Friday, June 28, 2002

Asher Price, writing for The New Republic Online, is way off base in this column making the case against an independent commission to investigate 9/11. There's very little to object to through most of the argument. Excellent points are made about the problems inherent in an independent commission, and the travesty of the Tower Commission is used as an example (just as Eric Alterman said earlier this week). But the evidence simply does not support the stated conclusion that "in this case, less really is more." I would much rather have a flawed investigation than no investigation at all. Since the Congressional investigation is limited in its scope, even a national disaster of an independent commission would be preferable to nothing, or else we will have no conceivable way of learning the things that this government doesn't want us to learn. Think of all the things we wouldn't know if not for the hearings that we've got now. What else don't we know? Even if we may fail, even if we probably will fail, it's important enough that we've got to try to learn the truth, and the whole truth.
People look at me like I've got two heads when I talk about the conservative bias in the media, but it really is there. While Bernard Goldberg and Ann Coulter are writing specious books peddling the decades old Nixonian lie of the liberal media, the truth is hiding behind the scenes, carefully kept out of sight. I know all this. Nevertheless, this article took me by surprise. How could a liberal media ignore a liberal author who sits on top of the New York Times bestseller list for thirteen weeks? Answer: a liberal media couldn't. The American media did.
I've added an "articles" section on the navigation bar to the right to link to various articles that I've written. Trouble is, so far, I've just got the one. Nevermind. I'll probably throw in stuff like the Brock review and the Entwistle eulogy in the future (once they drop off the main site, anyway), and I will continue writing articles for publication anywhere that will take them (i.e., here). If anyone has any suggestions on something I should write about, I'd be glad to hear them. That's always the hardest part, for me.
I know I promised you the Brock review two days ago, but I'll do it now instead. Ok?

Let's start with the book itself. It's not terribly well-written, but it's well-written enough to pass muster, and it's highly enjoyable. It's a quickly-paced, highly enjoyable journey, which, if not for the fact that it's true, would have made a fantastic novel. Seriously, I could imagine a decent film being made of it (and wouldn't it be fun to watch the fire storm?). It is very effective at creating a high level of empathy with the author as he finally falls from favor. But there's a part of me, in the back of my mind, that wonders if this isn't just a tad manipulative and self-serving.

See, that's the problem with being an admitted liar. From then on, everyone has to regard you with some suspicion. Intellectual honesty demands that we regard Brock's book with reasoned skepticism, and with that in mind, I was struck at just how easy it was for Brock to get me to feel sorry for him. That made me suspicious. Although Brock is very happy to take the blame for all manner of journalistic transgressions, and he's not afraid to paint a very ugly picture of himself, through it all there is this plea for understanding and forgiveness. On some level, I suspect that he's still not owning up to any wrong doing, or at least, not fully owning up. He claims that he was "blinded" by ambition, by insecurity, and the rest of it. But he always holds himself outside that blistering anti-Clinton crowd in a way which just doesn't strike me as totally honest. Regardless of the contents of his books and articles, wouldn't these ultra-conservative friends of his have been pretty suspicious if, during their parties, cocktails, and other social events, Brock hadn't been as rabidly hateful about the Clintons as the rest of them? Moreover, as the story reaches the Lewinsky scandal, Brock seems to be inflating the influence his own work had on the "Get Clinton" movement, while at the same time shielding himself from any blame. Which is it? Was Brock an unimportant minor player, or does he deserve more blame than he seems willing to accept?

But this, as with every criticism of the book that I have so far read, is a trifle. Perhaps Brock shielded his new leftist audience from the full vitriol of his right-wing past, and perhaps he did it for self-aggrandizing reasons. This is pure conjecture, but let's assume it's true. So what? Does that have any bearing on the overall veracity of his account, or of the larger themes that he is getting at through his own story? No, none at all.

Despite my reasoned skepticism in the face of an admitted liar, I am also swayed by the total lack of substantial factual criticism that this book has endured. I've already seen stronger, more relevant take-downs of Coulter's new book than I have of Brock's. The criticisms Brock has faced have all either been simply dismissive, without engaging the text on its own terms at all, been irrelevant fact-checks of minor details (the date of Ted Olson's wedding), or ad hominem smears originated and disseminated by people who are made to look bad in the book itself. I haven't heard anyone deny any central, relevant aspect of the book at all. Moreover, I have heard Brock's former enemies, who battled with him in his right-wing hit-man days, come forward to confirm everything he said that they were in a position to confirm. That's a pretty good track record, I think.

"Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative" is a terrific insider's history through a fascinating period of American political life.
Debt Limit Update. Here is a Washington Post article about the squeaker vote in the House of Representatives to raise the debt limit by $450 billion. Take a step back and reflect on this: Who in 1993 could have imagined that we'd have a surplus in just a few years time? And who in 2000 could have imagined that we'd be raising the federal debt limit in 2002. It seems obvious to me: in terms of the federal government's budget health, Clinton was far better than the most optimistic could have hoped for, and Bush is far worse than the most pessimistic could have feared. Unfortunately, while the economy is often a strong issue in elections, the budget is not.
John Entwistle of The Who has died at the age of 57. The Who has been one of my favorite bands for as long as I can remember. Pete Townshend's songs had a profound effect on me when I was in high school, and I'll always be a big fan. Entwistle was never one of the top guys in that band. Easily, Townshend, as the primary songwriter, and Roger Daltrey, as the lead singer, were the primary focal points of the band. Before his death, drummer Keith Moon even managed to capture more public attention than "The Quiet One", due to his mad personality, his profligate drug use, and his utterly revolutionary approach to his instrument. Among fans, Entwistle was admired for his virtuoso abilities (rarely displayed in the studio, but evident on stage), and loved for, not in spite of, his utter lack of visible emotion on stage.

Among the canon of songs, Entwistle has few that rank in top tier, but he had a brilliant way of taking Townshend's high-brow, poetic, artistic concepts, and filtering them through his own working class perspective to create a distorted mirror image of the guitarist's thematic obsessions. This is nowhere more evident than on "The Who By Numbers", a terribly underappreciated album with few hits, but possessing a mature soulfulness that the band was never properly credited with. The album moves along briskly from one sad, insecure, introspective track to the next, while Townshend was fearlessly examining, deconstructing, and ruthlessly criticizing The Who itself, and his own career with them. Entwistle's one contribution to that album, "Success Story", is a much simpler, more down to Earth treatment of that same theme, as John sings about a young band just setting off on the road to rock stardom, armed with a little talent and huge, naive dreams of success, encountering the bullshit of the corporate music industry, and eventually, giving up in despair and desperation.

One of Entwistle's most underappreciated qualities is his very dry, very droll sense of humor. He was never out to make a profound statement about 60s British youth culture the way Townshend was. He was just a bass player in a rock ‘n' roll band, and he used that position to deflate the sometimes pompous artistry of the band's leader. Entwistle humor was exquisitely, almost traditionally, British, which clearly put him at odds with the iconoclastic Townshend, the visceral Daltrey, and the anarchic Moon. Those four conflicting personalities made the band what it is. After Moon died in 1979 (from an accidental overdose of prescription medication he used to combat his alcoholism), the band continued for a time, but fell apart as the balanced dynamic of the band was gone forever. Since 1982, Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle have reformed from time to time for reunion tours or special events, and Moon was always missed, and The Who was never again really The Who. Now that the Entwistle has gone, I can't imagine how it can go on. It wouldn't be surprising if, at some point, Townshend and Daltrey tramped out on a other tour with the same old Who hits, but it wouldn't be The Who, and I hope they don't pretend that it is.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

I'm pretty dismayed about today's Supreme Court ruling on school vouchers. Still, just because it's constitutional doesn't mean it's good policy, so Democrats should continue to vociferously oppose the practice. Basically, the whole concept of school vouchers is a backdoor tax cut for the predominantly wealthy families who send their kids to private schools already. Also, it's a back door subsidy program for religious schools. The issue of school choice barely enters into it.

Ostensibly, this is supposed to make alternative schools more affordable so that more people can send their children to them if they wish. It sounds like a very progressive proposal on the surface. But it's bogus. Private schools don't have limitless capacity. If a school voucher program effectively reduced the cost of enrolling your kids, more kids would be enrolled, creating a scarcity of available "slots" in private schools, increasing the price of enrolling, undoing to the school voucher program itself.

Add to that the potentially disastrous results on public schools. Imagine a struggling public school which isn't performing very well. Rather than try to improve the school, the Republicans want to give money to the parents to send their children to other schools. Where does this money come from? It's taken out of government aid to the public school. So, the failing puplic school will get less money as their students depart, and the students who remain (whole will be among the most economically disadvantaged) will be even worse off than they were before.

The whole plan is a cynical con game which has less to do with securing a strong education for our children than it does with pushing an unrelentingly hard right agenda. The U.S. Supreme Court told us that this is legal, but it can't tell us that it's good.
Well, the economy did pretty darn good in the first quarter, as shown by this article. I'm impressed. But the future still looks a little murky. Business investment is down, consumer confidence is in the crapper, and this Grand Parade of Corporate Scandals can't be helping anything. Greenspan doesn't think there's much pent-up consumer demand biding its time to burst forth, so it's uncertain what exactly will drive the recovery. The political ramifications of this are even murkier than the economic. The pace of change varies wildly. It looks likely that the economy will still be (or at least, be perceived as being) very shaky in November, but it's not certain. All it would take is a few encouraging indicators and some good White House PR between now and then to put an optimistic spin on the whole shebang. Expect more updates on the state of the economy, as it relates to the mid-term elections, in the coming months.
For the first time since I started blogging, Andrew Sullivan has had something interesting to say. Two things, actually. First, what is his point with the Conason remarks? What is he trying to say? Of course Bennett is no Aristotle, but the fact remains that "Nicomachean Ethics" is an intensely dull book about morality, which does kind of remind one of Bennett.

Second, I'm glad that he's happy over the Mychal Judge law, but if he thinks there's a snowball's chance of Bush moving on ENDA, he's deluding himself. The hard right is already blasting Bush on the gay issue, and he won't dare take another step down that road. Even if he were so inclined, Rove would never allow it. Sullivan sees it as a tremendous political opportunity for Bush, since it would defuse the pro-gay left and steal gay votes from Democrats in 2002 and 2004. But he's forgetting Bush's father. That infamous tax-hike which, conventional wisdom would have it, cost George H. W. Bush re-election, was just such a case of taking a step that was good policy, defusing the "deficit hawks" in both parties, but alienating the anti-tax base of his own support. Bush Jr. will never support ENDA, because it would cost him too many far-right conservative hate-mongers. And it's a shame, because it so obviously the right thing to do.

For more on the Mychal Judge Act, check out this piece by Elizabeth Bumiller. After reading the article, I'm also a little suspicious of Sullivan's claim that the Act constitutes "the first ever federal acknowledgment of gay married couples". Actually, it just said that the benefits will go to whomever the victim indicates as his/her beneficiary, whether it's a homosexual domestic partner, or a sibling, or a mad uncle, or Oprah Winfrey. Previously, the benefits would only go to a spouse (which, under the current law, cannot be same-sex) or children. The White House is even denying that it's a gay issue.

You know, if it were a brave stance where he was breaking away from his base, I'd give Bush some credit on this one. But it isn't. It's political damage control to prevent him from facing charges of heartless cruelty from survivors of gay victims. He did the minimum necessary to defuse the issue, while denying any pro-gay angle, and on the quiet. No courage there.
Salon.com has an article in their free section about Ann Coulter's new book. Ooh, goody. It's very good too, as it also takes the opportunity to consider the broader phenomenon of "Conservative Fembots". It would be nice if the left had a few glamorous pin-up girls, I suppose, but frankly, I'm satisfied with having journalistic integrity, sound research, and cogent argumentation on our side. The conservatives can have all the boobs they want, as long as we get to keep the important things.

In other Coulter-related news, Tapped has a contest going to see who can find the most factual errors in the book. That's going to be fun to watch. Someone has already caught Coulter flatly mis-stating some key votes of Republican turncoat Jim Jeffords. I mean come on.... if you were going to write a book in which you mention the voting record of a nationally prominent Senator on a few particular nationally prominent votes, wouldn't you check? See what I mean about journalistic integrity, etc.?

The only thing I worry about is that liberal commentators might start to take Coulter seriously. If she riles up enough justifiable left-wing anger, it might tempt some well-meaning leftie to foolishly take her on her own terms. This is an error, as it raises her profile. Coulter has shown again and again that she deserves to be ridiculed and diminished in any serious political forum. The Salon.com article makes this point, and it's a point that everyone needs to keep in mind.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Well, this Pledge of Allegiance thing is heating up. I mean, the Republicans are heating up. They've already started blaming Daschle!! I mean, what the f*ck!!
It'll be fascinating to see whether this case gets taken up by the High Court. I'm not even going to comment on this at all. Except to say, I'm imagining Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson freaking out, and it's making me feel warm and fuzzy all over. If for no reason, I have to consider this a good thing.
Columbia law professor Michael Dorf has an essay on the recent Supreme Court death penalty cases up at Findlaw.com. He considers in depth the question of why moderate Republican Justices O'Connor and Kennedy voted with the majority on Atkins v. Virginia, the case involving the execution of the mentally retarded. Included in the article is a host of interesting facts about the application of the death penalty across the country. It seems that, since 1989's decision in Penry vs. Linaugh which permitted the execution of the mentally retarded, only fine states have actually carried any out. [Arkansas wasn't among them... but what about the old story about Clinton interrupting his campaigning in 1992 to rush home to execute a mentally retarded convict to prove that he was "tough on crime"?] Anyway, regardless of your opinion on the decision, Dorf's article is a fascinating overview of the subject.
Ethel the Blog (damn, what a brilliant name) has a wonderful post up today that rebuts the current spate of Amtrak bashing with some good solid facts. Full disclosure, my father is an unreformed train-fanatic (he holds an office, don't recall which one, for the West Jersey chapter of the National Railway Historical Society), so I have a soft-spot for rail. Be that as it may, complaining about rail subsidies is pretty rich, as Ethel the Blog shows.

And while you're there, look at that amazing links list! Damn!!
We've got another great Conason article in the New York Observer this week, where he brings together a lot of the criticisms of the Bush peace plan announced by the President. I feel dirty saying the words "Bush peace plan", because it was really nothing of the kind. Everybody seems to be piling on this one. I've seen great comments from TAPPED as well as Talking Points Memo. The hits keep coming, as they say. Of course, my bitterly partisan heart wants to delight in all of this public criticism of the President, but that's really not the point, is it? I mean, not this time. The real bottom-line this time is that the President's speech on Monday will not lead to peace, will not bring an end to violence, and will not prevent the deaths of more and more innocent people. That's not bad politics, or bad policy (and, judging from the conservative response, it looks like good politics from the White House POV), it's just plain bad.

No President could have given a speech which would have immediately stopped the killing. But what we needed was an end-point. He mentioned this three-year timetable, but that's not good enough. Because the rest of the speech, in which he calls for a change in Palestinian leadership and demands that the Palestinian Authority, having been decimated by the Israelis in previous retaliatory actions, step up to the task of dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, doesn't bring peace any closer. Personally, I think it pushes it further away, and that's a real tragedy. The violence can't end immediately, but it has to end, and the sooner the better. The Bush speech, therefore, makes the situation worse.

President Bush wants peace, in the sense that everybody wants peace, but he wants it on his own terms (or rather, on Sharon's terms, and the terms of his conservative base). Unfortunately, those terms make peace impossible. In that sense, Bush doesn't want peace at all.

I'm not going to include the typical Arafat-bashing "balance" paragraph, because it's becoming a cliche. Besides, it's pretty obvious that Arafat is no Gandhi, so does everyone really have to point it out every time they discuss the issue?
Speaking of site traffic, I'm having a hard time believing my own stats. Basically, umm, well, this is embarrassing. Basically, this site has been viewed by no one at all for about a week and a half. Only, that's not possible. TAPPED says they read it, and they wouldn't lie. And Max Sawicky asked me about my communist poli sci prof from Rutgers, which I don't see how he could have done if he didn't read the site. So, umm, what do I make of that?
MaxSpeak has been kind enough to link to your humble blogger (and when I look at the site traffic stats, I'm very humble). He also mentions that he's compiling a recommended books list of non-technical economics books. I'm extremely interested in this. I've long been an advocate of the position that there are two things every student should do before they get through college, because I can't imagine anyone not benefitting by them: studying music, and taking intro level micro- and macroeconomics. I was an economics major in college (but it didn't take, so expect no insights from me). I'm also a drummer (which doesn't quite count as music, but I do dabble with piano and guitar, just not competently, and I am in a working band). So, I practice what I preach. I'll definitely check out any books he mentions. He's also as interested as I am in Ann Coulter's new book. Don't get me wrong, I won't pay for it, but I may go to Borders to browse the thing. It'll probably be a laugh riot, and may offer some unintentional insights into Coulter's particular brand of mental illness. Besides, I just finished David Brock's Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, in which Coulter was mentioned frequently, so I'm interested in learning more about her work first hand. I'll have a review of the Brock book later today. You lucky people.

P.S. I gather it's blog-etiquette to link to those who link to you. If it isn't, it bloody-well should be. So, I will be putting up a MaxSpeak link shortly.
Today's Dowd offers a fascinating historical perspective. I've always been fascinated by the hippie generation. They were the last youth-based political movement this country has ever seen. I'm tempted to say that a youth-based political movement is exactly what this country needs today, but I don't trust the views that today's youth might have.

It's a very depressing column, so be warned. What I want to know is, what does Hunter S. Thompson think of all this?

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Still reeling from this weekend.... so what happened to Minority Report? It got slammed at the box office, relative to expectations, making only $35.68 million, and just barely grabbing the number one spot. Spielberg and Cruise.... what could possibly have gone wrong? I don't understand. This weekend we've got Mr. Deeds, the new Adam Sandler film, opening. It could be good, and it will almost certainly do very well, but I'm not excited by it. Minority Report will probably have a much bigger drop-off than Lilo & Stitch to place third in its second weekend. With all the good reviews it got, I'm really shocked it did so poorly. That's why I don't work in movies, I guess.

E. J. Dionne has a nice deconstruction of the states' rights wing of the Supreme Court today. Despite my strong disagreement with many of their positions, I'd be willing to respect conservatives if they were remotely consistent. But, as Mr. Dionne points out succinctly, "The doctrine of states' rights, so often invoked as a principle, is almost always a
pretext to deny the federal government authority to do things that conservatives dislike." The same is true for the demonization of judicial activism. One can make a case for judicial restraint as a basic principle, but the conservatives on the High Court violate this principle with pleasure to pursue their own, conservative, brant of judicial activism. Both wings, then, liberal and conservative, agree that the federal government should step in to force its policies on the states, and that the court should step in to enforce their principles on the country. They just disagree over those principles.

That having been said, this continuing lip service toward "states' rights" and against "judicial activism" by conservatives is thoroughly dishonest. For another take, I refer you to John Dean's recent book The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court. It's a brilliant book, by the way. Utterly fascinating. In it, Dean refers to a memo that Rehnquist, then working in the Justice Department, wrote for Nixon advising him on Supreme Court selections. He said that a "strict constructionist" is someone who rules against defendants in criminal cases, and with defendants in civil rights cases. Not a very principled principle, if you ask me.
I can't tell you how dismayed I am about the President's speech yesterday on Palestinian statehood. What a sham! All that hype, all that anticipation, and the speech itself was breathtakingly underwhelming. You can read about it here. Note the quote from the unnamed Israeli official: "I thought all the way through the speech, this is the carrot, now comes the stick. There was no stick — because we don't deserve the stick." Excuse me? The settlements? Hello?

So, now Bush has simply signed on to the Sharon plan, which consists in doing absolutely nothing to advance the cause of peace. Instead, just call for Arafat's ouster (which, in truth, might advance the cause of peace, but I doubt it very much), and refuse to discuss the settlements. This Administration is seized by a total lack of imagination, vision, guts, leadership.

I'm gonna be in a bad mood all day.

Monday, June 24, 2002

More on criminal punishment, Findlaw.com is running this fascinating article by Joanne Mariner about the continuing problem of prison rape. It's a very "below the radar" issue, which is unfortunate, because it poses such serious harm to people. I know it's difficult to drum up any sympathy at all for convicts, but this is really beyond the pale, and it really doesn't do society as a whole any good. On the contrary. I'm sure plenty of people are more than happy to view prison rape as "part of the punishment aspect of incarceration," but this view doesn't do anyone any favors. More importantly, as this article points out, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that prison rape is unconstitutional. All that we need, then, is the political will to bring this brutal practice to an end.
More big news on the death penalty issue can be found at Salon.com here. This really adds fuel to the conservative fear that this country is marching inexorably toward eliminating the death penalty forever. I happen to agree with this analysis, and I couldn't be happier about it. I think it will take a while, possibly a long while, but that's the way we're going. I hope. I hope.
Ok, I'm probably breaking some sacred rule of blogging of which I was hitherto unaware, but nevermind. I'm linking to something I wrote (under my own name, no less!) for Democratic Underground.com. It's called "Playing the Democracy Card" and is about one of the most devious and pernicious Republican political tactics. I hope you enjoy it, and there will probably be more to follow shortly. Maybe. It's possible.
Josh Marshall is asking "Why isn't more being made of this?" It's a good question. Apparently, the proposed Department of Homeland Security will be excepted from the Federal Whistleblower Statute and the Freedom of Information Act. Mr. Marshall points out the obvious irony in this, but only implies the real significance of the move.

Simply put, this is utterly unacceptable. Both statues are necessary for the proper functioning of a democratic government. They are indispensable components of governmental statutory organization. We must have some mechanism for keeping the American people informed about what their government is doing. It is not necessary, nor is it appropriate, for the American people to have access to all information from all areas of government. That would be foolish, for all the reasons that the Bush Administration regularly trots out. But there are statutory exceptions in the Freedom of Information Act to prevent disclosure of any information which, for the greater good of the nation, must not be publicly disclosed. Obviously, the Department of Homeland Security must be allowed to keep private any sensitive matters pertaining to national security, or protecting the identity of intelligence sources, or what have you. But achieving this reasonable goal does not require the dismantling of these two vital statues, without which you or I never would have known about the intelligence failures pre-9/11, and we would not now be discussing a new Department of Homeland Security at all.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Well, it looks like major crime statistics are up for the first time in 9 years, according to this article from the Washington Post. I realize that the president doesn't deserve credit or blame for every single solitary thing that happens, but trends like this are irrestible, especially since they skewer the conventional wisdom on the difference between the parties. With the great work Clinton did on crime, trade, the economy, and welfare, he's a better Republican by far than Dubya. So what is it the right has against him? Oh yeah, I remember: blind, irrational, pathological hatred.

Note especially this sentence from the article: "The reversal comes amid budget pressures on many local police departments because of rapid declines in the tax revenues collected by state and local governments." That's the whole thing, right there. Economic policy is crime policy. It's all connected. When you've got a growing economy and reduced unemployment, you can move people from welfare to work, which provides them with anincome and economic stability. When the economy tanks and unemployment is on the rise, people move from welfare to unemployment, which means no income, no security, and desperation.