Saturday, August 03, 2002

Conason on the Democratic Split. Conason's Journal yesterday (Premium) has a lot of resonance with my previous discussion of the DLC. Conason focuses on the similarities of the various wings of the party to urge that they be brought together against the common enemy. The whole thing reminds me of the scene in "Monty Python's Life of Brian" when the People's Front of Judea runs into the Popular Front in the aqueduct beneath the palace. "Shouldn't we be united against the common enemy?" "The Greens?!" "No, no, the Republicans!!" "Oh, right!"

It seems to me, and I could well be wrong, that the main difference between the left-wing and the centrist-wing of the party is in campaign strategy. They both seem to agree on most principles, even if they do differ on a handful of issues. For instance, while the "New Democrats", according to Conason, agree that they need to be more aggressive on progressive issues like taxes and health care, the traditional liberals understand the need for fiscal responsibility and a growth-oriented market economy. The main split, at least right now, is over the rhetoric used.

Personally, I think the traditional liberals have to take a stand. Whenever the "New Democrats" start mealy-mouthing their progressive plans, they come out sounding barely distinguishable from the Republicans who intentionally water-down their own conservative agenda when speaking in public. As I said before, this adds to the sense among Greens that the parties are just alike. Obviously, they are not.

Plus, I really think that, in this climate, progressive views, expressed forcefully with indignation at the deregulation bent of the Republican platform, could gain a lot of traction, at least in the midterms.

Friday, August 02, 2002

Show Them the Money. John Dean has a thorough and informative article in Findlaw.com today arguing that the Clintons should be reimbursed for a part of their legal expenses incurred as a result of the Whitewater investigation. He is a bit skeptical that they ever will be, but he makes a strong case that it's a no-brainer. The money quote: "They have fulfilled the statutory criteria for reimbursement, and thus only a partisan political decision will lead to the failure of the reimbursement request."

As far as I'm concerned, this article ends debate.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

More Owen. Sherry Colb, who is a Rutgers Law Professor in Newark, NJ, has a fascinating take on Bush's nomination of Priscilla Owen for a seat on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. First of all, she also argues that it's legitmate to apply an abortion litmus test to her confirmation hearings, since such a litmus test was obviously behind her nomination. But, more interestingly, she takes the question as a launching point to explore a neglected issue: minors having abortions.

I was blown away by this article, as it was an issue I never really considered much before. Children having abortions seems horrible, and it makes a certain kind of sense to require parental consent. After all, a young girl is not going to have the emotional capacity to make a decision like that on her own. That seems very much to be the commonplace, mainstream, commonsense view of the issue, and that's exactly how I felt (without ever having thought seriously about it) before I read this article. The simple and utterly devasting point that Prof. Colb makes is that if these girls are too immature to have an abortion, are they really mature enough to have a child!

That point is not the centerpiece of the article, but it's the strongest thing I came away with after reading it. I urge everyone to follow the above link and read the article first-hand. It's definitely thought-provoking.
"Politics in the Interregnum". Harold Meyerson is arguing in The American Prospect that we are currently in the middle of a major paradigm shift in American political economy. He makes a comparison to the Great Depression in order to argue that these things take time. We have seen, in the last several weeks, a sudden jerk to the left as these corporate scandal stories have dominated the headlines and the Sarbanes bill, once a political non-starter in the Senate, was breezily agreed to by both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

Also in The American Prospect, we get this article by Ruy Teixeira, laying out in depth just how big this story is, and what it really means. But he ends on a slightly pessimistic note. Will the Democrats really be able to capitalize on this amzing moment and start turning the country around? Why wouldn't they?

Well, we have seen some reluctance on the part of the status quo power structure to make a real, powerful change. We've had Tom Daschle deep-sixing a measure to require expensing of stock options, and other Democrat betrayals of the "corporate responsibility" principles. To get an idea why this is happening, one need only take a look at Robert Borosage's article in The Nation about last weekend's DLC pow-wow.

I haven't completely made up my mind about the DLC yet. I can certainly see that they are on the wrong side of a lot of issues. I've heard that their favorite for the 2004 Democratic nomination is Joe Lieberman, and the nicest thing I can say about him is that he'd be better than Bush. I think there is room within the Democratic Party for a solid right-wing, but now is not the time for it. I think the best chances for the Democrats in 2002 and in 2004 is to embrace exactly the kind of populist "people vs. the powerful" rhetoric that the DLC despises. Moreover, I think the corporate ties that the DLC has cultivated reinforce the (dangerously misguided) Naderite notion that the Democrats and Republicans are as bad as each other.

But I'll sit on this issue for a while and let it stew.
Which Sound? Ok, so the fundamentals are sound, but which sound is that? The sound of shit hitting the fan, perhaps? Not quite, but there is cause for concern. Liberal Oasis has a story about this today, and they were kind enough to link to my post from yesterday. Naturally, their story has much more facts and details than my own improvised rant, but then, that's why I provide links to articles.

Anyway, Jeannine Aversa has an Associated Press story picked up in Salon about some new economic indicators which do not bode well. Don't get me wrong: this is no crisis, and I'm no Chicken Little. But this fundamental soundness that Paul O'Neill is constantly hawking to anyone who'll listen seems very, very shaky to me.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The Torch. Ok, I'm a liberal Democrat blogger from New Jersey, so I guess I have to comment on Bob Torricelli. Fine. First, for context, and to get up to speed on the whole debacle, check out this Michelle Goldberg piece from Salon.

Ok, first, I'm a ruthless partisan. So, in a head to head fight [between] a Democrat and a Republican for a Senate seat, I'm for the Democrat. I know, perhaps this sounds cynical and kind of anti-democratic, but it's crucial that the Senate remain in Democrat hands so they can continue to frustrate Bush's terrible agenda. And for that, I'm willing to sell my soul.

But what do I really think? Well, first of all, I don't really like talking about Torricelli. It makes me feel kind of queasy to have to stand up and try to defend this guy. Personally, I think the whole mess looks pretty shady. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Ken Lay shady, or even Dick Cheney shady, but it's certainly not the kind of behavior I want to see from one of the "good guys".

However, I do think the story has been overblown, but that's nothing new. I do think it's pretty suspicious that, if Torricelli is so clearly [...] a first-class sleaze-ball, why did Mary Jo White, the federal prosecutor who investigated [...] Torricelli for the past few years, simply hand it over to the Senate Ethics Committee rather than push a prosecution. The only conclusion I can reach, in the absence of any additional evidence, is that Torricelli's conduct was not criminal; it merely violated Senate Ethics rules. That's bad, but it's not awful. I mean, who really gives a crap about Senate Ethics rules? Who [even] knows what they are?

But it isn't good for the Torch, it isn't good for New Jersey, and it isn't good for Democrats. It means that the DNC will probably have to expend more funds trying to protect the seat than they otherwise would have, which will take funds away from other key races, such as Texas and North Carolina. It's very important for Democrats to pick up Congressional seats in "red states", as far as positioning for 2004 goes, and it's equally crucial to protect seats in "blue states". That having been said, I think that Torricelli will win re-election, but this fiasco has certainly made it a lot harder than it otherwise would have been.

This is definitely one of the races I'll be keeping an eye on as the Fall approaches.
The Bond Project: Introduction. On the movies side of the fence, I have embarked upon a mission of unbounded dorkiness. I have taken it upon myself to re-watch every official (i.e., MGM/UA) James Bond film in chronological order leading up to the opening of "Die Another Day" in November. From time to time, I will be posting a detailed review of each film, in order. Look for my opening review soon.

In the mean time, I'd like to make a few comments about the films in general. Their appeal to me is something that I find difficult to adequately account for. I'm not a fan of mindless, special-effects-driven action movies. I'm not a fan of violence as a means of conflict resolution, mainly because it's such an easy choice for a writer to make. I'm not a fan of the unapologetic sexual exploitation of women by a sex-obsessed misogynist. In short, I'm a liberal movie snob, and the Bond films were quite clearly not made with people like me in mind. They have a very conservative political underpinning, a "devil-may-care" callousness about the abuse of women, and limited interest in crafting a strong story. Yet, somehow, I find these films (even the excruciatingly bad ones, of which there are a few) to be quite enjoyable, and I look forward to each new release with precisely the same salivating zeal with which I great each annual Woody Allen film (a film maker who is much more closely aligned with my aesthetic priorities).

Part of the reason is the fact that they have a very strong sense of fun. It's quite clear, even from the first film, that these are not entirely to be taken seriously. This gives the film very wide latitude when it comes to criticism. A Bond film can get away with a lot, because it isn't remotely meant to be serious film making. Moreover, by placing the focus clearly on "enjoyment" rather than some other, ostensibly higher, standard of film appreciation, the films are nearly guaranteed to be at least a lot of fun. Even if the plot is over-complicated or inconsistent, there's still a terrific car chase right around the corner.

As is to be expected, the formula for the Bond films (and they are some of the most overtly formulaic films I've ever seen) is employed to greater or lesser effect in each entry of the series. This project intends to highlight first the development of the formula through the first three films, the application of the formula (how and why it succeeds or fails in each instance), the evolutions of the formula, and especially the occasion deviations from it.

I would dearly love for this project to set off some spirited discussions on this site, as disagreements among Bond fans can be as strong as disagreements among political junkies. To that end, I would invite everyone who has so much as a passing interest to rush out to the video store and rent "Dr. No", the first installment in the series, and form your own opinions before my comments go up (tomorrow or Friday).

UPDATE: Ed Hill has started a shadow Bond Project on Ed's Daily Rant. [He also had some very nice things to say about this Blog, which were very kind, and much appreciated.] Anyway, click here for his introduction.

The Bond Project continues with Dr. No.
The Fundamentals are Sound. Hmm, maybe not quite so sound. The New York Times reports that second-quarter growth in GDP was merely 1.1 percent, which is a bit on the anemic side. More tellingly, we now see that the economy was in recession for three quarters of 2001, rather than just the one we had previously believed. This puts the economic record of both Clinton and Bush in a slightly different perspective. First, it lends a bit of credibility to the Republicans' claim that this is Clinton's recession, but I don't think that argument will get much traction as long as the economy continues to be sluggish. And, if there is a double-dip into negative growth, that will be squarely on Bush. But it also should worry Republicans very much. First of all, the fundamental soundness of this economy is hanging by a bit of a thread. The thread is called consumer confidence, and if it drops precipitously, the economy could see a "real" recession. Moreover, there's a lot of jitters going on about the economy, including the crazy stock market. If we get another steep downturn in the markets, even if it only lasts three or four days, it could start an avalanche of self-fulfilling negative expectations.

More importantly, the new numbers show that, if the recession was only slightly worse than previously thought, the recovery is significantly worse than previously thought. This effects jobs, which effects tax revenues, which effects the federal budget, which comes back to the Bush tax cut, which is still the single domestic economic policy initiative of the Bush White House. Bush has put all his domestic eggs in one big tax cut basket, and that makes him extremely vulnerable if a) the economy continues to struggle, and b) the Democrats win the P.R. war on the issue. And, on the latter point, they've been making some gains recently.

And before anyone accuses me of trying to sabotage the economy for political gain, let me just say: shut up! That's such a transparently hypocritical argument.
Huffington Knows Where the Outrage Is She knows because she's got it herself, and she's doing all she can to spread it around. It's exactly stories like this, where big guys are milking the system at the expense of little guys, where it's so easy for cynicism to edge in and mute the outrage. But remember, these corporate abuses are outrageous, this bankruptcy bill is outrageous, and we've got to get mad, and get loud, and get serious about holding these bastards' feet to the fire. Columns like this one are a public service.
Hershey Park Happy. Ok, Mosco. You asked....

Saturday at noon, the Duke and I went bowling. An inauspicious beginning, perhaps, to a wild weekend of rollercoasters, water-rides, and high energy rock 'n' roll, but we enjoyed it all the same. The Duke is a much better bowler than I am, and he whipped me good in two of our four games. The other two games stayed competitive and I won them both narrowly. My high for the day was 160, which is within about 15% of my all-time high, so I was satisfied.

At two o'clock, we met Lima Beanz over at The Duke's apartment. [Note: for those keeping track, Lima Beanz was previously referred to as Jr. Varsity.] From there, we piled into the Saturn and picked up Tucker, before setting off for Hershey, Pa. The ride was pleasant, but uneventful. Except, of course, for the very minor car accident we got into mere minutes after we had left Tucker's house. This was amusing, to say the least, as something very similar happened to me on a previous road trip several years ago. On that occasion, myself, Ovid, Lima Beanz, Mosco, and the Pizza Messiah, were traveling to The World's Only Ass-Kicking Machine in Wirtz, Virginia. I was driving, and the Pizza Messiah asked what time it was. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard, answered, and BOOM! It was a minor fender-bender, but it cost me a bundle. Anyway, this time around, the Duke was driving, it didn't even rise to the level of fender-bender, and he sped off without stopping.

We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, which was a bit of a disappointment, as I was led to believe by the advertisements that it would make me a genius. Perhaps it doesn't work if you're already a genius, but it didn't make Lima Beanz any smarter either. There used to be a law against false advertising.

We hit Hershey Park Saturday night and concentrated on dry-rides. We hit several rollercoasters, which I love, and had a blast. The Duke lost his cell phone on the "Wild Cat", which is a great rickety wooden job, and made literally no effort to recover it. We consoled him that he would still be able to use the land-line in his apartment, the joke being that there is no land-line in his apartment.

We retired to the hotel after the Park closed to get some serious drink on. Trouble, who was unable to start the trip with us do to a prior engagement with his wedding band, met us at the hotel sometime after midnight. We played Spades and Asshole, and got to sleep well past three.

I can't sleep away from home. At least, I can't sleep late. So, I was up a good two hours before anyone else, and, after walking to the McDonald's across the street for some breakfast, watched Tim Russert disembowel Paul O'Neill on "Meet the Press". After I awakened Lima Beanz at 11am, I called my mother to talk about it. The guys got no end of amusement from the fact that, yes, I called my mother while on vacation to talk about "Meet the Press". It's a sickness, I suppose.

Sunday was spent almost entirely at the Park. We polished off the remaining rollercoasters, rerode a couple of choice rides now that Trouble was with us, and hit the water rides in the early evening. We blew about two hours waiting in line patiently for the RollerSoaker to break down, which it obligingly did when the Duke and I were second in line. They guys went to the zoo while I played SkeeBall and classic arcade games like Berserk and DigDug. I hate zoos. I love SkeeBall. And DigDug sends me into paroxysms of ecstasy.

Lima Beanz didn't want to go on water rides, but did anyway. Presumably, the joy of complaining more than compensated for the discomfort of being wet. This was a bit of a shock, as Tucker is the member of the Crew most closely associated with complaining.

Monday morning we slept in, had a dreadful lunch at some dreadful restaurant-type place. [You ordered your food before you were seated, which might not be such an awful experience if you don't desperately need to use the bathroom.] Monday was mostly a relaxing day in preparation for the grand finale, The Who.

I simply can't tell you how amazing this concert was. We were all blown away. The Duke singing (horribly) right next to me through the whole show wasn't even enough to put a damper on the evening. Fortunately, they dispensed with the whole brass section/percussionist crap and presented a trimmed-down rock show. Daltrey's voice was in fine form, Townshend was excellent and highly energized, some dude named Palladino was a competent replacement for John Entwistle (who was sorely missed), Zak "Son of Ringo" Starkey was superb on drums, Simon Townshend filled out the rhythm guitar parts, and Who mainstay John "Rabbitt" Bundrick was indispensable on the keyboards. They played everything you wanted to hear (well, almost: no "The Seeker", and no "Long Live Rock", which would have been nice), and threw in one or two surprises. Pete's antagonistic brand of humor was in fine form. His first words, before so much as a note had been played, were "Fuck off, the lot of you!" Later, he asked "Is it all right if I masturbate? It's what I do, anyway," as he ran his hands along the neck of his guitar. Another classic was "I've seen American television, and you people are mad! You eat worms!" He also commented on how lovely the Hershey area is, which is true. "It's got a great family atmosphere, so we've come to fuck it up!"

A great, great, great, extended weekend.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Why I Hate Whitman. Just back from vacation, and here's a lovely piece by Paul Krugman which encapsulates, very nicly, why I loathe and despise Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey, current Administrator of the EPA. You see, we still have not seen the full extent of the harm she did for our state. We keep finding things out, again and again.

Even more frustrating is that this has all happened before. The earliest Governor of New Jersey that I can recall was Tom Kean, a two-term Republican Governor who eviscerated the state budget and left a huge mess for his Democratic successor, Jim Florio, to clean up. Florio raised taxes and was excoriated for it, despite the fact that he was constitutionally obligated to clean up Kean's mess. He lost his re-election to Christine Todd Whitman. Two terms later, we have another Democratic Governor, Jim McGreevey, doing the thankless job of trying to resurrect New Jersey's budget.

I wouldn't trade places with him for anything in the world.