Saturday, December 13, 2003

I'm with Lynne Cheney: academics are our enemies 

I'm just going to float this out there and we'll see what happens.

The best things that could happen to the Democratic Party would be

a) The abolition of "Politics" as a collegiate academic discipline; and

b) The complete and utter demise of the "mainstream" news media.

I won't address b) here, since anyone who saw the "moderation" of the last two Democratic debates (Judy Woodruff in the former, Ted Koppel in the latter) knows exactly what I'm talking about; if you need to know more, read Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media?"

In terms of a): first let me make a distinction between "academic politics" and the academic study of American government (which is obviously of huge importance) and political theory (ditto). So but C-Span aired a panel discussion yesterday, from the "New Hampshire Institute of Politics." This is how the NHIOP bills the event:
The conference brings together America's top political insiders--pollsters, journalists, party representatives, and a wide range of behind-the-scenes strategists--to discuss the most recent election and to look forward to the upcoming political season. The conference is hosted by the NHIOP, the University of Virginia Center for Politics and The Hotline.
And the panelists:

Moderator: Larry J. Sabato, University of Virginia Center for Politics
Carl Cameron, Fox News Channel
Linda L. Fowler, Dartmouth College
Mark Halperin, ABC News
Susan Page, USA Today

None of these "top political insiders" said anything shocking, unseemly, or out of the ordinary, and there was certainly nothing resembling "behind-the-scenes strategy" (no matter how edifying that no doubt would have been). In fact, none of them "said" anything. In one sense, it was almost mind-numbingly boring: recreational anesthesia for couch-potato politics junkies to nod out to.

Q: Is Dean a lock-in? (A: Probably.)

Q: Is Dean McGovern? (A: Depends on whether he's not Gary Hart or Jimmy Carter.)

Q: Is the Kerry campaign finished? (A: Yup.)

Q: Is New Hampshire still as important as everyone says it is? (A: Yup.)

Q: Will Bush win the "electoral squeaker" 51-49 or 52-48? (A: Depends on whether Dean renounces his McGovernism as moves from the "the far left" back to "the center.")

Q: Does the GOP have an absolute fuckload of money? (A: Yup.)

With straight faces, these folks referred to "conventional wisdom" as though it were something they could evaluate or critique from the outside--as though it were anything but precisely what was being generated, sustained and disseminated by the movement of their mouths.

But in another sense it was one of the most loathsome and repugnant performances I've ever witnessed. The panel was made up of tenured academics and "political" "journalists." There's little doubt in my mind that all of these panelists (except perhaps Mr. Cameron) privately consider themselves Democrats, and will probably vote for the Democratic candidate. I have little doubt that all of these panelists do (or did) have opinions, beliefs, and are capable of articulating groups of sentences that might qualify as "thoughts." Actual thoughts.

But they don't. The shit they say--and it is shit--consists of anything but those things. It's not their "professional" role to say those things. Their "professional" roles and "professional" credentials mandate, for some incomprehensible (or maybe not so incomprehensible) reason, that they say the most tepid, vacuous, safe, and seemly things possible.

They are a bunch of neutered clowns, performing for groups of people who don't care what they have to say.

This raises the question: for whose benefit do they do what they do? Does it help the "general public" better understand the stakes, implications, and consequences of electoral politics? Hardly: how much of the "general public" watches C-Span? (And if they did, why wouldn't they simply change the channel, like I should have done?) Does it benefit the panel's audience? Please. You should have seen the few instances when C-Span's camera was trained on audience faces. I saw youths--yes, the "young people of America"--who may have come to this "event" out of some budding interest in politics--I saw their faces as
pallid masks of sheer disappointment and boredom. Was anyone surprised that at the end of the discussion there was not a single person lined up at the mikes for "questions"?

Does it benefit the panelists' colleagues? Is this some kind of collegial, mutually elucidating meeting of fellow brains at work? Give me a fucking break.

The only people who "benefit" from this "discussion" are the credentialed and professional panelists themselves, some of whom (in a desperate attempt to fend off despair) may have actually deluded themselves into thinking that even if they themselves don't give a shit about what they're saying, somebody out there might.

They are whores, but whores of the worst, most insidious kind: generally good, intelligent, right-thinking people whose well-informed, balanced, safely-reasoned, mild-mannered and respectful discourse has the unintended consequence of cloaking Politics in a blanket of irrelevance if not an outright shroud of nothingness.

And these people represent the outcome of a decades-long liberal "establishment" in academia and the respected presses? Tepid, inconsequential chattering? These are the people who have been elected to guide our "serious" public discourse on politics?

To come back to the title of this post: it strikes me that conservatives' resentment of their "exclusion" from a liberally hegemonic academic establishment is sadly, painfully ironic. Yes, the reason most conservatives are "excluded" from academia is that they are simply not smart enough to succeed there. But it's probably the best thing that ever happened to their movement. Their "best minds" aren't conducting these panels on C-Span: they are out there where they should be, spreading their message loud and clear "on the ground" in the culture: on TV, over the radio airwaves, through the popular presses--all the places where they get heard by "people." And alternatively, they are pushing their agendas relentlessly in the very halls of power. They shout aloud to the masses and whisper in the ears of the power players.

And our liberal-minded "professionals"? They speak to audiences of twenty on C-Span conference panels, chattering into the void alongside their fellow "journalists" and university faculty and "top political insiders." They get their tenure. They get promotions. No one gives a shit.

Meanwhile, out there in "the world," politics is happening: the good and the bad are waging a literally life-and-death battle, leveraging heretofore unknown masses of power, money, technology and information. The only thing that may be heard above the din of official propaganda is the ersatz propaganda of meaningless printed and spoken noise. Laws are made and unmade. Bodies are blown up, citizens are bathed in poisons visible and invisible, hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars flow through secret channels. A man not elected president has been president for three years. The Republic is in the crucible.

But anyway: who wants to talk about this presidential campaign we're having?

Can Gephardt beat Dean in Iowa? (A: Nope.)

Friday, December 12, 2003

Speakingcorpse drops some Emersonian science 

I think I agree with every word of this column by Harold Meyerson. There are real reasons to fear the consequences of a Dean defeat. But it is a prejudgment, at best, to assume that such a defeat is inevitable. Furthermore, it is essential to recognize the very important Dean's campaign has ALREADY made to the Democratic party and--and if his work is recognized--to this country. The Democrats must oppose the fascists. Without apology. Now I know that the absolute necessity of winning next year cannot be forgotten, and there are reasons to think Clark may be the man to save us from national incineration. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with this perspective. But something else has to be recognized: as long as that--the need to play the game so as to win--is the ONLY consideration governing Democratic campaigns, the Democrats really are surrendering in advance. The Democrats have to draw a line and hold it. It would be much, much better if they could draw that line knowing that a majority of Americans were on the same side of the line as the Democrats themselves (say, after a presidential victory). But: if there is no victory, and the drawing of the line is forever postponed, we will all be sucked into the Republican void. I know this is what the Greens said 4 years ago. But the Dean insurgency is not the same as the Green "fit" (with which I nonetheless sympathized). The nature of the Dean insurgency HAS NOT YET BEEN DETERMINED. There are still choices to be made, by very powerful people. Rebellion and consensus building have not yet crystallized as opposing forces. We simply must be optimistic. If Clark can pull together a real campaign--which he hasn't yet done--that will be cause for celebration. But Dean HAS pulled together a real campaign, and I refuse not to see something to hope for in that.
Dean's Band of Outsiders

By Harold Meyerson

While the nation's Democratic leaders were unable to understand just how marginal they'd become, however, millions of rank-and-file Democrats and just plain disgruntled Bush-haters intuitively grasped what was going on. Bush was bent on repealing the New Deal and replacing the internationalist order that the United States had erected after World War II with a more nationalist vision of his own. If you weren't with him, you were against him. And he was against you.

Howard Dean's initial appeal has been to those Americans who always knew they were on the margins of George Bush's America. Not the socioeconomic margins, not the African American and Latino communities, but the political, cultural and existential margins -- the young, urban, white middle class in particular. Dean's are the people who were bowling alone -- not churchgoers, not union members. They shared a set of beliefs on which they'd never before had an opportunity to act collectively.

No Will to Win?  

Great Bob Herbert piece in the Times:
The Dems may indeed sink like the Titanic next year. But I don't think Dr. Dean is the problem — at least, not yet. The problem is the party itself. God and the Republicans have blessed the Democrats with the high ground on one important issue after another, from the war in Iraq to national economic policy to health care to education to the environment.

But like the Union general George McClellan, the Democrats have been too timid to take full advantage. It's a party for the faint of heart. The Republicans are hijacking elections and redistricting the country and looting the Treasury and ignoring the Constitution and embittering our allies, while the Democrats are — let's see, fumbling their way through an incoherent primary season and freaking out over Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean.

Ashbery on a lost nation 

speakingcorpse sends us this poem. If you find it confusing, you're not alone. I think I find politics rather more confusing, though.

The Blessed Way Out
Raritan; New Brunswick; Fall 2002; John Ashbery

Those who came closest did not come close.
The unknown leaned out to them,
then it was post-afternoon. Yes, Jerry built it.
There are many of them in Old Town.
What with one thing and another
you gave me all sorts of fur presents, you know.
It was good to come back. Gumball machines furnish
the library's stark living style.
You can't compete with what the
car tells its owner. One by one you are mortal
if the watershed idea catches on
and if we are credited for our utterance.
They thought serendipity was the most beautiful thing in the world.
They were right. As the wheel takes hold,
other inspirations spike it.
There was no year like it for taxation.
FDR decreed a large public works program
that had to be supported with funds from somewhere.
Inevitably, these took the form of taxation.
As when a redbreast calls, there is someone to hear it.
Calico got pasted over the mouse hole.
What are we doing in a theater more than one
wondered. Leaves fled like falling stocks.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

More on Brooks' Coprocritical Talents 

speakingcorpse writes:

Here's a smart column by the always useful Todd Gitlin, analyzing the "writings" "of" "David Brooks." It's worth a read, though I was a bit frustrated that Gitlin didn't touch on one important aspect of Brooks's "work"--the fact that it is excrement emitted from his mouth. All questions of wit and smugness aside (and I know they're important, as Brooks apparently is good at "playing" whatever "game" it was that got him on the NYTimes editorial page) it's hard to imagine how Gitlin ever managed to make this careful analysis. It clearly required him to examine, at close range, and perhaps even to consume, a large number of turds. Gitlin also fails to mention Brooks's latest emission, in which he claims that Dean can't be trusted because he's the internet candidate (or something to that effect--I couldn't bring myself to smell more than a sentence or two). In all honesty, I think Brooks wrote that column by trying to think of how a sketch-comedian would have parodied his (Brooks's) own "writing." Brooks couldn't possibly have believed a word of it. Woops! There's that concept again--always irrelevant in analyzing the "writings" of "conservative" "commentators"--belief. There is simply no question of belief. It is simply a matter of making words that fit a premade mold with sufficient closeness as to make interpretation (or questions of truthfulness, or belief) totally unnecessary. Thus, a columnist like Brooks, trying to squeeze out the day's emission, REALLY COULD AND PROBABLY DOES derive his ideas by trying to come up with parodies of RNC blastfax talking points. Because for his readers--and for him, too, as he approaches a state of pure mechanical shit-production--there is no distinction between parody and sincerity. There is just the pure, hard, excremental form of the utterance (emission). Brooks maintains enough of a consciousness of this dehumanizing procedure to get a bit of smug self-delight out of it. That, if anything, is his only recognizable human affect--and hence it must be part of his appeal. "Look how well I can play this game! Don't you wish you too were paid to produce this empty meaningless crap, which by this point I can do as easily as taking a shit? I get paid to shit! Ha-ha! Isn't America great?"

Light bulbs, paper and employees 

Dawkins writes:

Some salient points from the New York Times' continuing investigation into Halliburton's fuel scam in Iraq:
The United States government is paying the Halliburton Company an average of $2.64 a gallon to import gasoline and other fuel to Iraq from Kuwait, more than twice what others are paying to truck in Kuwaiti fuel, government documents show.

Halliburton, which has the exclusive United States contract to import fuel into Iraq, subcontracts the work to a Kuwaiti firm, government officials said. But Halliburton gets 26 cents a gallon for its overhead and fee, according to documents from the Army Corps of Engineers.
A spokeswoman for Halliburton, Wendy Hall, defended the company's pricing. "It is expensive to purchase, ship, and deliver fuel into a wartime situation, especially when you are limited by short-duration contracting," she said. She said the company's Kellogg Brown & Root unit, which administers the contract, must work in a "hazardous" and "hostile environment," and that its profit on the contract is small.
Blicero adds: If you want it to be even more "'hazardous' and 'hostile'," just let those Canadians in!

And, you know:
She said the contract was also expensive because it was hard to find a company with the trucks necessary to move the fuel, and because Halliburton is only able to negotiate a 30-day contract for fuel. "It is not as simple as dropping by a service station for a fill-up," she said.

A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, Bob Faletti, also defended the price of imported fuel.

"Everyone is talking about high costs, but no one is talking about the dangers, or the number of fuel trucks that have been blown up," Mr. Faletti said. "That's the reason it is so expensive." He said recent government audits had found no improprieties in the Halliburton contract.
Gee, it seems to me, what with all the trouble they're having with the whole "purchase, ship, and deliver" part of the job, not to mention finding trucks to do it, not to mention making sure those trucks are secured against attacks along the way, that maybe Halliburton's not the best company for this tricky job. (Then again, they did get the contract, so what am I talking about?) I guess there's no one else out there who could do, or is doing, the job for cheaper and safer and better.

But, what's that you say?
The Iraqi state oil company and the Pentagon's Defense Energy Support Center import fuel from Kuwait for less than half of Halliburton's price, the records show.
Then there must be some explanation!
The 26 cents a gallon it keeps includes a 2-cent fee and 24 cents for "mark-up costs," the documents show. The mark-up portion is intended to cover the overhead for administering the contract.

Ms. Hall of Halliburton said it was "misleading" for the corps to call it a mark-up. "This simply means overhead costs, which includes the general and administrative costs like light bulbs, paper and employees," she said. "These costs are specifically allowable under the contract with the Corps of Engineers, are defined by detailed regulations, and are scrutinized and approved by U.S. government auditors."
Yes! "Overhead costs!" "Light bulbs!" "Paper!" "Employees!" And all "scrutinized" and "approved" by U.S. government auditors!

Blicero adds: "Paper jams"! "Mechanical piece [sic] of equipment"!

Back to bed! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


Rangel to endorse Clark on Thursday

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Wesley Clark is scheduled to be endorsed Thursday by New York Rep. Charles Rangel in Harlem, following a Wednesday-night fund-raiser that produced more than $1 million for the retired general's effort in the bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Clark's campaign predicted that year-end fund-raising reports will show him pocketing more than $10 million in the final quarter of 2003.

"When it comes to national security, well, he's all bully and no pulpit," Clark said of Bush. "He said he was gonna have a humble foreign policy, but he's alienated with his arrogance nearly every one of our partners and allies."

Clark, wounded in Vietnam, criticized Bush's two trips to the Iraq war zone, calling his May landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare an end to major hostilities an attempt "to cover himself with the reflected glory of the men and women who actually have risked their lives in combat."

Clark contrasted Bush's trip to serve Thanksgiving dinner to troops in Baghdad with his policy of not attending funerals for any casualties of the war.

"This is a guy who will fly halfway around the world for a photo opportunity, but he won't (go) halfway across town to honor American servicemen being buried in Arlington National Cemetery," Clark said.

The fund-raiser unveiled a new 17-minute biographical film, "American Son," produced by Linda Bloodworth Thomason, who produced a memorable biopic for Bill Clinton that introduced him to the Democratic National Convention in 1992.

Nice Blumenthal Piece in the Guardian UK 

'If I had to do it over again, I'd let rip'

Al Gore's backing of Howard Dean gives Democrats back their voice

Sidney Blumenthal
Thursday December 11, 2003
The Guardian

Since the trauma of the 2000 election, the Democrats have endured a history of loss and defeat, not only of office and programme, but identity, self-confidence and self-respect. As a congressional party that lost its majority in 2002, it has seemed to be in a nightmare that the party is incapable of escaping.

Republican bullying has been met almost inevitably by Democratic cowering, the ruthless will to power by timid retreat. Before this spectacle, Democratic voters have felt themselves unrepresented and voiceless. Until the presidential candidacy of Howard Dean, their burning sentiments lacked expression. Now, Al Gore's early endorsement of Dean dramatically amplifies them and partly explains them.

Above all, Democrats are consumed with a rising sense of injustice. They believe that democracy was undermined when the votes were not counted in Florida and the supreme court made George Bush president; that the social contract in place since the New Deal is being shredded; that internationalist alliances are being shattered; that the president lied about the reasons for war; that the Bush administration acts with authoritarian impunity (refusing, for example, to make public even the members of the vice-president's energy policy panel); and that the media is being overwhelmed by the din of a rightwing echo chamber that masks itself as journalism.

In the face of constant provocation, Democrats see their own party as hesitant, compromised, if not complicit, and cowardly. "You're either with us or the terrorists," Bush has repeated many times. The Democrats supported the war in Afghanistan. Most Democrats in the House and Senate backed the war resolution on Iraq. Yet none of this prevents Republicans from challenging their patriotism.

As recently as last week, after Senator Hillary Clinton, who voted for the Iraq war, returned from inspecting Afghanistan and Iraq as a member of the armed services committee, a Republican party flunky and Bush family retainer named Scott Reed was trotted out to smear the former first lady as "un-American" when she called for more troops and international support.

The Democrats' feelings for their congressional party are inextricably linked to their feelings for Bush. They saw Democratic legislators vote for regressive Bush tax cuts in the belief that it would insulate them from Republican assaults in the 2002 mid-term elections, only to see enough Democratic senators lose seats to tip the Senate. Time and again, even liberal lions such as Edward Kennedy have been bamboozled on education and Medicare.

The congressional Democrats have been in denial about Bush's conservative radicalism. They preferred to believe that fundamental comity still existed even when it was being smashed. They gathered no clue about the simmering among Democratic voters from the phenomenon of Senator Robert Byrd, a silver-maned irrelevance suddenly elevated to cult hero for his opposition to Bush on the Iraq war.

All the major Democratic candidates running for president from Congress voted for the war resolution. Only Dean - the sole non-congressional candidate - stood against it. The late entry, the former general Wesley Clark, flip-flopped on the war, in effect turning himself into a congressional Democrat, declared that he had voted for Nixon, Reagan and the elder Bush, and volunteered that he's for banning the burning of the US flag, a hoary Republican demagogic device.

Gore's endorsement of Dean is the most important since grainy film was shown at the 1992 Democratic convention depicting President Kennedy shaking hands with a teenage Bill Clinton. Gore's endorsement is not the passing of the torch to a new generation, but another conferring of legitimacy. For Democrats, he personifies the infamy of the last election. He is not another politician, but the rightfully elected president, by a popular majority of 539,895 votes.

But the Gore of today is not the Gore of 2000. The careful political figure trying to distance himself from Clinton and contorting his personality to project likability has been tempered by defeat. "If I had to do it all over again, I'd just let it rip," Gore said a year ago. "To hell with the polls, the tactics and all the rest. I would have poured out my heart and my vision for America's future."

Gore now calls the rightwing media a "fifth column" within journalism, and he's raising millions to build a TV network of his own as an alternative. In his own way, he's absorbed the lessons of the past three years and become a representative Democrat. His endorsement of Dean is his commentary on his campaign and the conduct of his party since.

·Sidney Blumenthal is former senior adviser to President Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Shit, Lies, Death 


US Senator James Inhofe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, says it is inconsistent with freedom, prosperity and environmental policy progress.

"I'm becoming more and more convinced... that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people and the world," he told a conference briefing.

The BBC's David Bamford in Washington says Mr Inhofe's view fits neatly with the majority view in the US congress - that America should do nothing about the issue.

Our correspondent says members of the Republican-led congress know the US is at odds with scientific experts.

However, obliging industrial plants to reduce emissions would be a vote loser, because most Americans would assume it meant a reduction in production, job losses and a rise in household energy bills.

The last attempt in October to introduce such a bill failed in the Senate, even though it was co-sponsored across party lines by Democrat Joe Liebermann and Republican John McCain.
You know what the problem is with those scientific experts? They don't

Over the past 2 hours, I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax. That conclusion is supported by the painstaking work of the nation's top climate scientists.

With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.

--"The Science of Climate Change"
Senate Floor Statement by
U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla)
Chairman, Committee on
Environment and Public Works
July 28, 2003

I wonder if this has to do with that "cultural divide"... 

Q Scott, Mr. Wolfowitz has issued this directive saying that for contracts in Iraq, certain countries will be excluded, only coalition partners will be allowed access to the U.S. money for contracts. And he based that on a national security interest. Why is it in the national security interest of the United States to restrict countries like France and Canada from contracts?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're referring to a specific wording in a memo. You might want to ask the Department of Defense about some of the specific wording in the memo.[...]

Q Scott, one of the reasons for the decision is to ostensibly protect U.S. security. Could you explain what security threat Canada poses, and why would countries like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Colombia be allowed to bid on contracts?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should look at the entire context of the memo. I mean, specific language that you are referencing, I was asked earlier about. This memo was put out by the Pentagon; you should talk to them about this specific language.

Q The incoming Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin says he simply cannot understand the decision, given that Canada has already contributed millions of dollars to the rebuilding effort.

MR. McCLELLAN: And we appreciate the contributions that they have made and we will be glad to discuss this matter with them.[...]

Q In the case of Canada, Canada contributed troops to Afghanistan, lost troops in Afghanistan in an accident by U.S. troops, which politically made it very difficult for them to contribute to Iraq. And they're being punished for not being able to provide --

MR. McCLELLAN: In the war on terrorism, there are a lot of countries participating in those efforts, and we appreciate that. There is a very large coalition of countries across the world that are fighting the war on terrorism and making sacrifices.[...]

Q Paul Martin, who becomes the new Canadian Prime Minister tomorrow, said that he cannot fathom this decision because Canadians are in Afghanistan dying alongside Americans, and because Canada has pledged $300 million to the reconstruction effort in Iraq. Are you not concerned that this is getting things off to a bad start with the new Canadian Prime Minister?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all -- first of all, let me back up. We look forward to working with Mr. Martin as he becomes the new Prime Minister in Canada. Second of all, we appreciate the contributions that Canada has been making in the war on terrorism.[...]

Q ...How does this policy help the people of Iraq? You said that should be the shared goal. How does excluding countries like Canada from these prime contracts actually help the people of Iraq, if there are businesses that can provide a suitable service?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of firms from countries that maybe aren't on this list that are already participating in some of the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.[...]

Q The Vice President on Monday shot 70 pheasants and an unspecified number of ducks. And I'm wondering how many of these were Canadian. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Ask the Vice President's office. Next question.

Best idea I've ever heard 

From an Eschaton reader:
They [White House reporters] should all come into the press briefing and be completely silent. When McClellan says "Well, does anyone have a question?" someone should respond "Does it matter?" Then everyone walks out.

Brooks = Small, Occasionally Unavoidable Pile of Shit 

Can't we all just stop reading David Brooks' columns--stop referring to them; quoting them; discussing them; arguing with them?

He's a trap. He's like this giggling, smirking, cringing middle-aged imp, creeping his way among the most obvious political and cultural signifiers of our day like a yokel tourist among baffling urban monuments, alternately amused, appalled, faux-indignant, sappily pious and pompous-out-of-puzzlement. He's titillated. He's "smart." He's here; he's there. He's an independent thinker.

He frequently stops, squats, and drops a turd onto our public discourse.

There it lies on the pavement.

It's nothing you haven't seen before. It's annoying, but you step around it. (Alternatively you step in it; and it ruins your afternoon; but by evening, you've all but forgotten about it.)

Can't we all just stop reading the opinion columns of the respected "moderate" "conservative" commentator David Brooks?

Have You Heard the News? 

Hey folks! There's some awesome news:
Florida won't require printouts of touch-screen votes

California will require that its touch-screen voting machines provide paper printouts for each ballot cast, but Florida's top elections official says she does not favor a similar standard here.
Reporters, please note: she "does not favor" that.
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's recent paper-trail edict is scheduled to take effect by 2006. The action in the nation's largest state -- and America's largest market for new voting hardware -- hands a potentially precedent-setting victory to opponents of paperless electronic voting.
And who, exactly, constitutes the "proponents" of "paperless electronic voting"? Is there a list of these people's names? Are "they" "people"?
"You have to wonder if it will California-ize the market, if paper trails will become a de facto requirement," said Doug Chapin of Electionline.org, a nonprofit group that monitors election reform.
If that's what it takes, then I'm more then ready to be "California-ized."
As manufacturers develop ballot printers to accompany touch screens, Florida will be "very open-minded" in reviewing any printers submitted to the state for certification, Secretary of State Glenda Hood said this week. If printers are certified, Hood said, counties would have the option of using them.
Well, that sounds fair. Your option, my option. Who can argue with "Secretary of State Glenda Hood" on that?
But Hood said making a paper trail a statewide requirement is not necessary because Florida has multiple safeguards to assure the accuracy and security of touch screens, which are used in Palm Beach County and 14 other counties.

"Florida has led the nation in providing security and certification," Hood said. "At this point in time, with the satisfaction that the supervisors continue to show... and the fact that we haven't had complaints from voters, I have a high confidence level."
Let me repeat that, in case you thought there must have been a typographical error: "Florida has led the nation in providing security and certification," Hood said.

Straight face, presumably. I think only those who in their hearts

could make such a statement. And after all, don't we have to Trust our leaders who Trust Jesus? It's like a cosmic chain of trust:

Us --> Our Leaders --> Jesus
With punch-card ballots falling from favor after the 2000 election, paperless touch-screen systems have emerged as the leading new technology. A small but vocal group of computer scientists, Internet posters and other critics has charged that electronic voting machines are susceptible to errors and fraud and need a paper backup if questions arise about an election.
If by "A small but vocal group" the author means "The entire body of academics, specialists in the field, and other people who know even remotely what the fuck they're talking about," then yeah, that's accurate.
The criticisms gained attention in July with a Johns Hopkins University report claiming security problems with Diebold touch screens. This week, a report by the Ohio secretary of state's office found security flaws in touch screens made by all four of the nation's major manufacturers.
And that's going to be a touch of a problem, since the president of Diebold has vowed to help "deliver the state" for Bush in 2004.
The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections issued a six-page statement last month defending touch screens and their reliability. The association says touch screens reduce voter errors and are more accessible for voters who are disabled or don't speak English. Also, the association says, paper receipts would add costs and create "a new set of issues and challenges such as paper jams, running out of ink and paper and the realization that they are a mechanical piece of equipment."
A stunning "realization" that would be.
The supervisors' report accuses touch-screen critics of "committing a huge disservice to the voting public. The continued unfounded attacks on these systems erode the public's confidence."
Get it? It's not the indisputably faulty touch-screen systems themselves that are the problem--it's the "continued unfounded attacks" on the systems. See, the systems work great when the public has "confidence" in them; but as soon as people start "attacking" them, the systems (as well as the "mechanical piece [sic] of equipment") get angry, and stop working right. Can't everyone just fucking chill out, and let the "systems" do their job in peace? (And no, they don't need any "help" from those do-gooding "mechanical piece [sic] of equipment," thank you very much.)
Touch-screen manufacturers have defended the accuracy and security of their products but have also positioned themselves to take advantage of any demand for a paper trail.

Sequoia Voting Systems, which makes the touch screens used in Palm Beach County, will market a ballot printer early next year that would add about $500 to the cost of an electronic voting machine, said company spokesman Alfie Charles.

Elections Systems and Software, which makes the touch screens used in 11 Florida counties, says its products are secure and accurate. But spokeswoman Becky Vollmer said ES&S is developing a printer "for those who would like an added layer of confidence."
You know, fuck it, why don't the elections supervisors just forget about all this paper-jamming, confidence-shaking voting crap, and just certify a "vote" based on, you know, how many people they think would probably have voted one way or the other? I'm sure they'd come up with some pretty damn solid numbers. And as long as we remember to

we have nothing to worry about!

(No offense Mom and Dad, but is it possible that Palm Beach County is somehow the actual seat of the Antichrist? I'm going to have to do a little scooping around when I'm down there over the New Year...)

Bush Promotes "Freedom," "Democracy" 

From the WaPo:
Mr. Bush's Kowtow

FOR THE PAST several weeks, Taiwan and China have been exchanging rhetorical broadsides about how the island's political future might be decided. Taiwan's democratically elected president, Chen Shui-bian, has been hinting that maybe his people should make a democratic choice about whether to unite with China or become independent. Beijing's Communist dictators have replied with bellicose threats to settle the matter by force, no matter the price. Yesterday President Bush essentially placed the United States on the side of the dictators who promise war, rather than the democrats whose threat is a ballot box. His gift to visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was to condemn "the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan" while ignoring the sanguinary rhetoric of the man standing next to him. Mr. Bush had his reasons for doing so -- above all to avoid one more foreign policy crisis during an election year. But in avoiding a headache for himself, he demonstrated again how malleable is his commitment to the defense of freedom as a guiding principle of U.S. policy.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Daily Quiz: What Do the Words That Came Out From the Hole Under The New York Times' Jodi Wilgoren's Nose Mean? 

Mr. Gore's decision put him in the odd position of supporting an insurgent candidate who has built his campaign attacking the centrist Democratic positions that the former Vice President has espoused for two decades.
Whether you like Dean or not: can anyone name a single "centrist Democratic position" that Dean has "attacked" during this campaign? Please leave your answers in the Comment window. The winner will be obliged to also explain what Ms. Wilgoren (or the "aides to other candidates" from whom she got her information) means in referring to "an incongruence in the military views of Mr. Gore and Dr. Dean."

Divine History 

While the rest of the blogosphere's been freaking out over the Gore endorsement of Dean, I have been freaking out over...Presidential Biographies!

During a search to find out whether Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN) is old enough to be a VP nominee (he isn't--he doesn't turn 35 till May 11, 2005, making him about 3+ months too young) I ended up at the White House's official "The Presidents of the United States" page. It probably won't surprise you that there are some odd patches in this tapestry of "historical information." For instance, this is the complete passage on FDR's New Deal:
By 1935 the Nation had achieved some measure of recovery, but businessmen and bankers were turning more and more against Roosevelt's New Deal program. They feared his experiments, were appalled because he had taken the Nation off the gold standard and allowed deficits in the budget, and disliked the concessions to labor. Roosevelt responded with a new program of reform: Social Security, heavier taxes on the wealthy, new controls over banks and public utilities, and an enormous work relief program for the unemployed.
There you have it, folks: the "fair and balanced" view of the New Deal: "some measure of recovery," but "appalled" businessmen and bankers!

So then, here is the first paragraph of the biographical entry for our current "president":
He was sworn into office January 20, 2001, after a campaign in which he outlined sweeping proposals to reform America's public schools, transform our national defense, provide tax relief, modernize Social Security and Medicare, and encourage faith-based and community organizations to work with government to help Americans in need. President Bush served for six years as the 46th Governor of the State of Texas, where he earned a reputation as a compassionate conservative who shaped public policy based on the principles of limited government, personal responsibility, strong families, and local control.
Why mention anything at all about the loss of the popular vote, the historically unprecedented recount fiasco and 5-4 Supreme Court decision...what's important for our children to know about are the "sweeping proposals" that swept him into office, and the "reputation as a compassionate conservative" which he apparently "earned."

Go see for yourself, if you can stomach it. Oh, and by the way:
The President biographies presented here are from the book The Presidents of the United States of America written by Frank Freidel and Hugh S. Sidey (contributing author), published by the White House Historical Association with the cooperation of the National Geographic Society.
I wonder if the NGS is aware of the interesting, creative ways its "cooperation" has been used. Anyway, go enjoy "The President biographies"!

Monday, December 08, 2003

Here It Is, Folks... 

Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind.

--James Joyce, Ulysses

Gore to Endorse Dean, Remaking Democratic Race

Al Gore has decided to endorse Howard Dean for president, aides to the men said Monday, a move that rocked the Democratic presidential field and hastened Dr. Dean's evolution from a long-shot maverick to a leading candidate of the Democratic establishment.
1. In retrospect this doesn't seem surprising (especially in light of Gore's two major MoveOn.org-sponsored policy speeches in August and November--I had the pleasure of attending the former, at NYU). Dean is simply the candidate whose views and rhetoric most resemble (the new) Gore's. And maybe, the endorsement of Dean is the logical apotheosis of Gore's political self-transcendence.

But he better fucking be right--because I've grown, hesitantly but surely, to trust Gore's confidence in asserting his vision and his strategy.

2. You heard it here first (or maybe not): the Kerry campaign (for better or for worse) is over.

3. Please, please, please make Lieberman drop out of the race now, before he takes everybody down with him.

4. There is one wild card left: General Clark. And there are two wild card potential-endorsers left: Bill and Hillary Clinton. It will be interesting to see what (if anything) they do.

5. This kind of shit
One person close to General Clark suggested that Mr. Gore was supporting Dr. Dean in the calculation that Dr. Dean would lose to Mr. Bush in November, and that Mr. Gore would then enjoy the good will of Dean supporters "when he runs against Hillary Clinton in 2008."
is (as Donald Rumsfeld might say) "unhelpful."

But I fear it may be too late. Democrats are already well on their way to convincing each other (and thence everybody else) that their real strategy is a losing, not a winning, strategy.

Hey--if you all want to be sure to lose, just keep it up! Why not just save all your fucking money and start putting together a 2008 war chest now?

6. God help us.

Watch Out, South Dakota! 

Hey South Dakotans! Did you know that Stephanie Herseth is running for Congress again in 2004?

Well, I just wanted to remind you to not elect this beautiful 31-year-old summa cum laude Georgetown graduate, star law student, and champion for education, the elderly, and farmers. Instead, you should re-elect your fat-assed scofflaw murderer! He'll protect you against Saddam Hussein!

U.S. Uncovers Weapons of Mass Destruction  

From Democracy Now!:
A Texan man with ties to white supremacists has pleaded guilty to possessing chemical weapons in one of the most serious cases of domestic terrorism since Oklahoma City. But the media has all but ignored the story.

Dawkins reflects on the possibility of Kerry 

Eric Alterman with some incisive/insightful commentary on picking the next president:
It's true, I think, that Kerry improves the closer you look-and I don't mean the guy's hair. (That's Mickey's beat.) He does as well as Clark and better than anyone else in a one-on-one match-up against Bush. And it's just crazy to say that you want Dean to get the nomination if you don't believe he can beat Bush. Voting, as I keep having to say over and over to you silly Nader voters, is not therapy; it's choosing between available alternatives. Dean is not a sure loser in November, but he is a much, much harder sell than Kerry, Clark, Gephardt or Edwards. And fair or not, this ought to give one pause.
This chord is resonating louder and with more frequency. Yes, Dean is likely to trash everyone in New Hampshire and Iowa (and perhaps everywhere beyond, as well). But there is some credence to the notion that he's likely, in turn, to get trashed by Bush.

Should folks be thinking more about that?


Kerry drops the F-bomb

Here's the Rolling Stone interview with Kerry that's causing a bit of hubbub. Already, Andrew Card's been on CNN chiding the Senator for his frank talk, which includes:
Are you saying that Bush's conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- not to mention the way he has pissed off our allies -- has been incompetent?

Oh, absolutely. Worse than incompetent. Clouded by ideological excess, a misinterpretation of history, a willful denial of facts.
And then:
Did you feel you were blindsided by Dean's success?

Well, not blindsided. I mean, when I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, "I'm against everything"? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did.
Most interesting, though, is when Kerry fires off with: "Republicans have been contributing to Dean's campaign on the Internet."

Sounds like conspiracy theory, but it's actually a concept that's been going around right-wing blogs for a while.

Curious to ponder how much, if any, of Dean's funds have come by way of the kindness of strangers.

Blicero adds: This view does not necessarily reflect editorial opinion. Responses are welcome.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

In a democracy, we get what we want (I guess) 

This from dawkins:

A great case for voting. (Or, why we're totally, irretrievably screwed.)

Jeffrey Toobin, in the December 8 New Yorker, articulately explains the nuances of gerrymandering. That is, how Republicans have managed to turn state assembly power into Congressional election stasis, and, in turn, national political hegemony.

The knee jerk reaction is that elections matter: from Presidential, to Senate, to Congressional, to state assembly, to city council, to county commission, to parish dog catcher.

Somewhat more disconcerting is the impression that all these elections, from the state level on up, thanks to the gerrymandering and redistricting machinations of Rove, DeLay et al, are already rigged.

Why are there no longer any close elections for House seats? Why are Republicans likely to hold sway, anti-competitively, over Congress for the foreseeable future?

Toobin's article sheds some light.

Blicero adds: Don't (like me) read it just before going to bed, unless you want your dreams to be assaulted by shockwaves of despair and anger.

"Pro-death" Democrat points out that deaths have occurred 

Denial of Purple Heart medals raises questions about casualty count

An influential Mississippi congressman has raised the possibility that the Pentagon has undercounted combat casualties in Iraq after he learned that five members of the Mississippi National Guard who were injured Sept. 12 by a booby trap in Iraq were denied Purple Heart medals.
speakingcorpse writes:

What is the difference between a "hero" and the many uncounted army casualties in Iraq? Is a fireman who gets killed while battling a housefire a hero? Of course! But what about a soldier who steps on a mine in Iraq (after May 1)? Of course not! What's the difference? A hero is someone whose death or maiming we can CELEBRATE. His death means we all deserve congratulations. It's part of the necessary sacrifice that we must bear together as we soldier on into the Christian future. But how can you celebrate the death of soldiers in Iraq who step on mines (after May 1)? Such deaths are of course not "combat"-related. They are merely unfortunate accidents, and they could have happened just as easily in Texas. ("But wait, there are no mines in Texas." Shut up! If you step on a mine and there are no Arabs in the immediate vicinity, it's quite the same as, say, falling down the stairs!) You can't celebrate a death that results from an arbitrary, meaningless accident. We can celebrate the deaths of the people in the Twin Towers because those buildings were brought down not by an earthquake, but by enemies of freedom. The victims were killed because of their heroism. Anyway, the point is--death is a beautiful thing, but only if it occurs in the right time and place...


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