Tuesday, December 30, 2003

How to vote: In light of all the hoopla going on about the candidates in the Democratic Party and why one is "dangerous", the other "radical" and the next one guilty of "flip flops", I got to thinking: how do we choose our candidates? What gives someone like Dean the momentum and someone like Lieberman, sand in the face? Most voters probably don't do exhaustive reading of position papers. And, even if they did, issue statements can't be enough, because many share the same thinking (i.e. both Dean and Kuchy want universal health care; hell, W and Dean both like guns) and let's face it, try to get through more than three of these statements and you'll be more confused than when you started.

Further, most people know, I hope, that the candidates can't possibly expect to push through nearly all of their stated intentions. Let's say you elect Dean. Do you really think he stands a snowball's chance in getting universal health care AND a repeal of all W's tax cuts through Congress in four years (hell, give him six!)? And that's just two issues.

So, it seems most logical that it comes down to contrast. Most of us vote in order to express approval or displeasure over the incumbent. They seek a general change in direction from the current one. But contrast alone isn't enough. If that were the case, then Sharpton would win the nod, hands down. The People then must also have some sort of barometer that gauges not only the contrast, but the legitimacy of the candidate. I think Perot did as well as he did because he was fresh, but he didn't win because no one could seriously envision this guy negotiating deals with foreign heads of state ("Now see here, you job-stealing China-man, this chart is clear proof of your steel dumping.")

This test, if accepted, then discounts much of the media and bloggers who take such extreme delight in pointing out the minute inconsistencies and slip-ups of candidates. They really don't matter. Who cares if Dean is simulataneously condemning Bush for his secrecy while at the same time covering up his own records as Governor? We all know politicians are inconsistent and with something to hide (and clearly, if Dean had done something criminal, it's unlikely the evidence is sitting in a box somewhere just waiting for the sun to shine on it). So Kerry doesn't have a clear view on why he opposed the Iraq War (to the extent he did) - all Democrats care about is that he opposes it now. If you want consistency in politics, may I suggest Libya?

For all the words spent on why Candidate A is a compulsive flip-flopper, and why Candidate B has such a great message, if only people would listen, it simply doesn't matter. Your contrasting platform (hell, your website might as well just say: "Whatever Bush Says, I Say the Opposite, Okay?") gets you onto the playing field, but how you talk, walk and squawk gets you to the end zone. Dean is in the lead because he is seen as the most effective spoiler. Kerry puts people to sleep (I mean, this guys actually sucks the energy out of a room); Clark is amorphous, and Lieby, well, he's just too short. Assuming Dean doesn't implode, the only thing that matters is whether enough people are sick of W, or whether they don't view Dean as substantial enough to lead our country, despite his contrast.

We all know that the candidate to oppose Bush will want to repeal taxes, will promote the implementation of the Kyoto Treaty, will speak about the right to choose, and will condemn the war in Iraq (one one ground or another). It's not about the Democratic platform. It's about the man to deliver it.

Barry: Dave Barry takes on the year that was. He's merciless on Bush w/r/t his seemingly inconsistent stances on N. Korea v. Iraq. But he's also very, very funny. One quip of many:
U.S. coalition-building efforts are dealt a severe blow when France announces that it will not participate in the impending Iraq invasion, a decision that, in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "could seriously impair our ability to surrender."
Did the Media get anything right?: Good article by The Los Angeles Times (re-printed at the Baltimore Sun's online issue) on the major mis-steps by the mainstream media this year. While the author admits he could spend all his words on the NYT alone, he thankfully works to expose the foibles of other journalists and their publications as well.

My favorite:
In the course of bashing the movie Kill Bill, distributed by Disney through its Miramax subsidiary, Gregg Easterbrook raised a rhetorical question in his personal blog, Easterblogg. Having identified Michael Eisner, chief executive of Disney, and Harvey Weinstein, chairman of Miramax, as being Jewish, he asked whether it was "right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence."
People who know Easterbrook far better than I swear that he is not anti-Semitic. And I know from my limited personal contact with him that he is not stupid. That leaves only one other possible explanation: [Jayson] Blair actually wrote the entry.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Back atcha: Thank you for your well-wishes Eno. Going to be "incognito" for the holidays, eh? My best to Flyer as well and the rest of the extended clan. While I appreciate your holiday wishes, you should know by now what holiday I celebrate this time of year. I look forward to some serious grievance-airing. Boy, do I have them stored up.
Gaze into my crystal ball: I randomly came across this article from CNN from the Fall, 2002. It discussed what we should do with Iraq. Pretty good stuff.

You have George Bush, pere, defending why he didn't kick out Saddam in Gulf War I - we would have made a "martyr" of him. Hmmm, I guess not. Okay, maybe things were different back then and Saddam was more loved. If that's the case, then why this:
"After the Gulf War, I went around and talked to a number of very senior Bush administration officials, some of whom are in the new Bush administration, and they all assured me Saddam Hussein would fall in six months, because that was the basic take in the American intelligence community," said New York Times military affairs reporter Michael Gordon.
Then you flash forward to 2002, and look to see whether we should unilaterally, preemptively, remove Saddam. You had people like Dick Armey and Brent Scowcroft quite strongly saying we shouldn't take him out. Says the Scowster:
"An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken,"
Then there's Lawrence Eagleburger, he of Bush I administration:
"How long do we stay? How much does it cost? What does it do to our conditions within that part of the world? What kind of a regime do we put in his place? How long does it last if it seems that we are the ones that put him in his place?" Eagleburger said during a September 25 interview on CNN's "Late Edition." "I think there are any number of complex questions that simply haven't been examined."
Good questions Larry.
Holiday Cheer: All the best to the Razor family, whatever it is you celebrate. (Kwanzaa, right?) I'm off for a week of good cheer myself, a week that may or may not include updates here. Depends on how much I drink. And that, in the end, depends on Flyer as much as anything.

See you in the sunny Southwest, Flyer.

Old News: You might have heard that Bjorn Lomborg was taken to task by the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty. You may have also heard that Danish Ministry of Science repudiated the committee. Have you read Iain Murray's rather detailed update? Check it out.
And After Kerry: Is Gephardt next? It's unlikely he could survive having the most popular politician in Iowa endorse Howard Dean. As the CW goes, Iowa is a must-win for Gephardt as N.H. is for Kerry. Between Harkin endorsing Dean and Gephardt losing some major labor nods to Dean, Gephardt must know his days are numbered.

Well, like most CW, this is just a canned, oversimplified reading of events, lacking the detail or nuance necessary in modern political analysis, right? Bullshit. Show me how either of Gephardt or Kerry puts together the winning delegates after ceding so much home turf to Dr. Dean. Neither Kerry nor Gephardt has a real shot, right now, at either of the big Super Tuesday prizes, New York and California. Gephardt has a shot at delegate-rich Florida, and Kerry can claim a good chance in New Jersey (looking to be very competitive) and, well, Massachusetts (although Dean consistently leads in major polls in Kerry's home state, the lead is typically within the margin of error). He's still not getting the kind of buzz people thought, but Wes Clark is no doubt the biggest threat to Dean now.

With Dignity: John Kerry has missed, it seems, his last opportunity to withdraw from the Democratic nomination race with a scrap of dignity left:
Looking to jump-start his presidential bid, Democrat John Kerry has loaned his campaign $850,000 and is mortgaging his family home in Boston to provide a future infusion of cash.
This might be a scrappy move . . . if he were in a close race with Dean. But some national polls put Kerry in a statistical dead heat with Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun. He's obviously not in the first tier of candidates anymore. In a state like New Hampshire, very much in the greater Boston media sphere, Kerry is still barely competitive -- and then only because he has poured money into the state. Even if he does pull out a respectable finish in New Hampshire (losing to Dean by a margin greater than five points will be a big loss), his campaign will be unable to put together any serious effort elsewhere as the primaries begin to come one after another.

Look at it this way: If I were John Kerry, and I had just come from behind to thrash Dean in New Hampshire, and I need some quick cash to tide me over until the victory buzz shows up in campaign contributions, then maybe I'd put the house in hock and look under the cushions for some extra coins. But making such a desperate move a month before the N.H. primary? That's like having vultures following your campaign bus from Manchester to Portsmouth.

More: Today's Boston Globe story is chock-a-block with wishful-thinking quotes from Kerry's staff, including some to the effect that the campaign is pushing this news hard, since it demonstrates Kerry's "commitment" for the long haul.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Married with immaculate taste: I am not brave enough to take on Posner (I did enough of it, vicariously, in law school). So, I'll just make a few comments as distilled from Eno's comment. Early on in Posner's essay, he notes that the Mass high court found that there was a state constitutional right to gay marriage. I think that is where he gets the notion that the Federal Constitution somehow, perhaps indirectly, grants such a right. I, like you, don't know if that's the exact thrust of the Mass law, but again, who am I?

Looking to public opinion as to what the Constitution allows is a pretty dangerous idea. I mean, on the one hand, sure, if enough people want it, then you probably get the votes in Congress to amend the Constitution. Of course, then you're back at nine people then deciding if what the People wanted was proper in the first place - which then negates the idea that public opinion is a basis for interpreting the Constitution (so basically, you have nine people [well, as few as 5 really] ultimately writing the Constitution - kinda scary).

Let's use a Razor trick and take Posner's example to the extreme. Let's say everyone wants to put Jews into "work camps". The Supremes say this is bad. I mean, does that make the Supreme's wrong, or just technically out of their sphere of influence? As Posner himself says, precedent means nothing at the Supreme Court level. So, making things out of whole cloth shouldn't be a problem. Hell, slavery had tons of precedent.

I must admit, after reading his essay, I'm not sure if Posner is criticizing the author's book, homosexual marriage, or the Supreme Court. Probably all 3.
Boston Marriage: Richard Posner takes a close look at the Goodridge decision on gay marriage here in the form of a review of Evan Gerstmann's book Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution. He's relentlessly logical about it, which I have to admire. But he takes some short cuts. I know I'm out of my league arguing with Judge Posner, but fools rush in, eh?

For one thing, he cites Justice Kennedy's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, calling his argument premised on the states overturning their own sodomy laws a "bandwagon" argument. This may or may not be as pejorative as it sounds, but he goes on to say:

I am dubious about interpreting the Constitution to authorize the Supreme Court to make discretionary moral judgments that offend dominant public opinion. [Emphasis mine.]
This sounds like a clarion call for bandwagon judgements. Perhaps there's less contradiction here than I'm seeing.

Immediately after, Posner notes:

Nothing in the Constitution or its history suggests a constitutional right to homosexual marriage. If there is such a right, it will have to be manufactured by the justices out of whole cloth.
This is just as easily said about marriage in general: Nothing specific about that right in the Constitution either. Sure, it's been put there by precedent (e.g., Turner v. Safly, in which, as Posner says, "the Court in 1987 ruled that a prison inmate could not be denied the right to marry, although the prison could forbid conjugal visits," not to mention Loving v. Virginia) -- but that was making a right out of whole cloth, too.

In the end, Posner argues for federalism: Let the states all try to solve this, and keep the Supremes out of it until the social implications shake out. Okay, I can respect the reasoning. (I can even sympathize with those who wish to keep hetero marriage a separate thing -- but those are the folks who should be forthcoming with some strong civil union laws.) But marriage has historically been an evolving institution, no matter what the conservatives say. It has pushed its way, slowly, through barriers of clan, class, nationality, and race -- marriage outside each of which once met with social disapproval. So why shouldn't sexuality be the next item on the list?

The Zagat reviews we wish were attributable: Zagat has published on its website some very funny contributions from its dining reviewers. How I'd love to see what restaurants they're talking about. One of my favorite quotes: "The proportions are the size of Jesse Helm's grants to the arts."
Just when you think it's safe to listen to "Billie Jean": Is there anything left that Jacko hasn't tried in terms of losing his once substantial credibility and appeal to the rest of the world? Let's check them off, shall we? I suppose the child molestation charges are a good place to start. Skin bleaching and radical plastic surgery that leaves you looking more like an elderly white woman than anything else, check, check. Lack of singable/danceable tune in past decade, check. Oh, teaming with R. Kelly to write songs, check. Going on national television to proclaim how "loving" it is to share your bed with pre-adolescent boys, yeah, got that too. I'm sure there's more, but why beat a dead horse? Well, at least he hasn't gone and joined the Nation of Islam or anything. Oh...wait.
Hink: Now, now Eno. Hinkley was not found guilty of any crime, he has been receiving medication and treatment for the past 20 years, and he has not shown any violent tendencies during that time. And, not insignificantly, the Secret Service will be tailing him for every step he takes beyond the walls of his institution. Last, the even the government lawyers admit that under the law as written, the judge did not commit any serious error. The government only wished the judge had taken into account the desires of the victims and their families more into account.

And the fact that Hinkley is still hording pictures of Jodie Foster, well, that's just because he liked "Panic Room" so much. Nothing to worry about.
Dean and Media Physics: Here it comes. Note the first paragraph, which in the WaPo usually is the CW summary:
Howard Dean's penchant for flippant and sometimes false statements is generating increased criticism from his Democratic presidential rivals and raising new questions about his ability to emerge as a nominee who can withstand intense, sustained scrutiny and defeat President Bush.
So what's the new Mary Jane? Dean makes flippant and false statements. Wow. This was just as true six months ago, of course, but nobody cared because the press herd line was all about Dean's amazing rise in the polls, his fighting underdog spirit. He was "refreshingly candid" rather than "flippant" back then.

I made the case for Lieberman yesterday, but it's still an open question who benefits from a possible Dean stumble. Gephardt is also a possibility, for obvious populist reasons. Wes Clark stands to benefit since he's got some can-win-against-Bush potential (though he has yet to show much real political skill). Kerry? That's a hard case to make, since Kerry's not losing this race to Dean; he's losing it to his own droning, scolding, shifting self.

Hinkley Walking Free: I can only say this: Can you imagine some bed-wetting liberal judge allowing this for Sirhan Sirhan, or for Lee Harvey Oswald (had he lived)? Yeah, I know: both of those men succeeded. Still, success of an assassin doesn't indicate state of mind, only marksmanship. In my world, anyone who takes a shot at the president doesn't get unsupervised furlough, ever. It's just one of those acts that declares to your fellow citizens that you are not fit to live among them anymore. This is really, really simple stuff.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Watch out for your own ankles: Eno is obviously just jealous because he doesn't know how to make up any imaginative games for millions of people to enjoy. Have I mentioned my new idea for a Monopoly offshoot? It's called "Ghettopoly". See, first you pretend you're this drug lord who buys crack houses...
All the good headlines are already taken: Much is being made over the NFL's fine of Joe Horn in response to his cell phone antics after scoring his second touchdown of the day (he went on to score two more, which is remarkable, but his team still lost). The NFL is hyping how serious they took his stunt, yet emphasizing their compassionate conservatism in noting that he could have been suspended. Remember, this is a football player who mock-dialed a cell phone for about 5 seconds before returning to the sidelines. And this for a player who "only" makes $750,000 a year.

So what is going on? Why is the NFL so stodgy? Let's examine, shall we? First of all, what is the NFL? Well, certainly its name helps describe what it is: a league of football teams that play across the (contiguous) nation. More accurately, however, it is a group of owners who band together under a common rubric to make money off of weekly games that people pay to watch. This falls under the "entertainment" category, in my humble estimation. So, as Maximus would ask: "Are you not entertained?" Is what Joe Horn did not entertaining? Is not pandering to the crowd part of what any good stage actor does?

Well my answer to my own question is "yes". But whether Mr. Horn actually achieved entertainment status is another issue. As far as stunts go, they really started and ended with Terrell Owens, the current ringleader of self-proclamation in the end zone (now that Deion is in the booth). See, most players before T.O. were content to restrict themselves to dances, body-shakes, exhaltations to the Almighty (cuz you know he's watching the over/under), and/or leaps into the stands. But T.O. brought the crazy props to the whole process - you know, because he used props to amplify his joy. See, I wasn't being "ghetto" in the post-modern sense with my use of props - but I will soon...keep reading!

First he shook some pom-poms at a game after scoring a TD, which was annoying enough, but then he realized he wasn't getting the mad props from the media (there, happy?), so he took out the Sharpie next time and handed an autographed pigskin to his financial planner waiting in the stands. Talk about dangerous! Is the NFL afraid that next comes the Apocalypse?

No, the problem is that really, they're just not very entertaining. Entertainment is doing something which causes others to feel joy or some other pleasurable emotion. The real sin of T.O. and now J.H. is that what they're doing is simply shining their ego in front of a crowd, which they mistake for entertainment. It's more spectacle than honest showmanship. Because they feel good doing it, they expect everyone else feels the same way, because we all revolve around them don't we? The NFL doesn't want its rather serious investment to become the XFL, which is understandable, but I also think the heavy-handedness, and the serious frowns could be done without. If it's going to fine the guys then do it for being unimaginative. Demand better props (again, this is me using the word in its traditional sense). Don't act like it's a capital offense. Like Mr. Horn's agent said: it's not murder.

MORE: Not to be overlooked, Chad Johnson of The Bengals took out a sign after he scored against the Niners which begged the league not to fine him again (he's had a few this year - mostly because he refuses to wear his uniform correctly). Of course, he was promptly fined. See, that's almost entertaining because it employs irony (he's asking not to be fined when he knows he will). It's still primarily self-aggrandizing, but it's at least using a literary device which evidences some originality.
Re: One Ankle or Two? If this were the 18th century, I could hand you my pistol and trust that you'd head out back and, you know, do the honorable thing. For all of us.
One Ankle or Two?: In my spare time, I like to amuse my self and my intellect with having fun with words. I also don't have many friends. Anyway, here's a game I hope our entire readership can enjoy (hey, the two of you, pay attention!). Take a theme, and then take words from that theme, add or subtract letters to change the meaning, but retain the overall sound and appearance of the word or phrase. Here's a bad example:

Theme: People that take care of things you wear.

Examples: Cobbler becomes Hobbler. Instead of coming in to have your shoes repaired, you come in to have your ankles horribly broken and disfigured. "Hobbling by Misery - Hobbling While you Wait. Bite rods available upon request."

Haberdasher becomes habersmasher. Similar to the above. Instead of being fitted for a snazzy chapeau [and I understand that many haberdashers provide more than just hats - work with me], you come in to have your hats crushed by the hammer-wielding proprieter. Motto: "We'll turn your size 10 into a size 3. Please remove hat before entering store."

Dry cleaner becomes fry cleaner. "Remove pesky oil stains from your french fry. Salt removal extra. Ask us about our 'Super Size' specials."

Look at the fun you can have with words!
Lieberman Swinging Hard: Has Joe has finally found his voice in this campaign? He's certainly pushing himself as the sensible alternative to Dr. Hothead:
In his sharpest criticism yet of Dean, Lieberman said Tuesday that the former Vermont governor's comment that "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer" raises the specter of a Democratic Party weak on national security.

"He thinks we're not safer by removing a homicidal maniac," Lieberman said in a speech. "The fact is that Governor Dean has made a series of dubious judgments and irresponsible statements in this campaign that together signal that he would take us back to the days when we Democrats were not trusted to defend our security."

Even if true, Dean's statement that nabbing Saddam doesn't make us any safer was a big gamble, if only because most Americans would disagree, and Lieberman has some room to run with this criticism. And I think Lieberman stands to gain something else here: Dean has snagged an undeserved reputation for intellectual consistency, based simply on some fairly rash statements about the war, statements that he has refused to modify. Lieberman actually has the stronger claim to consistency, having been for the war since before George Bush was.

Meanwhile, basic media physics go to work on Howard Dean now. Having moved from underdog to frontrunner status, we have to respect the theorem that the media loves to tear down a frontrunner as much as it loves to pump up an underdog. Politics is an expectations game, and no candidate wants the frontrunner crown well before a primary vote has been cast. An underdog Howard Dean could have finished a strong third in New Hampshire and still have been a contender. But now, he's a loser if he comes in anywhere but first. Lieberman, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up. (Okay, he could fall into a dead heat with Dennis Kucinich, but I doubt that will happen.) In addition, though pre-primary polls in New Hampshire show him in Kerry territory (and a statistical non-entity in Iowa), he polls rather well nationally among generic Democrats and likely Democratic voters.

Can Joe make the run at Dean? I wouldn't care to bet on it. But look at it this way: Most of America was cheering this weekend to see Saddam in custody. Naturally. Now, how many of the Democratic candidates can wholeheartedly celebrate good news out of Iraq (like the capture of Saddam) without having to consult with the strategists? Just Lieberman. That's a nice place to be right about now.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Economics and Political Parties: A great WaPo article tying together Ronald Coase, Howard Dean, and the cost of information. Sample:
For all Dean's talk about wanting to represent the truly "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," the paradox is that he is essentially a third-party candidate using modern technology to achieve a takeover of the Democratic Party. Other candidates -- John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark -- are competing to take control of the party's fundraising, organizational and media operations. But Dean is not interested in taking control of those depreciating assets. He is creating his own party, his own lists, his own money, his own organization. What he wants are the Democratic brand name and legacy, the party's last remaining assets of value, as part of his marketing strategy.
So Dean can build his own "Laptop Party" (not as dirty as it sounds) by organizing on the internet. Much has been made of Dean's success in using the internet to raise money; but he's going to effectively double (or better) the value of that money by using the internet to spend less. First, likely Howard Dean voters are getting in touch with him, while most parties and candidates still spend money hunting down their demographic. Second, his e-mail lists, blogs, and general web presence allow him to quickly and cheaply spread a message that a more mainstream candidate might have to buy media time for. Third is a piggyback reason: These first two activities (identifying your target audience and sending them the message) have historically been expensive enough that the political parties effectively subsidized them. Now that soft money to parties is limited, that's not possible, so more of a candidate's own war chest will be spent on erstwhile "party" tasks. But, as Dean himself has made clear, his "Deaniacs" are a proprietary network -- one that he has implied that he would be reluctant to share with the party, should they nominate someone else.

That said, I doubt that all these advantages will help Dean much. He is revolutionizing the political process, to be sure. But Bush's $200 million war chest will be hard to beat. Old-fashioned media buys still have a place, particularly when a candidate like Howard Dean needs to find his way to the respectable, soccer-mom center.

Stipulating a Dean nomination, my guess is that, despite his great economies, Dean will struggle for money to reach beyond his base next summer.

(Link: Hit and Run)

Some Lagniappe from Razor: Read it in the comments here.
Crichton speech: This link is getting more pub today than Michael Crichton's last few books did. It's a coldhearted and clearheaded talk on environmentalism-as-religion. Most of it's not new news, but none of it is what you'd call common knowledge. Maybe Crichton will get more attention than others due to his celebrity. He speaks (or reads, anyway) well and is a valuable ally against environmental hysteria.
NPR Bonus: I'd been thinking about this too. One of NPR's big sponsors is "ONDCP," which is constantly reminding NPR listeners that "parents are the anti-drug." The NPR announcer never mentions what those letters stand for; it's just "sponsored by ohwendeeseepee."

Of course, those letters stand for the federal government's "Office of National Drug Control Policy." Worth noting, I think.

Quacks Like a Duck: A couple of weeks ago, I heard a story on All Things Considered about Jim Sheridan's new movie In America. Nice feature; long, sympathetic interview; dialogue clips. They gave him the whole nine yards. Now two things may be at work here: One, Sheridan is a fine director. Two, Sheridan is something of a critical darling; he makes indie-style "personal" pictures, not star-studded smashes.

That aside, I noticed a few days ago that Fox Searchlight, the studio that produced In America, is now running ads for the film during All Things Considered. (Sorry, they're not ads. They're messages of thanks to sponsors of NPR programming. This message of thanks made it very clear, though, that Fox Searchlight studios made the particular film that NPR had been puffing.) I wonder if there's a quiet agreement here: that studios or publishers that "donate to" (read: "advertise on") NPR get not only good treatment, but feature treatment. Maybe I'm naive, and maybe everyone is already aware that this goes on. I don't know. Odd, isn't it, that a commercial network (not that NPR isn't one, really) would never be able to get away with such appearances?

I'll be listening more closely in the future, and will offer any further examples that I hear.

Atta coverage: Finally the mainstream media picks up on the Atta/Nidal/Hussein thread that the Telegraph published days ago.

All right, so The Indian Express isn't the Old Gray Lady, but I'm sure the American press will be on this as soon as everyone has had their turn climbing in and out of the spider hole and pretending to surrender to the studio anchor.

For the record, I'm exhibiting a healthy skepticism on this one, mainly due to the lack of detail Iraqi authorities are willing to share about how they acquired the relevant documents. But if there's a there there, some people will have lots of 'splaining to do for ignoring it.

Nixon on Reagan: Tricky Dick thought his fellow California Republican Ronald Reagan was an "uncomfortable man to be around — strange" according to White House tapes. "'The irony will not be lost on people,' said [Stanley] Kutler, author of two books on Nixon and an emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin."
Saving the world by killing people, destroying property, and stealing money: There has always been a fine line between being a conscientious protestor/activist and someone who is nothing but a dressed-up terrorist - well maybe not, but this is my post. Take Greenpeace. Some find them to be the amplifier to a screaming earth. Others find them to be guilty of worse crimes than those they oppose. Then you have the Earth Liberation Front which is no better than the right-to-lifer who kills doctors that provide abortions in terms of its end-justifies-the-means approach. Have you ever wanted to learn more about these organizations and just who is really behind them? Well, here's a great place to start. I was amazed at how comprehenisve the site is in terms of providing a 360-degree look at these organizations and how their methods so greatly contrast their stated goals.
Racing with the Vatican: Comes now Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Baghdad):
The Washington congressman who criticized President Bush (news - web sites) while visiting Baghdad last year has questioned the timing of the capture of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., told a Seattle radio station Monday the U.S. military could have found Saddam "a long time ago if they wanted." Asked if he thought the weekend capture was timed to help Bush, McDermott chuckled and said: "Yeah. Oh, yeah . . . There's too much by happenstance for it to be just a coincidental thing."

Perhaps to clarify that atrocious last sentence, he later changed his story from the rather explosive to the thoroughly mundane:
McDermott, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, called the timing of Saddam's capture suspicious but said he was not alleging it had been intentionally delayed.
Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Of Course He Did: From the New York Times account of how the Democratic candidates worked the capture of Saddam into their talking points:
Nearby, before an audience of elderly people, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts turned a talk on Medicare reform into a treatise on Iraq.
No doubt he did so with the kind of easy-to-follow transition and to-the-point rhetoric he is famous for.

And doesn't John Kerry seem like the kind of guy who would probably shout his speech to the elderly?

Who Needs This? A "top Vatican official," Cardinal Renato Martino, weighs in on Saddam's capture:
A top Vatican official said Tuesday he felt pity and compassion for Saddam Hussein and criticized the U.S. military for showing video footage of him being treated "like a cow."
Boo f*cking hoo, of course. Treated like a prisoner (and, rather unfortunately, a human being) is more to the point. To offer him that dignity is in fact a tribute to the United States and its armed forces, who could have shot him on sight with supreme moral justification, as far as I'm concerned.
"It's true that we should be happy that this (arrest) has come about because it is the watershed that was necessary... we hope that this will not have worse and other serious consequences," Martino said.

"But it is not the total solution to the problems of the Middle East," he said

No, that was what the Crusades were for, eh, Cardinal?

The Roman Catholic Church continues in its centuries-long struggle to be the most morally un-serious institution in the world. Take hope, Cardinal. Buggering little boys and covering up for it at the highest levels is not quite as bad as the mass murder Saddam was up to. But look on the bright side: You're still in power, and he's not.

Saddam's Surrender: The effect of Saddam's capture will no doubt be multi-faceted, and effect change to varying degrees. I think the least noticeable effect will be the suicide bombers and the attacks on our soldiers. These attacks are motivated by the religious zealots (my intelligence sources tell me) and not out of any love for Saddam. While it is likely that Saddam held sway over his people simply by virtue of the length of time he ruled the country, I can't imagine that many people would be willing to die for his sake - given that he's never coming back. Despots inspire fear, but rarely love or blind devotion - at least not at the level of the people. Look at Hitler: only his closest aides and confidants were really in thrall; the masses were either afraid or resentful. When he killed himself, many were shocked, but they had more important things to deal with like running from the Russians.

Nonetheless, his capture will have a profound effect on the Iraqis in a different way. They are no longer under his thumb. It is clear that while he was on the run, people still feared him. Here's some proof: After Uday and Qsay were killed, they were buried in a royal plot, and treated with the appropriate reverence that princes deserved. What happened, then, when Saddam was captured? Their graves were desecrated and their remains fed to dogs. This shows that even in the most Saddam-centric region of Iraq, he was only feared, never loved. The people must now look to themselves for leadership; something they have not done for decades. One hopes their traditional tribal governance can fill the void left by the defeated Baathists. While this new leadership may devolve into Sunni-Shia sniping, I suppose the optimist in me would say that those leaders would choose to view this as an opportunity for success, rather than revenge. Am I simply that naive?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Shape of the Senate: Louisiana Democrat John Breaux will not run in 2004. His seat will likely go Republican. Perhaps Bobby Jindal would like to give it a try? At any rate, as Jindal's gubernatorial race showed, any Democrat running statewide in Louisiana has to run solidly to the right. (Jindal's opponent won on an essentially a pro-gun, pro-life platform.)

Breaux himself was something of a maverick -- pro-life, cautious but willing on vouchers, pro-ANWR drilling, free trader, in favor of Social Security reform, and solid on the Iraq war. (As with Lieberman, look in vain for any resemblance to the current pig-headed Democratic party.) I didn't agree with Breaux much, but he's the kind of serious, intelligent Democrat I hate to see leave the stage. I don't think of myself as particularly Republican, but the Dems are so remarkably unserious lately, I don't see myself voting a D-ticket anytime soon.

The Link? More on that Saddam/Atta connection Flyer referred to. From an official Iraqi memo written in July 2001, sent to Saddam from his intelligence chief:
Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian national, came with Abu Ammer [the real name behind this Arabic alias remains a mystery] and we hosted him in Abu Nidal's house at al-Dora under our direct supervision."

We arranged a work program for him for three days with a team dedicated to working with him...He displayed extraordinary effort and showed a firm commitment to lead the team which will be responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy.

Emphasis mine. What could those targets have been, now? Zero coverage, naturally, in the U.S. media. Original story here.
I Had This Same Thought: Paul Bremer got to spill the big news on Saddam's capture. Not Bush. Not Rummy. Somewhere along the line, a decision was made to not make a presidential spectacle of this. My mind naturally drifted to a particular ex-president who would have been unable to contain his impulse to step all over the occasion.

As usual, Viking Pundit beat me to the punch.

Taranto, funny: From Best of the Web:
He's Down to One?
"Kerry Asks Supporter to Stick With Him"--headline, Associated Press, Dec. 14
Hard work: What a weekend. Iraq is a big place, and it took a long time to find him, but I did it. Just got sick of all the yapping and speculating about "The Butcher of Baghdad" so I decided to go help out. Sorry for the lack of blogging in the meantime, but national security was at stake. And reelection.

Before I return to semi-regular posting, though, I have to run down this lead from Robert Musil.

FURTHER UPDATE: This is still preliminary. But if reports of Atta/Saddam/Nidal/Niger/Uranium/al-Qaeda connections hold up, it looks like they'll be singing "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" early, often and with extra brio this year at the White House.
That, plus final exams. Nothing compared to crawling down all those spider holes, though.
The Sensible Environmentalist: While I'm typically skeptical of most green motives (and all of their "scientific" claims), I cut some slack to Gregg Easterbrook for two reasons. One, he's a great writer; two, he treats the issue apolitically. Take a look at his blog from last week on Bush's Clear Skies and Clean Air work:
It's true that the goals of Bush's Clear Skies legislation are approximately the same as existing targets of the Clean Air Act, so some moderates worry that if the bill passed, Bush would get credit as an environmentalist for essentially maintaining the status quo. The rub is that existing Clean Air Act power-plant regulations and "state implementation plans," which govern overall airshed quality, have led to runaway litigation, with the typical Clean Air Act rule taking ten years of legal proceedings to finalize, according to a study by Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute.

Bush's Clear Skies bill would scrap the litigation-based system and substitute the "cap and trade" approach that has been spectacularly successful at reducing acid rain. Caps under the Bush bill are mandatory, and the bill regulates power-plant mercury emissions for the first time, imposing a mandatory two-thirds reduction; by using a cap-and-trade approach, Bush's approach would achieve Clean Air Act goals at lower cost and without lawsuit uncertainty. To top it off, if Clear Skies were enacted, it would bind the power plants governed by the "new source rule" controversy, mooting that whole issue and ending the dispute.

But then, ending disputes is not what Washington is about, is it?

We've made a lot of progress in this country on the environment (if legislation is your bag, man) and the biggest steps forward have come under GOP leadership: Nixon and NEPA and the Clean Air/Clean Water Acts; Bush Sr. and Clean Air amendments, and now Bush Jr. and a market-friendly cap-and-trade program, which the serious think tanks have been pushing for ages as the best solution. What did Jimmy Carter do besides put on a sweater? What did Clinton do except push through unsustainable policies as he was leaving (policies he knew Bush would have to rescind)?

Face it: The greens of convenience, including most Democratic politicians, stand to see more benefit from the issue than the solution. As for the hard-core, hemp-brained, credit-card-watermelon ecowarriors, no measure is drastic enough. That, too, is a strategic choice, since if the government ever implemented their total-ludditism eco-policy, they'd all have to go find another issue to wet the bed about. In the meantime, they tie the hands of moderate, incrementalist environmentalists by pushing the anti-civilization rap. Really, if you want anything done about the environment (and, frankly, I'm not sure I do, if it's done by the same government that runs Amtrak) vote for Bush.

Weekend News: No doubt you were all glued to the TV for at least a few riveting hours Sunday, before the networks ran out of stuff to say and switched back to sports. (Alas, no cable news networks in my house.)

The Dems all gave their obligatory head fakes to the right, insisting that the capture of Saddam upheld exactly those parts of the war they supported. Also, George Bush needs to go back to grovel at the UN for some reason (they weren't really specific regarding why -- but heck: it was a whirlwind day, after all!)

Also worth mentioning are the pictures out of Baghdad of "celebrating" Iraqis. First point: Baghdad appears to have no shortage of young men with Kalashnikovs riding around in Japanese pickups. Second point: I distrust any part of the world where celebration of a major event (whether the capture of a former dictator or an NBA championship) involves semi-automatic fire willy nilly. Remember, all those bullets come down somewhere.

More: Lawrence Kaplan, writing in TNR, explores the domestic and international significance of Saddam in leg irons. He sees a brief boost for Bush, no likely quick drop in the number of attacks on our troops in Iraq, and a spell of trouble for Howard Dean. "But these are all mundane asides," he concludes. "We got the son of a bitch. And today, at least, it all seems worth it."

Friday, December 12, 2003

Political Geography: Really wonderful analysis of the U.S.'s geographical breakdown in terms of politics and voting (these two terms don't exactly represent the same thing). Rather than just say "soda v. pop" or "red v. blue", this map breaks our country into ten divisions which do not always correspond to just one geographic region. It's based on the 2000 election results, but also by income, age and race. Really well done.

Props to Sullivan.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

China: There you go again, Eno. We don't concede to dictators UNLESS they rule the sixth largest economy in the world, which is growing ever larger at an ever-increasing pace. Oh and that dictator is willing to help you stare down that OTHER dictator; you know the stature-challenged one with all those nukes? I mean, what's the alternative? Stand up for one of the few progressive, democratic nations in Asia that has been a long-time ally and is, itself, economically successful? How naive.
The Showtime Reagans: I flipped in and out of highly praised (oops, forgot sarcasm markers) Reagan movie that has been getting strong rotation on Showtime lately. All told, I probably only watched 20-25 minutes of the whole thing, but I watched enough to make the following informed observations.

In light of all of the deification of Reagan, the man, that has been going on lately, this movie does little to jeapordize that mission. In defense of the movie, to be at all credible, you have to show not only the good, but the bad. It's not realistic to say that any given president was all good or all bad. Everyone, since all the Presidents have been human beings thus far (Kang, I mean Dole, just missed), they must be fallible. Nixon, crook; Carter, weak; Clinton, well...we only have so much space. Reagan is portrayed as a very moral and well-meaning simpleton. He's almost the Forrest Gump of presidents. His weak point is making the "mean" or "political" decision. He'd rather keep all his buddies in chaps and boots as they meander around the ranch.

If anyone came off badly, it's Nancy, who gives "dragon lady" a whole new meaning. Reagan wants to do the right thing (i.e. get the hostages freed; save lives; bring down Communism). Nancy wants to maintain power and his image, and by any means necessary. For example, she instructs Ron to fire Meese as the fall guy, while Ronnie doesn't want to pin blame when it should be spread all around. Well, we know who won that argument.

What really offended the critics of the movie (well, once they actually got around to seeing it that is - not that they needed to see it to denounce it, of course) was probably the overall tone of despair that riddled the movie. Nancy is always seen as hollow-eyed, grim and furious. Ronnie is always on the verge of tears over the need to play her hardball. The administration officials are continually offing themselves, screaming, hiding and/or committing various high-level crimes. The impression is left that the whole 8 years was nothing but one massive and continual acid trip full of paranoia and haunting visions in the night. In that sense, I can find some justification in the criticisms, but then again, showing 8 years of happy bill-passing would hardly make for a fun night of t.v.
More on the Iraq Contracts: Radley is upset that the restrictions on who can bid for rebuilding contracts are, as he sees it, a strike against free trade:
The moratorium on bids from firms in those countries means that the American, Italian and Spanish firms get to compete in something that's less than a completely open market. That means that U.S. taxpayers will be footing arficially high tabs for construction projects, and it means that Iraqis will be getting something of less quality than what a truly open market would provide.
While it is true that the U.S. policy has restricted the pool of competition, this is not the same thing as violating free trade principles. Look at it this way: The U.S. is the buyer of goods and services. The companies that will bid are the sellers. When sellers and buyers come together -- under conditions negotiated solely by buyer and seller -- free trade has occurred. Recall that this is not a decision of U.S. trade policy; nor is it a decision that necessarily protects U.S. companies (since so many countries' companies can bid). Rather, this is a decision by the U.S. government as purchaser to spend its (our) money in a way that is most beneficial. This kind of "unfree" trade is practiced all the time, and most libertarians are in favor of it. As I said in my comments to Radley's post:
Think of the libertarian argument for freedom in hiring practices: it may plausibly be "unfair" for an employer to restrict hiring along, say, racial lines, and it certainly crimps the free market pool of labor. But most libertarians would defend a company's freedom -- as an entity contracting for services -- to put whatever restrictions it sees fit on its hiring practices.

This is basic economic liberty.

Unfree trade occurs when an outside entity (such as a government, the UN, the EU) restricts access to the free market -- that is, when it disallows a buyer and a seller from negotiating terms independently.

Radley goes on to say:
There's also something decidedly unseemly -- and at odds with free trade principles -- about holding private firms accountable for the foreign policy of their governments. Consider if France or Germany or Russia deicded to punish McDonalds or Microsoft or General Motors for the Bush administration's unilateralism.
I've considered that, and it doesn't pass the smell test. We're not talking about banning French companies from doing business here -- or in Iraq for that matter. We're exercising our freedom to spend our money as we see fit. Likewise, if the French government is piqued by American unilateralism, Chirac can decide not to have McDonalds cater the next National Assembly luncheon. It's their money to spend as they see fit.
Free the Campaign Finance Seven!: I just thought with all the howls of free speech being trampled we should have a headline that mirrored the sentiment. Anyway, as usual, Volokh is all over the muthafu*a and is already formulating his attack. But, I thought this was particularly funny. See, when appellate courts render a decision, it is almost never 9-0 on all the issues before the court. Usually, in any given appeal there are 5-6 legal issues (with any criminal or civil action, the government/plaintiff is always bringing mulitiple causes of action in case one or two don't stick). On appeal, the appellant is usually going to appeal as many as he/she can to increase his/her chances.

So, when an opinion comes down, you'll have mulitiple judges coming down on different issues in different ways. You craft a "majority" by figuring out the maximum number of judges who can agree on any given issue to a sufficient point to declare such a majority. If that sounds confusing, well, that's why they spend weeks on it in law school.

In the campaign finance matter, it's almost indecipherable:
STEVENS and O.CONNOR, JJ., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to BCRA Titles I and II, in which SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to BCRA Titles III and IV, in which O.CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined, in which STEVENS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined except with respect to BCRA §305, and in which THOMAS, J., joined with respect to BCRA §§304, 305, 307, 316, 319, and 403(b). BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to BCRA Title V, in which STEVENS, O.CONNOR, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring with respect to BCRA Titles III and IV, dissenting with respect to BCRA Titles I and V, and concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part with respect to BCRA Title II. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring with respect to BCRA Titles III and IV, except for BCRA §§311 and 318, concurring in the result with respect to BCRA §318, concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part with respect to BCRA Title II, and dissenting with respect to BCRA Titles I, V, and §311, in which opinion SCALIA, J., joined as to Parts I, II.A, and II.B. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part with respect to BCRA Titles I and II, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., joined, in which SCALIA, J., joined except to the extent the opinion upholds new FECA §323(e) and BCRA §202, and in which THOMAS, J., joined with respect to BCRA §213. REHNQUIST, C. J., filed an opinion dissenting with respect to BCRA Titles I and V, in which SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion dissenting with respect to BCRA §305, in which GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined.
I pity the poor law clerk who had to figure out that paragraph.
Summing Up: Lacking access to Blogger yesterday, I built up a store of comments, but today is shaping up as too busy to go on at length. More later, perhaps, but for now:

Chris Patten's goat has been got over the Bush policy on Iraq contracts. I applaud Bush for cutting France, Germany, Russia, and Canada out of prime contracts. I wish he had cut them out of the subcontracting work too. Memo to Europe: You f*ck with the bull, you get the horn.

Bush's Taiwan comments are a screw up. Didn't he just give a huge policy speech about not conceding to dictators? To rebuke Taiwan with the Chinese premier in tow is an insult. Both China and North Korea are heavy on rhetoric, but when we went into Iraq, that was the moment for them to act on their ambitions with America occupied. North Korea didn't push south, and China didn't charge Taiwan. Conclusion: We've clearly got the upper hand in Asia right now, and we might as well use that strength while we have it. China's important, yes, but this isn't 1997 anymore.

On campaign finance reform, what can I say? First, Bush gambled and lost by signing a bill he hoped would be nullified. Shame on him. Second, there is obviously no room for more liberals on the court. This wholly anticonstitutional ruling is a mockery. O'Connor and Stevens essentially admit as much by noting that money will find its way into campaigns. So why, then, is it good to put restrictions on the first amendment that are, as the court admits, ineffectual? Further, even if CFR laws did do what they were supposed to do, that would not be justification for such an incursion on liberty.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Durham Debate: I started reading the transcript and got only about 4 screens worth into it before I wanted to yak. The tired rhetoric about "taking America back" and representing the hallowed middle class - can it get any worse? I know I've slammed Sharpton just about every chance I got, and he deserves it, but I'll say this, the guy is quotable as Oscar Wilde. In response to the Gore endorsement:
Al Gore went to New York today. He should have noticed Tammany Hall is not there anymore. Bossism is not in this party. To talk about people ought not run and that people ought...


... to get out of this race is bossism that belongs in the other party.

We waited four years after some of us were disenfranchised, some of us in Duvall County couldn't vote, so we can express ourselves. And we're not going to have any big name come in now and tell us the field should be limited and we can't be heard.


The Republicans shut us up four years ago. Al Gore -- no Democrat should shut us up today. Let the people decide on the nominee. Bossism shouldn't happen.

I know that Governor Dean and Al Gore love the Internet; www.bossism doesn't work on my computer.
I mean, this stuff is priceless. I also suppose it goes with the territory. He knows he has no shot, so he can just yuk it up while Kerry goes on and on about how bad Bush's foreign policy is.

Edwards is getting tired with his "aw shucks" demeanor. This guy is a millionaire plaintiff's lawyer. Yet he talks about the Republicans and their "coronations" as if he was one of the downtrodden. When he begins to talk about the lobbies and special interests in Washington, well, it's just sad. I'd love to see how much he gave to ATLA (the plaintiffs' lawyer group) or any other of the plaintiffs' lobbyists. He is a DIRECT beneficiary of their work in opposing tort reform.

Well, I could go on, but why bother?

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Funny if it wasn't so scary: Don't ask me how I find these things, but I do. Presented for your reading pleasure: "The Hidden Agenda of Homosexual Politics" by one Erin Doherty, 11th grade, from 1993. This is posted on a Christian publications website and particularly in a section which invites high school students to post on such far-ranging topics as "China", "Islam" "Rock Music" and, of course, "Homosexuality".

The article is interesting for two reasons: (1) if truly by a high school student (certainly no guarantee of that), then it shows how the hidden agenda of born-again Christian politics can mold our teenagers; and (2) it's from 1993, so let's see how successful the hidden homosexual agenda has been in the past 10 years, despite it being hidden away from prying eyes.
To list all of the goals of the homosexual agenda would be tedious, but the ones on the forefront, in summary, are as follows:

1) Legalize homosexual/lesbian marriages; 2) Give homosexuals/lesbians parental and adoptive rights; 3) Classify HIV positive/AIDS carriers as disabled; 4) Enact "hate-crime" laws to include sexual orientation; 5) Use tax dollars to fund homoerotic AIDS/sex education in all grades; 6) Amend laws to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation, and public services; 7) Prohibit the military to exclude anyone because of sexual preference; 8) Repeal all state sodomy laws; 9) Repeal laws controlling the age of sexual consent."
Number 1 - just about there, so we'll chalk this up as a near-win. Number 2 - I think that's pretty much a given today, so a full win. Number 3 - I'm not totally up on my ADA regulations, but I'm pretty sure you can't discriminate on the basis of AIDS, so win again. Number 4 - Certainly Matthew Sheppard's brutal slaying in Colorado brought this ever more to the forefront. Leaving aside the idiocy of the "hate crime" concept as a whole, again, we have a win. Number 5 - Well, her stated agenda is a bit slanted ("homoerotic"), but certainly AIDS awareness is taught in school, and the concept of homosexuality is broached to some degree. Let's call this a partial win (come on you fags, get the school board homoerotically charged up!). Number 6 - easy win. Number 7 - Well, "don't ask, don't tell" doesn't prohibit being discharged if you're outed or admit to it, so we'll label this a loss. Number 8 - wow, talk about timely. Huge wins all around. Finally, Number 9 - I'm not entirely convinced this is really on the agenda, but it is hidden, so how would I know, not being gay myself? I guess this is a loss.

So, 7 wins or partial wins against only 2 losses. The homosexuals are really rocking! Ms. Doherty's solution? Well, let's listen in, shall we?
What can we do about this snowballing battle with the homosexual community? We Christians need to take some form of action soon, for since verbal protesting is not allowed, soon many heterosexuals will be moved to the point of physical aggression. It is crucial to stop the homoerotic teaching in the sex education classes so that the future generation of adults won't be encouraged to imitate such a lifestyle. We should also be aware on the state level of any bill or legislation dealing with this issue, and inform our representatives of our opinion in this matter.

Most importantly, though, we must cease to remain passive, allowing wickedness to seep openly into society and become more entrenched in our culture. We must begin to intercede for a nation on the brink of judgment and destruction as a result of Babylonian practices, and pray for wisdom on how to biblically reform our society, preserving its strong roots of moral values anchored in the rich soil of Christianity.
Sad to say there Erin, ten years later and not only hasn't your counter-strategy worked, you've lost miles and miles of real estate. This just doesn't seem possible seeing as how God is on your side and everything. You don't think, I mean it's not conceivable that just maybe...he's not?

Nice Fair Test: Note question 15. The NAACP "a group whose goal is the 'elimination of all barriers to political, educational, social and economic equality." Based on that, would your candidate support or oppose the views of the NAACP, you f*cking racist pig? Change that statement to "The NAACP is a group that once advanced the cause of racial equality, but now functions mainly as a noisemaking, race-baiting "victim's" lobby that, for marketing purposes, wishes to convey the impression that anything bad that happens to any black person, anywhere in America, is caused by racism."

Would that be fair?

The test split me about evenly between Bush and "the Libertarian candidate" (62/59) -- followed distantly by the crowd of thieves known colloquially at the Democrats. Surprisingly, John Edwards (46%) ranked highest of all the Dems. He's barely crossed my mind, other than to chuckle when someone called him "the Senator from Breck."

Brooks on Dean: It's interesting, if a little over the top for David Brooks. Interesting:
The newly liberated Dean doesn't worry about having a coherent political philosophy. There is a parlor game among Washington pundits called How Liberal Is Howard Dean? One group pores over his speeches, picks out the things no liberal could say and argues that he's actually a centrist. Another group picks out the things no centrist could say and argues that he's quite liberal.

But the liberated Dean is beyond categories like liberal and centrist because he is beyond coherence. He'll make a string of outspoken comments over a period of weeks — on "re-regulating" the economy or gay marriage — but none of them have any relation to the others. When you actually try to pin him down on a policy, you often find there is nothing there.

Over the top:
Everybody talks about how the Internet has been key to his fund-raising and organization. Nobody talks about how it has shaped his persona. On the Internet, the long term doesn't matter, as long as you are blunt and forceful at that moment. On the Internet, a new persona is just a click away. On the Internet, everyone is loosely tethered, careless and free. Dean is the Internet man, a string of exhilarating moments and daring accusations.
Who do you really want for President?: Take this quiz and find out. I'll report back with results for yours truly.

RESULTS: Hmm. Strange considering how few boxes I actually checked. Anyway, I'm apparently most closely aligned with Gephardt (67%), then Edwards (55%), followed by Kerry (54%) and Dean (53%). Libertarian rounds out my top 6 with 46%. I guess I better get over to Iowa. I think there's a few problems with the test because often the proposals were very one-sided, and all I was left with was to either check "none of the above" or just leave the whole thing blank. I dunno, I think there has to be a better evaluator.
Yes but the gin-and-tonics are first rate: The Connie weighs in on Mugabe's "angry" withdrawal from the Commonwealth, by first of all noting that it's not entirely clear what Zimbabwe was withdrawing from.
The Commonwealth is indeed an odd creature. It is largely, though not purely, the remnants of Britain’s empire, which once covered a quarter of the world’s land surface. Zimbabwe’s withdrawal leaves the club with 53 members—including Australia, Canada, India, Nigeria and South Africa as well as Britain—bound together in a voluntary association. When the term “commonwealth” was first used, in the 1920s, it was a means of preserving ties without the unpleasant colonial overtones that the word “empire” contained.
It once offered particular economic advantages to some of the former colonies as they received favorable trade terms from the mother country.
However, many of these benefits have diminished in the 30 years since Britain joined the predecessor to the EU. One of the EU’s main purposes is to be a regional free-trade zone, and Britain is now prohibited from granting its former colonies special privileges. Britain’s immigration rules have tightened up too, and most Commonwealth citizens now have special rights only if they already have relatives in Britain.
Now it's mostly a cultural/social institution which presumes to share common values and ideals. This is, of course laughable, in light of the fact that many of the members were pushing for Mugabe, I mean, Zimbabwe, to be reinstated despite one of the worst human rights records on, ahhh, record. And, it really seems to serve the interests of the tiny countries more than anyone else.
For former colonies, it is the most important global organisation that the United States does not dominate. And though Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Commonwealth, Britain has no special status. Indeed, Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, who had been disgusted at the idea that Zimbabwe’s suspension might be lifted, expressed his frustration that all votes at the Commonwealth have to be unanimous—Britain and its anti-Mugabe allies could not pull rank. It is one of the few international bodies in which a tiny country like St Lucia has the same standing as G7 members like Britain and Canada. Individuals join clubs because of the people they will rub shoulders with. Why should heads of government, and the countries they represent, be any different?
Pass the cashews, won't you?
EU on the Jews: The EU has conceded and published a "draft" of the report on anti-Semitism that they've been trying to bury. It's heavy with disclaimer-speak, though, with the EU pronouncing it "not fit for publication" and "neither reliable nor objective." But they also have "welcomed and taken on board other aspects" of the report -- presumably those that square with their desired outcomes. Look especially at the table on page 43, showing the surveyed attitudes in various countries concerning the Jews. Example: Percent agreeing with the statement "Jews have too much power in the business world":

Belgium -- 44%
France -- 42%
Spain -- 63%
Italy -- 40%


Gore's Snore: Eno, you are much more on point regarding Gore's motives than what I've been reading elsewhere. Much is being made of Gore's break from the center, and his move to energize the Left - the "real" heart of the Demos. Don't be silly. Gore has never been about principle. He wants to dismantle the Clinton machine, and become the new power broker. I guarantee you that if the front-runner had been Lieby or Clark, Gore would have laid low and offered tepid support for either. I highly doubt he would have stuck his neck out for Dean if Dean were in, say, Kerry's current position.

Now, I don't doubt that somewhere deep, deep down, Gore is more of a lefty than Clinton ever was, but it certainly didn't seem to bother him during his 8 years as Veep, and then as a candidate with Lieby. No, Gore will fill the shape of whatever glass he's poured into. It just so happens that Dean's highball is shimmering more brightly than Kerry's champagne flute, Clark's snifter, or Lieby's Kiddush cup.
Like not marketing Coke to kids in their schools?: His voice dripping with empathy for the thousands of children who are afflicted, the CEO of Coke calls on his fellow sugar-mongers to find a way to stop the childhood obesity endemic. He continued: "You know, as long as it doesn't cut into profits or anything." I think this is called pandering. His only valid point was that throwing a government program at it won't solve the issue. While this is likely true, has he considered all the options? How about parents lose custody of their kids if they can't stop them from eating? That might help.
Gore's Calculus: Why endorse Dean? And why now? Obviously, this is the ultimate kiss off to Joe Lieberman; plus, the fact that Gore's meeting Dean in Harlem is a middle finger to Bill Clinton (and Charlie Rangel). By extension, Gore's slapping Terry McAuliffe. That's a lot of power brokers to piss off at one time. So why?

My guess is that Gore has made the only player's move open to him, endorsing the guy who was political plutonium in the mainstream Democratic party, and political dynamite to the young left (plus the beard-and-ponytail boomers). Looking at the mainstream field, Gore was frozen out as far as being a power broker. The legacy of 2000 isn't a winning issue for New Democrats; and those to the left, like Gephardt and Kerry, didn't want to be playing Gore's avenger. But there is a group with whom the "stolen election" issue resonates, and most of them are in Howard Dean's camp now.

By endorsing Dean, Gore is betting that a Dean victory, perhaps even just a Dean nomination, will wipe away the Clinton machine, including Terry McAuliffe. If Gore had instead sat on his hands in 2004, he'd be a party nobody by '08. This move keeps his name in circulation. Besides, Gore has no interest in the party status quo, since that only benefits Hillary. His better bet is a tidal shift toward a more populist Democratic party (where Al was going in 2000, and where Dean is today). In that light, it's his best choice, since the other option is irrelevancy.

More: Sullivan has some thoughts on who benefits and what this does for a DLC anyone-but-Dean movement. Start here, then read and scroll.

Monday, December 08, 2003

FauxPolitik will never need one: Perhaps inevitably, perhaps for the better, the Grey Lady gets a chaperone (okay, not the best analogy). The concept is a welcome one, and it will be nice to see someone at the Paper itself exploit its foibles. The other nice part is that he's term-limited. About two years. I think it's worth tracking to see how he does.
The W. Stands for Wilson: Friedman is inclined to forgive Bush for what may be the biggest flip-flop of all: campaigning against nation-building, then making nation-building in the Mideast the cornerstone of his foreign policy.
Woodrow Wilson went through a similar transformation, notes Mr. Sandel. He campaigned for re-election in 1916 boasting of having kept the country out of Europe's messy war. But by April 2, 1917, Mr. Wilson was standing before a joint session of Congress, seeking a declaration of war against Germany and insisting that the world "must be made safe for democracy."
This happened to Lincoln during the Civil War. At the outset, the purpose of the Civil War for Lincoln was to oppose secession and preserve the Union . . . In Lincoln's case the rationale for the war shifted, not because he couldn't find any W.M.D. in Dixie, but rather, argues Mr. Sandel, "because of the enormity of the sacrifice that the war was requiring. It no longer made moral sense that this great sacrifice could just be about keeping these states together, could just be about a political structure. It had to be about a bigger purpose and that was freedom and equality."
That leaves the question open, however, as to the wisdom of the Bush doctrine. If Lincoln and Wilson prove anything, they prove that the virtue of one's goals doen't automaticvally dictate success. In one kind of success, Lincoln's rationale for fighting settled the slavery conflict in the context of a war over the frangibility of the union; resentment burned in the South for years, though, and some of Lincoln's means for both ends are open to justified critique. The Wilson Doctrine, on the other hand, went nowhere. Rebuffed by much of Europe, then spurned by Congress, Wilson's idealistic interventionism became, like Wilson himself soon thereafter, a dead letter. I'm not much of a historian, but there are lessons for today in both comparisons, and for both Bush and his opponents.
Russian Voting: International observers declare the Russian parliamentary election "free . . . but not fair." Hardly surprising, but while the results show a solid win for Putin's party, he hardly won a Saddam majority (the 99% neighborhood). There will be mewling on the left, among those who tend to whine about unfair elections but consistently refer to Yasser Arafat as the freely elected leader of the PA. As Robert Lane Greene said in TNR last week, in his pre-election roundup:
While he's no committed democrat, Putin does seem genuinely committed to cautious but steady economic reform, including privatization and trade liberalization. He has also been pragmatic in foreign affairs. Though he made clear his displeasure with the enlargement of NATO, America's exit from the ABM treaty, and the war in Iraq, Putin accepted these developments as faits accomplis rather than risk a confrontation with America that would have been popular but probably fruitless.

The second thing to keep in mind about Putin is that he isn't personally lacking for democratic legitimacy. He is, in fact, far and away the most popular man in Russia. According to a recent independent poll, 81 percent of Russians have a favorable opinion of him, and 78 percent trust him. Thirty-nine percent can't think of a single bad thing to say about Putin, and 4 percent admit to being "enthralled" by him.

Most importantly, Greene say that "Russians are aware of Putin's authoritarian streak -- they just don't seem to mind it, at least not the way Westerners think they should." Which is the point, really. Firstly, no use criticizing the people's choice, even if you don't like him. The Russians do, and it's their vote, after all. Secondly, and more to the argument Greene is making, Russia (like Iraq) has no historical experience with democracy and freedom (either economic or social). Russia's history is authoritarian a thousand years back. No wonder the voting public likes their democracy with an authoritarian flavor. "It's not what we would have," I take Greene as saying, "but cut them some slack."

I too would like to see a freer Russia, and I don't think we should slip into thinking of Putin in "our bastard" terms. But after so many generations without freedom, the Russians are doing pretty well. I'm not sure how long it will take, but I bet Greene, despite what he may think now, will live to make the same observations about Iraq.

More: Think about America's first 10-15 years and you're likely to think of democratic experimentation, trial and error, the growing cause for federalism, etc. But we did some damned authoritarian things in our youth, too: Passing the Alien and Sedition Acts; calling up the militia to face the Shays Rebels and, later, the Whiskey Rebels; passing the Fugitive Slave Act, which was prima facie antithetical to the founding documents of the nation. Within 100 years we'd fought our own civil war. Some hard lessons learned in there. To belabor a metaphor, democracy is a flower that transplants anywhere, but which requires specialized care in each new soil. Put another way, the Greeks could not have helped us much in 1859.

Liberty Dilemma: Over on TCS, Arnold Kling sums up the dark times for libertarians, including the Bush administration's most recent bout of protectionism (over Chinese unmentionables), the energy bill, and Howard Dean's pro-regulation comments. What's a voter to do? Oddly enough, Kling's piece ends up being, however tepid, an endorsement of Joseph Lieberman, quoting Walter Shapiro's comment that "aside from the brave and lonely free-trade advocacy of Joe Lieberman, all the White House hopefuls have embraced some form of protectionism." Kling continues:
In the past, Lieberman has seemed receptive to the arguments for choice in social behavior as well as for choice in markets. While he made a disappointing turnabout on school choice at the Democratic Convention in 2000, he is no worse than President Bush, who waited until after the election to back away from vouchers and instead push legislation that empowered bureaucrats, not parents . . . Lieberman is not the perfect candidate for libertarians, by any means. But the best candidate from an Internet/libertarian perspective is never going to be on the ballot. We have to choose from among flawed men and women. Lieberman's positions are more congenial to me than those of any other Presidential hopeful.
I think Kling's right about the man. On top of that, Lieberman is consistently hawkish, and he has come closer than any other Democrat in the race to admitting that affirmative action is divisive and socially disruptive. I worry at times about his willingness to pander (both because he does it, and because he does it so discomfitingly transparently) and his flirtation with neo-censorship guru Bill Bennett.

As I've noted before, I get the luxury of a choice: Massachusetts will almost surely go Democratic no matter the nominee. Thus, I can vote for a third party without hurting Bush's chances. If I lived in a swing state, I'd throw my vote to Bush, simply because the ideas the Democrats are pushing right now are a thin gruel of incremental socialism at home and international surrenderism and deference to the filthy UN abroad. As Kling notes, there is little chance that Lieberman could grab the crown in Boston this year, but if he did, he's be the only Democrat who could make me question my lesser-of-the-evils equation as it currently stands. Besides, Bush versus Lieberman would be a good race.

I stand here before you as my own f*ckin' man: It's getting pretty sad for Kerry as he staggers around the ring, taking blows from his opponents, but he won't go down because he has such a good cut man and trainer. So, he walks into the next uppercut, just conscious enough to mention how he served in Vietnam as he crashes onto the canvas. He obviously employed the Gore 2000 campaign team who tell him how to act for each given sector that he's trying to reach. So he eats cheesesteaks (badly), rides (rented) motorcycles on Leno, and now, utters (borrowed) invectives to Rolling Stone, which was relevant back when John Lennon was still alive. What's next? A flash mob?
Potty Mouth: What to make of John Kerry's decision to work blue in Rolling Stone? The answer is pretty clear.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Shine, Shine, a Roosevelt Dime: Some Republicans are lobbying to show FDR the gate and put Reagan on the dime.
Supporters of the "Ronald Reagan Dime Act" said Roosevelt and his government-expanding New Deal represented decades past, while Reagan's conservative, anti-communist administration ushered in society as it exists today.
I'm not sure political fashion should dictate whose face gets stamped onto coins, nor do I think we should give the honor to the living. That said, there is a perfectly respectable place to put Reagan's likeness: the dollar coin. The dollar coin has been a pet issue of mine for a few years. When the Sacagawea dollar was minted in 2000, I wrote a piece on it for a magazine. I complained that the old silver dollars were too big, that the Susan B. was too much like a quarter, and that the Sacagawea was just silly and, like the Susan B., not worth breaking out tradition of presidential portraits on coins. Why couldn't we instead mint a useful dollar coin -- perhaps one that is thick and distinctive, like a pound coin, rather than simply being larger in diameter?

Meanwhile, who better to front the dollar than the man who revived a moribund economy? Conservatives get their modern hero on the top-dog coin, which might actually motivate a campaign for a useful coin. And liberals always did complain that the almighty dollar ruled Reagan's tenure.

Decoding Dean: Jonathan Rauch has an interesting take on Howard Dean, seeing him as more Clinton than McGovern:
Howard Dean -- the former Vermont governor who is leading the Democratic presidential pack -- is a suicide pill, too left-wing to win. Or so goes the conventional wisdom . . . Don't bet on it. I spent several days recently poring over Dean's speeches and other public comments. The conclusion was not as expected. The Dean campaign may be set to the music of firebrand liberalism, but its words belie the notion that Dean has painted himself into a far-left corner. Even on Iraq -- his signature issue -- Dean has planted himself subtly but distinctly to the right of his supporters.
He goes on to say that Dean is well positioned for a move to the center, at least as much so as Clinton, who ran as more of an idealistic liberal than the pragmatic centrist he became; that Dean's core supporters "will tolerate any kind of repositioning in order to defeat Bush"; and that "[i]f in actuality he is a fast-footed career politician, as the record suggests -- well, so much the better."

Rauch ignores a couple of subtleties, I think. For one, Dean's opponents for the Democratic nomination have been fairly successful in pushing, in the national media, the idea that Dean is out of the mainstream. Assuming he gets the nomination, this perception will not go away easily, particularly when Bush's campaign heats up and begins to use Dean's -- and his opponents' -- words against him. The firebrand left -- seeking to defeat Bush in any way possible -- will necessarily be more forgiving than moderates, the swing voters who will decide the election. Besides, after Nader's run in 2000, and its effect on Gore's vote totals, any Democrat will likely have a stronger hold on the base in 2004.

Second, and corallary, if Dean is so well positioned to run a centrist, New Democrat campaign next year, why are the New Democrats working against him? Did they misjudge him? Did they fall for the "too liberal" conventional wisdom that Rauch dismisses? Even if Dean is to the left of a solid New Dem like Joe Lieberman, he is (as Rauch argues) arguably to the right of the 1992 vintage of Bill Clinton, who was, at the time, the fair-haired boy of the New Democrat governors (even though, by today's standards, he was still fairly liberal).

Rauch may be right, and I don't dismiss his conclusion that Dean could be a formidable opponent for Bush in 2004, particularly if Iraq continues to fester. But I'm not yet convinced that Dean knows what he's doing.

What is a South Park Republican? You may have been following this all along; if not, here's Reynolds, Sullivan, Goldberg, Anderson (twice), and Stanton (also twice). Various others are linked in those articles. Read up.

Near as I can tell, "South Park Republican" is another of Andrew Sullivan's colorful coinages (like his "Eagles") to describe those who don't toe the party line -- particularly the GOP party line. Of course, this is no new trend. We always called them P.J. O'Rourke Republicans; or, as he would say, Republican Party Reptiles:

So, what I’d really like is a new label. And I’m sure there are a lot of people who feel the same way. We are the Republican Party Reptiles. We look like Republicans, and think like conservatives, but we drive a lot faster and keep vibrators and baby oil and a video camera behind the stack of sweaters on the bedroom closet shelf. I think our agenda is clear. We are opposed to: government spending, Kennedy kids, seat-belt laws, being a pussy about nuclear power, busing our children anywhere other than Yale, trailer courts near our vacation homes, Gary Hart, all tiny Third World countries that don’t have banking secrecy laws, aerobics, the U.N., taxation without tax loopholes, and jewelry on men. We are in favor of: guns, drugs, fast cars, free love (if our wives don’t find out), a sound dollar, cleaner environment (poor people should cut it out with the graffiti), a strong military with spiffy uniforms, Natassia Kinski, Star Wars (and anything else that scares the Russkies), and a firm stand on the Middle East (raze buildings, burn crops, plow the earth with salt, and sell the population into bondage).
In the end, though, is there anything to "South Park Republicanism" other than a glib name and some oversimplified political reasoning? After all, in a marketing age, everything is a brand, and it always needs a cute tag and some pop cultural cachet; but that doesn't imply that there's meat on the bone. In this case, I think the diversity of deviance makes the South Park segment less than a voting bloc, despite the cultural affinities. To give just one example, where would one stand on, say, abortion? If the unspoken fact is that South Park Republicans are Republicans with a wide pro-liberty streak, one could imagine that a certain libertarianism tempers the conservative heart in South Park -- and thus they would be pro-choice. Still, two of the most principled lower-case libertarians I've read (namely Balko and Hentoff) are unequivocally pro-life.

Okay, one more example: gay marriage. Sullivan would tell you that the South Park Republican is open to the idea of gay marriage, but I'm not so sure. I've heard some principled opposition to gay marriage from what I would consider generally South Park-ish types, the gist being that, while the economic and social benefits attendant to marriage should belong to all, it's silly to change the definition of the word marriage to include gays, and that such a change is akin to painting stripes on a horse and calling it a zebra. While I find that argument a bit overly semantic, I think it resonates with many anti-PC conservatives.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

It's not like he committed a crime: State authorities are raiding Rush's records. But to be clear, according to his lawyer, he's not part of a drug ring, he only became addicted to pain killers after being legitimately prescribed the medication. Right. He was merely utilizing the little-known have-your-maid-buy-thousands-of-pills-in-dark-parking-lots exception to the law against buying prescription drugs without a, uh, prescription. The Dutch have similar exceptions, best described by a certain, late Vincent Vega:
It's legal but it ain't hundred percent legal, I mean, you just can't walk into a restaurant, roll a joint and start puffin' away. I mean they want you to smoke in your home or certain designated places. ... It breaks down like this, ok, it's legal to buy it, it's legal to own it. And if you're the proprietor of a hash bar, it's legal to sell it. It's legal to carry it, but...but that dosen't matter, 'cause, get a load of this; all right, If you get stopped by a cop in Amsterdam, it's illegal for them to search you. I mean that's a right the cops in Amsterdam don't have.
Trans fatty jelly: Now, now Eno. Don't go and make us a site like "The Onion". Sure we do some satirical criticisms, but we don't invent, whole cloth, preposterous articles like that one. Plus, it's way over the top. No one would even consider that to be possibly true. Boy, what a kidder. Heheh.
Welfare: bad (unless it's corporate): W finally knuckled under and repealed the illegal steel tariffs. No surprise as he really had no choice. It's also a good time to do it. He has a year to repair the damage done politically before those states most affected turn in their electoral votes. It was a sop to begin with so this really shouldn't have any demonstrable effect on our economy at large (which is humming along quite nicely in any regard). Plus, the tariffs hurt as many American businesses as it supposedly helped.

The tariff fiasco reflects our government's unwillingness or inability to let the giant industries die a natural death, i.e airlines. There is no doubt that the steel industry employees got a raw deal w/r/t their pensions, and for that I have genuine sympathy. Of course those pensions were rather extravagant to begin with and for that, one can thank the unions. Still, American steel just doesn't cut it on the scale that it once did.

The most interesting point that the Connie makes is that Bush will take credit for his tariffs actually having changed the face of the steel industry:
What kind of victory can he claim? In the 20 months since the tariffs were imposed, the steel industry has consolidated. Some ailing steel firms, such as National Steel and Bethlehem Steel, have been gobbled up by larger competitors. The industry’s largest union, the United Steel Workers of America, has agreed to more flexible work practices, profit-sharing and even some redundancies in order to give its remaining members a fighting chance of saving their jobs. Just as important, demand for steel is picking up: the world may face a supply shortage and a price spike next year, predicts World Steel Dynamics, a research firm.
Not so fast say industry experts:
But if anything, the tariffs simply delayed the inevitable. By artificially raising the price of steel, they added to the profits of ailing firms, making them more expensive to acquire. Europe went through a similar round of mergers a decade or more ago without the help of tariffs. The trade barriers Mr Bush repealed on Thursday were a comfort blanket, not a spur, for the industry.

Still, the industry is showing signs of life once more. The real hope is that American Steel will finally get the picture. We shouldn't worry though. Look how much the airlines learned from 9/11.
Food Nannyism Goes Mainstream: Fringe food cops and twinkie-tax advocates like Marion Nestle are one thing, but now a major Democrat running for president has inserted himself fully into the junk-food wars:
Warning: Jelly doughnuts may be hazardous to your child's health.

That's what Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman is telling America's parents as he seeks a federal investigation into the marketing practices of junk food companies.

"Parents today are being forced to contend with a new threat — big food companies targeting junk food at children," Lieberman said Thursday in Nashua, N.H. "It's time to stand up to the companies that hype food to children and to stand up for an important principle — informed choices by people who can make informed decisions."

Lieberman went on to announce that he would, as president, create a cabinet-level Department of Making Sure Your Kids Don't Spoil Their Dinner. "We should give parents the tools they need," said Lieberman, sounding uncannily like the father on the TV show ALF, "to govern their children's eating habits without having to discuss it with them. I mean, really, did you ever try to talk to your kid about fats and sodium and simple versus complex carbohydrates?"