The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Yeah, I know. No one cares.

I don't think I've ever linked to the Politico before, but this is a mighty disturbing story:

As New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani billed obscure city agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the time when he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons, according to previously undisclosed government records.

The documents, obtained by Politico under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, show that the mayoral costs had nothing to do with the functions of the little-known city offices that defrayed his tabs, including agencies responsible for regulating loft apartments, aiding the disabled and providing lawyers for indigent defendants.

Again, I'm reminded of the book The Authoritarians book I brought up a couple of weeks ago, and the author's observation that authoritarian leaders have the attitude that if they manage to rob you blind, it's your fault. Or as Matt Groenig put it in his pre-Simpsons days, it's the philosophy "When I bite into the apple, the worm better watch out for itself."

Our Useless Press

This is just the sort of thing that continues to amaze me. Especially maddening is the fact that I can't see how this has become the norm in this country. Laziness? Outright stupidity? The rise of journotainmentism? Media consolidation? Dunno. But nothing's changed in the last decade, and I honestly think it could lead the country to ruin-- it's come within spitting distance already. I'm putting the whole post here (sorry Prospect).

Last week, Chris Hayes had a great story in the Nation about the phenomenon of the right wing email forward, and how this new form of "folk media" serves to keep various rumors and urban legends alive. One of the most notorious of these is the notion that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim extremist who plans to throw a burkha over the Statue of Liberty and institute shari'a law after taking his oath of office on the Qur'an while munching on falafel, or something. Today, the Washington Post demonstrates how "respectable" news outlets keep these rumors moving in the media bloodstream:

"Since declaring his candidacy for president in February, Obama, a member of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Chicago, has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim or that he had received training in Islam in Indonesia, where he lived from ages 6 to 10. While his father was an atheist and his mother did not practice religion, Obama's stepfather did occasionally attend services at a mosque there.
Despite his denials, rumors and e-mails circulating on the Internet continue to allege that Obama (D-Ill.) is a Muslim, a "Muslim plant" in a conspiracy against America, and that, if elected president, he would take the oath of office using a Koran, rather than a Bible, as did Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the only Muslim in Congress, when he was sworn in earlier this year."

We are then treated to a clown parade of right-wing operatives, pseudo-scholars, Limbaughs, and Savages, who continue to float these stories like so much stale gas. At no point in the article is there any indication that these rumors, which are nothing more than lies designed to stoke base cultural prejudices, have been exhaustively investigated and disproven. Astonishingly, the article even references an email rumor featured on without bothering to mention that Snopes then debunks the rumor.

Of course, we also get the requisite denials from Obama's defenders, all of which creates (and is designed to create) the impression that there is "controversy" where there is only gossip, "questions" where there is only innuendo.

Debate, so to speak

It's really been something to read coverage of the Republican debate last night. While a genuine "man in the street" format would probably be pretty cool, it's just about impossible for me to imagine that it wouldn't be manipulated, tweaked and screened by ratings experts before airing-- which isn't any better than the staged "Town Hall" meetings, press conferences with plants (remember Jeff Gannon?), or pre-screened audiences and questions that have become the norm during the Bush years. At least until Hillary Clinton set up one question-- then it was a national scandal, of course.

But the most striking thing about it is, depending on your viewpoint, that A) so many inane things were uttered by the candidates, and B) the press was more than happy to give them a pass.

A few examples:

McCain: It was pretty depressing to see what a huge round of applause he received for blaming "American public opinion" for the loss in Vietnam. (Delusional.)

Also, McCain claimed every single soldier in Iraq supports the surge and a continuous U.S. presence there. (Disingenuous, if not delusional, and demagogic.)

Romney: When Romney refused to rule out [waterboarding]: "And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some 35 years."

Indeed, Black is the former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. He was in charge there after 9/11, when the agency set up its network of secret prisons where "enhanced" interrogation techniques -- including waterboarding -- were allegedly carried out.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about Romney's judgment in asking for advice, Black is also vice chairman of Blackwater USA. (Stupid.)

Huckabee: To hear the press tell it, the best moment of last night's debate was when Mike Huckabee answered a question about whether Jesus would support the death penalty by saying, "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office." Reporters were in awe. The Washington Post called it "the best line of the night.The Chicago Tribune said Huckabee hit the question "over the fence." It was the only quote from the debate Mara Liasson included in her NPR report.

But what reporters didn't note is that Huckabee was dodging a direct question on the very area -- the intersection of religion and policy -- on which he is building his campaign. The man whose ads call him a "Christian Leader" and who says his faith "defines me" wouldn't answer a pretty simple question on how his faith affects his opinion on a policy issue. (Oily.)

Hunter: Duncan Hunter said most troops are "conservatives" and uncomfortable serving with gays. (Demagogic, delusional, or both.)

Sad, huh?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Journalism the Hard Way

It's interesting to see how much attention Joe Klein's now-infamous column is getting from the blogs.  And it's a good thing to see-- even though I realize it's exactly the sort of thing that convinces conservative friends of mine that I'm a goofy radical.

As Glenn Greenwald noted two days ago, his attempts to get Time magazine to own up to the failure of Klein, his editor, and the powers that be to correct a demonstrable falsehood published in their print and online versions were met with silence.  But that all changed yesterday, when his attempts were met with scorn and derision.  And, of course, the usual defense that their job consists solely of recording the he-said/she-said of a given issue.  Facts, just as a friendly reminder, are irrelevant.

Time's correction:

In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets. Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't.

And Greenwald's continuing amazement (shared by many of us) that this is considered acceptable by the press: 

It is worth underscoring that this entire episode began when Klein toldTime's 4 million readers -- and Time actually claims an average issue audience of more than 20 million people -- that House Democrats were seeking to protect foreign Terrorists to the same extent as American citizens (and were therefore "well beyond stupid"). When it was demonstrated that Klein's statements were outright false, he said that a source told him this and "I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right." Time's Editors now think that no correction to this false smear is needed beyond: "Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't."

By their own numbers, 20 million people could see Klein's bogus claims-- presented as fact, later revealed to be a Republican sound bite and a lie.  But he doesn't care, his editors don't care, and his bosses don't care.

So why not at least try to have a chuckle over the whole affair?  The link above takes us all to task for lacking even the most elementary knowledge of what journalism is all about.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

. . . but it helps!

Old punchline.  New lead-in: "You don't have to be an idiot to be a GOP presidential candidate..."

I know I'm not alone in being completely baffled by the overt stupidity on display pretty much daily from these bozos, but here are a couple of items that-- while not on the level of Bush thinking the Taliban was a rock group while he was running for president-- help demonstrate how little we could expect from a Republican successor.

Romney: I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that "jihadism" is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today.  He answered, "... based on the number of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified.  But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

Hopefully that statement isn't accurate, because it's stupid on so many levels I'm not sure I could enumerate them all.  I'll just pick one of the more smart-assed: Mormons make up less than 1.5% of the population, Mitt.  Which 3.5 Mormon senators will you ask to resign?

Huckabee: Huckabee displayed his roots as a Baptist minister when he said with a shaky historical grasp, "[The Israeli-Palestinian] conflict isn't new.  It has been going on since all the way to the time of Abraham."

What was even more startling was when Huckabee appeared to reject long-standing Clinton-Bush policy and oppose a Palestinian state that would include portions of the West Bank. "It would be very problematic for Israel to give up the West Bank, from their own standpoint of security," Huckabee said.  Instead, the surging republican long shot suggested, "there are a lot of options that involve other territory that doesn't have to include the West Bank or the Golan Heights.  There is an enormous amount of land in Arab control all over the Middle East."

UPDATE: I just noticed that Kevin Drum has a pretty funny take on the story right here.

Giuliani: Rudy Giuliani said yesterday he "never had any doubt" that if he were President four years ago, he would have invaded Iraq.  He said he is now "even more certain" that it was the correct national security move.

Fine, I admit that one could go either way-- stupid or insane.  Or both.  

And while it's probably more indicative of unctuousness than stupidity, we have this asessment of the candidates' positions on "abstinence-only education," which is neither educational nor results in abstinence.  Naturally, the Bush administration has spent hundreds of millions on it.

*Giuliani, the only Republican candidate still waffling about his pro-choice stance, avoids the issue.

*McCain promotes abstinence-only education programs but the Arizona senator has previously promoted comprehensive sex education.

*Romney promoted abstinence education in Massachusetts classrooms as governor of that state from 2003 to 2007.  Romney mentioned this in the May South Carolina debates to show his credentials as a "clear and consistent conservative.". . .Romney, however, checked a box saying he supported comprehensive sex education in a 2002 Planned Parenthood candidate survey.

*Thompson backs abstinence education.

*[Hunter] wants to give abstinence the same amount of teaching as the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.

*Huckabee favors abstinence-only and opposes abstinence-plus,

*Paul favors abstinence-only programs.

*Tancredo favors abstinence-only programs.

OK.  I've destroyed the entire premise of this post.  To be a candidate, you are required to exhibit some combination of ignorance, dishonesty, and madness.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Savvy Internet user that you are, you've probably heard of the site Free Rice. But after Vigil-Auntie sent me a link, I decided to overlook the "10 grains at a time" thing and have a look. It's addictive. It's fun. It's full of words they're probably more familiar with in England.

And why just settle for latte, NPR and sashimi when you could be showing your fellow elitist liberals up with your wordiness? I'm at level 49, and gunning for the top. Oh, and doing good stuff for charity or whatever. It's worth noting that crossword buffs and people who've studied Latin have a serious edge.

You-a Culpa II


Time to continue with the theme of "Our Worthless Press," and the sad way in which they vaguely, in a half-assed sort of way, admit that there's a problem with what they, as journotainmentists, are still doing on a daily basis.

As an aside, I'll mention that I had a thought yesterday. Journalists often express their contempt for bloggers as angry radicals, people who criticize through ignorance, reckless troublemakers, etc. Another thing that troubles me is how aloof the press has remained even as the Internet has come to dominate communications. Journalist writes article/column, it's published, someone points out an error, error is ignored or journalists huffily makes excuses. Anyway, my thought was that journalists treat bloggers the way politicians used to treat journalists-- like gadflies. And that's a wonderful thing for a democracy. And bloggers (good ones, anyway, of which there are many) treat their work as journalists used to-- very seriously. I'd suggest that you won't find headline-making bloggers on the guest lists of swanky Beltway cocktail parties. But these days, you'll find plenty of top MSM journalists in attendance.

In my last post, I was talking about Mark Halperin's goofy NYT op-ed, a classic "nonpology" of the sort that makes less sense the more I read it. Although it did make clear that the press is still obsessed with Bill Clinton's tackle-- and takes it more seriously than Bush lying us into war, 80,000 or so corpses, and a few trillion dollars. I really don't know when "journalistic objectivity" came to be defined as equal time for two rivals' biggest boo-boos. Especially when you're talking about the difference between jaywalking and homicide, but there you have it.

Now it's time to talk Klein. Joe Klein. Because the other (or at least one other) shortcoming of today's press is sheer laziness. This is another stunner in the wired world. Fortunately, I don't have to go on and on about it, because Glenn Greenwald has done it for me. Two days running. Sunday's is here, and today's is here.

From Sunday: On Wednesday, I documented the Joe Klein's column in this week's Time magazine contained multiple false statements about the new FISA bill-- the RESTORE Act-- passed by House Democrats last week. The most obvious and harmful inaccuracy was his claim that that bill "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court" and that it therefore "would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans." Based on those outright falsehoods, Klein called the House Democrats' bill "well beyond stupid."

The facts wrong. The accusation groundless. The column in print and online. The journotainmentist weasely.

Today's column looks at the big picture-- how the MSM lets us down beyond election coverage (remember that pesky Iraq-war cheerleading?). Not to mention the cavalier attitude with which they dismiss criticism of such egregious examples of passing on government disinformation as fact.

Greenwald has a helpful link at the end of today's post, too (it comes from a group who should know whereof they speak):

One of the most amazing episodes in modern American journalism has emerged from a flagrantly inaccurate and misguided Time magazine column by Joe Klein. He's a political writer whose work in this case may become Exhibit A for what's wrong with the craft today.

I'd also recommend the first comment on that post. It seems quite reasonable, but highlights the problem: in spite of the fact that Time ran a story attacking an entire political party because the author and editorial staff were either too stupid, lazy or inept to do basic fact-checking-- and in the process misinformed perhaps millions of Americans-- the only people who seem to give a damn are progressive bloggers.

UPDATE: Over at the Prospect, Paul Waldman takes a look at two articles on a little to-do between the Romney and Giuliani campaigns. The papers writing it up were the WaPo and the NYT. And guess what?

If I were an editor at one of these fine papers, and my reporters turned in one of these stories, I'd tell them to figure out whether Romney or Giuliani is telling the truth. You won't find it in either story. So which is it?

That gave Waldman a revolutionary idea: he invested five minutes in a web search-- so that he and his readers would actually know the facts.

You-a Culpa

Yeah, I still feel pretty sheepish when I suggest that American democracy is at a perilous crossroads. I still feel like something of a kook when I argue that our electoral system is such a game of money and marketing that we barely qualify as a republic.

The trouble is, whenever I try to put on a happy face, something goes wrong. Example: the MSM's recent bout of guilt over the way elections are covered. I took that to be a positive thing. Sure, we're seeing the same crap we have for the last decade, but at least big-name journotainmentists (I just know I'm going to cash in on my oh-so-clever neologisms one of these days) are admitting that they're ladling up poop stew, right? Well, I mentioned this to a relative a couple of months ago and she immediately asked me if I'd heard any of them blame themselves for poor coverage. Nope, she said, they always seem to blame unnamed others. Tim Russert is a standout. He's done his share of tut-tutting over the poor quality of campaign coverage, but keeps right on with the gotchas and non-substance. And he was one of the absolute worst when it came to torpedoing Gore's 2000 campaign. No, I've never heard any self-doubt from him.

Then there's Mark Halperin. As founder of ABC News' The Note, widely hailed as a must-read source of the latest DC buzz, he reigned over a fiefdom of smarm. Non-news news items, endless catty asides-- it was a gossip column pretending to be hard journalism, which is exactly the problem with MSM journalism. And one of the major reasons the nation is in so much trouble.

He penned an op-ed for the NYT today, and while it contains the words "I was wrong," they come with a qualifier and it isn't really an admission of shoddy reporting, or helping to foster an environment where issues of national importance are brushed aside in favor of "patriotic lapel pin" debates. And what it appears to boil down to is a journotainmentist version of excusing one's behavior by saying "It was society."

Voters are bombarded with information about which contender has “what it takes” to be the best candidate. Who can deliver the most stirring rhetoric? Who can build the most attractive facade? Who can mount the wiliest counterattack? Whose life makes for the neatest story? Our political and media culture reflects and drives an obsession with who is going to win, rather than who should win.

For most of my time covering presidential elections, I shared the view that there was a direct correlation between the skills needed to be a great candidate and a great president. The chaotic and demanding requirements of running for president, I felt, were a perfect test for the toughest job in the world.

But now I think I was wrong. The “campaigner equals leader” formula that inspired me and so many others in the news media is flawed.

Case in point: Our two most recent presidents, both of whom I covered while they were governors seeking the White House. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are wildly talented politicians. Both claimed two presidential victories, in all four cases arguably as underdogs. Both could skillfully serve as the chief strategist for a presidential campaign.

But their success came not because they convinced the news media (and much of the public) that they would be the best president, but because they dominated the campaign narrative that portrayed them as the best candidate in a world-class political competition. In the end, both men were better presidential candidates than they were presidents.

Okay, I like Clinton well enough, although I wouldn't put him on a list of great presidents. So I'm just going to ignore Halperin's petty-- and frankly asinine-- equivalence of Bill Clinton with his successor. Huh. Actually, it's impossible to ignore. So is the whole "Gee, I was duped" routine. And it's because both are part of the same problem.

Anyone with Web access and five minutes' time could distinguish on-camera Bush from the reactionary, coward, and incompetent boob his record showed him to be. Actually, in addition to Web access and five minutes, you'd have to give a damn. The press didn't. They favored snarky one-liners about cigars and inventing the Internet. No matter that Gore never said that, or that the Texas education bill Bush regularly boasted about "signing into law" on the campaign trail was one he'd actually vetoed.

Another profoundly disturbing indicator of Halperin's obliviousness is this lament over what Bill Clinton did: "squandered a good deal of the majesty and power of the presidency." Monarchs are known for their majesty-- not American presidents. And limiting the power of the American president is built right in to the system. Maybe Halperin thought long and hard about how he could seem objective by giving a blowjob the same stern disapproval as the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, but that's exactly why so much of the MSM's product is useless.

Also worth noting is that Halperin insists that "we" were fooled. Not Beltway journalists, but every last American. To return to 2000, in spite of the MSM's constant hammering of Gore, he won the popular vote. To return to the 90's, a majority of Americans considered Clinton's fling to be getting news coverage ridiculously out of proportion to its significance.

"We" weren't fooled, Mark Halperin. It's your fault. It's your colleagues fault. And you're still serving up the same devil's cocktail of gossip, scandals-that-aren't, and fashion critiques.

Which brings me to another recent story. But since their site is down, it'll have to wait.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Sure, I should've known it was too good to be true.  And when you think about it for a sec, "Former BushCo crony makes unequivocal statement on administration's misdeeds" just isn't the sort of thing we see from them.

Instead, it looks like McClellan's sizzling expose of life as a minister of disinformation is simply going to be about ass-covering.  So I guess I could claim that my take on the story was half-right.  And if I really wanted to be snide, I'd say I was just too optimistic about the integrity of a 21st-century GOP operative.

After a day of wide coverage and swift reactions on the Web, the publisher, Peter Osnos of PublicAffairs, told MSNBC that Mr. McClellan "did not intend to suggest Bush lied to him" about two senior aides' role in leaking the identity of Valeria [sic] Plame Wilson, a C.I.A. operative, to the conservative columnist Robert Novak and others in 2003.

How does that square with the book excerpt, where Mr. McClellan wrote that "the President himself" was "involved" in his offering false information to the press about the leak? Mr. Osnos offered an explanation to Bloomberg News:

"He told him something that wasn't true, but the president didn't know it wasn't true," Osnos said in a telephone interview. "The president told him what he thought to be the case."

I guess that rules out 'lying,' and leaves us with 'incompetent' or 'lying and incomeptent.'  And since when is "the president didn't know what his staff was doing" an acceptable excuse?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gentlemen, start your fingers!

I'm sure you've noticed how White House officials have a tendency to start pointing fingers after they resign. But there's no little gremlin named "Not Me" running around (I can't believe I just wrote that). I think it suggests that they already have a pretty good idea of how the Bush years will be remembered by historians, and they'd prefer their little asterisk in the history books to say "but this guy wasn't so bad." The only problem there is the cowardice involved in lying your socks off as long as the checks keep clearing, conscience be damned.

To no one's surprise in a world where top White House aides with any president eventually write a book about it, former Press Sectetary Scott McClellan will be coming out with his volume in April.

It's called "What Happened" and its publisher, Public Affairs, at its Web site carries this brief excerpt:

"The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

"There was one problem. It was not true.

"I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself."

Mr. Nice Authoritarian

Hoo boy. As if Giuliani's record (his real record, not his made-for-TV record) weren't enough, his campaign has made some moves weird enough to make anyone doubt his niceness, if not his sanity. From his foreign policy team of "the only thing wrong with the war is that we haven't opened it up on enough fronts" lunatics to the racist cheese steak photo-op, it's tough to imagine why anyone-- much less a majority of people-- would consider him anything but a mean, petty, and egotistical bastard. Oh, right, the press has decided to repeat their "drinking buddy election" theme in favor of a guy who appears to be a sneerless Dick Cheney.

Which candidate is the most likable? On the Republican side, Giuliani gets the nod, both from GOP voters and among voters overall. None of the Democratic candidates has a clear advantage among Democratic voters, with Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards running about even.

There's a silver lining, though. The public might not be buying it this time.

Ask voters which qualities are most important, though, and they put likability well down the list. They attach far more importance to being honest, ethical, decisive and strong.

Let's hope.

Friday, November 16, 2007

News in a hurry!

Before signing off for the weekend, I couldn't resist passing this story along-- and taking another potshot at the MSM for their.... lameness.

Actually, it's too long to excerpt. Just read the whole thing.


Since I've been picking on the media so much lately, why not continue? We're being subjected to an infotainment (even that might be too generous) presidential race, in which Barack Obama's choice of lapel decoration or Hillary Clinton's stance on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in New York state-- a plan which has been dumped anyway, making it a moot point-- are center stage.

What are we not hearing anything about from the MSM? The dire state of the union, and problems which are genuine, significant, and complex. Including issues of terrorism and border security terrorism, which the GOP has spent hundreds of billions trying to resolve in their usual inept way.

*U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the governmental agency responsible for keeping terrorists and other inadmissibles out of the United States. They are charged with fulfilling this mission while simultaneously facilitating the cross-border traffic of millions of international travelers every year. The CBP conducts this mission at 326 ports of entry (international airports, harbors, border crossings) throughout the United States. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, nearly a quarter million ineligible individuals were interdicted by CBP and turned away, but the agency estimates that several thousand more were admitted to the country through our ports of entry.

Weaknesses that compromise border security include not verifying the nationality and admissibility of individuals. This failure of the system is the most acute at land crossings. When the GAO did spot checks, they found some checkpoints entirely unmanned.

In the intervening time since the [FBI's Terrorist Screening Center] watch list was initiated, it has mushroomed to include records on over three-quarters of a million individuals. The list has led to approximately 53,000 positive matches. These matches have led to arrests, denial of entry into the U.S., but most often questioning and release. In a disturbing revelation, the GAO found that some of these positive matches occurred after-the-fact. Individuals positively identified and confirmed to be inadmissible to the United States had already boarded and flown on aircraft, or even been admitted to the country, and perhaps become untraceable. . .

Although the GAO found that some progress has been made in the promotion of effective screening procedures, both in the federal sector and the private/critical infrastructure sector, many potentially effective screening opportunities remain untapped. This situation is perpetuated because the government lacks a current strategy and implementation protocol for optimizing the terrorist watch list.

In addition to the lack of formal protocol, clear lines of authority, accountability and responsibility are missing.

After the new [aviation security] protocols were in place, a request was made for the GAO to test the system. To do this, the GAO attempted to:
  1. Obtain the instructions and components needed to create devices that a terrorist might use to cause severe damage to an airplane and threaten the safety of passengers and
  2. Test whether GAO investigators could pass through airport security checkpoints undetected with all the components needed to create the devices.
. . .[T]
wo GAO investigators demonstrated the weaknesses of the security screening process in American airports by smuggling the components for multiple explosive devices and one incendiary devise through security and aboard commercial airliners, without being challenged by TSA officers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Blivet Elite

I've been wondering why it is that Media Matters is singled out so frequently by right-wing pundits. Sure, they've got to be really pissed that simply quoting reactionary blowhards shows how full of shit they are, but you don't really want to call attention to that.

Anyway, the important thing is that somebody's doing it. For the obvious reason that high-profile conservative talking heads are big, fat, overstuffed bags of shit. Hence the title.

Illustration: George Will is all about mandates

. . .Clinton is so polarizing that, if she wins the general election, she'll do so only narrowly, and such a slim victory will deny her the mandate to enact any sweeping changes as president. "Large undertakings in domestic policy -- e.g., the enactments of Social Security in 1935 and of Medicare in 1965 -- often follow landslide elections," Will writes. A "close election" in 2008, on the other hand, will "guarantee another four years of paralysis," and that's great news for conservatives "who think gridlocked government is wonderful."

George Will sez mandates are for wussies:

To the contrary, in a column published in December 2000, Will pooh-poohed the very idea that Bush, so narrowly elected, should take a bipartisan approach to governance. Bush, Will wrote, "probably knows that most political and journalistic boilerplate about the need to 'heal' the 'deeply divided' nation has the partisan purpose of paralyzing him, turning him away from his political program, toward therapeutic gestures of 'healing.'" In urging Bush to resist those call, Will wrote: "Conflict avoidance becomes habitual. Risk-averse presidents are constantly at risk. The rule regarding power is use it or lose it. And Bush will never have more of it than he will have next spring."

I really, really, really don't want to what these loathsome characters earn for what they do. And I haven't even brought up David Brooks' shameless column about the "myth" of Republican dog-whistle politics in the days of Reagan. One thing I sorta hope, though, is that I never lose my capacity to be shocked, disappointed, offended, and/or outraged any time I see someone lie as blithely and habitually as the Blivet Elite do on a daily basis.

Morality, by any means necessary

Here's an article that brings together a lot of the stuff I've been writing about lately. Science, authoritarianism, and useless journalists who consider he-said/she-said to be objective reporting. Except when they're trying to come up with zingers and gotchas to further their careers.

In watching the [Nova documentary on the Dover intelligent design case], I was struck by the parallels between the Dover story and movement conservatism generally. The selling of “intelligent design,” and the idea itself, has much in common with Social Security privatization, supply-side economics, the invasion of Iraq, school vouchers, and other half-baked causes that the right has relentlessly been pushing in recent decades. (. . .)

[The Discovery Institute] developed an internal game plan called the “Wedge Strategy,” which states as an overarching goal the replacement of science as currently practiced with “theistic and Christian science.” What the center was most effective at was developing a soft-sell marketing pitch intended to minimize the opposition that would arise against a creationism hard-sell. So, for example, it advocated that biology classes “teach the controversy” as a means of incorporating its attacks on Darwinism into lesson plans, rather than insisting that intelligent design replace evolution. (. . .)

Now think about the role played by the Cato Institution and the Heritage Foundation in selling Social Security privatization. Akin to the “Wedge Document,” they developed the 1983 game plan “Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy.” For years they honed a pitch aimed at reassuring everyone that, far from phasing out Social Security, they actually wanted to bolster it. They even softened the lingo from “privatization” to “private accounts.” When confronted with fundamental flaws with the concept, such as the massive additional federal debt it would create while imposing added risks on Americans, the think tanks came up with lame excuses while steaming full speed ahead with the same ill-conceived idea that would advance their broader agenda. Just as some intelligent design advocates outright lied in saying religion had nothing to do with their motivations, many privatization advocates lied in saying they wanted to strengthen Social Security.

As a commentor notes, these groups have to lie about their actual beliefs and motivation-- because the "wisdom of crowds" (is that just another term for common sense?) would consign them to the booby hatch otherwise.

Oh, and the documentary is supposed to be available online starting tomorrow.

Decision '08: Goose or Gander

I'm pretty confident that most of us are already feeling an intense dread of the coming year. Not just because the GOP hopefuls are tripping all over themselves trying to out-unitary executive and out-Grand Inquisitor each other, but because the press is already giving us a repeat of the 2000 and 2004. Yeah, I know. You know that. And I know you know that. And so on. But sometimes just laying it out and seeing how breathtaking the whole thing is can just really inspire a sense of awe.

Two things that are the most obvious: the press is dying for Hillary Clinton to be the candidate. It'd make for easy copy, lazy reporting, and as I've mentioned before, book contracts or elevation to a Maureen Dowd sort of spot as "Renowned Catty Pundit." Every trivial word or gesture would be endlessly scrutinized, analyzed, and criticized. Actual record and positions on the issues? Ignored.

For their part, the GOP candidates still inspire homoerotic paeans to their masculinity and toughness-- again to the exclusion of actually checking out their records in public life. While early on, Fred Thompson seemed to be the phony tough-guy of choice for 'conservative intellectuals,' (I still snicker a bit when I write that) but the press has dumped their former boyfriend John McCain. Mike Huckabee gets plenty of serenades from the press, in spite of a rather checkered past, but perhaps in no small part because of the way his last name lends itself to oh-so-clever column titles.

But more and more, the press seem to be gravitating toward Giuliani. Which is a shame, because in a field of movement conservatives of dubious intellect, integrity, and morality, he's as bad as they come. Not to mention the nightmare of another kook evading scrutiny by paying lip service to bipartisanship or demagoguing 9/11. (I wish I could remember who came up with this description of Giuliani's every sentence: "(Noun)(Verb) 9/11.")

And now that this is already too long, thanks to my usual noodling, I'll get to the articles:

Hypocrisy? Yes, please.
John McCain yesterday on the "bitch" flap: "I can't dictate what other people say -- that's not my business. Nor is it an appropriate role for me to play in a gathering at a restaurant, and if anybody thinks that I should, then I think they have the wrong idea of what gatherings are all about."

John McCain in September on MoveOn's Petraeus ad: "Now, [the Democratic presidential candidates] acknowledge that [Petraeus] is an honorable and fine military man, but they refuse to repudiate And as you say, if you can't stand up to them, how can you stand up to the tough challenges that are presented to you as president of the United States? I don't know the answer to that."

The definitely level playing field

Try to imagine what would have happened if Hillary Clinton had called a press conference to announce that she had secured the endorsement of Minister Louis Farrakhan. Reporters would be apoplectic with the shock of it. How could she do such a thing? What about all the crazy things Farrakhan has said? What about the anti-Semitism? Why would she want to be associated with such a man? (. . .)

When the support of someone like Pat Robertson -- a man who expresses disgust at American society, who advocates the assassination of foreign leaders, who believes that adherents of any religious sect other than his own are destined to spend eternity in hell, who says that presidents of the United States are agents of Lucifer, who propagates bizarre, antiquated anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, whose hatred and mania know no limits -- when the support of such a man is eagerly sought by a party’s presidential candidates, we should not be surprised when each campaign that party runs is more centered on fear, more grounded in hate, more morally putrid than the one that came before it.

The same article cites a few of the "scandals" that have already cropped up around the Dems, by contrast:

As Christopher Hayes detailed recently in The Nation, emails are circulating around the country claiming that Obama is a practicing Muslim; the Obama campaign is evidently concerned enough about them that they have issued statements explaining that he is not a Muslim but a Christian. Emails are also circulating in Iowa claiming falsely that Obama refuses to put his hand on his heart when saying the pledge of allegiance; this follows on a spasm of feigned outrage over the fact that Obama doesn't bother to engage in that most meaningless of patriotic poses, the wearing of an American flag pin. "First he kicked his American flag pin to the curb," said the spectacularly dim-witted Steve Doocy of Fox & Friends.

It's enough to make a fisherman cry.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Torture, torture, it pleasures me!

Waterboarding. I'm sure there are plenty of people wonderinng why there's even a discussion about whether this qualifies as torture. But the feckless MSM seems willing to apply their usual 50-50 time for a 95-5 issue, a la global warming, even though the only people claiming it's anything but torture historically identified with brutal and ruthless regimes are Fox News clowns, reactionary politicians, and probably some evangelical leaders.

But don't take my word for it. The WaPo recently featured an op-ed in which an accomplished gentleman who's served as JAG, professor of law, and judge describes the practice and America's historic relationship with it:

After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: "I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure." He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. "Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning," he replied, "just gasping between life and death."


Nielsen's experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan's military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.

But howzabout I do him one better? Because waterboarding isn't a modern invention by any means. Neither is its equivalence with torture. Here's an example of it turning up in literature:

The prisoner underwent the first and second applications with unshrinking courage, but on the infliction of the water-torture, which is indeed insupportable to humanity, either to suffer or relate, he exclaimed in the gasping interval, he would disclose every thing.

That's from the 1820 novel Melmoth the Wanderer, written by an Irish clergyman. And he's writing about the preferred methods of the Inquisition circa 1675. So for at least 300 years, this has been considered not just a cruel and inhumane practice, but one so vile that it's reserved for a time when other methods just aren't brutal enough.

But somehow, in 21st-century America, tormenting suspects-- including the innocent-- through a method preferred by swell guys from Torquemada to Pol Pot is subject to debate.

It's insane. Which must be why National Review is all for it. And why Rudy Giuliani approves. Who doesn't? George H. W. Bush, it would appear. But you might expect that from one of the last Republicans in high office to both see combat and demonstrate some moral integrity.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Global warming, so-kalled

I almost forgot to mention the most worrying aspect of Altemeyer's book on authoritarianism: his observation that true believers will never be swayed by a little thing like reality. Which certainly explains the whole hating Bill Clinton for his sins while rooting for a serial adulterer Republican.

But that sorta goes along with the recent global warming hoax. It was responsible for the latest tidal wave of sanctimonious outrage in Wingerland, from talk radio to the blogs. Sort of a reactionary Sokal hoax.... wait, that's not really accurate. Because it's more about the mindset of the duped, and in my opinion today's trendy academic theories are every bit as reactionary as today's politics. But that's another conversation entirely.

What I'm getting at is the weird way people have of clinging to what they want to believe, even when it's demonstrably false. Or taking the more "intellectually honest" approach of saying 'even if that instance was false, my point still stands.'

The “death of manmade global warming theory” lasted 70 minutes last week, showing the amazing power of the Web to amplify, and then dismantle, fictions at light speed.

On Nov. 7, news flashed around conservative and climate-skeptic e-mail chains, some Web sites and a couple of talk-radio programs that an important new scientific paper proved that undersea bacteria, not people, were responsible for most of the recent buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

70 minutes is undoubtedly a journalistic convenience, given the many venues in which the article was presented as proof that 98% of the world's scientists know less about climatology than Rush Limbaugh, but it does speak well of the ability to correct misinformation so rapidly with the advent of the Web.

Oh, and there's a much funnier post mortem of the hoax here.

Mein Furor

Late last week, I ran across Bob Altemeyer's online book Authoritarians, and if you haven't run across it before you should definitely have a look. I'm never big on theories of everything, and I just as much want to believe that Altemeyer is wrong about some of his observations. But it's a fascinating read, especially for the many of us ready to start beating our heads against the wall after a decade of dealing with people who went from excoriating Bill Clinton as the devil made flesh, deriding Al Gore as some sort of con man, and portraying Kerry as a man so cowardly he'd injure himself for a medal. All that is bad enough, but compounding it by adopting a see-no-evil attitude when confronted with the actual draft-dodging, history-fabricating thieves and liars who've been running the GOP and therefore the executive and legislative branches for the past (almost) seven years... well, I don't have to tell you how maddening that is.

At any rate, I find Altemeyer's arguments more convincing than those presented in the spate of books that purported to get to the bottom of the red-blue divide a few years ago. The part on cognitive dissonance as a way of life ('compartmentalized thinking,' I believe he calls it) is pretty fascinating, but also the discussion of violence and the application of justice. As he notes, it supports anything but the old "liberals are weak on crime" cliche.

Last week, I was going to link the book to stories about what slimeballs the GOP presidential hopefuls are, along with the obvious disconnect that they're supported by people who thought Bill Clinton was amoral and unscrupulous. But now I'll just link it to a fairly apropos piece on media preferences. Which has that unsettling funny-yet-sad quality we've all become so familiar with this decade.

  • Out of 15 TV and film genres, “arts” emerged as the one with the highest positive correlation to liberal viewers and the highest negative correlation to conservative viewers. In other words, while 48% of liberals prefer arts programming, only 17% of conservatives do. At the other end of the scale, less than 5% of liberals say they do not like the genre at all, compared to almost 25% of conservatives.
  • Cerebral material like documentaries and arts and educational programming all appeal more to liberals, who are 57% female.
  • And what shows do liberals skip? If it’s a game show or reality programming, they probably don’t watch it.
Go ahead and feel a little smug. It feels kinda good sometimes, doesn't it?

UPDATE: Nova should be interesting tonight, speaking of documentaries. The title is Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. It's all about the trial in Pennsylvania two years ago, when a judge astonished the anti-science crowd in ruling in accordance with the facts-- namely declaring that intelligent design is religion, not science, and an effort to force children to be taught the goofy beliefs of a fringe religious group. (I'm paraphrasing.)

How are creationists responding? Predictably.

I.D. will also be striking back in "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," a pro-I.D. documentary, to be released in February. Featuring conservative writer and political commentator Ben Stein, it portrays I.D. proponents as a group of iconoclastic firebrand scientists with the guts to go after the dogmatic Darwinists who have, the I.D.ers say, grown lazy and corrupt sitting atop a monopolistic theory with zero tolerance for dissent, within or outside of their ranks.

As someone whose name I can't recall once wrote, although folks like this always liken themselves to Galileo, they're forgetting one important thing-- to be like Galileo, you can't just be criticized for your view, you also have to be correct.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Reality Deficit Disorder

Funny, if annoying. Regnery, the publishing house that produces goofy, reactionary screeds is being sued by some of its goofy, reactionary authors. Why?

Well, they're "acting like a Marxist cartoon of a capitalist company."

And how are they acting like communists, exactly?

Well, they're depriving their "writers of royalties by selling their books at a steep discount to book clubs and other organizations owned by the same parent company.

The alleged result?

The authors argue that in reducing royalty payments, the publisher is maximizing its profits and the profits of its parent company at their expense.

I know I don't need to spell out the comedy here, but I'm going to anyway. Because it makes me laugh. In today's political bizarro-landscape, Karl Marx (and today's liberals) intended for communism to be a system whereby the wealthy could become even wealthier through aggressive exploitation of workers. Fortunately, free-market capitalism came along to see to it that exploited workers could collectively bargain with their wealthy employers to see that they get an equitable piece of the pie. If that wasn't sufficient, free-market capitalists could use the court system to pursue what commies (and today's liberals) call "frivolous lawsuits," but what they consider a mainstay of democracy. That's why liberals are constantly fighting to protect business interests from having to account for their unfair, irresponsible, illegal, and even dangerous actions. They actually think that people are rich only because they work hard, play by the rules, and totally deserve it! Free-market capitalists, on the other hand, recognize that sometimes factors beyond our control are involved, that some people get rich by illegal means, and that the playing field isn't perfectly level.

...In Bizarro-world! Oh, and one more thing-- companies that have friends and allies buy large quantities of product at fire-sale prices? Think Scientology, Regnery authors. That's how laughable fringe books make the bestseller list.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

With friends like these...

The campaign of Giuliani has always scared me (admittedly, that's true of every GOP candidate this time around), but I dropped my guard there for a while. My initial reaction to his candidacy was that it'd be as vacuous-- and effective-- as the recent GOP standard. Plenty of flag-waving, 9/11, bumper-sticker patriotism and ominous suggestions that critics are almost certainly America-hating subversives. And as little as possible about the issues, because the candidate is pretty damn scary.

This endorsement, which should scare the hell out of otherwise sensible Republicans buying into the same reactionary-as-moderate/moderate-as-radical scam they swallowed in 2000 and '04, probably won't.

Pat Robertson, a prominent Christian leader and social conservative, endorsed Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday.

"It is my pleasure to announce my support for America's Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, a proven leader who is not afraid of what lies ahead and who will cast a hopeful vision for all Americans," Robertson said in a statement issued by the Giuliani campaign. . . .

"Rudy Giuliani took a city that was in decline and considered ungovernable and reduced its violent crime, revitalized its core, dramatically lowered its taxes, cut through a welter of bureaucratic regulations, and did so in the spirit of bipartisanship which is so urgently needed in Washington today," Robertson said.

In other words, he tamed the whore of Babylon even as he cut taxes? Wow! And all he did wrong was out-sin Clinton, rule like a tyrant, and ignore the rule of law. That's our boy, all right.

Gotcha! the Home Game

It's always tough to know where to begin when I get back to posting after an absence. Jaw-dropping stories are never in short supply these days-- sort of an embarrassment of blogging riches, you could say. Only I'd be much happier without so many things to speak out against.

The pre-primary presidential campaigns continue to play out as the last two elections did, but six months earlier than usual. The MSM seems to have anointed Hillary the candidate with the most perceived "electability," although my inner cynic suggests that many of today's blow-dried pundits and their would-be heirs are already planning on how to wrangle a multi-million dollar contract out of their fantasy "gotcha moment."

One recent attempt aimed at Hillary Clinton came from Tim Russert at a Democratic debate. Not only was El Potato continuing the unfortunate trend of media personality as self-anointed arbiter of public discourse, but in the best "mote in another's eye" tradition he both laments the superficiality of election coverage and the disaster it's brought about even as he continues to be completely superficial-- and conveniently ignore his own role in bringing down Al Gore.

Another gotcha moment starred Dennis Kucinich and CBS reporter Hannah Storm on the issue of Iran:

Storm: "So you'd meet person to person, backdoor the State Department?"

Kucinich: "[T]here is no one I wouldn't meet with to create more security for our nation and peace in the world."

'Backdoor' the State Department? Storm is speaking of a hypothetical POTUS Kucinich here, so what the hell is that supposed to even mean? Storm wasn't finished there, though. Next up was "screw the issues-- let's dish!"

Storm: "You have a core group of supporters for your political views, but a lot of people [are] talking about your wife and the fact that she's over three decades younger and she's statuesque and beautiful and has a pierced tongue. What do you make of the attention on her?"

And it actually gets more ridiculous from there as Storm asks probing questions like "would you remove it if you became first lady," and "can we see it?"

More recently, Kucinich is taking hits from the NYT and WaPo over impeachment proceedings against Dick Cheney. I don't even want to get started on how the press has devolved since the days of Watergate in this regard. Seeing top national papers dismiss criminal acts in the White House that dwarf Nixon's isn't getting any less scary.

But for once, a conservative candidate faced at least something like a gotcha moment. Ron Paul, who pointed out that Iraq has just become the deadliest year for American troops yet, was confronted with the nonsensical rejoinder "but October casualties actually decreased." Paul's response, to the effect that "one month does not a year make," was probably more tempered and gentle a rebuke than I would've managed in the face of such stupidity. (Sorry, I can't seem to find the link to that story.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Holding Pattern

Well, the busiest work week of the year is officially over. I really didn't have a chance to post last week, but it's behind me. Unfortunately, I picked up a little something to keep with me-- gonorrhea. Not really. Just a cold. I'll try to get back into the swing of things this week, but posts will probably be less frequent than usual.