Saturday, July 20, 2002

Media Still Soft on Bush. It's gotten a lot better lately, but the news media is still softballing Bush. Look at this column by Frank Rich over in the New York Times. In the column, which is excellent by the way, Mr. Rich quotes Mr. Bush as having said "You know, I think people have taken a step back and asked 'What's important in life?' You know, the bottom line and this corporate America stuff, is that important?" How the hell could the media let him get away with saying that?

You know, this is exactly the sort of thing that ended his father's Presidency. When real people are really suffering, Bush (41 or 43) just rambles on about some incoherent rubbish, and wonders "What's the big deal, anyway?" Karl Rove must be shitting his pants. At least, he should be.
The Cracks are Showing. It's a very bad time to be a Congressional Republican, according to Alison Mitchell. Suddenly, many Republican lawmakers up for re-election in November don't think Bush's popularity will swoop them back to Washington. So, their loyalty to the White House on a range of legislative issues is not what it was.

Scroll to the bottom and take a look at Marc Racicot's laughable charges against the Senate Democrats.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Your Blogger is Honored. One of my many must-read-every-day sites is Liberal Oasis, and I was sure surprised when I saw that they linked to my recent comments on Washington Post coverage of CEDAW. They also provided much more substantive information about CEDAW than I could, so be sure to check that out if you're interested in women's rights throughout the world.

Anyway, looking deeper into the links list, I noticed that your humble blogger was listed in some pretty good company. Look at the section on the left (where else?) labelled "Get Blogged". Your humble blogger is listed among some of my favorite bloggers like Eric Alterman, Josh Marshall, Bob Somerby, Max Sawicky, Tapped, and the incomperable MWO. What's the one thing that separates Terminus from these internet-luminaries of the left? Umm, how about the utter lack of credentials?

Yes, friends, Terminus is nothing more than a twenty-something nobody with too much time on his hands. But, if that's all right with you, it's all right with me. Just remember, I don't pretend to be an authority on anything. Like thousands of other bloggers, I'm just offering my opinion on topics which are of interest to me. If others are similarly interested, and think that this blog contributes something worthwhile to the discussions at hand, so much the better. Thanks for reading, and don't forget to make some comments once in a while.
More Obsession With Phil. Ok, the Coulter segment on "Donahue" last night wasn't great. But, give him credit: what other television host went into Coulter's background as a get-Clinton extremist. What was with that phone call, though? "Dave from New Jersey"? That was fishy.

But anyway, more interesting was the discussion of the War on Drugs (another example of undermining the English language to the point where words don't mean anything). Donahue hosted Kemba Smith, a bright, articulate woman who spent six years of a twenty-four-and-a-half year sentence for her involvement in a cocaine trafficking scheme. Why did she only serve six years? Because she was pardoned by President Clinton.

My jaw hit the floor when I heard that. This was a woman who was forced by her abusive drug-dealer boyfriend to carry money. She was threatened, her family was threatened. She turned herself and plead guilty, accepting responsibility for her role. But, due to the draconian federal drug laws, she was sentenced to an utterly unconscionable twenty-four-and-a-half years. Thank goodness that President Clinton was around to redress that hideous injustice.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Why Iraq? Sadly, this article posted on Salon.com today is the only argument for invading Iraq that makes any sense, so far as I've heard. As I've said here before, I'm not unwilling to support an invasion of Iraq, but I need to be convinced. Perhaps it's just skepticism, but I'm beginning to think that the real reason the Bush Administration hasn't made a compelling case is that their compelling case is right there in that article, and nothing else.

Oil War 2, coming in 2003.
Brace Yourself. Jonah Goldberg and I have been thinking along similar lines. Yes, you heard me right. Look at this article warning that government may be over-reacting to this corporate scandal stuff. He's got a good premise on his hands. Quick: name two big bills which passed near-unanimously through the Senate in the last year. The Sarbanes bill, which just passed 97-0, and the USA PATRIOT Act, which passed 99-1. The latter was clearly an overreaction which some brave Senators (like Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy) already publicly regret.

So maybe Goldberg has a good point, and Congress should do nothing at all for fear of over-reacting. Or maybe that's complete bullshit. I tend to go for the latter option, and I'll tell you why. Corporations and CEOs have plenty of political clout. Whatever Congress does, whatever new regulations will come about from this, they will be eased as time goes by. Or, other loopholes will conveniently appear. In a strange way, our corrupt, corporate-money-driven system provides a built-in check against over-regulation. But that same check doesn't apply to unnamed Arabs being held in prison for ten months on minor Visa violations. It doesn't apply to low-income, urban minorities who run afoul of draconian drug laws (see Bob Herbert's column).

That's what makes Goldberg's position so disingenuous. He identifies a legitimate trend in government, a trend that can be seen in all sorts of issues throughout the public sphere, and he uses it to advise caution in the one area where the system can be relied upon to correct its own mistakes. Leave the CEOs alone, Jonah. They don't need you. Why not help the real victims, for a change?
Gone Fishing. I've been spending a lot of time at ArmedLiberal lately, debating some of this Stanley Fish business. By the way, my friend Ovid reads Harpers, so he's gonna loan me the issue with Fish's essay in it so I can read that. Then, I can actually make some sort of comment on Fish himself, rather than just criticizing other people's criticism. So that's something to look forward to. But anyway, head over to ArmedLiberal and check out this discussion. [Permalink appears to be broken, but you can't miss it from the main page.]
Dave Matthews: Not That Good. I went to see the Dave Matthews Band in Camden last night. I had a great time partying in the parking lot, but the actual concert was mediocre at best. Great drummer, though. I left early to beat the traffic.
Does Eric Boehlert Read Terminus? No, of course not. What a stupid suggestion! Go sit in the corner!

But he makes precisely the same point about Donahue's first two shows that I did. Of course, he made the point better, because he's a professional writer, so he's a little better at it than me. But that's okay. I scooped him! I had the same opinion he did and expressed it first! I win!!
More Liberal Media Bias. Read this article from the Washington Post about CEDAW, aka the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This is a UN document which was signed by President Carter and has been stuffed in the bottom of a drawer marked "Miscellaneous" ever since. But nevermind about that for now...

Just read the and notice how many inches are given over to quoting wild, ridiculous assertions from a range of conservatives, and how much is spent quoting supporters.

Beyond that, I'd just like to point out that before CEDAW became a conservative political issue, Bush's State Department recommended approval. The Bush Administration should, in this case, trust their own judgement and ignore the backward advice of their extremist base. But when has this Administration ever done that?

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Fact-Checking is Fun. So is masochism, which is why I decided to stroll over (virtually, of course) to the Weekly Standard and see what hijinks those crazy conservatives were up to. I found this article written by Fred Barnes. It argues that the corporate scandals won't hurt the Republicans. Funny, based on their uber-defensive behavior of late, I think the Republicans disagree with Mr. Barnes a little. It's not hard to see why. Even most Republicans are smart enough to see through the specious arguments in this column.

First, Barnes tries to dissect the logic of the Democrats' "blame deregulation argument". Watch: "There's a scandal involving some egregious wrongdoing in the business community. After winning Congress in 1994, Republicans talked up deregulation and other steps to aid the business community. Therefore, Republicans created the conditions that caused the wrongdoing." This is Barnes's restatement of the Democratic position, and it bears some similarity to the actual Democratic position. Barnes correctly note that this argument, as he has presented it, is a faulty syllogism. He fails to note that deregulation was the proximate cause for many, if not most, of the corporate scandals driving the news over the last few months. Sudden, the syllogism is solid. If the scandals were caused by deregulation, and deregulation was pushed by Republicans, than it is Republicans' fault. Check? Check.

Then he goes on complaining about coverage of the Harken scandal. He's miffed that the news organizations keep talking about this Form 4 which Bush filed late, which really isn't very important, and totally gloss over the "intent-to-file" form, which is really the important one. Once again, Barnes is on weak ground. Neither form is terribly important (but when combined with other pieces of information Barnes conveniently neglects to mention, that Form 4 looks more and more suspicious), but there's no real solid basis for arguing that the "intent-to-sell" form trumps the Form 4. At least, Barnes provides none.

Barnes correctly notes that Republicans didn't have the numbers in Congress to push the deregulation business without some help from Democrats. But he overlooks the important point. Sure, plenty of Democrats have made really crappy votes on pro-business grounds, not the least of which being Al Gore's former running-mate. But for Republicans, deregulation is a matter of ideology. That's a pretty big difference, entirely glossed over by Mr. Barnes.

Lastly, Barnes predicts that the scandal will vanish as soon as the Senate passes the Sarbanes bill. Well, the bill is passed, we'll see what happens. Personally, I think that the scandal will stick around a while longer, thanks to House Republican efforts to gut the bill, and the persistent failure of the White House to publicly support it. Thanks to Republican abdication of the issue, the Sarbanes bill has become synonymous with corporate reform, and the White House won't support it.

This scandal ain't over yet.
Foreign Policy Fiasco. John Judis of The American Prospoect has an excellent article on the dismal failures of the Bush Administration foreign policy. He lists a few high-profile mistakes, and argues that these could have serious and lasting consequences for this country's future, but many big-time blunders are left out as well. Check it out, and decide for yourself if Democrats ought to be timid about taking him on in the foreign policy arena.
ACLU Hates TIPS. Ooh, what a shocking headline that is, right? Anyway, if you're interested, you can see the ACLU's press release about it here. Ok, I'll admit, I'm pretty worried about the civil liberties angle of this stuff (which, again, is a big shock). But more to the point, does anyone think this plan has even the slightest chance of being effective? This is what pisses me off about most of the post-September 11 measures to protect us from terrorism: they won't. And that renders the "what good are civil liberties if you're dead?" argument pretty pointless, because these laws which will restrict civil liberties won't prevent death. It's a choice between two options. Either we can enjoy the same freedoms we've known all our lives, and then maybe be killed by terrorists, or we can enjoy less freedom, and then maybe be killed by terrorists. Which would you prefer?
Strong Out of the Gate. Phil Donahue's return to television got off the a terrific start Monday, according to this Reuters report. I guess this is a good time for me to chime in on the show. I've watched both installments so far (though I will miss tonight's show, with guest Ann Coulter), and I've been mostly impressed. The debate segments are a little out-of-control, which is frustrating. But Donahue does make points and raise issues that are rarely seen on television today. In his first show, two valuable points were raised. First, the justification for invading Iraq is on very shaky ground, and we should make sure we really know what we're doing. Second, when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people (point one in every argument that he is "evil"), he did it with (at least) the tacit approval of the United States. In his second show, he continued more of the same, giving us the best, most honest debate over the USA PATRIOT Act that I have seen anywhere on television.

If he can continue to approach issues from an angle under-represented elsewhere on cable news television, then he will be performing a valuable service to political debate in this country.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Tapped on Fish. Who is this Stanley Fish character? Honestly, before a few hours ago, I didn't have the slightest idea. But I was struck by the fact that, according to this post, many Tapped readers took issue with Tapped's criticism of him, and Tapped was concerned enough about their objections to repeat and elaborate on the basis of that criticism. According to Tapped, Fish had been debunked by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times and also, previously, Peter Berkowitz in the New Republic. With all this information graciously provided, I thought I'd see for myself.

My take on this is that both Mr. Berkowitz and Mr. Rothstein fundamentally misunderstand, and hence misrepresent, what Fish is saying. Consider this passage from the Berkowitz article, in which Fish is quoted in an apparent contradiction:

"According to Fish, the new critics didn't grasp postmodernism's true meaning. They were under the mistaken impression that 'since postmodernists deny the possibility of describing matters of fact objectively, they leave us with no firm basis for either condemning the terrorist attacks or fighting back.' In fact, claimed Fish, 'Postmodernism maintains only that there can be no independent standard for determining which of many rival interpretations of an event is the true one.'"

I say "apparent contradiction" because Mr. Berkowitz claims it's there, but I don't see it. Mr. Berkowitz is inferring too much from Mr. Fish's first statement. It seems to me that if one accepts the proposition that matters of fact cannot be described objectively, the only thing we lose is utter certainty. Having a "firm basis" for an opinion does not require utter certainty. Mr. Berkowitz similarly misreads this statement: "The only thing postmodern thought argues against is the hope of justifying our response to the attacks in universal terms that would be persuasive to everyone, including our enemies." Mr. Berkowitz claims that this statement is both innocuous and banal. But Mr. Fish is not saying merely that "not everybody can be made to see things our way," as Mr. Berkowitz claims, he is saying that there is no universal standard available to adjudicate the dispute. This is hardly banal, and, depending on your point of view, not necessarily innocuous.

Moving on to Mr. Rothstein's criticisms, here we find errors of a far more subtle variety. After a long-winded prologue, Mr. Rothstein finally jumps into the issues under consideration. But once there, he continually equivocates on the word "truth". He interprets postmodernism as an assault against truth, but it looks to me more like a barrier between human knowledge and objective truth. In this case, I am defining truth as a set of facts which agrees entirely with objective reality. When considering any event, we have at best limited access to "truth" in this sense. This doesn't render us completely impotent, it merely denies us certainty in some areas. It also, harking back to the previous argument, renders it impossible to definitively convince the opposition of the rightness of our own claims.

All of this seemed hopelessly academic to me at first, and of course, in an important sense it is. I have no idea why The American Prospect should be so concerned with this debate. But when I actually followed the link provided by Mr. Rothstein and read some of Fish's own statements, I realized that it wasn't entirely academic, or at least, that important points were at stake. I also, as it happened, found Fish's answer to Berkowitz's apparent contradiction: "The basis for condemning what was done on September 11 is not some abstract vocabulary of justice, truth, and virtue -- attributes claimed by everyone, including our enemies, and disdained by no one -- but the historical reality of the way of life, our way of life, that was the target of the massive attack." [emphasis added] Fish also makes a strong case that realizing that appeal to these universal absolutes is unhelpful allows us to refocus our energies on a more meaningful course.

Like I said, I don't know much about Fish, or much about postmodernism. Again, I had never heard of Stanley Fish until Tapped started talking about him, and I thought postmodernism was a particular kind of fiction that I didn't particularly care for. I'm not here to defend either on their own merits. But each of the articles Tapped referenced as "debunking" Fish fell far short of that goal, on my reading.
Must-Read. Sometimes you read something that is so simply and eloquently put that you simply can't understand why it's such a controversial topic. On TomPaine.com, M. W. Guzy, a retired police detective, has written a piece explaining why all Americans should be concerned about the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah al Muhajir, aka the "dirty bomber". Here's the choice quote, the logic of which is utterly beyond dispute: "If he can be forever detained by executive order without so much as a hearing before an independent magistrate, so can anybody else." If you think it couldn't possibly happen to you, just ask yourself: what would stop it if it did?
All the Latest. For today's run-down of the Harken scandals, all you have to do is check out today's Howler. I was expecting some further dissection of Ann Coulter, as promised yesterday, but I was happy to see instead a good, solid take on today's Bush scandal stories. All the major stories and columns are linked to by Mr. Somerby, so it's really the only resource you need. He's also very eager to point out that the press is not reliable, especially when it gets scandal-hungry, so readers should be vigilant and exercise their own judgement.

I'm still not seeing quite as much Halliburton coverage as I expected I would, even though most commentators seem to agree that Cheney's is the far more serious scandal.
Save Us From Socialized Medicine! According to NathanNewman.org, and a study to which he has linked, the Canadian health-care system is cheaper than ours, more effective in terms of infant mortality and life expectancy, and far more popular among the citizens it serves.

Sounds horrendous!! Thank God we're not atheist commie pinkos like those evil Canadian bastards!!
Better Late Than Never. Harold Evans in Salon makes the point that, even if Bush's Harken scandals are old news, they're being properly reported only for the first time. Where was the national press corps during the 2000 election? This information was known, it was reported, but it was ignored. Why? The article presents several possible explanations, none of them entirely satisfactory, and all of them entirely damning of the news media as a whole.
You Don't Say? The Bull Moose says that our moral clarity on foreign policy is being undercut by our dependence on oil, resulting in an incoherent policy of coddling Saudi Arabia. He claims that this is causing a tension within the Republican party between the moralists and the marketeers. This shouldn't come as much surprise to anyone.

The Moose does an excellent job laying out, briefly, the explicit connections and intertwining interests driving this policy dissonance. But he ends on such a quaintly optimisitc note: "Hopefully, the all-oil team of Bush and Cheney will not be distracted by their former colleagues in the 'bidness'." We've crossed that bridge already, I'm afraid.

I think it's becoming clearer and clearer that this country, sooner or later, is going to be forced to give up oil entirely. It's long past time we finally got serious about developing our energy alternatives. But that won't happen while the oil industry is running the show.

Monday, July 15, 2002

See What I Mean? That's why I don't like commenting about the stock market while it's still trading. The market recovered dramatically late this afternoon, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing less than fifty points down, up nearly four hundred points from today's low. Conason puts a predictably delicious spin on this news.

In fairness, I'm a little nervous about trying to peg the Dow to Bush's public statements. But, on the other hand, these speeches (especially the big one last Tuesday) were touted by the White House as having been designed to inspire investor confidence and stop the stock slide. On those terms, they have to be considered not only a failure, but a staggering failure, so far.
Bring It Home. Martin Peretz has a nice big-picture article on the Harken scandals, including how they are related to James Baker, Saudi Arabia, and the bin Laden family. Interesting stuff, which proves once again that this Harken business is much bigger than a conveniently-timed stock dump.
Safire Says It's Our Fault. Ok, let me get this straight. The stock market tail-spin is our fault. This is just your normal, everyday, invisible-hand correction that happens every time stocks are over-valued. Ok. So, what happened was a bunch of over-excited investors (in fact, a lot more than just a bunch), foolishly indulged their own baseless optimism and drove stock prices up way, way too high. Now, they're coming down to Earth, and if you get hurt in the fall, there's no one to blame but you, Icarus.

Well, despite Andrew Sullivan's ringing endorsement of every last word of this column (he says he "[c]an't disagree with a word"), Terminus is here to tell you (as if you didn't already know) that it's utter twaddle. Safire suggests that we'd all have been better off if we'd only assessed our risks and avoided, as he says, the roar of the crowd. Fine. But how, our great wise and noble leader, should we have done that? The tools that rational, realistic investors use to make investing decisions are, among other things, the statements corporations make about their own performance. Statements which are reviewed by independent auditors and certified as to their validity and accuracy. Only, that's not been happening.

What Safire fails to note is that, beyond mere over-valuation, there has also been a consistent and widespread pattern of fraud operating here. How has this fraud been perpetrated? A toothless and ineffectual SEC (rendered that way by design) has totally dropped the ball on its intended purpose of watching over the practices of these corporations and auditors to keep the process on the straight and narrow. In the absence of such regulatory oversight, the corporations have (surprise) strayed from the straight and narrow. Sometimes, they've strayed pretty far. Safire's solution is for the corporations to reform themselves, noting (correctly, as it happens) that corporations have a strong incentive to demonstrate their trustworthiness to a cynical and suspicious investing public. But what Safire fails to realize is that without government regulation, corporations will have no incentive to stay on the up-and-up in the future, when the climate again improves, and optimism again is the order of the day.

The purpose of government regulation is to ensure transparency in those cases where corporations do not have an incentive to provide it themselves. We need to strengthen the laws now so that we'll have them in the future, when next they are needed.
Stocks Slump (Again). I normally don't like to comment on the stock market while trading is underway, since it can so easily reverse course mid-day and make you look like a fool, but at the time of writing, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost about 1,000 points since Bush's "confidence-building" speech on corporate responsibility last week. This article from Reuters was filed at 11:41 am ET today.
Donahue Debut. This article from Alternet.com ran about a week ago, but I thought I'd save it for today. Because tonight at 8pm, Phil Donahue's new show debuts on MSNBC. This article argues that it's the patriotic duty of all progressives to watch. Well, no, it doesn't really. But it does make the clear case that people like Bill O'Reilly get the exposure they do because of ratings. It doesn't matter how ridiculously biased and unfair O'Reilly's "No Spin Zone" is. People watch, the advertisements sell, and he's not going away. So, when someone like Donahue, who is a radical new voice in the realm of cable political blather, debuts against O'Reilly, it is in the interest of progressives to support the program.

Hey, I'll level with you. If the program sucks, I won't watch it. I have better things to do with my time (well.... in theory, anyway) than watch I show I don't like. But I intend to give Donahue every chance, because if he succeeds, that will change, ever so slightly, the make-up of television political discourse. It will also make it easier for other progressive voices to be given a chance.

Reports have been published recently showing that CNN's "Crossfire" has enjoyed a huge ratings spike since introducing Paul Begala and James Carville. That sets up "Crossfire" as the left-wing antidote to Fox's "Hannity and Colmes". [The analogy doesn't quite stand, since "Crossfire's" Novak and Carlson aren't nearly as ineffectual as Alan Colmes.] Now, if Donahue can take on O'Reilly, even if he can't match the ratings, he'll be making a valuable contribution to political discourse in this country by presenting a point-of-view which is totally unrepresented on television.

Lastly, check out this month-and-a-half old story from FAIR for another reason to be optimistic about Donahue.
American Taliban Cops a Plea. Hoo-boy! This took me by surprise. The right-wingers are going to go nuts over this one. John Walker Lindh, American Taliban, traitor, taking up arms against his own country. Not only does he avoid the death penalty (Ashcroft must be really bummed out), he's not even getting life in prison. Personally, given that the prosecution's case was so weak, I think this is a pretty good result for all parties. But I'm sure plenty of people don't see it that way.
Will McCain run? You know, I just can't resist this McCain speculation. THere are all sorts of scenarios and theories out there. A couple of months ago The New Republic and The American Prospect were talking him up as a possible Democratic candidate, which would have been amusing, to say the least. Then there's the talk of him running as an Independent, which would also be a lot of fun. For me, the most delicious scenario is him running as a Republican and challenging Bush for the nomination. That would be priceless. Still another theory I heard last week (sorry, I don't recall where) is that he might be a Republican running-mate to a Democratic nominee, particularly John Kerry. Again, pure gold.

The point of all this is simply to say that what's driving this endless McCain-mania is, more than anything else, a kind of ennui on the part of the politically clued-in. We want to see some sparks, we want to see some verve. Politics right now is pretty dull (although, it's gotten a lot better in recent weeks). We've got a Republican party that is so organized that you rarely hear any kind of discord. We have a Democratic party that is so disorganized that you rarely hear any concerted criticism of Bush. What are we left with? Paul Krugman, Joe Conason, Bob Herbert, etc.

This McCain-madness is simply an expression of boredom on the part of the media. That's fine. It's a fascinating water-cooler conversation, and that has a certain value. Besides, McCain through some fuel on the fire when he seemed to hedge on the "Will you run as an Independent?" question on Meet the Press. Personally, if I were a politician, I would give evasive answers to questions like this all the time, just to amuse myself by watching the pundits giggle like children. "Senator Terminus, rumors have suggested that you plan to make a run for the White House as a member of the Reform-Minded Green-Tinted Democratic Progressive Liberal Ever-So-Slightly Libertarian Party. Can you comment on that?" "I have no such plans at this time." "Is that a 'no'?" "There was a 'no' in it."

For the record, I'm in favor of McCain getting into the Presidential race any way he sees fit, just for the political theater of it.