Saturday, August 10, 2002

Schizophrenic Take on Gore. This New York Times column by Bill Keller takes an interesting approach to the issue of whether Gore should run. It basically alternates, paragraph by paragraph, and gets in most of the best points both sides make. It's a dialogue between the pro-Gore and anti-Gore sides of Keller's mind. Sadly, what I think it really comes down to is, on one hand, an honest reckoning of Gore's political prospoects (relative to his primary opponents),and on the other hand, unreasoning hatred of Gore.

The pro-Gore points in this column are right on the money, and very persuasive. The anti-Gore elements, though much less cogent, seem to be given more weight. After making a series of points comparing the Clinton/Gore record to the Bush record, Keller goes on to say that Gore "lacked... courage" and "frittered it away in a clumsy, focus-grouped campaign." No mention of the press's role in Gore's downfall, naturally. Say what you want about Gore's campaign, but that race was up hill. He was weighed down by a press corps which hated him, and trying to gain ground on a candidate the press corps loved. And he still won. In spite of the press's oozing hatred, Gore still got more votes than any presidential candidate except Reagan '84.

It's pretty clear that the press still hates Gore, and will continue to hate Gore for as long as he's in the public eye. However, it's also clear that Bush won't get the same free ride he got last time. The press has finally started talking about Bush's business past (thank you, Paul Krugman), and, with the Clinton scandals four-years-older, Bush will not have integrity to run on.

That's why the Republicans are already trying to smear Gore with this stupid Bruce Springsteen story. They are frightened of him. Democrats have to figure this out, quick. Republicans are frightened of Gore because they know what the press won't tell us: that Gore pulled off a miracle in 2000 and won, against huge disadvantages, and he's going to be tough, very tough, for Bush to run against in 2004. They are afraid of Gore because they know that if anyone can beat Bush in 2004, it's Gore. He has the best chance, and maybe the only chance. The Republicans know that, and we'd better figure it out pretty damn quick.

Friday, August 09, 2002

The Bush Bubble. In a brilliant article for The Washington Monthly, Josh Marshall, another Terminus favorite, has done a recap of Bush's first year-and-a-half in office. What he sees is that the administration is run and staffed by a bunch of confidence-oozing failures. He mentions the paucity of Bush's domestic agenda, and how little of it has come off. The one thing that did work for him, the Huge Bush Upper-Class Tax Cut of 2001, could blow up into a real political liability for him, and it's clearly bad fiscal/economic policy. His new economic plan, making the tax cut permanent, will probably (oh I hope so) get scuttled after the midterms. His faith-based initiatives got a lot of tongues wagging once upon a time, but basically went nowhere. The corporate scandals and Wall Street jitters have recast much of his agenda in a far harsher light, including his energy plan and his social security privatization plan.

Marshall makes the point that, on the scale of tangible political competence, the Bush administration is on par with at least the first two years of the Clinton administration. Despite the fact that this administration still gets a lot of credit for knowing what they're doing, they clearly don't. If this is what happens when "the adults are in charge," then I'd have to say that the kids were all right.

For the rest of you bitter left-wing partisans, Marshall's article concludes with the prediction that this administration is enjoying a confidence "bubble", which will burst spectacularly sooner or later.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

A Thoughtful Column. Sticking with the New York Times, and my perennial favorite Paul Krugman, I'd like to draw your attention to a column that is truly remarkable for its intellectual openness. Too many columnists, both left and right, simply regurgitate the same old partisan party-line over and over again. And, like the rabid little partisan I am, I lap it up when it's a lefty and howl and rant when it's a righty. And there's not a thing wrong with that.

But occasionally, you see a column like this one. Sure, he gets a few nice little anti-Bush jabs in, but they're just throwaway lines. The real meat of the column is his own efforts, put on public display, to come to terms with a difficult and complicated issue: the $30 billion Argentina bailout. [His main jab is worth repeating: the Bush administration is on record as not believing in international monetary bailouts, but this one will help some of Bush's own donor-cronies on Wall Street, so it's all right.] Krugman is clearly conflicted about it, and he manages to make both cases very well and leaves the reader with a lot to think about, but not knowing quite what to think.

I suppose some might see that as a sign of wishy-washiness, but I see it as a sign of intellectual integrity. It's also a damn good read. Check it out.
Will Gore Get the Nomination? There's a fascinating article in tomorrow's New York Times on Gore's prospects for the nomination. A large number of Democratic activists and insiders are quoted, and a wide-range of views are presented. Predictably, I agree with many of the views, and I disagree with many. Let me lay out my position, point by point.

1) Is Gore entitled to the nomination? No, of course not. This is a democracy, and that's not how we do things here. If some other candidate can beat him in the primary, well, that's gonna have to be a pretty tough candidate, given all the advantages Gore already has at this stage. That wouldn't be such a bad thing (as long as it isn't Lieberman).

2) Was the 2000 election stolen from Gore? Tough question. The word "stolen" is the sticky word, here. I'm perfectly comfortable saying that he won the popular cote by half a million votes, and received the second highest vote count in presidential election history. I'm perfectly comfortable with saying that, if not for the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, there's a very possibility that he could have won Florida, depending on the specifc vote counting standards adopted. I'm perfectly comfortable saying that, if not for any one of a myriad irregularities or bad breaks (black voters being improperly barred from voting, the butterfly ballot, the Nader candidacy, absentee ballot fraud by the Florida Republicans, the Florida recount being coordinated from Tallahassee by 100% Bush partisans, a press corps intent on villifying him without cause at every opportunity), Gore would certainly have won. I'm perfectly comfortable saying that, of those Floridians who intended to vote, more intended to vote for Gore than Bush. I'm perfectly comfortable saying that the wrong man was inaugurated in January 2001. But does that constitute theft? It's debatable.

3) Would a Gore candidacy in 2004 be tougher than a Gore candidacy in 2000? Possibly. I'm not convinced. There's every indication that the press would still be against him, and quite possibly more so. And he isn't Vice-President anymore. On the other hand, Bush is more of a known quantity now, and an awful lot of people don't like what they've learned. Also, so-called "Clinton-fatigue" shouldn't be much of an issue, and as the Lewinsky scandal has faded into the clearer perspective of intervening time, it's far more likely that Gore would embrace the Clinton record, and (I hope) Clinton himself, far more than he did. I think that would be a big boost. Also, even if a run in 2004 would be more difficult for Gore than his 2000 run, Bush's 2004 run will also be more difficult. Lastly, as all the Democratic candidates being bandied about at present, no one is in a better position to attack Bush, his Administration, and his policies, than Al Gore.

4) Did Gore wait too long to publically take on the Bush administration? Arguably, but I don't think so. Even if he should have started sooner, he was still first among the current Democratic field, and to this day, he's the toughest. Gore has, in a very short time, turned himself into the national Democratic spokesman for anti-Bush sentiment. That is a huge advantage. If Daschle had been a bit more dynamic, and weren't hamstrung by his job as Senate Majority Leader, he would have easily claimed this mantle. He did not. Gore did, and it will help him immensely among the so-called rank-and-file.
"Stability is the Absence of Change". As an upstart left-wing blogger, you're sorta under a kind of unspoken pressure to take on the bigwig conservative bloggers like Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds. I'm happy to take a shot at Andrew SUllivan from time to time, and I do, but I've said nary a word against Glenn Reynolds so far in my short blogging career. Why is that?

Simply put, it's because his blog, InstaPundit, offers so little content that there's very little worthy of response. Take a look at his site if you haven't already. In many cases, he links to some article or report with little or no commentary, and he frequently gives the reader absolutely no idea what the linked material is about. Now, far be it from me to criticize his method (his blog is infinitely more widely read than little ol' mine), but it does leave this fellow blogger with very little to criticize. If I found something objectionable in one of the articles he links to, I would take on the article directly (with a token "thank you" to Instapundit for bringing the article to my attention).

Because of this content-lite approach, however, I find his blog to be very rarely of any interst, and I do not check it very frequently. Contrast this approach with my feelings about Andrew Sullivan. I confess, I love Sully's blog. I do check it every day, and I can't wait for him to get back from his long, Bushian vacation. This isn't, obviously, because I agree with Sully, or even because I respect his ideas or argumentation. I don't. Most of Sully's posts are transparently ridiculous. But he is entertaining, and I enjoy reading his stuff. I can't say the same for InstaPundit (however, I find InstaPundit's line of argumentation, when he makes one, far more cogent than Sully's).

From time to time, though (and, in fairness, probably more often than this post would suggest), InstaPundit does provide some real content, and does put forth some sort of idea which is available for comment or criticism. Such a thing happened only yesterday, when Prof. Reynolds made the statement that I quote in the headline to this post. He was talking about those craven-hearted leftists who bleat about an invasion of Iraq destablizing the Middle East. He says "Stability is the absence of change, meaning that so long as the situation is stable, things will stay dreadful. And we don't want things to stay dreadful, do we?" I will leave that very enticing question dangling for another day, but I do have a point to make.

Stability is not the absence of change. Or at least, it isn't that simple. I mean, think about it. This country has been pretty darn stable for an awfully long time, politically speaking. Recently, we've weathered an impeachment scandal and an election scandal, but our system of government has remained in place, and firmly so. Within that stable framework, we have gone through radical changes in policy, lifestyle, etc. When you talk about destablizing the Middle East, you're not just talking about promoting change. You are talking about risking the collapse of political stability, which throws the whole future of the region into absolute doubt. We have no way of knowing what might happen, and what problems might be caused. It's alarmist, certainly, but also plausible, that an American invasion of Iraq could plunge the entire region into a series of wars. When the political system becomes destabilized to the point where its continued survival is in serious doubt (a point that I don't think this country has reached since the Civil War), the situation can quickly devolve into an armed struggle for political supremacy. This is what regime change means.

Now, the regime in Iraq, and in Saudi Arabia, and in other Arab states, is not exactly what we would hope for. So, it's entirely possible that this period of intense violence and mass slaughter could be a birthing period for something of lasting value, a democratic revolution in the Middle East, which would contribute to the long-term stability of the entire world. That would be great. But once the present stability slips, everything is up in the air. It's true that the current situation in the Middle East is far from desirable, but arguing that destablization is necessarily a good thing on that basis is simply wrong. It's like throwing in a bad hand in poker: your next hand might be better, or not, and you can't really predict which way it will go.

On the issue of war with Iraq, I think that the hawks are seriously underappreciating the risks involved, and I think Prof. Reynolds's attitude, as expressed in this post, exemplifies that. That is not, in and of itself, an argument against invasion. It is, rather, a plea for patience and deliberation.

That having been said, I still haven't seen what I would consider to be a decent argument in favor of invasion, and that is, in and of itself, an argument against.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Conason Takes on Dowd. Joe Conason's Journal today ran an entry called Populism for Dummies (scroll down), where Conason jabs Dowd for a little class hypocrisy herself. His broader point, though, is that this is a ridiculous line of argument. The fact that Gore is not a politically disenfranchised member of the working poor, struggling to make ends meet under a lopsided tax-burden and against an array of anti-worker corporate interests controlling Washington does not mean that he should be barred from taking up their cause. Indeed, if it weren't for the fact that middle and lower-income workers weren't so politically powerless (individually), they look after their own interests in Washington. But they can't, because they don't have the organization, or the wealth (and therefore the influence) of corporate America. A good populist doesn't have to be a little guy who's looking out for the little guy. It can just as easily be a big guy like Gore (who had an upbringing of comfort and priviledge), son of a Senator, Washington insider, who is responsible and compassionate enough to take on that fight on behalf of other people. It's called leadership, actually.

Conason links not just to Dowd, but to Cal Thomas, who makes a similar attack in The Washington Times, and to James Bowman in National Review. Between these three commentaries, there is absolutely no substantial criticism of Gore's op-ed. Only heckling directed at Gore personally. This is not responsible political dialogue. But then, so little is these days.
Did Michael Kelly Enjoy Writing This? If not, then I really don't see the point. Seriously, what is the point? Maybe I'm just bitchy because I use that "full disclosure" device frequently. [Full disclosure: I use that "full disclosure" device frequently.] But I never use it, nor have I ever seen it used, in any way resembling that which Kelly portrays. I realize he was trying to be funny (and I wonder if he realizes he failed), but that brings me back to the original question. Is this column meant to make some deeper point, or is he just riffing on an at worst innocuously annoying journalistic technique? I don't know. I just feel as if reading that column was a waste of my time. Not to mention, erm, writing this response.
Hoynes for President. Ok, The American Prospect has me really and truly pissed off now. Someone called Garrett Epps has posted this piece laying out the argument for why Jed Bartlet, the liberal president from The West Wing, doesn't deserve re-election. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the author makes some really excellent points, especially about President Bartlet's dishonesty about his MS. But, since we are talking about a television program, I feel that I don't have to refute anything in the article. I can just say that I like Bartlet very much, I am not nearly so put off by his smugness as Epps seems to be. I also don't think that lying about MS is an impeachable offense, as Epps implies.

If we're going to have fun with The West Wing by discussing it as if it were real (which I'm all in favor of), we should at least do it right and accept the reality of the show as it presents itself. As far as I recall, Bartlet is not being challenged in the primary, and he's certainly not going to face his own vice-president in the general election. For Mr. Epps to throw his support to Hoynes is as ridiculous as someone deciding to back Dick Cheney in 2004. Ok, fine, he wanted to get some digs in against Bartlet, and he makes a decent go of it, but backing Hoynes is just a red herring.

But, it has served to get me fired up about the start of the new season, which is slowly approaching. Prepare yourselves, there will probably be a lot of commentary of The West Wing on this blog, once it gets going. In addition to other television I may be watching, as well as Philadelphia sports, and plenty of movies. I promise, though, we'll always have politics.
76ers Trade Mutombo for Van Horn, MacCulloch. Ok, I don't do sports much on this blog, but that's because I'm a Philadelphia fan, and the Phillies' baseball season was already pretty much doomed when this blog began in June. But now that football, basketball, and hockey are coming down the pipeline, expect more sports coverage, in addition to politics, movies, and not nearly as much music as the tagline seems to promise. Complaints can be emailed to gotohell@blowme.com.

So, the Sixers have traded Dikembe Mutombo. That's fine with me. I never much cared for the guy. Sure, he was something of a defensive weapon, and not having that huge shot blocker will certainly have a negative impact on the Sixers' defense, but on offense the man was liability. He has hands like cement blocks, and his shot is so hideous that the fact that it ever goes in at all is the number one argument for the existence of God. I'm happy to see him go.

In return, the 76ers are getting Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch. Van Horn is a solid perimeter shooter, which the 76ers definitely need to have. MacCulloch was a good second-tier player when he was with the team two years ago, and he had a career-year last season, so I'm optimistic about his contribution. He's not going to be a star, but he'll be a valuable addition to the team.

At this point, I should probably make clear that I don't know dick about basketball.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Dippy Dowd. Hey, sometimes she's good, sometimes she ain't, but today (or, actually tomorrow), Maureen Dowd is completely off-base. In fact, I can't figure out what the fuck she's talking about. Look at Rule No. 4. MoDo clearly implies that Gore thinks he's entitled to always be right. Umm, what?! Does she really believe that? Based on what evidence? And, even if it's true, shouldn't it be mitigated by the fact that he was right?

Listen, I'm happy to entertain an argument on the merits of Gore's Sunday op-ed, on the content and conduct of his presidential campaign, or on whatever you want. But this cutsie little stunt isn't an argument. It isn't thoughtful, it isn't insightful, and it isn't persuasive. It's total hackwork.

When she's bad, she's really bad.
Say No to Drug Laws. At least, say "no" to the Rockefeller drug laws in New York. These draconian provisions, stipulating harsh, mandatory sentences even for non-violent drug offenders, have been getting a lot of play lately, including from Bob Herbert in the New York Times. This excellent, detailed story by Michelle Goldberg in Salon, tells some of the story behind the story, about the people campaigning to overturn these laws. Thanks to the vigilance of some key players, something might actually happen soon.

This is an incredibly touching story that everyone should read who has any interest in the war on drugs, racial bias in the American justice system, or just any person of compassion. Note: ignore the headline. This over-the-top, attention-getting title does not reflect the main focus of the piece. On the other hand, perhaps it's something to keep in mind as you read.
The Bond Project: Dr. No. The first film in the Bond series will seem extremely bizarre to any seasoned Bond fan watching it for the first time. The comfortable opening formula is absent. Sure, we get the gun-barrel sequence, but its got this really weird, percussive music behind it. The whole title sequence is similarly bizarre, and rather primitive, and rather jarring as it switches from the familiar Bond theme to a terrific little arrangement of "Three Blind Mice". The film is also missing a few other future Bond staples, such as gadgetsBut once the film gets itself going, we find ourselves on much more familiar territory.

The story is very straightforward: a British intelligence operative named Strangways, working of Jamaica, suddenly disappears. Bond is dispatched to investigate. Over the course of his investigation, Bond gets into a numerous array of fights, scrapes, and narrow escapes. His investigation takes him to an island owned by a mysterious millionaire called Dr. No.

This film represents the prototypical Bond story. The set-up is given extremely short-shrift. We don't know who Strangways was or what he was doing in Jamaica. It isn't considered important. The investigation proceeds very, very quickly (or at least, it would have, had it not been for the constant interruptions of fights, chases, shoot-outs, and love-making), and it's quite obviously that Bond never would have discovered Dr. No's involvement if not for a few key errors. Only one person was able to connect Strangways with Dr. No. Had he been eliminated, Dr. No would have easily accomplished his devious plan without any interference from Bond. It's a good thing that, rather than hide the evidence and wait the investigation out, Dr. No decided to make several clumsy attempts on Bond's life while allowing him to contact the one man who could give him the vital piece of information he needed. If he hadn't, imagine the consequences...

Which brings us to the most serious problem of the film: what was Dr. No trying to achieve? This major plot-point is unforgivably glossed over by a script that is far more interested in action and style than in story. I know it seems a little presumptuous to criticize a film which was an international hit, spawning a film franchise which has lasted for forty years. The sad fact remains that Dr. No is not a very well-crafted film.

That having been said, it is enjoyable, and for several reasons. First, the innovative editing techniques used by Peter Hunt give the action scenes an added dynamism that help propel the action forward. Second, Sean Connery's portrayal of Bond with both breezy, sardonic humor, and tense, explosive ruthlessness, is a brilliant combination. Third, the wonderful cordiality of the encounter between Bond and Dr. No serves both to give the villain a sufficient level of depth and also to ratchet up the tension. Fourth, the striking interiors by Ken Adam. Lastly, the wholly unique character of this quirky little spy film. All of these elements would be refined and distilled over the course of the next few films into the Bond formula, which would continue throughout the series for decades to come.

The bottom line: a broadly competent yet deeply flawed spy film manages to spawn the most successful franchise in the history of film on the strength of its unusual style and charismatic leading man.

UPDATE: When Ed posts his review of Dr. No, I will link to it directly from here. All posts in the Bond Project series will be available on the side bar to the right, including links to Ed's corresponding posts, and my own next post in the series, when available.

UPDATE: Ed's review is up, and available here.

UPDATE: The Bond Project continues with From Russia With Love.

Monday, August 05, 2002

U.S. Counterterrorism: The Big Picture. There's lots of old news in this must-read article from this week's Time magazine. You know... the one that everyone is talking about. There's considerably more old news than new news. The value of the article, however, is in the broad scope it takes. To invoke the dying breath of a political cliche that couldn't have died quickly enough for me, this article "connects-the-dots" of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts from late in the Clinton Administration right up to September 11.

What the article makes clear (though it doesn't come out and say it directly... it merely gives the readers enough hard knowledge to draw their own conclusion) is that the Bush White House has done very little since September 11 that wasn't conceived during the Clinton Administration. What's worse: the Bush White House has not taken advantage of the opportunity September 11 gave them to dramatically increase the pressure on al-Qaeda. The Clinton Plan was envisioning conducting an anti-terrorism campaign in public with, at best, lukewarm popular support. The bombing of the USS Cole, and the resulting deaths of seventee Americans in Yemen, focused enough public attention on al Qaeda that the Clinton Plan became politically feasible. The attacks of September 11 raised the stakes immensely, and a far more comprehensive response would have been possible.

Trouble is, the only additions to the Clinton Plan put in by the Bush White House post-9/11 appear to involve arresting hundreds of Arabs and Arab Americans, who are later found to be utterly unconnected to terrorism, entirely without charge. Not very helpful.

It's only recently that any Democrats in Congress have been willing to take on Bush in the realm of foreign policy in general or the so-called war on terrorism in particular. And even now, it's mainly just John Kerry and Joe Biden. And even now, they're not criticizing half as much as he deserves.
It's Not Just For Peace-Niks Anymore. From The American Prospect today comes the most comprehensive dissection of the Administration's Iraq plans that I have yet seen. As time goes by, I find myself falling further and further into the "against attacking Iraq" camp. Reading this article only reinforced that notion.

It should be a major concern for everyone, regardless of your politics, that so many military officials seem to be a) against a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, and b) willing to say so in public, on or off the record. Bush is obviously motivated by a number of factors, principally politics. I'm convinced that if we don't launch an attack before the midterms, it won't have been for lack of trying on the part of Mr. Rove. But these military people are motivated by far more reliable drives. Like duty, which requires them to weigh the risks which would be faced by our troops in such an endeavor.

Certainly, I think we'd all be better off if there were no Saddam Hussein in the world. But that fact alone isn't enough to justify going to war.
Get Over It. From the very moment the Supreme Court handed down its (to say the least) highly controversial decision in Bush v. Gore, we have heard the call again and again to get over it. Since that time, I have read or heard many passionate defenses from the left on why we won't, and shouldn't get over it. But they all seemed to focus on high-minded principles of democracy and justice. That's fine. Speaking for myself, I think our country lost something that day that we'll never get back, something bigger than any one election.

But there's another reason not to get over it, as Public Citizen reveals. Apparently, the Bush-Cheney Recount Fund finally submitted disclosure forms to the IRS about how they got their money, and who their contributors were. And those disclosure forms are riddled with errors and omissions.

I expect this story to get very short shrift, if anything at all, in the mainstream press. But, it's more important than many people realize. The recount was, in many ways, an election unto itself. Bush's supporters contributed millions of dollars to bankroll an all out war, fought on many fronts, against any kind of recount that might have put the election in doubt. [Of course, the election was already in doubt, which is why the recounts were needed.] This is in no way different from standard, pre-election campaign contributions.

Public Citizen is an organization which tracks campaign contributions as a public service to keep the electorate better informed. It is often very helpful to know how politicans get their money, and there are all too often highly disturbing lines of convergence between their contributor lists and their voting records. Therefore, as a basic principle, it is important to know who gives how much to any particular campaign.

The same argument applies to the Recount Fund, because just like campaign contributions, this money was given in the spirit of helping to get one candidate in office rather than the other. We need to know who those contributors were, and how much they gave. We need to know how that might have influenced policy decisions made by this White House. I'd like to know, for instance, how many of those top secret Energy Taskforce policy advisors were top recount contributors.

The Bush-Cheney regime cannot be allowed to continue to arrogantly flaunt the law. The previous Administration was held to a ridiculous standard of conduct, and its critics enjoyed full oversight via numerous avenues (including the media). This Administration has engulfed itself in secrecy, and for too long, a compliant national media has allowed it to do so. This story is just one in a long, long list of reasons why we must not allow this to go on any longer.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

What Did I Tell You? Yesterday, I said that "progresive views, expressed forcefully with indignation at the deregulation bent of the Republican platform, could gain a lot of traction, at least in the midterms." Today, I see an op-ed in the New York Times by Al Gore that suggests he may feel the same. Al Gore was the first 2004 contender to really take on Bush in the post-9/11 world, and even now that other Democrats are getting in on the act, he still does the best job. This is a must-read.