Saturday, July 06, 2002

2004 Predictions. Everyone is getting into this game of predicting the political future of the country. Take a look at LeanLeft.com for an interesting discussion of underdog candidate Howard Dean. He makes a strong case, but I'll tell you why I think he's wrong.

I think there are only three possibilities for the Democratic primary race. Either Gore wins easy, Gore wins hard, or someone other than Gore wins hard. The non-Gore candidates are going to have to make it a fight if they're going to win, and even if they do make it a fight, Gore still has the edge. The thing is, I think we're wrong to consider the primary a separate race from the general election. It's all the same race. I think if it's a hard primary, no matter who gets the nomination, Bush wins.

It's hard to predict, though, since so much depends on the media. Kevin at LeanLeft argues that Dean could make healthcare an issue. Ok, fine. But would the media take the Republican party line on it? Or would the media at least allow the Republicans to lie and smear it into the ground like they did during the Clinton years? Who know? Remember this also: in January of 1992, George H. W. Bush was unbeatable. Unbeatable. The landscape can change in ways we can't even imagine. The first potential turning point is the November elections. If the Democrats pick up two or three in the Senate and take control of the House, that gives their nominee, whomever it will be, a big edge.

So for now, let's concentrate in the midterms. Trouble is, where I live, I have two races to worry about this year, a Senate race and a House race. Both seats are held by Democrats, andI'm not anticipating a big challenge for either. The House race is absolutely no problem. The incumbent Senator is officially listed by most commentators as vulnerable, but I don't think he really is. So, my vote will not contribute to the Democrats winning any new seats. I feel like I'm a benchwarmer.

Friday, July 05, 2002

White Wash. Hoo-boy!! Josh Marshall promised a barn-burner from The Washington Monthly and it has arrived. True to his word, George W. Bush has changed the tone of his administration, according to this brilliant article by Joshua Green. It's an eye-opener. For a long time now, critics of the White House have been calling for the resignation of Thomas E. White, Secretary of the Army. These calls have come from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The American Prospect, as well as no shortage of commentators. But he hasn't left.

As the article points out, in any other administration White would have resigned by now. Not just White, but also Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Deputy Interior Secretary J. Stephen Griles. All have acted in bad faith, betraying their public trust, by indulging in their conflicts of interest.

Besides being a crippling indictment of the hypocrisy and corruption of this administration, the article also gets a few delicious digs in, like this: "...in this administration, enriching oneself while one's business goes bust isn't necessarily frowned upon." You can say that again.

What gets me, though, is the continued silence of Democrats, which the article also mentions. During the Clinton administration, every little thing was jumped on instantly, seized by Limbaugh and his legion of zombies, parrotted from every morally upright Republican family-values adulterer in Congress, picked up by the compliant press, ridiculed by Leno/Letterman, before fading into obscurity as the federal invesitgation quietly (very quietly) announced that no evidence of criminal wrong-doing was found. Now, there's no outrage, there's no firestorm of controversy, and there's no independent counsel law (Churchlady says: How convenient!). Which means the whole team of political robber-barons can get away with it. Well, at least we have Joshua Green, not to mention MWO.
Independence Day Wrap-Up. The best thing about the 4th of July for me was the all-day "Fawlty Towers" marathon on BBC America. That was awesome. That, and hanging out with my nephew, who just had his first birthday a couple of weeks ago. I also finally saw Minority Report, which I loved. I'll tell you more about that later, but it's going to be very difficult to talk about without spoilers. Anyway, hope everyone else had as pleasant a day as I did.
The Pledge. Well, my first comment is in, and it's from Mosco, which is an inauspicious start to say the least. Nevermind. Mosco has his own blog, which he created after excoriating me for mine. You see, blogging is by definition an act of supreme narcissism, according to Mosco. This may be true (I certainly take the point), but then Mosco's blog must be seen as a supreme act of hypocrisy. Nevermind.

Mosco wants to know what I think about the Pledge of Allegiance. I guess I never have really tackled the issue head on. Basically, you can look at it from a number of vantage points. The perspective that I have seen the least in various commentaries has been the legal perspective. On the legal points of the matter, it seems fairly evident to me that the phrase "under God" violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. I realize that is a controversial position, but I really don't see how. To me, it's pretty obvious. It is deliberately exclusive of atheists and pantheists, for instance. The argument that a patriotic atheist could, if he wished, omit the words "under God" on his own, utterly misses the point. The point is that the Pledge of Allegiance was established by an act of Congress, and thus bears the imprimatur of state sponsorship. It is blatantly unconsititutional for the state to endorse any religion, or to endorse religion itself. There is Supreme Court precedent on this issue which points quite clearly to this conclusion. There is room for argument, but the initial ruling is quite clearly not "nuts", as Tom Daschle said, or "ridiculous", as George Bush said.

This principle, incidentally, would extend to money (removing "In God We Trust"), but it would not make "God Bless America" unconstitutional. "God Bless America" is a song that anyone may sing if they wish, even if they happen to be elected members of government. The song does not have the same government endorsement as the Pledge of Allegiance.

Having said all that, I'd also like to make the point that this really isn't a big deal. In a perfect world, the Pledge would not contain any reference to religion whatsoever. The Constitution doesn't, I don't see why the Pledge should. [People always argue that the Declaration of Independence does refer to God. Yes it does, but that's different for a number of reasons. God was a part of the legal authority that the colonists were objecting to, as the ultimate source of the King's authority. God's relevance was established by the English legal tradition. As the Founders set out to establish their own legal tradition, they chose quite consciously to exclude God from the document which was to be the "supreme law of the land".] However, it's really not something that keeps me up at night. Politically, I think it's really unfortunate that this blew up, giving the Republicans a chance to put the Democrats on the defensive for not being religious enough. I think Dr. Newdow, who brought the suit in federal court, was entirely within his rights, and I applaud his courage. I just wish he had let it go.

Thursday, July 04, 2002

Commenting by YACCS. I've finally installed a commenting system. Go nuts. Be nice.
Max is Speaking, Terminus is Listening. MaxSpeak has gone on a tour-de-force today, predicting that the Dems will make gains in the Senate and recapture the House come November. From his lips to the Non-Denominational American Deity's ears. He backs it up with some excellent analysis of a number of key issues, and links to a Democratic strategy memo from Carville, Shrum, and Greenberg. Check it out.
Born on the Fourth of July. The following is reprinted from my review on the Internet Movie Database:

You've heard the expression "can't see the forest for the trees", right? It refers to someone who gets so caught up in details, they miss the big picture. Reading other comments on IMDb regarding Born on the Fourth of July, I think people have the opposite problem with this film. So many people seem to get caught up in talking about Vietnam, war, Nixon, America, Communism, and hippies, that they totally overlook Ron Kovic.

Ron Kovic is the center of this film. In Platoon, war was the center, and the central character (Charlie Sheen's Chris Taylor) was merely a POV character through whose eyes we could see war. Not so in "Born on the Fourth of July". Vietnam is the setting, the context, and the backdrop. But Ron Kovic is the story.

Oliver Stone really understands a character arc. Look at Kovic's life, where it starts, where it ends. The film is the journey, how he got from A to B. It is a dramatization of a life, as opposed to an actual life, but it still rings true. It feels true. It reaches an artistic level of truth, even if some literal truths are overlooked, distorted, or rearranged. That's what Stone is trying to do. People who quibble about the facts miss the point. (This is a theme I will take up again when I review some of Stone's other films, as Stone is constantly being bashed for historical inaccuracies.) The connections from one point to the next work admirably, and the progression is completely believable, which is quite a feat for such a dramatic change of attitude (compare to American History X, where the main character goes through a similar about face with scant motivation).

Anyway, what impresses me about this film is the honesty and respect with which Stone presents the opposing views of the film. Say what you want about Stone's political beliefs, but the argument in this film is presented in a very neutral light. It's a story about Kovic's choices, Kovic's politics, Kovic's judgments. And the anti-Vietnam beliefs he finally supports in the final act are a very natural and believable outcome of the story. This film isn't anywhere near as didactic as some people like to imagine.

The tragedy of Oliver Stone is that, because he has been so edgy, so controversial, so deliberately provocative, no one can really just sit down and, with a neutral eye, watch his films. They have become so burdened by this giant, irrelevant, political squabble. The films have been subsumed by the very issues they sought to raise. And it's a shame, with this film especially, because it is excellent.

Tom Cruise gives possibly the greatest performance of his career (I can't think of anything that tops it, though his performance in Eyes Wide Shut, for very different reasons, is just as remarkable). The script is fantastic, taking time where it needs to take time, but not overly deliberate in its approach. It's very economical with time. It knows what each scene needs to say, and says it without any excess baggage, wasted space, or dead time. The direction is excellent, as is the editing and cinematography. The supporting cast is excellent.

But this movie would be nothing without the remarkable, heart-rending, true story of Ron Kovic. So, while we admire the technical achievement of the film, while we debate the points raised, while we enshrine or excoriate the director (as the case may be), let's not forget the story. Let's not get so fired up about Vietnam that we forget Ron Kovic. He is the heart and soul of this film.

One final note: I bristle when people call this an anti-war film. That really diminishes it, I think. It's so much more than that. It's not just saying that war in general is brutal, nasty, and horrific. It's saying something far more specific about a specific war, and about the effect of that war on a specific man.
Happy Independence Day! And, incidentally, happy birthday to me.
Revisiting A.I. Artificial Intelligence. I've finally gotten around to watching A.I. again. I saw it in theaters when it was originally released, and I remember not knowing quite what to think of it. While everyone around me was declaring it a disappointment, I guessed that this film was more Kubrickian and Spielbergian, and therefore, one viewing wouldn't be nearly enough to come to grips with the film. Like Eyes Wide Shut, I think A.I. will come to be remembered as a masterpiece, despite being initially disliked. Both films deserve no less.

All Kubrick films are underappreciated when they are first released, and I think it's a testament to Spielberg's faithfulness to Kubrick that A.I. is going through the same process. The bleak, pessimistic future is very Kubrickian, as is the intense awkwardness and discomfort seen throughout the first act. There is certainly a lot of Spielberg in the film, and it's actually a fairly good blend between their two incompatible styles. That alone is something of an achievement.

And technically, the film is a masterpiece. From acting to set design to cinematography to visual effects, the entire film is breathtaking. I've always thought that Haley Joel Osment was highly over-rated (he's much lauded performance in The Sixth Sense consisted of little more than stage-whispering, and he was never able to convince me that he was a ten-year old boy who could see dead people), but this film brought me in line. The kid is amazing. That having been said, I'm still glad they didn't use him for the Harry Potter films.

Is the film flawless? No, it's not. Personally, I think the film should have ended with David trapped in the Amphibi-Copter. That would have blown me away. The last act is just a chance to squeeze in some of those Spielbergian warm-and-fuzzies, which I object to on the grounds that I'm an unrepentent cynic.

If you've seen this film before and didn't like it, I urge you to see it again. It is a masterpiece.

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Gore in the Balance. Thanks to Talking Points Memo for (indirectly) pointing me to this very detailed dissection of Gore's relationship with the environment. Specifally, the story puts forth a theory that downplaying the environment hurt his campaign and exacerbated the Nader problem. I certainly hope that Gore reads this himself, or at least, people close to him. Especially given Bush's abominable environmental record in just a year and a half, this could be very good for Gore. If Gore can make the environment an issue in the primaries, Gore wins. Simple as that. If Gore can make the environment an issue in the Presidential race, it helps him, and hurts Bush. Simple as that.
Letter to "Crossfire".

Dear Bob and Paul,

I am furious with you both for your shameful performance in your interview of Mr. Newdow. The format of "Crossfire" guarantees that at least one of you (usually Bob) is laughably wrongheaded in any given discussion, but with Mr. Newdow, both of you had a crippling lack of intellect in full display. You managed to miss both of his points repeatedly, despite the fact that he explained himself, repeatedly, in a very clear and concise manner. I don't recall ever seeing anyone on your program more articulate, more reasonable, or less deserving of derision.

First, he claimed that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is a violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment. This position is controversial, to be sure, but it is not ridiculous. In fact, it's a very strong position. In the last week, I have seen many articles, from Salon.com, from The New Republic, and from a conservative radio talk show host in Philadelphia, affirming not only that it is correct, but that it is obviously correct. [The conservative argued, implausibly, that despite this fact, the Pledge should continue as is, in full and blatant violation of the establishment clause.] I would like to see an honest debate on this issue, but I have never seen any legal discussion of the Constitutional question in any television forum. However, I have not seen a more mindless, willfully ignorant, and blatantly twisted discussion of it as I have just witnessed on "Crossfire".

Second, Mr. Newdow explained repeatedly that he was attempting to address a shortcoming in our language by introducing genderless pronouns. Is this an odd idea? Certainly. But, a moment's thought reveals the sense of it. Our language does not have genderless pronouns, and there are times when such pronouns would be useful, as Mr. Newdow illustrated. Mr. Newdow does not have any objection, despite your repeated assertions to the contrary, to the continued use of gender-specific pronouns. He merely wants pronouns to be available in such cases where sex is an unknown, irrelevant, or unwanted detail. He is not seeking to establish his genderless pronouns by legislation, or by judicial fiat. Instead, he is trying to persuade, by pointing out a weakness in our language which many of us may never have noticed.

Mr. Newdow did not deserve the derision and scorn with which you treated him. You both behaved like jackasses, and it was a disgusting display. Several weeks ago Jerry Springer was similarly mocked and derided on "Crossfire", and in your segment with Mr. Newdow, you displayed no more allegiance to the principles of rational debate, intellectual discussion, or civil disagreement, than does his horrendous program.
Your Humble Blogger is Dumb. I've finally solved the mystery of not having any hits. You see, according to my counter doo-dad thingumajig, no one at all has read this site for about three weeks or so. But, I've gotten a couple of emails suggesting that people are indeed reading the site, so.... what gives? Well, I think the answer lies in my own befuddled stupidity. You see, I changed my template, and so wiped out the counter-code stuff. Argh! I think. We'll see. Not that you'd care, naturally. I mean, I'm always bashing Sully for obsessing about site traffic and all. Oh well, nevermind. Have a nice holiday and stuff. I'll talk to you tomorrow, perhaps.
Bush Corporate Chicanery Scandal. Thanks to the inestimable MWO for this little number from the Washington Post. I honestly don't see this as a really big story from a criminal investigation angle. It seems clear to me that Bush broke the law several times in the late 80s, early 90s, and that he was given a pass on account of being the president's son. Ok, fine. He's a crook. Does that surprise anyone?

Actually, I guess it does, since I just heard Chris Matthews talking last night about what an honest, upright, decent man Mr. Bush is. That was, I think, shortly before Matthews "interviewed" Ann Coulter, where he basically gave her a standing ovation. He obviously hasn't seen this, and he hasn't been following Tapped's recent fact-checking contest.

Anyway, back to the crook.... the important angle to this story is not the Bush broke some SEC regulations during his father's term, or that he may have profitted from insider trading, or that his daddy shielded him from investigation. The story here is that Bush, like Cheney, is part of the corporate scandal problem. While some right-wingers are all too happy to blame Clinton for this mess, it's much more reasonable to blame Bush. I mean, the argument goes that Clinton's moral lapses opened the floodgates for CEOs to screw investors and employees while padding their own pockets. But, several years before Clinton was even running for President, Bush was actually participating in these corporate scandals. He's one of them!!
Sully's Obsessed with TAP. Sullivan says that The American Prospect lied about it's hits. Sully overlooks the fact that Tapped has commented on this "controversy" more than once, and has explained the whole thing in detail. The original number, as I recall the story, was based on information from their counter. The new number was based on information from their new, more accurate counter, which they got when the original numbers were called into question. Sullivan... obsessed with minutiae. I don't know why he thinks it matters, anyway. If I were the only person reading The American Prospect, it would still be a damn fine magazine. If I were the only one reading Sullivan, I would stop, and all would be right with the world.
California to Bush: Drop Dead. According to this article in the New York Times, California is dissatisfied with Washington's leadership on the environment, so they are getting it done themselves. Or trying to, at least. And for all the griping of the auto industry, the law seems only to ask Detroit to do what Japan has been doing already. The technology is there to make more fuel-efficient cars; all that's needed is the will. And the only way we can get the will out of Detroit, unfortunately, is to legislate it.

But pollution fans shouldn't worry too much. The legislation, if it survives the inevitable judicial challenge, won't take effect until model year 2009. You have plenty of time to drive around huge, gas-guzzling land yachts. Just make sure you service the air conditioner, all right? You're going to need it.

Full disclosure: I drive a 1990 Buick Park Avenue which gets horrendous mileage. I have always been a big fan of big American cars. My fondest wish is for Detroit to make big American cars more fuel efficient. If not, I'll reluctantly switch to smaller, lighter Japanese cars. This is all academic at the moment. I buy whatever car I can afford at the time. It's always used, it's always cheap, it's always a "buy-at-your-own-risk" car, because that's all I can manage at the moment.
Whither Islamic American Patriots. Take a look at this, which I never would have found if not for ArmedLiberal. Howard Owens over at Global News Watch is wondering where the patriotic Moslems are. It's a good question, I guess. I'm sure they're out there, but they're not getting a lot of coverage. Nevermind. The post put me in mind of a friend of mine from high school. Now, there weren't many Moslems in my high school, let me tell you. There also weren't all that many African Americans, but he was among them as well. [I say "among them", but he really didn't fit in anywhere in that school, and I'm sure he must have had a rough time of it.]

Anyway, he was a great guy, and I remember discussing Islam with him as we lazily walked around the track in gym class. At the time, I was a practicing Christian, but was interested in other religions, and was woefully ignorant about any and all of them. This guy was a blessing, because he knew lots about lots of religions.

I probably would have forgotten all about this guy if it hadn't been for September 11th, but I remember how angry he got about Islamic terrorism. In his mind, these men were not Moslems, because (wait for it) Islam is a religion of peace. Now, this guy wasn't a flag-waving patriot, but he was a good, honest, law-abiding American, and he was on the right of this issue before it was an issue. Reflecting back, I think my association with my old friend has informed my post-9/11 attitudes more than a little bit.

While you're at Global News Watch, check out the Political Quiz. Apparently, I'm a conservative. I don't mean to be judgmental, but any quiz which calls me a conservative is a badly written quiz.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish my dad, ChuChuBob, a happy birthday. It was from ChuChuBob that I learned some of the most important lessons of my life. Among the first things he ever taught we were 1) to hate the Dallas Cowboys, 2) to hate Republicans, and 3) that Richard M. Nixon was a criminal who escaped justice. When I was younger, and just beginning to establish my own political point-of-view, I wondered if he wasn't a little extreme on these last two (the first was never even slightly controversial in my mind). I quickly was able to verify, through independent research, that number three was dead on, right on the money. Number two took a little longer. And even today, I don't hate Republicans in principle. But, the vast majority of the ones parading in front of the television cameras blaming Clinton for everything from Enron to the declining dollar deserve nothing less than full, unfettered hatred.

Happy Birthday, Dad, and thanks for everything you've given me!!
Two excellent articles today in Salon.com, both written by Anthony York, both require a paid subscription to read. The first one involves the many corporate scandals plaguing our country, and the many connections between those corporations and the present administration. It's a "turn up the heat" article, and I hope to see many more of them in the coming months. Despite his tough talk, Bush has thus far failed to do anything of substance to address this very serious problem. It's clear from the sidelines that the White House is hoping that this will all blow-over. Unfortunately, if the parade of corporate collapses ceases (and any compassionate person must hope that it does), it very well might. Fir this reason, the Democrats in Congress, who are pushing forward with investigations on the matter, must raise the volume. Some presidential hopefuls, including Al Gore, are doing just that. More please.

The second article concerns slowly growing criticisms of the war effort by prominent Democrats like Gore and John Kerry. I know I said that Democrats shouldn't mention the war, and I stand by that. While I don't think Gore and Kerry personally have much to lose by this strategy, it could backfire against Democrats in general. So far, that doesn't seem to be happening. According to the article, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is dismissing the criticisms, rather than launching a salvo against the patriotism of the critics, as he did against Tom Daschle earlier this year. That's progress. It demonstrates, as the article points out, that the war is not quite so radioactive an issue. On a similar note, foreign criticisms of U.S. handling of the war are beginning to seep into the mainstream domestic media. Still, I would advise the presidential hopefuls to be a bit more cautious about this line of attack until after the midterms. To be more specific, the goal here should not be to capture foreign policy and the war as winning issues for the Democrats, but rather to neutralize them as winning issues for the Republicans.
Yesterday's New York Times Business section has this political story about how Senate Democrats are trying to position themselves for the midterm elections. We've seen reports of polls recently stating that Democrats have a slight edge in the "Who do you trust to fix the corporate scandal mess?" department. Looks like they are going on the offensive. Good. Everything in Washington is a compromise, especially with such a closely divided Congress. On every issue, Democrats need to submit their own plan, and talk it up aggressively. This establishes the leftward peg. Republicans are very good at establishing a rightward peg. The result is almost always somewhere in the middle.

Unfortunately, it's rare that the Democrats get the gumption to go strong with something. I'll give you an example: the Bush tax cut. The Republicans have established the rightward peg of making it permanent. A few lonely Democrats have tried to establish a leftward peg of cancelling all of the yet-to-occur portions of it. But the leftward peg is weak, since many high profile Democrats aren't willing to go there. This means that the compromise will probably be closer to the right than the left. The Republicans would be perfectly happy with leaving the whole thing alone entirely. But that shouldn't be good enough for the Democrats, because that will not help us out of the ever-deepening deficit pit.

The other angle on this issue and so many others, though, is the election. Elections can change the world overnight. If the Democrats were to (allow me to dream) extend their lead in the Senate by three or four seats and also grab control of the House, the leftward peg on every issue across the board would at least be reinforced, if not moved further left. This would pull the Congressional compromises on issue after issue more to the left than where they would be if, say, Republicans controlled both houses, or the current situation maintained exactly.

And since many issues, not the least of which being taxation, also exert an influence on the election, pre-election policy strategy can be a very dicey affair. For an issue like the status of the Bush tax cut, which will most likely be decided by the next Congress, it makes sense to be a little cautious about it. If campaigning on the deficit would help Democrats pick up seats, then they would go after it full force. I don't think it will. Much better to campaign on the environment, the economy (which continues to struggle, despite, or rather as a result of, Mr. Bush's promised stimulus), and the corporate scandals. And don't mention the war. Just think Fawlty.
This is sheer madness. What is this administration doing? I'm getting more and more pessimistic everyday. It took Bush a few months to undo the economic gains of the Clinton Administration. It'll take the next guy a very long time to undo the damage that Bush has already done to this country in under two years. The American Century is over, indeed. This century, I think, will belong to Europe.

Monday, July 01, 2002

To all the short-sighted people who have declared since January 2001 that Gore shouldn't run again: take a look at this. Gore has plenty of time to re-invigorate the base (and more importantly, the voters), and he should be spending his time now campaigning for the mid-terms, and keeping a moderately low-profile. He shouldn't be invisible, but he shouldn't be in your face, either. He's doing exactly what he needs to be doing. And the candidates that he goes out to stump for will probably be inclined to go out to stump for him in 2004. If the quotes in this story are accurate, I think he understands that he's got nothing to lose. The only way he'll be allowed to run again is because of the peculiarities of the election (for instance, the fact that the winner did not become president was peculiar). If he loses in 2004, he's done. People like Daschle and Gephardt can position themselves for 2008, perhaps, but Gore is up against the wall. He's going to take his time, resist looking desperate or upset, and then come out with a (relatively) free-wheeling campaign full of risk-taking and tough attacks on the Bush Administration. After the mid-terms, Gore is going to start rolling with high-profile, high-volume criticisms of this White House. Even more so if the Democrats make decent gains.
It's not enough to read the news. You have to pay close attention and spot the connections which link the stories together, forming a bigger picture, a more comprehensive story. Read these two stories: from The Washington Post, a story about Attorney General John Ashcroft furiously pushing the death penalty, even if he has to overrule his own prosecutors to do it; and from The New York Times, an article about the Bush Administration slashing EPA funding for Superfund cleanups. What does that tell you?
This, from the Washington Post, makes me angry. Once again, the Bush Administration's hatred of peacekeeping is so out of control that the U.S. has to unilaterally prevent the rest of the world from conducting peacekeeping missions also. Greenhouse gases are fine and dandy, but at all costs, we must wipe peacekeeping from the face of the earth. I mean, Christ, you can't make this stuff up.