Friday, April 25, 2003

This Doesn't Bode Well For National Missile Defense. Via Franklin's Findings. The Patriot missile was long considered the great hero of Gulf War I. How can anyone forget the jubilant reports of incoming Iraqi missiles effortlessly shot down by superior American technology, making our brave soldiers all but invincible on the desert battlefield. Unfortunately for those of us who like a little romance in our warfare, it was all a bunch of hooey. 4 SCUD missiles were shot down by Patriots, out of 47 attempts. That's a pretty bad batting average, even for an American League pitcher. Twelve years and $3 Billion later, the Patirot had a chance to redeem itself in the latest installment of "Bomb the Brown People". This time, Patriot missiles managed to shoot down two aircraft, raising its total career aircraft hits all the way up to two. Unfortunately, those aircraft were friendlies, and coalition troops were tragically killed.

Every war is going to have heart-rending stories of friendly-fire accidents. Every war is going to have technology-problems and equipment failures and all of that. My question, though, after reading this story, is why people don't know this stuff. If I polled all of my friends, in and out of school, I doubt ten percent would know that the Patriot missile sucks, and it's always sucked. I wouldn't have, and I'm a fairly well-read guy, I like to think. Propaganda in war is one thing, but the Gulf War was twelve years, and the majority of Americans probably still think that the Patriot missile won the war.

It occurs to me that this is one of the things that feeds into our nations seeming appetite for warfare. We believe that we are so technogically superior that no other country, particularly not a country full of dirty brown people, can so much as prick us. That belief is not totally unfounded, but the reality is not messier than most people realize. That's something we should remember the next time the government promises us a "cakewalk" war.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

"Can't Be Fixed". Today, Bob Herbert in the New York Times gives us the definitive anti-death penalty argument. There's really nothing I can add. Regardless of your views on the death penalty, I urge you to read this column. If you oppose the death penalty, you'll get a narrow, piercing critique, centered around the case of Delma Banks, Jr. in Texas (a case which I have mentioned before). If you support the death penalty, you'll get a clear, uncompromising look at its flaws, which need to be addressed to prevent the unconscionable and irreparable harm of executing the innocent. Herbert says that the death penalty can't be fixed, and should be abolished forever. I'm not so sure that it can't be fixed, and so I support a national moratorium to examine the problems in depth and propose solutions. However, I disagree with the death penalty on moral and policy grounds, so the question of whether or not it can be fixed is not relevant to me in the first place.
The Party of Personal Liberty. I should have spent more time online yesterday. [Instead, I watched Manchester United win a great match against Real Madrid, and yet still fail to advance to the next round of the tournament. I was also, simultaneously, playing "Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link". Time well spent, I think.] If I had ventured online yesterday afternoon, I would have surely seen dKos arguing that the Democratic Party is the natural home of libertarians. I was actually thinking about that, quite on my own, just yesterday. In fact, I've been thinking about it a lot since 9/11 and the radical authoritarian shift in the law since then. The Libertarian Party is a bought and paid for piece of the Republican Party. But libertarians, unaffiliated with the national party in Washington, have interests which are very much in line with the Democratic Party.

Several of my friends, in and out of school, either are self-described libertarians or just generally fit the mold. One is, sadly, an Ayn Rand reader, and is therefore such a hardheaded absolutist that he is too far outside the political mainstream to even contemplate voting. Another considers himself a hard-right conservative, but several of his issues point more to the Democrats than the Republicans. Liberalization of drug laws, for instace, tends to get a fairer hearing from the left than the right (though the Democrats are far from having enough spine to get anything done on this issue).

Kos argues, as I was idly musing yesterday evening, that the Democrats should take positive action to position themselves in such a way as to go after the libertarian vote. Rick Santorum's recent bigotry erruption gives them a perfect opportunity to lay the groundwork for this push. The Republicans want a cop in every bedroom. The Democrats think you're old enough to make your own decisions. But, as Kos argues, this approach can work in economic realms as well, where libertarians have traditionally sided with Republicans. It's been more than 20 years since the Republicans, as a party, could honestly claim support for "fiscal responsibility". Thanks to Bill Clinton, and the (admittedly) tepid opposition to tax cuts coming from Democrats in Congress, the Dems are now in a great position to push the "fiscal responsibility" angle, which is huge with libertarians.

This isn't about moving to the right to do better in elections. It's about identifying a segment of voters who may respond effectively to what is already being done, and target them. Democrats shouldn't even pretend to be tracking rightward, because their own base is pretty pissed off at them already (e.g., the Nader/Greens problem). Democrats just need to make the case that the Republicans are selling the libertarians out (and have been since Reagan), and the Democrats (since Clinton) are actually pushing a more small government agenda.
Newt's Back, Thank Goodness. CalPundit has a great post on the sudden and unexpected re-emergence of Newt Gingrich, the famous family-values Republican who served divorce papers on his cancer-sricken wife in the hospital (warms the heart, doesn't it?). In this post, Kevin Drum argues that Newt's return is a good thing.

The other day, in case you hadn't heard, Gingrich blasted the State Department (in a very thinly-veiled attack on Colin Powell) for botching the pre-war diplomacy. Strangely, when Tom "El Diablo" Daschle attacked the diplomacy failure, he was tarred as unpatriotic. When Newt Gingrich said the same thing, even more harshly, he was lauded by the same people who bashed Daschle, not the least of which Rush Limbaugh. The difference? Daschle blamed Bush, Gingrich blamed Powell. Bush is infallible, Powell is black.

The political buzz on this incident is that Newt was speaking unofficially on behalf of Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon backers. There has been a vicious war raging between the Defense and State Departments for months now. Imagine that, the government of George "Uniter not Divider" Bush is home to the most destructive and public intra-Administration war of our lifetime. Who could have predicted it? The point is that the argument within the Administration is between Rumsfeld and Powell, Defense and State. Rumsfeld won the Iraq argument, eventually, and now, the Rumsfeldians are blaming Powell for the failures while giving Rumsfeld credit for the successes. Military success, diplomatic failure. Rumsfeld wins, Powell loses. Seems simple, right?

The question is, though, why exactly did the diplomacy fail? It started off so well. Powell and State were able to get a unanimous UN Security Council vote on putting inspectors back in Iraq. That was, as I've said many, many times, a huge victory for Bush, and State won it for him. Then, rather than allowing the inspectrs the time they needed to do their UN appointed job, the Bush Administration began pushing for war "now". That's when the diplomacy broke down. Is that the fault of the diplomats, or the policy? I want to say "policy, 100%", but it's not that simple. It's actually a very good question, and this battle will be a lot of fun to watch.

Kevin's point was that it's a good sign that Newt is siding with Rumsfeld, because Newt is a political ignoramus (he gambled his whole elected career that people cared more about Clinton's penis than they did about their own jobs, families, and lives, and he didn't win). So, Newt's involvement with the Defense faction is likely to work itself out in State's favor sooner or later. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Politicizing 9/11. The Republican nominating convention is going to be held very, very late next year. According to this article in the New York Times, next year will feature the latest Republican nominating convention in the party's 150 year history. Why? To blend the nominating convention in with the 3rd anniversary of 9/11. No shit.

Honestly, am I on my own, here? Keith, Jenna, you guys like Bush, right? Do you feel that this is at all, umm, inappropriate? Tacky? An insult to the memory of the people killed on that terrible day?

Ok, I'll come clean, everybody tries to wring some political advantage out of literally whatever they have at hand. There's no doubt that Bush, or any politician in any part in Bush's situation, would try to play up the 9/11 tragedy for political advantage (by making "terrorism" and "homeland security" major campaign issues, for instance). But normally, politicians are decent enough to be discreet about it. We've already had the shameful case of the Republican National Committee selling photographs of Bush taken on 9/11 to make money for campaigning. That was bad enough. Now we have this, which is the most egregious example of politicizing a national tragedy that I can imagine.
Bigotry Watch. I've missed a few doozies, like the Republican member of the House who implied that everyone who lives in black neighborhoods (i.e., blacks) are presumptively addicted to drugs. But I wasn't going to pass up the latest, via Eschaton. Apparently, Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) thinks that gays shouldn't have the right to fuck. This man is an embarrassment to his party. Or rather, he would be, if his party weren't so bigoted and hateful as to agree with him.

Every self-respecting Republican should stand up and repudiate those comments. There's no room for that kind of hatred in the United States Senate.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Speaking of Which. My last post concerned talk radio, and in comments to last Friday's post, I was talking to Martin Wisse about anti-gay bigotry. Well, via Hesiod's Counterspin Central, we find this story from the The Des Moines Register about how a local talk radio host (carried on a Clear Channel station, surprise, surprise) carried out a hate and harassment campaign against gay high school students. Apparently, a local high school had a student group in support of gay and lesbian rights, which included both homosexual and heterosexual members. When this local radio host, Jan Mickelson, heard about this group, he went nuts. He referred to the club as "the sodomy club" so often that many listeners thought it was the name of the club (it was not). He claimed that the student group was spending taxpayer money to push a gay agenda at the school and push homosexual practices onto the students-at-large. Claims like these are so outrageous, and so familiar, that they hardly need refutation. But, of course, it was all a product of Mickelson's fevered imagination. No taxpayer money. No pushing anything on anyone. Of course, the school received a shit load of angry, sometimes abusive, sometimes threatening phone calls.

This is talk radio, people. This is not a rare case, this is the way it operates. This is a repeat of the Maine case from several months ago when, according to Philadelphia talk radio host Dom Giordano, the National Guard accused elementary school teachers of harassing and taunting the children of military parents. The National Guard denied the story, claiming that they had made no such accusation.

You want to be a conservative talk radio host? It's easy!! Find an "enemy group", whether it's Arabs, Muslims, gays, war protesters, liberals, Democrats, or whatever, and bash the living shit out of them. Nevermind the facts, or the truth, or the lives and reputations of the victims. You have two weapons: a voice, and a microphone. Use them mercilessly, brutally, and ruthlessly. Destroy their lives, if possible. Verbally beat them into submission, and garner up a few more votes for the Republican Party while you're at it.

Never make a retraction. Never admit an error. Most importantly, only criticize "them", never "us". Never shit where you eat.
What I Learned From Talk Radio. I was listening to Drudge last night on my way home from Duke's. For some reason, he was all bent out of shape by the fact that Madonna says she doesn't read magazines. Don't ask me, I really have no idea. Anyway, he got a caller who was pretty pissed off about the government crackdown on file-sharing. The whole story, as the caller related, sounded dubious to me, but it isn't very important. The point is that Drudge, like me, is concerned about the government going after peple for filesharing copyrighted material. I'm not going to defend the practice, but I will say that there are a few other issues that law enforcement might want to concentrate on rather than me downloading DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince songs, you know?

What struck me about this is that over the whole time that Drudge was railing against the government, he never once uttered the words "Bush" or "Ashcroft". Not that he was required to, but I thought it interesting that he didn't. And it put me in mind of another occassion when I was listening to my local conservative talk radio station. The after-midnight host, Rollye James, was talking about PATRIOT II, which she despises (as all honest libertarians must). But she kept talking about Congress doing this. It was "Congress" this and "Congress" that. She never used the word "Republicans" or mentioned any Republican by name, despite the fact that the Republicans controlled both house of Congress at the time. She never used the words "Ashcroft", "Justice Department", "White House", or "Bush". The only time any particular name came up was when a caller opined that this bill had been drawn up by Daschle's office. Let me repeat: DASCHLE (ominous thunder noises)! Strangely, Rollye neglected to inform the caller (and the rest of the audience) that the bill had actually been prepared, like its predescessor, by the Justice Department, headed by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

It's something I've noticed about conservative talk radio. They will criticize their own side if they feel it necessary, but never personally. If he Democrats do something they don't like, everyone from Rush Limbaugh straight on down the line will start the "Daschle" routine up in no time flat, and they'll be sure to tell you, every four and a half seconds, that it's the Democrats who are doing this awful thing (probably trying to build low income housing, or something sick and evil like that). But when the Republicans do something they don't like (it doesn't happen much, which is another post in itself), it's never the Republicans. It's Congress. It's Government. It's those airheads in Washington. Conveniently, this ends up supporting, rather than attacking, the standard GOP anti-government ideology.

You see that: even when Republicans in Washington piss off talk radio, talk radio spins it around to help them. Brilliant! You have to admire the pure gall of it, don't you? I call it offensive damage control. It's one small part of the co-ordinated Right Wing message machine that is currently dominating our national marketplace of ideas. More on that later.
Detroit Red Wings Swept by Anaheim. Or is it all just pro-American propaganda? Calpundit reports, you laugh. A lot.