing Afghanistan and when Tommy Franks should have been challenged to come up with the plans to finish the job against Osama Bin Laden. He was apparently preparing plans to brief the president and secretary of defense on Iraq. We let Osama bin Laden get away. He's there in the mountains of Western Pakistan. Newsweek magazine can find him. I don't know why we can't. And I propose we have a joint US-Saudi force to go after Osama bin Laden. Let's finish this job on terrorism.

FOX: Excuse me just one minute... I just want to add onto that. While our men and women are dying in Iraq is it proper to call it a sideshow?

CLARK: Our men and women in Iraq are doing a fabulous job. They're doing a great job. I love them. I respect them and I honor them and. My problem is with the president of the united states. He's the one responsible for this. As he told us. He was going to make the decision when to go to war. He did. Our men and women are doing everything their country has asked them to do. But for the war on terror it's not the right thing that we should ask them to do. Don't you dare twist words into disrespect for the men and women in uniform. I love those men and women. I gave 34 years of my life to them. You better take my words the right way...

FOX: One thing our military advisors have assured us is that there is nothing but respect that one should have for your military career and for your respect for those who are now in the military. As a father of a marine, we both share that respect for men and women in the military. So don't get me wrong on that. I just wanted to make clear what you mean by that statement which you made. I just quoted your own statement.

CLARK: I think you're trying to distort my meaning. I want to make it very clear, and I think you've said I made it clear. The sideshow is not the men and women in uniform. It is the leadership of the president of the united states who would get us into this. And I think we need to be very straight in covering this. I'm not afraid to say what's right and wrong in this country. And I'm speaking out, David. And I'm telling you this. That war in Iraq is a war that did not have to be fought.

FOX: All right, General, Again. We uh... We were just reading back your statements. I'm sorry you got so upset at.. at our having done that. But that's all we did. We didn't have any implication beyond that.

CLARK: You did have an implication. [unintelligble] I find it very unfair.

FOX: No, general. We were just trying to figure out what it was that you meant.

CLARK: Well you got it now.

What's remarkable here is that Clark managed two things: he understood 1) what was being misrepresented, and 2) why. Fox was playing the old "you ain't no stinkin' patriot" game, hoping Clark would back off his statements. I imagine it's hard in the moment to identify how you're being duped and respond to the smear behind the fake question (Dean's been caught a number of times). But Clark did exactly the right thing: he identified the smear, called Fox on it, and embarrassed them into backing off. I hope liberals and Democratic candidates take notice of this; it's a winning strategy to beating the slimeball tactics of Fox and Co.

Initial post: Josh Marshall
Calpundit update, with a link to
The Clark Sphere, with a transcription of the interview

posted by Jeff | 11:51 AM |

Has Tom Maguire gone Cuckoo for Kucinich? I think not: he's just trying to get the radicals on Dean's case to stop what he clearly feels is a juggernaut headed straight at his listing Prez. Yet Kucinich himself isn't even targeting Dean:

He told of collecting the pictures of soldiers killed in Vietnam from their families, so the paper could use them for obituaries. “This is the moment,” he said, using his now-familiar campaign phrase, “where we can reconnect with the world community,” noting in a nod to the rest of the field, “every candidate is ready to go forward to create a new America.” Exiting the stage area he flashed the audience a peace sign.

And not only that, but Tom's got the wrong juggernaut. There is indeed a moving trailer reserved with 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. written on the "destination" line, but it ain't Dean whose gonna be drivin'. We Kucitizens are merely lying in wait to spring the revolution on America come February. Deanies will then get on board the DK truck...

(He does, however, warrant a nod for apparently coining the phrase "Cuckoo for Kucinich," which I will hereafter use as often as possible.)

posted by Jeff | 10:47 AM |

Dick Cheney met secretly with his energy cronies and refused to tell Congress what they talked about. Republicans met privately and drafted a 1,700-page energy bill that they only on Saturday let Democrats see. And Republicans have scheduled exactly one hour for Democrats to debate this legislation today. So who's responsible for this train-wreck legislation?

Call me wacky, but: the Dems.

Republicans have become a force of nature. There's no logic, no thought, no explanation--nothing but unapologetic swaths of destruction. From the moment George Bush nominated John Ashcroft--a man so unpopular voters prefered to elect a dead man--Dems have chosen to cower at the force of Republican aggression, thinking only of their tiny little fiefdoms.

If the energy bill isn't filibustered, it will be because timid midwestern Senators don't have the courage to stand up to this legislation. There's a super-lame layer of ethanol pork in there as a bribe to these senators. Never mind that the energy savings the ethanol might produce will be off-set by the energy needed to produce the ethanol in the first place. It's corn pork for farm-fed Dems, and they're considering lamely taking it and screwing the party.

It's no wonder Karl Rove man-handles the Dems. He knows that the most damaging legislation can be rammed through if just enough of the craven Dems can be peeled off the herd with a few meager scraps of pork. Meanwhile, Denny Hastert runs the House with DeLay's iron fist, and the Republicans never waver.

This energy bill is obscene. It offers a wonderful opportunity for the Dems to expose the worst excesses of a secretive, crony-based, kickback-funded, corrupt leadership. But narrow self-interest, fear, and weakness, and disloyalty threatens to undermine them again. Is it any wonder Democratic voters are ready for an angry Howard Dean?

posted by Jeff | 8:32 AM |

Monday, November 17, 2003  

I want to bring a case to your attention with as much sensitivity as I can. Yesterday, a 37-year-old man was removed from a ventilator. The reason this is significant is that he was on the ventilator because the State of Oregon cut his state-paid epilepsy medication in the midst of our budget crisis, sending him into seizure and causing massive brain damage.

The reason for this tragedy was unbending ideology and stupidity (here's that sensitivity part). In a state plagued by anti-tax fervor, Republicans refused to prop up massive budget shortfalls caused by their own (and Democrats') mismanagement, instead allowing extremely vulnerable people like this man to lose medication, be denied services, or be thrown out of state-supported institutions.

In February, Republicans signed on with other radical anti-tax fanatics to defeat a stopgap ballot measure that would have prevented the worst of these cuts. They claimed in their (extremely well-funded) advertisements that the legislature was just lazy--the money was there, they just needed the incentive to find it. (We're talking something like 20% shortfalls.) After the election, one particularly adamant fanatic, well-known anti-taxer Don McIntire, said: "We've had months and months of talk of calamity if Measure 28 failed. Now I want to see the calamity."

Again, there's the issue of sensitivity, but I'm going to say it, anyway: see it yet, Don?

(Of course, we lost police officers, turned out criminals, quit hearing criminal cases, and massively cut social services, too.)

The most maddening thing is, of course, that the anti-taxers' arguments were so wholly disengenous. Cutting off people's medication does not save a state money. It costs infinitely more financially, not to mention the cost in terms of human life.

Schmidt's seizure came a month after he and thousands of other Oregonians lost their prescription-drug benefit because of state budget cuts. In Schmidt's case, the state stopped paying for two drugs, including Lamictal, an antiseizure medication that costs $13 a day. He ran out of pills eight to 10 days before his seizure, his family said.

His hospital bill for the first five weeks ran 64 pages and totaled $272,364 -- about $7,200 a day. That does not count doctor fees. His care in the convalescent homes costs about $7,000 a month, not including several much more expensive hospitalizations. The total bill is likely in the $1 million range, his family said.

How Schmidt's medical costs will be paid is not clear, but taxpayers will foot the bill in one form or another. Payers include federal Medicare, because Schmidt was covered by Social Security Disability, and the state Office of Medical Assistance Programs. And hospitals may have to write off part of the bill as "uncompensated care," a loss that eventually leads to higher insurance premiums for everyone.

This is the kind of governance you get when the idealogues control the conversation--whether they be leaders in the Taliban or nuts like McIntire. The worst part is, it's unlikely he or any of those failed lawmakers will ever be held to account. Somehow, they'll still try to blame it on Democratic mismanagement.

posted by Jeff | 4:35 PM |

"My goal, should I become president, is to keep the peace.... I intend to do so by strengthening alliances, which says, 'America cannot go alone.' We must be peacemakers, not peacekeepers."

--George W. Bush, December 1999

posted by Jeff | 1:50 PM |

Well said and astute:

On his visit to London this week, President Bush is likely to be greeted by as many as 100,000 demonstrators objecting to the United States' policy in Iraq.

U.S. presidents visiting England on a state visit typically ride with the queen in an open carriage to Buckingham Palace, but it was concluded that it would be better for Bush to travel in an armored limousine flown in from the United States. Presidents often deliver a formal address to Parliament, but this time it was cancelled out of concern that Bush might get heckled -- as happened when he spoke to Parliament in Australia.

Imagine if Bush were visiting someplace where the United States weren't so popular.

posted by Jeff | 1:48 PM |

Conference miscellania

Gather 150 of the wonkiest, most engaged liberals for a weekend, and you notice some interesting themes. I jotted down a few.

I hate to say it, but blogs may not be quite as influential as we imagine. I would guess that fewer than half the people I spoke to knew what they were, and the half that did were generally younger and often connected to Dean. Of those who knew what blogs were, some far smaller percentage actually read them on a regular basis. (With luck, a few more will be reading them in the future.)

I heard Wal-Mart used as an example of just about every evil at the conference: employment abuses, rural opportunism, environmental decline, drain on the economy, and on and on. Most of the time, the metaphors were right on. I'm not sure what to make of it.

Party decline
There were a lot of Democrats at the conference. Former Secretary of State Phil Kiesling, Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio, County Commissioner Diane Linn, and members of Democratic parties from across the state were all there, but there was little confidence that Democrats would emerge as the agents of change.

You will not be surprised to learn Dean was the big fave. A few Clarkies and a few Kucitizens, but mostly people are pinning their hopes on the Doc.

American flags
I'm not sure what this means either, but I saw nary a flag at the conference, nor much red, white, and blue. This was a group extremely committed to trying to save the country (that is the literal view most of us have), and yet overt signs of rah-rah patriotism were absent.

posted by Jeff | 10:07 AM |

There's an absurd scene in Scarface when a heavily coked Pacino is riddled by four hundred bullets. The fire dies down, and Pacino looks out at his surprised attackers and screams, "I'm still standin here! I'm still standin here!" Roughly speaking, this is how I've felt as a liberal in America for the past few years. Maybe you have, too.

Well my little Tony Montanas, I've got good news. This weekend I went to the Engage Oregon Conference , which was organized by a two-year-old grassroots group called the Oregon Bus Project. For about half that time, I've sat behind this computer, wondering aloud why people don't take obvious action: campaign finance reform, reaching out to rural America, embracing positive, progressive solutions to tax reform, the environment, health care, and equal rights. The good news is that they have. I went to the conference with a head of steam, ready to push for some initiatives I think should be happening. In every case someone had already started.

All politics are local, and so was the focus at this conference. We discussed 14 policy papers on a variety of topics and went to workshops that either informed us about issues or started the process of organizing us to act. Among the most interesting initiatives were campaign finance reform (in Oregon), a plan to split an 810-square-mile in half, dedicating one portion to sustainable logging while preserving the other half, and a large effort to reform Oregon's broken tax structure.

One big theme that ran through the center of the conference was the issue of the media. I suspect there are efforts like these happening across the country, but they get no coverage. (Even fairly interested bloggers don't know about them.) Multnomah County Commissioner Diane Linn spoke about how difficult it is for governments to get out the news of their work, as well. What results is an environment in which those working at the grassroots to create solutions for the problems are forever undermined by their inability to get out the word. I came away from the conference inspired by the real need for good reportage of these initiatives, and I'll be discussing them over on the Oregon Blog in coming days and weeks.

It's a role that will become increasingly important for bloggers to fill. Our reach as bloggers isn't very significant yet, but this is an area in which we can perform a vital function. The good work is getting done on the policy side, but it's not getting out. I hope this is something we can help with over the coming months.

posted by Jeff | 9:04 AM |

Sunday, November 16, 2003  

Update on the American Consensus project.

I just got back from a conference of progressives in Hood River, Oregon, and I'm stunned to see this response. Atrios drove a bunch of traffic, so a big shout out to him. I'm pretty much exhausted, and am going to crawl into a hot tub of water. To those who responded, I'll be in touch with you very soon.

I can't thank you all enough for your interest. I think we may have something here.

posted by Jeff | 2:37 PM |

Thursday, November 13, 2003  

Hey everybody, let's put on a show!

I'll be gone for the next three days to the Engage Oregon Conference, and so I'm going to float something out here that I've been considering. A proposal.

For the past couple years, I've been dabbling in film. An idea ocurred to me about a documentary related to politics--interviewing Americans not about their views on the issues, but on the deeper values and experiences that inform their views. Longer, in-depth interviews, getting at something that would inform politics in a larger sense (I've been calling it The American Consensus). Of course, for it to be about Americans, I'd have to interview Americans--not just, say, Oregonians. That involves a lot of time and cost--neither of which commodity do I have much of. But then I thought: why not see if there are filmmakers out there in the blogosphere who have MiniDV cams and would be willing to do some interviews.

Well, why not?

So, while I'm away, I'll leave this question with you. Are you interested? You don't need to be a professional, just someone interested in the project who has access to a (MiniDV) camcorder. That's not such a big request, is it? You'll find the proposal in its fetal form in the post below. If enough people decide to help out, we'll flesh it out so that you can feel confident the work is something you want participate in. Email me at emmasblog(at)yahoo(dot)com for any reason, and forward the following post liberally to any filmmakers you happen to know.


posted by Jeff | 2:55 PM |

The American Consensus

About the Project
The world of politics is one typically explored through views on issues and candidates. Do you approve of the President? Are you for or against abortion? Do you feel the war in Iraq is going well? The terrain of politics is mapped out based on the answers to these questions. Tune into “This Week” and you’ll hear George Will describe how the President will be re-elected if he can get enough suburban housewives who support him on the war and forgive him for his stand on abortion, for example.

But these superficial characterizations are of little value in determining how people feel about politics in the larger sense--what their values, needs, and ideas about the solutions might be. When a pollster calls, it’s like he’s asking whether the voter prefers a red shirt or a blue one. And while the voter will generally have an opinion, the question misses information that might be truly useful: does the voter even want another shirt? Maybe she'd like a sari instead. Politics are defined by the parameters set by pollsters and politicians: red shirt, blue shirt. But if we sat down and talked to Americans about politics in a very large sense, would they even mention shirts? Instead of asking about shirts, what would we learn if we asked: How do people live? What do they believe? Who do they admire? What are their priorities?

I have an assumption about politics. I think that the patterns of people’s values looks different when you scratch below the surface than it does when you ask people what they think about issues. This documentary is an effort to test that hypothesis. Is there a broader consensus among Americans that would guide better, more effective policy? What does that consensus look like?

I envision American Consensus to be a discussion with Americans. I’d like to hear from people across the country and from all different backgrounds. Initially, I thought about going out and doing the documentary myself, but this has a number of downsides. The biggest is that I wouldn’t have the time or money to interview a truly broad range of Americans. But I also don’t have access to many Americans. So then I wondered: why not see if I could get filmmakers from around the country to interview people in their communities?

Concept and Logistics
Assuming I found enough filmmakers willing to do interviews, this is how I think we’d proceed. We would all use the same questions in the interviews to ensure compatible narratives. I can start with a group I’d like, but I imagine the final list would be arrived at from the group. The film would be shot on Mini DV, because that’s all I have the knowledge to edit. While audio must be very clear (in documentaries, it’s all about the audio), I don’t think we’d need to put much limit on technical quality. External mics are usually a benefit, but single CCD cameras and ambient lighting would be fine as long as the picture quality was pretty good.

The interviews would have to be as concise as possible, but I imagine they’ll run from 15 minutes to an hour. Doing interviews is both hard and easy: easy because you’re in and out fairly quickly--no reshooting scenes 34 times; hard because as an interviewer, you’ll have to probe and ask possibly awkward questions. That can be personally draining. In addition to the interviews, some stock footage of the location of the shoot and the general region you hail from would also be handy. I would hope folks could do 3-5 interviews each. If enough filmmakers agree to do this, that will ensure a nice distribution and also allow you to get into the process. In all, you might spend ten to twenty hours setting up the interviews, getting your equipment ready, shooting stock footage, and doing the interviews. Ideally, each filmmaker would try to get a racially, economically, and demographically diverse set of interviews. If there’s enough interest, we can talk about how you’ll find your sample.

After collecting the interviews, I’d begin a rough cut. My main role in this project would be as editor, though I’d do some interviews myself. I would do my best to work with themes that emerge from your footage. Obviously, this is a subjective process, but I’d let the interviews speak to me. (So, if everyone is echoing what the Republicans have been saying about “family values” et. al., those would become the central themes.) If we’re looking for a true consensus, the interview subjects have to speak for themselves. Following that, I’ll find stock and archival footage and music to flesh out the themes, all of which can be open to contribution. Although I’ll take the lead on this, it can be as collaborative as the contributors wish.

Anyone who’s footage is used in the film will be credited up-front (we might have to think of an appropriate name); anyone who contributes footage will be credited at the end of the film. As a documentary, I naturally assume that this thing will make no money, but we’ll have some kind of contract so that if it does, you’ll be assured of seeing the fruits of your labor. (Something like: if the film makes a modest amount of money, I’ll reimburse everyone for time and effort. If it makes a more substantial profit, I’ll give a percentage to those whose footage appeared. And if it goes Michael Moore, I’ll give reimbursements, percentages, and put the rest of the money into a predetermined fund, either for political action or for filmmakers.)

About Me
I’ve made one documentary, a film called “Five Rings in Zion” about the Salt Lake Olympics and how they affected the city’s Mormon/non-Mormon populations. It showed at the New York Independent Film and Video Fest, and was, to be honest, only average. But hey, it was my first. I interviewed religious authorities, local politicians (including the mayor), scholars, journalists, and people at the Olympics, so I’ve got something of a handle on that process. I’m currently at work on another documentary about American Buddhists. Of course, you know my work here as a blogger, too.

posted by Jeff | 2:54 PM |

A friend of mine asked me today who was more prevalent in the blogosphere--righties or lefties. It's an interesting question, because statistics don't really give you the full picture. Righties are probably disproportionately represented among the most popular political blogs. This is partly because reasonable righties attract lefties; lefties rarely attract any righties. The blogosphere itself is, I think, far more liberal (two-thirds of blogs are left leaning, more?). But really, influence is the most important dimension.

I've long suspected that liberals, for a number of reasons, exercise greater influence from their blogs. Conservatives have so many other media, and are generally more vertical in organization, and so aren't particularly swayed by what a 22-year-old in Philadelphia has to say. But I've never had any evidence. Maybe this is it:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has a poll up on his website asking about Senate nominees. The poll is worded in a completely loaded way, of course, asking: "Should the Senate exercise its Constitutional duty to provide the President's judicial nominees with an up or down vote?"

What he means, of course, is "Should the Senate shirk its Constitutional duty to advise and consent on the President's judicial nominees and become nothing but a rubber stamp?"

The right answer is No, and so far, No is winning by a big margin — 86-14 as of this writing.

Obviously, this is reflective of nothing more than organization on the left flooding the system. Seems like the liberals are rallying the troops far more effectively--which in itself is somewhat instructive.

posted by Jeff | 1:41 PM |

Wes Clark wants to team with the Saudis to defeat Al Qaida. Hmmm. I'll admit that when I was in school, I was generally reading about Tolstoy and Mahavira--not foreign policy. That said, I'm pretty sure this is a really bad idea. Let's start with the obvious: what is the best-case outcome? The Saudis are going to root out Osama? Apparently, that's what Clark is thinking:

General Clark said the joint United States-Saudi commando force would be similar to groups formed by the American military and police forces in Colombia while he oversaw United States military operations in Latin America.

Again: hmmm. Columbia's our model for success with this scheme? I'm still not seeing the wisdom.

The way I see it, there are only downsides. Al Qaida's main target was initially the Saudis, whom Osama thought were traitors to his brand of Wahabism. As Afghanistan and Iraq fester with the gangrene of terror, I don't see how teaming up with the Saudis helps the situations there. But far worse is that joining with the Saudis completely undermines the US's stated goal of bringing Democracy to the region. It reeks of political expediency at the risk of long term consequences. If the US is genuinely concerned about fostering democracy in the region, it needs to team with nations at least inclined in that direction. The Saudis are probably last on that list, behind even Iran.

Clark's supposed to be the Democratic savior because of his foreign policy acumen. Fans have overlooked his skeletal domestic agenda, confident that the foreign policy issue is the one on which this election will be decided. Okay guys, here's where the rubber meets the road: what's so hot about this plan? So far the blogosphere's best known Clarkies, Kevin and Josh, have not weighed in. I'd like to hear what they have to say.

posted by Jeff | 8:58 AM |

Wednesday, November 12, 2003  

I got this via (probably mass) email, but it was amusing enough that I thought I'd pass it along.

posted by Jeff | 8:18 PM |

It is my plan, beginning next week (time frame to be explained tomorrow), to try to be a better blog citizen. I don't do as much posting about other people's posting as I should. I love getting exposure of other blogs, and what's good for the goose and all that.

Today, a couple of things. Nathan Newman quotes a conservative economist who gives voice to something I've intuited (and therefore blogged on, because what facts do I need when I've got intuition?): many of the new jobs we're seeing reflected in the statistics ain't good jobs. There's a difference.

Only a few of the 116,000 private sector jobs created in October provide good incomes: 6,000 new positions in legal services and accounting--activities that reflect corporations gearing up to protect their top executives from Sarbanes-Oxley.

The remainder of the 116,000 new jobs consist of temps, retail trade, telephone marketing, and fund raising, administrative and waste services, and private education and health services...

Many of the new jobs do not pay enough to support a family. The temp and retail jobs are 40 percent of the total...

Then, via Wampum (happy first anniversary), an interesting debate on masculinity. First, the offending article, by somebody called Kim du Toit (go to Wampum if you want the link--I choose not to juice his stats). It's the usual Michael Savage rant, poorly written, a lot of whining from a guy who doesn't seem to be dealing well with society. (The implicit irony in a long, whining rant about society not being macho always eludes these jokers.) Responding to this is Philosoraptor (one of the best blog names I've heard), with a 6,500-word opus. If nothing else, it makes me delighted to see that my blog looks like a collection of haiku by comparison. The Philosoraptor (with a nom that this Emma Goldman can appreciate: Winston Smith) gets the irony, but instead chooses to riff on something different:

"I'm torn about it also because there is, in fact, an important and true point in the essay. I’d put the point this way: we’re in danger of undervaluing virtues like courage and self-reliance that are traditionally thought of as masculine. Now, I’d add—though du Toit might not--that for almost all of human history we’ve done just the reverse, undervaluing virtues like kindness and cooperation that are traditionally thought of as feminine.

I'm not sure I agree. While there's ample evidence to support a thesis of the feminization of culture, there's ample evidence to support just about anything. We exist in the age of analysis (not, probably, information), and every idea has its day, every meme its moment. The feminization theory is one of the more potent because its promoted across the vast right-wing conspiracy.

But let's think a moment. That same right-wing network uses violent didactism as its discourse. Even the women, like Coulter, leer and lunge. Their very language is the language of hyper-masculine agression. Meantime, America's invaded two countries in the past two years, and has increasingly adopted Darwinian models of social policy. I find it rather absurd that in 2003, of all years, I'm supposed to take seriously the idea of a feminized America.

(Which is not to say that the Philosoraptor's not a great read.)

posted by Jeff | 2:14 PM |

Even when George Will talks about movies, he's wrong. Yesterday he pontificated on the nature of good casting and race, arguing that Anthony Hopkins was a reasonable choice to play Coleman Silk in The Human Stain because, well, isn't the whole point to riff on race? But jamming a very bad analogy into a prepacked defense of conservative "colorblind" race politics doesn't make Hopkins a good choice. Coleman Silk, as we're told in Roth's novel, is a sinewy, lightfooted former New York boxer (seems like he's even a lightweight, if I recall correctly). Forget race: earth-bound, clomping, chunky Hopkins fits none of those bills. Quoyle in the Shipping News would have been a good choice, and no one would confuse Quoyle and Silk. But then, art and ideology are a poor fit.

[Disclaimer: I haven't seen The Human Stain exactly because of the casting, and I'm not likely to. In fact, the casting of Nicole Kidman was equally dubious--but then Will didn't mention that.]

posted by Jeff | 12:53 PM |

Following up on that filibuster post, I just read Kristof, who touches on a similar point. But although I find his thoughts to be among the most careful and insightful--and least reactionary--being written, I think he's off the mark today. It's a kitchen-sink post that conflates a couple of very key issues. His main point is that anger is bad for the Democrats--they need to have a positive message to give to the public. This is a good point, and one I've made before--anger alone isn't a platform.

The left should have learned from Newt Gingrich that rage impedes understanding — and turns off voters. That's why President Bush was careful in 2000, unlike many in his party, to project amiability and optimism.

But what Kristof fails to distinguish is that authentic anger is a very different thing than mock outrage. Newt Gingrich was swept into office precisely because of his anger. His mistake wasn't in getting angry, it was in not cooling off and moving to the people's business.

America's temper is slowly rising. Republicans have the Presidency and both houses of Congress and yet still push the most violent form of partisan politics. Democratic anger isn't some kind of fetishwear, like the flight suit the President donned, to woo voters--it's the real thing. America's being hijacked, and Democrats are finally doing something about it. What people seem to miss is that the Democrats for the first time do have a plan, and it's starting to look mighty cohesive. Part of the reason the Democratic Presidential race has bored Americans is because there aren't huge policy differences. They don't disagree dramatically on the economy, social services, or the war, so are left to squabble about style or details.

Anger is sometimes good. If the colonists hadn't gotten mad enough to dump tea into the Boston Harbor, who knows what might have happened. You just have to have more than anger. You just have to have a plan to channel the anger into change.

(As to Kristof's other sidebar about religion, that's an issue too, but it was odd he threw it into this article.)

posted by Jeff | 9:01 AM |

While the Democrats filibuster, the Republicans will howl. It will be the superbowl of spin. Racism, obsrtuctionism, partisanism--all will be trundled out to win the battle behind the battle. Over the past 3 years, it's something on the order of Republicans 297 and Dems nothing. Maybe it's finally time that America regards the Dems as something other than treasonous dogs: Bush's decisions thus far haven't been exactly red-hot. Maybe America is willing to trust the Dems' judgment on this one.

posted by Jeff | 7:47 AM |

Tuesday, November 11, 2003  

A couple of Veteran's Day thoughts

Almost sixty years ago, my father appropriated his older brother's birth certificate, stole out into the early morning, and joined the marines. He was fifteen and he didn't tell his parents. A few months later, he was on a boat headed for China, but then the last world war ended, so he had to wait to see action (not, unfortunately, as long as he might have expected). He revered his own father, much as I revered him, and his father was a marine, as was his father's father. For my dad, nothing seemed more honorable than fighting for liberty and freedom in the United States Marine Corps.

He went on to fight in Korea, and what happened there he has mostly kept out of conversations. But what did happen changed his attitude about war and the men who conduct it. He has never lost his trust in the Marine Corps, but he's much warier about the men who place those Marines in danger. As a result, I grew up in a distinctly non-militarized home. It's a safe bet that the reason I'm writing this blog now is because of something that happened to my father when he was 20. His values changed somehow, and what he passed along were different than what his father handed down to him.

We celebrate Veterans Day because we want to honor those who were subjected to enormous trauma when they were just kids--for the values of freedom, liberty, and equality that we all enjoy.

Unfortunately, not everyone honors them. I know that President Bush enjoys enormous support from the military families in this country, but he doesn't deserve it. He acted irresponsibly in the ramp-up to war. His vanity prevented him from finding support from international troops that would have helped our soldiers. Worst, he has cut their pay, and as we learned yesterday, illegally refuses to pay 17 Gulf War I veterans compensation that they deserve. He rouses the robust Hu-ahs at military bases, but what is he doing for the troops?

Perhaps in large measure because of the values my father passed down to me, I'm extremely critical of this president. When I look at the foolish, vainglorious manner in which he conducts foreign policy, it makes me think that the lives of the soldiers never crosses his mind. On this Veteran's Day, we honor people like my Dad. I wish we could also bring ourselves to see that standing with solemnity at the graves of dead soldiers is not enough. When the president is so cavalier with soldiers' lives, so callous that he would cut their pay during wartime, this is not honor. It's deeply offensive.

posted by Jeff | 1:05 PM |
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