Saturday, January 06, 2007

Fighting the Mouse

From Crooks and Liars and Fire Dog Lake come links to a story about a blogger known only as "Spocko" who has written letters to the advertisers at a Disney-owned station, KSFO, whose line-up has engaged in some of the most awful hate-speech (so much for those San Francisco values, huh). You can hear some of the clips Spocko managed to get ahold of here (I advise you to listen at your own risk; it is truly some of the mos offensive stuff imaginable).

Spocko's success has brought the wrath of Disney down upon him, getting a court-order to shut down Spocko's blog until further notice for alleged copyright violation (I would post the clips here, but I'm just not sure how). His success includes VISA pulling out as a sponsor, with AT&T and others seriously contemplating doing so as well. He is a fifth-tier blogger (I suppose that makes me a thirty-seventh tier blogger, huh?) with few resources against ABC-Disney and its team of attorneys. Oh, he also has the law on his side, too. And decency. Go here to find out the whole story, and to find out how to help.

Could I suggest, perhaps, setting up some kind of LDF for Spocko, with contributions from bloggers, perhaps through PAYPAL or some other source, as a way of helping to defray his legal expenses? I would certainly help that way, besides spreading the word as far and as wide as possible. I mean, if family-friendly Disney wants to pay the salaries of people who advocate murder, torture, and the commiting of apostasy by Muslims, that's fine. I don't think we should take it lying down when they go after a little blogger who just wants to let their sponsors know what they are paying for.

Follow the links in the second linked story for a list of sponsors. Be polite but firm. Let them know what their advertising dollars are paying for. Put the ball in their court. If you have a blog, spread the word. Let's help one of our own, and take on the Mouse that Roars.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Civics Lesson for Congresswoman Boyda

Freshman Congresswoman Nancy Boyda (D-KS) apparently doesn't understand that, as a member of the House of Representatives, she controls the pursestrings over any and all Executive Branch policies. Indeed, spending and taxation bills can only originate in the House of Representatives. So, for Rep. Boyda to say what she has said reveals not so much a deference to the President (although there is also that present in her comments) but an almost total ignorance of the real power she has as a House member.

We can educate her, though. If you would like to remind Boyda of some home truths in the Constitution she has sworn to uphold and defend, you should give her a call or fax her Washington office (as always, be polite; also, mention where you got the information):
DC phone: 202-225-6601
DC fax: 202-227-7986

If not us, then whom? If not now, then when? This is part and parcel of how we use our muscle as liberal/lefty bloggers. We spread the word of heinous error, and we call these people to account. I will make my own call directly.

Sam Harris, Torture Apologist

I wrote here on current media-darling Sam Harris, author of two books condeming "religion". America's counterpart to Britain's Richard Dawkins, the two live to do nothing less than seek to destroy religion as a part of human life. I find that so hysterically funny, it almost doesn't bear thinking about. Never mind the hubris and lack of serious understanding of religion as a social phenomenon, their own fanaticism and lack of clarity or self-awareness almost boggles the mind. As I felt I had said all I wanted or needed to say concerning Harris (an earlier post dealt with Dawkins), I wanted to leave him alone but I ran across this piece over at, in which it is revealed that Harris accepts ESP, reincarnation, and the torture of an entire religious group of people. While in the interview he seems to backpedal on his earlier defense of ESP and reincarnation, in othe rplaces he has argued not that the jury is still out on paranormal phenomena, but that there are social and professional pressures against the study of such phenomena, or reviewing their findings. I find this disingenuous at best. Why be such a chicek-heart? If you believe people can read minds, say so! If you believe Ravi Shankar is the reincarnation of a murdered two-year-old, say so! If you believe reports of people speaking languages they could not possibly know, say so! You certainly say torture is OK, as long as it is torture of Muslims; you even say it's OK if a few innocents get tortured. They're religious (although it just appears they are of the wrong religion; he would have a problem torturing, it seems, Buddhists, who are nothing but peaceful, peace-loving, compassionate people) after all, and religions are evil, so we aren't doing anything inherently bad.

This man has gone from seriously silly and unserious to seriously deranged and (dare I say it? Sure, why not) hypocritical.

He is now to be ignored completely. It should be obvious that he simply has no idea what he is talking about, on any level, and has no moral compass whatsoever, rational or otherwise. His concern is not with the damage religion has done to humanity, because it is quite clear he doesn't care about real people - why advocate torture if he cares about human life and well-being? No, he cares about Sam Harris. He is, it would seem, an unthinking, unreflective, ignorant self-promoter, basking in the limelight provided by outrageous and unsubstantiated claims and argument with neither merit nor support in evidence. He is now revealed as a believer in some of the silliest ideas imaginable, ideas with no more (or less) support in "evidence" than the resurrection of Jesus, the divine authority of the Mosaic law, or the divine authorship of the Q'uran. I am not saying that ESP and reincarnation do not exist (actually, I am; I believe in neither, and the fact that both are matters of "belief" should already lead us well on the way to questioning the basis of Harris' attacks on religion), but rather that they are no more supported by evidence than any other wild claim. They are matter of belief, not verifiable evidence. I suppose consistency is too much to ask of some people, but I am unsurprised by the fact that, rather than the deep, serious thinker he claims to be, Harris is now outed as a shallow, unserious person in love with his new celebrity status. The fact that he tries to distance himself from his own beliefs in interviews show that he is a celebrity, not an intellectual.

I would prefer atheists had more balls than that. You know, like Christians who would rather die than deny Christ? Or Jews who would rather die than be baptized? Like Muslims who would rather die than foreswear the five pillars of Islam? Not much strength in his own beliefs if he is willing to sell them short and not defend them (except for the torture of an entire religious group, apparently) because they might be a sign of inconcsistency.

On Government Action

Many noted yesterday's George Will column in which he came out foursquare against a federal minimum wage. Not just an increase, but against the very idea of a minimum wage. He called labor a "comodity"; I don't understand how human action can become something that is traded in the open market, like hog futures. This very idea was attacked in the mid- and late-19th century as "wage slavery" (see Christopher Lasch's The True and Only Heaven) precisely because it dehumanized workers, making them little different from wheat going to the mill.

That aside, the reason Will gave was the inability of government action to give us the results intended. The so-called "law of unintended consequences", which only stated that any solution to a problem very often creates a whole new set of problems all its own, has become the law of opposite consequences - when we set out to do something, the exact opposite of our intentions occurs. Will takes this to be axiomatic, and it is both familiar, repeated ad nauseum by right-wing and libertarian types (remember the whole "faceless bureaucrat" business back in the 1990's?), and has even emerged as a way of attempting to discuss the miserable failure of Katrina relief in New Orleans. I believe Will accepts it as true, but that only proves what an ignoramus he is. I believe libertarians accept it as true, which is why I find libertarians to be an intellectually and morally hollow people. The truth is government action - which includes everything from localities building roads and schools to states building bridges to the federal government delivering our mail, fighting wars, and collecting taxes - achieves the goals set forth, usually, as long as the agencies involved follow their own internal processes correctly, which is a business way of saying that they follow the law. Even more important to note, there have been many, many government programs that have been rousing successes - I would just note two World Wars the United States engaged in as a start. Part of the list of government programs that have been rousing successes have been: the Tennessee Valley Authority (part of the larger Depression-era Rural Electrification Program that brough light and heat to millions); the WPA, which built schools and post offices, bridges and community centers, and rebuilt the US highway system; the Civilian Conservation Corps, which landscaped recreation areas in national parks, created access roads with surprsingly little environmental damage, plantged thousands and hudreds of thousands of trees; Head Start; the GI Bill of Rights which, in the words of the late William Manchester, gave us the best-educated generation of Americans in its history; NASA; food stamps; Social Security.

This is a partial list, and I would just add, as a note, that even Prohibition was a success, as the incidence of alcoholism, alcohol-related disease and accident, and general alcohol consumption declined dramatically during the 1920's. Only among the privileged did boot-leg liquor flourish (the speakeasies cost a lot of money to operate - there were judges to pay off, cops to pay off, mob security to arrange, etc.). The larger point is that those on the right, including George Will, who routinely disparage government action simply do not know what they are talking about. The fact that our current administration lacks the ability to even follow its own laws and procedures (which, had they done son, would have saved New Orleans) is not an argument against government action. It is an argument against government malfeasance an incompetence. When things are done right, they are usually done well, as well.

At a deeper level, it is important to realize that the libertarian argument misses two things that are important to remember. First, historically speaking, government has been the chief cause and contributor to innovation and capital imporovement - from maintaining roads and the police and security forces necessary to connect disparate parts of a realm together to investment in industry and agriculture (who else would buy all the wool to make uniforms, wheat and meat to feed armies, iron and wood as well as the craftsmen to make weapons?). To pretend otherwise is to engage in obfuscation at best, or ouright lying at worst. Second, the libertarian argument assumes that human individual action is inherently better than corporate action. this is an assumption, with no rational basis. The counter-argument, that societies together demand action by their leaders and representatives for corporate defense and benefit, is not only not an assertion, it has been demonstrated time and again historically - this is the way social groups function, including whole societies and states. The United States is no different in this regard; we have a social contract that demands concerted corporate action to help those who need help, to rescue those who are the victims of chance and happenstance, and to give aid and comfort to those without any other recourse. Ours is a much looser, much less satisfying social safety net than, say, those in western Europe, but it exists for a reason, and needs to be strengthened, not dismantled. Indeed, I think part of the rejection of the current brand of Republican politics is the realization that there were and are tearing threads in the social fabric, and that this damage threatens us as a whole people.

Government action on the minimum wage guarantees that there is a level below which, it is unacceptable to pay people for the work they provide. Of course, there are hundreds of thousans, even millions, who earn below the minimum wage, but this shows another utliity it has - it is a good, rough basis for comparing wages and salaries, and as such serves as a goad to those who refuse to meet even its very low standard. To those silly-minded people who say "Why not $10 an hour, or $100?" I would remind this is not an argument. This line of thinking can be made as absurd in the opposite direction, and ask, "Why not ask employees to pay employers for the privilege of working?" These questions assume the minimum wage is something it is not, social engineering through the manipulation of market forces. The minimum wage is the corporate response to the socio-economic damage wrought by corporations who, without the prodding of the law, would refuse to pay a living wage to their employees. This is not hyperbole or class warfare, it is ismply a summary of historic fact.

While it is true that meandering the maze of the minutiae of government regulation and process can be intimidating, even infuriating, this does not mean that government action, in and of itself, is bad, or wrong, or even philosophically unjustifiable. Rather, it shows that government action, like all human action, is limited by human fallibility and imperfection. Since we shall never be perfect or infallible, why not accept the limited nature of government action - its failures and successes - and move on?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Setting the Agenda

I have linked to The Daily Howler, as I noted yesterday, and I think, on this historic day, with Nancy Pelosi elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, we should pause as we enter a whole new phase of our history. In many ways, the 1994 Republican take over of the House was the culmination of a long fight that started twenty and even thirty years before, whether you date the end of the New Deal with the 1964 election cycle or the 1972 election cycle. With 2006, another chapter is closing, and the Republicans are not now nor will they be for the foreseeable future the majority party of the United States, for reasons I went inot in a post below on alignments.

The connections here are simple: The DH reminds us that we must seize control of how the media frames not only the agenda, but the persons and personalities who are doing the gruntwork in the Congress, and who may or may not run for President. The media may be behind the curve on exactly what has changed and how and why, but that is no reasons for liberals and progressives to continue to react to them. For example, I think Media Matters for America does an excellent job as an independent monitor of the press and its content. I think, however, that the almost constant badgering of the right-wing blogs by numerous left wing blogs is not only tiresome (although a constant source of amusement; see Sadly!No and Driftglass for details) but confers upon thema legitimacy they should not have. If you treat their arguments as if they have any merit, a discussion ensues, when what should actually happen is we should ignore them, and be discussing our agenda. We have to frame the issues - with or without the MSM's help. The web has become increasingly powerful not only as an organizing tool but as a medium for idea exchange and development. I think it is safe to say that the liberal and progressive blogs were as important in the recent election as many other forces that could be named. Indeed, I remember this past summer when I first became engaged in blogging and reading other progressive sites I felt like I was part of something big, important, and historic. It turns out, I was right.

Now we have to act like it. We have to own that power. Rather than constantly whine about Instapundit or Michelle Malkin or some loony right-wing radio lip-flapper who wants to assassinate Democrats in Congress, how about we talk about oversight and health-care policy and environmental initiatives to fight global warming and recreating a foreign policy that is worthy of America. I fully expect the Instapundits and Malkins and Pusateris and all the rest of the fringe blogs to continue to exist and generate traffic and noise. As part of the current majority party, as part of the reason we are the majority party, however, we have an obligation now to act in accordance with the power given to us. And I say "us" because whether you are a small-time blog like mine, or Duncan Black's, with hundreds and even thousands of hits a day, we are all part and parcel of the political game now. We have an obligation to work for the agenda we have helped to create. Part of the agenda is not stopping the right-wing, because that will never happen. Rather, it is to act to give our elected leaders the strength and courage to act on the country's behalf. That was the point of the election, after all.

Calling out the MSM for its failures has a certain utility; I have done it myself. It is limited, however, as long as we think that all we need do is complain loudly and things might change. We need to call them on their errors, not to force them to change, but to highlight the agenda we need to be working for, the goals we need to be working toward. This is our moment, not just the Democratic Party's moment, or Nancy Pelosi's moment, or Rahm Emmanuel's moment, or Harry Reid's moment. It is for all of us - all of us who sacrifice time and energy and family life and even sleep and food to get the word out that things are very bad right now, but could be better. It is our time - our time to not give up just because the initial after the majority party is "D". The hard work has just begun, and perhaps the hardest part will be giving up old habits, including whining about the right. We need to act like winners, not whiners.

The 110th Congress Begins

I was going to make this a "Short Take", but I just wanted to type that headline. There is so much howling on the right, like a three-year-old whose favorite toy of has been taken away because he was banging it on the floor and might break it. Now, he is screaming to the one who has taken it not to break it. I swear, they should be sent to bed without their supper!

Let's not even get into the misogyny over having (gasp!) a woman Speaker of the House! Even the women on the right seem totally undone by the thought of a liberal woman occupying a Constitutional office. I suppose they all thought it would the "right" kind of woman, not some America-hating, San Francisco-values promoting acutal by-God feminist like Nancy Pelosi.

After the initial 100 hours, we shall watch and see if the Democrats can keep the momentum, never letting the Bush folks steal the agenda.

As I said in the immediate aftermath of the elections (was it only?) two months ago, this is not the end, but the beginning, and we must treat it as a beginning - keeping their feet to the fire, no matter how hard it may get, no matter how difficult it may be repeating ourselves. There is too much at stake to slip even a little.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I wonder if Chris Matthews Would Shut Up if we All Yelled at Him at Once?

I suppose it isn't just him. This morning, I heard a discussion on NPR on the incoming Congress that suddenly shifted to a discussion of CAMPAIGN '08. It seems the lip-flappers are bereft of things to talk about - it isn't as if we were in a war, or the globe were warming, or race relations are tumbling, or anything else. These "bubble-headed bleach-blondes" (to quote Don Henley) seem incapable of of actually discussing anything without suddenly referring to CAMPAIGN '08. Matthews is just the most pathetic example of a sad species - the brain-dead pundit.

I have finally linked to The Daily Howler, and we are given good advice - start tackling the framing of candidates now before the framing is done for us by morons like Matthews, who is the major culprit dissected in today's edition. I hate armchair psychoanalysts, especially those who know nothing about psychology, but I see Chris Matthews in high school as one of those pimply-faced ners, all elbows and shoulders and knees, having a horrible crush on the head cheerleader who is also class president and president of the National Honor Society. Knowing he will be rejected if he even thinks of saying hello to her in passing, he translates that rejection into a vidictiveness for any woman who is bright, witty, attractive, and successful. That is the only thing I can think of, especially when we come to his constant badgering of the junionr Senator from my home state. He just knows she will be the Democratic nominee in CAMPAIGN '08, and he just knows she will be the Democrats downfall. He knows this because Sen. Clinton is bright, witty, attractive and successful, and midwestern men are turned off by such women.

God, he's so pathetic.

Nevermind that Clinton has yet to announce whether or not she is running for the Presidency. Never mind we are over a year away from Iowa and New Hampshire. Never mind that in straw polls Clinton beats Republican front-runner John McCain time and again. Never mind that, despite pundit Clinton-fatigue, she seems as popular as she is unpopular, again in poll after poll. None of this registers with Matthews, who has some perverse desire to put Hillary in her place, wherever that might be. This weird obsession of his would be funny if it weren't so sad and so public.

Make no mistake, as it is more than a year out from the primaries, I am far from serious thought as to who I like for the Democratic nominee. I would like to see what the Democrats do with control of Congress. I would like to see who actually enters the race, as opposed to who the pundit class says over and over again will be the candidates. I would like to live my life for a year, then be able to make better decisions based on where I am a year from now. I think, though, that we could do far worse than having Hillary Clinton as President of the United States, although we could in all probability do far better as well.

It would make hysterical TV to watch Matthews for four or eight years, however, discuss how unpopular and unelectable Hillary Clinton is as she occupies the White House. Or it might just be sad.

Or, we could just ask him to please give it a rest.

As Congress prepares to convene, Break out the hipwaders

I suppose I was naive not to realize something like this would happen. Apparently, after destroying a budget surplus projected in the tens of billions of dollars, and having his party comrades fatten themselves at the public trough with "earmarks" for pet projects that spanned from the ridiculous to the absurd, George Bush has become a devotee of balanced budgets. Quite apart from the absurdity of George Bush calling on Democrats in Congress to rein in spending a day before they even assume power and get themselves organized; quite apart from Goerge Bush talking about balanced budgets when he has yet to submit one; quite apart from the question of why no one in the mainstream media has yet to ask the simple question as to why anyone should take anything this man says seriously. Quite apart from these questions - does the President actually think he has enough of a bully pulpit left, with his approval ratings hovering just above the non-existent for months and months to get the Democrats in Congress to take him seriously?

Suddenly, Bush remembers he is a Republican. Republicans used to like balanced budgets, especially when there was nothing they could actually do about balancing them. When they had power, they complained about the actual tax and fiscal discipline necessary to achieve them - with a few exceptions of course. Remember Bill Clinton's "Biggest Tax Hike in History"? It wasn't, of course. Ronald Reagan signed that in 1984 after Congress reformed the Social Security system. The point is - that is one of the things necessary to restoring a little fiscal sanity - if you want to play (at war, at traveling to the moon and beyond, at all the things left undone in the wake of the Iraqi blackhole sucking all the political energy from Washington) you have to pay. That's all there is to it.

Were I Speaker Pelosi (it is so nice to type that), I would politely thank the President for his input, then go about doing what I was doing as if it had never happened (kind of like what Bush did with the ISG report). Were I pressed, say by Tim Russert or Wolf Blitzer, I might mention the lack of Congressional discipline that left Executive Branch spending plans (not all of them, just nine; out of eleven) sitting in Congress, unloved, unmourned, and no doubt a sight for attempted Republican snarking in the upcoming Congress. I would also quote blogger Parklife (see link to the right): "Republicans have the moral authority of rats in the NYC subway."

What more needs to be said, really?

Lessons From Reflecting on Britney Spears' Personal Meltdown

Last month, I wrote a little thing here on the pathetic position Britney Spears is in - all confined within her celebrity-hood, where any publicity is good publicity, and there are few consequences for even the most egregious affronts to decency and law.

Skip ahead a month, and I read a short little thing here (it's in Portuguese with translation via BabelFish) that offered a different perspective - she is acting little differently from most 25-year-olds, we just get to see photos of her - and I got to thinking about our tendency to assume moral judgements, especially of horrid personal behavior, are universal. Aren't we told that morality is universal, non-negotiable, and the mere thought it might be is a start on the slide down to all sorts of horrible consequences? Except, of course, it's not. Moral judgements are as different as each individual who makes them, or the society in which they are made. Since there is no objective arbiter who can choose whose moral judgements are "correct", wouldn't it be better to withhold all sorts of judgements, especially those we claim are based on "universal moral principles"?

I am not suggesting for a minute that Britney's recent, very public bad bahvior should have no consequences, especially as her divorce moves into the custody stage (always ugly, sure to get uglier). These are legal not moral judgements, however, and there is a difference. Is Britney Spears an unfit mother? How many people have may of us known who occasionally went a bit overboard in their behavior? God Almighty, haven't each of us done this on our own? Are we willing to pass judgements - huge moral judgements, let alone legal judgements - on a bunch of photographs without context, the sources of which are the among the lowest form of human life imaginable? How many of us would want to see pictures of ourselves after a long night of partying splashed across papers? How many of us would listen to the judgements of others based solely upon those photographs?

It is one thing to think that Britney might need to remember underwear when she goes out, unless of course, living inside that strange bubble I wrote of earlier, she honestly believes there is no such thing as bad publicity. It is one thing to think Paris Hilton is not the best choice for pal on a series of post-marital nights about town. It is one thing to think that perhaps Britney might have benefited from a bit more education, so she could have learned the word "discretion". It is another thing, however to take these individual thoughts and string them together as one large moral verdict against the former Not-So-Innocent pop queen. As we have yet to walk even a quarter-mile in her Gucci loafers, I would suggest we withold final verdict, listen to the wisdom we might find across the seas, and look inside ourselve a bit.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Alignments, Re-, De-, and Evolving

As a political science student in the mid-1980's, I learned some jargon that journalists use, including the term "alignment". It is jargon that refers to the various electoral coalitions that give one or the other major parties electoral victories. In the wake of the collapse of the New Deal coalition - the first major alignment to receive academic attention - there was a question as to whether the Republicans were winning because of a new alignment or if the country was actually going through a period where party affiliation was waining, what became known as de-alignment. Various facts were offered in defense of one view or another, but it should be clear by now that the Republicans managed to string together a loose (very loose) coalition that included conservative Christians, recently suburbanized new families worried over taxes and property expenses, and corporate interests to provide money in order to govern, not well or effectively but with a certain support from at least a plurality of Americans for a generation. That coalition, owever, has collapsed because of its inherent weakness. We are in the middle of an evolving alignment due to circumstances and changing demographics, and it might be too early to say which party will benefit in the long run, but it is clear the Democratic Party is the early winner in the new alignment sweepstakes.

While it might be convenient for Republicans to blame the war in Iraq, or a lack of concern for "conservative principles" for their electoral loss, it should be clear by now that it was exactly adherence to those principles, plus a lock of concern for the task of governance, that brought about the end of Republican dominance over Congress. The principle weakness stems from an increasing reliance upon a modified version of Nixon's "Southern strategy" - stealing racist white votes in the formerly solidly democratic south throuhg religious and cultural appeals - and the changing interests of suburbanites. There is no more "rust belt", because the deindustrialization of the upper midwest is complete. The demographic and socio-economic shifts accompanying such a change have now reached he point where the earlier concern over taxes and property values are a thing of the past (for the most part). With a shift in the tax burden away from the upper-middle class to the working class, and the resulting increase in economic pressure upon formerly comfortable middle-class families, as well as the growing realization that abdication of serious policy in health care, the environment, race relations, and social welfare have all created a window of opportunity for the Democrats to forge an electoral coalition that can last.

Cultural politics have never been a long-term winner in America (how many elections did William Jennings Bryan win?), and while they have served as a tool for a new identity politics among conservatives, by setting rigid identity lines - you are either with us or with the terrorists, that kind of thing - it has made it easier for people to tell the parties apart and make their electoral decisions accordingly. The results have not been good for Republicans.

There is also the practical matter of governance. The Democrats lost control partly because, as they flailed for an identity in the post-New Deal era, they were bereft of ideas, and simply became practical technocrats. This is not necessarily a bad thing - we always need competent people governing - their chief representative, Michael Dukakis, proved the limits of electablility based upon competence alone. Republicans, however, have shown that competence is not necessarily a bad thing, and that along with competence comes a certain trustworthiness that they have shown themselves lacking.

One more factor that is little discussed is the effect of the end of the Cold War. In his book America in Our Time, British journalist Godfrey Hodgson wrote about the emerging "liberal consensus" in the late-Truman, early-Eisenhower years (called "liberal", even though Hodgson admits it was actually moderately conservative). This consensus held, especially in foreign affairs, although with a certain spill-over into domestic politics, past the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the demise of the Soviet Union precisely because the perceived threat was always imminent. There was a certain post-Cold War hangover that allowed neo-conservatives (who first rose to prominence for their strident anti-communism and miltaristic approach to foreign policy) to retain a level of legitimacy in the Clinton years to pose as thoughtful, serious opposition. With the Iraq qar, however, their moral and strategic bankruptcy is quite public. That the Republicans have no other intellectual base shows their coalition is exhausted. They have no one to turn to for new ideas, and are left parading around naked emperors as if they were regally gowned. Blinded by adherence to an ideology no longer relevant, they do not see that they are incompetent seamstresses for an Empire no one wants, and we cannot afford.

These are some of the realities we face in the upcoming years. 2007 and 2008 will show us whether and how well the Democrats recognize the changing realities (the media will not help; they are stuck in a past that no longer exists as far as social analysis is concerned) and if they are clever enough and brave enough to benefit from them. If not, we may be staggering through the next few years bereft of serious political leadership, an evolving set of political coalitions looking for a place to rest their collective heads. Rest assured, however, that one or another party will eventually figure out a way to string together the various groups to create a working, governing majority. My own hope is that the Democrats do so. If the Republicans do it, and do it in a way that benefits the country as a whole, who knows? They may emerge as my favorite party. Only time, and political competence, will tell.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Civility in Civil Discourse

Most of the big name political bloggers have mentioned the issue more than once, but Duncan over at atrios has spent quite a bit of time on the issue. Most of the time, his view is a protest over the fact that what most of the complaints boil down to is that left-leaning bloggers seem unafraid to use the word "fuck". I think he misses the point, however, as long as he focusses on that particular point. Digby noted Cheney's remarks at President Ford's memorial service, and highlighted the fact that some, at least, on the right are not afraid to use the term as well (Cheney's now infamous remark to Sen. Leahy, to go fuck himself).

I believe that all this talk - among the right-blogs and in the MSM - concerning civility in civil discourse is acombination of fear and an attempt to create a framework within which they can take the left to task. Civility is what one chooses to call civil. For the Bush Administration, asking impertinent question, holding Congressional oversight hearings, and holding them to account for both their words and actions is "uncivil". For the press, a Democratic majority that refuses to accept teh Administration's words (Lord knows why they should), could become "uncivil", especially of Speaker Pelosi continues her public girding of loins and straightening of spines of Democrats in Congress. As for the right-blogosphese, I honestly think we can ignore them, because they simply are not players, except to spread nonsense, falsehoods, and become increasingly shrill as they fall further and further behind.

I think the Administration and its sycophants and the Washington establishment in general are in fear for their lives, or at least livelihoods, because we may be entering a period where "civility" as it has been understood and (unfortunately) practiced for a generation or more will no longer rule. There is a healthy skepticism of power and office afoot in the country right now, and if the Democratic Congress refuses to acknowledge certain claimed prerogatives of the Executive, that could be called "uncivil". If Leahy tells Cheney, on or off the record, to go fuck humself, that could be uncivil. If Bush is held to account, if subpeonas are issued, if testimony is demanded under penalty of jail for contempt of Congress, that could be considered uncivil. This is how framing works - we establish the boundaires, and then defend them relentlessly.

I don't think it will work. I also think we need a bit more of the dropping of the "f"-bomb in the public square to shake the establishment in its boots. Civil discourse isn't about being nice, or polite, or respectful. It is about "civitas", the city; that is, it is about governance, the best way to rule, and what happens to those who abuse the privileges that come with power, or who brek the laws they are sworn to uphold. That is what is civil about civil discourse. Politeness and deference are not, or at least should not be (small "d") democratic values. As my wife often says, coarse language can cause the message to get lost as people turn away. I agree with her. On the other hand, we have had too much blood and treasure spilled for no reason, too much ruination of all that is good and great about America to hide behind some artificial, and largely bogus, understanding of "civility". We need real civil discourse, a public dialogue that centers on the care of the city, as it were.

There will be much talk and discussion about this as time goes on, I am sure, but I think the boundaries have been set, and we shall watch them crumble under the relentless assault of time and uncovered fact. As long as there are left-wing bloggers who push the envelope - not of acceptable word shoice but of concern for the country and its governance - we shall have a real civil discourse, and it might occasionally include the word "fuck". It might also include the word "impeach".

A Day Late and a Brain Cell Short

Over at AlterNet is this little story with the headline that the Christian right is "growing". Memo to the blinkered idiots on the secular left who have zero memory - the Christian right has been a powerful force in political and cultural circles for a generation, with roots that stretch back even further. Campus Crusade for Christ was a huge organizing tool for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Jerry Falwell came to prominence first as an anti-civil Rights leader in Virginia, then really came into his own as an opponent of abortion - in the mid-1970's. Remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? That was 20 years ago.

I find it fascinating that a headline could claim the religious right is a growing phenomenon - breathless headlines, fear amongst the non-Christians and non-rightists, the sweaty, speaking-in-tongues hordes are taking over! Just a note to those who tremble in fear at the thought of Christians taking over the world - it ain't gonna happen. Indeed, with the political winds shifting direction, their power and influence here is shrinking even as AlterNet compiles a list of stories on their "growing" influence.

Many on the left often criticize the press and others for having no historical memory whatsoever, yet this article is a wonderful example of this distressingly general American disorder among those who probably should know better. Ironically, the most interesting story concerning evangelical churches has been the growing awareness of environmental consciousness and a shift away from single-issue politics (abortion, same-sex marriage) and cultural conflict to a more nuanced, engaged approach to a variety of issues, such as peace and war, anti-poverty concerns, and global warming. As the previous generation of evangelical leaders has passed and a biblically literate and historically literate generation starts to take the reins of power in evangelical circles, there is a growing awareness that focussing on cultural politics and abortion simply do not exhaust the biblical mandate for concern and care for other persons and creation.

Of course, these stories are "below the radar" because they do not fit with a rising left's narrative of religious folks being backward, thoughtless cretins who only care about who you're sleeping with and what happens as a result of any particular congress. That evangelicals - those, indeed, who have been most biblically literate and at the forefront of a variety of social causes in American history - might actually be moving in a direction that parallels the concerns of the left is unthinkable precisely because the left, at least those who write such silly headlines as those at AlterNet, do not think when group-think takes over. They prefer their reality prepackaged and ideologically sifted, rather than messy, complicated and, (heaven forbid) nuanced.

While many of the big names on the Christian right will not go away any time soon (unless, of course, Jesus calls them home to glory) their influence on the national dialogue will wane fast, as it has done for the past year. The dethroning of Ted Haggard this past fall is only the latest blow, as it robbed the National Association of Evangelicals of a poltically-connected, media-savvy leader. We shall still hear the voices of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and the rest, but they shall continue to sink further and further into the background, irrelevant precisely because the political and social context has changed so drastically. They contribute nothing, they have no pull in the evolving political alignment, and shall be voices of protest rather than of power.

The headline, perhaps, shoudl have read something like this:
Top Ten Stories Profiling a Movement in Decline

It might not have received the attention it otherwise did, but it would have been both more honest and reflected an understanding of history that the one in place does not.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

In the Bush Administration, Nothing Succeeds like Failure

Crooks and Liars highlights a YahooNews/AP report on Condoleeza Rice (you can see it here) that brings up the troubling issue that, as Secretary of State, Rice has been a dismal failure. The fact that she seems to refuse to change anything shows that, like her boss, she is impervious to self-reflection and the troubling thoughts that might come from it.

When she was appointed National Security Advisor in the first term, I wondered what relevance an expert on the former Soviet Union could have in an era where her area of understanding (I wonder how much "expertise" she actually had, as her tenure has been one long string of lack of accomplishments, including allowing the deadliest attack on American territory in history) no longer existed. Of course, before September 11, 2001, it seemed the Bush Administration was planning on ratcheting up the tension between the US and Russia. In that context, Rice might have been considered a somewhat dubious asset; at least she understood Cold War rhetoric, even if it was no longer relevant. Afterwards, as the Bush team decided to turn its focus to the Fertile Crescent, it might have been adivsable to find someone who, oh, I don't know, spoke Arabic, knew something of the history of the region, and could give Bush information he could use. Of course, that wasn't done, and here we are, five years and some odd onths later, and Rice, like Bush has little to show for her tenure in office, and little hope for any improvement as Bush resolutely marches into the future doing the exact opposite of what he should do.

There was, and still is, talk about Rice as a possible Republican Presidential candidate in the future. I find this highly comical. What possible achievements, accomplishments, and tests of will has she demonstrated in her years of government service? Where is Osama bin Laden? Where are IRaqi weapons of mass destruction? What about those aluminum tubes and the mushroom clouds over America she threw around in the fall of 2002? Will the press be cowed from asking these highly relevant questions by conservatives who can burnish their non-racist credentials by supporting a black woman for president, and force the press to go easy on her precisely for this reason?

We are, I believe, stuck with Rice until January, 2009, but the nice thing is that, while accomplishing nothing since her appointment at the beginning of Bush's second term, she has also done little of demonstrable harm. Benign neglect is the best we can probably expect of her, and with this group in charge, we have to count that as a plus.

The Dean: Still Clueless After All These Years

I awoke at five-thirty this morning and was greeted by David Broder's year-end review column (which you can find, among other places, here). Pitched as a series of mea culpas for things he "got wrong" for the year, in fact he merely notes where readers disagreed with him, leaving it very clear he has not changed his mind, except where he was demonstrably wrong, as in his prediction in the Michigan governor's race (I think a lot of people were wrong about that race who called it early).

I just want to highlight a couple things. The last item he mentions is the response he received to a column he wrote on the personal life of Sen. Hillary Clinton. He says concerning the reponse he received (calling them "catcalls") that this is "a tipoff that the subject will be a tough one to handle if she enters the presidential race."


Doesn't that beg the question as to why her personal life is relevant at all, except to voyeuristic Washington insiders? Doesn't the obsession the Washington Press Clique have with the Clinton's tell us so much more about them than anything they might or might not report about the former President and current Senator?

One thing he missed in his year-end round-up was his nearly ejaculatory column about the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) report. I reviewed the column earlier this month and have little more to add concerning the column itself. I bring it up here because I find it fascinating that Broder would fail to mention this much-hyped, much-ballyhooed report, put forth by the sages of Washington as the salvation of the nation and Presidency of George W. Bush in the face of low poll ratings and an repudiating election has disappeared from view. The President has studiously and quite publicly ignored it. No one in Washington even mentions it, except to say that in no uncertain terms will the United States begin negotiations with Syria or Iran. As the President leans towards sending more troops to Iraq (the opposite both of the electorate's express wishes and the Philosopher-King's recommendations in the ISG report) one might think Broder could say something about the disappearance of what entered the public realm with such triumph, the first trumpeter in the fanfare being Broder himself.

I hear crickets chirruping in the background.

Broder, like the rest of the chummy Capitol Clique, is completely oblivious as to the changes afoot in the country. The era of big conservatism is over. The Republican Party in general, and conservatives in particualr, have shown themselves completely incompetent at the task of serious governance. The politics of fear and division are at an end, because the electorate no longer want to be afraid and desire to be united. This desire is expressed in giving the Democratic Party a chance to prove themselves again as a party of the nation. Combined with the continuing importance of the Internet political communities, and the discovery that one does not have to live in Capitol Hill, NE or Chevy Chase, MD to say something intelligent about politics we find the pundit class superceded by the citizen analyst.

Broder is a dinosaur, the T-rex of a larger group of animals on the way out. Let us all sincerely hope that he, and Tom Friedman, and Bill Kristol, and Cokie Roberts (God, that unctuous woman just drives me to distraction!), and George Will, and the rest of the typing/chattering/lip-flapping, empty-headed Washington nincompoops find gainful employment elsewhere in the coming months, as Americans find their voice again. I sincerely hope Broder comes to understand that, in the words of a typical mid-level manager, his services are no longer required.

Virtual Tin Cup

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