As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Dick Cheney Auschwitz action figure now on sale!

Order yours today!


Call Mr. Plow, That's the Name, That Name Again Is Mr. Plow

At yesterday's gathering of world leaders in southern Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United States was represented by Vice President Cheney. The ceremony at the Nazi death camp was outdoors, so those in attendance, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were wearing dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots. Because it was cold and snowing, they were also wearing gentlemen's hats. In short, they were dressed for the inclement weather as well as the sobriety and dignity of the event.

The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.

We are all class, I tell ya.

Jesus, it's the commemoration of Auschwitz, not a livestock auction.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

They're ALL Being Paid

Like I said...

One day after President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries to stop hiring commentators to help promote administration initiatives, and one day after the second high-profile conservative pundit was found to be on the federal payroll, a third embarrassing hire has emerged. Salon has confirmed that Michael McManus, a marriage advocate whose syndicated column, "Ethics & Religion," appears in 50 newspapers, was hired as a subcontractor by the Department of Health and Human Services to foster a Bush-approved marriage initiative. McManus championed the plan in his columns without disclosing to readers he was being paid to help it succeed.

I think there's only one thing to call this. Pundit welfare. We have to end pundit welfare as we know it. The aforementioned Stop Government Propaganda Act is a good place to start.

How come we have to work so hard to support these lazy pundit welfare queens who love nothing more than taking our money?


Because It Doesn't Matter

I'm answering wingnut Jim Geraghty's scratching of his Neanderthalian ridged brow about why "the Left" isn't deeply reactionary about movie award nominations as Christian conservatives:

But here’s an interesting dog that isn’t barking… Michael Moore gets passed over for the big award he coveted… and the lefty bloggers aren’t up in arms. In fact, nobody on the left is talking about Moore today.

I still strongly believe that no blogger is obligated to write about any topic, but I just find it interesting that web personalities who one would think would be big Michael Moore fans are collectively shrugging their shoulders over this. You know a lot of Christian conservatives are grumbling about the three nominations in technical categories for “The Passion of the Christ,” and Kathryn’s already noted this on the Corner.

Nothing (so far) at Eschaton, Daily Kos, James Wolcott, Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Matthew Yglesias, Tapped, The Left Coaster… Did I miss some Moore fans? I realize most of these guys are policy wonks, but none of them has any take or opinion on Hollywood’s elite giving the thumbs-down to the most prominent anti-Bush piece of work from the past year?

Gee, Jim, maybe no liberals are writing about Michael Moore's Academy Award nominations because there are, I don't know, IMPORTANT things going on, like a war in Iraq, the Rice nomination fight, the Gonzales nomination fight to come, continued lying about Social Security, and a cartoon character cavorting with lesbians. OK, that last one isn't important either, but the fact the the Secretary of Education has to jump in and try to censor a children's show is at least newsworthy.

Guess what, Jim? "The Left" as you describe it has more things on their mind than petty recriminations over what movie gets nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It doesn't save a life. It doesn't change the economy. It doesn't help or hurt the environment.

We don't need to be reassured of our beliefs by having others bestow awards on people who share them. In other words, WE'RE NOT FUCKING CHILDREN.


The PR Machine

It should come as no surprise that PR Spending has doubled under the Bush Administration. This government is all about spin and persuasion, masking the devious nature of the policies themselves. What is also not surprising is where this money is going. Almost 40% of all PR payments were to Ketchum, the company implicated in the Armstrong Williams scandal and others (like developing "video news releases" for the Departments of Education, HHS, and the ONDCP supporting Presidential policies, but masquerading as news).

Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest has a great post called "Why Republicans Win" which makes the salient point that Republicans have the goal of persuading Americans to believe their point of view, while Democrats do not (at least not in a coordinated fashion). Democrats still rely on conventional wisdom, thinking that everyone wants decent health care and a cleaner environment. Republicans rely on their enormous message machine to cajole, wheedle, and nudge people into believing they have the better ideas and positions. Here's the money quote:

So you can see how things got to be the way they are. Democrats understand themselves as a political party, not as a movement. The party grew out of a time when people already understood why they were Democrats or not, so there was no need for organizations that talked to the general public about why it is good to be a Democrat. Instead the party naturally focused on elections. And it is still that way. Democrats look for the "right candidates" to appeal to voters. The candidate is expected to "voice" the issues, and develop messaging that works, and is expected to do it after putting together a campaign team, which happens during and after the primaries. The Democrats use the election cycle as a time to come up with specific "issues" and "messages" and educate the voters. Then the campaign is supposed to reach the voters and educate them about the candidate and the issues... This is the old way of understanding politics. The problem is that times have changed -- they have been changed by the rise of "movement conservatism."

On the Right, they developed their movement in response to the existing liberal consensus, which means that their movement developed based on the idea of changing people's minds away from those liberal ideas and values. So the result is that today the Right is structured around persuasion, while the Democrats are not. And their organizations have spent decades studying how best to persuade people.

And one way is just throwing huge sums of money on every available form of media (including word-of-mouth media through church and social groups) and bludgeoning the barely-paying-attention voters into submission. And then, incredibly, they claim that the other side is doing the exact same thing, through the liberal "MSM" (mainstream media), and they cry foul. This is a peculiar bit of genius, to accuse the other side of exactly what you're doing yourself. The only way to counteract it is to DO THE EXACT SAME THING.

Does this mean funneling cash to PR firms that can get your message out? Well, I think it'll be a different kind of PR, one that burgeons online more than anywhere, for example. But it does mean setting up those infrastructures that study what frames work and what ones do not, dozens of liberal think tanks whose entire goal is how to best persuade the public. That's starting but it'll take time, effort, and (yes) lots of money.

By the way, whenever you want to start that up, Democrats, give me a call.

...UPDATE: looks like the Democrats have decided to fight government-funded PR:

In response to continued revelations of government-funded "journalism" -- ranging from the purported video news releases put out by the drug czar's office and the Department of Health and Human Services to the recently uncovered payments to columnists Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, who flacked administration programs -- Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will introduce a bill, The Stop Government Propaganda Act, in the Senate next week.

"It's just not enough to say, 'Please don't do it anymore,'" Alex Formuzis, Lautenberg's spokesman, told E&P. "Legislation sometimes is required and we believe it is in this case."

The Stop Government Propaganda Act states, "Funds appropriated to an Executive branch agency may not be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States unless authorized by law."

"It's time for Congress to shut down the Administration's propaganda mill," Lautenberg said in a statement. "It has no place in the United States Government." The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.).

Call your senator and tell them to sign on to The Stop Government Propaganda Act.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Dateline 1988

George Herbert Walker Bush has just been elected over Michael Dukakis. His first priority? How to fix Social Security, which has gone completely broke. Maybe Bush will choose a plan where workers can invest their own money, or maybe he'll have to raise payroll taxes...

Wait a second. This didn't happen. Social Security didn't go bankrupt in 1988. Wherever did I get this idea?

From a young congressional candidate named George W. Bush, that's where:

According to a July 28th, 2000 article in USA Today, back in 1978 when President Bush was running for congress in Texas, "he predicted Social Security would go broke in 10 years and said the system should give people 'the chance to invest money the way they feel' is best."

So Bush was dead wrong in 1978 about Social Security. Any chance he's gotten any better with his math 27 years later?


His Majesty

"I urge my friend His Majesty to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Jordan." President Bush, press conference, Jan. 26, 2005

Um, Mr. President? If the guy in charge is known as "His Majesty," I wouldn't exactly call it a democracy. Monarchy, yes. Fiefdom, maybe. Democracy, um, not so much.

Of course, we all knew this, right? We knew that the empty rhetoric of "spreading liberty and freedom" on display in the Inauguration speech would bear no resemblance to the day-to-day propping-up-of-dictators in the White House. In fact, they had to rush surrogates out to the cable news nets to assure everyone that the speech did not represent a change in policy. Clearly, the ruling despots of Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Russia, among others, need not worry. It was just TALK. And asking "His Majesty" King Abdullah of Jordan to make sure democracy continues to advance is just another example of that empty talk.


Thirty-Six Dead

Today was the deadliest day for US soldiers in Iraq during this war. But it's not even close to the deadliest day for Iraqis in the region. In fact, it's just another day. There are estimates ranging up to 100,000 dead Iraqis since the war began, a range far higher than deaths during the regime of Saddam Hussein.

We're up to 1,417 dead Americans. And we've created a terrorist training ground, as last night's Frontline episode made clear. And we've tied up our military for at least the next couple years. And we've lost the moral high ground ion the world. And the support of many of our allies. And there were no WMD.

But hey, Saddam's gone, right! And the elections, right!

...I don't advocate immediate pullout. I think the best option is probably a Christopher Reeve-as-Superman-style respinning of the Earth to March 18, 2003, and never going in there in the first place. All the other options are bad ones. And sadly, I find the respinning the Earth one the most realistic.


More on Gallagher

I kind of hinted at this in my last post, but Josh Marshall makes it clear:

Which suggests a point. Were they really worried that Gallagher would come out for free love without the cash incentive? Neither she nor Williams is really known for their independent streak. In Gallagher's case -- and to some degree in Williams' too -- this seems less like a matter of payola than a Bush administration make-work program for third-tier GOP pundits.

I've always wondered exactly how much money people like Scaife had to fund all of these think tanks, radio stations, and various other infrastructures. This makes sense: if the government is subsidizing some pundits, it allows them to be more financially secure while they peddle their columns. Writers for the National Review might not get much per word, but if there's $20,000 coming in over the transom for nothing, it keeps the whole GOP pundits substructure solvent.

It also shows the insidiousness of a small town like Washington, where columnists, pundits, politicians and lobbyists are all part of the same class, and constantly pat each other on the back and do each other favors. Reform of that system is desperately needed, and one more of these Williams/Gallagher scandals could bring the whole culture crashing down.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Like I Said...

We should just assume that any conservative columnist or pundit writing in favor of Bush Administration policies is being bought off. Anyone with a brain could deduce that if a small-timer like Armstrong Williams had a government contract, then others were bound to have their fingers in the cookie jar.

I give you Exhibit B:

In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families.

"The Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples" and "educate teens on the value of delaying childbearing until marriage," she wrote in National Review Online, for example, adding that this could "carry big payoffs down the road for taxpayers and children."

But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal. Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials.

"Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" Gallagher said yesterday. "I don't know. You tell me."

Uh, yeah, Maggie. You did.

What I want to know is, how bad are these Bush Administration policies that partisan pundits and columnists have to be paid to support them? I mean, I suppose the only way I could push an agenda of privatizing Social Security, running up historic budget and trade deficits, and not creating a single new job in four years would be if I was getting some money for it.

I wonder how outraged National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg will be about this fresh news, considering he was so apoplectic about Mr. Williams.


Just Say No To Torture

The confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General is a signature moment in the history of this country and the Global War on Terror. Only by saying no to the man who played a key role in providing legal justifications for torture, who called the Geneva Conventions "obsolete" and "quaint," who placed the United States down the path to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, only then can we regain a measure of the moral high ground that is so crucial to winning this war and reasserting our good name in the world. Like it or not, "America" and "democracy" are inextricably conflated in the eyes of the Muslim world, and when America commits horrible acts of torture and then lets those responsible off the hook for it (indeed, seeks out ways to let those responsible off the hook), democracy as a tool is damaged. The only way to properly spread freedom and democracy, as the President has stated as his goal, is to reverse this policy, and it begins by saying no to Alberto Gonzales.

Armando at Kos has an open letter to the Senate to urge them to vote against Gonzales. I've signed on to it, and urge whoever reads this to do the same. Here's the text of the letter:

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint."

Legal opinions at the highest level have grave consequences. What were the consequences of Gonzales's actions? The policies for which Gonzales provided a cover of legality - views which he expressly reasserted in his Senate confirmation hearings - inexorably led to abuses that have undermined military discipline and the moral authority our nation once carried. His actions led directly to documented violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and widespread abusive conduct in locales around the world.

Michael Posner of Human Rights First observed: "After the horrific images from Abu Ghraib became public last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the world should 'judge us by our actions [and] watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes.'" We agree. It is because of this that we believe the only proper course of action is for the Senate to reject Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General. As Posner notes, "[t]he world is indeed watching." Will the Senate condone torture? Will the Senate condone the rejection of the rule of law?

With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

Signed, Daily Kos Management

Call your Senator, too.


More Important To Wingnuts:

A) The nomination to the position of US Attorney General of a man who had a hand in authoring the legal justifications for torture, justifications which, in the wake of Abu Ghraib, have left us morally challenged in the opinion of the world, including those moderate Muslims who hold the real key to fighting the Global War on Terror...

B) The nomination to the position of US Secretary of State of a woman who was a leading architect of a failed policy in Iraq, based on the dubious existence of WMD, without anything approaching a plan for postwar security and stability, leading us to a Hobson's Choice between staying in the country (and causing more anger in the Arab world, not to mention the cost to the United States in lives and dollars) or unilaterally withdrawing (and leaving a haven for terrorists in the heart of the Middle East)...

C) The lack of a Best Picture nomination for The Passion of the Christ.

I'm taking a wild guess and going with C.


How To Be A Uniter

Take the most divisive social issue of the last 30 years. Then, appear (via phone) at a rally for one side of the issue. And if you could, call in from Camp David, the retreat known as a haven for international diplomacy like the Sadat-Begin peace talks.

Also, be sure you tell the crowd that "This movement will not fail."

"I want to thank you, especially, for the civil way that you have engaged one of America's most contentious issues," Bush told the demonstrators in a telephone hook-up from Camp David, Md.

Isn't the President the President of the whole country, not just the 51% that voted for him?

And, by the way, does the "civil way" anti-abortion activists have conducted themselves include the clinic-bombers at Operation Rescue?

Here's another contribution to the civil discourse:

(Sen.) Coburn is traditional conservative, opposing abortion except in rare cases to save the life of the mother and advocating tax cuts and limited government.

On the death penalty, he said: "I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life."

I can't remember Bill "safe, legal and rare" Clinton speaking at a pro-choice rally while he was President. I'm quite sure he would have been pilloried for it by the Ring Wing Noise Machine as a divisive Amurka-hater.

But on that note, under what President did abortion rates decline by 15%? And under what President did abortion rates reach their highest level ever (hint: it was in 1990)? And under what President who was sworn in after Bill Clinton did abortion rates reverse their downward trend and return back up (at least for those states that have so far reported, as the official CDC statistics were withheld until after the election)?

Culture of life, indeed.


Monday, January 24, 2005

The Democratic Contract With America

This Harry Reid is growing on me. I just got this gem of an email:

Dear Friend,

In a few moments I will go to the floor of the Senate and introduce ten bills which will make up the Senate Democrats’ legislative agenda.

Each measure represents one of our core values; opportunity so that every American can get the education they need to compete for good-paying jobs; responsibility, so that the United States government meets its obligations to future and past generations; and security, that the American way of life and our freedom will be protected by using all the tools available to take the fight to the terrorists while strongly supporting those who keep us free.

With your help thousands of Americans can stand with the Senate Democrats as we fight for these 10 bills. Normally Senators first approach each other to cosponsor their legislation. I am turning to you.

Become a citizen Cosponsor of the Democratic Agenda by visiting:

Our ten bills cover a wide variety of subjects, but each one is an important part of keeping America’s promise.

It is the promise of opportunity so that every American can get the education they need to compete in the 21st century; live in an economy with good paying jobs and high quality health care; and participate in our democracy. Keeping the promise of America also means meeting our responsibilities both to future and past generations by providing our seniors what they have spent a lifetime work for; acting responsibly with taxpayer’s dollars and with our children’s future by restoring fiscal discipline.

It is the promise of security, that the American way of life and our freedom will be protected by using all the tools to take the fight to the terrorists and standing with those who have served. It is these values that will continue to guide the Democratic agenda as this Congress moves forward.

Please join us, learn more about the Democratic Agenda and become a ”Citizen Cosponsor”.

Thank you,

Harry Reid

... The Left Coaster breaks down the agenda, and I like it. Some of them are right out of the Kerry platform (increase the Army by 40,000 troops, fund the fight against nuclear proliferation, increasing the minimum wage), and some are quite bold (a National Guardsman Bill of Rights, a series of voting reforms, restoring the pay-as-you-go rule in the budget process). Why exactly did it take until January 2005 to lay out this agenda this succinctly? I don't know, but it's a step in the right direction.


Spine Implant on the Way

I never got a chance this weekend to blog about Howard Dean's speech at the Hammer Museum, on the UCLA campus, last Friday.  It was a pretty packed house, with about 300 people in attendance.  And I thought Dean was pretty masterful.

He was introduced by the chair of the Democratic caucus in the California State Assembly, Mark Ridley-Thomas, who noted that "I'm sure a bunch of TV sets were broken yesterday (Inauguration Day)."

Dean gave about a 30-minute speech, hitting a lot of themes, but most of them strategic, based on what he would do as DNC chair. Here are some of the high points:

- We need more diversity in the grassroots. We will win when working whites, blacks and Latinos come together to vote their economic interests. Furthermore, we need a strong grassroots EVERYWHERE, working for every race in every locality. A Dean DNC will run a 50-state campaign in '06 and '08, not an 18-state campaign.

- We have to talk about OUR vision, not just take up a contrary position to the Republican vision (great article on this point in the LA Weekly this week by John Powers.

- We've seen this play before (regarding the pushback from the establishment against a Dean candidacy), but look at the breadth of endorsments I've already received (Mississippi, Utah, Washington, Vermont, Florida) from voting members. Dean sounded more ready for this pushback than the last time.

- There is a moral component to national defense that we have lost, and we must try to get back the moral high ground there.

- We lost in '04 because 1) they organized a bit better, and 2) they had (or at least communicated) deep conviction. (He told a story about his meeting with an evangelical who supported him during the primary season, solely because of his conviction)

- What should be music to the ears of the Kos crowd... "What this is really about is reform. Reforming our foreign policy, reforming health care, reforming the budget process, real education reform, election reform, economic reform for small businesses, and reforming our relationships with each other." On this last point, he said that, unlike Republicans, "we will never try to win an election by dividing America."

- I was surprised by the appearance of George Lakoff, and Dean's stress on the importance of framing and language. For example, he said "We won't be the party of gay rights. We'll be the party of 100% equal rights for every citizen no matter what. We won't be the party of abortion rights. We'll be the party that demands that every woman has the right to decide her own health care."

I think Dean sees the DNC job in exactly the right way; as a means to invigorate the grassroots in every community, as a way to nationalize the core Democratic message, as a way to reform national politics and provide legitimate opposition to the other side, and (most important) never let them get away with a thing. I was glad to have been on the cusp of this wave.