Monday, September 29, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

JFK Sucks

The airport, that is, not the president. We're in the middle of a five-hour layover in an airport best described by the words "hot," "dingy," and "stale." Still three hours until boarding...

Prepare to believe: The Creation Museum is open for business. Where else can you spend $21.95 ($16.95 for seniors and $11.95 for kids) and leave your brain at the door? Unfortunately, the gift shop is pretty dull. No "Prepare to believe" t-shirts or coffee mugs, for example. I mean, who could resist one of those? You can get a DVD that exposes global warming for the hoax it is. But I have to ask: Why is the museum open on Sunday? Well, I suppose that God's work is never done...

"White privilege is when you can call yourself a "f----in' redneck," like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fu---in' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug." It's a lot more things, too...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Scent of Fear

William Greider writes:
For the first time in this unfolding financial crisis, I felt personally scared by the news. Not about my money, but about the potential for catastrophe. The Federal Reserve's lightning rescue of AIG has the smell of systemic fear. The house of global finance is on fire and everyone is running for the exits, no sure way to turn them around. What's next? The question itself is ominous, because there are no good answers.
The rest is here. I've heard Greider speak. He's neither a bomb thrower nor a polemicist. He's a thoughtful, low-keyed man not given to alarmist pronouncements. If he's scared, the rest of us might want to take heed...

John McCain is simply not up to this challenge. He's too hidebound and too invested in a discredited approach to the economy. What has he proposed? Forming a commission and firing Christopher Cox evade the issue, which is that the problem arises from a systemic and wrong redefinition of the financial markets that has privatized profit and socialized risk. And John McCain committed to this with one vote after another. 

Obama needs to say more and soon, but at least he’s on the right track by calling for a return to regulation and taxpayer protection. The time is ripe for him to make a major speech about the economy replete with detailed proposals of what he will do as president. I would make it apolitical, other than “inviting” his opponent to do the same. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Everyday People

The New York Times reports on the unprecedented nature of a major financial crisis arising toward the end of a presidential campaign. As the Treasury secretary and the chairman of the Fed brief each candidate daily, their responses are telling: Barack Obama consults daily with his financial advisors to develop a measured response that protects taxpayers, John McCain lurches daily from one contradictory position to another: 
On Tuesday, Mr. McCain said he would oppose a federal bailout of the insurance giant American International Group, only to endorse it as unavoidable the next day when the Federal Reserve took over A.I.G. to prevent its losses from infecting other financial institutions. Also on Tuesday, Mr. McCain proposed a “9/11-style commission” to study the problem and recommend solutions for the long term, then switched Thursday to propose the creation of a government agency as soon as possible.
It's easy to poke fun at McCain (see cartoon above), but there's a deeper theme at work, namely that this is a panicky reaction from a guy who doesn't know what he's doing. His sudden conversion to government regulation of financial markets has all the credibility of George Bush announcing progress in Iraq. It's also instructive that McCain didn't even express concern (remember the fundamentally sound economy of last week) until there was a demonstrable impact on major investors. But between mortgage foreclosures and tightening credit, everyday people have felt the pain for months now. Demanding that Bush fire SEC chair Christopher Cox might feel good, but what qualifications does McCain want a potential replacement to have? We're watching the presidential candidate of a major party lash out, hope that he hits something, and that if he does it will make everyone feel good. This is a governing philosophy?...

In truth, the macro solution to all of this is simple enough: Pay our bills and reinstate the Glass-Steagall constraints on the banking and finance markets. Assuming they have the will to do so, both candidates can muster popular support for the latter, although Obama can go about it with more credibility. But who has the courage to tell the truth about the former? Of course, we'd have more money as a nation were we not pouring billions of dollars a month into the gluttonous maw of Iraq...

Helen Thomas, octogenarian, reporter, and national treasure, continues to write with the boldness of youth. Here, she sums up the McCain-Palin ticket with insight and perspective and--- as usual -- without mincing a single word:
"In accepting the nomination as veep, she [Palin] invoked the greatness of President Truman, based on their small-town origins. But anyone who was around during Truman's era knows there is a world of difference between Palin and Truman. Take, for example, humility..."
Obama is more suited than Hillary Clinton to address regulatory needs: Bill Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which is at the regulatory root of this mess, into law...

Premium T. and I light out to the east coast for a few days, to visit my father in Maine and take in the sights and sounds of NYC. I doubt we'll have internet access in Maine, so we'll be reporting next from the Big Apple!

Friday's Choice: Sly & The Family Stone perform "Everyday People":

Thursday, September 18, 2008

McCain Truth Watch: He Was Against Them Before He Was Against Them

This morning, John McCain attempted to blame the Wall St. meltdown on a failure of the SEC to enforce some obscure regulations. What he didn't say is that the Bush Administration began to hamstring the SEC's regulatory abilities as far back as 2002 by cutting its budget. Nor did the s0-called party maverick add that he was silent on the matter, or that as a "fundamental deregulator," he no doubt supported Bush's efforts anyway...

McCain cites his membership on the Commerce Committee as proof that he has the experience to manage the economy. A few days ago, McCain ran against the "old bulls" of Washington. Now, he's running as one. Problem is, the Commerce Committee specifically does not handle legislation involving credit, financial services, and housing -- the very areas now in crisis...

Katha Pollit has ten questions for Sarah Palin, starting with this one: "Suppose your 14-year-old daughter Willow is brutally raped in her bedroom by an intruder. She becomes pregnant and wants an abortion. Could you tell the parents of America why you think your child and their children should be forced by law to have their rapists' babies?"....

Joe Biden thinks that it doesn't matter what committees McCain is on or not on: When it comes to the economy, the guy just doesn't get it  In other words, most people know that their house is on fire before they fire engines pull up outside, sirens blaring. Unless, of course, they were at one of their other seven houses at the time...

Duh Dept: Michael Kinsley writes that no matter which set of numbers you use or how you slant them, Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans...

Who does she think she is? Sarah Palin?...

Trivial Pursuit: Sarah sez "If you want specifics and specific policy or countries, go ahead, you can ask me. You can even play stump-the-candidate if you want." Great. Running Trivial Pursuit's "Geography" category now qualifies you to be President of the United States...

It turns out that you can see Alaska from Russia. What that has to do with foreign policy, though, is less clear than a foggy day on the Bering Strait...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

McCain Truth Watch: The Great Regulator

An open letter to John McCain:
The 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act removed Depression-era safeguards banning banks from offering investment, insurance, and commercial banking services. Gramm-Leach-Bliley also reduced the Securities and Exchange Commission's regulatory oversight of financial markets. This set the stage for the subprime mortgage crisis that led to the current financial meltdown on Wall Street, which you describe as an economy in crisis.  Senator McCain, you supported this bill, a bill with provisions that created what one of your television advertisements calls a betrayal of the American worker. My questions are these: As a senator, was your support of Gramm-Leach-Bliley a betrayal of the American worker? As president, will you act to repeal Gramm-Leach-Bliley?...

I haven't written much about music lately because of the election. But I'd be remiss in not recommending Patricia Barber's The Cole Porter Mix. Barber is not only that rarity in jazz -- a gifted songwriter, singer, and pianist -- she has a special place in my life because I took Premium T. to see her quartet on our first date. She's at the top of her game on Cole Porter, where she and her quartet perform ten of the great man's songs as well as three written by Barber in the Porter style. And if you think that's hubris carried to a ridiculous extreme, judge for yourself. On "Snow," she conjures Porter's inimitable wit:
Do you think of me like fat
Irresistible as cream
On your lips, on your hips
Like chocolate, like a dream?
On "The New Year's Eve Song," she captures Porter's remarkable emotive power by echoing his brilliant "So In Love," one of the greatest songs in the history of musical theatre:
will He kiss her on New Year's Eve
after the last guests leave
then kiss her again, will He
peek in the mirror while She

knowing he's watching her tease
stripping the gown with ease
bare as the New Year She
so in love with her is he
Barber's lovely, unique contralto is in splendid form throughout, as is her always tasteful piano playing. Superb from beginning to end...

Finally, don't miss this assortment of campaign ads past, presented by John Dickerson of Slate:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain Truth Watch: Blinded By The Light

Somewhere on the road to Tampa, John McCain decided that the economy was not "fundamentally sound," as he had claimed. A searing light knocked him off of his elephant, and it came to pass that he had a vision. And he saw that the economy was in crisis. And it came to pass that he knew that the cause of the crisis was the deadly sin of  "unbridled greed" of Wall Street. Elect me, O People, he cried, and I will clean up the Washington.

He didn't explain how cleaning up a mess in Washington created by himself and his fellow Republicans would address problems with Wall Street. Nor did the man who describes himself as "fundamentally a deregulator" mention that, as a deregulator, he helped remove the bridles of greed by supporting legislation to reduce the SEC's oversight of financial markets. Nor did the candidate who claims to be maverick explain his lemming-like fealty to Republican free market orthodoxy. Nor did the so-called straight talker show enough respect to the American people to offer any actual proposals. Instead, the self-styled scourge of bureaucracy says that Wall Street greed is best bridled by forming a committee! If his convention speech is any indicator, the committee will serve as a smokescreen while McCain "solves" the problem by applying the same measures that brought it about. Go figure...

Wasilla, the crystal meth capital of Alaska...

If ever there was a prophet without honor in his own country, it's Bob Herbert. An excellent columnist with an unfailing nose for the powerful screwing the middle class and the poor, here he exposes the McCain health plan as being " right out of the right-wing Republicans’ ideological playbook: fewer regulations; let the market decide; and send unsophisticated consumers into the crucible alone..."

What Did She Say? According to McCain advisor and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Sarah Palin may be qualified to run the country, but she's not qualified to run Hewlett-Packard:

Monday, September 15, 2008

He Was Against Them Before He Was For Them

I watched some of John McCain's town hall meeting this morning at the gym. God, but the man is dull as dirt! And, it took him forever to get around to making anything resembling a point. And when he did...

...He blamed the current financial crisis on the New Deal banking and financial regulations of the 1930s and on the failure of federal regulators to do their jobs. Problem is, conservatives have been chipping away at those regulations practically since their inception. The pinnacle of their efforts came in 2000, when then Senator Phil Gramm, a long-time McCain friend and advisor, succeeded in passing legislation that not only greatly deregulated the banking and financial businesses, but underfunded the Securities and Exchange Commission to the point that they couldn't enforce what regulations remained. This legislation created the base for the finance business to get involved in the mortgage business and encouraged the predatory loans that have spelled grief for home buyers and that are crippling Wall Street. That's the source of the problem. David Corn explains it here...

How McCain will repair this when he has by his own admission paid little attention to the economy and when his chief economic advisor is the author of the current catastrophe, he doesn't say. Nonetheless, in the same town meeting, he assured us that he "knows how" to fix the economy. Well, if that's the case, why hasn't he done more as a senator?...

McCain also bragged about how he has "bucked" his party, then ironically moved on to the topic of immigration reform. I say "ironically" because here is an example of an issue where he started off in opposition to his party, then changed his views when the blowback from the right became too strong. For that matter, he wanted Joe Lieberman as his running mate, only to bow to pressure from the right that he choose someone else...

Sarah Palin didn't go to Ireland on the same trip that she didn't go to Iraq. It's becoming plainer and plainer that she has as tenuous as link to reality as George Bush. The great E. J. Dionne wonders whether the media will be as tough on her about this as they were when Hillary Clinton claimed she had come under sniper fire...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Man Who Would Be President

Roberta Riley writes: 
On top of the overall financial insecurity squeezing middle-class families, women still earn only 77 cents to every dollar made by men. Despite strong evidence that some women are segregated into low-paying occupations, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a Bush economic adviser from the Independent Women's Forum, voiced the administration's opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act, arguing the wage gap stems from women's different "choice of occupation." While there might be some truth to that, it's not the whole truth. Lilly Ledbetter worked for decades at an Alabama Goodyear plant doing the same job as her male co-workers. After she learned the men received better pay, she sued and a jury awarded her fair compensation. Rather than pay a modest sum to a wronged employee, Goodyear pursued the case all the way to the Supreme Court. There Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, Bush II appointees approved by McCain, reversed the verdict. Their decision paves the way for companies to commit rampant pay discrimination. With the devil buried in the details of a lengthy court decision, McCain and Bush cloak their complicity in the economic harm that Ledbetter v. Goodyear will cause women for years to come. When pressed on the subject, McCain did admit he supports the ruling and opposes reparative legislation. He also promises to fill future court vacancies with "clones of Alito and Roberts.

In short, Bush-McCain put corporate interests -- no matter how slimy or unjust -- ahead of ordinary citizens. Supporting Lily Ledbetter's suit should have been a slam dunk; the injustice is clear and unambiguous. Yet the Bush Supreme Court -- and the next president may get to appoint up to three new justices -- ignored that in favor of a questionable technicality. The remainder of Riley's excellent article about the impact of the Bush Administration on women and why we can expect more of the same from John McCain is here...

Where does John McCain stand overall on women's issues? You can't find out from his web site, although it does have a discussion of "Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life." (I looked, and "Human Dignity" does not include such trivialities as equal pay for equal work.) Otherwise, there is no heading or link to women's issues. On the other hand, Barack Obama's site puts forth his positions on women's issues in detail. These include the health care, reproductive choice, preventing violence against women, economic issues (including pay inequity), national security, poverty, and education.

One candidate has thought through in detail the interrelationship of overarching issues as they relate to woman as well as issues of specific concern to a constituency that comprises half of the country. The other hasn't even bothered to put lipstick on a chauvinist pig...

As Homer Simpson would say, it's funny because it's true:

Friday, September 12, 2008

You Can't Blow Out A Fire

You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher
-Peter Gabriel, "Biko"

Thirty-one years ago today, anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko died in police custody in Pretoria, South Africa. South African officials at first claimed that Biko's death resulted from a hunger strike. Later, they changed the story to a suicide attempt in order to explain his massive head injuries. World opinion was not swayed, and Biko's death drew international attention to the brutality and injustice of the apartheid regime. Twenty years later, in 1997, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that five former police officers had confessed to beating Biko to death.

While the regime remained in power, Peter Gabriel closed concerts with his memorial anthem "Biko," exhorting the crowd to sing along with clenched fists raised. Friday's Choice is that song set to a montage of scenes from the 1987 film Cry Freedom, which starred Denzel Washington as Steve Biko:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 And After

Andrew Bacevich discusses the lessons and legacies of 9/11. He points out that the war has been a complete failure based on the Bush Administration's own stated goals:

More from Bacevich here...

The Seven Minutes:

Keith Olbermann on the Bush/McCain/Republican exploitation of 9/11:

Olbermann makes a good point: If John McCain really knows how to capture Osama bin Laden, why doesn't he fill the Administration in on it now instead of waiting to see whether he gets elected president or not...

As for the men and women who have given their bodies and their sanity for the hubris of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Feith, and Wolfowitz, the organization formed to support them is more interested in its bureaucratic prerogatives than in meetings their needs...

Meanwhile, the Coalition of the Willing is becoming a Coalition of One...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Change Strategies

The McCain strategy is now apparent: Market "change" as occasional opposition to party orthodoxy, bring a fresh young face to the ticket whose marginal credentials as a change agent are obscured by her looks and demeanor, and deploy this face as a firewall to the gender gap and as a distraction from his and her actual policies (which are not change). Selling this idea of change is both the most critical and risky tactic, so any discussion of Palin serves as a distraction to undecided voters and thus heightens the chances of them accepting his definition of change.

The target voters are not white women. They are white men without a college education, specifically ones who are reluctant to vote for a black candidate but who -- like most people -- are at the same time fed up with Republican rule. McCain's bet is that there are enough of them in the right states to tip the election to him, especially if he doesn't mention the fact that he's a Republican. That's why he runs inflammatory commercials like this, implicitly portraying the black candidate as a wolf stalking a white woman:

It's designed to appeal to every base, subterranean fear whites have of blacks and black sexuality. There's no other way of viewing it. And yet the MSM focuses on Obama's "lipstick on a pig" remark (Fox News called it "mudslinging") and treats seriously the McCain accusation of Obama playing the so-called gender card.

As for Obama, he's definitely been thrown off guard by the Palin selection and the response to it. I don't have any problems with the "lipstick" remark other than wondering why he talks about her at all. At the convention, he did a fine job of defining change as a departure from the policies of the last eight years. The competing definitions of change are the battleground, and he can't allow McCain to steal a march on him. 

At the end of the day, it's McCain's definition of change that is lipstick on a pig. He cuts a fine figure, Obama can say, but what does he actually propose. More of the same, it turns out. So, if you like the state of the economy, if you approve of record foreclosures and the collapse of a key part of the financial market, if you think there are no problems with health care access,if you want to be stuck in Iraq for a hundred years, then fine: Vote for John McCain. Otherwise, I'm your man. He's used this approach to great effect in the past, and he must get back on that message.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


First of all, the long awaited, hugely anticipated, admittedly slightly dated wedding pictures from the Citizen K./Premium T. nuptials are here:

Honeymoon (G rated)

For repeated access -- and I have no doubt that many of you will want repeated access -- take advantage of the new sidebar (The Wedding) on the right.

Next, regular readers of Citizen K. can now follow my blog using a new blogspot feature called Following. Read about it here, or click on Follow This Blog, located in the new I Follow Citizen K. sidebar. The sidebar is on the right, directly beneath The Wedding sidebar.

Finally, I've added a sidebar called Election 2008, which points to blogs and web sites of particular interest for the next couple of months. and FiveThirtyEight diagnose the polls and horse race aspects of the contest. There's also a link to the official Obama-Biden campaign site. The remaining links are to progressive advocacy and issue analysis blogs and web sites. I want to add to these, so recommendations are more than welcome.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Come Into My Parlor

Somebody was hard at work last night on our porch swing:

Saturday, two other Obama volunteers and I registered voters at an intersection in downtown Kirkland. 80% of eligible voters in King County are already registered, and the office staff told us in advance that they would be happy with 3-4 new registrants. We got ten, however -- some first-time voters, one brand new citizen, and a couple of address changes. We also heard a lot of encouragement and support. The campaign regards Washington as a swing state, but in truth if Obama is in big trouble if he can't win here. They just don't want to take anything for granted, and that kind of running scared is a good thing...

...Still, how can this be anything but depressing? "An elderly woman in a New Jersey hair salon is overheard complaining about Barack and Michelle the other day, about how blacks supposedly have larger bones than whites, and about how she’s fleeing America if Obama wins..." 

Even Republican operatives admit the truth of the matter: "'“I know a lot of Republicans who are aware of surveys in this race that ask the ballot question ‘Who are you voting for?’ and then ask the ‘Who are your neighbors voting for?’ question,” says a GOP operative, referring to a common pollsters’ tactic of seeing through obfuscation revolving around race. “And between the first and second question, you see a five-to-ten-point shift in the answers. There’s a great big lump under the rug...'” 

In Defense of Community Organizers. This letter appeared Sunday in the Seattle Times: 
Along with many other Roman Catholics, I was deeply offended at Sarah Palin's demeaning reference in her acceptance speech to Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer in Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago.

Community organizing is so important to Catholic social teaching that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has operated the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, its domestic anti-poverty and social-justice program, since 1969.

In 1968, the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued "Economic Justice for All," a pastoral letter on Catholic social teaching and the economy, which said, "Human dignity can be realized and protected only in community."

In the 1980s, Obama worked in several Catholic parishes, supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, rather than pursue a lucrative career on Wall Street.

The McCain campaign owes an apology to the thousands of community organizers, the organizations that have supported them, including the Campaign for Human Development, and particularly the countless working families who have been helped in communities across our country.

— The Rev. Roger G. O'Brien, senior priest, Archdiocese of Seattle
Father O'Brien might well have added that without community organizers, Sarah Palin wouldn't have the right to vote, much less serve as governor of Alaska or run for vice-president...

Don't forget Rachel Maddow's debut tonight on MSNBC...

The R's make a big deal out of Sarah Palin being a middle-class mom who has worked her way up to governor blah blah blah -- a typical woman who realized atypical aspirations. But you know, when I was in high school, I couldn't stand the Sarah Palin types: The entitled beauty queen cheerleader who wouldn't give the rest of us the time of day had she known we were alive which she didn't. This story in yesterday's Seattle Times only reinforces my perception...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

This Land

I've been working that Pittsburgh steel, I thought you knowed
I've been a dumpin' that red-hot slag, way down the road
I've been a blasting, I've been a firin', I've been a pourin' red-hot iron
I've been hittin' some hard travelin', lord
-Woody Guthrie, "Hard Travelin'"

Do singers in other countries sing as much about traveling and the road, getting from one place to another whether by air, train, car, truck, or feet? In Ireland, singers often sing about a place, but it's generally with a sense of either exile or nostalgia. It's hard imagine Germans singing about goin' down to Stuttgart town, but maybe they do. I can't think of many songs by the Beatles or Stones or Who about traveling ("Goin' Mobile" does come to mind), but Bob Dylan's epic  "Blood On The Tracks" is a litany of place names. And that's just one album.

Americans sing less about the joys of moving on and more about the necessity of it -- what Canadian Joni Mitchell called the urge for going. Willie Nelson sang that "still is still moving to me," which captures the urge for going about as well any song I've heard. Maybe the greatest American song of all -- "This Land Is Your Land" -- is not only about the road and the land, but how it belongs to all of us -- how we are it and it is us. 

This morning, I discovered this wonderful photoessay written in 1935 by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov for Pravda. Every time they found a place that they thought represented America, the residents assured them that it did not: "They said that the genuine America was the southern states, while others affirmed that it was the western ones. Several didn't say anything but vaguely pointed a finger into space." That sounds about right...

Woody sings "This Land Is Your Land":

Friday, September 5, 2008

Let The Games Begin

I listened to about half of John McCain's speech on the car radio. Quick takes:
  1. He did not once say either the words "Bush" or "Republican." 
  2. For all the talk about change, the policy portion of the speech was tired, failed Republicanism.
  3. The line about "we wanted to change Washington but instead Washington changed us" landed with a thud audible in the Pacific Northwest. Not what the delegates wanted to hear.
  4. The peroration was effective. Even I was moved. But...
What's going on here? McCain has set himself up as a man apart from his party even though he's leading it. He promises change but proposes more of the same. The strongest rhetoric in his speech was in the part most devoid of substance. In many ways, he took a page out of what he has been decrying as Obama's playbook: Long on words, short on substance. By divorcing himself from his party, by keeping its policies unchanged, and by adding Sarah Palin to the ticket, he's creating the same cult of personality that the right claims is the essence of Obama's campaign. It's an interesting gambit, one fraught with contradiction and paradox. I think it will collapse under it's own weight, especially when you consider...

...this, the most significant development of the week. It's never good for the party in power when unemployment reaches a five-year high. Especially for the candidate who -- no matter how hard he's running from the party brand -- proposes more of the same...

"The cause is the thing," says Neville bro Cyril, lately of the Wetlands All Stars...

John Gourley of the indie rock band "Portugal. The Man" grew up in Wasilla, Alaska. Here, he explains why Sarah Palin does not represent true Alaskans any more than does the governor of Hawaii...

The New Orleans Daily Photo returns home from Hurricane Gustav. Be sure to check out his August photos of the evacuation. BTW, this blog regularly features amazing photos of Gulf Coast bird life...

Friday's Choice:  The Rolling Stones perform "Sweet Virginia" in 1972 at Fort Worth's Tarrant County Convention Center. Listen to the chorus and you'll know why I'm dedicating this Friday's choice to the Republican National Convention:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

There They Go Again

Well, I didn't think much of Palin's speech -- I switched over to "Project Runway" after a half hour -- but then I'm hardly her target audience. What I did hear was yet another Republican struggling with the rudiments of pronuciation ("pundints" and "childern") and showing a blase disregard for the facts. The "pundints" mostly agree that she made a great impression, although it does seem as as if they have some responsibility to point out at the howlers in her speech. For example, it is not even remotely the case -- as she implied here -- that the petroleum reserves in Alaska's North Slope offset the combined output of Iran and Venezuela. But that's the MSM for you: Focus on sweeping Lincolnian rhetoric like "Take it from a gal who knows" and ignore the nonsense that comes after...

It's not like McCain campaign manager Rick Davis hasn't spelled it out: "This election is not about issues...This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." In other words, we're going to our level best to make people ignore the last eight years of perfidy and incompetence to focus on what is really important. Which is: Who do you want running the country? An uppity black and an old bull Democrat, or a military hero and the beauty queen next door? Well, Barack Obama is an exceptionally able politician, so won't be like running against Michael Dukakis or John Kerry. But the strains of racism run deep in this country...

The Daily Show has the forgotten story of Hurricane Gustav:

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lightweight Champion

It is by now an article of faith among Republicans that Sarah Palin's 20 months as governor of Alaska and six years as mayor of Wasilla (pop. 8471) give her an experience edge over Barack Obama. Obama, they point out, has no executive experience, ergo Palin is more qualified to be president and plenty qualified to be vice president. It's a familiar right-wing gambit, in which they speciously confer equal stature on two competing ideas and then stack the deck in favor of their side.

But are Palin and Obama of equal stature? Eman of Daily Kos thinks not, and lays out a side-by-side comparison that proves his point. What emerges is a considerable intellect on the one hand and a probable lightweight on the other. Which is my real objection to Sarah Palin: Her presence on the Republican ticket is an endorsement of the cult of stupidity that has engulfed the Oval Office for the past eight years.

Consider her response to a question about teaching Creationism in schools:
Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information....Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject -- creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.
On surface, what could be more fair-minded? The problem is that there's no equality of ideas at work here, a distinction she can't seem to grasp. Nor does she appear to understand that a scientific theory is not an opinion: It's an explanation that attempts to unify disparate empirically observed facts, and that is stated in a way that can be empirically disproved. There is no factual information about Creationism. Neither it nor its Trojan horse -- Intelligent Design -- have ever been formulated in any way that invites scientific research: There is literally no Theory of Intelligent Design, even if its proponents blather about "design theory."

By contrast, Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection (which is what she means by "evolution") has been challenged and tested for more that 150 years, with literally billions of data points resulting. And every test has confirmed his theory, filled in gaps, and widened our understanding of biology, chemistry, statistics, and the origins of life. It is an accepted scientific fact that has resulted in tremendous scientific advances.

Consider Palin's statement again with the context changed and you will see how ridiculous it is:
Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information....Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject -- flat earth and round earth. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.
From a scientific perspective, this statement and her actual allegation have the same value, which is to say none whatsoever. And yet, this person is about to be the Republican party's nominee for vice president.

The comparison of her and Obama is typically specious. It's also typically lazy of the MSM to consider it outside of the greater context of their respective abilities and not ask the real question: What could possibly have possessed John McCain to select a running mate so insubstantial that she makes Dan Quayle look like Jean-Paul Sartre?...

While governor, Palin vetoed a funding to help unwed teen mothers find housing...

John McCain sez "No fair! Stop picking on me! Leave me alone!"...

Conservative pundits Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan exchange their true feelings about Palin when they thought the mike was turned off:

Monday, September 1, 2008

The True Story Of How John McCain Hired Sarah Palin

Republicans used to make a big deal out of the inability of Democrats to run the country like a business. Republicans, they claimed, would be efficient and balance the budget, just as any business must do. (This claim was cold comfort to some of us who had lengthy careers in business. I can't think of a single place I worked that paid more than lip service to the god of efficiency.) While eight years of a failed CEO presidency marked by profligacy and cronyism have stilled that voice somewhat, it's nonetheless instructive to apply the business model to John McCain's approach to choosing a running mate.

Here's how McCain, Inc. decided that Sarah Palin should be next in line for the presidency:
  • Because of concerns about their commitment to key aspects of the corporate culture, otherwise preferred applicants like Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge were not offered the position
  • Sarah Palin filled out a job application
  • She interviewed with the 71-year old male hiring manager, impressing him deeply with her charisma (read: pulchritude)
  • Smitten on the spot, the manager decided that he didn't need to check references and immediately offered her the job
There's no fool like and old fool, and John McCain isn't the first one to fall under the spell of a pretty face. But this wasn't an audition for Vegas chorus girl, either (even if certain parts of his body argued otherwise).  You think I'm exaggerating? Read it and weep...

New Orleans may have dodged a bullet, but other parts of southern Louisiana weren't so lucky. Neither was the Cuban province of Pinar Del Rio. Nor Haiti...

Look, I don't think we should be jumping on a 17-year girl who -- stop the presses -- got pregnant any more than I think people should make ugly homophobic "jokes" about children. But surely we're permitted a certain degree of schadenfreude when we learn that her mother supported abstinence-only education...

It's funny how the same gang that thought swift-boating John Kerry and drive Vince Foster to suicide was all aboveboard now cringes sanctimoniously at the supposed "mud-slinging and lies" surrounding Bristol Palin's pregnancy...

Max Blumenthal of The Nation reports on a secretive right-wing group that did vet Palin (after a fashion) and liked what they found...

President Bush speaks to the Republican convention tonight, but only after the flaming oratory of Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman has sedated the delegates...

The Limits Of Power

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, Andrew J. Bacevich (Metropolitan Books, 224 pp.)

In his important new book The Limits of Power, retired colonel and Boston University history professor Andrew J. Bacevich casts a cold eye on that most sacrosanct of American values: The celebration and worship of freedom. By taking the concept freedom as an absolute value not subject to critical examination, Bacevich writes, the American people have stood aside while the meaning of freedom has changed, and not for the better. Once, freedom represented a commitment to the independence of the United States as a community. Today, it signifies the success of the individual accumulating as much as he can and doing whatever he wants with it. Forty-five years ago, Martin Luther King had a dream for all of America. Today, John McCain scores points by squawking that we need to "drill here...drill now" in order to put off the day of reckoning on energy independence for as long as possible.

Writing in no-nonsense sledgehammer prose (for an example, see the sidebar on this blog), Bacevich takes inspiration from the teaching and writing of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to structure his book around three related essays that skewer conventional wisdom and expose American Exceptionalism as undermining our own society and its place in the world.

American Exceptionalism in effect posits that God is on our side. In this view of history, a providential purpose for America informs American action. Not only that, divine providence has not so smiled on other nations, rendering their interests morally subordinate to ours. Exceptionalism is why John McCain can support the preemptive war in Iraq, claim that "in the 21st Century, nations don't invade other nations," and mean both. In his exceptionalist eyes, the United States is not just another nation and so not subject to modern political restraints. Exceptionalism comes perilously close to the idea that any action taken by the United States is by definition ordained by God and therefore morally acceptable. (You can see why Pat Robertson said that we had 9/11 coming to us: It was a divine warning that abortion rights, gay rights, and secular humanism were endangering our historically exalted position with God.)

Niebuhr thought that man had within him a capacity for "radical freedom" carrying with it the capability of both great creativity and great destruction. Bacevich argues that Americans view freedom only in positive terms, and that not critically examining both sides of the matter transformed postwar America from a nation of productivity to a nation of consumption. He traces the roots of Exceptionalism back the Puritan "city on a hill" and shows how it moved steadily forward until it became the dominant reality of American foreign and domestic policy.

In particular, The Limits of Power focuses on what Bacevich identifies as the three great crises facing Americans in the 21st century: The crisis of profligacy, the political crisis, and the military crisis.  For example he points out the military families bear the brunt of the Iraq war while the remaining 99.5% of Americans are encouraged to shop until they drop. Most significantly, this includes the continued consumption of oil at a rate that simply cannot be sustained. (As I noted in an earlier post, 5% of the world's population consumes 25% of its petroleum while owning less than 3% of total petroleum reserves.) 

Meanwhile, our political and military institutions face a genuine crisis of leadership. Bacevich pulls no punches in describing Generals Schwarzkopf, Clark, and Franks as mediocrities unworthy of the tradition of Washington, Grant, Marshall, and Eisenhower. On the political side, he dissects the long bipartisan tradition of setting foreign policy via a coterie of "wise men." These so-called wise men, Bacevich argues convincingly, are always wrong. For any given foreign policy situation, the country would be better served by pulling a few random people off the street and leaving the decision-making in their hands. 

Bacevich spares neither party, but his critique shows that the combination of certitude and ineptness reached its logical extreme with the Bush/Cheney administration. He doesn't let American people off the hook, either: After all, we are the ones driving the SUVs and electing the scoundrels even as evidence of the costs surrounds us. In a telling reassessment of Jimmy Carter's "crisis of confidence" speech, he points out that politicians who speak frankly of the need for sacrifice and changing habits usually pay for their candor by losing elections.

He hammers home the point that we have become a dependent nation -- especially on oil -- and that that is inevitably a form of self-strangulation. Along the way, he points out uncomfortable realities such energy independence being the last thing the military establishment wants because energy dependence has become its raison d'etre. Thus, the American people are faced with an excruciating paradox: Because our dependence on foreign oil has led to the growth of the military, we now have a military whose interests run opposite to energy independence, which has become our most important national security issue.

Limits isn't perfect. For example, Bacevich doesn't explore the culpability of modern marketing and advertising techniques in the creation of the profligacy crisis. In 1980, the Supreme Court determined that advertising is protected speech; the genesis of this decision goes back to the fateful 1886 case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, in which the court held that a corporation was a legal person and therefore entitled to the same constitutional guarantees as the individual. Certainly, the crisis of profligacy has important roots in these legal decisions that widely expanded the constitutional definition of freedom, and it would be interesting to get Bacevich's take on their impact.

Moreover, I believe that there is a fourth crisis, a crisis of education. The American educational system has become a giant vocational school cranking out the businessmen, engineers, scientists, and even doctors heavily invested in a culture of consumption. In his book Assault On Reason, Al Gore talked about the difference between "educated" and "informed." Our schools -- right through higher education -- do a good job of producing educated specialists and a poor job of developing informed, skeptical citizens. Such citizens are critical to demanding the kinds of change Bacevich argues for, but that's exactly what American education does not create.

The Limits of Power was written by a man who served his country and who cares deeply about its future. Limits is probing, rigorously argued, and conscientiously nonpartisan -- so much so that I can't say what Bacevich's political leanings might be. It's also pessimistic, which only means all the more that we ought to read what Bacevich has to say...

Here's a link to Mike Wallace's 1958 interview with Reinhold Niebuhr. It's not only a glimpse into the mind one of the most influential mid-Century thinkers, it's the kind of substantive television that is nonexistent these days. The interview includes Niebuhr's cogent, succinct explanation of why the separation of church and state is vital to democracy: 
It [religion] may be good and it may be bad. The separation of church and the state is necessary partly because if religion is good then the state shouldn't interfere with a religious vision or with a religious prophecy. There must be a realm of truth beyond political competence. That's why there must be a separation of churches. But if religion is bad — and a bad religion is one that gives an ultimate sanctity to some particular cause — then religion mustn't interfere with the state. So one of the basic democratic principles as we know it in America is the separation of church and state.
The transcript is here.