Friday, February 28, 2003

War Against Teachers. Why do Republicans hate teachers? It boggles my mind. For the last two days or so I've been hearing all sorts of vague allegations about teachers in Maine apparently demeaning young kids who had fathers in the military. The keyword is vague. Yesterday alone I must have heard at least four different people mention this story: three on talk radio, and Lou Dobbs. I never heard from any one of them (which is not to say that they didn't mention) what had actually happened. I heard that the Maine National Guard had gotten complaints about teachers. But I didn't even hear a one-sided uncorroborated allegation, which is usually the starting point for these things.

I was very pleased to find Hesiod on the ball again this morning. Surprise, surprise, looks like this has all been blown way out of proportion. With their charactistic blend of exaggerations, insinuations, and outright lies, the Republicans are once again going after our nations teachers. Yeah, I know teachers don't fight fires or kill people or anything exciting like that, but I happen to think that they are heroes in their way as well. [Except, obviously, for Lima Beanz, who is a public menace.] I'm sick to death of Republicans lying about them to make them look bad.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Bush Spanks Congressional Republicans, and They Take It. This is interesting. For a while now, Congressional Democrats have been bashing the White House for not putting enough money into homeland defense. Considering how much money the government was able to find to buy Turkey's support for the coming war with Iraq, it was a terrible omission not to put sufficient (and previously promised) funds for law-enforcement and other first-responders.

Thankfully, the White House has relented and agreed to provide the promised money. How nice of them, yeah? But the spin is interesting. The White House, including Bush himself, has expressed "disappointment" with Congress for neglecting this crucial priority. But the Congressional Republicans claim that they wrote the spending bill in close consultation with the White House. So far, no one has come right out and put this at Bush's feet, but it certainly looks like they should to me. Meanwhile, the White House continues to slap the Congressional Republicans on the issue.

Here's the article. I should point out that I'm speculating here, and perhaps the White House really was blindsided by the startlingly omission in the Republicans' spending bill. Not betting on it, though.
Fred Rogers has Passed Away. Wow, I'm surprised how much this one has hit me. I just discovered this over at Counterspin Central. That site was kind enough to provide some links, which I will reproduce here. First is a 1999 article from Salon about his brilliant career. Second is a lovely and very personal tribute from Jeanne D'Arc.

I feel like I've been punched in the gut.
Donahue Not Lying Down. Phil Donahue is pissed that his show got cancelled after only six months, and he has good reason to be. Unlike fellow commentators Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews, et. al., Donahue routinely tried to raise the level of debate, and give a fair airing to all sides of an issue. It's no secret that Donahue himself had a clear position on the issues at hand, but everyone on his show had a chance to put forth their views in the best light possible, and as a result, Donahue's show performed a wonderful service to all of its viewers.

But that's not good enough. Apparently, Donahue's ratings were so bad, that he had to get cancelled after only six months. At the same time, MSNBC is bringing in more conservative commentators, like Michael Savage, Dick Armey, and Joe Scarbrough. According to this article, regardin a Donahue post-firing press release, MSNBC is trying to "out-Fox Fox". This, my friends, is the state of your liberal media.

Did Donahue have bad ratings? Arguably, he did. He was getting smacked by O'Reilly every night. I mean, smacked hard. But he was pulling the strongest ratings of all of MSNBC's prime time line up. Imagine that you own a hockey team that isn't scoring very well. Do you fire your best scorer? That's exactly what MSNBC has done, because their best scorer is a liberal. This is an outrage.
Too Liberal for Television. It's past my bed time, so I'll be brief. Counterspin Central has the real deal on why Donahue was dumped by MSNBC. It wasn't the ratings. Apparently, the man was just too liberal, and MSNBC worried that Donahue's program might become the unofficial home of the anti-war movement at a time when the other big cable networks were wrapped in the flag.

This is an outrage. Honestly, I wasn't the biggest fan of the show. First of all, I didn't really think Donahue was as sharp as he could have been. His questions were really long. I mean, he asked really good questions (and never the sort of mindless non-sequiturs Chris Matthews likes to pepper his guests with), but he would suck up so much oxygen before getting to the point that the guest would have damn near no time to respond. And, compounding this problem, there were way too many commercials.

Despite Donahue's shortcomings as a host, it was the only show on television which was making other views available. And what's more, he always included a wide-range of views on his program, and gave every guest ample opportunity to make their own argument in their own words. Certainly, Donahue had his own political biases which he wasn't afraid to show, but his was by fair the fairest program on the cable news networks.

But what really makes me angry is not that the show was cancelled, but rather that the American public has been robbed of a crucial balancing voice in our political discourse, all for the sake of MSNBC's bottom line. News has been dead for years, and this proves it. It's all business now. And principled opposition to a highly controversial war is simply not a formula for maximizing profits.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

250 People, Some of Them Economists, Support Bush Tax Cut Scheme. Thanks to Tapped for nailing this one. It seems that the White House has been touting a letter from 250 "economists" supporting the president's latest (but not last) tax cut proposal. The letter reads: "We enthusiastically endorse your economic growth and jobs proposal. It is fiscally responsible and it will create more employment, economic growth, and opportunities for all Americans. Moreover, it will improve corporate accountability and strengthen the nation's international competitiveness." That isn't a sample: that's the entire letter. Kind of underwhelming, isn't it? I mean, it reads like a political consultant wrote it. You don't suppose...?

Anyway, it gets worse. Sure, if I wanted to be petty and juvenile, I could point out that the previous letter from economists bashing the president's tax scheme was signed by 450 economists, and this one was only signed by 250 economists. I could do that, but I won't. Because it isn't true. As it happens, quite a few of the people who signed the latest letter are not economists. People like Ben Stein.

Now, you could argue that these people are economists, depending on what the definition of the word "economist" is. But according to the traditional definition (someone with a PhD in economics who works in the field), Ben Stein certainly is not one. And he's not the only one on the list. Check out Tapped's analysis, linked above.

But if we're going to relax the criteria, does anyone know where I can go to add my name to the anti-Bush tax plan letter? I have a BA in economics from Rutgers University, so I figure I'm qualified. That will make it 451 to 250. I'd count my friend Rob, too, but he'd probably write his own letter talking about how Milton Friedman could have beaten the crap out of John Maynard Keynes or some nonsense like that. Rob's crazy.
Welcome Newcomers!. Well, thanks to a generous plug from Liberal Oasis, my numbers are way up so far this morning. Of course, they are still pathetic, but way less pathetic than usual. Hooray!

For those of you who are new to Terminus, I hope you find material of interest, and please post comments!! Scroll down to predict when the US will see another surplus, and please give me feedback on my approach to the war question.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the anti-war sentiment in this country. A couple of weeks ago, we had massive protests in New York and California against a war in Iraq, and these protests were reflected all over the world. It was an amazing display of world protest against the aims of the Bush administration, and it was pretty exciting. All told, millions of people from around the world came out for protests in a myriad of cities on the same day, to voice their opinions. If I had known about the (comparatively) small protest in Philadelphia, I would have been proud to take part.

But war-hawks in this country were, at best, utterly dismissive of the protests. At worst, they argued (and continue to argue) that the protests are counter-productive, anti-American, objectively pro-Saddam, or even treasonous. This is inevitable. Conservatives will descend to these tactics every time, because they seem to work for them. Turn on conservative talk radio and you won't find anyone who supports the protesters. [Interestingly, you will find people who oppose war, but usually for isolationist reasons.] But, you know, some of those conservatives actually have a point. I wouldn't blame an honest war-hawk for thinking that the protests were covers for abject pacifism. We can have the pacifism debate, but it's a debate that the hawks would win outright. Pacifism is an absolutist doctrine which is difficult to defend from principled objections. This prompted me to consider the circumstances under which I could support this war, in principle.

I think this is something that liberals in particular, and doves in general, should undertake. Doves have been making principled arguments against this war for a long time now, but their arguments center on why war is not appropriate in this case. That's absolutely right, but it's not enough. It is also necessary to establish under what circumstances a war is appropriate. This is less a question of political strategy for me (although, it might help), but rather a question of defining the role of war in the world today. When is it permissible, and when is it required? What goals can justify a war, and what circumstances necessitate it?

Last night, during the second intermission of the Flyers-Blackhawks game (the Flyers won 2-0 in Cechmanek's second consecutive shutout), I was flipping around on the box, and found Frontline on PBS. They were doing a story about the behind-the-scenes White House debates over Iraq. You know the sort of thing: Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Donald Rumsfeld vs. Colin Powell. The program, including interviews with lots of interesting people (even conservatives), made the point extremely clear that war with Iraq was, at least according to the hawks in the Administration, about establishing a new paradigm for America's role in the post-Cold War world.

It became axiomatic among liberals, progressives, and Democrats after the 2002 midterm elections that you can't fight something with nothing. The hawks have a whole world-view, based on American exceptionalism, preemption, etc. It is a view that is profoundly frightening to me, and to many lefties, an some righties as well. The previous President Bush was severely embarrassed when the first draft of Wolfowitz's new paradigm was leaked to the New York Times, and he disavowed it. The current President Bush has accepted it whole-heartedly.

Right now, we are in danger of this paradigm being installed by default. The United States is going to war in Iraq, in the middle of March, exactly as has been planned from the get-go. All of this business about going through the United Nations and getting a second-resolution is merely political window-dressing designed to cover the political ass of Tony Blair. The war is going ahead, exactly as planned by the hawks in the White House, regardless of what happens at the UN. This war represents the first deployment of this radical new foreign policy doctrine. It becomes, in some sense, precedent. When the next war comes along, it will be easier, politically, for the hawks to get their way.

For this reasons, liberals must begin to formulate an alternative foreign policy paradigm. Because you can't fight something with nothing, the left must have something with which to fight. The hawks are pursuing a plan under which the United States, as the world's only superpower, has more-or-less unlimited discretion to reshape the world as and how it likes. The United States, unlike every other nation of the world, may launch preemptive wars against its potential enemies. The United States, unlike every other nation of the world, may launch wars to remove foreign leaders we don't like. The United States, unlike every other country in the world, can do whatever it damn well pleases. This view is a minority position, even among the Republicans. But convincing the country to go along with Iraq is a big part of convincing them to go along with the whole damn thing.

Liberals need to fight back.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Bond Project: A View to a Kill. Here we have another in the series of films that qualifies as harmless, mindless fun. The story is highly similar to Goldfinger, with microchips replacing gold, Max Zorin replacing Auric Goldfinger, and May Day replacing Odd Job. Old school Bond fans will attack every one of these counterparts from the point of view that Goldfinger was far superior, and it's hard to argue with that. However, the present film is more than sufficiently entertaining in its own right.

By the time this film was released, Roger Moore had played 007 for somthing like twelve years. Roger Moore was 58 years old at the time of release, and yet looked far better than the much younger Sean Connery did in his final official outing in Diamonds are Forever. Nevertheless, change was in the air, and this film marks the end of the Roger Moore era. It is unlikely that any other actor will ever make as many Bond films as Moore, or remain in the role for so long. Over the course of Moore's tenure, the series had changed dramatically. This film represents a sort of final statement of what Moore's Bond was all about. It is as far removed from the high camp of The Man With the Golden Gun as it is from the (relatively) realistic grittiness of For Your Eyes Only. The basic template, then, which had been established previously and ultimately cemented by this film, is for an exciting, action-packed storyline of limited weight, centered around a Bond effused with easy charm and pointed wit. It may sound like a description vague enough to accomodate Dr. No, but the Connery Bond has been definitely dispensed with. The ruthlessness is gone, for example, and the tone of the films is far more jovial and less dangerous.

As for the particular film, it is an suitably entertaining entry, and contains several memorable sequences and characters. Christopher Walken makes a terrific villain. While most Bond villains make the fatal mistake of underestimating Bond, Walken's Zorin takes this trait to an extreme. Recall the lovely scene where Zorin uses his computer to ascertain Bond's true identity. As he tells Bond later, he is amused. Zorin not only underestimates Bond, he is thoroughly dismissive of him. It's a particular kind of psychosis which makes for a highly entertaining (though not very plausible) villain.

Bond's cover as a facile aristocrat hoping to try his hand at horse-breeding sets up a wonderfully entertaining sequence. This film gets a great deal of mileage out of mocking the effete British aristocrat (including his ridiculous name, St. John-Smythe), and provides the priceless pay-off by putting Patrick MacNee's aristocrat in the position of serving as Bond's valet. I think the social politics of this situation may be missed, in part, by American audiences. But I'm an American, so what do I know? The entie horse-racing motif, however, is another in a long line of examples of villains who have a totally irrelevant pasttime which Bond uses to get close to him. Goldfinger played golf, Kristatos sponsored an Olympic figure-skater, and now Zorin breeds and races horses. Like Goldfinger, Zorin's lack of ethics in the area of his hobby establishes, for the benefit of the viewer, his status as villain, despite the fact that cheating at horse races is not in any way connected to trying to corner the market in microchips by creating earthquakes in Silicon Valley.

The final sequence taking place in the mine is one of the most spectacular sequences in the history of the franchise. The sudden side-switching by May Day is a bit played out by now (although, she certainly had more motivation to betray Zorin than Pussy Galore did to betray Goldfinger), and her "noble self-sacrifice" is a little too convenient and sentimental. Especially considering that May Day is just not a very likeable character. Memorable, yes, but not likeable. If I was suposed to feel sympathetic for poor May Day, I didn't.

I can't leave my discussion of this film without mentioning its theme song, which is one of my all-time favorites. I can't explain why, but I have always adored Duran Duran. My oldest sister was a big fan at the time when it was fashionable for girls of her age to like Duran Duran, and in my impressionable youth, I developed a lasting affection for the group. As a result, I early love the theme to this film. It was rattling around in my head for days after viewing the film.

The Bottom Line: another slight yet entertaining entry, which essentially sums up and represents the whole of the Moore era.

The Bond Project continues with The Living Daylights.

Monday, February 24, 2003

The War Debate. Most of the people debating the war in our public discourse today are simply not serious. They make facile, sound-bite-sized points in one direction or the other, and fume when they do not receive instant agreement. In the United Nations, various representatives make long speeches and conduct even longer hearings, but the two sides are basically talking right past one another. Colin Powell says "Stop pussyfooting and get on board," while the French, Germans, and Chinese say "Why don't you try to make your case again, but without lying this time?" And while conservatives are enraged when anyone suggests that the White House is motivated by Iraq's oil, those same conservatives are quick to ascribe such goals to the French, and argue that their objections are therefore dishonest and not to be taken seriouly.

What do we make of all of this? In my view, everybody has a piece of the puzzle. First of all, it's about oil. It's about oil for the White House, it's about oil for the French, it's about oil for Hussein himself. But it isn't only about oil, not for any of them. The White House has a legitimate concern about Hussein's weapons. The French are honestly unconvinved that war is the best option. For Hussein, oil without power is as useless as power without oil. So the U.S. wants to disarm and remove Hussein, while increasing its access to Iraqi oil. The French want to avoid a bloody and de-stabilizing war, while keeping their access to Iraqi oil, and Saddam wants to remain in power, maintaining his own access to Iraqi oil.

We lowly private citizens are fortunate that we can form an opinion on this matter without some of the geopolitical pressures that drive the debate. It's not that we don't have a personal stake in the outcome, it's just that our personal stake in it is different from Bush's. We have the luxury, then, to examine the situation strictly on its merits. The interests we must address are these: humanitarian ramifications of war vs. inspections, geopolitical ramifications of war vs. inspections, and security ramifications of war vs. inspections. On the humanitarian front, inspections are clearly the better answer. It's not perfect, because it means that Saddam Hussein, a brutal and inhume dictator, remains in power. But the alternative (killing thousands of civilians in order to rescue those same civilians from their awful dictator) is not morally coherent. On the geopolitical front, hawks often claim that there are huge potential gains to be had through war. I think that's true. Doves often claim that the risks just as huge, and that everything would have to break perfectly for this to work out well. I think that's also true. Potential gains are only as good as the probability of their realization. With the ever-shrinking, nearly-negligible chance of installing a true "beacon of democracy" in place of Hussein's regime, I feel that the geopolitical rationale is a complete non-starter. Which leaves the security argument.

This is the tough one. My post from last Friday lays out where I stand on this issue as of now, so I don't need to elaborate on that. But I would like to reccomend a couple of resources that you can look at to help you clarify your thinking on this point. I have, first, a column by Kenneth Pollack in Friday's New York Times. A Last Chance to Stop Iraq. This is the article that prompted me, on Friday, to examine what circumstances would compel me to support war. After you've read that, read a response released by the "Carnegie Endowment for International Peace". Why Pollack is Wrong: We Have Contained Saddam". Both of these articles are serious in that they are striving to discover what, given the situation, represents the best policy for dealing with this particular problem in its own terms. The issue is the effectiveness of inspections in pursuit of disarmament. Even if you've already made up your mind (and, by this point, who hasn't?), read these articles. They represent that best rationale I've seen for invading Iraq, and a principled criticism of that rationale. In a perfect world, these papers would represent the level of national discourse behind democratic decision-making. In the real world, both papers are utterly irrelevant, as the United States will not be dissuaded from invasion under any circumstances.